Amid conflict, Israel’s hospitals treat Gazan patients


(The Jerusalem Post) Israeli hospitals, amid the ongoing conflict, are treating dozens of patients of all ages who came to Israel from Gaza to get healthcare unavailable there, and are making provisions for accompanying persons.    

“We at Rambam Medical Center are taking care of sick children and adults, and we are not looking at their religion or where they come from. At the moment, we have four—a baby girl in the nephrology department, two children in oncology and an adult in urology,” Rambam director-general Prof. Rafael Beyar said.    

“Family members accompanied them,” he said. “It’s absurd that we are doing this at the same time Israelis are being attacked, but there is no other way. We are used to it. We are very far from politics.”   

Working in Haifa, Beyar was “extremely upset” when he learned that Arab students at the University of Haifa last week stood for a “moment of silence” when Ahmed Jabari, the terror chief of Hamas, was killed by the Israel Defense Forces.

“I just can’t accept that,” he said.    

Beyar also said that he had received no reports of any tension among Jewish and Arab personnel in his medical center. “We are used to working together to save lives.” 

The Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem said that in the past month, it has hospitalized six Gazan patients.    

Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer said that it provides medical center to several dozen Palestinians each month, and even now, there is no change. Most are children who are hospitalized for long periods or youngsters who underwent treatment and return periodically for follow-up, Sheba spokesman Amir Marom told The Jerusalem Post.    

“Just two days ago, a nine-year-old girl from Gaza who was hurt in her palm was brought to Sheba. Her father is an Arab journalists who writes from Gaza for an Israeli newspaper. She was accompanied by her mother. An Israeli boy who was wounded by a Gazan rocket that fell in Kiryat Malachi last week is in the same room with a Gazan girl whose fingers were amputated due to injury,” Marom said. “We regard our hospital as a bridge to peace.”    

Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center said 50 patients and their accompanying relatives from Gaza are now hospitalized—both children and adults. Most of them are cancer patients. The relatives live in the hospital’s hotel, and there is a hospital employee who serves as a contact person and helps them.    

Medical treatment for Gaza residents allowed into Israel is paid for by the Palestinian Authority or by other bodies, including the Peres Center for Peace.

This story was written by The Jerusalem Post and is distributed with the permission of that newspaper.

Jewish day school apologizes to child sex abuse victims


The Orthodox Jewish school in Melbourne embroiled in a child sex abuse scandal apologized “unreservedly” to the victims.

The apology, issued Monday in a letter from the head of the Yeshivah College and the head of the Yeshivah Center, which houses the headquarters of Chabad-Lubavitch in Melbourne, said: “We understand and appreciate that there are victims who feel aggrieved and we sincerely and unreservedly apologize for any historical wrongs that may have occurred.”

Outlining safety measures the college had taken, the letter said it “wants to make it absolutely clear that we condemn sexual abuse in any form.”

It comes six weeks after a judge ordered David Cyprys, a former security guard contracted to the college, to stand trial next year for multiple child sex abuse charges allegedly perpetrated over two decades ago on 12 students – three of whom now reside in America.

Manny Waks, the only Australian-based victim who has spoken publicly, said that the apology was “an important milestone.”

“The other past victims and I sought recognition of the ongoing and serious sexual abuse we suffered from the very institution that we hold partly responsible for that abuse. Today’s statement by the Yeshivah leadership is an acknowledgement of the abuse we suffered,” he said.

But the apology is “only a first step,” he continued.

“The reality is that Yeshivah has not apologized for their despicable behavior over the past year,” Waks said. He also criticized the letter’s claim that they are cooperating with police even though detectives had accused the college of a cover-up in court.

One blogger slammed the letter as a “lawyer-drafted piece of propaganda” and a “non-apology apology” that “does not include an admission of guilt.”

Moves are afoot to extradite David Kramer, a convicted pedophile in America, over allegations he committed child sexual abuse at Yeshivah College in the 1980s. Kramer taught at the college.

Iran, Taliban and al-Qaida owe $6 billion to 9/11 victims’ families, U.S. court says


A U.S. district court recommended that Iran, the Taliban and al-Qaida pay $6 billion in compensation to the families of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

The symbolic decision came Monday in New York as a recommendation in response to a lawsuit brought by relatives of 47 victims that was decided in the relatives’ favor last year, according to The Associated Press.

“It’s hard being happy, but I am happy about it,” plaintiff Ellen Saracini, wife of one of the captains of a plane that hit the World Trade Center, told the AP. “But it opens up old wounds. We were never in it for a lawsuit. I wanted to know what happened to my husband.”

Iran repeatedly has denied any connection to the attacks but gave several of the terrorists passage through the country, according to AP.

Denver-area Jews mourn, seek to help massacre victims


As Colorado and the nation tried to absorb the tragic massacre in a suburban Denver movie theater, local synagogues conducted special prayers and the Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado launched a response fund for the victims and their families.

Early Friday morning, James Eagen Holmes allegedly walked into a movie theater in the Denver suburb of Aurora presenting a midnight showing of the new “Batman” movie, “Dark Knight Rises,” and shot to death 12 people, wounding 58 others. Among the dead was a 6-year-old girl.

Holmes, 24, appeared in court Monday for arraignment on murder charges. He reportedly worked one year at a summer camp operated by the Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles, according to the Los Angeles Times. He is not Jewish.

Doug Seserman, president and CEO of the Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado, said a fund for the victims would be launched by Wednesday. The federation also is planning a blood drive at the Bonfils Blood Center, the main facility for blood donations in Denver, he said.

[Related: Former Jewish camp staffer worked closely with James Holmes]

“As Jews, especially with our relationship with Israel, we understand terrorism very directly, and this is a way for us to show others that we understand the tragic nature of this event and want to do whatever we can to help provide some level of comfort,” Seserman told JTA.

Seserman said that after the state’s recent wildfires, the federation received about 500 donations worth about $75,000, He said 25 percent of the money came from outside the state.

“We now know that we will have the same kind of support from the Jewish world,” Seserman said. “We as a Jewish community mobilize well in times of crisis whether it is a war in Israel, Hurricane Katrina or a tsunami in Southeast Asia or a wildfire in Colorado. We have this demonstrated ability to mobilize in times of crisis, and here is another one we face and will overcome.”

Rabbi Bruce Dollin, president of the Rocky Mountain Rabbinical Council and senior rabbi at the Congregation Hebrew Educational Alliance in Denver, said that on Shabbat many area congregations recited prayers for the victims.

“It was an incredible shocking and stunning tragedy,” he said. “Everyone in the Jewish community is feeling like the rest of the community; we can’t believe it happened. Life is so fragile and can end in a split second.”

On Sunday, Congregation Beth haMedrosh Hagagdol-Beth Joseph, a Modern Orthodox synagogue in Denver, plans a moment of silence for the victims to coincide with the observance of Tisha b’Av, the date on the Hebrew calendar associated with some of Jewish history’s greatest calamities.

“The message of Tisha B’av is that despite all the tragedies, the persecutions, despite all the suffering we still look forward to a brighter future and a better tomorrow,” said Rabbi Ben Greenberg, the congregation’s spiritual leader. “We see that there can be a future despite all the darkness.”

Ruth Cohen, executive director of Temple Sinai, a Reform congregation, said that in addition to having a discussion about the massacre on Friday night, parents were handed a sheet on how to speak about the incident with their younger children.

“It was emotional,” Cohen said. “There was also the bombing of the Israeli tourists and this hit home for me. I have kids who certainly have gone out to midnight movies.”

Dollin said that many people are participating in communitywide events such as donating to blood banks or attending vigils.

“I don’t think we’ve come together as a Jewish community, but as a general community,” Dollin said. “Many of us have gone to the same theater, and so we are feeling the connection to the general neighborhood. We are not just Jews here; we are fully members of our general community.” 

Greenberg attended the prayer vigil Sunday at the Aurora Municipal Center to honor the victims of the massacre.

“It was really powerful to be with crowds of people directing their anxiety, frustration and confusion to God,” Greenberg said. “As a Jewish member of society and as a rabbi, it is critical to say that we hurt also and that the loss of a life of a 6-year-old child tears our heart as much as it tears anyone’s heart.”

Jewish celebration in Rome canceled to honor earthquake victims


Roman Jews canceled an outdoor celebration at Rome’s main synagogue to honor the national day of mourning for the victims of last month’s earthquakes in northern Italy.

Quakes in the Emiglia-Romagna region on May 20 and May 30 killed at least 24 people, left thousands homeless and caused widespread damage to art and architectural heritage.

Monday’s celebration in Rome was to have marked the 68th anniversary of the 1944 reopening of Rome’s main synagogue after the liberation of Rome by allied forces. The ceremony was to have included military representatives from Italy, the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Poland, France, India and Israel.

The Italian Jewish community said it was working on plans to aid quake victims possibly by opening Jewish summer camp facilities to children victims and providing counseling and other medical and health care aid.

Monument to Carmel fire victims unveiled at memorial


A monument to the 44 people killed in last year’s Carmel forest fire was unveiled at a memorial ceremony.

Hundreds of family members and friends of the victims gathered in the Carmel Forest near Kibbutz Beit Oren for Monday’s ceremony. The monument is sited near the road where fire trapped and burned a bus carrying cadets from the Prison Service sent to evacuate prisoners from the path of the blaze on Dec. 2, 2010.

Thirty-six cadets, a commander and a driver died in the bus. Two firemen and a 16-year-old volunteer also died in the fire, which took nearly four days to control.

“The entire nation witnessed the giant flames, and the entire nation feels your pain, but only those who have experienced grief can comprehend the intensity of your pain,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an address to the relatives of the victims.

“I know that you will never be fully consoled, but some comfort can be found in the legacy of heroism the victims left behind and in the spirit of volunteer work and the great dedication they displayed in the face of fire as they went out to save lives. Comfort can also be found in the fact that the entire nation of Israel recognizes this legacy,” Netanyahu said.

Some 250 homes were destroyed or severely damaged, 17,000 people were forced to evacuate, more than 12,000 acres were burned and an estimated 5 million trees were lost in the fire.

“The country was caught unprepared to deal with a natural disaster of this magnitude,” Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said.

Some relatives of the fire’s victims refused to attend the ceremony, saying no one had claimed responsibility for the country’s inability to deal with the blaze.

Netanyahu originally had declined to participate in the ceremony, citing his workload, but reversed course a day later.

For your consideration


While missiles are raining down on the Jews of southern Israel, do you know what’s raining down on the Jews of Southern California? Screeners.

That’s right: It’s pre-Academy Award season in Hollywood, a time when everyone involved in the movie business receives free DVD copies of all the Oscar contenders. That way, they can be informed voters in the democracy that is Hollywood.

For those of us not actually in the Industry, there is still a good chance we can borrow some of these screeners — after all, some of our best friends are Jewish.

So while the residents of Sderot have to decide whether a trip to the market for a carton of milk is worth risking their lives, the Jews of Hollywood have to wonder whether “Slumdog Millionaire” will play better on their flat-screen or at the Laemmle.

No one said life is fair.

Complete Gaza CoverageBut the crop of movies out this year actually do shed light on how we react to what’s happening 7,500 miles away in Israel and Gaza.

A remarkable number of this year’s movies traffic in Jewish victimhood. “The Reader,” “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” and “Adam Resurrected” are adapted from books about the Holocaust. “Valkyrie,” in which Tom Cruise doesn’t save the world, features glimpses of Hitler’s Jewish victims, as does “Good,” starring Viggo Mortensen as an unwitting Nazi collaborator.

Two movies attempt to turn our stereotype of ourselves on its head by portraying Jews fighting back. “Defiance” shows how a relative few of Hitler’s victims mounted an armed resistance, and the upcoming Hannah Senesh documentary, “Blessed Is the Match,” eulogizes another martyr. But these are Jews-as-victims stories, as well — one man or woman’s courage notwithstanding, in the end, we mostly die.

What is going on here? Hollywood and the movies still cling to the image of the Jew-as-victim, while in the world beyond Blu-ray the reality is much more … complicated.

There is a yawning gap between how we portray ourselves for the world to see and the reality of the Jew in the world. That gap helps explain why we are so shocked when news reports stress the charnel-house effects of Israeli bombs. Yes, many of these reports are biased, but yes, that havoc is what Jews too can wreak.

It’s clear from my stack of screeners that we Jews prefer to see ourselves as victimized, rather than as all the other adjectives that might apply to Jews since the end of World War II: assimilated, accepted, beloved, cool, aggressive, conflicted, popular, cruel, humane, brilliant, powerful.

I’d add “funny,” but we were always funny.

Movies mirror our heroic selves — and clearly we Jews are most comfortable seeing ourselves as heroic sufferers. No people has been persecuted like us, our stories keep telling us, and that’s the story we keep telling others.

Meanwhile, the roles Jews inhabit have become far more varied and morally complex.

Consider Gaza.

The narrative we are hearing from our leaders thus far could fit comfortably on one of those DVDs: Israel is a victim of Hamas; Israel is just trying to survive.

But of course we live in a more complex world than that, a world that, to my mind, demands we at least wrestle with some murky questions, both practical and moral (and I tend to believe the moral path is, in almost all cases, the most practical).

Some practical questions are: How will Israel’s short-term military success advance its long-term interests? How does it help Israel’s cause to leave Gaza in ruins, Hamas’ fighting force intact, a new generation of Gazan youth terrified and angry at Israel? If Hamas is not destroyed — and it looks like it won’t be — how long before it cashes some more Iranian checks, regroups and rearms?

And if some of Israel’s politicians and supporters aren’t willing to make concessions to more moderate Palestinians like Mahmoud Abbas, why risk Israeli soldiers’ lives trying to dethrone Hamas and put people like Abbas back in power?

Some moral questions are: If it is OK for Israel, in the name of survival, to kill 40 innocent children, is it acceptable for it to kill 400 children? What about 40,000? Where exactly is that line?

For that matter, if it is OK to kill innocent Palestinians because Hamas hides among them, would it be all right to kill innocent Catholics, or Evangelicals, or Jews, if Hamas hid among them?

Make no mistake: Hamas is intransigent, fanatic and violent. As long as it retains power in Gaza, those who want peace for Israel and justice for the Palestinians will be frustrated.

But where Jews have power, they also have the ability to react wisely — and it is wise to be asking these sorts of questions; there is no shame or weakness in it. Just don’t try to make a movie out of it.

Death, fear and fighting take toll on both sides of Gaza border


ALTTEXT
Damage to a home in Sderot from a Qassam rocket. Photo by The Media Line

The body, wrapped only in a flag, is lowered into the ground as family members throw themselves toward the grave, screaming in anguish. At that moment, their world has ended.

For the hundreds standing around them, vengeance is the only path worth treading.

It doesn’t matter whether you are now imagining the victim as a Palestinian or an Israeli — the scene is identical.

Residents of the Gaza Strip and southern Israel alike will tell you that in years gone by, they built up close working relationships and, in some cases, real friendships. Yet throughout the last 40 years there has always been an unease between the two, which all too often has spilled over into bloodshed.

Ever since the creation of the Palestinian Authority in the early 1990s, Hamas has been a dominant force in Gaza, and when in 2006 the Islamist movement claimed victory in the Palestinian parliamentary election, it was clear that soon it would gain de facto control of the narrow coastal enclave. A year later, Hamas took over the running of Gaza from Fatah in what Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas described as “a bloody coup.”

Complete Gaza CoverageIt has left some Gaza-based Fatah officials smarting, angry and even prepared to blame Hamas rather than Israel for the current violence.

“We were protective of the people and made sure that the Palestinian cause was on the right path until we got the world on our side,” said Ibrahim Abu A-Naja, a member of Fatah’s Executive Committee.

However, the overriding view in Gaza is that Israel is directly to blame for the new reality on the ground, in addition to the troubles already besetting Gazans.

Similarly in Israel, the residents of the towns and villages that have been under rocket fire for eight years accuse Hamas and the smaller armed organizations in Gaza of being responsible for the violence and bloodshed.

“For years we’ve been suffering like this,” said Victoria, a 20-something resident of the Israeli town Sderot, which has faced the brunt of Hamas’ missiles. “I want the Israel Defense Forces to do exactly what it’s doing now and not to stop in the middle.”

That is the overriding view in southern Israel. Many people say the government was right to launch its Gaza operation against Hamas, and if there is collateral damage — the euphemism for civilian casualties — so be it.

“Yesterday the rocket blew out my window and just missed the propane tanks, and the last time it blew two doors off their hinges, and they were blown together like a sandwich,” said Yair Madmon, a man in his late 50s who said he served in the Israeli army as a reservist until he was 48.

Like many who live in Sderot, Madmon said he will never leave.

However, that is not the case for everyone. Since the missiles began raining in, people have fled the town. It means businesses are in decline, leaving the local economy in ruins.

The middle-age mustached owner of the local lottery franchise in Sderot, who asks not to be named, said he works on a percentage basis — his income dependent on the number of tickets sold. He said fewer people than ever come his way, and he spends much of his day running for shelter in the nearby supermarket. The strain on his family, both financial and mental, is enormous.

“My wife’s worried about me, and I am about her,” he said, while handing a white and pink lottery ticket to his solitary customer. “We panic when one of us doesn’t answer the phone or if the line’s engaged or if it’s out of order.”

ALTTEXTLooking for interviewees in the public areas of Sderot is not as easy as it used to be. The residents are wary of what they see as an apathetic, biased media and, more importantly, they are scared to stand in the streets for fear of what may fall from the sky as they relate their stories.

A woman runs by, having returned her supermarket cart, and smiles apologetically, calling out, “I would talk to you, but it’s too dangerous here; I need to be home.”

Indeed, the conversation with the customer at the lottery booth is rudely interrupted by a stern female voice, broadcast via a hidden loudspeaker, warning all residents to take cover. The few people in the public square run for shelter in the local supermarket. They have 15 seconds before the rockets hits.

That rocket was fired from just a handful of miles away in Gaza.

“Leave it, it’s mine,” is a normal cry from a Gazan who has spent his day in a line in front of a bakery, waiting to purchase a package of bread. There has been a lack of flour since the first day of the Israeli military operation.

That aerial attack at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 27, came like a bolt out of the blue for Palestinians and for Hamas in particular. Some 150 Hamas security personnel were killed in just three minutes. Since then, Gazans have awakened every day to the sound of explosions and the sight of smoke plumes peppering the sky. Many residents use the same word to describe their life over the last weeks: “Hell.”

Empty streets, closed stores, pale faces, police officers sleeping on Gaza’s roads, cameramen passing in their cars — those have been the dominant scenes in Gaza. Those, along with the ambulances racing from destroyed buildings to overcrowded hospitals.

“It’s a war crime. Many innocent civilians have been killed, particularly kids and women,” said Momen, a Gaza resident. “Besides, the humanitarian situation gets more difficult and totally inhumane because of lack of flour and gasoline.”

The shortages are not only in basic foodstuffs and the power supply but also in room in Gaza’s morgues. As a result, hospital employees are gathering bodies in the open air. The identification process has taken on a grizzly nature, with family members having to walk along the rows of bodies to see if any are their loved ones. Many of the bodies are mangled beyond recognition.

Basel Faraj, a trainee in a local media production company, was wounded while covering the first airstrikes in Gaza.

“He’s critically wounded, but we can’t transfer him to anywhere; I’m losing my son,” his mother cried. “As I passed by another bed in the intensive-care unit I found another victim struggling to survive, despite the lack of oxygen and medicine.”

A car arrives at Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s largest. Someone rushes in screaming: “He’s alive. Save him. Please save him.”

It is a man carrying a young adult. The wounded man is dying. He is a cameraman with Hamas’ Al-Aq’sa TV. It appears unlikely the ill-equipped ambulances and dirty conditions in the hospital will help in his failing fight for survival.

Five journalists were wounded on the first day of the military operation. Two of them were working with Al-Aq’sa TV.

The decision makers at the local level are at a loss. In Gaza there is little advice they can offer and no comfort. People cannot flee the situation. Many want to leave Gaza via the Rafah crossing into Egypt, but for the vast majority of the time, Cairo insists the border remain closed.

Hamas’ leadership has gone to ground in bunkers, tunnels and elsewhere, meaning there is no one to whom the public can turn for help.

In Israel, there are more options available to the population, but local politicians are still unsure how to advise their electorate.

“I’m not the general manager of the lives of the people here,” Sderot Mayor David Bouskila said from his underground logistics bunker. “I don’t know what to tell the people — to be here and suffer or to go elsewhere.”

In Israel, at least, the radio and TV channels are constantly broadcasting warning messages as to where the rockets are headed and offering phone numbers of psychological services available to residents of the south. National radio is calling on those living in northern Israel to offer home hospitality to all who desire. Many southerners take advantage of this support and are relocating to spare bedrooms up and down the country.

Schools, synagogues and offices are collecting foodstuffs, which are distributed to those still in the south. While fewer rockets are being fired from Gaza now that the Israeli ground offensive is in full swing, their range has increased, with Grad rockets capable of traveling some 25 miles being launched from Gaza.

In previous years, the name Sderot became synonymous with the Qassam rockets of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, but now the coastal cities Ashkelon and Ashdod can be added to the list, as well as the capital of the south Beer Sheva, Netivot, Qiryat Malachi and a host of other towns and villages.

While the damage is far less significant on the Israeli side of the border, the number of Israelis now within range of the rockets is reaching a par with that for the Palestinians. Schools are closed throughout the south. City and regional councils have unlocked bomb shelters that have been closed for years to prepare for worst-case scenarios.

While Israel has had to get used to daily rocket attacks over the last eight years, the international community is now firmly focused on Israel’s strikes against Hamas, with many ambassadors to the United Nations speaking of Jerusalem’s “disproportionate use of force.”

As has been the case in recent decades, Israel’s main detractor on the international scene is the Muslim bloc, as represented by the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which is arguably the strongest grouping in the United Nations.

In the days leading up to the Israeli strike and immediately following, Egypt proved to be the key exception by blaming Hamas for all the ills that have befallen the civilian population of Gaza.

The Islamist movement handed Israel an opportunity “on a golden plate” to attack, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu Al-Gheit told reporters. Palestinian Authority leader Abbas made similar remarks as he toured regional capitals on the day the warfare commenced.

Israel’s key ally is the United States, with other “old friends” attempting to prevent comprehensive condemnation of Jerusalem’s actions. Among them: the United Kingdom and the Czech Republic, which crucially has just taken over the presidency of the European Union from France. Prague is stressing the Israeli action is “defensive” rather than “offensive.”

ALTTEXTYet, most in the international community see things differently. While criticizing Hamas’ rocket firing, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon roundly condemned Israel: “While recognizing Israel’s right to defend itself, I have also condemned the excessive use of force by Israel in Gaza. The suffering caused to civilian populations as a result of the large-scale violence and destruction that have taken place over the past few days has saddened me profoundly.”

In Muslim capitals and elsewhere, the rhetoric has been far stronger than that adopted by U.N. diplomats.

“Muslims of the world should stay united against world arrogance, the criminal Zionists in particular … to line up against [the] wicked party with more solidarity than ever,” the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps was quoted as saying by IRNA, Tehran’s official news agency. The comment was published as Said Jalili, Iran’s security chief, was in Beirut for talks with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, among others.

In Malaysia, Israel’s actions were described as “tantamount to genocide” by Abd Al-Rahim Bakri, the country’s deputy foreign minister,.

However, Israel maintains that during its aerial bombardment of Gaza it was doing its utmost to ensure civilians were not caught up in the airstrikes and only Hamas members and other combatants were targeted.

“We’re using very high-precision weaponry,” said Maj. Avital Leibovich, a senior IDF spokeswoman.

The Israeli message to the world has remained the same throughout the campaign: Hamas has brought the warfare upon itself and ordinary Gazans. It goes back to the time Israel withdrew all its civilians and military personnel from Gaza three years ago.

“We hoped the Palestinians would do something good with their lives,” Leibovich said. “We wanted a better future for them, and for a while it worked.”

She pointed to the successful exports of millions of dollars worth of flowers and fruits from Gaza in the first months following the Israeli pullback.

“But then Hamas was elected and changed the priorities,” the spokeswoman continued. “It invested a lot of money in building headquarters, recruiting troops, training them, digging hundreds of tunnels, buying weapons and explosives. That money did not go to the Palestinians themselves.”

A similar message came from Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak when he explained why Israel had moved to a land invasion of Gaza on Jan. 3: “I have said all along that our military activities will widen and deepen as much as needed. Our aim is to force Hamas to stop its hostile activities against Israel and Israelis from Gaza and to bring about a significant change in the situation in southern Israel.

“We have carefully weighed all our options,” he said. “We are not war hungry, but we shall not, I repeat — we shall not allow a situation in which our towns, villages and civilians are constantly targeted by Hamas. It will not be easy or short, but we are determined.”

Hamas, too, has repeatedly made a single point whenever it has been given the chance.

“We first declared a truce between the Palestinian parties and the occupation [Israel] to protect the Palestinians from the daily attacking, daily killing and assassinations, but the calm failed to put an end to their tragedy,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said.

As a result, he added, Hamas had little choice other than to refuse to extend the truce. The mood in Gaza made it clear the people did not want the unilaterally declared truce to continue any longer.

Hamas also has international media coverage on its side. The Palestinian Ramattan production company has set up video cameras on Gaza rooftops and is transmitting a live feed to any TV channels that want to broadcast the pictures. Indeed, on Arabic satellite TV, dozens of stations are choosing to show the pictures, which are interspersed with graphic scenes from Gaza hospitals, propagandist videos and one-sided studio discussions.

Similarly, the visual footage coming out of Gaza is being lapped up by the international media, given that it is far more graphic than pictures of Israelis sitting in their bomb shelters.

Those scenes are also bringing about a degree of renewed unity between Hamas and Fatah, its bitter Palestinian rival faction. Politicians from the two sides held their first publicized joint meeting in months with the outbreak of Gaza hostilities.

“Israel used the Palestinian division and the truce to prepare itself well in order to attack Gaza. Now Israel doesn’t differentiate between Hamas and Fatah. We’re also targeted in Gaza,” said senior Fatah official Faisal Abu Shahla, who chose to remain in Gaza rather than flee to the West Bank when Hamas took control of the coastal enclave in 2007.

Comments like these and others from Palestinians, Israelis and world leaders will soon be forgotten, but the vivid images from Gaza and southern Israel will be remembered for years to come: Palestinian and Israeli civilians alike weeping uncontrollably in the face of a fate they cannot control.

The following is a collection of quotations gathered both in Gaza and southern Israel in the last week — and they are remarkably similar:

“It was on Friday; my mother was preparing the food when the shrapnel hit her in the foot.”

“I hope the attacks will stop, and we can live in peace, and we can live a normal life like anyone — to go to school, to go to work in peace and to be able to sleep well.”

“I’m so scared to stay alone in my house.”

“It’s calm at this minute, but it wasn’t hours ago. We heard explosions. They attacked children. Not fighters. Children.”

“People are angry about this. Why didn’t the world say anything and take positive steps?”

The two people are divided by an enormous chasm, by fences, ditches, armed forces and a deep-set paranoia about the intentions of the other. Yet the two have far more in common than perhaps they are ready to admit as the rockets and shells still pound away.

Israelis and Palestinians are united in their fear of the power of weaponry in the hands of the enemy. Both sit in their homes wondering if the next explosive projectile is heading for them. They are making the same visits to hospitals to visit the victims of warfare.

And both are as one as they pay the ultimate price — burying their dead.

Images: Gaza bread line, funeral in Israel

Eight members of the Levi family adjust to rockets in Ashkelon


ASHKELON, Israel (JTA) — Another rocket warning siren wails and eight members of the Levi family, including a grandmother and a newborn baby, quickly cram into the small bedroom made of reinforced concrete that serves as the family’s bomb shelter.

“Come on, come on! Get in!” they shout. Just before the heavy metal door slams shut, the family dog, Pick, quickly is whisked inside.

Standing shoulder to shoulder, they listen as the sound of the siren’s wail trails off, replaced by the thud of the rocket landing. Returning to the television news a few minutes later, they see it has landed a few blocks away at a local soccer stadium.

Earlier in the day, another rocket landed much closer — just across the street.

The Grad-type missile hit a construction site, killing Hani el Mahdi, a 27-year old construction worker from a Bedouin town in the Negev, and injured several other workers at the scene, some of them seriously.

“After hearing the boom this morning I’m just not myself,” said Geula Levi, 50, whose house quickly filled up with family members. “I’ve been trying to make lunch but I simply can’t seem to get anything together.”

Since the fighting began over the weekend, two of Levi’s adult children have moved back in, one of them bringing his wife and their 2-month-old daughter. The baby never leaves the reinforced room. Her mother, Vered, ventures out only to get food from the kitchen.

About 60 rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel on Monday. Many landed in Ashkelon, about 10 miles north of the Gaza Strip. Some reached as far as Ashdod, some 20 miles from Gaza, killing one woman as she bolted her car to take cover at a bus stop.

This week marks the first time these two major coastal cities have been subject to ongoing rocket barrages from Gaza. Ashkelon, home to some 120,000 people, had been targeted before, but hit only rarely. Ashdod had been considered out of range of Gaza’s rocket fire, but Hamas’ newly imported missiles — thought to be smuggled into the strip from Egypt during the six-month cease-fire that officially ended Dec. 19 — have increased the range of Gaza’s rockets.

Geula Levi said she was fully supportive of the army’s operation in Gaza, which by late Monday had killed 350 Palestinians in Gaza, most of them Hamas militiamen, according to reports.

“They learned their lessons from the Second Lebanon War so I think this time things will be conducted more intelligently,” she said of Israel’s military leaders.

“We’d rather suffer with the missiles now than become like Kiryat Shemona, which suffered for years,” said her eldest son, Avichai, 27.

Outside, the sound of Israeli artillery being fired into Gaza echoed in the streets, which were quiet and mostly empty. Staring out into the eerie emptiness were campaign posters for the upcoming election, including a billboard with a photograph of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni next to the words, “The courage to say the truth.”

Livni’s party, along with those of her main rivals, canceled campaign events scheduled for this week.

At the entrance to Ashkelon, one of those rivals, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the architect of the Israeli strike on Gaza, had his own image up on a billboard with the slogan “Looking truth in the face.”

For the people of Ashkelon, who are living their leaders’ “truths,” there was stoicism mixed with fear.

“It is miserable but it will go on for a while,” said Capt. David Biton, the police commander who oversees the southern district that includes half a million people and stretches from Ashdod to Sderot — all now within range of Gaza’s rockets.

Galit Ben-Asher Yonah, 37, said it was “the shock of my life” to discover that her home in Gan Yavne, a bedroom community near Ashdod, now has come under attack.

Gan Yavne was hit for the first time Sunday, and two more rockets fell Monday. It is the farthest point north that the rockets have reached to date.

Yonah, originally from Los Angeles, is the mother of two young daughters and a newborn son. She says she will be keeping all her children at home for the next few days.

“Never in my life did I think I would have to explain to my 5-year-old that we have to go to the basement because a bomb was falling,” she said. “And there she was guiding me, telling me to cover my head with my hands and stay away from the window as she was taught in nursery school.”

Tal, her 5-year-old, also brought down a snack of bananas and cookies for them after the first rocket fell, telling her in a serious but calm voice that they might be sitting in the basement, which is reinforced against rockets, for a while.

In nearby Nitzan, where many of the families who were evicted three years ago from the Gush Katif settlement bloc in Gaza live in temporary homes, there are no protective rooms to which to flee.

“We left the Kasssam rockets to get Katyushas instead,” said Yuval Nefesh, 41, referring to the longer-range Katyusha rockets now striking Israel from Gaza. Before, Palestinians relied almost exclusively on the Kassam, a crude rocket with a range of 10 miles and poor accuracy.

He shrugs when asked how the people are coping. “We pray,” he said.

Nefesh is still in touch with some of the Palestinians from Gaza he met while living there, and he said he has been talking to them by phone since the Israeli air assault began.

Outside, the Elikum Shwarma and Kebab restaurant was one of the few bustling businesses in Ashkelon on Monday. Delivery people were busy ferrying orders to the thousands of people staying indoors.

Avi Zarad, working the cash register, tried to maintain a cheerful atmosphere.

“We can’t send out a message of being stressed out,” he said. A few minutes later a siren sounded and, with no shelter to run to, the customers continued eating calmly.

The soccer stadium where a rocket fell an hour earlier is just across the road.

“We are getting used to it, but it’s a horrible reality,” said Kinneret Cohen, a restaurant worker preparing salads in the kitchen. “We just breathe deeply knowing we have to give the army time to do its work.”

Spielberg’s Wunderkinder Foundation joins list of Madoff victims


Steven Spielberg suffered some losses in the Bernard Madoff fraud scandal, though apparently nowhere near a rumored $300 million.

However, the famed filmmaker’s private Wunderkinder Foundation had some investments with Madoff, though Spielberg spokesman Marvin Levy said he was unable to detail the assets or losses of the foundation.

The Wunderkinder Foundation (translated as child prodigies) is a relative modest one compared to Spielberg’s much better-known Shoah Foundation and Righteous Persons Foundation.

According to the latest available public filing with the IRS, the Wunderkinder Foundation’s 2006 statement, covering the previous tax year, showed assets of $12,573,018 and grant distributions of $5,215,016. Spielberg gave $2 million to the foundation and is listed as the only donor.

According to press reports, Madoff managed 70 percent of the foundation’s dividend and interest income in 2006.

The lion’s share of the foundation’s grants, according to the IRS filing, went to the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, which received $3,338,000 for medical research.

The Ross School in New York City received $500,000 and the local Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services got $100,000.

Smaller grants went to some 55 diverse organizations and institutions, from the American Museum of Natural History to the Young Musicians Foundation.



From the Federation:

LOS ANGELES, Dec 15, 2008 (BUSINESS WIRE) — The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has been advised by The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles that it, together with a number of other major philanthropic institutions, as well as individuals and for profit investment companies, is included among those which have been victimized by an alleged fraud perpetrated by the New York based firm, Bernard Madoff Investment Securities LLC.

The Jewish Federation, together with other local charitable bodies, has for decades participated in a Common Investment Pool (CIP) managed by the Jewish Community Foundation. The CIP invests, with the input of professional advisors, significant funds on behalf of the Federation’s United Jewish Fund Endowment Fund in a range of investment classes and vehicles. Among these has been Bernard Madoff Investment Securities LLC.

We have been informed by the Jewish Community Foundation that the Federation’s United Jewish Fund Endowment Fund may have sustained a loss of $6.4m as a result of the actions of Bernard Madoff Investment Securities LLC. This constitutes approximately 11% of Federation’s endowment funds as of December 2008.

Stanley Gold, Chairman of the Board of the Jewish Federation, stated, “We are both shocked and saddened to learn of this alleged fraud. The Jewish Federation is exploring various options to fully understand its exposure as well as how this occurred. We intend to aggressively protect and recover as much of Federation’s investment with Bernard Madoff Securities LLC, as possible. We will take all necessary actions to assure this type of action so hurtful to those who depend on our charitable organization never happens again.”

The Jewish Federation will continue to utilize the funds in the United Jewish Fund Endowment Fund to support its essential life saving work, at home and abroad, on behalf of the Los Angeles Jewish Community.

From The Jewish Community Foundation

LOS ANGELES (December 15, 2008)–The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles (The Foundation) today issued the following letter to the public regarding the impact of the collapse of the Bernard Madoff investment funds. The Foundation, the largest manager of charitable gift assets for Los Angeles Jewish philanthropists, stated:

Dear Friends,

The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles was shocked and outraged to learn that it is among the many victims of the massive fraud attributed to veteran Wall Street investment advisor Bernard Madoff.

The Foundation invested a total of $18 million with the Madoff firm, representing less than 5% (five percent) of the Foundation’s assets.

Donor Advised Funds were not affected by the Madoff fraud. Donor Advised Funds are held separately in Treasury notes and other government instruments.

The $18 million was part of The Foundation’s Common Investment Pool, set aside for long-term endowment-type uses.

The loss, while unprecedented in The Foundation’s 54-year history, does not threaten The Foundation’s stability, its existing commitments, or its ability to maintain its leading role in the Los Angeles philanthropic community.

Despite this loss, The Foundation has a long-term record of generating favorable returns from its investments. The Foundation’s emphasis on diversification, both of investments and of investment advisors, helped limit the impact of the Madoff collapse.

In light of the substantial recent declines in the stock market as well as the financial impact of the Madoff situation, The Foundation is re-evaluating its investment strategies and examining ways to respond to these changed market conditions. This process includes a full review of The Foundation’s policies, practices and due-diligence procedures.

The Foundation is aggressively pursuing every possible recovery and remedy related to the Madoff situation.

We are committed to a fully transparent sharing of information with our donors, supporters, grant recipients and the community, and will continue to report to The Foundation’s constituencies as we learn more. This will include updates to a dedicated page on The Foundation’s website at www.JewishFoundationLA.org.

Sincerely,

Cathy Siegel Weiss Marvin I. Schotland
Chair President and CEO

UJC seeks donations for hurricane victims


United Jewish Communities begun a campaign for donations to help in the recovery from recent hurricanes.

The umbrella organization of North America’s Jewish federation system is urging the 157 federations and 400 independent Jewish communities it serves to contribute to the effort, which will go to help Jewish communities in the country’s coastal region that were affected by the hurricanes and to nonsectarian relief efforts.

Initial relief will go toward short-term disaster needs such as food, water and medicines, and for intermediate needs such as mental-health counseling and other counseling, according to the UJC’s emergency committee chair, Fred Zimmerman. Other needs will be determined.

UJC staff have spoken daily with the president and chief executive officer of the Jewish federation in Houston, Lee Wunsch, as well as to community leaders elsewhere.

In an effort to coordinate a response to the storm, UJC also has talked with Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff; national, state and local relief agencies; and national Jewish groups and religious movements.

Initial reports said the community in Corpus Christi, Texas, was safe following Hurricane Ike over the weekend, according to UJC. Also in Texas, efforts were continuing to reach Jewish evacuees in Galveston—one report emerged over the weekend that people were trapped in a flooded synagogue there. UJC coordinated with local and federal law enforcement agencies, who investigated and reported the synagogue was empty.

Checks should be mailed to United Jewish Communities, P.O. Box 30, Old Chelsea Station, New York, NY 10113, Attention: UJC Hurricane Relief Fund, or go to www.ujc.org to make online donations.

Families of terror victims can have their day in court


Families of terror victims got the green light to pursue lawsuits against the Palestinian Authority thanks to a personal lobbying blitz and some quiet diplomacy by U.S. lawmakers and the pro-Israel lobby.

About 20 lawsuits targeting the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) — some dating back to the mid-1990s — have been held up in recent months while the Bush administration considered a federal judge’s request to weigh in on the issue.

In a Feb. 29 letter to Judge Victor Marrero of the U.S. District Court in New York, the Bush administration made clear it did not want to intervene — for now.

The administration would “continue to monitor this and other cases like it,” the letter said. “The United States has not yet decided whether or not to participate in those other cases.”

The case in Marrero’s court concerns a $174 million award to the widow, children and parents of Aharon Ellis, an entertainer and member of the Black Hebrew sect who was gunned down in a 2002 attack on a bar mitzvah in Hadera in northern Israel.

“We are grateful that at this time the U.S. government has decided to support justice over terror and that it will not now enter the case to support the terrorists,” said David Strachman, an attorney who represents a number of the families.

“Ultimately, of course, it’s the courts that will continue to adjudicate the victims’ claims. On behalf of the families who have suffered so much, we will do everything we can to ensure that justice will prevail.”

The lawsuits are based on legislation passed in the 1990s that make terrorist organizations and their enablers financially responsible for attacks on U.S. citizens. Not all the cases have been decided.

Even before Marrero asked for an opinion in December, the Palestinian Authority had been pressing the Bush administration to weigh in. It claimed that allowing Leslye Knox, Ellis’ widow, to collect the award would create a precedent that eventually would bankrupt the authority at a time that its moderate leadership is facing down extremists and attempting to negotiate peace with Israel.

“I am glad that the government will not interfere at this stage and am hopeful that it will refrain from supporting the legal position of the terrorists-defendants in the future,” Knox said in a statement.

It probably didn’t help the Palestinians’ case that the PLO’s envoy in Washington had denigrated the families in an interview with the Washington Post, saying their lawsuits were “politically and ideologically motivated.” Afif Safieh also presumptively announced “a rethinking in the State Department.”

Still, the letter, signed by six Justice Department officials led by Jeffrey Bucholtz, the acting assistant attorney general, suggested that the Palestinian Authority’s arguments remained persuasive.

“The United States supports just compensation for victims of terrorism from those responsible for their losses and has encouraged all parties to resolve these cases to their mutual benefit,” the letter said. “At the same time the United States remains concerned about the potentially significant impact that these cases may have on the financial and political viability of the defendants.”

In fact, sources say, the Bush administration reportedly had leaned initially toward intervening on the Palestinian Authority’s behalf but was swayed by meetings last month between families and top Justice Department and State Department lawyers, as well as lobbying led by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and other Jewish groups.

Families who had traveled through a snowstorm to make the mid-February round of meetings were surprised to find that some of the top U.S. officials were on hand at some of the meetings, including John Bellinger III, the State Department’s top lawyer, and Kenneth Wainstein, the assistant attorney general for national security.

An array of Jewish and pro-Israel groups also quietly pressed the case with members of the U.S. Congress and the administration.

AIPAC “applauded” the administration’s decision not to intervene, spokesman Josh Block said, adding: “Any government interference in such cases would undermine the very purpose of the Antiterrorism Act — to hold terrorists and their sponsors accountable.”

A statement by the Orthodox Union, which also advocated on behalf of the families, thanked President Bush, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Michael Mukasey, the U.S. attorney general.

“We welcome the Bush administration’s determination to let the families who have suffered such tragedies pursue justice against the perpetrators of terrorism without interference,” the group said.

The families had met also with key lawmakers who had weighed in with the Bush administration in opposing intervention.

The leading Congressmembers advocating for the families included Sens. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), and U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Brad Sherman (D-Van Nuys.).

The Agunah: A Modern-Day Nightmare


 

A couple of years ago I received two back-to-back phone calls in my office: The first, from a 21-year-old ultra-Orthodox woman who had escaped her physically abusive 6-month long marriage, only to find herself trapped two years later because her husband refuses to give her a Jewish divorce (a get). She can never remarry or have children as long as her husband remains recalcitrant.

The second call was from a Modern Orthodox young woman who was ready to marry the man of her dreams — only to discover a few weeks before the marriage that her rabbi refused to conduct the ceremony after he learned that the groom was a mamzer (illegitimate child of an incestuous relationship), because his mother had failed to obtain a get before marrying the groom’s father.

These two cases vividly illustrate the current problems of the modern day agunah (a woman chained to an unwanted marriage), because halacha (Jewish law) gives the husband the sole, unfettered power of divorce. While under Ashkenazic tradition a woman can withhold her “consent” to such a divorce, the remedies available to the victim of a recalcitrant husband or wife differ substantially. A woman whose husband refuses to grant her a get can never remarry and have children from another man because if she does so, her children and all their progeny are considered mamzerim, who are forbidden to marry any Jew other than other mamzerim. In contrast, a man whose wife refuses to “consent” to the get, has options: he can obtain the consent of 100 rabbis (a heter) to remarry without the wife’s consent, or if he does remarry without a heter, his children from the subsequent marriage do not bear the stigma of being mamzerim. (In Sephardic tradition, a husband may even divorce his wife without her consent, eliminating his need for a heter.)

These disparate consequences, coupled with the husband’s exclusive power to terminate the marriage, have resulted in a modern-day nightmare to Orthodox women. The power to condemn their wives to remain chained in marriage, to a man who often remarries without granting his wife a get, has spawned an entire marketplace for extortions. Men have demanded hundreds of thousands of dollars, waiver of the wife’s rights to spousal support and even custody of children they have abused, in exchange for the wife’s right to remarry. This bartering for the wife’s freedom has become so universal that, unbidden, some rabbis even begin a get process by asking the wife what she is willing to give her husband in exchange for the get.

While remedies have been suggested and some implemented, none have cured the basic ill resulting from this gross imbalance of power. In Israel, laws have been enacted allowing incarceration and forfeiture of driver and professional licenses of recalcitrant husbands. Most recently, an Israeli court awarded a woman monetary damages for her husband’s refusal to give her a get for more than 12 years. But these laws fall pitifully short of a final solution. First, these laws are unavailable to women outside of Israel. Second, some men have opted to remain jailed or do without their licenses rather than give their wives a get. Even the judgment of monetary damages was a mere Pyrrhic victory — while she has a judicial decree for money (which she may never be able to collect), the courts could not force her husband to give her the get, and thus she remains an agunah.

Other suggested solutions have met with only limited success. Many conscientious rabbis now refuse to perform a marriage ceremony unless the couple first signs a prenuptial agreement authorizing the beit din (Jewish court) to award daily monetary support (or damages) for each day the husband refuses to give a get or the wife refuses her consent. Such prenuptial agreements, however, must meet the civil requirements of the state where it’s executed — a condition of which rabbis are often unaware. Additionally, such prenuptial agreements have the same flaw as any of the Israeli laws. No prenuptial agreement can force a recalcitrant husband to give a get — it can only award monetary sums to the wife, but it can still leave her trapped. A very poor or a very rich man can afford to disregard the monetary damages he would suffer under the agreement, and the opportunity for extortion or revenge inherent in the husband’s unfettered power to withhold the get cannot be eliminated. Finally, there are many rabbis who refuse to mandate the signing of such a prenuptial agreement, and an Israeli rabbi recently even decreed such prenuptial agreements invalid. Clearly, the prenuptial agreement is not universally accepted nor does it result in a global solution.

More recently, some have advocated “annulment” of the marriage as a way to eliminate the agunah problem. But this solution has been met with tremendous opposition in the Orthodox rabbinical community. Some rabbis who have granted or advocated annulments in such cases have been marginalized and their status in the Orthodox community threatened. In one recent case, a rabbi who granted annulment to a woman who had been an Agunah for more than 10 years was publicly condemned and his rulings in other cases delegitimized by another rabbi.

The lack of consensus among Orthodox rabbis on a permanent global end to such unfettered misuse of the husband’s power has led to homespun solutions. Some have advocated the use of nonobservant witnesses at Orthodox weddings to assure that an Orthodox get would not be necessary in the event the marriage fails. Others have simply ignored the law and remarried without the get, leaving it to the next generations to untangle the mamzer problems thereby created.

There is, however, concurrence on one thing — a permanent solution must be found to eliminate the agunah problem. The Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA) has begun an agunah-awareness campaign this year, beginning with the Fast of Esther. JOFA hopes to generate education, discussion and resolution. While many might dismiss this issue as just the “women’s problem,” it should be an equal cause for concern for every Orthodox man who has a sister, a daughter or a mother. They are all potential targets for extortion or imprisonment in an insufferable marriage.

Alexandra Leichter is a Beverly Hills family law attorney, and is a member of the Westwood Village Synagogue.

 

Reflections on a Tragedy


July 16 marks the one-year anniversary of the terrible accident at the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market, which killed 10 and injured more than 60. George Russell Weller, the elderly driver, faces 10 counts of vehicular homicide with gross negligence.

I know from personal experience the nightmare of accidentally killing someone. Almost 30 years ago, when I was 22, I hit and killed an 8-year-old boy named Brian when he ran into the street in front of my car. Not a single day has gone by since then in which I have not thought of him. That split-second devastated Brian’s family and my own, irrevocably changing the course of our lives.

For thousands of years, communities have wrestled with the question of how to treat accidental killers. The Book of Numbers (consistent with a shorter passage in Exodus) tells us that God instructed Moses to tell the Israelites to establish six cities of refuge to which accidental killers could flee. The accidental killer was to be protected from the wrath of the victim’s family — the "blood avenger" — so long as he remained within the city of refuge. Only when the high priest of the city died could the killer return home.

The more I’ve studied this passage, the wiser it seems. The cities of refuge assured the safety of accidental killers while protecting the victims’ family members from the pain of encountering the perpetrator, which could lead them to take revenge and thus continue the cycle of violence. Even though they did not intend harm, the accidental killers were not excused from all responsibility and blame for their actions. Instead they were required to remain in exile in the city of refuge until the death of the high priest, thus being forced to confront on a daily basis difficult questions about the sanctity of life. In establishing the cities of refuge, the Israelites implicitly recognized that the community at large shared some measure of responsibility for accidental deaths. For example, Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald points out that accidents represent an educational failure because, if the people involved had learned to be more careful and respectful of life, the accident might have been prevented.

I wish there was a city of refuge to which Weller could have fled following the farmers’ market tragedy. I can only begin to imagine the feelings of those who witnessed that horrible scene, suffered injury or lost loved ones. The desire to see someone punished is understandable under the circumstances. But what are we accomplishing as a community in putting an 87-year-old man on trial? Might it be more productive to follow the example of the Torah and reflect on our failures as a community, such as the lack of transportation alternatives to driving for the elderly?

My own situation was different. I was not arrested, cited or sued after my accident. But I, too, would have welcomed a city of refuge. I have never been more terrified in my life than I was at the scene of the accident. As a crowd of onlookers gathered, I was convinced they would attack or kill me when they realized I was the driver. Later that afternoon, as I waited in the relative safety of a police car, I felt the full force of my fear for Brian. Fear like that does not simply disappear. Even though I had done nothing wrong, I was scared of being ostracized and abandoned. I was so scared of driving that, when I finally got back behind the wheel, I imagined I saw people in the roadway and slammed on the brakes. After a few such episodes, I gave up my car. And I was so afraid of all the terrible things that can happen to children, and all the ways in which I might hurt another child, that I decided against becoming a parent.

Well-meaning family and friends told me to put the accident behind me and move on, but I blamed myself for Brian’s death. I felt that, at my core, I was a destructive person. I quickly learned to hide these and other feelings and thoughts about the accident. Expressing them only made others uncomfortable. A literal or symbolic city of refuge in which I could have faced these issues more directly would have been helpful.

In 2002, 44,000 people died in traffic accidents and another 2.3 million were injured. A car hits a pedestrian somewhere in the United States every seven minutes. That adds up to a lot of drivers in need of refuge. Refuge can be as simple as a hug, an empathic note or a conversation with a caring friend who refrains from blaming or excusing.

The way we respond to accidental killers, like Weller or me, says something about our values and humanity. May all our cities become cities of refuge.


Maryann Gray is a psychologist who lives in Los Angeles and works as a university administrator.

Movsha Hoffman


For the past two and a half years, I have been the facilitator of a Yiddish reading class at Santa Monica Emeritus College. We are currently completing the reading in the Sholom Aleichem’s classic, "Motl, Peyse dem Khazn’s" ("Motl, Peyse the Cantor’s Son").

The class resembles, at times, a cheder (classroom) of days gone by, as students follow, make penciled notations and take their turn reading, some more skilled than others, but all very patient and accepting. The atmosphere and camaraderie is simply a joy to experience — mishpacha (family).

We lost our very best reader in the terrible tragedy at the Santa Monica Market on Wednesday afternoon, July 16. Movsha Hoffman is gone.

On Friday morning, when all the victims’ names and accompanying photos were made public, our class, on summer hiatus, was reunited in grief. The phone rang incessantly and tears along with reminiscences followed.

Here was a man who fled Stalin, lived simply through difficult times and never lost an ounce of his effervescence and optimism. His perpetual smile and good nature led everyone to "love the guy" and his bubbly, effusive greetings were something very special. To help someone was pretty much his mantra.

He was my resident expert for Russian terminology that often crept into Aleichem’s narrative. These words were not to be found in any Yiddish dictionary, old or new.

A warm and wonderful person has left us, a true example of menschlichkayt (decency). He will long be remembered — and may that memory be a blessing.

Skinhead Attack in Beverlywood


Four Caucasian men, appearing to be neo-Nazi skinheads, attacked three Jewish high school boys last Shabbat shortly after midnight in Beverlywood.

The three observant students, in their midteens and wearing kippot, were walking through the quiet neighborhood on April 6, when a dark-colored car containing four men pulled up, according to a police report. Two of the men emerged from the car shouting slurs such as "Heil Hitler" and attacked the Jewish teens.

One of the Jewish boys escaped, while the other two, both 17, were beaten, despite their efforts to fend off their assailants, according to one of the victims. The Jewish boys were punched and kicked. One of the boys was held down, and the assailants shouted slurs, calling the boy "a dirty kike." No weapons were involved in the incident. At the parents’ request, the names of the Jewish teens have been withheld.

Two of the Jewish teens were set to leave that weekend on the Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance’s March of the Living program — an educational travel program that brings teens to Poland and Israel to observe Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut — and were walking home a third friend when the attack occurred. The only witness was a man walking his dog. However, the passerby did not come to the aid of the teens, noted one of the victims. As the attackers departed, they shouted more slurs against Jews.

One Jewish teen was rushed to Century City Hospital, where a gash above his right eye was sewn up with six stitches.

A news conference regarding the incident was held on April 9. In attendance were LAPD Deputy Chief Dave Kalish; Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the Wiesenthal Center’s associate dean, and Los Angeles Councilman Jack Weiss. Detective Supervisor Ron Phillips of the West Los Angeles Division told The Journal that the attack appeared to be an isolated incident and that the investigation into locating the attackers is in progress.

According to police, the two suspects were in their 20s and had shaved heads. One was about 6 feet tall, 180 pounds, with blue eyes. The other was about 6 feet and 150 pounds. Their vehicle was a four-door, economy-style car, possibly a Honda or Toyota Corolla.

"We’re running down some names," Phillips said.

"You have to give high grades to LAPD. They were right on top of this," Cooper said. "They did everything right. We should not take any of this for granted."

"The local community is meeting with the LAPD to figure out how to best from this point go forward," said Rabbi Alan Kalinsky, West Coast director of the Orthodox Union, who coordinated a B’nai David-Judea Congregation gathering on April 10. "We just can’t sit back after this takes place in our neighborhood."

Chief among discussions will be to coordinate police and Beverlywood-area private security patrols.

Meanwhile, the injured boys are recovering. One victim was able to make the March of the Living Trip, while the boy with the gash dropped out as a result of his injury. However, the teen found some solace in joining some friends from his high school at the April 7 pro-Israel rally in Westwood.

"After what I just experienced, it’s nice to be here," he told The Journal.

"The police are aggressively pursuing this case," Cooper said. "I feel pretty confident that there will be a positive outcome here. Justice is going to be done."

Anyone having any information regarding this incident or other suspicious activity is asked to contact either the West Los Angeles police station, (310) 574-8401; or West Los Angeles Detectives, (310) 575-8441.

Yomtov Pleads Guilty


Teacher Mordechai Yomtov stood sobbing in his orange prison jumpsuit Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court as he pleaded guilty to two counts of committing continuous sexual abuse on a minor and one count of lewd act on a minor.

The Feb. 4 plea follows an agreement worked out between the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office and defense counsel. Yomtov was sentenced to one year in County Jail, followed by five years’ probation.

Yomtov, 36, was arrested Dec. 3 and charged with 10 felony counts of committing lewd acts with three of his students, ages 8 to 10, at Cheder Menachem, an all-boys Orthodox yeshiva located in Hollywood and run under the auspices of West Coast Chabad.

Four family members of the three victims in the case were present; one mother even moved closer to force Yomtov to face her as he admitted to the crimes.

Yomtov’s attorney, Mitchell W. Egers, said he told his client it was possible to fight the charges but Yomtov declined.

"He told me he did not want to subject the children or their families to a trial or to cross-examination," Egers said, adding that his client is not a rabbi as previously reported (students traditionally call teachers there "rebbe").

The court ordered Yomtov to have no contact with the victims, their families or with any minors without an adult present, with the exception of his own three children. He must also undergo psychiatric treatment through USC for the length of his term (including probation) and register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. Following his jail term, he is prohibited from seeking employment in any position where he would be teaching minors.

The parents said they were satisfied with the agreement.

"Under the circumstances I think he is extremely lucky," said the father of one victim. "If we didn’t work with the district attorney, this guy would have got 25 years to life. But we understand that he is ill. He has an addiction that is not treatable."

The man said his son, one in a family of seven children, was undergoing therapy as a result of the incident.

"Only time will tell. Sometimes he acts like nothing is wrong and other times you can see it is affecting him," he said.

The boy, like the other victims, is still attending Cheder Menachem. Attorneys for two of the families say they have not ruled out a civil suit against the school.

"I’m pleased that the process of holding those accountable for the terrible crimes against these children has begun," said Gary Wittenberg, a civil litigator, adding that any further actions "depend on what develops over the next few days and weeks."

The father of the one victim said he hoped the case brought cloure not only for his son, but also for the rest of Yomtov’s victims.

"We know there were other victims who have not come forward and my prayer is for their parents to get these kids help," he said. "I also hope this clears up the rumors that the boys were making this up. there were people even last night telling me that. I hope [the plea agreement] will put those rumors to rest for good."

In response to the resolution of the case, Rabbi Chaim Cunin, director of West Coast Chabad, issued the following statement: "Our thoughts and prayers are with the families that make up the Cheder Menachem community. We are very thankful to the various organizations, including Jewish Family Service and Ohel, that continue to support and guide Cheder Menachem through the healing process."

Tragedy or Exploitation?


The photograph of the Palestinian father cradling his terrified son moments before the boy was killed in Gaza this fall was viewed live on television and reproduced on the front pages of newspapers around the globe. Like the photograph of the boy with hands raised standing in the Warsaw Ghetto, nobody who saw desperate Jamal Al-Durrah vainly trying to shield 12-year-old Mohammed can ever forget the terror in their eyes.

From the day that the French television photographer snapped the pictures, the image has mesmerized the world. For Arabs, Mohammed became an icon for all victims of the intifada; his image plastered on countess posters. In Egypt, even tissue boxes were manufactured bearing his likeness.

His father, himself wounded, was interviewed by the world’s leading journalists, appearing on prime-time television in the United States. There was a media pilgrimage to Amman to conduct interviews by Al-Durrah’s hospital bedside. Israeli journalists joined in; Al-Durrah appeared in the Israeli press, on radio and on television.

Israel was well aware of the extremely negative propaganda effect of this incident. Although shortly afterwards the Israel Defense Forces accepted responsibility for Mohammed’s death, some insiders felt this admission was rash and premature. Among them was Maj. Gen. Yom Tov Samia, the army’s southern commander. Samia conducted an investigation and an abortive campaign to reenact the shooting in an effort to prove that it was Palestinian shooters who had felled the boy. But the Israeli army had already demolished the wall against which the pair had leaned. Samia’s efforts came to naught. The picture had done its damage, or its work, depending on one’s point of view. Even if it could be scientifically proven that Israelis hadn’t fired the lethal shots, it didn’t really matter to the world any more.

Now, more than four months later, the photo is once again in the spotlight.

MSNBC is currently conducting a public poll on its Web site to choose the photograph of the year 2000. To date, 480,000 votes have been cast for 49 entries. The shot of Al-Durrah and his son, titled “A Death in Gaza,” has garnered more than 39,000 votes and is currently in sixth place. The five ahead of it are all sentimental images of animals.

A callous propaganda war is raging to exploit this personal tragedy. In recent days, Jews have received e-mails informing them of the poll and urging them to vote for other photos, trying to calculate which has the best chance of overtaking “A Death in Gaza.” “Obviously,” they write, “we have to try to stop it from winning.” Forward the message on to “everyone you know as well!” instructs the e-mail. Instead of taking the lesson of the picture to heart, people who ought most to be disturbed by its implications are implored to try to minimize it.

Meanwhile, the Palestinians are busy disseminating e-mails, too, instructing exactly where to click in order to vote for “A Death in Gaza.” They stress the importance of casting a ballot, since winning may get it renewed exposure, and caution that “once the opposition sees this they will also begin to vote heavily.” Apparently this tactic is not a new one, for the Palestinian e-mail continues: “In the past, we have generally managed to outvote them!”

As bloody as our days have become, it has been said that the real war is the war of the media. Unlike claims that horrific scenes are often staged by cameramen anxious for a scoop, no one dreams of impugning the integrity of the photograph of Al-Durrah and his late son. Yet there seems no limit to the lengths taken to hit home one’s point of view.

The wrong conclusion to reach after reading about the MSNBC poll is to race to one’s computer and to vote either for or against “A Death in Gaza.” An ideological vote either way compromises the voter’s integrity and demeans the dignity of the subjects.

If one picture is worth a thousand words, this one may well be worth a million. Its real lesson is to put all parents in the Middle East on notice. If the perverted hatred which fuels some on both sides overtakes us all, every parent — Arab or Jew — is in jeopardy. Even the parent who tries to keep his children safely inside, out of harm’s way, may some day find himself crouching in front of a stone wall trying to shield a son or daughter, both of them caught in the crossfire. And chances are, no one will be around to take their picture.

What a $230 Million Deal Means to You


After last-minute negotiating, Austria, the United States and Jewish groups signed an agreement two weeks ago under which Austria agreed to pay $210 million, plus about $20 million in interest, to cover victims’ property claims and unpaid insurance polices. The government also will pay an estimated $100 million in social welfare benefits to Austrian Jews.

The agreement will give lifetime pensions to all Austrian Jewish survivors, including about 10,000 living in the United States. In the joint statement issued by all the parties, Austria admitted its “moral responsibility” and said it is “facing up to the light and dark sides of its past and to the deeds of all Austrians, good and evil.”

“No amount of money can undo the tremendous suffering and losses that have been inflicted on our Jewish citizens,” said Austrian Ambassador Ernst Sucharipa at the signing ceremony.

Pieter Launsky-Tieffenthal, Austria’s bright, young and energetic new consul general, recently arrived in L.A. after a four year posting in India. (He met and married documentary filmmaker Aradhana Seth there.) We asked him how the agreement might affect Jewish natives of Austria now living in L.A.

Journal: Who is eligible?

Launsky- Tieffenthal: Former Jewish residents of Austria can apply for financial compensation for rented apartments, small- and medium-sized businesses and other properties, except for art.

Journal: How do they apply?

Launsky-Tieffenthal: They should send a letter via e-mail to nationalfunds@eunet.at
or via fax to 011-4314080389.

Journal: What about for art works?

Launsky-Tieffenthal: That law has already been in place for three years.

Journal: How was this settlement received by the Austrian public?

Launsky-Tieffenthal: This was considered the next step in a three-prong settlement that includes the national fund, restitution and reconciliation for slave laborers. It has gone down well.

Waging Peace


In a small grove of trees on the campus of Pierce College in Woodland Hills this past Sunday, a group of government officials and concerned citizens gathered to honor the victims of hate crimes. About 300 people representing a cross-section of the diverse Los Angeles community attended the Unity Over Hate Rally, all braving the intense August sun to share their support for peace, both locally and across the nation.The rally’s main focus was to commemorate the events of Aug. 10, 1999. The families of those wounded that day in the shooting at the North Valley Jewish Community Center and of Joseph Ileto, the Filipino-American postal worker gunned down by the same alleged perpetrator, came up to the podium and tried to bring meaning to their personal tragedies. Alongside the stage stood a poster of Ileto, with his first name used as an acronym for Join Our Struggle [to] Educate [and] Prevent Hate.Ismael Ileto, Joseph’s brother, gave the morning’s most moving speech, noting that it had been a year of heavy losses for his family.

“It is one thing to (lose) a father from a heart attack. It is another to lose a brother to a senseless attack,” he said, then went on to speak about Joseph’s always being there to offer a helping hand, of his pride in working for the postal service and his love of chess.”He was at the right place at the right time, doing what he was supposed to be doing, delivering mail. His killer, on the other hand, was at the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong set of moral values.”Ileto asked the audience to remember another acronym using the family’s name, Instill Love, Equality and Tolerance for Others, and urged the assembled to keep pressure on government representatives to pass hate crime legislation.

“It is time for us to lead this nation into being a hate-free society. Let’s not lose momentum,” he said.Donna Finkelstein, mother of Mindy Finkelstein, the then-16-year-old camp counselor wounded in the JCC attack, told the crowd she would never forget receiving the call from Holy Cross Hospital that terrible day.”Some Jew-hater had shot at and tried to kill my daughter. I will never understand how anyone could [do this],” she said. “We must never forget that hate crimes exist and must be stopped. Education is the only solution.”

Since the crime, Finkelstein has become active with the Million Mom March. “Working for common-sense gun control and hate crime legislation has helped get my family back on track,” she said.Also asked to speak were Kim Lynch, whose son was killed in a racist attack, and Simon Hollis, who lost his daughter, 21-year-old Renesha Fuller, in a gang-related shooting in 1998.

Sunday’s event was put together by U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) along with organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League, the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission and the Million Mom March. Sherman is a co-author and major proponent of H.R. 1082, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 1999, which was passed by the Senate but has been stalled in the House’s Subcommittee on Crime for more than a year.

In an effort to get the bill moving, Sherman encouraged rally attendees to sign oversized petitions that he intends to bring to the House floor.

At Sunday’s ceremony, Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom of the Simon Wiesenthal Center gave the invocation, and Rev. Zedar Broadus of the San Fernando Valley chapter of the NAACP delivered the benediction. Also present at the rally were virtually every prominent San Fernando Valley lawmaker and local official. Guest speakers included Los Angeles County District Attorney Gil Garcetti, L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, L.A. City Council members Laura Chick and Michael Feuer and City Attorney James Hahn, as well as California Attorney General Bill Lockyer and former Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa.Chief Bernard Parks, looking thin and drawn, said, “What makes hate crimes such an insidious type of crime is that it affects the entire community. When this man attacked the JCC, he went after our two most precious commodities: our children and our religion.”

Rather than inviting the usual long set of speeches, participating officials were asked to share stories about hate crimes that took place in their districts.

Villaraigosa spoke of a Jewish couple who were the targets of a graffiti attack, including swastikas painted on their home; Feuer told a similar tale of a 48-year-old black woman whose home was targeted by white supremacists.

Chick told two stories of racism, one that took place some years ago in which an African-American colleague and her husband tried to move to the West Valley and could not find a real estate agent willing to show them a house, and another more recent story where a young woman of mixed race attempted to rent an apartment next to her college and was told the place was full. A few minutes later, the landlord agreed to rent the apartment to the next applicant, a white man – the young woman’s father.Feuer said such stories called for a vigorous response.

“If our highest aspiration is merely tolerance, that is not good enough,” Feuer said. “Tolerance means there may be something you don’t like about someone but you learn to live with it. What I feel we really need to seek is a higher understanding and appreciation of what each of us has to offer.”

With the Democratic National Convention in town, rally organizers had hoped for appearances from big-name politicians but received only one out-of-town visitor, Rep. Rush Holt (D-New Jersey), who praised Sherman’s efforts to gain passage of H.R. 1082. Holt, a former arms-control expert for the State Department, spoke of the dual need for hate crime legislation and tighter gun control laws.

“The weapon this madman used was a retired police firearm,” Holt noted. “I’ve heard from a lot of police personnel who do not like this situation, and I’ve introduced legislation to keep retired weapons from being resold in this way.”

The topic of gun control resonated with the audience, especially the women of the Million Mom March and Women Against Gun Violence, both of whom had booths at the event. Laura Kelly, whose son Hunter was one of the “daisy chain” of preschoolers led out of the JCC by police the day of the shooting, said she hoped the rally would become an annual gathering.

“We need to keep coming back until we get done what we need to get done,” Kelly said. “People who have a history of mental illness should not be able to get hold of assault weapons and open fire on children.”

To Life!


Benjamin Kadish is a very lucky kid. The most critically injured of the five North Valley Jewish Community Center shooting victims is home and doing well. Despite his lengthy hospital stay and his often painful recovery from his wounds, he is warm and outgoing, even performing a magic trick for a visitor. He chatters happily about his ride home on a fire truck from his latest hospital stay at Kaiser Permanente Woodland Hills, a gift from Engine Company 72, whose personnel were the first on the scene that terrible day last August when all hell broke loose at the JCC.

Benjamin wants to be a firefighter himself someday. On his bed hangs a helmet, courtesy of Engine Co. 72 — a real fire helmet “not a toy one,” he explains.

“All I need now is a fire jacket,” Ben said, with a grin of confidence.

Benjamin faces his next surgery on Oct. 6, his sixth birthday, to remove the colostomy bag he has needed since the shooting. Benjamin will then undergo at least one other procedure to remove the pins in his leg. Currently, he receives physical therapy at home and is visited daily during the week by a tutor from LAUSD, so he will not fall behind his first grade class at the local elementary school.

Although Benjamin will miss celebrating this very special birthday, his family wants to thank the many people who made it possible for Ben to be here for it. Toward that end, the Kadishes are planning a private party Oct. 23 — and they are asking for the community’s help. The Bell Canyon Home Owner’s Association has graciously extended the use of their social hall and Wright Graphics has agreed to provide invitations. The family now seeks donations of refreshments, decorations and other party goods.

“Until now, we have chosen to keep this a private family matter Our energies (were) focused only on Ben’s recovery,” said close family friend Maureen Chase. “Now we want to celebrate the dedication of the paramedics of the Los Angeles Fire Department and the medical staffs of Providence Holy Cross Hospital, Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles and Kaiser Permanente of Woodland Hills for giving Ben his sixth birthday. We want to celebrate Ben in a manner befitting what he has overcome so far.”

Charles Kadish, Benjamin’s father, praised Rabbi Ron Herstik and the congregation of Temple Solael, for their support during this ordeal. The Temple set up a fund following the incident to help offset the cost of Benjamin’s care. Both Charles, an electrical contractor and owner of Above All Electric, and his wife Eleanor have devoted themselves full-time to their son’s recovery.

Kadish said he will never get over the miracle of his son’s survival.

“All these people coming together at just the right time (to save Ben’s life) — it was like a philharmonic orchestra, all playing in tune,” he said.

Those interested in making a donation are asked to contact Sandy Weiss of Temple Solael Sisterhood at (818) 888-1885.


Laborers File Suit for Wartime Injustices


Jews who worked as slave laborers during the Nazi era are one step closer to receiving some measure of compensation for their ordeal.

After months of torturous negotiations, an agreement has been reached to establish a $5.2 billion fund for these victims of the Holocaust, according to several lawyers and Jewish officials involved in the talks.

The money will come from Germany, a group of German companies, and U.S. companies whose German subsidiaries used slave labor during the war, said Gideon Taylor, executive vice president of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which was among the groups negotiating on behalf of the laborers.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is slated to be in Berlin on Friday for the announcement of the agreement.

An issue still to be decided — which may prove as contentious as the negotiations themselves — is the process of distributing the funds to survivors.

The allocation “is still being discussed,” Taylor said.

The German offer would affect some 250,000 concentration camp survivors — 135,000 of them Jewish — who were enslaved by German companies during the war.

It would also compensate between 475,000 and 1.2 million non-Jewish forced laborers from Central and Eastern Europe who were deported and sent to work in Germany.

Payments would also go to other victims who never received reparations.

In addition to the $5.2 billion, claims against German insurers being handled by the International Commission on Holocaust Era Claims also are expected to be included in the fund, though this part of the agreement remained unclear.

The commission, which is headed by former U.S. Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, was scheduled to meet Wednesday in London.

“We hope that this will be a much delayed measure of justice for Holocaust survivors,” Taylor said.

Deputy Treasury Secretary Stuart Eizenstat, who is representing the United States in the negotiations, declined Tuesday to give any details about the agreement before making a formal announcement Friday, according to his office.

The agreement came after months of difficult negotiations.

During the past several days, there was a flurry of activity. On Monday, lawyers for survivors reduced their demand to $5.7 billion. Earlier in the talks, the lawyers had demanded $28 billion. Germany and the group of German companies recently offered $4.2 billion to create the fund.

With the latest — and much reduced — demand from the victims’ representatives, the German side increased its offer and a compromise was achieved.

Michael Witti, an attorney for survivors based in Munich, said Tuesday that even with an agreement, there would be “no feeling of victory on the side of the victims.”

“You can never repay people for what they suffered,” he said.

A similar sentiment was expressed by survivor Hans Frankenthal, 73, who for 22 months during the war worked as a slave laborer at an armaments factory in the Mauthausen concentration camp and at I.G. Farben’s chemical factory near Auschwitz.

An agreement would mean a “guarantee that there would be no more suits,” said Frankenthal. “But you can’t take away” the history of the war.

Frankenthal, who recently published his memoirs, never received any compensation for his years of slave labor.

So far, 17 German firms have signed on to the industry initiative, and about 60 are considering doing so, according to industry spokesman Wolfgang Gibowski.

Among the U.S. firms with German subsidiaries that employed slave labor, a spokesman for Opel AG, the German branch of General Motors, said on Monday that Opel would join the industry fund.

Though the amount of the contribution has not been decided, “we are confessing our responsibility,” Opel spokesman Bruno Seifert said on Monday.

A Ford spokesman told reporters Monday that the company is one of some 200 companies with German operations that are considering taking part in the industry fund.

Publicity over the slave labor issue has achieved mixed results in Germany.

On one hand, a recent opinion poll suggested that the wrangling over money had caused latent German anti-Semitism to resurface.

On the other hand, some Germans have reacted with disgust to the news that many existing German companies whose predecessors used slave laborers are not joining the compensation fund.

A German newspaper this week published a letter from one reader, who hoped that “many, many people will boycott the products” of those German firms unwilling to participate in the fund.

“I for one don’t need any Bahlsen cookies or AGFA film or WFM tableware, nor Miele washing machines.”

JTA correspondent Toby Axelrod in Berlin contributed to this report.


Domestic Violence


Ruth Neal, coordinator of Ezras Bayis, has seen Orthodox womenwho have been bitten, shoved, slapped, punched, spit at, scalded withhot chicken soup, threatened with a gun, pushed down a flight ofstairs. Wood cut by Kathe Kollwitz from “German ExpressionistWoodcuts,” 1994.

 

Ilana*, an observant woman living inLos Angeles, felt isolated because of the myth that domestic violencedoesn’t happen in Orthodox homes. She recalled how she once coweredas her husband held a gun to her head, then fired; when the gunturned out to be empty, he laughed at her fear. For Ilana, it wasonly the latest incident in years of abuse.

Six years ago, the Orthodox Counseling Program(OCP) of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles began a “warm line” tohelp women such as Ilana. But at the time, OCP’s Dr. Michael Heldstaunchly refused to talk about the warm line. “If something isdifficult to accept and you splash it all over the front page,” hesaid, “people will clam up, and you’ll find yourself farther awayfrom the people you want to help.”

Instead, Held and his staff quietly worked behindthe scenes, meeting with many of the more than 100 practicingOrthodox rabbis in Los Angeles, and their efforts have paidoff.

Ruth Neal, coordinator of Ezras Bayis, OCP’sfamily-abuse project, does workshops at synagogues and schoolsthroughout the Southland. The Rabbinical Council of California hasscheduled its first seminar on domestic violence for Feb. 8. JewishFamily Service’s 30-day emergency shelter for battered women, TamarHouse, is kosher-friendly.

And now comes “Nishma” (“We Will Listen”), a24-hour hot line for Orthodox women, with 19 observant volunteercounselors. The hot line (818-623-0300), which began on Jan. 1, is ajoint venture of OCP and JFS’ Family Violence Project. It is fundedwith a $38,200 grant from the Jewish Community Foundation. The grantalso funds a variety of workshops and outreach programs that dealwith domestic violence in the observant community.

What opened the community’s eyes, sources say, wasthe 1993 murder of Rita Parizer, 36, an Orthodox wife and motherwhose strangled body was found wrapped in a sleeping bag in a garageowned by her husband, Shalom, at 325 N. Orange Grove Ave. Ritapreviously had reported a marital rape but refused to press charges,LAPD Det. David Lambkin said. In August 1994, her husband wasconvicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 15 years to lifein prison.

“More than anything, the Parizer case brokethrough the community’s denial,” said Shirley Lebovics, a licensedclinical social worker who is observant and a domestic-violenceexpert. “It made rabbis stop and say, ‘This can happen. This isfrightening. This is real.'”

As for how often abuse occurs in the Orthodoxcommunity, or within the Jewish community at large, that is difficultto say. Many activists, citing an unpublished 1980 master’s thesisfrom Hebrew Union College/USC, say up to 20 percent of all Jewish menabuse their wives — the same as the general population.

But according to The Forward, a University ofRhode Island study concluded that violence in Jewish homes is almost40 percent below the national average. A University of Maryland studyfound the numbers somewhere in between, The Forward said.

Several Orthodox rabbis interviewed believe thatabuse occurs less frequently in observant homes. Religious husbandsare less likely to batter because of Orthodox ethical training andpeer pressure, Young Israel of Century City’s Rabbi Elazar Muskinsaid.

Rabbi Aron Tendler of Shaarey Zedek, however,said, “Abuse has nothing to do with one’s moral upbringing, but withthe [generational] cycle of violence.” Tendler speaks about thephenomenon in a new videotape produced for the Jewish community bythe National Center for the Prevention of Sexual and DomesticViolence.

Whatever their belief about the statistics,however, all the rabbis interviewed agreed that the problem isserious enough to warrant action. One-fifth of OCP’s some 200 annualclients report verbal or physical abuse, after all.

Neal has seen Orthodox women who have been bitten,shoved, slapped, punched, spit at, scalded with hot chicken soup,threatened with a gun, pushed down a flight of stairs. One husbandharassed his pregnant wife until 5 a.m. on a workday, accusing her ofinfidelity. Whenever she nodded off, he would grab her by the hairand order her to “sit up and listen.”

Sarah,* a 28-year-old mother of five, said thather husband was careful to beat her where the bruises wouldn’t show.He injured her so seriously on several occasions that she requiredphysical therapy. On Friday evenings, her family tensely sat at theShabbos table, “walking on eggshells” lest they provoke him.

Yet Sarah was hesitant to speak out because of theprohibition against lashon hara (gossip), and because of themisconception that shalom bayis (peace in the home) is the soleresponsibility of the woman. When she tentatively approached severalrespected women in her community, they told her to speak nicely toher husband, to go home and make an extra-special Shabbosmeal.

When Sarah finally approached the beit din(rabbinical court) for a get (a religious divorce), some rabbiswarned her that it would be almost impossible for her to remarry.Sarah could not bring herself to tell them that her husband wasinappropriately touching her during times of the month prohibited byJewish family purity laws.

Orthodox women, such as Sarah, tend to stay longerin abusive relationships, Neal said, for a number of reasons. Manyare wary of secular counseling; they are concerned thatpsychotherapists might not understand their need to consult arabbi.

Observant wives tend to have many children, so itis harder for them to find someplace to go, especially when theirhusbands control the purse strings. They worry that they won’t beable to keep kosher in a shelter; that they cannot hide from aviolent husband within the small, closely knit Orthodox community;that the stigma of divorce could damage their children’s chances fora good marriage.

At Nishma, the observant volunteers, who aremodern Orthodox through Chassidic, inherently understand thesedifficulties. All have completed 45 hours of training with expertsfrom FVP, the county, the district attorney’s office and therabbinate.

Because Los Angeles’ Orthodox community is sosmall, the Nishma volunteers maintain even higher levels ofconfidentiality than those at secular hot lines; each woman uses analias and is forbidden from mentioning that she works at Nishma toeveryone but her immediate family. When a battered woman telephonesthe hot line, day or night, an FVP counselor patches her through to avolunteer; the hot line has a list of rabbinic referrals if a womandoes not want to speak to her husband’ s rabbi.

Neal, for her part, is working on making TamarHouse more accessible to Orthodox women. She has purified new dishesfor the shelter, which has a locked kosher cabinet with food, dishesand a microwave. Orthodox women have the option of seeing anobservant counselor while at the shelter.

Neal and other experts, meanwhile, have a wishlist for Orthodox battered women in Los Angeles. They would like tosee a counseling program for Orthodox batterers and for existingpremarital classes to outline warning signs of spousal abuse. Theywant more training for rabbis, who, for example, should know thatcouples counseling is contraindicated in cases of domestic violence.Lebovics would like to see a specifically Jewish emergency shelter inLos Angeles.

“When I counsel couples, I tell the woman, infront of her intended husband, that if he ever raises a hand to her,she should pick herself up and leave until the problem is resolved,”Tendler said. “And if a woman is unsafe, it is incumbent upon everyrabbi to pull out all the stops, including saying from the bimah thata man is not welcome in the community, because he abuses hiswife.”

* not their real names


Pursuing Holocaust Claims


A new sophisticated computer database may help the heirs of Holocaust victims receive the benefits of insurance policiestaken out by long-deceased relatives.

Major European insurance companies have refused torelease benefits to such policies, believing them heir-less. Butparticipants at the conference of the Association of JewishGenealogical Societies held in Century City last week announced thatthe large scale database project, called “The Family Tree of theJewish People,” will help track and document the survivingdesecndents of Holocaust victims. AJGS and its president, Dr.Sallyann Sack, are already involved in the project, along with theDouglas E. Goldman Genealogy Center at the Museum of the Diaspora inTel Aviv. Washington state Insurance Commissioner Deborah Senn, whohelped lead the initial investigation into Holocaust survivors’claims, said the database will, “link families around the world tothis pursuit of justice.”– Staff Report

Guilt and Responsibility


Since the barbarous July 30 bombings that claimed the lives of 13innocent Israelis, we have heard and read the following claim: Notonly was the atrocity predictable, but it was also a direct result ofIsrael’s recent actions. I strongly take issue with this.

This argument lacks both political realism and morality. Lack ofpolitical realism — because it suggests that terrorism serves as acatalyst in the peace process. We know, however, that after six yearsof direct peace talks, political disputes cannot be resolved by useof violence. Lack of morality — because it contributes to therevictimization of the victim.

In February and March of 1996, in a quite different politicalclimate, a wave of suicide-bombing attacks traumatized Israel andclaimed the lives of 65 innocent people. We heard that Hamas was outto derail the fast-advancing peace process. Now, after the peaceprocess has been slowed down, we are told that Israel is to blame forthis latest terrorist attack.

Does anyone remember the Sharem el-Sheik Summit? Leaders from allover the world, headed by President Clinton, gathered following awave of four attacks on Israelis; they all pledged to prevent futureterrorism. Arafat was there.

A reminder: From September 1993 through all of 1995, the peaceprocess was in full swing. Forty-one donor nations pledged $2.4billion in aid to the newly formed Palestinian Authority. The futurelooked bright, yet there was terrorism. There was no Har Homa housingproject, yet there was bloodshed.

Since the inception of the political process between Israel andits Arab neighbors, it was clear to us that in order to achieve peacein the Middle East, we urgently needed to bring about a profound anddramatic change in our region’s political culture, from a belligerentculture that believes in power and violence to one ofnon-belligerency that believes in compromise and peacefulcoexistence.

One wonders if this message of steadfastly rejecting violence wasabsorbed by the Palestinians. Clearly, the answer is no. Since thesigning of the Declaration of Principles in September 1993, 231Israelis have been killed as a result of acts of terror.

The recent deadly attack at the marketplace could have beenprevented by Arafat. We know, for a fact, that Arafat has the abilityto destroy terrorism. While we are fully aware of the fact that it isvirtually impossible to completely and successfully preventterrorism, we demand that a 100-percent effort to combat terrorism beinvested by Arafat and his Palestinian Authority.

Indeed, the July 30 twin bombings were carried out by Islamicextremists. Hamas, an Islamic terrorist organization, tookresponsibility for the attack on the Thursday thereafter. We know whois responsible. The attack, and the conditions that enabled it, tookplace in a militant political atmosphere — one that accepts violenceas a legitimate form of political discourse. Much of the blame shouldbe put on Arafat, who cultivated and encouraged this atmosphere.

It is not only obvious that violence and peace are mutuallyexclusive, but it is equally obvious that one cannot be an honestpartner for peace while countenancing terrorism. No nation, includingthe United States, is immune to the threat of this type of terror.Only two weeks ago, a potential mass disaster was averted in New Yorkas terrorists were apprehended while planning a major strike against”American and Jewish targets in New York.”

Words, however heartfelt, are not enough. We expect thePalestinian Authority to take the necessary measures to restore ourconfidence in its ability and desire to combat terror.

Yoram Ben Ze’ev serves as Israel’s consul general for theSouthwestern region of the United States. He can be reached atisrainfo@primenet.com.