Calendar: February 3-9


FRI | FEB 3

“BLESS YOUR HEART” SHABBAT

In honor of American Heart Month, the “Bless Your Heart” Shabbat service welcomes you to “Say Shalom, Save a Life.” There will be a five-minute hands-on CPR lesson to kick off the evening. 7 p.m.; 7:30 p.m. Shabbat service. Free. Temple Etz Chaim, 1080 E. Janss Road, Thousand Oaks. (805) 497-6891. templeetzchaim.org.

INCLUSION SHABBAT & DINNER

Pray, learn and sing with the community during this service. A young woman on the autism spectrum will read her college entrance essay. 7:30 p.m. $10; $5 for children. Congregation Or Ami, 26115 Mureau Road, Suite B, Calabasas. (818) 497-1281. orami.org.

RACHEL KAUDER NALEBUFF: “THE BUMPS”

Rising playwright Rachel Kauder Nalebuff, creator of The New York Times best-seller “My Little Red Book,” has written “The Bumps,” featuring a cast of three expectant mothers. “The Bumpscombines narrative that follows how the understanding of motherhood has evolved. Directed by Deena Selenow, with an all-female team of designers and cast. A conversation with the creative team of “The Bumps” will follow the performance. 8 p.m. Also 2 p.m. Feb. 4. Child care and art activities offered for a limited number of children (ages 3 and older) at the Saturday performance. $10; $8 members; $5 for students. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500. skirball.org.

SUN | FEB 5

TU B’SHEVAT COMMUNITY CELEBRATION

Enjoy a hike, picnic, activities and the beautiful outdoors in celebration of Tu B’Shevat. Bring your own food and drinks. Organized by MATI, the Israeli American Council, Tzofim Shevet Harel and Sinai Temple. 9:30 a.m. Free, but RSVP requested. Griffith Park, 4730 Crystal Spring Drive, Los Angeles. (323) 351-7021. israeliamerican.org.

TUES | FEB 7

“THE QUEEN HAS NO CROWN”

cal-no-crownDirector Tomer Heymann’s autobiographical documentary “The Queen Has No Crown” is a poignant meditation on belonging, loss and sexuality.

Weaving archival and original footage, the film follows the lives of the five Heymann brothers and their mother. The film examines the difficult decisions the family had to make amid turbulent social and political events. No MPAA rating. In English and Hebrew with English subtitles.

Q-and-A with the director follows the screening. 7:30 p.m. $10 general; $6 full-time students; free to members. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.

HOW AND WHY RELIGION MATTERS

In the first of a series of three programs, widely published Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino will speak on the subjects of marriage and family, and will examine how Jewish values help strengthen relationships. 6:30 p.m. Free. RSVP to (310) 474-1518, ext. 3340 or member.sinaitemple.org/events. Sinai Temple Men’s Club, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 474-1518. sinaitemple.org.

HOW TO WIN AN ARGUMENT

Former World Debate Champion Yoni Cohen-Idov will discuss the tools you need to win any argument during this informative lecture. For Jewish young professionals, ages 21-39. RSVP must be under your name. 7:30 p.m. Free. Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 474-1518. sinaitemple.org.

UNITY 3000

Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Ashkenazi and secular Jews and people of other faiths will unite through faith in one God at Unity 3000, presented by Junity. Rabbi and best-selling writer Shalom Arush, author of “The Garden of Emuna” and “The Garden of Peace,” will lead the gathering. 8 p.m. Free. Register online to secure a ticket and seat. (At the door, seats are first come, first served for unregistered guests.) Saban Theatre, 8440 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. Also 8 p.m. Wednesday, Eretz Center, 6170 Wilbur Ave., Tarzana. Junitynow.com. 

WED | FEB 8

LGBTQ & MODERN ORTHODOXY PANEL

Westwood Village Synagogue presents a discussion on how to navigate the relationship between LGBTQ and Modern Orthodoxy.  Rabbi Ari Segal, head of Shalhevet; Micha Thau, a student at Shalhevet; and actor and comedian Elon Gold will participate in the discussion. Part of the Betty Matoff Lecture Series. 7 p.m. Free. Westwood Village Synagogue, 1148 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 824-9987. westwoodvillagesynagogue.org.

THURS | FEB 9

TU B’SHEVAT: WHERE RITUAL AND REALITY MEET

cal-ameliaAmelia Saltsman, award-winning author of “The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen,” and Andy Lipkis, founder and president of the nonprofit TreePeople, will discuss Jewish tradition, culinary delights, climate change and how Tu B’Shevat encourages eco-conscious living. Moderated by Evan Kleiman of KCRW’s “Good Food.” Q-and-A, book signing and tasting of seasonal dishes will follow the program. 7:30 p.m. $12; $10 for members and students. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500. skirball.org.

LEONARD BARKAN: “BERLIN FOR JEWS”

C_Barkan_Berlin_9780226010663_jkt_IFTWhat is it like for a Jew to travel to Berlin today? What happens when an American Jew raised by a secular family falls in love with Berlin? Leonard Barkan’s “Berlin for Jews” is a personal love letter to the city that explores these questions and many more. Discussion with Barkan with a reception to follow the presentation. 7 p.m. Free. Seating is limited. Goethe-Institut Los Angeles, 5750 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 100, Los Angeles. (323) 525-3388. goethe.de/en.

Unity rally in Beit Shemesh honors slain teens, builds community


Beit Shemesh is a city known in recent years for divisiveness and contentious political demonstrations. 

But this past Wednesday morning, close to 300 women and girls came out to stand for togetherness.  They gathered on the Hebrew date marking one year since the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers hitchhiking home for the weekend, Eyal Yifrach, 19, and Gilad Shaer and Naftali Frenkel, both 16. 

Almost all of those attending the Beit Shemesh rally were affiliated with national religious girls’ elementary schools and ulpanot (religious girls’ high schools).  Last minute publicity brought out a few dozen local women as well.

The rally began with a human chain of girls and women holding hands and singing.  The chain was to be unbroken as it encircled the mile long Nachal Dolave Street, which loops its way across a central part of the Ramat Beit Shemesh neighborhood. 

Due to lack of numbers, there were many breaks in the chain.  Those attending didn’t seem to mind, as they smiled and swayed as they sang and held signs declaring “Achdut!” (Togetherness) and “Acheinu KOL beit Yisrael” (ALL of the House of Israel are family). Teachers donned in bright orange or yellow vests led singing along the route. 

The group marched to nearby Ayalon Park, where Rav Nir Vargon, the rabbi of Ramat Shalom Synagogue, opened the program.  He reminded the crowd of where the city was just a little over a year ago.  Beit Shemesh municipal elections had been invalidated by the courts, due to widespread voter fraud.  The hotly debated re-election had just concluded.  The different factions in the city were even more polarized, and calls to divide the city were in the air.

On the heels of the re-election, our boys were kidnapped.  We waited eighteen long days until their bodies were found in a shallow grave near Hevron.  During that time Beit Shemesh, and indeed all of Israel, united in concern for the boys and their families.

Rav Vargon recalled, “It was at the Ne’imi Mall – the site of heated political rallies – that the citizens of Beit Shemesh of all stripes came out for prayer gatherings, to recite psalms together, and to pray for the safe return of Eyal, Naftali, and Gilad.”

The boys came from nationalist religious families, but synagogues across the spectrum recited special prayers for them.  The question was asked of a local ultra-Orthodox rabbi if it was permissible to say psalms on Shabbat for the boys.  He responded, “It’s not only permissible.  It’s required of all of us!” 

Naftali Frenkel’s sister Ayala spoke about her brother, who was a regular kid, who loved sports and music.  Next another girl read a letter written to Gilad Shaer by a member of the youth group where he was a counsellor.  “You told us not to hate people not like us,” she read.  “You told us we should love them.  But you’re not here.  And we need you need you.  We need your smile.  You didn’t come because you had to be in yeshiva, right?  It can’t be that you are not coming back to us.  We need you.  We miss you.” 

The principal of Ulpanat Gila, a nationalist religious high school took the microphone to conclude the morning, calling for solidarity, and mentioning that the principal of one of the charedi (ultra orthodox) schools represented her school at the rally as well. 

After singing Hatikva and Ani Ma’amin (“I Believe” – a song Jews sang on their way to the gas chambers, now sung as a statement of belief in a better future, with hope for the arrival of the Messiah) the crowd dispersed, with popsicles and bumper stickers with a drawing of children holding hands and a photograph of the three boys, with the caption “In Beit Shemesh we give a hand to unity for the Children of Israel.”

Egypt army seeks national unity as crisis mounts


Egypt's army chief called for talks on national unity to end the country's mounting political crisis after a vital loan from the IMF was delayed and thousands of pro- and anti-government demonstrators took to the streets.

The meeting scheduled for Wednesday afternoon was called in response to an increasingly destabilizing series of protests that has unfolded since President Mohamed Morsi awarded himself sweeping powers on November 22 to push through a new constitution shaped by his Islamist allies in a referendum on Saturday.

Armed forces chief and Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called for a meeting of “national unity for the love of Egypt to bring together partners of the country in the presence of the president of the republic”, the army spokesman said.

An aide said Morsi had supported the call for talks. The Muslim Brotherhood said it would be there, while the main opposition coalition said it would decide on Wednesday morning whether to attend.

Earlier, the finance minister disclosed that a $4.8 billion International Monetary Fund loan, a cornerstone of Egypt's economic recovery hopes, would be delayed until next month.

Mumtaz al-Said said the delay was intended to allow time to explain a widely criticized package of economic austerity measures to the Egyptian people.

The announcement came after Morsi on Monday backed down on planned tax rises, seen as essential for the loan to go ahead, but which the opposition had fiercely criticized.

“Of course the delay will have some economic impact, but we are discussing necessary measures (to address that) during the coming period,” Said told Reuters, adding: “I am optimistic … everything will be well, God willing.”

Prime Minister Hisham Kandil said the measures would not hurt the poor. Bread, sugar and rice would not be touched, but cigarettes and cooking oil would go up and fines would be imposed for public littering. In a bid to rebuild consensus, he said there would be a public consultation about the program next week.

In Washington, the IMF said Egypt had asked for the loan to be postponed “in light of the unfolding developments on the ground”. The Fund stood ready to consult with Egypt on resuming discussions on the stand-by loan, a spokeswoman said.

GUNMEN OPEN FIRE

On the streets of the capital, tensions ran high after nine people were hurt when gunmen fired at protesters camping in Tahrir Square, according to witnesses and Egyptian media.

The opposition has called for major protests it hopes will force Morsi to postpone the referendum. Thousands gathered outside the presidential palace, whose walls are scrawled with anti-Morsi graffiti.

A bigger crowd of flag-waving Islamist Morsi backers, who want the vote to go ahead as planned on Saturday, assembled at a nearby mosque, setting the stage for further street confrontations in a crisis that has divided the nation of 83 million.

In Egypt's second city of Alexandria, thousands of rival demonstrators gathered at separate venues. Morsi's backers chanted: “The people want implementation of Islamic law,” while his opponents shouted: “The people want to bring down the regime.” Others cities also witnessed protests.

The upheaval following the fall of Hosni Mubarak last year is causing concern in the West, in particular the United States, which has given Cairo billions of dollars in military and other aid since Egypt, the Arab world's most populous nation, made peace with Israel in 1979.

The turmoil has also placed a big strain on the economy, sending foreign currency reserves down to about $15 billion, less than half what they were before the revolt two years ago as the government has sought to defend the pound.

“Given the current policy environment, it's hardly a surprise that there's been a delay, but it is imperative that the delay is brief,” said Simon Williams, HSBC economist in Dubai. “Egypt urgently needs that IMF accord, both for the funding it brings and the policy anchor it affords.”

The IMF deal had been seen as giving a seal of approval to investors and donors about the government's economic plans, vital for drawing more cash into the economy to ease a crushing budget deficit and stave off a balance of payments crisis.

MASKED ATTACKERS

In central Cairo, police cars surrounded Tahrir Square in central Cairo, the first time they had appeared in the area since shortly after Morsi awarded himself sweeping temporary powers in a move that touched off widespread protests.

The attackers, some masked, also threw petrol bombs that started a small fire, witnesses said.

“The masked men came suddenly and attacked the protesters in Tahrir. The attack was meant to deter us and prevent us from protesting today,” said John Gerges, a Christian Egyptian who described himself as a socialist.

The latest bout of unrest has so far claimed seven lives in clashes between the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and opponents who gathered outside Morsi's presidential palace.

The Republican Guard, which protects the palace, has yet to use force to keep protesters away from the building, now ringed with tanks, barbed wire and concrete barricades.

The army has told all sides to resolve their differences through dialogue, saying it would not allow Egypt to enter a “dark tunnel”. For the period of the referendum, the army has been granted powers by Morsi allowing it to arrest civilians.

In statement issued after rights groups criticized the army's new police powers, the presidency said anyone arrested by the military during the referendum would face civil rather than military courts. It said the army's new role would only last until results are declared after Saturday's referendum.

The army has portrayed itself as the guarantor of the nation's security, but so far it has shown no appetite for a return to the bruising front-line political role it played after the fall of Mubarak, which severely damaged its standing.

OPPOSITION MARCHES

Leftists, liberals and other opposition groups say the hastily arranged constitutional referendum is polarizing the country and could put it in a religious straitjacket.

Opposition leaders want the referendum to be delayed and hope they can get sufficiently large numbers of protesters on the streets to change Morsi's mind.

The main association of Egypt's judiciary, the Judges' Club, voted against supervising the referendum, but the Islamists are confident they can muster enough judges to make sure the vote goes ahead with the necessary judicial supervision.

Islamists have urged their followers to show support for Morsi and for a referendum they feel sure of winning.

The opposition says the draft constitution fails to embrace the diversity of the population, a tenth of which is Christian, and invites Muslim clerics to influence lawmaking.

Additional reporting by Tamim Elyan; Writing by Giles Elgood; Editing by Peter Graff and Will Waterman

Team of Rivals


Stability and order, those are the pillars that enable a democratically elected politician to successfully pursue their agenda. And stability and order are exactly what Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel, has guaranteed for himself and for his party by creating a new national unity government with his rivals.

This new national unity government should have come as no surprise.

The new coalition now controls 94 of 120 Knesset seats. Never before in the history of Israeli politics has the governing coalition been so broad, so strong and so stable. Kadima, Netanyahu’s rival party, under its recently ousted leader Tzippi Livni would not have entered into a coalition with Likud. Shaul Mofaz, the newly elected leader of Kadima, has done what Livni could not. He has, in his own words, ‘corrected a historic wrong.’

Mofaz knows that Kadima belonged in the coalition from the very beginning. In 2009, Israel’s last election, Kadima garnered twenty eight seats, the largest number of seats of any party – but they could not form a government. Likud, with twenty seven seats and Netanyahu at the helm, formed a government along with the Labor party which is ostensibly to the left of Kadima, the central party.

The newly elected head of Kadima is a perfect partner for the Likud leader. Shaul Mofaz is a hawk on issues of security. He served as defense minister under Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and was a successful chief of staff of the IDF, Israel’s army. He is Iranian by birth, born in Teheran, to parents who came, originally, from Isfahan. His given name was Shahram Mofazzez Zadeh, a very ethnic sounding name Shaul Mofaz has the ring of a true Israeli name. Mofaz deeply understands Iranians, not just their language but also their mind set. He has a more liberal point of view than does Netanyahu on economics and social welfare. They are the perfect counter balance to each other.

Kadima is really a center- center/left party. And Likud is center center/right. The coalition they have formed is now strongly center based. It is so strongly center that even if a party or two on either side of the spectrum should decide to leave the coalition it will have no impact on the stability of the government.

This is not an insider baseball issue. The ramifications of this newly formed coalition in Israel will not affect only Israeli society. This broad unity government under the leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu and Shaul Mofaz has carte blanch on issues connected to security, Iran, and the Palestinians peace process issues of vital import to the greater region and to the West.

How and why? I’ll explain.

One of the most important messages this newly created coalition sends out is a message to Iran. Israel’s electorate and their ruling parties are now totally aligned on the issue of the dangers of Iran. Despite the recent and very public debate and critique about if, when or how to deal with Iran the only issue to be dealt with now is timing. The Israeli message to Iran is clear: your nuclear technology and capability threatens us, we will deal with it, we just have to decide when.

The Israeli government is now almost totally united on issues of security. That means that when the government decides to strike there will be no need to break ranks. Iran has to realize that now, more than ever before, Israel is poised to strike. And that is a frightening reality for the United States and by extension the greater Western world on the eve of a US presidential election.

Will this throw a wrench into the Obama presidential campaign and destroy his plan to use Iran as a lever to help win the election? People might ask what is the Obama plan on Iran and do they have one worked out and the answer is that they are still planning the plan. Now the Obama plan, whatever it may turn out to be, will have little impact. The Israelis have the plan, the means and the unity to proceed on their own.

The newly formed coalition government of Israel is also united on the peace process. That ball is now in the Palestinians’ court. It is the Palestinians who must decide to pursue peace or not to pursue peace.

Unlike the Americans, the Israelis have concluded that the Palestinians are not ready to move ahead. They have concluded that the Palestinians want far too much and do not want to compromise. So Israel is simply waiting. Of course, Israel realizes that the next generation of Palestinian leadership may be even less accommodating neighbors, but the Israelis have had enough of giving with no Palestinian follow through. Now, with no pressure from rival parties and with no need to capitulate to external pressure, Israel can comfortably adopt a wait and see policy vis a vis the Palestinians.

Internal domestic issues will still be confronted, debated and fought over in Israel—that will not change. And some parties may bolt from the Netanyahu/Mofaz coalition. But the coalition will remain strong. One thing is certain: Israel’s coalition and governing party is more stable now than it has been in years.

Israelis protest new government


Hundreds of Israelis demonstrated against the new coalition government.

More than 1,000 protested in Tel Aviv, and hundreds in Jerusalem, against the deal struck between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the opposition Kadima Party. A protest also was held in Beersheba.

Former Kadima chairman Tzipi Livni, who resigned from the Knesset earlier this month, said at the Tel Aviv rally that the young demonstrators deserved a politics “of principles and not of survival.”

The demonstration was planned on Facebook by some of last summer’s social protest leaders, according to Haaretz.

At least seven people, including journalists, were arrested during the Tel Aviv demonstration after police declared it illegal and prevented protesters from marching in the streets to the Likud Party headquarters.

Meeting fails to solve Palestinian unity plans


A meeting in Cairo between representatives of Hamas and Fatah did not bring a Palestinian national unity government any closer.

Khaled Mashaal, chief of Hamas, and senior Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmed concluded a meeting Wednesday night that “produced nothing new,” the French news agency AFP reported, citing an anonymous Palestinian official.

Egyptian officials also attended Wednesday’s meeting, which comes nearly three months after the two sides reached agreement in Doha to form an interim government headed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The two sides have argued over who will serve in the new government. Presidential and legislative elections were supposed to be scheduled within a year.

Prime Minister Fayyad: ‘Unity and Non-violence’ requisites for statehood


With skepticism rife over a Fatah-Hamas rapprochement and the Hamas demand to replace him, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the man credited with energizing the movement toward statehood and the man Western governments want holding the PA’s purse strings, discusses the pending issues with Friedson Friedson, President and CEO of The Media Line news agency, at his Ramallah office. Below is the first of two sessions between Prime Minister Fayyad and Ms. Friedson.

Friedson:  Mr. Prime Minister, thank you for taking the opportunity to speak with me and The Media Line.

Fayyad:  My pleasure.

Friedson:  Is there going to be a unity government comprised of Fatah and Hamas?

Fayyad:  Well, I’m hoping that as a matter of fact, sooner rather than later. We Palestinians can have – at long last – one government that is able to run the affairs of the Palestinian people both in Gaza and the West Bank. I personally view that as an essential first step toward re-establishing unity. I have always maintained that the state of Palestine which we are seeking cannot and will not happen unless our country is re-united—and one government is a key instrument of getting there. We just cannot keep going in the way we’ve been going for four years now: separated; separate governing processes; unable to get together physically; having lots of responsibilities there; wanting to discharge them more fully and adequately toward our own people. It just can’t continue. This is really most unnatural. We must see this operation come to an end.  Now, in terms of the makeup of our government, that is what has been discussed extensively in various forms of dialogue which I hope can conclude sooner rather than later. This process has been going on way too long in my humble opinion.

Friedson: Will Salam Fayyad be able to continue as prime minister if there is a unity government?

Fayyad:  You know, on the basis of what has transpired and most recent contacts especially between the two main factions, Fatah and Hamas, it is no secret that excluding me from the possibility of being the prime minister in the next government was something that was a major issue and topic of discussion and consideration in that direction. Now, I myself have always considered that this should not be an issue, and that as far as I’m concerned, I am not now and I will never be and I can never accept being in a position of even being just thought of as an obstacle in the way of getting us there, in terms of getting the county united again. And most recently and ahead of the most recent round of negotiations which took place in Cairo, and well before that, I actually called on the factions to agree on a consensus choice other than the existing prime minister—other than me—with a view to making absolutely clear that statements and speculation as to me being the obstacle or impediment were completely unfounded and that they should really be free to go ahead and do that. That really is my position. What is really important to us is to come to the point where we can have that government – one government – and immediately the important thing is to think about what that government is going to do. This government that is going to run the affairs of the Palestinian people up to the point we have elections – that’s another important issue which I think should be definitely finalized in terms of dates for elections and all because it’s really high time for our people to have the opportunity to have their say in the form of inclusive, transparent, open elections – we must be allowed to do this and we must allow our people the opportunity to do this.  It’s not going to be just basically a mere caretaker up until the election. That government should really begin to do serious work to reunite the country. It’s easy to say, “reuniting the country,” reuniting institutions and people. What that means is quite complex and requires a lot of serious effort and that government requires a lot of support in order for it to be able to do these things and for it to be able to make inroads into the reconstruction of Gaza which is overdue. So a lot of challenges; a lot of tasks and that’s what I believe we should be focused on rather than this debate which really is a bogus controversy so far as the identity of the next prime minister. I think that should be dispensed with. There are a lot of qualified people out there and all that is required is that there be agreement and consensus on one; we should move on.

Friedson:  Having said that, the word on the street is that you might run for president.

Fayyad:  I have not considered anything in politics beyond what I’m doing right now. It is a uniform point of view of anyone who has followed my career until now and what I have been doing for more than 40 years; this would not really come as a surprise. I have just described to you the complexity of the task of the government that is going to take over in the run-up to elections and I hope this is something that is not just talked about but is something that will actually happen. I say this from the point of view of somebody who knows first-hand under these difficult conditions – highly complex conditions – domestically, regionally and internationally – as well. Given all of that, you just cannot think of anything else but what you’re doing. What I am being completely focused on is to be able to continue to chart these difficult waters; build on the progress that we’ve been able to achieve in various fields of government in terms of deepening our readiness for statehood; continue to provide support for our political activity internationally. These are really difficult challenges, so, no, I have not and I will not be thinking about anything but what I’m doing.

Friedson:  Your presence has allowed Western governments to provide aid to the Palestinian Authority. So let’s just say you did leave the government as the prime minister. Won’t a sizeable amount of [international] support be placed in jeopardy?

Fayyad:  I hope not. I think over the past few years, and this probably is or should be one of the key reasons why we have this much support and international confidence, if you will. I’m really personally flattered by all of this, but at the same time I believe it’s a reflection by and large of the progress that we’ve been able to make in institutionalizing governance processes including in the important area of monitoring finances. If the donors have confidence and faith, it’s not so much, I believe, in the fact that there is x, y or z running the show now. It’s a direct consequence of them having assurance that there are mature governance processes in key areas of government including, importantly, public finance. And so therefore I hope that would not happen. This is far too much of a responsibility, a burden, for anyone to continue to think of himself as the address through which the money, assistance, aid can go only. Exclusively. And I would really regard it, to be honest with you, as a failure on my part if it ends up being the case. I shouldn’t be talking in terms that extend beyond what I consider to be new modesty, because that’s who I am. But if I would think in terms of, well with hesitation I say the word “legacy” – I would really not want it to be my legacy on whose shoulders lies the whole responsibility of being the sole address through which, in which, the international community has confidence when it comes to assisting the Palestinian people or Palestinian Authority…

Friedson:  So how do you view your legacy?

Fayyad:  It is one of institutionalizing things. It is one of basically converting all energies that we have at the individual level as well as collectively into one part of national effort that is really capable of projecting the kind of true, real, genuine readiness for the state of Palestine that is going to happen; that I really have set out from the beginning as a goal, as a compass for everything that we really do. That’s really the most important thing. So it is progress toward the goal of institutionalizing all of these processes and I believe that is what matters.

Friedson:  Mr. Prime Minister, placing your role in the next government aside, American legislators from both parties are warning that the United States cannot fund a Palestinian government that includes Hamas because it’s on the terror list. How iron-clad do you see this stipulation as being?

Fayyad:  When we talk about one government, and I mentioned among other things that number one, it is important to have that; and number two, to discuss the makeup of that government and what it should be like, it’s platform, we touched a little bit on the tasks of that government. I do not believe that our friends in Congress would disagree with what I said about the need for us to have one government. No one can because it is, for me, a straightforward point of logic for us to want to see our country re-united. On the basis of that same logic, I see no difficulty and come to the conclusion that this cannot but be the universally-shared conclusion because that state of Palestine – in order for it to happen – must have Gaza as a component. We Palestinians can’t have a state without Gaza. And to the extent that a two-state solution is not only a Palestinian interest, but a regional interest and an international interest, there cannot but be a convergence of views on the need for our country to be reunited. This said, I think it’s incumbent on us Palestinians to really try to manage our own affairs in ways that would not interfere with our capacity to interact effectively with the international community including the United States and especially the Congress of the United States. It’s incumbent upon us to really find a way. I believe the important thing – and I believe it would be really important not to get engaged in some categorization of what might happen and characterization of that government as being [a] factional government of this color or that color or the rest of it. But really to concentrate more on issues that matter maybe more on a level of priority. For example, when it comes to matters of platform – tasks for this government – would it not really be a major consideration that this government, or one of its key tasks, is to oversee the implementation and observance of a doctrine of non-violence? I believe this is a major, major task for the government…

Friedson:  Do you believe fundamentalism within Hamas can actually go beyond this?

Fayyad:  Let me tell you: What I’ve just described to you, the doctrine of non-violence, is something we attach a greatest deal of importance to. I personally believe in the immense power of non-violence. But it is generally true that this approach, this doctrine, is more broadly shared today in Palestine than at any point before. I think we should take advantage of it and try to formalize it. Therefore, I say, if you have the prospect or possibility of having a Palestinian government, a key task of which is to oversee the implementation of such an important doctrine, would not that represent a major advance or improvement relative to status quo or status quo ante? My answer is, “Yes.” It’s a major improvement relative to what we have. If we ignore other elements, would that government be ideal? I’d say, “No.” But there’s hardly an ideal government anywhere in the world for that matter. I’m someone who looks at the realm of what is possible. What is practical. What is pragmatic and how we might be able to move. A guiding principal, or litmus test, if you will, is whether or not by moving in such-and-such direction we’re not we’re paving the way toward improving the situation. Whether the day after is now going to be better than the day before. In other words, whether we’re going to be better in regards to the status quo is the yardstick by which I measure things. Are we assured that such government is going to be perfect from every other point of view?  The answer is no. But my answer is, “Let us begin. Let’s create conditions that are better tomorrow than they are today and build on that. Create a new dynamic: a Palestinian Authority that’s able to function in Gaza.” Being able to enforce, observe and implement a doctrine of non-violence throughout the occupied Palestinian territory is a major advance in being able to formalize what has now become a broadly shared conviction in this doctrine of non-violence. I believe that it is very important to formalize that and for that to become a key ingredient for the platform of the government. This is how I look at things. Now, if we don’t get that, then I myself would say that would be a case of too many missing ingredients. It will be a case of too many things that we don’t have.  So I would say it’s important for us to take note – take good note – of the opinion of the international community, but it incumbent on us, too, to explain ourselves. I believe that the international community is reasonable…

Friedson:  But if you cannot get them – Hamas – to adopt to non-violence, then what would happen?

Fayyad:  I have just described to you what I believe would be absolutely essential in terms of the platform of that government, in terms of its key tasks and responsibilities. And if that is not really agreed upon, if that doctrine of non-violence is not a key ingredient in the platform of that government, then again I say, it will be from our own point of view, a case of too many missing ingredients.

Friedson:  Hizbullah is also on the terror list and controls 21 out of 30 cabinet seats in the Lebanese government. Yet, the United States provides aid there.  Are the situations comparable? Do you see this as a reason to believe that aid will continue notwithstanding the threats to cut off support?

Fayyad:  It is way above my pay grade to engage in cross-border comparisons. I’ll just confine myself to what is possible, reasonable, do-able on our side; and I just described to you, Felice, what is our point of view; what I believe is absolutely essential from our point of view relative to our own objective. Basic and most fundamental of our objectives – what is that? To have a state of our own. What does that mean and what does it require? It requires functional security. Functionality of security requires that the state and its agencies is the address and the state – and only the state – will have purview over security matters.

Friedson:  Speaking of obligations, you yourself have criticized Arab governments for failing to make good on pledges to the Palestinian Authority. If the United States and Western governments suspend aid, do you feel you can rely on the Arab governments to fill in the gap?

Fayyad:  We have problems now in terms of aid flows. We have an interruption and we have so far an overall flow of aid that’s been less than programmed for this current fiscal year 2011, and what we got of it did not always come in a timely way, which complicated our task and precipitated a financial crisis, which at one point during the year, or twice, made it impossible for us to pay salaries. Not to mention our failure to meet other important obligations to the private sector, vendors, suppliers. This is a major problem for us. To me, the issue is really not to look for other sources of funding in order to overcome the difficulties we face with some sources. Whether they are in the region or outside the region. The solution to me lies in stepping up our own efforts in attaining self-reliance and in the meantime reducing substantially on our reliance on aid. We have made a good deal of progress over the past few years, specifically since 2008 toward reducing our dependency on aid and reliance on it. In numbers, in fact, the aid allocated to us to help us with current expenditure has declined from $1.8 billion in 2008 to about $1 billion this year. This is a significant decline. In GDP terms, it’s a 60% decline from 2008. Actually, under current baseline for financial policy, we’re projecting a couple percentage points more reduction in the deficit of the Palestinian Authority.  We’re not looking for other sources to make up the difference. What we’re looking for to make up the difference is ourselves. We asked ourselves, “Can we do more? Can we go beyond the original base line?” And our answer was, “We must.” We must find a way to substantially reduce the deficit in 2012 beyond the level that was planned on the original baseline and we’re doing it. It is my firm expectation. Based on the strength of measures that we are contemplating and we are about to phase in. We are going to be able to substantially reduce our level of deficit in a way that should make it the last year in which we’re going to need external financial assistance for current budget support for current expenditures. That’s a major achievement. It will be yet another sign – a very important sign—of the advanced state of maturity of governing ourselves; of the level that we have reached.

Friedson:  What do you say to those who warn that because of the political situation fiscally, everything can collapse?

Fayyad:  Well, fiscally, everything is already collapsing. Not can or will. It is collapsing already under the heavy weight of the suspension of the transfers of our revenues that the government of Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. We are fast approaching the point of being completely incapacitated by this, and I really mean it. Now we cannot move checks as low in value as $5,000 and $6,000 without making a special effort with the banks. We really are on the verge of being completely incapacitated by this measure by the government of Israel. Now, those revenues which the government of Israel transfers to us are revenues it collects on our behalf under the agreement that regulates economic and financial relations – the Paris Protocols, which go back to 1994. Under the terms of that agreement, Israel – without any condition or qualification – is to transfer on a monthly basis money it collects on our behalf under that agreement. That should not be subject to any conditions of any kind. It’s not in the agreement that Israel could resort to such measures.

Friedson:  Worse case scenario you envision happening?

Fayyad:  I’m realistic. You know, in theory some might say that you should look to others to come up with the difference. But realistically, what is it we’re talking about? We’re talking about an amount of money that comprises about two-thirds of our revenues – about $100 million to $110 million per month. I just told you the order of magnitude. I told you our budget deficit for 2011 is about $1 billion. So figure we’re talking about depriving us of about $100 million a month of our revenues. That would have doubled – it’s been happening since January of this year – our financing requirement. Now, if we could not come up with $1 billion in external assistance, how can we even begin to think that we can come up with $2 billion? So it’s wholly unrealistic to expect that the withholding or suspension of transfer of money from Israel is something that can be compensated for by donor assistance. As a matter of fact, I can tell you that there is nothing we can do by adjustment that can begin to make compensation for the withdrawal of that money.  Worse case scenario, I will go back to what I just told you. This was not meant to be a dramatization or exaggeration at all. This would incapacitate us completely. You’re taking away from us two-thirds of our revenues. It is difficult for me to see how that can be compensated for by external assistance given the difficulties we have experienced in getting much less by way of external assistance. Furthermore, one would be hard pressed to think of adjustment measures that we could take that would really make the adjustment for the withholding of that money. We’re talking about $100 million per month. This is major. In principle, it is possible. In theory, it is possible. In reality, how realistic is it going to be given the orders of magnitude? Makes it unlikely and makes it difficult for me to think that it will be possible to deal with this problem by looking for money from other sources.  You know, we have been living a hand-to-mouth type of existence, living in a crisis mode for more than a year and a half.  I know Palestinian finances. The state of Palestinian finances is something of which I have intimate knowledge of since the inception of the Palestinian Authority and from various angles in different capacities from long before I joined the Palestinian Authority in 2002.  I can tell you with absolute certainty that the Palestinian Authority has never faced a financial situation that is more difficult than the one it is facing now. When I say we’re on the verge of becoming completely incapacitated, I really mean it literally. This is how difficult it is. This is not something you’re going to be able to resolve by having a little more external assistance. The only way it can be resolved is by the government of Israel doing the right thing and that is to live up to the agreement we have—the one that governs our relationship in money and finance. Continued failure to resolve this issue should rightly cast serious doubt about the capacity of the political process to deal with the more difficult issues that are to be negotiated between us and the Israelis. The international community, with all of its influence and its involvement and the fact that it’s been providing us with lots of support to help us with our capacity building and with our effort to get ready for statehood; if with all that standing the international community cannot convince the government of Israel to do the right thing when it comes to the money that should be transferred unconditionally, how much faith can we really have in the ability of the international community to do the heavy lifting that’s necessary to facilitate the political process between us and Israel adequately, effectively in a way that can produce an outcome?

Felice Friedson is President and CEO of The Media Line news agency. She can be contacted at felice_friedson@yahoo.com.  © 2011. The Media Line Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Fayyad may quit for sake of Palestinian unity


Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad signaled on Monday he is ready to step aside to help reconcile the two rival factions of the Palestinian national movement and pave the way for presidential and parliamentary elections.

The departure of the U.S.-educated former World Bank economist, 59, would be a concession by P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the mainly secular Fatah movement which is dominant in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, to his Islamist rivals Hamas, who control the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip.

Abbas will call in a speech on Wednesday for a government of independent experts to prepare for the elections, presidential adviser Nemir Hammad told Reuters.

This scenario was part of a reconciliation deal signed last April but never implemented. Elections were last held in 2006.

Abbas is also due to hold face-to-face talks in Cairo this month with his arch-rival, the exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal. One official said the meeting could bring reconciliation closer “should Abbas abandon his commitment to Fayyad” as his candidate to head the caretaker government.

Fayyad, appointed by Abbas in 2007, is credited with revitalizing the economy and building institutions needed to set the Palestinian Authority on the path to full statehood. But Hamas, which accuses him of helping Israel to blockade the Gaza Strip, has never recognized him.

“I say again it is time to end division,” Fayyad told the Al-Quds newspaper. “I call upon all factions and political parties to agree on a new prime minister. I was never an obstacle to the implementation of the reconciliation and I refuse to be used as a pretext for continuing the split.”

International mediators saw Palestinian negotiators in Jerusalem on Monday in a bid to restart stalled talks with Israel on a peace deal to end the 63-year-old conflict. Hamas has no role in the talks and is not seeking one.

Envoys of the so-called Middle East Quartet—the United States, European Union, Russia and the United Nations—were meeting separately with Israelis and Palestinians in an effort to relaunch direct negotiations that were suspended a year ago.

But there was no end to the deadlock over Israel’s West Bank settlement building and Palestinian demands that it cease.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat repeated that settlements and a two-state solution were mutually exclusive.

Israeli officials say reconciliation of the two Palestinian movements would wreck the peace process for good, since Hamas refuses even to recognize Israel, let alone sign a peace treaty.

Abbas says the process has yielded nothing for the Palestinian people over the past 20 years. He is pursuing an alternative course to statehood by seeking international recognition without waiting any longer for the elusive peace agreement.

But reconciliation is imperative. The longer Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza lead separate lives under separate leaders, the greater the chance of permanent division creating two separate ‘Palestines’.

The territories are separated by about 30 kms (20 miles) of Israeli territory and an ideological gulf that shows no real sign of narrowing since Hamas ejected Fatah from the Gaza enclave in a brief civil war in 2007.

For peace talk purposes, Abbas and his Palestinian Authority formally govern both parts of what would be the future Palestinian state. But that is far from the reality.

“Two entities have developed. An Islamist model in Gaza and a different one in the West Bank,” says Gaza-based political analyst Talal Okal.

Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; Writing by Douglas Hamilton; Editing by Richard Balmforth

Palestinians will continue to negotiate peace, Abbas says


The Palestinians will continue to negotiate peace with Israel despite a unity agreement with the terrorist Hamas organization, Mahmoud Abbas said.

Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, told reporters Thursday that the Palestine Liberation Organization that he heads will continue to be responsible for handling negotiations, Haaretz reported. Hamas is not a member of the PLO.

Abbas’ comments came a day after his Fatah movement and Hamas, which controls Gaza, announced that they had reconciled, following a meeting in Cairo.

Abbas has not yet announced the composition of his “unity cabinet.” An official unity agreement ceremony is scheduled to be held in Cairo next week.

The new unity government “Has nothing to do with politics,” Abbas said.

Israel has said that it will not negotiate with Hamas.

Top Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar said Thursday that his organization will not participate in peace talks with Israel, Ynet reported.

Al-Zahar said it will not stop its partners from talking to Israel, saying “if Fatah wants to negotiate with Israel over trivialities, they can.”

In a statement issued after the announcement Wednesday of the unity agreement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the reconciliation “shows the weakness of the Palestinian Authority and causes one to wonder if Hamas will seize control of Judea and Samaria like it seized control of the Gaza Strip.”

“The Palestinian Authority needs to choose between peace with Israel and peace with Hamas,” Netanyahu said.

Palestinians to renew unity talks


Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah will renew unity talks.

The talks will be held in Cairo next month, the Jerusalem Post reported.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of Fatah, said he was planning to visit Gaza to talk with Hamas leaders. But the trip, which Hamas had asked Abbas to postpone, will not take place until after next month’s talks, according to the report. The talks will also focus on elections for a new Palestinian government in the West Bank and Gaza.

The announcement of the Cairo talks comes after Abbas aide Azzam Ahmed told the Associated Press that Fatah would give up U.S. aid in order to reconcile with Hamas.

“Of course we need the American money. But if they use it as a way of pressuring us, we are ready to relinquish that aid,” said Ahmed.

The U.S., which gives the Palestinians more than $470 million a year in direct financial assistance, withheld that aid when Hamas was part of a Palestinian government.

Hamas left the government in 2007 and seized power in Gaza.

Hamas, Fatah talk unity


Rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah met to continue reconciliation talks.

Fatah, the party led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip, met in Damascus last Friday night to for unity talks.

The groups agreed to continue talks in order to achieve reconciliation, according to a joint statement issued by the groups on Saturday morning. The statement said that several disagreements had been resolved.

The reconciliation talks come against the backdrop of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which do not include Hamas.

A New Jewish Agenda


“Behold, cometh this dreamer.” (Genesis 37:19)

Jewish Americans voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama — 77 percent to 23 percent.

They chose Obama for the same reason most voters did, only more so. They were appalled at the state of the nation after eight years of a Republican administration. They gravitated to Obama’s policies. But what won even independent- and Republican-leaning Jews over was his ability to project idealism and intelligence, vision and pragmatism.

All our great leaders, from Moses to Rabin, share this combination of almost paradoxical traits. The biblical Joseph was a boy when his brothers derided him as a dreamer, but he grew into a man with great practical ability (and, by the way, he saved Egypt’s economy). Obama is a long way from joining this pantheon, but Jewish voters see in him that possibility.

However, the enormity of Obama’s Jewish support disguises the depth and intensity of division within our community over this election. Vicious ads and viral lies tore us deeply, if not in two. The Jewish infighting got rough and ugly over this election. The far left tarred McCain as a warmonger, the right had Obama installing Noam Chomsky as special Mideast envoy.

There is a way to heal this gash. On Nov. 5, 2008, it’s worth looking at what Obama and his opponent, Arizona Sen. John McCain, had in common. Because those similarities reveal the common path we Jews must now follow.

Both men stressed energy independence. Their policies, especially in the more cartoonish moments of the election, differed in dramatic ways — “Drill, baby, drill!” can now go the way of “Hoo But Hoover?” — but McCain and Obama agreed without hesitation on the reasons America must stop greasing its downward slide with Saudi crude.

Both men recognized the importance of multilateral diplomacy and engagement in dealing with Iran and the Middle East, and both avowed the non-negotiable importance of a secure and peaceful Israel.

Finally, both men emphasized universal national service as a critical part of strengthening America at home and abroad.

Energy independence, an engaged and enlightened Middle East policy, national service: There you have it. In that overlap is the Jewish communal agenda for the next four years.

But what, exactly, is our role?

Energy Independence: Green Is the New Blue-and-White

Anyone who doesn’t understand there is a direct correlation between our foreign oil consumption and the long-term health of our economy, our planet and Israel is either in denial or in a Mercedes E-Class.

McCain and Obama understood we don’t have the luxury of denial anymore.

Transitioning from an oil-based economy to one that relies on domestic sources of energy and, ultimately, alternative energy, will take time, ingenuity, investment and sacrifice.

We need to lead the way. The Jewish community’s stake is even higher: Israel’s enemies benefit directly from America’s gas pumps. Iran can’t pay for a screwdriver, much less enriched uranium, without high fuel prices. Oil receipts have also funded the spread of the most irredentist interpretations of (mostly Saudi-backed) anti-Semitic Islam.

Green, then, must become the new blue-and-white. Synagogues need to offer incentives for congregants to be fuel and energy efficient. Our numerous defense organizations need to join together in making the fight for energy independence at least as important as the fight against a dozen Aryan whack jobs lurking around the fringes of the Internet.

Our communal leaders need to set an example in the cars they drive, the investments they make. Plant a tree in Israel or buy a bond there, but also invest in cutting-edge Israeli solar, electric and biofuel research.

A good first step: The Republican Jewish Coalition and National Jewish Democratic Council need to sit down together and craft a joint ad supporting Obama’s promised “Manhattan Project” for energy independence.

Middle East Policy: Courageous Support

Obama’s most vociferous Jewish critics woke up Nov. 5, checked Debka.org, and came to the shocking realization that Israel still exists.

Now everyone can take a breath and focus.

America’s relationship with Israel is strong because it is in America’s interest, not just the Jewish interest. It is resilient because it has deep popular support — not just Jewish support. It is ongoing because responsible Jewish organizations focus on making Israel a bipartisan issue, not a campaign slogan.

Both candidates agreed that a nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable, and the new president will need unwavering bipartisan Jewish backing to help ensure that.

Both men agreed that the Israeli-Palestinian issue is not the cause of America’s problems in the Middle East. But both men acknowledged that addressing that conflict is in Israel’s interest, and it is.

It is time for American Jewish organizations to stand with an American president’s good faith and intelligent efforts to help Israel move toward rapprochement with whatever country or nation it wants, and to encourage Israel through incentive and support to take the difficult steps it must to improve its security.

Some donors will cancel checks, some pressure groups will scream, “Traitor!” But a new beginning requires our communal leaders to find new wellsprings of courage and resolve.

National Service: Communities of Obligation

Our communities can make common cause with national service by inspiring our youth to serve, providing them with meaningful service opportunities, and — this is important — demanding that they do so.

That’s right. For GenX and GenY Jews, the message from the organized Jewish community has long been, “We owe you.” We ply them with cool outreach events, free trips to Israel, grants for every ‘zine, rave and hip-hop Shabbat they want — and all we ask is that they like us. This has got to stop.

Jewish tradition already has a word for what Obama meant when he called for universal national service: kehilla hiuvit, literally, “a community of obligation.”

Our Jewish communities need to demand service of all of our young people. You want to go to Israel? First commit to tutor an inner-city child. You want to feel you belong? Plant a tree. Not in Israel (you can do that, too) — in Boyle Heights.

“Let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of service and responsibility,” Obama said in his victory speech. Jews of the left and right can work together to heed that call.

The dawn of a new era in American politics demands a new agenda in Jewish politics. We can use our collective power to advance a far-reaching three-point agenda that will inspire our youth, improve our communities and improve our world. The nation has chosen. Now it’s our turn.

Yes, we Cain


Israel: A work in progress


From the birth of the Zionist movement more than a century ago through its 60 years as a Jewish state, Israel has come of age amid a vastly changing world: two world wars, the technological revolution and economic globalization with all its attendant challenges.

The creation of Israel is a paradigm for the way people without sovereignty embrace and transform their history through freedom. That ongoing struggle of humans trying to find their place in the universe unfolds over time, but it requires a place.

Israel also represents a unique laboratory — and not just for defining itself for its residents but also for addressing global crises. Every problem on this planet is refracted and amplified here: Having resettled and grown in the land, how can we conserve its environment? Can we halt our addiction to oil and achieve energy independence? If we level the field in information and technology, can we overcome the limitations of size and space and become a player on the global stage? If Israel can answer questions like these, it will achieve a secure position among nations and obtain its peace.

As President Shimon Peres said, the objective of this 60th anniversary year should be to bring Israel to the world and the world to Israel. Our experiment, through shifting events and the failures and challenges they bring, is one that results in the covenant renewed. And looking back through the decades from our founding, we can find four lessons that resonate globally. They also inform 21st century hopes for our survival, based on the merging of ancient truths with the ever-present task of national renewal. These are lessons that will sustain all global communities from the chaos of our times:

Lesson 1: Diasporas need homelands.

Today, the United Nations reports that more than 300 million people in this world live in Diaspora communities that struggle to maintain homeland ties. The Rwandans, the Armenians, the Guatemalans and, yes, the Palestinians long for their place among the nations. For many nations, Diaspora remittances are sometimes far greater than foreign direct investment, portfolio flows and foreign aid combined. The contributions of Israel’s Diaspora and its transformation through the creation of the State of Israel have been a lesson well studied by others.

Lesson 2: Nations need security.

Imminent threats, beginning before the Holocaust, informed not only the Zionist movement but also the Jewish concept of state defense. No nation can survive while its people live in exile.

The captive Hebrews in Babylon lamented, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” In revolting against its history, Israel rejected centuries of subjugation and developed a national defense based on the doctrine that homeland building can tolerate many risks for peace — but never the catastrophic risks that unite senseless hatred with regional imperialism.

This is what links the Eichman trial to Entebbe to Osirak to last fall’s strike against the Syrian reactor facility. Yet the world has seen genocide spread to Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur. The lesson of homeland security is ignored at great peril.

Lesson 3: Language and cultural revival are key.

Jewish cultural identity — expressed through art, music and, most important, through the revival of Hebrew from its strict liturgical usage to an official state language — has been key to our national renewal and rebirth. Where else in the world has a language no one spoke, but which was common to all, emerged as a national language?

Like archaeological discovery and conservation of cultural capital, the protection of language is essential for national cultures throughout the world. While not promoting linguistic exclusivity (Israel, after all, has three official languages), the protection of communal language promotes a multilingual access and a cultural infrastructure, encourages the safekeeping of minority languages and culture and their ultimate restoration as part of our international heritage.

Lesson 4: Unity exists in diversity.

From the microcosm of Israel’s rebirth as a modern nation, this is perhaps the most profound lesson for a global future. Israel’s Jewish-majority population can boast more than 120 nations of origin, along with significant local minorities of Palestinian, Druze and Bedouin Arabs. As a result, Israel is one of the most diverse countries in the world.

Integrating this pastiche into a democratic republic that protects and celebrates diversity through unity remains a remarkable achievement. It is also becoming a common challenge for nations around the world.

Absorption is the means to achieving true national self-interest. It puts the emphasis on integration, rather than on full assimilation and the triumphalism of a majority. In Israel, frankly, there is no majority — not Ashkenazim, not Sephardim, not political, not religious. It is our challenge to grow from the particular to the universal without comprising the richness and uniqueness of diversity.

Ultimately, these lessons underscore the celebration of Israel’s rebirth. Let us reaffirm our particular attributes as a nation by reaffirming our universal values. That was the lesson of the prophets.

These lessons and inspiration place Israel, a small country, on the global stage in a unique way. They offer enormous advantages in global trade and provide the basis for both military power and peace incentives. They provide the basic formula for an open society, global ties and national security. They enable Israel to renew and repair both itself and an endangered world in troubled times.

Glenn Yago is director of capital studies at the Milken Institute.


So many singles, so few tables


This is not a sob story. There is no hunger or homelessness, there are no kids with cancer.

Rather, it’s the story of single Jews in Los Angeles who, once ina while, would love to gather around a family Shabbat table. They’re not desperate for company. Many don’t have family here, and they just like the idea of staying connected to their Judaism and their people through the joy of a Shabbat table.

The problem is, there aren’t that many tables available, and the community could surely use a few more.

Remember the movie “Crash” that won the Oscar for Best Picture last year? On the surface, all you could see were the sharp differences among the many peoples of L.A., and how those differences divided us. But dig a little and you could see a more unifying message: When it comes to the pain of feeling isolated, we are all the same. Chinese, Persian, Latino, Black or Caucasian, deep down, what unites us all is our human need to stay connected — to not be alone.

Jews are no different. Whether male or female, young or old, Ashkenazic or Sephardic, rich or poor, left-wing or right-wing, religious or secular, SUV-driving or Prius-driving, loud or quiet, screenwriter or grant writer, somehow, no matter how good you feel in our own skin, and how much you enjoy your own company, none of us wants to be alone.

This need to stay connected seems only to deepen if you’re a single Jew living in the City of Angels … and it’s Friday night.

You don’t have your own family, you live in a city not known for itscommunal hugs, and you’re part of a people that has been kicked around for3,000 years — all of which makes you naturally open to some communalhugging.

And then there’s Friday night. After a week of doing whatever it is we all do, it’s not unusual to ask ourselves: What am I doing all this for? At that tender moment — when we seek to savor the fruits of our labors — there’s nothing quite like schmoozing with other Jews around the cozy warmth of a Shabbat table, especially if there’s a good bottle of red.

In his 2005 book “Around the Family Table,” Rabbi Shlomo Riskin explains how the Shabbat meal “links the generations, making everyone feel part of the eternal people participating in an eternal conversation with the Divine.”

He goes on to say that “over the last 40 years, thousands of individuals have shared these meals with our family, and have likewise discovered meaning and inspiration through their participation. Indeed I am convinced that this family ritual is a far more authentic and significant expression of Judaism than is any synagogue service.”

Imagine, then, if sharing this ritual became part of the Jewish consciousness. Imagine, for example, if every Friday night millions of single Jews across America would gather and connect with other Jewish families over a beautiful Shabbat meal.

It’d be like a weekly invitation to stay Jewish.

In fact, if the Jewish federations were smart, and if they were really serious about “Jewish continuity,” they would get together and create a national “Shabbat Birthright” movement and work with local communities everywhere to encourage Jewish families to connect with Jewish singles on Shabbat. Unlike one-day programs like “Shabbat Across America” that happen in outside locations, this would promote an ongoing ritual that is celebrated in Jewish homes.

They might start by coming down here to the Pico-Robertson neighborhood, where an enterprising single Jew has started what you might call her own little Shabbat birthright movement.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not a buttoned-up organization with a catchy name and a cool Web site. It doesn’t even have a name. It’s simply the brainchild of a 30-something woman named Lori Pietruszka, who’s got this mini-obsession with tracking down Jewish singles and matching them up with Shabbat tables in the neighborhood.

Since she started this in January with the help of friends, Lori has arranged Shabbat tables for about 90 single Jews in 11 different homes. The list of singles with references now tops 200, and she says she’s getting calls and e-mails every day from singles looking to join up (lorica10@aol.com). She already has Shabbat bookings through June.

Lori is one of those “Mary Poppins” kind of people, who doesn’t know from sarcasm and who uses phrases like “incredibly awesome.” There is one thing, however, that she doesn’t find incredibly awesome: how hard it is to find tables.

She’s doesn’t like to complain, but it pains her that married people with kids can forget how great it felt to be invited to a beautiful Shabbat meal when they themselves were single. That makes her exceedingly grateful to the families that have opened their hearts and their homes to her.

She knows that there have always been tables around the hood that regularly host singles, but she’d love to see more families embrace this mitzvah that dates from the time of Abraham. She believes that opening your door to guests is not just a way to connect with new and interesting people of your own faith, it’s also a blessing.

Eventually, she hopes that the many synagogues of the area will take over this blessing and encourage their members to participate. Since a lot of singles don’t go to synagogue, the synagogues will have to find them. That’s where people like Lori will help.

When I ask if her hidden agenda is to help singles meet their soulmates, she replies that it’s all part of the same picture. She thinks a Shabbat table is a holier, more elegant place to meet a possible shidduch than, say, a “singles event” or a pressure-filled first date.

Maybe she’s right. If you don’t meet that special someone at a Shabbat meal, you can always say you felt part of the eternal people participating in an eternal conversation with the Divine.

Or better yet, that you met a few good Jews and had some really good laughs.

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

Full circle


My daughter, the animal lover, has a father who isn’t. A hamster is the biggest pet I’ve gotten talked into so far. It lives in her room, and basically I wouldn’t even know
it was there except for one thing — it’s nocturnal.

All night long I could hear Ruby the hamster running in its wheel. The endless spinning and squeaking was driving me crazy. I couldn’t take it anymore.

I marched into my daughter’s room, bypassing her and heading straight for the tiny workout nut. I was ready to snatch it and its blasted wheel out of the cage, when something made me stop. I stood transfixed at the sight of Ruby exercising, and it hit me how much the two of us have in common. That hamster is living my life, I thought, running, running, running in endless circles, and not really getting anywhere.

I granted a stay of execution.

For all of the benefits running in circles affords a hamster, there are no positive implications when we use the expression “running in circles” to describe our own lives. With all we have to do, it often feels that all we are doing is keeping up. The opportunity to move ahead somehow eludes us.

Ironically, this time of year is all about going in circles. But unlike the stressful, unconstructive feeling of running in circles that we experience in our weekday routine, the circles of these holidays have a definite purpose and a positive message. Both Sukkot and Simchat Torah are characterized by communal hakafot, or going around in circles.

On Sukkot, we hold the arba minim (the four species) and proceed in a circle around the Torah, thereby proclaiming its centrality and holiness in Jewish life. On Simchat Torah, we remove all of the Torahs to the periphery of the circle, and march around an empty center.

What is the purpose of an empty center? To quote Rabbi Solovetchik (zt”l), “The answer is that the center is not empty. God is symbolically there. When nobody is there, Someone is there. There is no place bereft of His presence. The encircling Sifrei Torah pay homage to their Divine Author, acknowledging that the purpose of Torah is to direct us to God.”
Whether we are circling the Torah or circling God, there are two mathematical facts about circles that have great theological implications.

The first is that all points on the circle are equidistant from the center.

When we march in the hakafot, we are demonstrating that the Torah belongs to all of us, equally, and that we all have equal access to God.

There is a beautiful Midrash about the arba minim that illustrates this idea. Consider the etrog, or citron. It has a good taste and a good fragrance, symbolizing the Jews who possess scholarship and good deeds.

The lulav, or date palm branch, has a good taste, but no fragrance. It symbolizes Jews who possess scholarship, but few good deeds.

The hadassim, or myrtle, have a pleasant aroma but a bland taste. It represents the Jews who perform good deeds but are ignoramuses.

And finally, the aravot, or willow, have no pleasant smell or taste, standing for those among us who, sadly, have no redeeming features whatsoever.

Only the etrog is “perfect,” but one cannot recite the blessing on the etrog alone. It must be held tightly together with the other three species in order to fulfill the mitzvah. God wants us to stand together. No one has to be excluded from His Presence. You can be a Moses, an Abraham, a Rabbi Akiva or an ignoramus who isn’t even a very nice person. As long as you stand in that circle, you have the same access to God and His Torah as anyone else.

The second mathematical fact about circles is that the starting point and the ending point are one in the same. When we march in a circle we keep returning to where we started, as opposed to marching in a line where we would move away from the beginning point. The whole of Judaism is predicated on this concept — that our history is not far behind us in some distant past, but that our heroes and heroines, and all of our collective experiences, are very real to us today.

We look to Jacob to learn how to survive an oppressive exile, and Joseph shows us how to deal with success in exile. Queen Esther ably demonstrates how to outsmart a manipulative, deadly enemy. Rashi is not some scribbles on a page, but he is our best friend when we study the Chumash or Talmud, patiently helping us make sense of it all.

We don’t “commemorate” the destruction of our Temple; we sit low to the ground and mourn the loss as if it happened in our own generation. We sit at a seder every Passover with the goal of feeling as if we ourselves left Egypt, not some group of slaves thousands of years ago. We have a State of Israel today because even after 1,900 years of exile, we felt inextricably connected to that land. Like a circle, we never move too far away from where we started.

Physically, moving in circles like Ruby the hamster is a frustrating experience. In short, it gets us nowhere. But philosophically, participating in hakafot, can bring us to a new place. A place where we reconfirm that God and His Torah are at the center of our lives; where we rekindle that sense of unity and equality among all Jews; and where we reawaken the past, and immerse in the lives and events that have sustained us as a people for thousands of years.

In short, it brings us full circle.

Chag sameach.

Steven Weil is rabbi of Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills.

Spectator – Teens Band Together in Music Battle


There is nothing like a battle to bring a people together.

At least this is the hope of Brian Greene, executive director of the Westside Jewish Community Center (JCC), as he plans the Los Angeles area’s first citywide Jewish Battle of the Bands.

“I believe that there needs to be a place where Jewish teens from various schools and denominations can gather … music is a way that that can happen,” he said.

The Nov. 4 event, which Greene describes as “an effort to make the Westside JCC a relevant part of Jewish teen life in Los Angeles,” is scheduled for 7 p.m., at the community center.

Any bands with Jewish members are encouraged to submit demos before Sept. 1 in order to be considered for the battle lineup. The event is geared toward embracing any and all forms of “the musical expression of Jewish teens,” Greene said.

Competing bands will be evaluated by a panel of judges expected to include music industry insiders, and winners will be awarded prizes including Sam Ash music merchandise gift certificates. Sam Ash Music Corp. is sponsoring the event, along with the Jonathan and Faye Kellerman Foundation.

Greene has motives that go beyond the music: He hopes the battle will bring together teens from all denominations and schools, fostering the kind of Jewish unity that the JCC has already kindled in its preschool and senior citizen patrons.

“Teens by their nature are not denominational,” he said. “I hope [this concert] is creative way to spark an interest among teens as to this being a place that can host events for the teen community.”

Similar citywide musical battles have met with much success in the Jewish communities of Vancouver and Miami, among others. Such an event, though, seems tailor-made for Los Angeles, the entertainment capital of the world.

So grab a microphone — and rock on.

The event will be held Nov. 4 at 7 p.m. at the Westside JCC, 5870 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. $5. Only five bands will be able to compete. Send demos to: Battle of the Bands c/o Westside Jewish Community Center 5870 West Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036 For more information, visit ” target=”_blank”>www.myspace.com/wjccbattleofthebands.

 

Abbas-Hamas Showdown Looms


Three and a half months after fundamentalists swept to power in the Palestinian elections, the Islamicist Hamas and the secular Fatah are on the brink of a major showdown that could have far-reaching implications for Israel and the government’s plans for a unilateral withdrawal from Palestinian territory.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah seized the initiative in mid-May, by backing a call by Palestinian prisoners for a Palestinian state along the pre-1967 borders with Israel. In doing so, he forced Hamas to face up to the challenge of recognizing Israel or losing power. Abbas’ move also opened up the possibility of international pressure on Israel to negotiate on the basis of those borders.

Abbas’ move could also clear the way for ending the Palestinians’ diplomatic isolation and freeing the flow of much-needed international funds. Those funds were blocked in the wake of the Hamas government’s refusal to recognize Israel, accept previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements and renounce terror. But while the Fatah leader’s initiative could break the diplomatic logjam, it is fraught with danger.

Fighting between small groups of Hamas and Fatah members on the streets of Gaza shows signs of intensifying. Both sides have mobilized large forces in Gaza and the West Bank, and some Palestinian observers are predicting civil war.

Abbas’ call in late May for a national referendum on the prisoners’ document pushed the sides closer to the brink.

Yet despite the mounting tension, the Fatah-Hamas confrontation could still play itself out politically.

On Tuesday, Abbas was supposed to set a date for the referendum, but the Fatah executive deferred the deadline for agreement on the prisoners’ document for a “few days,” ostensibly to give the sides more time to negotiate. But the move was seen as an effort to step back from confrontation.

Even if Abbas eventually does set a date for a referendum, the outcome could still be a nonviolent political solution.

In one scenario, victory for Abbas in the referendum could bring Fatah back to power. A loss on the other hand, could see Hamas winning the presidency as well as maintaining control of Parliament and the government. Or, an 11th hour agreement between the two parties could see the formation of a national unity Fatah-Hamas government, with Abbas taking the lead in Palestinian diplomacy on the international stage.

Abbas’ determination to go through with his initiative and the way he has gone about winning support for it has gained him considerable prestige on the Palestinian street. He spent weeks traveling the Middle East getting Arab leaders behind the initiative. He also met with Jack Wallace, the American consul in eastern Jerusalem, to coordinate the move with Washington.

Often seen in the past as a weak, vacillating leader, afraid of confrontation, Abbas is now perceived by Palestinians as someone who could make a difference.

A recent poll showed that if the referendum goes ahead, Abbas would win with more than 80 percent of the vote. Since he embarked on his initiative, his own rating has gone from 51 percent to 62 percent, and that of Fatah from 34 percent to 45 percent.

Conversely, support for Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh is down from 49 percent to 38 percent, and Hamas is down from 42 percent to 29 percent. The figures reflect Fatah’s newfound confidence on the street. The freezing of international aid is starting to bite, and many Palestinians blame the Hamas government for the nonpayment of salaries and the lack of food and medicine.

Heartened by the new mood, Fatah leaders have stopped their internal bickering and are rallying around Abbas. Fatah received an additional fillip last week when it won a sweeping 80 percent victory in student elections at the Gaza branch of Al-Quds University.

As tension mounts, both Fatah and Hamas have been trying to show their strength. Fatah, which wields considerably more firepower in the West Bank, has put large forces on the streets in Jenin and other West Bank cities. Hamas has beefed up its street presence in Gaza, where it is believed to be stronger.

Nevertheless, 10,000 mainly Fatah security personnel demonstrated in Gaza last Thursday against the Hamas government for its failure to pay their salaries.

Commenting on the street clashes and the general mobilization on both sides, dovish Fatah leader Kadoura Fares declared that he could see ”all the signs of civil war.”

Fatah leaders depict the prisoners’ document as an attempt to find the lowest common denominator for a Fatah-Hamas agreement that, once adopted, could get the wide international boycott of the Hamas government lifted.

“The referendum constitutes a lifeline to the Hamas government to rescue it from international isolation, but they are finding it difficult to grab hold of it,” Yasser Abed Rabbo, a top PLO official, declared.

For Haniyeh, the internal dilemma is that if he accepts the document, he could run afoul of the more radical Hamas leadership abroad; if he doesn’t, he could come in for criticism from the influential Hamas prisoners who signed it.

Whether or not he reaches agreement with Abbas on the document, Haniyeh opposes the referendum idea in principle. He sees it as a ploy to overturn the result of the January election that he won. Some Hamas spokesmen say ominously that the movement will not allow a referendum to be held, others that they will merely boycott it.

Either way the looming clash with Fatah, whether violent or political, could change the face of Palestinian politics.

So far, Israeli leaders are studiously avoiding comment on what they describe as an internal Palestinian affair. But the implications for Israel could be huge.

A clear-cut Hamas victory could accentuate questions about whom Israel would be handing back territory to after a unilateral withdrawal. An unequivocal Fatah victory could lead to pressure for a negotiated settlement. In the face of Palestinian developments, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert may have to draw on all his diplomatic skills to keep his unilateral withdrawal plan on the table.

 

Our first annual big list o’ mensches


To its detractors, Los Angeles seems very much like a modern-day Sodom or Gomorrah — besotting civilization with a trash culture of celebrity murder trials, reality TV and movies that trade on violence and superficiality. Even to Angelenos, the city can be trying and sometimes disheartening. Our metropolis seems almost biblically plagued with crawling traffic, battling gangs and stratospheric home prices; with a vast divide between rich and poor, between legal and under-the-table and between cycles of boom and bust — as well as with fires, earthquakes and mudslides. And yet, by the standard that should have saved Sodom — 10 righteous souls (we consider families as one) — Los Angeles’ future shines bright at the dawn of 2006 C.E. For Los Angeles is amply provided with tzadikim — good people who do good work in the community. The men and women featured here — beginning what we intend to make an annual list — are just a sampling of what is worth celebrating in our community.

MENSCHES

Yaelle and Nouriel Cohen: Kindness Starts at Home


 

When the doorbell rings at the Cohens’ Pico-Robertson home — or more accurately when the door edges open, since it’s almost never locked — the littlest of Yaelle and Nouriel Cohen’s six kids grab their shoes. If it’s someone dropping off donated food or clothing, they start shlepping things in while the older ones begin sorting and organizing. If it’s someone coming to collect those items, the kids take them through the living room and yard to help them pack up the day’s offerings — unserved food salvaged from caterers; groceries donated by local markets; or furniture, clothing, toys and electronics that the area’s wealthy families don’t want, and that one of the 52 families that depend on the Cohens sorely needs.

The Cohens’ cramped three-bedroom home is the headquarters, warehouse and distribution center for Global Kindness/L.A. Chesed, the network the Cohens founded less than three years ago.

With caring brown eyes peeking out of her broad face, Yaelle, in her late 30s, is a pint-sized Moroccan tornado in bright yellow-and-orange sneakers. In a perpetually hoarse voice, she answers about 35 phone calls a day from donors and people desperate for help.

The Cohens understand desperation. Eight years ago, Nouriel’s beauty supply business went under, and the family had to give up their Beverly Hills home. He hasn’t had steady employment since then and has had to rely on his parents and family to get by.

“But now when you look ahead, you can see that was all for the purpose of good, because we had to really feel what was going on in people’s hearts and minds when they are really down,” says Nouriel, whose distinguished gray beard and smiling blue eyes do little to attest to his Persian ancestry.

The Cohens raise money to help families with rent, bills, day-school tuition or transportation. They help with bar mitzvahs, and have sent families housekeepers and gardeners to restore dignity to rundown homes.

Late every Friday afternoon the family gets a load of challah the kosher bakeries didn’t sell, and the kids, ages 1 through 12, wheel strollers and carts through the neighborhood doling out the loaves.

They host huge Shabbos lunches and singles events and help a handful of families in Canada, New York and Israel.

Often, they become de facto social workers, referring families to resources for abuse, addiction or mental health issues.

The Cohen operation shuts down from 5-8:30 p.m., so the family can have dinner, do homework and get through bedtime. But other than that, they’re on.

And on Chanukah, the Cohens sent their clients’ wish lists to Chabad of Malibu, where families purchased and wrapped the gifts. Those packages were set up in a dream-like display on the ornate furniture left over from wealthier times in the Cohen’s living room/dining room.

Recently, Nouriel started a new business and it seems to be taking off. While he looks forward to giving his family more comfortable quarters, he thanks God for the new sensitivity they have.

“We see what people throw away — thousands and thousands of dollars worth of beautiful clothing,” Nouriel says. “Why would someone throw it away? Because it means nothing. Money comes and goes. The main thing is what you are doing in this life.”

For more information call (310) 286-0800.

Yaelle and Nouriel Cohen and family

MORE MENSCHES

Avi Leibovic: Guardian Angel of the Streets

Jack and Katy Saror: Help Knows No Age

Joyce Rabinowitz: A Type Like No Other

Saul Kroll: Healing Hand at Cedars-Sinai

Jennifer Chadorchi: The Hunger to Help

Karen Gilman: What Makes Her Run?

Steven Firestein: Making Magic for Children

Moshe Salem: Giving a Voice to Israelis

David Karp: A Guide for Unity in Scouting

David Karp: A Guide for Unity in Scouting


 

When attorney David Karp reminisces about his time in the Cub and Boy Scouts, the good memories come flooding back. He remembers taking long nature hikes, making close friends and fashioning a pinewood derby car from a block of wood, four nails and four wheels. The Scouts, he said, taught him how to work well with others, play fairly and know right from wrong — qualities that have served him well as an adult.

After the birth of his son, Samuel, in 1990, Karp decided that he would one day introduce the boy to the joys of scouting. But Karp wanted to touch more lives than just Samuel’s. Through the Western Los Angeles County Council Jewish Committee on Scouting of the Boy Scouts of America, he has found a way successfully to combine his two great loves: scouting and Judaism, both of which shape his ideas, values and conduct. In the process, Karp, a Reform Jew, has done more than perhaps anyone in Southern California to bring local Orthodox Jews into the world of scouting.

“Once I accepted that I wanted to make a place for Jews in scouting, it was only a matter of time before I decided we had to be inclusive of all Jews,” said Karp, who headed the Council Jewish Committee from 2002 to 2004 and remains treasurer.

Under his direction, Karp said he and other council members helped oversee the creation of a Boy Scout troop and later a Cub Scout pack at Shaarey Zedek Congregation in Valley Village. Subsequently, Karp’s efforts have helped lay the foundation for other shuls to form scouting units.

“David Karp made it possible for us to have this program,” said attorney Yacov Greiff, scoutmaster of Troop 613 at Shaarey Zedek. “Aside from personal kindness and modesty, exemplary menschlichkeit and tireless efforts on behalf of the Jewish community, he deserves particular recognition for going out of his way to reach across sectarian lines.”

Karp also helped make it possible for Orthodox Jews to participate in the Kinnus weekend, an annual committee-sponsored event that attracts hundreds of Jewish scouts and their families from the Southland and beyond. At the suggestion of several religious Jews, Karp and others approved the serving of strictly Kosher meals, offered Orthodox Shabbat services and set up an eruv, or boundary, which permits the carrying of supplies and other goods during the Sabbath. The result: Orthodox Jews now account for more than half of Kinnus, participants, up from zero in 2001.

“David’s been instrumental in uniting the three Jewish denominations into one identity as Jewish scouts,” said Jeff Feuer, cubmaster of an Orthodox pack sponsored by Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills. “In my personal opinion, it’s best if we work together and understand and learn to celebrate our differences.”

As a professional mediator, bringing together Jews under the banner of the Scouts has come naturally to him.

“I suppose I’m a facilitator,” said Karp, who is now a Boy Scouts of America district chairman for the East Valley. “I like to find common ground.”

 

David Karp

MORE MENSCHES


Avi Leibovic: Guardian Angel of the Streets

Jack and Katy Saror: Help Knows No Age

Joyce Rabinowitz: A Type Like No Other

Saul Kroll: Healing Hand at Cedars-Sinai

Jennifer Chadorchi: The Hunger to Help

Karen Gilman: What Makes Her Run?

Steven Firestein: Making Magic for Children

Yaelle and Nouriel Cohen: Kindness Starts at Home

Moshe Salem: Giving a Voice to Israelis

Jennifer Chadorchi: The Hunger to Help


 

At 6:30 p.m. on a chilly Wednesday night in December, more than 30 young Jewish professionals gathered on the corner of Sycamore Avenue and Romaine Street in West Hollywood to feed homeless people waiting in line for a hot meal.

There on behalf of the Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition, the volunteers looked with surprise at the growing line of nearly 200 people waiting for food — a sight already familiar to Jennifer Chadorchi, the young Persian Jewish woman who had single-handedly recruited the evening’s volunteers.

“The turnout of volunteers was amazing that night,” said Chadorchi, who regularly organizes volunteer groups for the Coalition. “It makes me feel so great to share the experience of helping others by bringing them in to volunteer.”

For the last eight years, Chadorchi, a Beverly Hills resident in her 20s, has become a rare jewel in the Persian Jewish community, quietly mobilizing a small army of friends, family members and local students to respond to the plight of the homeless in Los Angeles.

“Her compassion and her actions are contagious,” said Lida Tabibian, a volunteer recruited by Chadorchi. “She not only changes thousands of lives, but she’s also inspiring a whole generation to be leaders for this cause.”

Chadorchi’s journey in aiding the homeless began when she was 16, when, on a rainy night while driving in her brand-new car, she spotted Coalition volunteers serving food to the homeless.

“What caught my eye was the long line of these people just standing in the pouring rain with only newspapers over their heads,” Chadorchi said. “It didn’t seem fair to me that I had so much and they had nothing, so I decided I had to help.” Since 1987, coalition volunteers have been handing out excess food donated by Los Angeles area hotels, restaurants, grocery stores and caterers. In 2000, the coalition joined forces with UCLA medical students, who offer medical aid to sick, homeless individuals gathering at the street corner.

Chadorchi’s efforts also have included raising funds for the coalition, and she has organized clothing drives in her Beverly Hills neighborhood. She was also instrumental in organizing Project Feed, a campaign allowing Beverly Hills school district students to donate food and time to the coalition in exchange for school credit.

“She has had a tremendous impact on our organization. What she did was build a bridge between our group and Beverly Hills, especially the Iranian Jewish community,” said Ted Landreth, one of the coalition’s founders. “Without her I doubt we could have made these important connections.”

Those familiar with Chadorchi’s volunteer efforts said they wished she would enter the public sector and work with local government officials to help alleviate Los Angeles County’s difficulties with the homeless.

“I’ve known Jennifer since she was a junior at Beverly Hills High School. I think she is one of the most dedicated, incredible and passionate young people out there,” said former U.S. presidential candidate Michael Dukakis. “The people working out there [L.A. city officials] are doing alright, but if she was in charge of the homeless problem in Los Angeles County, I promise you’d see some real changes.”

Chadorchi said she is frequently approached by Jews in the community who question her for helping a non-Jewish cause like the coalition.

“It is our duty as Jews to heal the world one person at a time — tikkun olam,” Chadorchi said. “I’m here to let people out there know that one person can really make a difference.”

Individuals interested in joining Chadorchi’s efforts can contact her at (310) 288-0090.

Jennifer Chadorchi

MORE MENSCHES

Avi Leibovic: Guardian Angel of the Streets

Jack and Katy Saror: Help Knows No Age

Joyce Rabinowitz: A Type Like No Other

Saul Kroll: Healing Hand at Cedars-Sinai

Karen Gilman: What Makes Her Run?

Steven Firestein: Making Magic for Children

Yaelle and Nouriel Cohen: Kindness Starts at Home

Moshe Salem: Giving a Voice to Israelis

David Karp: A Guide for Unity in Scouting

Political Centrism Stirring Up Interest


Political centrism is in the air these days. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, under fire from Likud for the withdrawal from Gaza, and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, defeated in his bid to remain as leader of Labor, have joined forces to form a new centrist party. Suddenly, the long-forgotten center in Israeli politics boasts the two biggest names in the country, and Labor and Likud have lost their duopoly.

In the United States, Republican senators are frustrating the White House by fighting extreme conservative policies. Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), the first Jewish candidate nominated for a national major-party presidential ticket, has been aligning himself closely with the Bush administration on the Iraq War to the consternation of his fellow Democrats. If John McCain’s attempts to get on the good side of the Bush administration (by, among other things, criticizing Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) fail to win him the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, one could imagine that he and Lieberman might run as a centrist third-party ticket.

Even here in California, centrism is back in fashion. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, crushed in his special election, has outraged his Republican allies by choosing a Democratic activist as chief of staff. Suddenly, Democrats (including many Jews) may find themselves back on the radar of the governor’s office.

Something is happening that is making purple a viable color again, after years of red and blue. Triangulation, Bill Clinton’s strategy for navigating between right and left, may be back in style, at least for a while. Republican consultant Dan Schnur even suggested in a Los Angeles Times column that Schwarzenegger should run for re-election in 2006 as an independent.

Centrism seems to have its moment in the sun when there is a problem to be solved that the main parties cannot address and when one or more of the leading parties is rife with extremism. H. Ross Perot’s moment of glory came in 1992, when he made an issue out of the federal budget deficit. Theodore Roosevelt emerged in 1912 when his successor, President William Howard Taft, moved the Republican Party far to the right of where Roosevelt had led it during his presidency.

While Jewish voters have a close affinity for the Democratic Party, centrism has a special appeal for them. Extremism in either party is always a threat to Jews; moderation is usually a safer environment for the Jewish community.

When the Democrats pull to the left, and Republicans offer moderation, Jews are tempted. That’s why Republican moderates have often done well with Jewish voters. When the Republicans pull to the right, Jewish voters cling even more closely to the Democrats. That’s why the rightist Bush administration has been such a dismal failure with Jewish voters.

So in a year when some Democrats are increasingly antiwar in ways that might make Jews concerned about Israel’s security, and when Republicans conservatives are inventing a phony “War on Christmas” with anti-Semitic overtones, centrism might spell temporary relief.

In Israel, the issue that cannot be resolved in the two-party system is peace with the Palestinians. Undercut by Yasser Arafat’s deviousness, Labor long ago lost the credibility to negotiate peace.

Arafat’s refusal to accept the deal that he was offered by Labor at Oslo ensured that only the right could make peace, preferably Sharon. But Sharon could not bring Likud along with him. And so the centrist solution in Israel is essentially a personalistic politics of Sharon, eventually in alliance with Labor after the next election.

Compared to that alliance, the moderate Schwarzenegger and his moderate chief of staff are hardly an odd couple at all.

Even though centrism seems to be the preferred choice of most voters, there are nearly insurmountable obstacles to long-term centrist politics. While the voters don’t care that much about politics, those who keep politics running have a passion for the enterprise. And party politics will eventually prevail again.

The success of third-party politics usually contains the seeds of its own demise. Theodore Roosevelt’s progressivism became the mantra of Woodrow Wilson’s Democratic Party. Once Perot put the deficit on the agenda, Clinton drove it home for a Democratic victory.

If Sharon and Peres can conclude a peace deal that really works, then normal party politics can resume in Israel with the biggest issue taken off the table. Whichever party then harnesses the forces of the center will build a majority.

A period of centrism, even if brief, can be a useful tonic for the political system. With three forces in the battle, the main parties have to improve their own games. They have to reexamine whether their positions have become ossified. They have to compete for unaffiliated voters and not just their bases.

The result is usually a new type of majority coalition. But history suggests that it will be one of the main parties, not an ad hoc centrist coalition, that creates that new coalition.

The ruling Republican majority in American politics is in serious trouble. If Democrats can find a way to maintain their unity in opposition and head off a centrist movement by creating a new center-left coalition, they will be highly successful. And the response of the Jewish community to their efforts will be the canary in the mine that tells whether it is likely to work.

Raphael J. Sonenshein is a political scientist at California State University Fullerton.

 

Maccabiah Games Bring Golden Times


When amateur soccer player Michael Erush went to Israel in July to play for Team USA in the 17th World Maccabiah Games, he was hoping to come home with gold. But following the Israeli team’s victory, Erush was content with the American silver-medal win.

“I always want to do the best,” the 22-year-old said. “We had one of the best Maccabiah men’s soccer teams, and we lost to a very good Israel team.”

However, his Maccabiah experience didn’t end with the medal ceremony. Erush extended his stay after an Israeli soccer franchise was so impressed with his level of play, that he was offered a 10-month contract for the following season.

He is currently shopping around for other offers, but his dream of turning pro could eventually become a reality in Israel — due to the Maccabiah Games.

“I’m still looking to different career paths,” said Erush, a research assistant for an private firm. “I might go back to school and get my MBA, or I might go play soccer…. I just want to keep my options open.”

Erush was one of more than 7,000 Jewish athletes from 55 countries, stretching from Brazil to India and Australia to Finland, who gathered this past summer in Israel to compete in the Maccabiah Games. In the first games in 1932, 390 athletes from 14 nations participated. Now, the games are the third-largest sporting event in the world, outside of the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games. Held every four years, this summer’s Maccabiah Games, which took place July 10-21, were the largest since its founding.

Competitions took place in approximately 30 categories, including track, tennis, swimming, baseball and even chess. The most dominant countries were Team USA and Israel. The American medal count was 222, with 71 gold, while Israel won 593 medals, 227 gold.

The hope of the organizers is that the games foster a sense of Jewish unity, awareness and pride among the athletes from around the world. In that spirit, this year’s games were the first to feature delegations from China, Macedonia and Grenada.

More than 90 athletes from Southern California were represented in such sports as track and field, basketball, volleyball, soccer, rugby and water polo. Among 20 medalists from the Southland, six won gold; nine, silver; and four, bronze. Some athletes took home multiple medals.

It was “an unforgettable experience, absolutely breathtaking,” said Danielle Arad, 17, of Yorba Linda who won four silver medals in the open swimming competition. “The hospitality and open arms that we received from the common citizens and Israeli athletes competing in the games allowed me to feel at home.”

For Shirin Lisa Golshani, 17, a Beverly Hills resident, walking into the packed stadium with Team USA during the opening ceremonies in Ramat Gan and being surrounded by Jews who had come from all corners of the world “was the most amazing experience I’ve ever had in my life.”

Golshani, who brought home silver and bronze from the girl’s youth karate competition, said that it “made it all the more greater of an experience because I was able to share it with my second family from karate.”

For USC graduate and businessman Ari Monosson, this year marked his second trip to the Maccabiah Games. During his first games in 2001, the 27-year-old runner won both a silver and a bronze medal. And while his dreams for gold this year were did not come true, his silver-medal win with the U.S. 4×400 relay team in no way diminished the experience. Monosson said there is nothing quite like the Maccabiah Games, and he recommended that Jewish athletes try out for the next games.

“Participating in them will be a life-changing experience,” he said. “There are moments and memories that you will cherish for the rest of your life.”

For rugby player Kevin Armstrong, 26, the long journey began with a discouraging setback. He broke his arm in the first 20 minutes of the first game. However, he still enjoyed both watching his team take a silver and being surrounded by Jews from around the world.

“On the field, it was business as usual, but off the field, it made the world seem very small, [especially] when you realize how people from across the world are very similar to you,” said the Angeleno.

Injuries and illness nearly kept Santa Monica residents Melody Khadavi and Fran Seegull from the games. The volleyball players each missed a month of practice in the United States due to different maladies, and when they landed in Israel, the combination of jet lag, hot temperatures and long days spent touring before the games caught up with them. But perseverance and antibiotics pulled the pair through the competitions to beat Canada for the bronze.

In the junior competitions, the gold-winning junior baseball team included Los Angeles resident Noah Michel. Alexander Hoffman-Ellis of Santa Monica High School helped the boys junior basketball team cruise to a gold. The girls junior soccer team brought home the gold with the help of coach Wendi Whitman of Long Beach.

For Erush, the next move is still up in the air. The soccer player said that may include the next games.

“Who knows,” Erush said. “I would love to win the gold and have silver, too.”

 

Iranian Community Mourns Its ‘Anchor’


More than 2,000 mourners packed the Nessah Cultural Center in Beverly Hills this summer to bid farewell to Hacham Yedidia Shofet. During the funeral, the powerful sound of the shofar blended with the recorded voice of Shofet, who at his own request, led a prayer at his funeral. His seeming presence made it seem all the more difficult to believe that he was gone — after being the anchor of the community for so long.

This High Holiday season marks a milestone for the Iranian Jewish community in Southern California, which numbers nearly 30,000. For the first time since Iranian Jews began to settle here in large numbers, Shofet will not be present as either their actual or symbolic leader. Shofet had been a spiritual force for more than seven decades — most of that time in Iran, where he’d played a powerful political role, as well.

Shofet died early this summer at 96, after several years of declining health. His passing leaves behind a community in transition, one that revered him, but also one that relied less and less on his influence and direction. It’s a community that had begun to see him more with a sense of nostalgia than as a leader.

However, he always commanded respect, and when he called for unity in the community, the Iranian Jewish diaspora took the injunction seriously. With his passing, tensions and factionalism that had been roiling behind the scenes could become more open and intense.

“So long as Hacham Yedidia Shofet was alive, the deep respect and feeling of reverence that the community held for him prevented the younger rabbis from wandering too far from the mainstream on either side,” said Sam Kermanian, secretary general for the Iranian American Jewish Federation, a community umbrella organization.

Now the mantle of spiritual leadership falls to Rabbi David Shofet, the middle-age son of the late leader. Like his father, he practices an Iranian style of Judaism, developed over more than 2,500 years, that balances elements of Conservative and Orthodox traditions.

However, he’s inherited a restive flock. The offspring of the immigrant generation is pulling in different directions. Some are shedding much or all of their religious practice or even exploring other religions; many others are turning to Orthodoxy.

None of this internal disintegration seemed possible in Iran, where Jews struggled against frequent oppression to hold onto their religion and culture. In many ways, they succeeded spectacularly. For more than 2,500 years, Iranian Jews lived in relative isolation from the rest of the Jewish world, but they remained Jews, held together by leaders such as Shofet.

The community understands the debt they owe to Shofet and his predecessors.

Following the funeral services, a motorcade and five rented buses were necessary to transport all those who wanted to attend the burial at Groman Eden Memorial Park in Mission Hills. Even that wasn’t enough of a goodbye for the 96-year-old patriarch. Approximately 5,000 mourners attended a later memorial.

Shofet served in a quasi-political capacity as representative of the nearly 100,000 Jews in Iran. He spoke for Jews and protected their interests during the reign of the shah, and also for two years under the Islamic regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini that followed.

He immigrated to Southern California in 1981, where he tended to religious and social issues within the Iranian Jewish community here. The issues in the United States were not as immediately perilous as those in Iran, but Shofet soon found he had to deal with fractiousness and assimilation that threatened to erase an Iranian Jewish identity thousands of years in the making.

While many Iranian Jews have been saddened by the loss of Shofet, they’ve had to shift their focus to the future. Community feuding, which had been kept in check out of respect for Shofet and by Shofet’s delicate diplomacy and voice of moderation, are likely to re-emerge.

A serious rift became apparent nearly 10 years ago between those practicing traditional Iranian Judaism and Iranian Jews who adopted a more religiously observant Eastern European form of Orthodox Judaism. Young Iranian Jews have been drawn to more than two dozen Orthodox synagogues in the Pico-Robertson area and along Ventura Boulevard in Encino.

Critics of the new Orthodoxy say that it has broken up families, because the young adult proselytes frequently reject their parents’ generation for not being religious enough.

“It’s just ridiculous, [Orthodox rabbis] have used religious issues of the bedroom and food as weapons that [have] been given to our children to be used against us,” said Pouran Mogahvem Cohen, a West Los Angeles resident.

She organized a support group for families in conflict because of religious differences between the older and younger generations.

“Everyone involved in our group has the main goal of bringing unity in the community by not creating divisions in families or brainwashing our children to drop their university studies and careers, only to go off to some yeshiva across the country,” she said.

A different perspective comes from leaders of the Orthodox shuls. They insist they are addressing the community’s true spiritual needs, which were suppressed in Iran but can achieve full expression given the religious freedom of the United States.

“In Los Angeles, there are hundreds and hundreds of fully observant Persian families, and this past Passover, just through me, we had 1,000 families that sold their chametz, which shows that definitely a good portion of our community is becoming more observant,” said Rabbi David Zargari of the Torat Hayim Center in the Pico-Robertson area.

To reduce the tensions of these religious differences, Cohen’s group in late 2003 organized three question-and-answer seminars held at the Nessah Center, Beverly Hills High School and the Eretz Cultural Center in Tarzana, respectively. She said each seminar was attended by nearly 2,000 Iranian Jews. Also attending were various social and religious leaders, including those from Orthodox synagogues, whose leaders participated as panelists. It was the sort of unity-building exercise that Shofet approved of — except that nothing was settled, Cohen said.

“Their rabbis had no answers for us, and there was nothing resolved,” Cohen said. “Our main achievement was in making people in the community more aware of this problem to protect their children from this type of fanaticism.”

But efforts at peacemaking continue. Last year, the Iranian American Jewish Federation passed a resolution calling on all religious factions in the Iranian Jewish community to accept each other and respect the rights of community members to practice Judaism as they wish.

The intervention was “meant to calm everyone down and to promote the social unity of the community,” Kermanian said. “In essence, what it meant was that any attempt by any single faction to dictate religious policy to the entire community was unacceptable, and the only solution was for all to be free to pursue their own ways of practice.”

This goal doesn’t get any easier in the absence of Shofet.

“The community was his family, and he believed in the well-being of all people, not just Jews,” said David Shofet of his father. “He loved every Jew no matter who he was unconditionally, and his tremendous spirituality is why old and young people were drawn to him.”

Which means that David Shofet, who looks to be in his mid- to late 50s, has big shoes to fill, though he, too, is well regarded after working alongside his father for more than 25 years.

The community is never likely to have another figure as revered and influential in the United States as the elder Shofet was in Iran.

According to Shofet’s 2001 memoirs, written in Persian by Manucher Cohan, he was born in the central Iranian city of Kashan into a family with 12 generations of rabbis. Over the years, Shofet gradually gained prominence among Iran’s Jews and non-Jews for his eloquent speeches and his ability to connect easily with all who approached him for help. Ultimately, he became a liaison and spokesperson for Iranian Jews before the shah, government officials and even Islamic clerics. There’s no such equivalent position for an Iranian Jewish leader in the United States.

However, in Iran, Shofet commanded enough respect to intervene when Jews were in dire trouble, for example, with the Iranian government. He was instrumental in persuading the shah and other government officials in the early 1950s to allow Iraqi Jews, who had illegally left Iraq, to find temporary refuge in Iran before eventually immigrating to Israel, said Ebrahim Yahid, a close colleague of Shofet.

“We had many rabbis, teachers and hachamim in Iran, but he was the most open minded and most beloved of them all,” Yahid said. “He was even respected by the most fanatic Islamic clerics in Iran who did not have friendships with Jews — all because of his gentleness and humility.”

Following the 1979 Iranian revolution, Shofet, along with thousands of other Iranian Jews, eventually immigrated to Southern California. While no longer working as a liaison for Iranian Jews, he continued to serve as a symbolic religious figure, urging Iranian Jewish families to preserve their Jewish traditions. In the United States, Shofet, with his son and other community leaders, helped establish the Nessah Center, first in Santa Monica and then in Beverly Hills.

Over the last five years, Shofet was gradually forced to retire from community work due to failing health. His son took over day-to-day leadership duties.

“Replacing Hacham Yedidia is impossible. The closest we can come to him is his very able son, Rav David Shofet, who has dedicated his life to Iranian Jewry like his father did,” said Andy Abrishami, a Nessah board member and the elder Shofet’s son-in-law. “It’s hard to be a rabbi under any circumstances, especially when you’re a rabbi for Iranian Jews, because their expectations are much higher, but he [David Shofet], with his humility and dedication, has captured the Iranian Jews’ favor.”

If David Shofet can’t bring the often-divided community together, it isn’t clear who can.

“The crucial test for our community now is whether it can hold the center together,” Kermanian said. “At this point, this seems like an extremely tall order, which only Rabbi David Shofet, Hacham Yedidia’s son and our community’s preeminent rabbi, has the chance to fulfill.”

Cohen, the critic of the new Orthodoxy, expressed similar hopes, saying, “We have no expectations from [Orthodox rabbi] Zargari or the others, but we are looking to David Shofet for real, true leadership. This community wants him to truly be a father figure to us. [And] we want him to be as open-minded as his father was.”

Zargari, for one, said he’s open to dialogue with Jews who don’t practice his Orthodoxy: “They are my brothers and sisters. I don’t look down on them or think that I’m better than them in anyway. And it must be mutual. We have to learn to be tolerant and respect each other.”

There’s hope for the future in such sentiments, said Dr. Shirzad Abrams, co-founder of the Graduate Society Foundation, a local organization that promotes the continuity of Iranian Jewish history and Judaism among young Jews.

“The fact that there is contact between [different factions] is positive,” he said. “I’d be very afraid and totally frustrated if they stopped talking to each other.”

Valley AIPAC Shows Support for Lobby


Hundreds of people — politicians and rabbis, Democrats and Republicans, Americans and Israelis, young and old — squeezed past dozens of tables to find their assigned seats for dinner.

Just two weeks after CBS News broke the story that the FBI has been investigating an American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) staffer for alleged espionage, the pro-Israel lobby hosted its largest event ever in the San Fernando Valley.

For several weeks, various news outlets implied that the U.S.-Israeli relationship had become too close for comfort and may have even influenced U.S. policy toward the Iraq War. There were fears that one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington was wounded.

However, 800 people at the Marriott in Woodland Hills on Sept. 12 proved the loyalty of the organization’s Southern California members, as they doubled the attendance of the previous year’s event.

"Los Angeles as a city has always been a very active part of AIPAC," Deputy Director Diana Stein said about Los Angeles, which ranks No. 2 behind New York City in terms of membership and donations.

Although AIPAC members in the San Fernando Valley have always existed as part of Los Angeles, it’s only in the past five years that they have taken on an identity of their own, Stein said. Since the Valley has been hosting its own AIPAC events, members there have doubled in attendance each year.

Elliot Brandt, AIPAC Western states director, vehemently denied all the espionage allegations before the Valley crowd, firing up the audience with indignation that AIPAC has been subject to "innuendo, slurs and leaks" surrounding the story, and that the only judge in the case so far has been the media.

"Investigators should talk to AIPAC, not the press," Brandt bellowed, saying that AIPAC would cooperate fully.

AIPAC’s specific positions on the investigation were made clear by all the speakers.

Although the investigation has been known to President Bush for two years, it has led to no action against AIPAC. On the contrary, the lobby maintains a list of quotes (written after the CBS story broke) from 16 members of Congress lauding AIPAC and its mission.

"Many Jewish organizations realize this [accusation] was a shot across the bow of Jewish political influence and involvement in U.S. government," Brandt said.

"I’ve known the two staffers for 20 years. They are as honorable, honest and hard working as anybody," Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) told The Journal before addressing the audience. "AIPAC is caught in the crossfire between administration factions warring over Iran and U.S. foreign policy."

The speakers all emphasized that the leak to CBS refers to an investigation that is two years old and is actually "intended to be a public relations smear" against U.S.-Israeli cooperation.

Rep. Howard Berman (D-North Hollywood) suggested that some factions in the government were hoping to make AIPAC and the U.S.-Israel relationship in general "a scapegoat for what’s happening in the world."

It was clear from the AIPAC event — and another one held at the Museum of Tolerance Sept. 9, hosting Omri Sharon, the Israeli prime minister’s son, and Labor Knesset member Isaac Herzog — that AIPAC members strongly support the organization, especially in times of trouble. Despite the rallying cries here, no one is quite certain of how the allegations will impact in the long-term the organization — and relations between Israel and the United States.

"The plain fact is, the scandal will affect Jewish and pro-Israel interests in myriad ways — even if the federal investigation fizzles and no charges are brought," James Besser wrote in The Journal when the scandal broke.

But that’s precisely what AIPAC officials and speakers were trying to stem.

"Some hope that AIPAC will become confused or stand on the sidelines, or that legislators will distance themselves [from us], but AIPAC is on the march," Brandt said.

"[These accusations] run the risk of hurting the organization, but we cannot afford to be sidetracked" from supporting Israel, Sen. Norm Coleman’s (R-Minn.) said.

Despite the evening’s message of total unity against the allegations, Coleman’s speech veered toward the partisan, proving that AIPAC is not completely immune to unpredictable election-year politics.

Coleman’s comments began with a nonpartisan appeal for unity on Israel. Soon, though, the senator began openly endorsing Bush’s re-election, surprising many in the audience, including the nonpartisan AIPAC leaders, who said they had no idea Coleman’s speech would careen in that direction.

Coleman said he saw a difference in how the two presidential candidates would treat the U.S.-Israeli relationship. While Sen. John Kerry may appeal to diplomacy to seek peace in the Middle East, Coleman said that he himself agrees with Bush that the U.S. must "establish free and just societies" around the world, and that Bush would never be "nuanced" on U.S.-Israeli relations.

Though his speech was occasionally punctuated by shouts from opposing tables alternately supporting Kerry or Bush, Coleman and the rest of the speakers all returned to AIPAC’s main message: The future of the Jews is dependent on the State of Israel; Israel in turn is dependent on its relationship with the United States, and AIPAC actively strengthens that relationship as a nonpartisan lobby.

Berkley reminded the audience that in the darkest days of the Holocaust, when American Jews appealed to President Franklin D. Roosevelt to consult with them, they were not able to obtain a meeting.

Donna Bender, AIPAC dinner chair, summed up that sentiment: "[U.S.] support for Israel is not guaranteed. It is up to us."

Diaspora Diversity Focus of ‘Portraits’


An Argentine gaucho lounges near his horse. A Bombay bride displays her upturned palms, filigreed entirely with henna. An Ethiopian boy lights candles with a classmate. A woman poses stiffly in her kitchen in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. What unites these disparate images is that the people depicted in them are Jews, all of them captured in black and white by Israeli-born photojournalist Zion Ozeri.

Ozeri has made a career out of documenting Jewish communal life both in Israel and in far-flung outposts of the Diaspora, like Peru, India, Tunisia and Uzbekistan. The images are compelling. Ozeri has a strong sense of composition, an outsider’s eye for the telling or humorous detail and an ability to play on our emotions with shadow, light and reflection.

At first glance, his photos seem like intimate glances into the lives of people who are vastly different from us. They are rich in atmospheric details — the steam of the marketplace, the rough texture of cobblestones, the ropy muscles of laborers, the weave of embroidery on traditional costumes. But if what draws us at first is the exotic, what makes these images linger in our minds is their universality. Ozeri captures not just the foreignness of these other lives, but their intense humanity. In the process, he illuminates the colorful, global variety of Jewish life. It makes the title of his latest exhibition at the Skirball, "Portraits of an Eternal People: A Jewish Family Album," particularly apt.

Ozeri wasn’t always this passionate about cross-cultural experiences. Raised during the 1950s as an Israeli-born son of Yemenite immigrants, Ozeri’s formative years were spent trying to distance himself from his own family’s cultural distinctiveness. Born in an Israeli transit camp, and later raised in the town of Ra’anana, Ozeri chafed at the ethnic divisions and social prejudices that marginalized Yemenite Israelis. It was a time when Ashkenazim reigned supreme in Israel.

"When I was growing up, I just wanted to fit in," he recalled in an interview with The Journal. "In those days, fitting in really meant distancing myself from my parents’ generation. People my age wanted to be modern, to get rid of the stigma associated with being Yemenite or Sephardic."

Ironically it was his own heritage that propelled him toward cultural photojournalism. An early attempt to study premed in the United States was aborted when the ’73 war broke out and Ozeri returned to Israel to fight. Shortly after his six-month military stint, Ozeri decided to pursue his interest in photography instead of medicine.

After studying in New York, he began freelancing for magazines and newspapers. During a vacation in Israel in the early 1980s, it occurred to him that his own community was a ripe subject for the camera.

"I saw, at this point, that my parents’ generation was disappearing and that, in fact, all the generations of Israel’s immigrants were disappearing and no one was paying attention," Ozeri said. "So I decided to spend a few days of my vacation photographing Yemenites in the community of Rosh Ayin. I took pictures at the local market, and elsewhere around town. I began to appreciate my specific heritage as a Yemenite Jew. I outgrew my embarrassment as a kid and learned to see the beauty in it."

Ozeri’s photographs of Yemenite Jews in Israel became an eight-page photo essay in Moment magazine and ultimately led to a book, "Yemenite Jews: A Photographic Essay" (Schocken, 1985).

His Skirball show, which opened July 1, includes images from more than a dozen countries. However, it’s always Jewish spirit and ritual that are the common threads — from a photo of a challah maker in Chile to a Jewish day school in Zimbabwe.

"What I love is to compare and contrast, to see the beauty in other places, other communities," Ozeri said. "Sometimes, it’s amazing, there are only a few Jews in a given community, and yet, they are still keeping up all the traditions. In that way we are really a global community. I can go to a synagogue anywhere and I open the siddur and it’s a comfortable thing."

Some of the communities Ozeri documents are on the verge of extinction. He cites the 1,000-year-old Uzbekistan Jewish community as a case in point.

"There’s definitely more drama in photographing a community that is disappearing," he said. "You can feel the tension in the air. There is tension between family members. Some are headed for Israel, others to America. Some stay behind. It’s a unique experience."

For future projects, Ozeri is contemplating travel to Western Europe and Cuba. He has begun to see his work in ways that move beyond journalism and art photography into the realm of education.

"The more I am invited to lecture and speak about what I do, the more I begin to see the educational element in my work," he said. "People look at the exhibits and say, ‘Wow, I didn’t know there were Jews here or there, or that they did this or that.’ My feeling now is that if you want to teach about diversity, the Jewish people are a dramatic example."

"Portrait of an Eternal People" is on display at the Skirball Cultural Center’s Ruby Gallery through Aug. 31. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. Free. Noon-5 p.m. (Tuesdays-Saturdays); 11 a.m.-5 p.m. (Sundays). For more information, call (310) 440-4500.

It’s Not the Economy, Stupid


The Republicans ran on terrorism and the Democrats ran on the economy. The Republicans won.

This election result — beyond a tribute to Bush’s courage in risking his reputation by campaigning hard for his men and women — is the latest illustration of a trend throughout the world. Candidates who focus on the economy, particularly from center and left parties, end up losing elections, while those who orient their campaigns around values issues usually prevail.

In France, Germany, Portugal, Spain, Britain, Norway, Denmark and a host of other countries, the candidates who stressed non-economic issues won, while those whose slogan was “it’s the economy, stupid” lost — even as the global recession mired their national economies in relative stagnation.

Voters have learned that the political process has little control over the economy. In 1992, Bill Clinton could power his campaign to the White House by focusing “like a laser beam” on the economy. But no longer. Now voters realize what they did not understand then: That the U.S. economy is buffeted by global markets, central banks and international financiers. If you want to see anybody about the economy in Washington, D.C., get your picture taken at the White House and then go meet with Alan Greenspan.

The defeat of the Democrats and the almost unprecedented boost for the president’s party in a midterm election should put to death, once and for all, economically centered campaigns. When one party or the other tries to use a slumping economy to its advantage, it is shooting blanks with the voters.

The second big reason for the Democratic debacle was the contrasting images of the two parties in the last week of combat. For the Republicans, the image was of a fighting young president, taking to the country to defend his administration and to protect the nation at a time of peril. For the Democrats, the poster boy was former Vice President Walter Mondale — the headline of the last week. Represented by an elderly, spent force, the party seemed to renege on the repositioning of the ’90s as it embraced a tax-and-spend liberal, never popular even in his heyday. Mondale not only cost the Democrats the seat in Minnesota, he may well have played a role in presenting an unacceptable image for the party nationally.

On issues, the Democrats went to the well once too often, trying to squeeze one more victory out of the shopworn issues of prescription drugs for the elderly, HMO regulation and protection of Social Security. This constellation of issues got the Democratic Senate candidates through the Monica election of 1998 and the Bush victory of 2000, but they had run out of gas by 2002. Voters know that both parties embrace variants of solutions to these problems and that only partisan gridlock is holding up their adoption, so they don’t see them as cutting edge or hot buttons any longer.

Finally, the dominant sentiment to emerge from Sept. 11 was a demand by the public for an end to partisan infighting. The constant bickering in Washington wore thin when America was under attack. It’s OK for Mom and Dad to fight all the time, but not when the rent is overdue and the eviction notice is on the door. This sentiment for national unity overshadowed the traditional demand for checks and balances that dominates voter decisions in off-year elections. Less interested in restraining presidential power than in ending the running partisan feud in Washington, the voters decided to empower their president to solve their problems.

But, beyond all of these reasons lies the often overlooked personal charisma of President Bush. He got fewer votes than Gore in 2000 and his victory was tainted. But in 2002, he removed that taint and demonstrated a depth and breadth of national appeal that confounded his critics and left the rest of us awed. He gambled big. He won big. He had guts and he pulled the elections out.

Dick Morris, the author of “Power Plays: Win or Lose” (Regan Books, $25.95), is a former political consultant to President Bill Clinton, Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), Mexican President Vincente Fox and other political figures.

Women Unite for Israel


Yehudit Eichenblatt wanted to do her part for Israel, but she just wasn’t sure exactly what that should be. She had been to protests outside of the Federal Building; written letters to President Bush, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; and attended every Israel solidarity rally held in Los Angeles, but nothing, it seemed, was helping.

"People were still dying every day," said the 36-year-old mother of six from Hancock Park.

So Eichenblatt decided that a different tack was needed. Together with her colleagues from her Yeshiva organization, Bais Chana of California, Eichenblatt has organized a Day of Unity — a spiritual gathering for Jewish women from all religious affiliations, political spectrums and levels of observance in Los Angeles, to come together in support of Israel.

"Ever since I started working with women, I always wanted to do something that would unite Jewish women, and I realized that Israel is the cause that would make people come together," Eichenblatt said. "I think that spiritually we can be doing much more, and affecting the situation more than we are politically, and coming together in unity has a very strong spiritual impact, and more good will come out in the future with women doing good deeds."

Eichenblatt and her team of volunteers sent out invitations to all 700 Jewish organizations, synagogues and schools that are listed on The Jewish Federation’s Web site, and then followed up with phone calls.

"So far, the response has been great," Eichenblatt said. "The Hadassah women in Huntington Beach called and said they were coming. People from Sinai Temple are coming. Mordecai Finley from Ohr Hatorah is promoting it for us. Temple Emmanuel, Aish HaTorah, Anshei Emes, Torah Ohr, Bais Yehudah, Chabad houses from all over Los Angeles — they all say that they love the idea and are going to come."

The event, which will be held on Aug. 18 at the Women’s Club in Hollywood, is purposely not being held in a synagogue. "I did not want to alienate people, and that is why I am doing it in a ‘pareve’ place that is not affiliated with anything," Eichenblatt said.

While there are no speakers planned for the event — again, because Eichenblatt did not want to turn it into a political rally — there are workshops scheduled, with topics such as "Whose Land Is It? A Historical, Biblical and Practical Perspective of Jewish Rights" and "Finding God During a Terrorist Attack." There will also be an opportunity to write Rosh Hashana cards to Israel Defense Forces soldiers and terror victims, and a video presentation prepared by Mimi Baron Jankowitz on her visits with the families of terror victims.

"We are also going to be led in song, we are going to say psalms, we are going to dance and we are preparing a lot of food." Eichenblatt said.

The goal of the event is to form committees of women who will want to continue doing things for terror victims throughout the year, such as sending Purim baskets, Chanukah gelt and, if possible, mezuzot and tefilin. "Mezuzot and tefilin are two things that bring spiritual protection," Eichenblatt said.

She estimates that the event is costing somewhere between $10,000 and $20,000, and so far it has all been funded by credit cards.

"I applied to the Community Foundation for a grant, but they rejected it," she said. "So we are trying to get restaurants to donate food, and all the women are working to get as much support as possible. We are doing this on a limb, but we are putting our energies into making the programs great and getting the people to come, rather than doing a lot of fundraising.

"This year in the Jewish calendar is known as a year of Hakhel — a year of uniting," she said. "I think that we have a lot of strength when we come together, and I hope that by doing so, we will be able to give hope, healing and courage to those in need."

Individuality and Togetherness


A number of weeks ago, I stood at attention among the teeming masses at the Jerusalem outdoor market known as Mahaneh Yehudah on Yom HaZikaron (Israel Memorial Day). We all stood together, attending to the siren that sounded throughout the land, stopping all traffic, foot and vehicular; putting all commerce on hold, and all study at bay for two minutes of reflection on the memories of our fallen soldiers.

As I stood among the mourning nation on that clear, warm morning, I looked around and wept my own salty tears, but they were not entirely bitter and not all ephemeral as the emotions of the moment often are. I was moved — as we all are — by taking a quick step back from the rush of Jerusalem’s streets and noticing how beautifully the biblical prophecy of the "ingathering of the exiles" has been realized in our day.

What a moment! Standing within eyesight were Jews from the former Soviet Union, from Morocco, from Iran, from Ethiopia, from Bombay, from Kurdistan –and at least one Jew from Los Angeles.

These precious moments were instructive as well and afforded me a solution to a difficulty in this week’s parsha.

Chapter Seven of the Book of Bamidbar, which makes up the final three aliyot, details the offering of the tribal chieftains during the dedication of the altar, nearly one year after the Exodus. On each day, the head of the next tribe in line brought a donation to the Tabernacle — and each donation was a carbon copy of the first:

One silver dish … one silver bowl of 70 shekels … both of them were full of fine flour mixed with oil for a meal offering; one spoon … full of incense; one young bull, one ram, one lamb … one kid of the goats … two oxen, five rams, five male goats, five lambs….

Each day’s offering is presented with the same exacting detail, covering 72 verses of text. This seems to violate the Torah’s economic style, in which one extra word is understood to imply additional laws. Why the 12-fold repetition?

Before responding, I’d like to tackle a weightier issue, one which Judaism addresses daily. Our tradition teaches that each of us is created with unique capabilities, with our own approach and understanding, and that our individuality is to be cherished. Nonetheless, the experience of communal prayer seems to work hard against the nourishment of this individuality. We all follow the same order of Tefilah, endeavoring to recite the prayers in some type of unison. Where is the room for individual expression if "we’re all on Page 24" and all of the words are already laid out for us?

The answer is found on the streets of Mahaneh Yehudah. As I stood there, at the same time and in the same fashion as everyone else, paying respects to those valorous young Jewish men and women who gave their lives that we might have our precious medinat Yisrael, I burrowed deep into my own memories of dear friends who are counted among the fallen.

As I looked around, I could see that everyone around me was doing the same thing, thinking about relatives, parents and children. We stood together, each consumed with our own unique world of memories and respect. It was at that point that I understood: We all stand together, some of us thrice daily, saying the same words, but each of us brings our own meaning, pain, joy and hopes to those words.

When I ask for God to heal the sick, I think about my friend in Pittsburgh who has just undergone a lung transplant. Prayer, when done right, is an enormously personal and individual experience; the words are merely the framework for the real thing.

The gifts of the chieftains, just like all of us standing Sh’moneh Esreh together or standing at attention as the memorial siren wails, are only alike if we look at them superficially. Each chieftain invested the gift with his own meaning, that which was appropriate to his tribe (as noted in the Midrash Rabbah).

The Torah went out of its way (72 verses worth) to make this point — don’t confuse community with loss of personhood. We can join together, pray together and stand together at attention — and infuse each of these acts with the depths of our own individuality. Such is not only possible, it is the challenge of the Torah.