President Donald Trump leaves a note at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on May 22. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

In Israel, Trump reinforces the Wall


Let the record show: On May 23, 2017, the president of the United States updated his Twitter header to display a photograph of himself standing at the Western Wall. Not saluting an American flag, not kissing a Latino baby or speaking at a Midwest rally or shaking a veteran’s hand, but communing with Judaism’s holiest site.

I have nothing cynical to say about it. For a man whose self-worth is in direct proportion to the size of his Twitter following (30.2 million), and who likely checks his feed more often than his briefing papers (OK, that was a little cynical), this means something.

The most powerful person in the world is demonstrating the power of that place. President Donald Trump is linking the sovereignty of the Western Wall to the State of Israel, despite the demurrals and hedging of his advisers and representatives. Tel Aviv may be one of the most dynamic, creative and delicious cities on earth, but only a fool, or the former head of a large oil company, would say, as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did, that it is the “home of Judaism.”

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which must be solved sooner rather than later in a just way for both sides, is not going to be solved by ignoring or minimizing the narratives each side claims as its own.

In their justified desire for a homeland, Palestinians have sought to deny the primacy of Jerusalem in the Jewish narrative. This week, one prominent Palestinian activist wrote that the holiness of the Western Wall is a post-1967 development, not an age-old tradition. When I read that I laughed and looked up at my study wall, at a photo taken in the late 1800s of Jewish men and women packed up against the ancient stones, in prayer.

In defense of their rights to Jerusalem, many Jews have negated the Muslim claim on the city. There seems to be an online cottage industry in this, in fact. Don’t fall for it. Do your own research. Jerusalem is a holy place in Islam — that big gold-domed mosque atop the Temple Mount might be your first clue.

Jerusalem has been wracked by a long history of dumping on other people’s history. And I mean this literally. To assert their own primacy over the holy city, the Byzantine rulers turned the Jew’s Temple Mount into the city dump. In the “Encyclopedia of Religion,” professor Reuven Firestone relates the legend that it was the Muslim caliph Umar who, after vanquishing the Christians, ascended to the desecrated area, rolled up the sleeves of his robe and began cleaning up the soiled Muslim and Jewish holy place himself.

The caliph then built the Dome of the Rock, not as a mosque, Firestone writes, “but rather as a monument celebrating the presence and success of a new faith.”

We are just about a week away from the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War, when the Israelis ascended to the Dome, captured East Jerusalem and united the city.

That moment when Israeli soldiers gathered where Trump stood this week, and wept and prayed that the Wall was back in Jewish hands, remains the iconic image of the war, the Jewish Iwo Jima. The emotion, the sacrifice, the sense of historical and religious destiny has affixed in Jewish minds the idea that from that moment on, all of Jerusalem belongs to Israel.

Har HaBayit b’yadenu,” Lt. Gen. Motta Gur proclaimed as his troops captured the Old City, the most famous single sentence of that war. “The Temple Mount is in our hands.”

But the irony of Trump’s visit is that if the president gets his way, the grip will have to be loosened. For years, Jews and the groups that pander to them have proclaimed intractable sovereignty over every square inch of the city. “Jerusalem will never be divided,” has been the go-to applause line for every Jewish or Israeli speaker — despite the reality that the city even now is pretty much divided.

The truth is every serious final status solution ever put forth by an Israeli prime minister, and any agreement that would ever be agreed to by the Palestinians, would include some shared sovereignty over Jerusalem. What’s the alternative — constant fighting? You can’t pray for the peace of Jerusalem and want to see it, like Aleppo or Damascus, reduced to pieces.

I don’t know how serious Trump is about making what he calls “the ultimate deal.” He has a short attention span, a disdain for details and a lot of ’splaining to do back in Washington. But this week, he leveraged Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states to crack open negotiations, demonstrated the kind of support for the Israelis they need to feel secure, and showed the proper respect to the Palestinians.

A dear friend and die hard Israeli leftist  I know e-mailed me as Trump departed for the Vatican.

“The bastard gave a fantastic speech that was even given compliments by Barak Ravid from Ha’aretz,” he wrote, citing the left-leaning columnist. “He’s going about this whole Middle East thing in a completely opposite manner than Obama, and it may be that he is hitting the spot. Oy vey….”

If Trump continues on this path, and doesn’t shy away from confronting each side with the truths the other holds dear, the president might just have a prayer.


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

President Donald Trump leaves a note at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on May 22. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Democrats and Republicans flip on Western Wall


Secretary of State Rex Tillerson refused to answer whether Jerusalem’s Western Wall or Kotel is part of Israel when asked by Pool reporters on Monday morning before arriving in Tel Aviv for his first ever visit. The top US diplomat followed the same approach to National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster who also declined to clarify if he believes that the holy Jewish site is under legal Israeli sovereignty when pressed by White House reporters. On Capitol Hill, Members of Congress switched their traditional roles on this sensitive issue when responding to the Trump administration’s policies as the city of Jerusalem continued to play a key role during President Donald Trump visit to Israel.

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

“I think they’re being sensitive. Much like, what I would be sensitive. They are in the midst of some very interesting times and are being wise with what they want to weigh in and how they want to handle things,” Representative Tom Emmer (R-MN) told Jewish Insider on Monday evening. “I wouldn’t begin to second guess what they are doing because I don’t know the pressures that they are under.”

However,  Democrats critiqued the administration for this policy decision. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) emphasized that she “very much” believed that the Kotel is part of Israel. “It’s a lack of understanding of the holiness of the site i.e. understanding the faith and the history that’s attached to it.” On a similar note, Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY) said, “I recognize that the Western Wall is part of Israel. I think most members of the House do.”

While Republicans were frequently quick to condemn the Obama administration for criticism of the Netanyahu government, Rep. Buddy Carter (R-GA) refused to criticize senior Trump administration officials: Tillerson and McMaster regarding the Western Wall.  “I don’t know their reasons for not being able to answer, so I can’t comment on that,” Carter noted.

Assessing Trump’s first overseas visits to Saudi Arabia and Israel, Carter lavished praise upon the President. “I think he’s done a great job. It’s certainly a better situation for America. Instead of our chief elected official, going over and apologizing for everything we’ve done, we finally have someone who is going over there and asserting themselves and American interests. I’m proud of that.”

But, Crowley offered a more restrained assessment. “So far, the world hasn’t fallen apart so I give him credit for that. I would have liked him to say something about the inequities and the human rights violations that take place in Saudi Arabia.”

At the same time, Rep. Mark Pocan focused on the President’s potential impact on the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen when visiting Riyadh on Sunday. “I’m more concerned about what he’s (Trump) doing in Saudi Arabia with whatever deals he made regarding the arms sales in Yemen because if the major port in Yemen is bombed, we are told a half a million people will go in famine. We are trying to keep laser focused on the Yemen issue. It’s a big armed sales with no preconditions whatsoever,” he explained.

President Donald Trump in New London, Conn., on May 17. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The pro-Israel right is starting to feel unease with Trump


The Zionist Organization of America launched two broadsides against a Trump administration it has ardently defended, signaling a growing unease on the pro-Israel right with the president’s Israel policies.

The ZOA, the flagship for the conservative pro-Israel community, slammed President Donald Trump for retreating from a campaign pledge to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It also attacked the appointment of Kris Bauman, a veteran Obama administration negotiator, as the Israel adviser on the National Security Council.

Criticism of Trump from the Jewish right, while growing, is almost always accompanied by a caveat that his Israel policies are better than those of his predecessor, Barack Obama, and praise for some of his appointments.

The ZOA statements came Wednesday, the same day an array of Jewish groups held a celebration in the Capitol of the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem.

During the celebration Republican lawmakers – without naming the Trump administration – decried the failure to move the embassy to Jerusalem. One of those present, New York Rep. Lee Zeldin, one of two Republican Jews in Congress, later released a statement explicitly criticizing Trump and urging the move.

Trump the candidate had vowed to move the embassy as one of his first acts upon assuming the presidency, but since elected has retreated from the pledge. This week, an unnamed top U.S. official told Bloomberg News that the relocation from Tel Aviv was off the table for now.

The story prompted expressions of concern of varying intensity from the Jewish right.

Morton Klein, the ZOA president, said in a statement that the slowness to move the embassy “sends a message of weakness” and called it “painful.”

Zeldin, one Trump’s most prominent Jewish supporters during the presidential campaign, said in his statement that the Bloomberg report was “an ill-timed mistake on the part of the administration to make this decision and announcement.”

Nathan Diament, the Washington director of the Orthodox Union, the umbrella group with a constituency that according to polls was lopsided in its support for Trump last year, said in an interview that those voters were likely “disappointed” with the delay.

Klein in an interview Thursday offered up the caveat that he was still grateful that Trump had won the election.

“This guy in his heart and soul is very pro-Israel in a serious way,” he said, naming among other appointments Nikki Haley, the outspoken U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. “So many of us had high expectations it would be 100 percent on Israel; that might have been too high an expectation. He’s so much better than Obama or than Clinton would have been,” referring to Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee.

Matt Brooks, the Republican Jewish Coalition director, said Trump’s Jewish critics should keep the bigger picture in mind: His first tour overseas, next week, will include Israel and a visit to the Western Wall.

“It should be comforting, and those who are critical should note the symbolism of the president doing it at this time,” he said, noting the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem. “It sends a symbolic message and one that should resonate throughout the Jewish community and the international community.”

Much of the pro-Israel right remains a strong area of Trump support on foreign policy. Breitbart News, with several alumni occupying key posts in the administration, has not advanced tough criticisms of the president’s Israel policy, although it has been critical of Trump on some domestic issues.

Conservative groups that reviled the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran, chief among them the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, are pleased with Trump’s policies. While Trump has not scrapped the deal, he has ramped up his rhetoric targeting the regime and added sanctions targeting Iran’s missile testing.

Conservative pro-Israel voices — among them Klein — have been outspoken as well in defending top Trump advisers who hail from the “alt-right,” a loose assemblage of anti-establishment conservatives that includes anti-Semites but also strident defenders of Israel.

Still, there are signs that unease with Trump’s Israel-related choices is deepening on the right. The tendency in Trump’s first months in office was to blame any decision that the pro-Israel right found unappealing on officials Trump did not appoint – civil service professionals whose tenure dated back to the Obama or George W. Bush administrations, or even further back.

But now, some of the fire is being directed at Trump appointees. H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser, has earned opprobrium from the pro-Israel right wing for his bid to sideline Ezra Cohen-Watnick, a young NSC staffer who is known for his hard-line Iran views. Trump nixed McMaster’s decision to move Cohen-Watnick to another agency.

Now fire is being directed at Bauman, whom McMaster named recently as his chief adviser on Israeli-Palestinian issues. Klein in a separate statement called Bauman, who served on the U.S. team during the 2013-14 failed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, “pro-Hamas.”

Klein based his assessment on a screed against Bauman published last week in FrontPageMag, which unearthed a 2009 academic work by Bauman citing views that recommend accommodating Hamas as a necessary evil in any negotiations toward a final status outcome. Bauman also is unstinting in describing Hamas’ brutality and terrorism in the paper.

Daniel Shapiro, until January the U.S. ambassador to Israel, on Wednesday called Klein’s attacks the “lowest of low blows,” noting that Bauman’s brief was to improve security for Israel in the West Bank ahead of a final status agreement.

Also troubling for the pro-Israel right has been Trump’s warmth toward the Palestinian Authority leadership, particularly P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas, whom Trump welcomed at the White House earlier this month and with whom he will meet in Bethlehem next week.

“I’m disappointed he brought a guy who rewards terrorists who murder Jews to the White House,” Klein said, referring to P.A. subsidies for families of jailed and killed terrorists.

The White House said in its readout of the Trump-Abbas meeting that Trump raised the issue of the payments and urged Abbas to stop them.

On a Sunday last December, Joe Wedner leaves a church service carrying fruit from a free food pantry. Photos by Eitan Arom

Jewish, homeless and alone: One tale of grief on L.A.’s streets


For Joe Wedner, theology is well-worn territory. God and His workings are among the trains of thought that keep Joe’s mind chugging, often in a broad and frenzied circle. At the center of that theology is a paradox that causes Joe a fair amount of strife.

Joe is 77, stooped and bearded. He’s a Jew by birth, but in practice, at least since 2013, he honors every faith — Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, etc. — without discrimination or distinction. His face betrays the weatherworn quality of someone who has spent years living on the streets, and he carries an air of all-consuming tragedy.

“I cry a lot — so I’m sorry — but I’ve never been locked up for crying,” he told me the first time we sat down together, in January 2016 at Native Foods Café, a vegan restaurant in Westwood.

He sat in front of a heaping pile of beans, grains and vegetables, his pushcart parked next to our table. Overflowing with pieces of cardboard and extra jackets, the cart held the sum of his worldly possessions.

Vegan cuisine was Joe’s idea. He avoids processed foods and animal products, not for ethical or health reasons, but religious ones. When a waiter stopped by our table, Joe pointed to his food and asked, “Is this the most natural, unchanged-from-God whole food that we got?”

God pervades Joe’s existence.

“There is no place that God is not,” he told me. “God is everyplace. God is in every belief. God is in every emotion.”

His relationship with the Almighty is perhaps Joe’s one remaining comfort in this world, although even that relationship is not without strain. According to Joe, two activities offer him any sort of solace from the unrelenting fear and anxiety that rule his day-to-day existence: religion and sex. Since Joe is homeless and elderly, it’s not easy for him to find sexual partners, so religion is all that remains in any practical sense. Every week, when he has the time, he attends as many religious and spiritual services as he can.

But his God, he insists, is not a particularly benevolent one. The paradox at the heart of Joe’s theology is that although God is everywhere, He is a maniac.

“God can do the impossible,” he explained to me. “He can give absolute, total freedom and still prevent man from sinning and leaving Him, and therefore He can prevent suffering. Why doesn’t He prevent suffering? Because He’s mentally ill. He’s seriously mentally ill, and we are His image and likeness, and we are mentally ill.”

When it comes to his own mental illness, Joe makes no secret. In his second email to me, shortly after we first met, he wrote, “I thought you might be interested in the attached information.” It was a psychiatric report diagnosing him with bipolar disorder, for which he refuses medication. He also admits to being delusional and cripplingly paranoid.

[To give or not to give? Experts weigh in]

For Joe, delusion bleeds freely into reality and vice versa. Consider his present life plan: Joe is taking UCLA Extension courses on the entertainment industry, hoping to land a high-paying job and strike it rich. The basis for his plan is his conviction that education is the key to income. Although that makes enough sense, his plan to strike it rich stretches credulity.

Yet Joe sticks to his plan doggedly, even if it means forgoing a roof over his head.

Joe has been homeless for four years, a condition that puts him in the category of “chronically homeless” — those homeless for a year or more due to debility. He is less an anomaly than a poster boy for the definition: By the latest count, 61 percent of the roughly 13,000 people who are chronically homeless in Los Angeles County are mentally ill, about 8,000 people total, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

If there is an anomaly to Joe, it’s his religious background.

In 2014, the Pew Research Center ranked Jews as the most financially successful religious group in America. Only 16 percent claimed a family income of less than $30,000 a year.

Tanya Tull, a homelessness policy pioneer and CEO of Partnering for Change, said in addition to Jews living on the street, many others eke out an existence in deplorable conditions in cramped apartments in poor neighborhoods like MacArthur Park and Mid-City. She cited as one example a 71-year-old retired Jewish man who spends more than 80 percent of his Social Security payments on rent in a studio apartment in Pico Union, where he experiences regular power outages and struggles to treat a chronic pulmonary condition.

Some local impoverished Jews are clients of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and its partner organizations. Federation estimates that together, the groups help about 20,000 Jews living in poverty, providing them with free kosher meals and grant assistance for housing, paired with case management.

But that number reflects only those whom they help.

“There are more people out there — Joe is a perfect example — who are not accessing these services,” Lori Klein, Federation’s senior vice president for its Caring for Jews in Need program, told the Journal.

Federation estimated that 50,000 Jews lived in poverty in Los Angeles in 2014, the latest year for which data are available. More than 600,000 Jews live in the Greater Los Angeles area.

Klein suggested that Joe call a central access hotline of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, which directs people experiencing financial instability to appropriate resources.

Joe said he called in April, but found that the services it offered were more or less the same as those he already was getting from a Kaiser Permanente social worker. As for housing, Joe, it turns out, has other priorities.

I first met Joe when I showed up for an assignment at jumu’ah, the Muslim prayer service offered Friday evenings at UCLA. I was early and found Joe sitting on a metal folding chair in the hallway outside the prayer room with the demeanor of someone who didn’t have anywhere else to be.

After services, I took down his email address. Joe checks his email frequently — somewhere among the loose cardboard and plastic bags in his cart was a laptop that he’d had since 2013. (It’s since been stolen; he now returns emails via public computers at UCLA.)

It turns out that Joe has little to hide and, by his estimation, much to gain from an interview.

“The more you tell the better,” he told me at Native Foods. “My psychiatrist does not disagree that my whole problem is a girlfriend deficiency, and I’m trying to get that out there.”

It was only much later in the interview that I learned he has a wife and daughter — but that hasn’t interrupted his other plans. Joe is interested in obeying all of God’s commandments, including to “be fruitful and multiply.”

“I need a lot of girlfriends,” he said, without a hint of irony or jest. “So I want to put that out there, just in case there might be somebody like me, that also wants a lot of children, a female. Because … I’m a panhandler, and a panhandler knows if you say the same thing to enough people, no matter what it is you’re saying, if you say it to enough people, you find a few, one or a few, that’ll agree with you.”

With Joe, it’s sometimes hard to distinguish between delusion and what could be described merely as misplaced priorities. His desire to have children is motivated not just by the joy of sex but also by the conviction that children represent “eternal life and salvation from death.” But whether Joe should father a child at 77, with no means to support one, is a consideration he ignores. He remains enthusiastic in pursuing his goal.

In the middle of the conversation, a young woman approached our table to express interest in the interview. Joe’s demeanor changed instantly. His eyes lit up, and he began talking more quickly, almost frantically. It occurred to me that he was putting on a show.

“You could sit down,” he told the young woman. “You could sit down and listen to me. If you’ve gotta go — want my email address? I’m an extremely interesting person. You’ll never find anybody running around loose more mentally ill than me.”

Joseph Leo Wedner was born on Feb. 2, 1940, in Detroit.

His father was born to an Orthodox family near Sanok, Poland. His mother, an American, was what Joe called a “three-day Jew,” someone who attended synagogue approximately three days a year. They had one other son, John, since deceased.

At 13, Joe became a bar mitzvah at Congregation Shaarey Zedek, a Conservative synagogue near Detroit. He recalls his trips to his father’s shul with fondness if also with a bit of detachment, saying, “That was very nice, people talking with their creator, praying and asking to not get sick with colds or anything else.”

But even at a young age, Judaism didn’t quite do it for him. He remembers, as a 5-year-old, being beset with a paralyzing fear that his faith couldn’t extinguish. He recalled his envy when he saw a glow-in-the-dark crucifix hanging over the bed of a grade-school friend.

“I thought, ‘Man, oh, man, everybody’s lucky except me. I gotta have horrible, terrible nightmares ’cause I’m scared of school. Why can’t I go to Catholic school and have that crucifix hanging by my bed?’ ” he said.

His family life was dysfunctional, he said: “That’s what our family does, is yell at one another. Big ones yell at the little ones.”

But Joe managed to hold things together and graduate from a local college, enrolling in medical school at the University of Michigan. Soon, though, his mental health began to slip, as it would at crucial moments in his future. He described struggling with paranoia so severe that he didn’t think he could make it in medical school. When things got bad, he went to see the dean.

“I told him, ‘I’m going to flunk out anyway, I’ll never get through this, it’s too hard, and I’m afraid of the American Nazi party. I’m going to Israel,’ ” he recalled.

His experience in Habonim Labor Zionist Youth as a teen in Detroit had convinced him that a Jew could live happily only in a socially just environment in Israel. So in January 1964, he left for Israel, landing at Kibbutz Sarid in Israel’s north.

It didn’t quite play out the way he had hoped. Instead of working, he “slept and ate all day and chased the tourist girls,” he said. He was kicked out, and he fell in with some hippies — or maybe they were secret police. Joe can’t be sure.

His new friends taught him to play guitar and beg on the street. After a stint in Abu Kabir Prison in Tel Aviv on narcotics charges — “all the hippies were doing narcotics,” he said — he felt disillusioned and left the country the year after he arrived.

From there, Joe tramped through Europe and the Middle East, his first experience with vagrancy. But, in 1968, he was back in the United States, and over much of the next four decades earned a living wage subsisting on odd jobs and help from his mother as he moved from place to place, with stints in New York, California, Washington state and Hawaii. Things weren’t always great, but there was a roof over his head. And then came Josie.

It was 2004. Joe had been living in the Philippines for about a year, living off the interest from an inheritance from his mother, when his psychiatrist suggested he hire a live-in maid because he hadn’t cleaned his Manila apartment in more than a year.

Josie showed up at his door. “Right from the beginning, we fell in love,” he said.

They were married a short while later. Their daughter was born in 2006, and a year later, they moved to Loma Linda in San Bernardino County, where they lived in a “very small, but very comfortable apartment.” The marriage was a rocky one, which he blames on his own upbringing.

“My family is dysfunctional, extremely, is as dysfunctional as a family can be without actually flying apart,” he said. “It was always screaming, weeping, crying, insulting, criticizing etc., so I did that to my wife, whose family never did that.”

In 2011, they traveled to Josie’s hometown, Zamboanga City, in the Philippines, moving from apartment to apartment. Josie started a few businesses, but they all failed. By 2013, he recalls, she told him, “Get me back in the USA, I don’t like it here.” He flew to Los Angeles, with plans for her to follow later — but no plan of where to stay once he left the airport.

Even living on the street, Joe was sending money back to Josie from his Supplemental Security Income, a federal program for the elderly, blind and disabled. After a while, he couldn’t afford to continue. “I heard from her when she needed money and then, when I stopped sending her money, I haven’t heard from her,” Joe said. She last contacted him in December. I reached out to Josie through email and Facebook, but she did not respond.

Nonetheless, Joe is keen to bring his wife to the U.S. While his strategy may be a doubtful one, he persists: To earn a visa for Josie, he needs to demonstrate to Immigration and Customs Enforcement that he can support her. Thus, his coursework at UCLA.

Sevgi Cacina, a film student at UCLA Extension who is making a documentary about Joe, first approached him after she saw him pitch his skills as an actor and producer at networking events. The crowd typically doesn’t know what to make of Joe, but one thing is certain, she said: “He’s not joking.”

He’s even enlisted some help. Screenwriter Brooks Elms said Joe enrolled in an online course that Elms taught through UCLA Extension in 2015, during which Joe diligently completed each assignment. After the course concluded, the students invited Elms to lunch in Westwood.

“Joe came to that lunch, rolled his cart right there from the street, and asked how he could get a movie made,” Elms wrote in an email. “I asked why he was even spending money on a film class when he could be spending it on basic survival needs, and he was determined to learn about the film business and make something happen that way.”

Elms said he’s now helping Joe make a film about Joe’s life on the streets.

“We plan [to] post it online with hopes it will bring him some much-needed income,” Elms wrote.

Until that happens, Joe remains on the street and sleeps in a sleeping bag in Westwood. Mostly, he’s tenacious about his plan, but sometimes his resolve lapses.

“This is as close to work as I got, giving an interview for a lunch,” he said at the vegan joint, “which is extremely disconcerting to me, because now I’m afraid I’ll never get my wife and daughter back.”

Joe’s separation from his wife and daughter is “an overwhelming tragedy that pervades my being every moment. … It causes anxiety, depression and every bad feeling.” Any kind of spiritual activity, from Mass to a 12-step meeting, relieves the pain of those feelings.

One day, on a visit to the Seventh-day Adventist church in Santa Monica — which he calls “Simcha Monica” — he ran into a Chabad missionary near the church.

As a lapsed Jew with a spotty relationship to the tribe, he was nervous about allowing the rabbi to lay tefillin on him. So he thought about it, and prayed about it, and decided he’d better drop by a Chabad.

“If I’m striving for God to help me, in everything, then I got no better or worse chance at the Chabad Lubavitch synagogue than I got anyplace else, so I’ll go,” he said. “So I started going. The more I went, the more I started feeling that … if I know what’s good for me, I better add Roman Catholic and Muslim to the places I pray.”

Basileia Community church elder Bill Horst bows his head and prays for Joe Wedner after a service in Hollywood.

Joe’s schedule for religious services is noncommittal and wide-ranging, though it leans Christian. Perhaps his favorite place to pray is a Christian congregation called the Basileia Community, which meets in a Baptist church in Hollywood. At one point, he was going twice a week, on Tuesdays and Sundays, while attending Roman Catholic services on Mondays and Thursdays and Chabad or Seventh-day Adventist services on Saturdays.

Lately, school has interfered with his attendance, and he’s often forced to stay around UCLA for services. One Sunday in December, I agreed to drive him to Basileia. We met on the corner of Westwood Boulevard and Le Conte Avenue with boisterous crowds of students surging by. He looked even smaller than I remembered, dressed in two coats and too-long pants that he’d rolled up at the cuff over a scuffed pair of brown loafers.

I loaded his pushcart, with its one broken wheel, into my car, and we set off for church.

On the way, I decided to raise the issue of permanent supportive housing — apartments made available by the city and county expressly for chronically homeless and mentally ill individuals like Joe. Los Angeles voters recently passed Measure HHH, a $1.2 billion bond that earmarks most of the funds precisely for building this type of housing. Joe conceded that it would be nice to have a toilet of his own, and the privacy to have company.

But “it might not be around here,” he speculated as we turned onto Wilshire Boulevard. “Then I’d have to wait for a bus and ride the bus and wait for a bus back … then it would slow down my saving up that $60,000 I need to show to get my wife over here.”

By now his foot was tapping violently enough to shake the car. The topic clearly made him anxious.

His thoughts are scattered, with a tendency to trail off or pivot wildly. On occasion, an unrelated question will reveal a heretofore-unexplored saga in Joe’s life.

By the time we reached Basileia, a question about his wife inadvertently had revealed details of the money he had inherited from his mother: Between 1984 and 2007, he said, he played the stock market, growing $250,000 into more than $800,000 at one point and living off the interest. When the market crashed 10 years ago, Joe said his bank account flat-lined.

As we walked into the church, people were schmoozing around a light buffet. Joe wasted no time in loading up a plate with fruit and breakfast rolls. It had been some time since he had been here, and several people approached him to say hello. A massive man with a kind face and a blond bun, the drummer in the congregation’s music ensemble, greeted Joe with a fist-bump.

Explaining my presence there as a Jewish Journal reporter, I mentioned that Joe was Jewish.

“I didn’t know you were Jewish, Joe!” a fellow churchgoer interjected.

I was mortified for outing him, but Joe was unfazed.

“I’m all things,” he explained.

For Joe, God is in every religion, all beliefs, indiscriminately and without exception. He likes Basileia for its inclusiveness and the kindness of his members. But it has no monopoly on his faith.

The band started to play and the hymns began to flow. “Holy Spirit, come fill this place!” the congregants sang, sitting in a semicircle under the exposed rafters of the tall, gabled roof.

The gathering was a dressed-down affair, community-oriented and progressive. The room flickered softly with the glow of candles and Christmas lights, and a plain, wooden cross overlooked the scene.

While the music played, Joe crossed his legs and tilted his head downward, staring just past his interlaced fingers, his white beard fanning out over his UCLA Extension T-shirt. The pastor, Suz Born, a bespectacled woman with a soft voice and the measured demeanor of a kindergarten teacher, kneeled next to him with her hands raised in the air.

Joe Wedner shows off a T-shirt reflecting his enrollment in UCLA Extension while standing on a corner in Westwood in December.

Soon, the music slowed to three or four chords repeated on an acoustic guitar. The frenzied foot tapping that had shaken my car had slowed to a soft, irregular beat.

When the service broke up, he stuck around to chat with friends and acquaintances, indulging them in detailed explanations of his theology. “The only reasonable conclusion is that God is mentally ill,” I overheard him saying.

He shares his theory widely, even if to awkward laughs or kind dismissals. It doesn’t earn him many friends. The Roman Catholics and Seventh-day Adventists say he’s blaspheming God. He says they’re blaspheming God by calling his truth blasphemy, since truth is God.

After services ended, church elder Bill Horst sat beside Joe to pray with him, resting his head on his hand and concentrating intensely. Later, Horst told me he prays for Joe to experience the mental soundness that often eludes him and to find a way off the streets.

Horst said that despite “packaging that’s a little tricky to get past,” Joe gets along OK at Basileia. At one point, he was making sexual overtures to single women there in a way that made them uncomfortable, Horst said — but church leaders sat him down and asked him to respect certain boundaries, and to his credit, he did.

“Someone can have a meaningful relationship with someone like Joe even if they find that difficult to imagine,” Horst told me on the phone later. “There is something real and coherent and worthwhile there if you’re willing to look for it.”

As people began to file out of the church, Joe headed to a basement room to pick up some donated food. He made a beeline for the fruits and vegetables. “There’s salad over here, boyfriend,” a homeless woman called out to him. But the salads were of the prepacked grocery store variety, and some had meat in them, so he passed over them. Even with his dietary restrictions, food is the least of his worries. Between panhandling and food banks, he has plenty. If he lacks for something, it’s not provisions but companionship.

“I need friends,” he said at Basileia. “My family is gone, so I need friends. Inshallah” — if God wills it.

Joe’s first serious brush with Christianity came during a lockup in Washington State Penitentiary in January 1978, when he was 37. He’d enrolled in a university-level accounting course in Tacoma, Wash., hoping it would set him on a path to quick riches. But he was failing and frustrated. One day, he decided somebody was driving too fast down his street, so he took out a loaded .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun and brandished it, yelling, on his porch. He was imprisoned for 25 months before his mother, an attorney, managed to get his sentence vacated on a technicality.

Prison was not a welcoming place. “The guards were unfriendly and the prisoners were even more unfriendly,” he said.

The only people who would speak with him were the missionaries.

“The Christian missionaries were there every day. I saw Jewish missionaries there once the whole 25 months I was there,” he said. “So naturally, I read the Christian Bible — a few times.”

He acquainted himself well with the text and continues to read and reread it. He keeps one in his pushcart. These days, one of Joe’s favorite verses to quote is the Man of Sorrows in Isaiah 53: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”

It’s not hard to puzzle out why he’s so fond of the verse. On the one hand, it’s easy to imagine Joe as Isaiah’s outcast, “pierced for our transgressions … crushed for our iniquities.”

On the other hand, it’s a potent illustration of a capricious and unsparing God, doling out suffering: Why would any but a mentally ill God cause one man to suffer for all the rest?

And so, my question for Joe was, why go to such great lengths to worship a God he believes — fervently — to be insane? Joe’s theology and his delusions often are baroque, but they’re pieced together from pieces of simple, direct logic. To my spiritual question came a pragmatic answer.

On weeks he goes to prayer services and reads from the Bible, he said, “things coincidentally or not coincidentally go better. And so I just keep doing it.”

A view of the Suruc refugee camp in Turkey, which houses some 35,000 Syrian refugees. Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images

Recalling lessons of Passover, Israelis pray for their Syrian ‘enemies’


At a Shabbat service in Tel Aviv on Friday evening, congregants recited the mourner’s prayer for those killed in Syria’s civil war.

Standing before a mural of the Tree of Life, the rabbi of Beit Daniel, the largest Reform synagogue in Israel, delivered a sermon on the Jewish obligation to condemn the savagery of the war. And a bar mitzvah boy led a prayer for peace in honor of the Syrian people, whom Israelis have long considered enemies.

“When you include something in your prayers, you push it to a higher level of consciousness,” said Gilad Kariv, the head of the Reform movement in Israel and a member of Beit Daniel. “We declared that the Syrian people are rooted in the deepest part of our soul as individuals and as a community.”

After an apparent chemical attack in Syria on April 4 killed dozens of people, including children, liberal and Orthodox Israeli Jews alike adapted their Passover prayers to address the tragedy unfolding just across their northern border. They found inspiration to pray for Syrians in the story of the holiday, which some Jews have long interpreted as urging sympathy for the oppressed — and even the oppressor.

Israel’s Reform movement this year asked its members to dedicate the Sabbath before Passover, called Shabbat Hagadol, to the Syrians and refer to them at least twice during the seder, which recounts the Israelites’ biblical exodus from slavery in Egypt. The first mention is to come before a prayer for peace by the 18th-century Hasidic rebbe Nachman of Braslav, which some may add to the Haggadah. The second should come when seder participants spill a drop of wine for each of the 10 plagues God visited upon the Egyptians to win the Israelites’ freedom.

Kariv cited the view that the wine ritual symbolizes that the Jewish “cup of joy” is diminished because the Israelites’ emancipation came through the suffering of the Egyptians. If inheritors of that Jewish tradition can find room to forgive the biblical Egyptians, he said, Israelis can certainly sympathize with Syrians, with whom they have battled and never made peace.

“Despite the fact that Israelis can identify the Syrian people as our enemies, the vast majority of us feel deeply saddened about what is happening next door,” he said. “We are using this tradition to remind us to have sorrow for the suffering of all people.”

Zeev Keinan, a longtime leader in Israel’s Conservative, or Masorti, movement, delivered a Torah commentary on Friday at his Maayanot synagogue in Jerusalem about whether Israelis should pray for the Syrians. His conclusion – yes – was not a surprise to anyone who read the prayer he wrote several months ago for the Syrian people on behalf of the movement. He said the prayer, which has been widely distributed, is being read at his synagogue and others throughout Passover.

Appropriately, Keinan noted, a line from the prayer is taken from a passage of Exodus that refers to the aftermath of the final plague God inflicted on the Egyptians: the death of every non-Jewish firstborn son.

Keinan, whose mother is a Holocaust survivor, said repurposing the phrase “there is not a house without one dead” (Exodus 12:30) is in keeping with the Passover tradition. In addition to the spilling of the wine, Keinan referred to the Talmudic story that God stopped the angels from rejoicing when  the Egyptian soldiers who were pursuing the fleeing Israelites drowned in the Red Sea, saying, “How dare you sing for joy when My creatures are dying.”

In the Orthodox world, a prayer for Syrians has been making the rounds online ahead of Passover. Written in 2013 by a leading religious Zionist ethicist, Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, the prayer reads in part: “We beseech You in prayer to arouse in the killers their basic humanity and evoke mercy in their hearts, that they may recognize that we are all created in the image of God, and that there are limits even to human cruelty.”

Cherlow said he wrote the prayer, despite a reluctance among Orthodox Jews to add to Jewish liturgy, out of concern for the “civilians and children” in Syria. He said Jews are commanded “as part of our going out of Egypt” to observe that they are allied with any oppressed or displaced people. But Cherlow acknowledged being uncertain about what exactly to ask of God, given that most of the warring parties in Syria could be considered enemies of Israel.

“In this case, I can’t say we know what we wish for,” he said. “While I can’t use the term ‘happy,’ I prefer the bad people shoot each other and not kill me.”

Echoing the overwhelming sentiment in this country, Cherlow said Israel has little choice but to maintain its policy of nonintervention in Syria. Most Israelis feel getting involved would accomplish little and risk incurring the wrath both of Syrian President Bashar Assad and his backers Iran, Hezbollah and Russia, as well as the radical Islamic rebel groups, including the Islamic State, that seek to topple him.

Still, Cherlow emphasized that prayer is not enough in the face of evil, and said the events in Syria also inspired him to demand action. He recently recommended to the army’s chief of staff, Gadi Eizenkot, that the Israel Defense Forces expel reserve soldiers who assist as mercenaries in conflicts in African and South American countries, among others, and formally add ethical considerations to its decisions about weapons sales.

According to Kariv, Israel’s Reform movement plans to issue a letter on Wednesday demanding that Israel, which has not taken in any Syrian refugees, welcome 100 orphan children from the country — a plan proposed earlier this year by haredi Orthodox Interior Minister Aryeh Deri.

The David's Sling misile defense system. Photo courtesy of JTA/Israel Ministry of Defense

Israeli anti-missile system becomes operational


Israel’s medium-to-long-range anti-missile system became operational on April 2 as tensions on the country’s northern and southern borders have heated up. The defense system is meant to intercept rockets fired from a range of 20 to 200 miles, including those fired from the Gaza Strip toward Tel Aviv.

“I will reiterate, that whoever wants to strike us will be beaten, and those who threaten our existence are putting their own lives at risk,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the official launching ceremony for the system, adding that defending the home front is of the “utmost importance.”

The system, called David’s Sling (which used to be called Magic Wand) joins the Iron Dome, which is designed to shoot down short-range rockets, such as those fired from the Gaza Strip at Jewish communities near the Gaza border, and the Arrow system, which intercepts long-range missiles of more than 300 miles. David’s Sling is designed to intercept tactical ballistic missiles, medium- to long-range rockets and cruise missiles.

“It’s always good when you have several layers of defense, as there is always some leakage [of missiles that get through],” said Shlomo Brom, a former head of the strategic planning division of the Israeli army. “This is an optimal system for dealing with medium-range missiles.”

Hezbollah has threatened to target a large ammonia storage tank in the northern Israeli city of Haifa. The Haifa District court has ordered the 12,000-ton tank shut, fearing it could cost thousands of lives if it were hit. Despite an April 1 deadline for closure, the site remains open. David’s Sling could hit a Hezbollah missile fired from Lebanon.

David’s Sling is a joint project with Israel’s Rafael Advance Defense Systems collaborating with Raytheon, which also produces the Patriot missile system. Some of the components were built by Elta, a subdivision of Israel Aerospace Industries that developed the system’s radar, and Elbit Systems, which developed the command and control mechanisms.

Vice Admiral James Syring, director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, attended the launching ceremony and Netanyahu addressed part of his speech to him.

“Admiral, today marks an important milestone in our joint development of cutting-edge missile defense technologies. We face, both of us, increasingly sophisticated threats, but we have repeatedly demonstrated that together we can meet these challenges a lot better than any one of us could do so alone,” he said.

“We’re white and blue, [but] red, white and blue, in this context, works even better.

“At a time when budgets are tight, please know that the government of Israel and the people of Israel are deeply grateful for the ongoing support by the United States of this crucial effort and the ongoing support of the United States for the general defense of Israel,” Netanyahu said.

The new system comes as President Donald Trump has said he wants to cut budgets for foreign aid.

“When it concerns declarations, President Trump is very supportive of Israel, but a basic element of the policy that he talked about during the campaign is that he wants to cut U.S. foreign aid expenses because America is first now,” Brom said. “If this project is continuing, it shows the U.S. wants to make an exception when it comes to Israel.”

Britney Spears

Finally some good news: Britney Spears reportedly to perform Tel Aviv concert in July


Britney Spears will perform in Tel Aviv in July, the Israeli media are reporting.

The one-night show by the American pop singer reportedly will take place at Yarkon Park and be part of her upcoming Asian tour. The final date and ticket sales have not been announced.

Rumors that Spears, 35, would play in Israel have circulated in the past, but the show’s producers confirmed to Haaretz that the concert would be announced officially in the coming days.

Spears has sold more than 240 million albums, DVDs and singles since her debut in 1999.

Other big names scheduled to perform in Israel in the coming months include Gun N’ Roses, Aerosmith, Justin Bieber, Radiohead and Tears for Fears.

Local and national media report on more than 170 toppled Jewish headstones after a weekend vandalism attack on Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City, a suburb of St Louis, Missouri. Feb. 21. Photo by Tom Gannam/REUTERS.

Stop celebrating Muslim decency


Being congratulated for basic civility is no compliment

Since the recent wave of anti-Semitic bomb threats, vandalism, and cemetery desecrations, journalistic and social media have vocally celebrated condemnations, fund-raising, and volunteer efforts by Muslim groups in an attempt to bolster interfaith cooperation and rehabilitate the reputation of the Islamic community precisely when its very welcome in America is being questioned like never before.

But nobody deserves congratulations for basic decency. Condemning bomb threats and making donations to repair damage from bias crimes is something good people of all backgrounds do. Liberal hoopla over proper Muslim responses to anti-Semitism is no more than a religious riff on the soft bigotry of low expectations. When Muslims go to extraordinary lengths to show they embrace their Jewish neighbors – and they sometimes do – public praise is appropriate. But headlines about Islamic press releases condemning cemetery vandalism send the opposite message – that in normal circumstances Muslims are callous and heartless.

Imagine these headlines:

  • Asian Driver Arrives At Work Without Incident
  • Jamaican Musician Passes Drug Test
  • Black Man Marries His Children’s Mother

 

While those headlines aim to challenge nasty stereotypes, they actually reinforce their legitimacy.

News stories about broad community efforts to help besieged Jews that contain a sentence “Even the local Muslim community turned out in force” are entirely appropriate. But special congratulations when Muslims act like, well, people are not compliments.

I know how it feels to have my own group celebrated for simple propriety.

As a Zionist, I am perpetually annoyed by hasbara (roughly, propaganda) that celebrates Israeli actions that are only minimally admirable – like an Israeli soldier who shares her sandwich with a starving Palestinian child or an Tel Aviv hospital that provides an impoverished dying Arab woman with free medical care. Yes, I understand that these examples are intended to debunk the idea that Israelis are not decent (although I have yet to see anti-Israel discourse accusing Israelis of withholding sandwiches from orphans). But the very act of highlighting basic decency legitimizes the slander, which is particularly offensive given the many good Israeli actions that are far from just minimally proper.

The people spotlighting Muslim attempts to repair desecrated cemeteries may think they’re rebutting negative stereotypes. But they aren’t. Sorry to say it, but Americans who fear or hate Muslims don’t do so because they think Muslims tolerate vandalism. They do so because they think Muslims tolerate terrorism. These stories will not dent that perception.

Americans are rightly proud of the way its citizens of many groups came together to help one group among them recover in a time of distress – and Muslims should be part of that celebration. But breathless reports that American Muslims aren’t jackasses after all help nobody – including American Muslims.

David Benkof is a columnist for the Daily Caller, where this essay first appeared. Follow him on Twitter (@DavidBenkof) and Muckrack.com/DavidBenkof, or E-mail him at DavidBenkof@gmail.com.

 

 

 

From left: Carol Bishop captures “Bishop10 Aharonovitz St., Brazilai-Haussmann 1937” and "35 Petah Tikvah Rd. Rekanati House, Shlomo Leaskovsky-Yaakov Orenstein, 1935." Photos courtesy of Carol Bishop

Lifting the veil on the ‘White City’


The famed modernist apartment buildings that line Tel Aviv’s streets have earned the Israeli port city the nickname the “White City.” Influenced by the International Style of modern architecture in the 1930s, the buildings reflect the prevalent vision that shaped the city’s creation and left an architectural legacy recognized with a World Heritage Site designation.

Two Los Angeles-based photographers, Susan Horowitz and Carol Bishop, examine that legacy in an exhibit called “Tel Aviv — The White City + Beyond,” now on display through May 28 at the Academy for Jewish Religion, California in Koreatown.

“The style came from the idea of ‘new’: a clean slate. And what was more new than these ideas about buildings?” Bishop said.

“When they needed to accommodate so many people streaming into Israel, they felt that that would be the newest style and one without reference to older design and other cultures,” Horowitz added.

When Jewish settlers came to Palestine in the early 1900s, they worked with British colonial administrators to build a new city on the sand dunes north of the ancient city of Jaffa. The architects of that era drew inspiration from the International Style of architecture that took hold in Europe immediately after World War I. The style emerged from the Bauhaus School of Arts, Design and Architecture, which Walter Gropius founded in Weimar Germany in 1919. (The Nazis closed the school in 1933.)

The rise of Nazism led to a mass migration of European Jews to Palestine in the 1930s. Tel Aviv’s rapid growth meant an immediate need for housing and no shortage of work for architects. Among them was Arieh Sharon, a Bauhaus-educated architect who designed workers’ housing, private homes, cinemas, hospitals and government buildings.

Approximately 4,000 Bauhaus-style buildings were built in Tel Aviv in the 1930s and ’40s — the largest collection in the world. The buildings were collectively recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage site in 2003, and guided tours of the White City are still popular with tourists.

Bauhaus-style architecture emphasizes functionality and eschews decorative elements. The Tel Aviv buildings resemble white blocks with clean, flowing lines and smooth surfaces, the facades interrupted only by inset windows and balconies. The architects adapted their style to the sunny Mediterranean climate, maximizing ventilation by placing the buildings on pilotis, or ground-level support columns, to create shady outdoor areas.

Horowitz and Bishop, longtime friends and colleagues, combined their images in one show to reveal two different perspectives on Tel Aviv.

Susan Horowitz’s photograph “Meier on Rothschild.” Photo courtesy of Susan Horowitz

Susan Horowitz’s photograph “Meier on Rothschild.” Photo courtesy of Susan Horowitz

 

Bishop’s part of the exhibit, called “Colors of the White City,” is made up of color photos, with green palm trees and bright, blue skies framing the gleaming buildings. She also includes a sepia-toned series of photos of Jaffa’s old buildings, and a conceptual series focused on the use of limestone bricks.

Horowitz’s photos, in her part called “Perspective — The White City,” are black and white and often include nearby buildings to juxtapose the white Bauhaus-style apartments with their more contemporary (and far less stylish) neighbors.

One photo by Horowitz shows a billboard promoting “Meier on Rothschild,” a mixed-use complex designed by American architect Richard Meier (designer of The Getty Center in Los Angeles) that opened in 2015 and includes a 39-story building — Meier’s take on Bauhaus architecture. The billboard displays a quote from Meier: “Building this white tower over the white city is a dream come true.”

When she first arrived in Tel Aviv, Bishop said, she was struck by its similarities to Los Angeles, such as the climate, the culture, the age of the buildings and the integration of indoor and outdoor spaces. She also noticed another parallel: Just as L.A. is attempting to preserve modernist buildings that have fallen into disrepair, so, too, is Tel Aviv rehabilitating some of its decaying Bauhaus-style buildings.

Horowitz, during her research, discovered another connection between Tel Aviv and L.A. through the work of architect Ben-Ami Shulman. He was born in Jaffa in 1907, studied at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels and became one of the noted modernist architects in Tel Aviv in the 1930s. After moving to Los Angeles in 1960, Shulman built residential and commercial buildings in a nondescript style often referred to as “vernacular architecture.”

Horowitz photographed all 17 documented Shulman buildings in L.A., as well as eight Shulman buildings designated as landmarks in Tel Aviv, and organized them into a mini-exhibition she calls “Some Shulman Architecture,” which is included in the “White City” show. (The title is a reference to artist Ed Ruscha’s iconic photographic series “Some Los Angeles Apartments,” that draws attention to easily overlooked or banal elements of the built environment.) Horowitz’s Shulman project was previously displayed at the American Institute of Architects’ Los Angeles office in 2015.

Not everyone accepts the historic narrative of the White City, however. In his book “White City, Black City: Architecture and War in Tel Aviv and Jaffa,” dissident Israeli historian and architect Sharon Rotbard notes that only four Bauhaus students ever emigrated to Palestine, and they were more influenced by Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier. Tel Aviv began as a suburb of Jaffa, but its population boom in the 1920s soon came to overshadow the Arab economic and cultural hub. Since Jaffa’s annexation to Tel Aviv after the 1948 war, most of Jaffa’s residents were pushed out and its neighborhoods were bulldozed.

“Tel Aviv eagerly appropriated the Bauhaus brand name in order to develop the local myth about the rebirth of Bauhaus in Palestine,” says Rotbard, who contends that the story of a gleaming white city built on sand dunes is a “fable” created to serve “obvious political and economic agendas.” While the Bauhaus school emphasized utopian social ideas, Rotbard argues that Tel Aviv’s modernist architecture was used for colonial purposes: to whitewash the dispossession and expulsion of the Palestinians.

But to label the White City as a “colonial” architectural project is inaccurate, Bishop argued.

“I think the word ‘colonial’ is a little tricky,” she said. “I would say utopian. A dream that, finally, in our own power, we can visually — and, of course, culturally — start anew.”

“Tel Aviv — The White City + Beyond” by Carol Bishop and Susan Horowitz is on display through May 28 at the offices of the Academy for Jewish Religion, California, 3250 Wilshire Blvd., No. 550, Los Angeles.

An Orthodox Jewish man stands in front of the U.S Embassy in Tel Aviv on Jan. 24. Photo by Baz Ratner/Reuters

More than symbolism involved with moving U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem


The location of the United States Embassy in Israel has been an issue of controversy for decades, but it is newly on the front burner. Moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was a persistent Donald Trump campaign promise, one of its strongest advocates is U.S. ambassador to Israel nominee David Friedman, and Israeli officials called on Trump to relocate the embassy in their messages of congratulations on his election.

Like so many other variables in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this one boils down to whether you feel more strongly about principles or outcomes. Unlike other areas of contention between Israel and the Palestinians, this is one where the smart solution is one against which I instinctively recoil.

The historical reason for the embassy being located in Tel Aviv is because the international community views the overall status of Jerusalem as being subject to negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. This is not an issue in which the U.S. is an outlier in any way — while there were a small number of primarily Latin American countries that located their embassies in Jerusalem in the past, there have been no embassies in Jerusalem for more than a decade.

Aside from the American position that the status of Jerusalem should not be prejudged, there is a daily and ongoing practical reason for having the embassy in Tel Aviv. American regional allies are adamant that locating the embassy in Jerusalem would be a literally explosive issue, and indeed Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama have on national security grounds waived the requirement in the Jerusalem Embassy Act that the embassy be moved to Jerusalem. It is taken as an article of faith that moving the embassy will create protests not only in Israel but against American embassies and consulates throughout the Middle East and subject American diplomats and soldiers to the threat of violence.

The argument for moving the embassy to Jerusalem relies on a basic notion of fairness. Israel defines its capital as Jerusalem, and yet it is the only country in the world whose capital — determined by its own democratically elected and sovereign government — is not accepted by the rest of the international community. Despite the fact that Jerusalem does indeed represent a complex problem whose ultimate settlement must be resolved through negotiations, this is a red herring. Israel’s capital is in West Jerusalem, the newer section of the city that was built by Jewish residents of Palestine and was part of Israel from the very beginning. Its status is not and never has been disputed, was not and is not subject to any past or future negotiations, and is not the part of the city that is viewed by some as being more appropriately internationalized. Many Israelis and American Jews view the refusal to locate the American embassy in West Jerusalem as an unfair double standard and believe the Palestinian and larger Arab red line over moving the embassy to be evidence that the issue is acceptance of Israel in any borders rather than a stand against Israel’s presence in the West Bank.

Many people and organizations on both sides of this issue feel very strongly about it, as evidenced by the flood of statements and commentary on it since Trump’s election. Similar to the debate over the president using the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism,” it is an example of the divide over whether powerful symbolism should take precedence over more easily measurable consequences, and as with that debate, there are legitimate arguments for both. Irrespective of where one falls out, I wish that those on opposite sides of this divide would recognize that it is not a cut-and-dried debate.

To keep the embassy where it is does not constitute a purely neutral move. Israelis rightly feel that it signals an unwillingness to accept Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the Jewish people, the return to which was the object of centuries of Jewish longing. An American embassy in West Jerusalem does not prejudice the status of the Old City or negate the eminently reasonable desire of Palestinians to have their future capital in East Jerusalem. Keeping the embassy in Tel Aviv grants a hecklers’ veto to those whose real problem is with any Israeli presence in Jerusalem and who aim to deny the Jewish connection to Jerusalem. As with the Temple Mount status quo, having the world’s diplomatic corps to Israel live and work in Tel Aviv is a painful concession, even if it is one that ultimately is wise for security purposes.

To move the embassy is an ideological move completely devoid of any practical considerations. It doesn’t mean that it is ultimately the wrong policy to adopt, but it is highly misleading to pretend that moving the embassy to Jerusalem is the clear “pro-Israel” move and that keeping it in Tel Aviv is a sign of less than full support for Israel. Moving the embassy will not necessarily result in chaos and riots in Jerusalem itself, but there is no question it will result in chaos and riots somewhere, whether in other spots in Israel, the West Bank, Muslim-majority countries, or at American and Israeli embassies around the world. Is making a completely symbolic statement of moving the embassy worth even one American, Israeli, or Palestinian life? Is it worth even one dollar of property damage? Is it worth the Palestine Liberation Organization following through on its threat to withdraw its recognition of Israel, or halt the security cooperation that is preventing mass terrorism and rockets from the West Bank? The idea that the American embassy can be moved in a cost-free manner is laughable.

The embassy issue is hard. Do not use it as a litmus test for what is right or wrong, what is supportive of Israel or not, what should be done or should not be done. Above all, do not turn it into such a sacred cow that keeping the embassy in Tel Aviv will automatically result in a 50 percent cut to American embassy security worldwide, as the absolutely insane bill introduced in the Senate last week will do. Policies have consequences, and moving the American embassy or keeping it where it is involves a lot more than whether diplomats will have to order new business cards. We are entering an era where every policy is in danger of being reduced to a mere rhetorical argument; do not give in to that temptation with regard to this one.


MICHAEL J. KOPLOW is the Israel Policy Forum’s policy director, based in Washington, D.C. Reach him at mkoplow@ipforum.org.

White House: Trump administration in ‘beginning stages’ of discussing embassy move


The Trump administration is in the “beginning stages” of discussing whether to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“We are at the very beginning stages of even discussing this subject,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said on Sunday in a statement, according to Reuters.

The statement came hours before President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were scheduled to have a phone conversation.

Spicer said in a briefing call with reporters at the end of last week that an announcement on the embassy move would be “coming soon.”

Trump told an Israeli reporter on Tuesday in Washington that he will move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. Israel Hayom reporter Boaz Bismuth reported that during a conversation with Trump, he asked the president elect if he remembered telling him in a previous interview that he would move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

He reported that Trump replied: “Of course I remember what I told you about Jerusalem. Of course I didn’t forget. And you know I’m not a person who breaks promises.”

Kellyanne Conway, a top Trump adviser, told conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt during a show in December that moving the embassy was a “big priority” for Trump.

“It is something that our friend in Israel, a great friend in the Middle East, would appreciate and something that a lot of Jewish Americans have expressed their preference for,” Conway said. “It is a great move. It is an easy move to do based on how much he talked about that in the debates and in the sound bites.”

The nominee for U.S. Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, has reportedly said in private conversations that he will “work and live in Jerusalem,” Ynet reported. The official ambassador’s residence is located in Herzliya. Friedman owns an apartment in the Talbiyeh neighborhood of Jerusalem, which he reportedly visits several times a year.

Friedman is expected to arrive in Israel at the end of February and take up his job as ambassador. He has not yet been confirmed by the Senate.

Congress recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 1995, and at that time passed a law mandating the move that included a presidential waiver that lapses every six months, that allows the president to delay the move for national security reasons.

Obama told Trump that embassy move to Jerusalem could be ‘explosive’


President Barack Obama said he told his successor Donald Trump that moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem could be “explosive.”

“Obviously it’s a volatile environment when sudden unilateral moves are made that speak to the core issues or sensitivities of either side. That can be explosive,” Obama said Wednesday at his final news conference when asked if he consulted with Trump about moving the embassy from Tel Aviv.

Obama said his administration’s message to the Trump transition team was “pay attention to this, this is volatile stuff, people feel deeply and passionately about this.”

Obama said he understands that it is important to give a new president a wide berth on policy issues.

“I think it is right and appropriate for a new president to test old assumptions and re-examine the old ways of doing things, but if you’re going to make big shifts in policy … you want to be intentional about it, you don’t want to be off the cuff when it comes to an issue this volatile,” the outgoing U.S. leader said.

Trump’s pick for ambassador to Israel, his longtime lawyer David Friedman, has said he favors moving the embassy. Trump campaigned saying he would move the embassy, but his transition team has declined to offer a timeline for the action.

Congress recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 1995, but successive presidents have exercised a waiver that allows them to delay the move for national security reasons.

At the news conference, Obama again defended his decision last month to allow a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement expansion. It was the first time Obama had allowed a resolution that Israel opposed.

Obama noted that his own attempts to restart peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians had ended in failure, and said that settlement expansion was eroding the prospect of a two-state solution.

“It was important for us to send a signal that this moment may be passing,” the president said. “Hopefully that creates a debate inside Israeli and Palestinian communities that won’t immediately result in peace but will at least lead to a more sober assessment.”

Trump tells Israeli reporter in Washington he will move embassy to Jerusalem


President-elect Donald Trump told an Israeli reporter that he will move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.

Trump made the remarks at an event Tuesday evening in Washington, the Israeli daily Israel Hayom reported on Thursday.

Israel Hayom reporter Boaz Bismuth, who served as Israel’s ambassador to Mauritania for four years until 2008, attended the event sponsored by Trump’s close associate, chairman of the 58th Presidential Inauguration Committee Thomas J. Barrack Jr., for current diplomats serving in the United States.

Bismuth reported that during a conversation with Trump, he asked the president elect if he remembered telling him in a previous interview that he would move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

He reported that Trump replied: “Of course I remember what I told you about Jerusalem. Of course I didn’t forget. And you know I’m not a person who breaks promises.”

Asked about current events in Israel, Trump replied: “I can’t wait to start working with Israel. This weekend, relations between us officially begin.”

Israel Hayom is a free Hebrew-language daily newspaper owned by Republican donor and billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson.

During the campaign, Trump said he would move the embassy, but his transition team has declined to offer a timeline for the action.

Trump’s choice for secretary of defense said at confirmation hearings before the U.S. Senate on Thursday that Tel Aviv is Israel’s capital.

“The capital of Israel that I go to, sir, is Tel Aviv, sir, because that’s where all their government people are,” James Mattis, a retired four-star general, told the senators in response to questions about policy on Israel.

David Friedman, Trump’s choice for U.S. ambassador to Israel, said in the announcement of his nomination that he hoped to work from a Jerusalem embassy.

Congress recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 1995 and mandated the move to Jerusalem, but successive U.S. presidents have exercised a waiver in the law that allows them to delay the move for national security reasons. U.S. security and diplomatic officials say that moving the embassy would stir anti-American violence in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Elon Gold: Three weeks in Israel and I go blond and gay


It was my first kiss — on camera. 

I was filming a TV pilot in 1998 where I played a Jewish guy marrying a shiksa, the first of many similar roles. In the rehearsal, I cautiously leaned into actress Cynthia Geary and gently kissed her lips. The director stopped me. He pulled me aside. 

“Are you gay?” he asked. He was nonjudgmental, matter of fact. 

“No, why do you ask?’ I said.

“Because it looks like you have no interest in kissing that gorgeous woman,” he said.

I explained to him that I had every interest in kissing her, but this being my first TV kiss, I didn’t know how it works. With tongue? Without? Do you just go for it, or hold back and let her lead? I was losing my TV kiss virginity, and I was nervous and scared to be too aggressive and have the actress blow a rape whistle on me.

Cut to almost 20 years later. Just last week I was in Tel Aviv on a set with a full production crew, filming a web series called “Bar Mitzvah,” in which I play a gay dad who takes his son to Israel for his bar mitzvah. Only now, this was going to be my first on-screen kiss … with a man. 

I was nervous — dreading not only my first man-on-man smooch, but also a repeat of my maladroit, first TV kiss. Now, my fear was the director taking me aside after I sheepishly and awkwardly lean in for a kiss and asking me, “Are you straight?” To which I would reply, “Yes! And if it looks like I have no interest in kissing this man, I don’t!”

This all started when my manager called me with an offer to co-star in a web series created by Gal Uchovsky, known as “The Simon Cowell of ‘Israel Idol’ ”; Ilan Peled, a popular Israeli actor/comedian; and Eytan Fox, who had one of Israel’s biggest hit movies, “Yossi & Jagger.” 

“It’s filming in Israel for three weeks and you play a gay dad,” my manager said. 

My first thought was, getting paid to do what I love — comedic acting — in a land I love, how could I say no? But then like any real Jew, I went right to the negative thoughts. I’ve never been away from my family for more than a week. And what about all my relatives, rabbis and everyone else I encounter as an observant Jew, who have always chastised me about playing a guy who’s married to a non-Jewish woman? There’s only one thing that could be worse to them than that: playing a guy who’s married to a non-Jewish man! 

My first concern about the length of time away from my family was instantly alleviated by the deal itself; with four kids in yeshiva, I couldn’t turn down what they were offering. 

But it was my second concern that I really had to grapple with. Every TV sitcom I ever did, the producers cast me against a non-Jewish wife. I always promised everyone that one day I’d be able to have my own show and I would make sure my TV wife was Jewish. That day never came. I did have my own show: I pitched and sold a sitcom to NBC called “In-Laws” about my experience living with my Jewish wife’s parents. But when it came time for casting, the producers and network wanted to go shiksa — and there was nothing I could do about it. There I was again, playing the Jew who marries out of his religion. “You’re not helping our problem with intermarriage!” I heard over and over again. 

My defense was always the same. As an actor, I will take on any role, including that of a serial killer. It’s just a part I’m playing. I don’t kill people in real life. And I happen to be married to a nice Jewish girl from Scarsdale, N.Y., and we are raising our kids in an observant home. But that wasn’t enough for everyone. It was like I was single-handedly responsible for the end of the Jewish people.

The cast of the web series “Bar Mitzvah.”

After “In-Laws,” I got cast opposite Pamela Anderson — a lovely woman and the ultimate shiksa! — on another sitcom. After that, on the hit show “Bones,” I was playing the boyfriend of a woman who is not Jewish and half black. I could just hear my not-so-casually racist aunt saying, “A half-shvartze shiksa!? What’s he gonna play next — faygala??”

Well, yes. That’s exactly what I’m proudly playing. A homosexual who is married to a man and has a child whom he is also raising to be gay. When my character finds out, while in Israel, that his son is attracted to a young girl, he spirals out of control and just can’t handle it. 

“My son, straight? You think he’ll grow out of it?” I hopefully ask my husband after hearing this terrible news. 

It’s a funny script and a great role. One I wouldn’t turn down because of Jewish-peer pressure. 

In fact, the only relative I had any concern about offending was my younger brother Ari, who is gay. He was glad that I was going to portray a Jewish, gay man in a positive light. He is a well-known recording artist in the gay community and is very out and proud of both his Jewishness and his gayness. “Another gay role going to a straight actor!” he complained, mostly in jest. His bigger concern was that I would play the role stereotypically. 

“No effeminate lisps or limp wrists, please!” he warned. 

The truth is, by the time I was cast as the gay man, I had already wrestled with what it meant to be the straight brother. Being an observant Jew and having a gay brother whom I love and accept with all my heart can sometimes be conflicting. I’m an advocate for gay rights, and yet I’m also a Torah Jew who loves and learns Torah regularly, knowing it doesn’t exactly have wonderful things to say about a man lying with another man. But I don’t believe you have to take sides. Gays should never be judged negatively for who they are, and the Torah shouldn’t be scorned for calling homosexuality a sin. Let’s not forget that in the Torah, there’s all kinds of heterosexual sex that’s also a sin. This is a much bigger topic that I can’t tackle alone. I just wish people would be more accepting of those who marry outside of their religion, or inside their gender. Especially considering that a close friend of mine who married a non-Jew, who converted to Judaism, almost single-handedly rebuilt our synagogue. The running joke in our congregation is that, “A shiksa built our shul!”

With that in mind, and the knowledge that you can’t ever please everyone anyway, I took the role. I slipped into my first class El Al seat — another reason to do it! — with excitement and anticipation of what lay ahead of me in the Holy Land.

My first day, they had me in a wardrobe fitting where I was trying on the gayest outfits I’ve ever worn. Then, to gay me up even more, they took me to a hair salon and dyed the top of my hair blond. Now I looked and felt the part. The next day we began filming and all my trepidations of whether or not I could play this role — and fears of what relatives and fellow Modern Orthodox Jews will think — went away.

And the kiss? It was three seconds longer than I would’ve liked, but it was nice. The gay director was happy with his two heterosexual actors sharing a sweet, “real” moment between these two “husbands.” It didn’t hurt that I had been away from my wife for almost a month, so, frankly, it was good to get any action. 

While I may not be looking forward to the wrath of negative comments and emails when this web series premieres, I am looking forward to continuing to make Jews and non-Jews everywhere laugh, and to keep on playing roles that challenge me as an actor and entertain audiences — whether my Aunt Ruth approves or not. 

I’m back in L.A. now, filming a TV pilot this week and preparing for my big annual “Merry Erev Xmas” show at the Laugh Factory in Hollywood next week. I walked into the door of my home after my long but fruitful trip and passionately kissed my wife. There were no cameras, no actresses or actors, just me and my high school sweetheart. And no director took me aside to ask if I was gay or straight. Because, you know, you can’t fake real love.


Elon Gold is a comedian, writer and actor whose latest viral video has more than 1 million hits and counting. His annual “Merry Erev Xmas” at the Laugh Factory will take place Dec. 24. For times, tickets and information, visit this story at laughfactory.com.

Obama renews waiver delaying Jerusalem Embassy relocation


This article originally appeared on “>position paper on Israel, released six days before the election, Trump’s advisors suggested that even before negotiations take place between the two sides, “the U.S. will recognize Jerusalem as the eternal and indivisible capital of the Jewish state and move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.”

But in an “>interview with Jewish Insider, former ADL national director Abe Foxman suggested that the Trump administration should “move the process gradually rather than as a dramatic act.”

To curb binge drinking, follow Israel’s lead


The scene outside a bar in Tel Aviv looks very different from the scene outside a college party in the United States. 

Young American college kids may spend their evenings slumped over a curb, with heads in hands and consciousness in question. Young Israelis actually seem to be enjoying their evenings out. 

That’s not to say American college students don’t also enjoy their time out, but rather that the Israelis will typically remember those nights.  

Going out as an underage college student in America is a blur of cheap vodka and swigs of orange juice from a shared bottle. The result of these wild evenings often includes “blacking out,” a badge of honor in some circles.  

So what’s going on? Why does it seem as if young Israelis have a better handle on alcohol consumption than their American peers? I spent this summer working and living as an of-age adult in Israel, and I discovered revealing disparities in the laws and culture surrounding alcohol. 

In Israel, the drinking age is 18 and alcohol cannot be purchased in stores after 11 p.m. The Knesset also limits advertising and marketing of alcohol and imposes increased taxes on alcohol.  

According to a Times of Israel story, alcohol consumption in Israel is low. Binge drinking, which the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) says is a serious health hazard for youth, is lower in Israel than in other developed nations.

Binge drinking in the United States is on the rise. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 90 percent of alcohol consumed by adults under the age of 21 in the United States is in the form of binge drinking. 

The drinking age in the United States is 21. For many college students younger than 21, the primary objective seems to be to consume high volumes quickly. 

Given that young people use and abuse alcohol at a staggeringly high rate, we should take action to address this epidemic and our outdated laws governing alcohol consumption. 

Reforming laws surrounding alcohol can help to turn an unsafe, irresponsible and illegal activity to a regulated and safer one. According to the OECD report, individuals of higher socio-economic status as well as higher education levels are more likely to abuse alcohol. College students are at risk. 

Israel’s experience resonates with the finding of health professionals. According to a report in the U.S. National Library of Medicine — National Institutes of Health, policies that limit the hours of alcohol sale by more than two hours “might be a means of reducing excessive alcohol consumption and related harms.”

In the United States, we seem to believe that a higher drinking age will teach our children a lesson that alcohol is for more mature individuals. This is a failed experiment that did not work during Prohibition and does not work now. Rather than an absolute ban that encourages buying “by the bottle” late at night, we should encourage better behavior. Better instead to have young people drinking in bars, ordering drinks that are measured in alcohol content one at a time. 

By lowering the drinking age and imposing stricter rules about purchasing alcohol, we have a better chance at getting to the root of the issue — binge drinking. 

During my two months in Tel Aviv, I noticed how young Americans simply didn’t have the opportunity to binge drink. By the time we finished dinner, stores had stopped selling alcohol. The 11:01 p.m. dilemma ensued. Either we paid for expensive alcohol at bars, or we stopped drinking. We drank less. 

The moral of the story for those of us older than18 in Israel was that we’d plan our night out. We consumed alcohol over a longer period of time, typically with dinner, which is safer. If we did not have this foresight, the system punished you a little bit by making your ability to get belligerently drunk or “blacking out” that much harder. 

Israel has often been referred to as the “startup nation.” Perhaps in addition to its technological achievements, we Americans might now follow its lead to “start up” changing our attitudes toward alcohol and making our kids safer and healthier.


Lauren Sonnenberg is a junior at Northwestern University studying journalism and history. She recently completed an internship at Haaretz newspaper in Israel.

Shimon Peres’ son says family ‘will have to make decisions’


The son of former Israeli President Shimon Peres gave a sober assessment of his father’s condition following a massive stroke and said the family “will have to make decisions.”

Shortly after 11 p.m., several hours after Peres, 93, was admitted to Sheba Medical Center in Tel HaShomer near Tel Aviv, hospital officials said the statesman remained in stable but serious condition in the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit.

In a statement in front of the medical center, Peres’ son, Chemi, acknowledged to reporters that “in the coming hours, we will have to make decisions,” though he did not specify what those were.

He said his father “loved, loves the people of Israel,” and he called on those who were praying for his father to continue to do so. The director of the hospital, Dr. Itzik Kreiss, told the media that the statesman suffered bleeding on the brain as a result of the stroke.

The Israeli media reported that the president had two CT scans on Tuesday night that showed no change or improvement.

Peres’ office said in a statement at approximately 8 p.m. Tuesday that Peres was “stable and fully conscious.” The office later announced that Peres’ doctors decided to sedate him and put him on a respirator as he undergoes medical treatment.

In January, Peres had a heart attack and then cardiac angioplasty to open a blocked artery. He was hospitalized twice more with chest pains.

In an interview in January with JTA, just days before his heart attack, Peres said he was busier than ever, including his work with the Peres Center for Peace, which he founded.

A month earlier, social media was flooded with rumors that Peres had died, leading him to take to Facebook to declare that rumors of his demise were greatly exaggerated.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said in a statement that Netanyahu spoke with the director of Sheba Medical Center and was updated on Peres’ condition. Netanyahu conveyed the prayers of the entire nation for a quick recovery, according to the statement.

Peres, who retired as president of Israel in 2014 after more than half a century in public life, including a stint as prime minister, won the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize with the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the late Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

Israel rabbi: Deadly parking garage collapse due to Shabbat desecration


An Israeli rabbi said the collapse of a parking garage under construction in Tel Aviv that killed six was due to lack of Sabbath observance.

Rabbi Meir Mazuz, the head of the Tunisian Jewish community in Israel, made the comments during a lecture he delivered Saturday night in Bnei Brak, Ynet reported.

“What happened, the disaster this week — nothing like this ever happens. There are engineers, there are smart people, there are inspectors — and dozens of people are buried underground. It all comes because they disrespect Shabbat,” he said, according to Ynet.

“Running away from Shabbat is the largest mistake in the world … prime ministers need to understand that the Shabbat will not forgive … the Almighty gave us a good gift, the Shabbat … you must not harm the Shabbat.”

His remarks came following a government crisis over Saturday repairs to Israel’s railroad.

Haredi Orthodox political parties had called for a halt to the work and threatened to bolt the ruling coalition if it was not cancelled, which could have toppled the government.

The rabbi’s remarks reportedly were directed at state-sponsored work, not individual observance.

He also blamed the pre-launch explosion of Israel’s Amos 6 satellite on Shabbat desecration. The launch was scheduled for Shabbat. He said a previous Amos satellite was deployed successfully because it had not been launched on Shabbat.

Mazuz is the spiritual leader of the Yachad party, founded by former Sephardic Orthodox Shas Party leader Eli Yishai. The party did not receive enough votes in the last election to gain any seats in the Knesset.

Hours before Mazuz spoke, search and rescue workers removed the sixth and last body from the rubble of the collapsed garage.

Three of the dead workers have been named as: Oleg Yakubov, 60, of Tel Aviv; Dennis Dyachenko, 28, a foreign worker from Ukraine, and Ihad Ajhaj, 34, a West Bank Palestinian.

A fourth worker has been identified as Muhammad Dawabsheh, 29, from Duma in the West Bank. He is a relative of the family members who were killed in a July 2015 firebomb attack on their home allegedly by right-wing Jewish extremists.

Israel’s best kept secret (weapon) is a tour guide


Our group’s infatuation with Michael Bauer began in a small conference room at Tel Aviv's Carlton Hotel, where he stood at the front of the room armed with a set of maps and taught the history of Israel — from Abraham to Operation Protective Edge, the most recent Gaza war — in 45 minutes.

It deepened in the Golan Heights, when he stood atop a bombed-out Syrian bunker captured by Israel in 1967 and explained the modern history of Syria — from Assad I to the rise of political Islam and ISIS — as the distant thrum of explosions rocked our consciences for 17 heavy minutes.

On a Jerusalem promenade overlooking the Western Wall, the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Church of Holy Sepulchre, Bauer offered Bible passages and Koranic stories to illustrate why the magical city sparkling beneath us has remained for thousands of years the most ardently loved and hotly contested real estate in the world.

Each time he finished, our group would erupt in cheers.

“I’m a bit like a performer,” Bauer, 43, admitted when I met with him separately one evening in Tel Aviv. “I enjoy the drama.”

For us, members of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation’s “Reality Storytellers” trip last month, Bauer, our tour guide, was a highlight among highlights. What began as a light infatuation eventually morphed into something resembling rock-star obsession, as our group frequently chanted his name and compared him to the fictional Jack Bauer from “24.” (Ever the on-guard Israeli, Bauer sometimes carried a gun.)

In case you’re thinking we were easily impressed, allow me to disavow you of that notion. We were about 50 people familiar with excellence – among us were prominent political speechwriters, screenwriters, actors, entrepreneurs, executives and foundation directors; some who call the Obamas and Clintons their bosses, others who work for prominent media companies including the New York Times and Facebook. Part of why Bauer was so effective at telling Israel’s story is because he spoke to all of us — Jews and non-Jews; Israel veterans and Israel first-timers; those already highly educated about the country and the conflict and those just beginning to understand how Israel ended up with the West Bank and Gaza to begin with. Bauer refused to oversimplify; rather than present “two sides,” he’d instead offer multiple competing perspectives that sometimes contradicted each other. “Teaching these topics is so complex, and if you do not understand the complexity, you miss the whole thing,” he told me.

Bauer has spent more than 20 years guiding groups through Israel, Jordan, the Sinai and Turkey, as well as Poland and Germany, via his company, Bauer Trails. His expertise in minority relations, religion, history and the Arab-Israeli conflict has attracted an international clientele that includes foreign diplomats – including members of the Clinton and Bush administrations, as well as a former Prime Minister of Canada – in addition to Hollywood celebrities like Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Bauer’s reputation for presenting facts unalloyed to politics, and his theatrical gift for storytelling has also won him repeat business from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and Columbia University’s Middle East Institute. It’s safe to say he’s probably Israel’s top tour guide, but that would not encapsulate the additional work he does teaching at Israeli colleges or within the intelligence unit of the Israel Defense Forces.  

Only once did Bauer reveal his emotional side. At Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial museum, Bauer surprised the group when he abruptly paused his tour in the Warsaw Ghetto section to share a personal reflection. As light streamed down from the sole window in the museum’s interior, Bauer said, “I can’t tell you how huge this event is in the Israeli psyche. This is the part of the Holocaust Israelis study the most – the Jewish uprising.”   

In person, Bauer looks more like the combat commander he once was than the educator he is now — shaved head, intense blue eyes and a face lined by desert sun. Though his formal education was standard, Bauer has been reading books, he said, “all my life.”

“I’ve loved history since I was kid, and Israel is a haven for history,” he told me. “I was also always curious. Even in the military, I was always trying to understand why are we doing what we’re doing.”

Photo by Neta Cones

Bauer grew up in a middle class, center-left neighborhood in an agricultural village outside Tel Aviv. Today he lives on a Kibbutz southwest of Jerusalem with his wife and five young children. When I asked him what it’s like raising children a few miles from the Green Line, where there are occasional violent skirmishes, he said, “I could live anywhere in the world; I live here out of choice. And I believe that my [kibbutz] is the best place to raise kids.”

Even though Bauer’s tours are exceptionally fair-minded and apolitical, his passion for where he lives pulsates through his prose. “I love my country,” he said, when someone in our group asked about his personal politics. Looking down as he answered, he nestled his feet in the gravel. “I love the rocks.”

There is something almost mystical about Bauer’s teaching, beyond the obvious spiritual subject matter. It shows in the way he marries history, religion and archaeology, or the way he lights up when reading passages from Torah or the New Testament that he can prove actually happened. This quality is part of why our group felt so in awe of him; teaching the history of the world, he somehow made the world make sense. In seven days, Bauer transcended the role of tour guide and simply became our Rav, our teacher.  

Not that he sees himself that way: “For me, I’m not a spiritual person,” he insisted. “The Bible is an unbelievable text and book, and I do believe in many things that are written in it, especially when I can prove it academically. And what I cannot prove, I am full of appreciation for, because I cannot argue with a text that has influenced so many people. I have respect for the Bible — beyond.”

When I pointed out that “beyond” is a spiritual word, Bauer laughed.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about him isn’t his lack of spirituality, but his lack of ego and material ambition. He was mostly unfazed by all the adulation and attention he received. “I’m not a big deal,” he insisted. And later, when I asked him what he dreamed of, he said: “My true mission is to be able to raise my family and support my kids.”

Since he values family so deeply, I asked how a secular Israeli might express his gratitude.

“I say, ‘Thank God,’” he replied automatically. Then he cracked a smile.

“I do say ‘Thank God.’”

Danielle Berrin: Why were you drawn to the study of Arab-Israeli relations?

Michael Bauer: It’s something that shapes our life over here. I live on the green line, so I see Arabs, fences, borders every single day. And I see Israeli-Arab relations as the future; whether it’s negative or positive, it’s a crucial part of our life.

DB: As an Israeli, can you teach the conflict objectively?

MB: It’s not that I don’t have a political view, I do; but I don’t have an agenda. My agenda, if there is one, is that at the end of a program of mine, I’d like you to appreciate Israel and respect Israel, with its complexity.

DB: What do you hope someone who has no prior experience of Israel will learn from your tour?

MB: The importance of size and location. Location in the context of the Middle East [matters], but location is not only geographic. It’s always political. Understand that we are now sitting in Tel Aviv, and two days ago, there were missiles an hour away from here. [My first night home from our tour last week,] I was drinking wine and telling my wife about the group, and I could hear ‘BOOM’ and see the lights.

It’s also very important to understand the history, including [the religious texts]. There’s a deep connection of people to the ground over here.

DB: What do you hope someone who already knows a great deal about Israel learns from you?

MB: For people that know all the facts, the next thing they need to learn is the [role of the] psyche. There’s a gap sometimes between the facts and what people think and believe. Christians believe Jesus was resurrected from the Church of Holy Sepulchre, and Jews and Muslims think not. The Muslims think that Mohammad rose up to heaven on a night journey from Al-Aqsa, and the Christians and Jews think not. Therefore, it doesn’t matter what really happened; it’s only what people think and what they’re willing to do about it. Same with discrimination in Israel: If I tell you there’s discrimination, you can tell me there isn’t discrimination, and then we can argue about it. But if I tell you Arabs feel discriminated against, that you cannot argue. That is a fact. If the Palestinians feel there is an occupation, it doesn’t really matter what is happening on the ground – I mean, it matters — but it matters more what they feel when they get up in the morning. If Jews wake up in the morning and they’re afraid, you can’t tell them they shouldn’t be afraid because they have an F-16. That’s irrelevant. People need to consider feelings as given facts.

DB: So how do you teach the deep, psycho-spiritual connection people have to this land?

MB: If people really want to know, they need to go back to Abraham and then all the way to yesterday.

DB: What do you wish the world knew about settlements that isn’t  considered in media coverage?

MB: Someone that tells me “I am in favor of the settlements” or “I am against the settlements,” for me, that’s very shallow. It actually means they don’t know much. There are different settlements and different settlers. You have smaller, isolated settlements that are religiously ideological; you have settlements along the valley that are more agricultural, very strategic, less religiously ideological. You’ve got big settlement blocs of 30,000-40,000 people, which are Ariel, Maale Adumim and Gush Etzion. Then you have a few you need to argue [about]; then you have a few that are near the Green Line. And then you have East Jerusalem — the Jewish quarter, Gilo, French Hill and so on. All of that is different.

If you were to go to French Hill tomorrow and make elections, you would realize that a majority of them are voting for Meretz, which is an anti-settlement party. Which means, they don’t see themselves at all as settlers. Are we allowed to build in the Jewish quarter in Jerusalem? Most Israelis will say ‘Yes.’ Most Israelis are not aware that they’re actually on the other side of the Green Line. They’ll say “I’m against settlements.” And you’ll say, “What about Gilo?” “Oh, that doesn’t count.” So if you don’t know the nuances of settlements, don’t hold an opinion.

DB: How do you talk to people about the occupation? Do you even use that word?

MB: When someone says “occupation,” I need to understand what is it exactly that they’re talking about. Because when Hamas says “occupation,” we are right now in Tel Aviv, sitting in “occupied” land. So what is occupation?

It’s true that Israel, in 1967, occupied territory. That’s a fact. But the moment I start using the word “occupation,” it becomes politicized.

If you ask me, “What do you think about the occupation?” I’ll ask you: “Which occupation?” Right away. And then you will tell me about the West Bank, and I’ll say, “OK, you’re asking about the policies of Israel in the West Bank.”

The fact is that tomorrow Palestinians will wake up in the morning and they will feel occupied. There’s not one soldier in Gaza, but they feel occupied. Why? Because they are encircled by Israel and also Egypt, which is hostile to them as well. And because Palestinians, most of them, see all of Israel as occupied. That’s also fact. Who is responsible for the occupation? That’s a political argument. Now the question is, what is the solution?

DB: How do you reconcile feeling rightfully rooted in this land with Israeli policies that have caused suffering to others who also feel rightfully rooted in this land?

MB: I do not want to belong to an occupying force, and I do not want to rule other people as an Israeli. But given the fact that an agreement that I believe was fair was offered and rejected by the Palestinians in 2000 — and then came the disengagement in 2005 — [those] for me, as an Israeli, were crucial for feeling well when I look in my mirror.

DB: How do you talk to your young children about where they live?

MB: I believe that we have to be honest no matter what. Usually we’re not honest with our kids because we want to protect them. I am always honest. During [Operation] Protective Edge, when there were missiles falling on our kibbutz, I told them “There are missiles.” They knew it came from Arab people in Gaza strip that are led by an organization called Hamas. At the end of the day, you don’t want them to be terrified and hate Arabs, so it’s a complicated balance. Many times, they see me armed, and they’ll ask me suddenly, “Why are you armed?” So how do I tell them I am taking a gun, but they are safe so they should not be afraid?

Photo by Rick Sorkin

MB: As a secular Israeli, how do you think about the fact that the Bible and the history of this land intersect?

For me the Bible is a book of history, literature and philosophy. And I fully accept the fact that for a lot of other people, it’s a spiritual book, which requires a little faith. I’m not a spiritual person, but I do work with people of Jewish faith, Christian faith, atheists, Buddhists. Everything. And I need to make it relevant for everyone.

When I can take that book and prove that a lot of it happened, that it was written here, and I can connect the geography, the culture, the people and the land, I do get excited by the fact that I belong to this people, and they are my ancestors in those texts.

And when I prove to Christians who are not devout that [a lot of] what’s written in the New Testament makes sense — I can actually prove it to them — I love it. I’m a Jew, and I’m strengthening Christian identity! It’s very funny because I’m not spiritual, but strengthening people’s spirituality makes me very happy.

MB: Where is your favorite place in Israel?

I like to go to the Negev or Judean desert, because I love the wilderness. All religions were born in the desert, so that’s where I like going more than any other place.


Danielle Berrin is a senior writer and columnist at the Jewish Journal.

New rail line to connect high-tech Tel Aviv with holy Jerusalem


Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are only 60 km (40 miles) apart but they often feel like different planets, not just in terms of mentality but because the commute from the Mediterranean to the hills can sometimes take two hours.

That is set to change in the next 18 months with the completion of a $2 billion, high-speed rail line that will slash the time between the high-tech, business center and Jerusalem's Old City to just 30 minutes.

After more than a decade in the planning, the project, which has involved boring tunnels through mountains and spanning bridges over deep valleys, promises to transform Israel's two largest cities, or at least bring them a little closer.

“We are doing in Israel what was done 200 years ago in the United States, after World War II in Europe and in recent decades in Asia,” Transport Minister Yisrael Katz said on Tuesday, touting several new rail lines in the works. “The main aim is to connect Jerusalem to the rest of the country.”

There is already a train between Jerusalem and the coast — built during the Ottoman empire and added to by the French and the British — but it's a slow, scenic route that takes an hour and 40 minutes, not ideal for commuting. That said, around 7,500 people still ride it most days.

The new line takes a more direct route, cutting through the steep hills between the Mediterranean and Jerusalem, which sits 800 meters (2,640 feet) above sea level.

Working with 10 foreign companies, the line runs over 10 bridges and through five tunnels. Construction began in 2010 and is scheduled to end in March 2018.

Double-decker trains holding around 1,700 passengers will travel at 160 km/h. The plan is for four departures an hour, serving 50,000 commuters a day, or 10 million a year, said Boaz Zafrir, the chief executive of Israel Railways.

Katz believes the train will give a jolt to Jerusalem's economy, encouraging more people from the coast to open businesses in the city, which is more religious and conservative than Tel Aviv. Some Tel Avivians, fed up with high rental costs and high humidity, may also decide to move to Jerusalem.

The new line also promises to be a boon for foreign diplomats, Israeli government employees and parliament members, many of whom live on the coast but commute to Jerusalem almost daily and often lament the traffic jams.

Death toll in Tel Aviv construction site collapse rises to 4


The body of a worker was pulled from the rubble of the collapse of a four-level underground parking structure under construction in Tel Aviv, bringing the death toll to four.

The third and fourth bodies were located several hours apart on Tuesday afternoon.

Three other workers, Israeli and Palestinian, are believed to still be trapped under the rubble more than 24 hours after the collapse at the building site late Monday morning. At least 20 people were injured in the accident.

One of the dead has been identified as a Ukrainian worker.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the site late Monday night, eschewing the FIFA 2018 World Cup qualifying soccer match between Israel and Italy being held in Jerusalem. The site was swarming with search-and-rescue personnel.

“I am constantly monitoring the rescue efforts at the disaster site in Tel Aviv,” Netanyahu said Tuesday morning as he boarded a flight for a two-day state visit in the Netherlands, adding that he was “deeply impressed by the work of the rescue units led by the GOC Home Front Command.”

“The people are doing exceptional work on the highest professional level to be found anywhere in the world,” he said. “There are still people trapped; we are making every effort and are not giving up on anyone. We will reach them all.”

Dudi Mizrahi, the head of the Israeli army’s Home Front Command Search and Rescue Unit, said Monday evening that the search-and-rescue operation could go on for days. He said “the chances of finding anyone alive” were less likely with each passing hour, according to The Times of Israel.

Some 300 Israeli army search-and-rescue personnel have been involved in the search, as well as 160 rescue workers from the fire department. A K-9 unit also is on the scene to assist in locating the missing workers.

Police have placed a gag order on details of the investigation into what caused the collapse, according to Haaretz, which reported that a number of serious safety accidents have occurred in recent months at sites under construction by Danya Cebus, the company operating the site where Monday’s collapse occurred. An accident three months ago occurred at the same site, according to Haaretz.

Israeli startups on cutting edge of aging tech


The world’s fast-growing over-60 population needs tech solutions for issues ranging from retirement planning to health monitoring, and Israeli companies are stepping up to meet the challenge. Some of the most promising products were displayed earlier this year at the Israel Aging 2.0 startup contest during the Conference for Technologies for Aging Well at Bar-Ilan University.

“We see the entry of more and more high-quality Israeli ventures in this field, and more interest from the investor community,” said Dov Sugarman, the Israel representative for Aging 2.0, a global platform to accelerate innovation to improve the quality of life of the aging population.

The competition was part of Aging 2.0’s worldwide startup search. Winners of 40 local events were featured on the Aging 2.0 website for popular voting and expert judges’ review. A chosen few will vie for prizes and mentoring at a San Francisco event in October.

Sugarman said that Israeli entrepreneurs and marketers — who tend to be young — are becoming aware of the opportunities in aging technology.

“We have so many great apps, but most 85-year-olds don’t have smart devices, and we need to address that with new solutions,” he said.

The Aging 2.0 competition was hosted by the Conference for Technologies for Aging Well, a program of the Israeli Society for Aging Well of the Society of Electrical and Electronic Engineering in Israel.

The 250 members of the society, ranging from social workers to doctors to engineers, look at the future role of technology not only for health needs but also to help combat loneliness, aid in retirement planning, make devices like computers and cellphones easier to use, and provide assistance to caregivers.

“In the last four years, we’ve seen big progress in Israel’s aging technology,” said Yael Benvenisti, chairwoman of the society and the conference. “In Israel’s startup incubators, there are more and more companies with solutions for the aging population. Nobody used to think about this population, and now they see it’s a good market.”

From left: Dov Sugarman, Israeli rep for Aging 2.0; MyndYou co-founders Itay Baruchi, Ruth Poliakine Baruchi and Dan Sztybel; Yael Benvenisti, chairwoman 
of the Israeli Society for Aging Well. Photos courtesy of Israel21c

 

Sugarman, a Tel Aviv-based aging-tech consultant, manages strategic partnerships for SafeBeyond, a platform for creating and storing personalized messages for distribution later in life or after death. SafeBeyond pitched at the first Israeli Aging 2.0 competition last year.

He noted that monitoring, sensing and tracking technologies — delivered via apps, smart TVs and robots, for example — is becoming critical in extending the independence of people in declining mental and physical health.

“The megatrend is aging in place [aging at home], and we need technology for that,” Sugarman said. “We’re seeing activity in Israel across all those spectrums. I expect that 2016-17 will see Israeli companies playing a growing role in global innovation and the generation of new business ideas.”

The U.S. caregiving market is estimated to be a $279 billion opportunity, with some $100 million in venture investment going to tech-enabled home care in 2015. 

Israeli startups are making significant contributions in this aging-tech sector, and here are 11 to watch.

MyndYou: Winner of the Aging 2.0 Israel competition, MyndYou is developing a mobile platform to help people with early stage cognitive deterioration maintain independence. The monthly subscription platform will monitor cognitive, physiological and behavioral parameters, alert family members to changes and offer actionable insights, according to CEO Ruth Poliakine Baruchi.

A $1.2 million funding round is going toward finalizing development and launching in the U.S. next year; the startup is now in the ICONYC Labs accelerator.

Vitalitix: Following a new phenomenon called “crowd-caring,” the Vitalitix social-responsibility platform provides three-way communication among seniors, caregivers and community “social angels,” as well as volunteers from existing networks. The idea is to reduce loneliness, improve safety and allow more freedom at home and out. The senior can access the app, now in beta, through any wearable device or smartphone.

Pharmpool: Pharmpool is developing a mobile app that evaluates the safety of a particular drug therapy regimen for a specific patient, and includes features to increase medication adherence and management.

Steps&: Steps& has created a virtual smartphone assistant who guides and encourages physical therapy patients through home exercises. The interface, managed by the physical therapist, includes instructional videos, a motivation boost, and goal-setting, pre-scheduling and tracking features.

Kytera: Kytera, a graduate of the Microsoft Ventures Tel Aviv Accelerator, is working on a smart wristband and motion-sensor technology to monitor seniors who are aging at home. It automatically detects and alerts to “stress situations” that vary from a person’s usual activity patterns. It’s being piloted in the United States ahead of commercialization by the end of this year.

AbiliSense: According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, 1 in 3 people from age 65 to 74 has hearing loss and nearly half of those older than 75 have difficulty hearing. AbiliSense is developing apps that continuously listen to the world around the user, analyze the sounds and transform them into alerts — delivered to smartphones, wearables and other devices — ranging from “the doorbell is ringing” to an emergency SOS.

HelpAround: Founded in Tel Aviv in 2013, the HelpAround platform for chronic patients and caregivers enables organizations to match patients with appropriate resources to improve access to care. The founders applied their knowledge of mobile health and data-driven, targeted advertising to build a smart “safety net” of helpers for chronic patients similar to the way ad tech pairs buyers with sellers.

HelpAround was one of four Israeli startups chosen as regional finalists in the 1776 Startup Challenge, and visited Washington, D.C., in June for the global competition.

Mybitat: Mybitat, a company in Herzliya, partnered with Samsung to develop a suite of smart-home solutions aimed at helping the elderly remain at home longer with better quality of life. Advanced sensors, cloud-based software and behavior analytics monitor daily routines and wellness. If a change in behavior or health is detected, the system alerts preselected contacts.

Perlis: Haifa-based Perlis is developing an artificial intelligence and robotic system to identify early symptoms of diseases commonly affecting the elderly, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. The system serves as a support tool for physicians, caretakers and family to address health problems quickly enough to enable the elderly to retain independence at home.

E2C: Easy to Connect (E2C) in Ramat Gan offers a Basic smartphone (available in the United States and Israel) and a Basic tablet (available in Israel) designed to help seniors easily access the latest communication technologies with large print, one-button navigation and other streamlined processes. A Basic smart TV and Basic smartwatch are coming next.

PowerTags: PowerTags are miniature low-cost wearable tags providing location-based tracking capabilities for institutional caregivers of the elderly, among other applications. A proprietary “position engine” presents the tag’s real-time and historical movement patterns on a cloud-based dashboard viewable on smartphones, tablets and laptops. An emergency alert button is embedded in the tags. 

Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, ex-defense minister and longtime Knesset member, dies at 80


Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, a former Labor Party leader and defense minister who served in the Knesset for 30 years, has died.

Ben Eliezer, who withdrew from the country’s presidential election in 2014 over corruption charges, died Sunday in a Tel Aviv hospital. He was 80.

Known by the nickname “Fouad,” Ben-Eliezer served in the Knesset from 1984 through 2014. He led the Labor Party in 2001 and 2002.

In the early 2000s he was the defense minister for four years under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon during the second Palestinian intifada. The West Bank security fence was built during his tenure.

In December 2014, Ben Eliezer resigned from the Knesset for health reasons. A year later he was indicted for receiving more than $500,000 from businessmen in return for political favors. He paid a nearly $3 million fine in a plea bargain in May, which kept him out of prison.

Along with being defense minister, he served in the Cabinet as housing, infrastructure, communications, and industry and trade minister.

Ben-Eliezer was born in Basra, Iraq, in 1936 and immigrated to Israel as a teen immediately after the birth of the state. He had a distinguished military career in Israel, beginning his service in the Israel Defense Forces in the Golani Brigade, which he served as an officer. He served as deputy battalion commander during the Yom Kippur War, and was appointed battalion commander of the IDF brigade responsible for protecting the Lebanese border. He was the first commander of South Lebanon, and served as commander of the Judea and Samaria region for four years until 1982, when he retired from the IDF, returning in 1984 for one year to serve as coordinator of government activities in the West Bank and Gaza.

On a visit to Tunisia in 1994 with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Ben Eliezer became the first Israeli minister to meet PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat.

In December 2014, Ben-Eliezer received a kidney transplant and several months later was placed in a medically induced coma with a serious case of the flu until his health improved.

“Fouad served the State of Israel for decades as a fighter, commander, public servant and senior government minister,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement. “I knew him and I esteemed his contribution and his special personality. In my many conversations with him, Fouad expressed his concern for – and commitment to – the future of the State of Israel that he loved so much. May his memory be blessed.”

The missing children: Yemenites who found their way to L.A. carry family wounds from Israel’s past


On a recent Sunday morning, Meir Cohen switched off the Israeli news playing on the television in his Encino home. He poured himself a glass of tea with hawaij, a cardamom-scented mix popular among Yemenite Jews such as himself. Then he reclined into a leather armchair.

Cohen had been hesitant to discuss what some see as “just another Israeli story,” he said. He’s told the story before, to little effect. He was worried another retelling would be just a waste of his time. Nonetheless, he agreed to talk.

In the late 1960s, when Cohen was about 15 years old, a letter arrived at his Tel Aviv home on Israel Defense Forces stationery — a draft notice addressed to Aaron Cohen. He’d never heard of such a person.

So he asked his mother, “Who’s Aaron?”

“Aaron is your brother,” he recalled her saying. “They stole him.” Then his mother started cursing the people who took her son from her.

At about that time, this same conversation was playing out in households across Israel.

The missing children’s parents were predominantly immigrants from Yemen, though not exclusively; some children from the Balkans and North Africa also went missing, and new media reports show that even some Ashkenazi families were torn apart.

Children said to have died in the sickness and depravation of transit camps during the state’s chaotic early years were being sent draft notices. For parents who had never really believed their children to be dead in the first place, the notices confirmed their suspicions.

It was the first time the traumatic saga of the yeladim hatufim — the kidnapped children — was resurrected. It has never completely died in the ensuing decades.

Three times in the years since, the Israeli government has formed a state commission of inquiry to investigate. And three times the commissions have failed to confirm or kill a belief, widespread among Yemenite Jews, that Israel’s early Mapai (Workers’ Party) government systematically kidnapped hundreds of children from transit camps and sold them to Ashkenazi couples who couldn’t bear children of their own.

Now, activists, legislators and journalists in Israel once again are elevating public attention on the story of the missing children. 

Cohen said he has little hope that this new round of questioning will be any more conclusive than its predecessors. He’s encouraged, though, by the fact that Tzachi Hanegbi, a prominent minister of Yemenite origin in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, has become the de facto leader of the new effort. 

The push in the Knesset to relitigate the issue started with Nurit Koren, a Likud member whose parents were born in Yemen. She grew up in a community where the missing children were a frequent topic of lament.

“I heard about it all the time when I was a child,” Koren told the Journal. After she was elected in 2015, “I said to myself, ‘I must do something with this.’ ”

In February, she approached Netanyahu to suggest he take up the issue and delegate to Hanegbi, a trusted ally of the prime minister, the task of declassifying as much evidence as possible.

But for her part, Koren is not waiting for the results of the investigation. Instead, she’s organizing a genetic database so children who suspect they went missing can potentially reconnect with their birth families. (In a phone interview, she encouraged those wishing to participate to reach out to her via email at nkoren@knesset.gov.il to learn how they can be tested free of charge.)

Koren described a massive outpouring of interest from impacted families after Israeli headlines began to crop up about her campaign.

“This is the time,” she said. “People want answers.”

Already, Hanegbi has ordered that previously classified material from earlier investigations be released to the public. But the Holy of Holies — a roster of names and addresses of vanished children — remains elusive, if it exists.

It is beyond doubt that something went awry in the early days of the state. Children were displaced from parents. Accounts of empty graves and grown children reunited with parents seem to confirm as much. In 1997, The New York Times carried the story of a Sacramento woman who had been shown by genetic testing to be the missing daughter of an Israeli Yemenite mother. 

Each successive commission has made note of a growing number of missing children while failing to explain the circumstances behind each instance. The most recent investigation, begun in 1995, dismissed the idea that children were purposefully kidnapped but sealed much of its evidence. 

The report chalked up the disappearances to a long list of bureaucratic and communication failures, said Nadav Molchadsky, a professor of history at the UCLA Nazarian Center for Israel Studies, who researched the investigations for a forthcoming article, “Negotiating a Contested Jewish Past: Commissions of Inquiry and the Yemenite Children Affair.” 

Painful questions linger in the wake of the last investigation, which went on for six years, the longest state commission of inquiry in Israel’s history, he said.

“Neither the commission nor the families give us a full explanation about what happened or did not happen,” Molchadsky said in an interview. “And it’s very hard to live with this notion, with this awkwardness, especially because it’s a tragedy — it’s a human tragedy and it’s a national tragedy.”

But within the Yemenite community, many are certain the Israeli government preyed on the naiveté of immigrants — predominantly, but not exclusively, Yemenite ones — to steal their babies from their very arms.

As Yemenite Jews have joined in the Israeli emigration to centers of Jewish life around the world, including to Los Angeles, they brought their pain with them.

“All these kids today are like hostages by these Ashkenazi families — period,” said Cohen. “We have to release them.”

A Right to Know

Three years before Meir Cohen was born, his mother gave birth to a beautiful boy. He remembers her saying the baby had “cheeks like apples.” A few days later, a nurse summarily informed her that Aaron was dead. 

Cohen’s mother demanded her son’s body — it’s a Yemenite custom to sit in mourning even for a stillborn baby — but the hospital refused. Shortly after, when his family opened the grave where hospital officials told them Aaron was buried, they found it empty.

Today, Meir Cohen is 63. If Aaron is alive, he is 66.

“Something very crooked happened,” said Yaniv Levi, an Israeli of Yemenite heritage in his early 40s who has lived in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood for 14 years.

The grandchildren of Yemenite immigrants — people roughly Levi’s age and generation — are leading the charge in Israel to declassify documents and hopefully bring to a close a painful chapter for their families. 

“We are not going to be suckers like our parents, our grandparents, who came [to Israel] and just went with the flow,” Levi said in an interview, sitting in the back patio of the office space where he works on Robertson Boulevard.



Yemenite children at Kisalon, a transit camp near Jerusalem, in 1950. Photo by David Eldan/GPO

The first time he remembers his family openly discussing the story of Pinchas, his uncle, was at the shiva, or mourning period, of his grandmother Miriam.

“It was Friday night,” he said. “We ate together during the shiva, and this issue came up — like, the kid doesn’t know that his mom passed away. His biological mom actually passed away. But what could we do, you know?”

Pinchas Levi was last seen by a member of his family on Dec. 10, 1949. He was 3. The toddler was being loaded onto the back of a truck in the Ein Shemer transit camp near Hadera in Israel’s north, supposedly to receive vaccinations, according to an email to the Journal from Yaniv’s father, David, and aunt, also Miriam. Both live in Israel.

“Pinchas was a beautiful boy, with light skin and blue eyes,” they wrote. “He had a birthmark on his neck.”

His mother was hospitalized when they came to take him, and his father had died, leaving Miriam, just 12, in charge of the family.

“Since that day, our mother didn’t see him, and until her last day, on Passover 1991, when she passed away, she never forgot him and was in sorrow of his disappearance,” they wrote.

Yaniv Levi wouldn’t mind seeing somebody in Israel’s government go to jail for stealing children, even though he believes it unlikely the people responsible are still alive. But punishment is not his focus. 

“If we will know who did the crime and they will be ashamed of themselves, that’s also welcome,” he said. “But the main goal is to know: Where is my uncle? We have the right to know where he is, and he has the right to know who’s his family.”

Koren, too, said recrimination is not her goal, and she’s willing to go as far as passing a law that would shield any perpetrators from punishment if it would further the investigation.

“I want to find the children,” she said. “I want to know what happened — only this.”

In the Cold and Mud

Ely Dromy moved to Los Angeles from Israel in 1971 and built a successful real estate business. Today, he is an active benefactor for many Jewish and Yemenite causes, including Tifereth Teman, a Yemenite synagogue on Pico Boulevard.

But in October 1949, his family left a comfortable life in Yemen to become penniless immigrants to Israel.

He was barely 6 months old when he boarded a plane with his family as part of Operation Magic Carpet (in Hebrew, kanfei nesharim — the wings of eagles), which airlifted thousands of Yemenite Jews to Israel.

Most of the immigrants had never so much as seen an airplane before. Dating from the Babylonian exile, the Yemenite Jews were isolated from the rest of the people of Israel. To them, the ingathering must have been an event of, literally, messianic proportions.

The reality that awaited them was an impoverished and untamed expanse of land surrounded by enemies and struggling to call into being a Jewish state. 

Dromy’s family found its way to Ein Shemer around the same time as Levi’s.

The makeshift camps’ former residents refer to them as ma’abarot, a word that seems to come from the Hebrew ma’avar, or transit.

Accounts of the camps are colored by disease and hunger. A lack of adequate shelter left residents boiling in the summer and cold and wet in the winter. It was amid this chaos that babies began to go missing.

Top:  Ely Dromy, left, shortly after his family left the Ein Shemer camp. Bottom: David Dromy (standing) and his father, Ely, at their Beverly Hills office. According to family lore, Ely was kidnapped in the Ein Shemer transit camp as a six-month-old child. 

Dromy believes he was almost one of them. Immediately upon his family’s arrival at the camp, authorities took him from his mother, Shula, to place him in a hospital nursery. After about five days, during which nurses turned away Shula when she came to see her son, Shula ran into her sister-in-law, who literally smacked her into her senses.

“My aunt said to her, ‘Be careful,’ ” Dromy recalled, sitting with impeccable posture in his Beverly Drive office. “‘It’s on your life. They are disappearing babies.’”

Shula went straight to the hospital and forced her way past staff members. She burst into the nursery, locked the door behind her and went looking for her baby. Finding him, she tied the baby around her belly and jumped from the second-story window.

“I trusted in God and didn’t think twice,” she says in a video recorded by her relatives before her death.

The winter of 1949 brought historic rains, Ely Dromy said, and the camps were choked with mud. When camp officials came looking for the baby, his mother had hidden him away in the muck of a friend’s makeshift abode until she could retrieve him.

I’m Sorry I Came

In the opening sequence of the classic Hebrew film “Sallah Shabati” (1964), a satire of the ma’abarot that mocked pompous kibbutzniks and unmannered immigrants with equal cruelty, the title character walks off a plane from Yemen with his large family and finds a local housing official.

“How many children do you have?” the potbellied Ashkenazi asks the slouching, bearded immigrant.

“A lot,” Sallah says. “Six.”

“It says here seven,” the official replies, looking down at his papers.

“Let’s see what?” Sallah says in his Arabic-inflected Hebrew, squinting at the documents. Then, he looks up shiftily and nods his agreement, “Seven.”

The stereotype of Sephardic and Mizrahi (Eastern) immigrants held that they had more children than they knew what to do with. In that context, they could afford to lose a few.

A high mortality rate contributed to the idea that life was expendable in the camps.

“They had dysentery; they had the flu; they had all kinds of diseases, fever, because the water wasn’t good, because it was hot and [they were] hungry,” said Malca Yarimi, an Israeli-born Yemenite Jew whose two older siblings were born in Yemen. “They were mizkenim [pitiful folks]. And, in general, a lot of kids died. So [camp administrators] thought they could say to them in the hospital, ‘He died.’ So he died!”

Yarimi, 63, now lives in Santa Monica. Sitting down in her daughter’s Pico-Robertson apartment over Nescafé and cream cookies, she recalled a childhood in Rehovot’s Yemenite community where neighbors and friends were devastated, believing in their hearts their children were not dead. 

Consigned to squalor and their trust in the new state broken, the enthusiasm of many immigrants quickly faded to disillusionment. The title “Sallah Shabati” is a play on the Hebrew, slicha shebati — I’m sorry I came.

‘A Knife in Your Back’

Yarimi’s daughter, Maya, remembers asking her grandfather if he was happy when emissaries from Israel arrived in Yemen to announce the coming operation.

“I was so amazed to see my grandfather’s reaction,” she said, scowling and swatting the air in front of her with the back of her hand. “Like that. I was like, ‘Why is he reacting like that?’ I was taught that the Israelis came and redeemed the Yemenites.”

After immigrating to Los Angeles at the age of 28, she began to read a darker history of Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews in Israel — a history of marginalization and discrimination.

As a teenager, she had dismissed the stories of kidnapped children as tall tales. Now she began to believe them. 

“I became very upset,” she recalled. “I said, ‘You know what, I love Israel, but I’m not proud of the state of Israel, of what it did.’ ”

In general, Israel’s early European residents regarded the dark-skinned immigrants from Arab countries with distaste, said Rabbi Daniel Bouskila, who directs the Sephardic Education Center in Jerusalem and Los Angeles.

“When the Ashkenazi Zionists saw the boats coming, and they saw Jews from Yemen and Jews from Morocco, they didn’t really care,” he told the Journal. “It was, to them, ‘not us.’ ”

Nonetheless, Yemenite Jews were — and remain — by and large a deeply traditional community committed to the Zionist ideal. 

“All the community of Yemenites is Mizrahi, is Orthodox and is Zionist, and trusts and believes and serves in the army and everything,” said Rabbi Aharon Shaltiel, the leader of Tifereth Teman. “There’s no doubt.”

In fact, although some Yemenite Jews have become secular, like most Israelis, they remain deeply patriotic. 

Shaltiel is an energetic man with short gray sidecurls and a wide-brimmed black cap who is vocally proud of his own service in the Israeli army. But the idea that “Jewish people — people building a country together with you” could carry out the kidnappings is “very hard to live with.”

“It’s like somebody tells you we’re brothers, then puts a knife in your back,” he said.

An Uncomfortable Accounting

In the ma’abarot, the largely Yemenite population chafed at their conditions and their treatment by their light-skinned neighbors. Hungry residents stole produce from nearby farms. In 1952, rioting ensued when a kibbutz guard roughed up an old woman out gathering weeds for her goat at Emek Hefer, a transit camp close to Ein Shemer, according to an account in Haaretz. 

Even when immigrants relocated to Israel’s urban core or formed Yemenite communities in so-called periphery towns, the air of mutual suspicion lingered.

The affair simmered through two unsatisfying state investigations. In 1994, tensions escalated when Rabbi Uzi Meshulam, a Yemenite activist in a periphery town called Yehud, claimed to have evidence of 4,500 kidnapped children. Following a siege on his compound, Meshulam and his followers’ interactions with police turned violent, resulting in one death. But Knesset members eventually followed through on a promise they made to defuse the standoff and launched the 1995 commission of inquiry, which lasted through 2001.

Still, some Yemenites who grew up in Israel trade in rumors, though apparently with little foundation, of children sold as research subjects to the United States or harvested for organs.

On the other hand, some insist the entire affair of the disappeared children is made up. In an article in the Jewish newspaper Algemeiner, Steven Plaut, a University of Haifa business professor, compared talk of kidnapped children to accounts of extraterrestrial visitation.

Mistrust remains, compounded by lingering socioeconomic gaps.

Today, the periphery towns where many Sephardic and Mizrahi communities live receive a disproportionately small amount of government resources and their narratives get short shrift in textbooks, said Bouskila, the Sephardic Education Center director. 

As part of the tapestry of Sephardic and Mizrahi communities in Israel, Yemenites have long been influential in food and the arts — Middle Eastern crooners like Idan Raichel and Shlomi Shabat top Israel’s charts. But only recently have residents of periphery towns been able to attain the highest reaches of Israel’s government. 

“To become a member of Knesset or minister of government — that was not on the table in the first 40 years of Israel,” he said.

Now, the same lawmakers who have broken those barriers are demanding an account of the state’s early sins, messy as the story may be.

“The narrative is not as neat as you’d like it to be,” Bouskila said. “But I think a society like Israel only becomes better and stronger, and is only able to deal with its social and cultural problems, when it confronts them.” 

Koren, the Israeli legislator leading the charge, said she will consider her efforts a success if even a single family is reunited. 

“It’s enough for me to find one,” she said. “To bring one kidnapped child to their family.”

IDF razes homes of Sarona Market attackers


The West Bank homes of the two terrorists who killed four Israelis in a shooting attack on the popular Sarona Market in Tel Aviv were demolished.

The Israel Defense Forces razed the Hebron-area homes of cousins Mohammed Mahamra and Khaled Mahamra on Wednesday night using bulldozers and explosives. They reportedly did not meet with any resistance or rioting.

A joint investigation by the Shin Bet, the IDF and the Border Police found that the men entered a wide gap in the West Bank security fence leading to the Israeli settlement Meitar, near Beersheba. The men were carrying arms. They reportedly were inspired by the Islamic State to carry out the attack, which also injured six.

The two shooters were caught after the attack and are awaiting trial on charges of murder. A third Palestinian man is accused of assisting them.

The victims were Michael Feige, 58, a professor in the Israel studies program at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev; Ido Ben Ari, 42, of Ramat Gan; Ilana Navaa, 39, of Tel Aviv ; and Mila Mishayev, 33, of Ashkelon, who was soon to be married.

Only the top floor of the building in which Mohammed Mahamra lives was demolished, in keeping with the Supreme Court’s approval of the demolition order. The entire building in which Khalid Mahamra and his family lives was demolished, after the court said in its decision that members of his family knew he was planning the attack and praised it on social media.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court approved the demolition of the home of Muhammad Nasser Tarayrah, 17, who killed Hallel Yaffa Ariel, a dual Israeli and American citizen, as she slept in her Kiryat Arba home.

Immediately following the attack the village was sealed off and permits to work in Israel were revoked for the village’s residents, many of whom are related to the attacker. Tarayrah’s sister and two of his brothers was arrested for incitement after publicly praising their brother’s actions.

The court approved the destruction of the floor on which Tarayrah lived, but ordered the home sealed off in case the floor cannot be destroyed without razing the entire building.

Possible wreckage from EgyptAir crash washes up in Israel


Debris apparently from the crash of EgyptAir MS804 was found on a beach north of Tel Aviv on Thursday, an official in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said.

Netanyahu, who was briefed about the discovery during a visit to Ethiopia, instructed Israeli authorities to hand over the material to Egypt, possibly as early as Friday, for further analysis, the official said.

The Airbus A320 plunged into the eastern Mediterranean en route from Paris to Cairo on May 19. All 66 people on board were killed. The cause of the crash remains unknown.

Last week, debris from the jet was brought to Cairo airport, where investigators will try to reassemble part of the frame to help establish what might have caused the disaster.

The Israeli official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said “parts of an airplane” were discovered on the seashore in Netanya, a Mediterranean resort town about 30 km (18 miles), north of Tel Aviv.

“They were collected and it turns out there is a very high probability that they are from the Egyptian plane,” the official said, without elaborating. “In accordance with international procedures, France, the aircraft's departure point, and Egypt, were informed.”

On Tuesday, sources on the crash investigation committee said audio from the flight deck voice recorder indicates an attempt to put out a fire on board the aircraft before it plunged into the Mediterranean.

Istanbul and Hallel


After the Istanbul airport terror attack that left 49 dead and hundreds wounded, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a statement, “Make no mistake, for terror groups, there are no differences between Istanbul, London, Berlin, Ankara or Chicago.”

Too bad he left out Tel Aviv. Too bad he left out Kiryat Arba.

Because just two days after the Istabul horror, a 17 year-old Palestinian terrorist named Mohammad Tra'ayra, climbed over a fence in the Israeli town of Kiryat Arba, burst into a  home, and stabbed to death 13-year-old Hallel Yaffe Ariel as she slept.

The girl’s blood on the floor, walls and mattress of her childhood bedroom is no different, no less precious and holy than the blood staining the entryway to the Istanbul airport.  the brutality and senselessness no less profound, the sorrow of her family — of us all — no less deep.

What did Erdogan, the self-styled leader of Sunni Muslims, say following her murder? 

Nothing. And that’s a second tragedy.

Because unless and until Muslim leaders condemn all terror, whether it takes place in Istanbul or New York or Paris or Hebron, terror will continue to spread.  Accepting terror anywhere is accepting terror everywhere.

For decades, Israel has been the canary in the coal mines for international terror.  No matter how brutal the Palestinian tactics — killing schoolchildren in Ma’alot,  pushing a wheelchair-bound old man off a cruise ship, blowing up diners at a pizza restaurant — the vast majority of Muslim leaders have either remained silent or rationalized the murders.  Before the 1967 Six Day War, acts of terror against Israelis were justified as part of a war for liberation.  After 1967, the rationale for killing innocents has been that it is a war against occupation.  

The sickness continues. After Hallel’s murderer was shot dead by an Israeli security guard, his parents quickly pronounced their cowardly son a “martyr.”  Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has said nothing, and, according to a report in Haaretz, the coward’s family will receive compensation for his death from the PA.

By giving terrorists a pass in their attacks on innocent Jews, the Muslim world helps them perfect their tactics and elevates murderers to heroes.  And then they are shocked, shocked, when these delusional young men and woman inspire others to use these same tactics against innocent Turks, Parisians and Saudis. 

You reap what you sow.  The same sick terrorist minds who believe they are giving the Jews what their Muslim leaders think they have coming, now are getting the same violence coming at them.  If not one of them will condemn the murder of a 13-year-old child in her bed, not one of them should be surprised when the next stabbing takes the life of one of their own sons and daughters. There was zero justification, zero, to take the life of Hallel.   Stabbing an innocent in cold blood is inhuman and despicable. It is anti-peace and, therefore, anti-Palestinian. And the Palestinians who justify it can and will go to hell until they figure that out.

A day after the murder, a Palestinian peace activist named Nadiya al-Noor said it best.

In a column on the Times of Israel website, she wrote, “Let me tell you something. Stabbing pregnant women in the stomach is not ‘resistance.’ Shooting people at a cafe is not ‘resistance.’ Driving your car into pedestrians is not ‘resistance.’ Bombing a bus is not ‘resistance.’ Breaking into a woman’s home and murdering her in front of her children is not ‘resistance.’ And stabbing a little girl to death in the one place where she was supposed to be safe is certainly not ‘resistance.’ Terrorism is not resistance. Terrorism is an unjustifiable crime.”

This is the simple truth Erdogan and other Muslim leaders must begin to convey to their people. And they can add this as well: It starts with the Jews. It never ends there.


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

Morrissey of Smiths fame returning to Israel in August


Morrissey, the British singer-songwriter best known for his involvement in The Smiths, will perform two concerts in Israel this summer.

The 57-year-old solo musician will play Tel Aviv on Aug. 22 and Caesarea two days later, The Times of Israel reported Tuesday.

Morrissey sold out his most recent concerts in Israel, in 2012. His latest album, released in 2014, is “World Peace is None of Your Business.”

He is an outspoken advocate for animal rights and vegetarianism.

Palestinian teen bystander killed by Israeli soldiers responding to rock-throwing attack


Israeli soldiers shot dead a Palestinian teenager and wounded several others whom they wrongly thought were involved in a rock-throwing attack, the Israel Defense Forces said.

The military said it was investigating the incident, which happened early Tuesday morning outside Jerusalem.

Palestinian news agency Maan identified the killed teen as Mahmoud Badran, 15, from the nearby village of Beit Ur al-Tahta. Four others were injured, Maan reported.

The soldiers were responding to the rock-throwing attack. An Israeli man and two foreign tourists were injured when rocks hit their car traveling near Jerusalem on Route 443, one of the main arteries between the capital and Tel Aviv. Several cars were damaged in the attack.

The army initially said those shot by soldiers were involved in the attack, but later said none of them were.

The Palestinian Authority Foreign Ministry called the incident an “execution.”

My experience in an active shooter incident


The Jewish Journal columnist Shmuel Rosner wrote the following in his blog (Rosner’s Domain, June 13, “5 Comments on How to Stop a Lone Wolf Terrorist”):

“Stopping a person who kills with a knife or a gun is a scary thing to do. The natural instinct of all people when such a thing happens is to flee. But reality is simple: The more people flee, the longer the attack continues. Citizens who have the courage to try to do something — throw something, hit the attacker with something — can make an attack much less deadly.”

I would like to share an experience I had that perhaps underscores his point. My military training may have saved my life and the lives of others when I found myself in the midst of a shooting. I still find the experience oddly vivid in some ways, but cloudy in others.

Sometime in 1979 (I forget exactly when), my then-wife and I were at LAX picking up her sister and brother-in-law from a flight from Israel. I seem to recall that what is now the international terminal was under construction, so we met them at the baggage claim around where Terminal 3 is today.

While we were standing at baggage claim, I — we all — heard shots. I looked through a large plate-glass window, and on the other side, I saw a woman holding what seemed to be an enormous handgun, shooting at people.

We — everyone — ran and hid. I pushed my now ex-wife under a bench, and then I slid in beside her. Within a few seconds, though, my military training kicked in. I was just three years out of the Marines, and I distinctly remember thinking, “I am not going to get shot and killed here, hiding, lying down.” I decided to fight. I got up and went toward the sound of the gunfire.

I remember thinking the moment I got up that the sandals I was wearing were noisy. They flapped. I kicked them off and sneaked toward the plate-glass window. (I have rarely worn sandals since).

I saw the woman stop shooting. I saw one wounded person through the glass; the rest had fled the hall. I then saw the woman walking out from the terminal to the sidewalk with the gun in hand, make a right and head our way. I yelled at everyone who was hiding in the baggage claim area to get out quick. People seemed frozen in place. I yelled again for everyone to get out.

I hid on the side of the entrance to the baggage claim with my back to the narrow wall holding the plate glass, next to the sidewalk, determined to attack her when she turned the corner. A young Marine in uniform was tentatively approaching me from the side. I looked at the insignia on his upper sleeve, and said “Lance corporal, when she turns this corner, you and I are going to take her down.”

Maybe seeing me go toward the window inspired him to join me. Not enough. I am sad to say that he thought for a brief second, then ran. I remember feeling alone.

She indeed came down the sidewalk and turned the corner. She was about my height (5 feet 9) or even taller. A big, heavy woman. She turned and faced me and still had the handgun in her hand right hand, but it was not (yet) pointed at me. I found myself staring into her eyes for what was probably a fraction of a second but seemed much longer. The white of her eyes (the sclera, to use the right word) were yellow. I saw what I could describe only as craziness. I felt mesmerized, swallowed up. Again, I think my military training kicked in, and I forced myself to into action.

I lunged at her before she could raise her gun. A man nearby, short but stocky, sprang up from his hiding place under some luggage right after I engaged her, bashing her with a suitcase. He and I got her down and pinned her. I seem to recall that I had her torso and he had her hands. When she slammed into the sidewalk, the gun spun out of her hand.

Very soon, a few of the people who had not fled the baggage claim area came over and began trying to kick her. The other guy and I yelled at them to stop, that we had her. I don’t think they were trying to subdue her; we had her under control, with my knee on her belly, and the other guy on her hands, as I remember it. It was a strange moment, holding her down while we both were trying to fight off a small mob that seemed to be trying to kick her to death.

That is when a police van pulled up and several SWAT team members burst out. I did not want them to think I was the shooter attacking a woman. With my knee on her belly, I put up my hands and yelled to them that she was the shooter. The luggage guy also put up his hands. The police could see the handgun on the sidewalk and that neither of us was armed.

People have asked why I didn’t run, why I went to fight. Wasn’t I afraid? Here is the truth: One result of Marine Corps boot camp was that I feared not doing my duty far more than I feared for my life. Honestly, I had no fear. I did not feel courageous. I just did what I had been taught to do.

One officer quickly pulled me aside to take a statement. I could see that other officers had hustled the woman off into the van, and still others were also taking statements.

I told him everything that I am writing here, and he wrote it in a notebook. He asked me to stay for a more thorough interrogation. We hung around for a while, but it seemed the police had forgotten about me. They had my address and phone number, so I figured they would call if they wanted more info. I never heard from the police, or anyone. Maybe the officer lost his notebook.

Of course, I told people about it. A few days later, someone brought me a Sentinel newspaper, which covered the African-American community (the shooter was African American). It contained a brief article on the incident. My name was not mentioned, but the article said that an ex-Marine had taken her down, but “slipped away before he could be identified.” It did not mention the luggage guy.

Here is what I want to say, affirming what Rosner wrote. When I saw footage of the attack in the restaurant in Tel Aviv, I saw people who were right next to the terrorists running away. They might have body slammed the shooters, or picked up a chair and beaten them senseless. Of course, most people don’t do that, because they are rightly terrified of getting shot. Civilians are not trained to attack.

I don’t know yet exactly what happened inside the Florida nightclub, but I find myself thinking of one shooter killing 49 and wounding more than 50. Had those hundred people charged the shooter with fists, chairs and bottles, the number of casualties would likely have been far less. I certainly don’t blame the victims. The human instinct is to run and hide. Had I not been a former Marine trained to run toward the sound of gunfire and not be led by the overwhelming instinct to run and hide, I am sure that I would have stayed under that bench. I have to believe that the Marine next me who took off was an anomaly.

After the shooting in 2015 at the African-American church in Charleston, S.C., I decided to offer instruction to my congregation for the event of an active shooter. About once a month at Shabbat morning services, I first remind the assembled group that the Department of Homeland Security directive is “run, hide, fight.” I tell people at the far end of the sanctuary, next to the emergency door to the parking lot, that they should open the doors, exit quickly and that others should follow them. Stay low. Don’t trample.

Then I address the people by the entrance. I want them to conquer their instinct to run, as the Marines taught me. I rather bluntly tell those sitting next to the entry doors of the sanctuary that they are likely to get shot if an active shooter were to come through that door. They have a choice to make: Get shot in the chest attacking, or in the back running. I tell the 20 or so people in that corner that in the case of an active shooter, to pick up chairs and rush the attacker and beat and disarm that person. Some will get shot, but far fewer than if they all turned and ran.

No one from the congregation avoids that corner of the room. Many people even opt to sit or stand there. No one whose regular seat is in the corner has moved away. A few people have stationed themselves right by that door. I look at them all when I talk about this, and they look right back at me.

Our security plan is more extensive than these instructions. For example, we also have an excellent lay security team in force every Shabbat morning.  We have a person who is working with incredible selflessness on expanding our security capability. My wife, Meirav, (who is an Israel Defense Forces veteran as well as executive director of our congregation, Ohr HaTorah) and I and others have specific roles, as well.

The main thing I want to say here is that if you are ever in a place where there is an active shooter, and if you are too close to the shooter to effectively run or hide, and you have to fight, then fight. Body-slam them. Use your fists or feet; grab a chair, a bottle, a book — anything — and attack. If you have time, train yourself in some martial art to get into the mindset of physical self-defense.

If you are going to get shot, get shot in the chest, not in the back.


Rabbi Mordecai Finley is the spiritual leader of Ohr HaTorah synagogue in Mar Vista, as well as professor of Jewish Thought at the Academy for Jewish Religion, California Campus. Relative to this article: He is a former Marine Corps sergeant, and holds a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.