Bodyguards assigned to Israel’s new justice minister after threats


Newly appointed Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked was assigned bodyguards after threats were made on her life.

Meanwhile, photos showing Shaked, of the right-wing Jewish Home party, wearing a Nazi uniform also have surfaced on social media.

The security detail was assigned to Shaked on Monday by Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who expressed concern about the Nazi photos seen on Facebook and elsewhere. A similar photo of Shaked in her late teens appeared in the days before the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.

Shaked, 39, has expressed a desire to weaken Israel’s Supreme Court, notably by strengthening the legislative branch. She is a strong critic of the left wing.

Leaflets threaten Chicago Jews over Israel’s Gaza operation


Leaflets threatening the Jewish community because of Israel’s Gaza operation were found on parked cars in a Chicago neighborhood.

The leaflets found Saturday on six cars in the Pulaski Park neighborhood, in the northwestern part of the city, threatened violence if Israel did not pull out of Gaza and end its operation in the coastal strip that began July 8, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Chicago Police opened an investigation and notified the department’s hate crimes unit, according to the newspaper.

The leaflets were discovered a day after hundreds of protesters held a demonstration in downtown Chicago, including a “die-in” in which protesters representing the more than 400 Palestinians killed by Israel in the Gaza operation lay on the ground.

The demonstrators then moved their protest in front of the Israeli Consulate in Chicago, according to the Tribune.

Hamas is texting me


I just got a text from someone who’s trying to blow me up.

“The stupidity of your leaders put all of Israel under fire, and forced all the Israelis to go into shelters,” it said, sent by a user named SMSQASSAM. “We will continue bombing every place in Israel until they answer all of our legitimate claims with total affirmation.”

It was signed, “The Izz Ad-Din Al-Qassam Brigades,” Hamas’ militia.

Hamas is texting me. Awesome.

This isn’t the first time. Hamas has hacked Israeli phones several times during this and other times of conflict, sending messages to tens of thousands of Israelis.

I don’t know for sure if I can credit Hamas with this, but a text I got Friday from someone named SHABAK informed me that a “Suicide bomber sneaked into Tel Aviv and Center targeting shelters. Beware of strangers in shelters.”

Leaving aside how one suicide bomber could target more than one bomb shelter, I’m guessing that text wasn’t from the Israel Security Agency, called the Shabak. Maybe it was from Hamas.

Two days earlier, I got a text from a user named “Haaretz” informing me that rockets had hit Haifa. They hadn’t. The Haaretz newspaper sent out an email titled “URGENT CLARIFICATION” telling us that “The message was not from Haaretz.”

Was it from Hamas?

I’m not going to respond; I’m not the biggest fan of text-messages. I prefer phone conversations, even if they’re short. But I’m not going to call Hamas, and judging from this past week, it’s probably not going to call me. I guess I’ll have to wait and see what it writes me next.

 

Keep our shuls safe but still friendly


“Open for us the gates at the time of their closing.”

Worshippers conclude their Yom Kippur prayers every year with this refrain — a final supplication to be sealed in the Book of Life — during the Neilah Shearim service that closes the holiday.

Neilah Shearim, more commonly known as Neilah, literally means, “locking the gates.” As we pray for the metaphorical heavenly gates of forgiveness to remain open this Yom Kippur, how can we ensure that the physical gates of our Jewish institutions do the same?

Security measures at Jewish institutions, and for that matter all religious institutions, are an unfortunate priority these days. On the High Holy Days, we must protect ourselves with a security detail and sometimes even metal detectors and bag checks so that we may devote our time in synagogue to prayer instead of worry.

In the presence of heightened security at our religious institutions, it is essential that our synagogues still feel like warm and welcoming houses of worship, not like airports.

We can demonstrate hospitality by viewing our security professionals as not only the safe-keepers of our institutions, but as the individuals who create a welcoming atmosphere. They are the men and women that newcomers first encounter when entering our institutions. Let’s remind security personnel of the importance of a smile and friendly greeting even while they do the essential work of protecting our institutions.

If possible, volunteer greeters or staff members should be stationed at the entrance with the security professionals. They can help welcome worshippers and answer any questions about the synagogue, holidays and security process. A simple note of apology posted on the entrance to the building also helps mitigate any ill feelings that might emerge from the encounter with security.

Even for those on the inside of the Jewish community, security is an unwelcome challenge. On our way to pray in a building that we may visit regularly with no questioning at all, suddenly we are given the third degree on a few days of the year. But we accept the security because we understand its importance and already are comfortable within the walls of our Jewish institutions.

For newcomers at High Holy Day services, particularly the many friends and family of diverse religious backgrounds who may accompany us, the experience of approaching a Jewish institution may be intimidating on its own. Add in the metal detectors, security detail and questioning, and the experience of entering High Holy Days services becomes a deterrent from engaging with the Jewish community.

The movement for a “Big Tent Judaism” now gaining currency among hundreds of Jewish organizations encourages us to welcome all newcomers and lower barriers to participation. While security presence on the High Holy Days is non-negotiable for most Jewish institutions, there are ways we can open our gates even with the presence of security.

Each institution must evaluate with their security professionals how they can best welcome worshippers while maintaining their safety. We encourage Jewish organizations to meet with their staffs and boards in these crucial days before the High Holy Days to implement simple measures to ensure that our physical gates reflect the metaphorical heavenly gates, the very gates that open on Rosh Hashanah to provide all worshippers with the opportunity to seek repentance and renewal.

This year, use the High Holy Days to reflect on the physical and perceptual gates that act as barriers to the Jewish community. For one institution the gates may be security, and for another the gates may be language, literacy or cost.

This year — and for years to come — let’s take a cue from the High Holy Days liturgy and really open our gates to the many newcomers to our Jewish institutions. Let’s not miss this opportunity to demonstrate to newcomers and those returning to the Jewish community the Jewish value of hachnasat orechim, hospitality.

With sensitivity and action, we can work together to make sure that opening the gates at the time of their closing only exists as an element of the Yom Kippur liturgy.

Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky is the executive director of the Jewish Outreach Institute, the coordinating partner of the Big Tent Judaism Coalition (www.bigtentjudaism.org). Rabbi Edward M. Feinstein is the senior rabbi of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino.

Op-ed courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Jews Vulnerable in Muslim Lands


As the U.S. military pounds Iraq, Jewish communities in
Muslim countries may become increasingly vulnerable.

Jews not only are tiny minorities in the Muslim world, but
to some of their surrounding public, they represent the perceived twin threats
of Israel and America.

As coverage from Al Jazeera and other Arab stations rouses
the Muslim world with tireless coverage of the war — which many Muslims think
came at Israel’s behest — Jewish communities could become a whipping boy for
feverish ideologues.

“There are indications that angry and instigated crowds
could turn violent and direct their anger and aggression toward individual Jews
and Jewish communal installations,” said Steven Schwager, executive vice
president of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC).

In anticipation of the war, the JDC has been working with
Jewish communities in Muslim countries, along with their governments and
nongovernmental organizations.

The JDC, the North American federation system’s overseas
partner for relief and welfare, instructs Jews in Muslim countries to keep a
low profile and helps them assess risks, such as attending Jewish day school or
synagogue.

The World Jewish Congress also has heightened its contacts
with Jews in Muslim countries with a hotline, Web site and weekly conference
calls.

“We’re acting as a listening post,” said Israel Singer, the
WJC’s chairman.

Singer said there currently is no threat to Jews in Muslim
countries, “but we should watch and we should be alert.”

Only a handful of Muslim countries have enough Jews to
constitute a substantial community.

According to the JDC, Iran has 23,000 Jews; Turkey, 23,000;
Morocco 5,000; Tunisia, 1,500; Yemen, 280; and Iraq, 60.

Hundreds of thousands of Jews who lived in Muslim countries
fled their homes, and often prominent positions, during the last century, amid
the creation of Israel and its early wars for existence.

The rise of two “isms” at the time — anti-Semitism and
Zionism — prompted their move to Israel and elsewhere.

Today, Jews are free to leave these countries — although in
Yemen and Iran, Jews are not allowed to go to Israel.

In Morocco and Tunisia, the governments have taken steps to
secure their Jewish communities with added police protection in Jewish neighborhoods
and institutions. Still, with Muslim populations restive — demonstrators
clashed with police this weekend near the American embassies in Egypt and Yemen
— Jews are on high alert.

“Historically, whatever happened in the world has affected
the Jews from Arab countries, but it also depends very heavily on the current
Arab leader,” said Vivienne Roumani-Denn, executive director of the American
Sephardi Federation.

Considering the combination of factors, Roumani-Denn
admitted that if she were a Jew in an Arab country,”I would be a little
nervous, just because of our history.”

Here is the situation around the region:

In Tunisia, Jews already were uneasy after Al Qaeda exploded
a gas truck outside a synagogue in Djerba last April, one of the main Jewish
population centers. The explosion killed 18, most of whom were German tourists.

At its own expense, the Tunisian government rebuilt the
synagogue and added security guards. It also beefed up security at another
synagogue in Tunis.

The March 16 stabbing of a Jewish jeweler there — largely
dismissed as a criminal, not anti-Semitic act — further rattled the community.

But Tunisian Jews consider their home more secure than
places like Israel or France, likely points of immigration, he said.

In Morocco, King Mohammed VI has sought to reassure the
Jewish community since the outbreak of the war, with public announcements
warning citizens against harming each other. Still, the Jewish community is
said to be nervous. A visiting Jew in Morocco declined an interview with JTA,
fearing his phone was tapped. And Jewish schools closed early last Friday.
Sources say the holy Muslim day can lead to a higher risk of attacks.

In Yemen, the few Jews are scattered in small villages
throughout the country. With no Jewish institutions, the community is
considered less of a target.

Anti-American sentiment is running high in Turkey, and its
Jews have been warned of possible attacks. The well-organized community, which
has varied Jewish institutions, has taken measures to secure itself, such as
closing schools and dispersing Jews into small clusters for synagogue services.

Iranian Jewish leaders sent messages to friends and
relatives in Europe last week, indicating they did not feel threatened,
according to sources close to the community.

Sam Kermanian, secretary-general of the Los Angeles-based
Iranian-American Jewish Federation, said of the community: “We are always
concerned about their safety and security, but there isn’t any heightened sense
of security because of the war with Iraq that we know of.”

Despite the trials and imprisonment of more than a dozen
Iranian Jews on what were widely believed to be false charges of spying for
Israel in recent years, Iran hosts a thriving Jewish community. Tehran, where
most Iranian Jews live, hosts a Jewish old age home, a Jewish hospital, Jewish
schools and a Jewish community center.

The Jews of Iraq are considered the most vulnerable
community in the Muslim world. According to the JDC, the possibility of an
anti-Semitic backlash places them in even greater danger than other Iraqis who
are suffering through the war. About 40 Jews live in Baghdad, 15 of whom are
elderly and live in its synagogue. JDC recently learned of 20 Jews in other
cities throughout the country. When Baghdad is safe for humanitarian
organizations, the JDC will assist Iraq’s Jews in whatever ways they need,
Schwager said.

High Security Holidays


Last Sunday, a bomb squad van, police cars and fire trucks rushed to Temple Beth Torah in Culver City.

Last Yom Kippur, a car crashed into a small synagogue on Pico Boulevard, and off-duty police officers immediately evacuated the nearby B’nai David-Judea.

While both incidences turned out to be false alarms — in Culver City someone had thrown out smoking dry ice, and the driver of the car that crashed into the Pico synagogue had suffered a heart attack — it shows, nonethless, that everyone’s on high alert.

With the High Holidays upon us, now coinciding as they often will with the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, and ongoing violence in Israel, the buzzword among Jewish leaders is "proactive." Fifth District City Councilman Jack Weiss uses it when describing the meetings he has led with synagogues, police and political leaders. Rabbis and synagogue administrators use it when describing security precautions they are implementing. The message is, there have been no threats or warnings of danger, but Jewish institutions are well prepared, just in case. As Anti-Defamation League (ADL) regional director Amanda Susskind says of a recent security meeting, "The motto for the day was vigilance, not panic."

"In some cases it’s as simple as installing some cameras. Be aware that shrubbery can be a hindrance to security," Susskind says. "It has to be tailored to the institution. We are asking people to be vigilant on behalf of their synagogue or the institutions they belong to. Like a Neighborhood Watch on a bigger scale."

The ADL’s director of security, Bob Martin, advises Jewish institutions and facilities on "target hardening — making the facility as unattractive as possible to people looking for trouble." Martin also stressed the importance of congregants being alert in the coming weeks, even though their synagogues have security plans. "Security is everybody’s business. It’s not like an umbrella — you don’t just put it up when you think it’s going to rain."

He also emphasized, "The time to find out who is the head of your local police division is not when you have a crisis."

Rabbi Denise Eger has not waited for a crisis. Her Congregation Kol Ami holds two High Holiday services which fall under two different law enforcement jurisdictions. At the congregation’s new building in West Hollywood, they have found sheriff’s deputies "extremely responsive, extremely helpful" in planning for the holidays; the larger rented-for-the-holidays facility in Hollywood is patrolled by the LAPD, who have been "outstanding" as well. "We have been in regular contact with our sheriffs," she says, and notes the added benefit of having LAPD Deputy Chief David Kalish as a congregant.

"This is obviously a year of great concern," admits Howard Lesner, executive director of Sinai Temple. Yet Lesner is comfortable with his temple’s increased security — including 24-hour guards, no parking anywhere around the synagogue and just single points of entry by car and by foot. "We’ve managed to do that without turning it into a prison," he says. "We have a direct relationship with the police, our security company is owned by police officers. If a police officer wants a cup of coffee, or to use the restroom, he knows Sinai is a good place to go."

Developing and strengthening the relationship between Jewish institutions and law enforcement was a major topic at the University of Judaism in August, when the ADL joined Weiss, L.A. Mayor James Hahn and the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, and the Bureau of Jewish Education in leading a security forum geared toward the High Holidays. FBI Assistant Director Ron Iden addressed the group, as did the ADL’s Martin and LAPD Deputy Chief Willie Pannell.

"Historically, we’ve been involved with the Jewish community around the High Holidays," says Pannell, who was recently named deputy chief of operations-South Bureau. On September 11, he was still in his previous position of commander of the criminal intelligence bureau, which includes anti-terrorism. "Los Angeles has a large and prominent Jewish community, where a terrorist could get the most bang for the buck, if you want to use that expression," he says.

With Jewish community experience dating back to his days as a street cop, working the Pico-Robertson area and serving as an off-duty security officer at Wilshire Boulevard Temple for many years, Pannell has particular respect for the Museum of Tolerance, where Police Academy trainees are sensitized to the needs of the Jewish community. Because of this, and because of strong outreach and support from the Jewish community, he says, "There’s an awareness on the part of the street officer, a view that this is a serious concern, not just a community requesting something extra." Specifically, Pannell says. "What we’ve done over the years [is] to gear up during the summer, meet with local rabbis and prominent organizations. We’re telling our captains to be aware, particularly around prominent synagogues, to beef up with extra patrols, meet with Jewish leadership. We talk to them about private security, lighting, watching the packages that come in, entrances and exits."

"It’s a challenging yom tov," says Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, "It was challenging last year. We want to make our Jewish institutions warm, welcoming places — tempered with practical concerns."

Susskind sounds a note of hope: "Last year, we were all in a state of shock. I don’t think there was as careful planning as has been possible this year," she says. "At least on the West Coast, there was still a measure of disbelief that it could happen here. Then, the July 4 shooting at LAX. The rise in anti-Semitism around the world is also causing concern. And as the year unfolded and the conflict in Israel intensified, we have yet another cause for concern." The way Susskind sees it, "We’ve learned a lot in the past year."

Or, as Diamond says, "Things are in hand, let’s do what Jews do this time of year."