grossdog1 posted this video on YouTube during the Writer’s Strike.
A mind is a terrible thing to waste.
” border = 0 width = ‘300’ vspace = ‘8’ hspace = ‘8’ align = ‘right’>collaboration is sure to stoke the imaginations of Yiddishists and Jewish film buffs alike. And also like “Munich,” it’s sure to engender some controversy, too.
Set in Sitka, a fictional Yiddish semi-state in Alaska created to shelter Jewish refugees after Israel’s lost war of independence, “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union” is a noirish crime novel in the tradition of Raymond Chandler. Sitka is a place filled with Yiddish pimps and prostitutes, drug addicts and degenerates. Where the Chasidic kingmakers are the scheming villains, and the hard-living detectives turn out to have hearts of gold.
The plot turns on the murder of the wayward son of a Chasidic rebbe, a drug-addled chess prodigy found dead in his room at a seedy hotel. Meyer Landsman, the hard-boiled homicide detective investigating the murder, gets more than he bargained for — as noir detectives always do — when he uncovers a plot by Jewish zealots to ignite a war in the Middle East and retake Jerusalem.
Richly conceived and phenomenally detailed, Chabon’s Sitka is home to just the sort of improbable characters that populate Coen brothers films. It is the Coen brothers, after all, who gave the world The Dude, the hero of their 1998 film “The Big Lebowski,” a blissed-out stoner and bowling devotee who finds himself negotiating the return of a bimbo wife from her supposed kidnappers.
And their love of genre films, particularly screwball comedies and film noir, seems perfectly suited to a novel that contains distinct elements of both.
“The Yiddish Policemen’s Union” was released to critical acclaim in 2007. But among some Jewish writers, the book created a sense of unease, and even barely suppressed outrage, some of which is sure to resurface when the film is released.
Claiming Chabon was sending a clear anti-Zionist message, Ruth Wisse, a noted Yiddish scholar at Harvard University, demolished the novel in a withering essay in Commentary magazine, calling it a “sustained act of provocation,” among other denigrations; Commentary’s editor-in-waiting John Podhoretz and journalist Samuel Freedman offered similar criticisms of the novel. A decidedly less scholarly view was expressed in a New York Post story, headlined “Novelist’s Ugly View of Jews.”
One can only imagine what these critics will have to say once the Coen brothers, with their Jewish fluency and twisted sense of humor, get their hands on Chabon’s prose.
The upcoming film is being produced by Scott Rudin, who reportedly bought the rights to the book five years ago, before it was even completed, and the film is not expected before mid-2009. But industry skeptics are rightly wary. The film version of one of Chabon’s earlier novels, the award-winning “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay,” has been reported to be in the works for years, with direction by another famous Jewish filmmaker, Sydney Pollack.
But regardless of whether the film version of “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union” ever sees the light of day, the news alone has been enough to set the blogosphere on fire with overheated speculation.
“This is the greatest fit ever,” one Israel-based blogger heaved. “I can’t picture any other director tackling this book and doing it right. What a great fit. Yiddish Noir!!!”
” vspace = ‘8’ hspace = ‘8’ border = ‘0’ align = ‘right’ alt=”Michelle Citrin”>a decade ago as a student at Rutgers University. Her experience traveling to Israel on one of the first Birthright trips at the start of the second Intifada inspired her to write “Dark Refrain,” a song about looking for a time of peace.
Shai Haddad, a.k.a. SHI 360, was also stirred musically, turning to hip-hop to express his feelings. After making aliyah in 2006, he wrote what has become the Birthright Israel theme song, “Home.”
Haddad now performs the song in front of thousands of people at Birthright’s “Mega Event” concerts.
In a move that echoes this fusion of cultural exposure and music, the Taglit-Birthright Israel Alumni Association, recently rebranded as Birthright Israel Next, has launched the Israelity Tour — a seven-city West Coast concert extravaganza aimed at exposing young American Jews to Israeli culture, promoting the free 10-day educational trips to Israel for 18- to 26-year-olds, as well as cultivating the connections alumni of the trip have already made to the Holy Land and one another.
Israelity kicked off in Seattle on Feb. 6 and focuses primarily on major Jewish communities where Birthright trip registration rates are significantly lower when compared with those from East Coast communities. The goal is to make Birthright a household name, said Sydney Henning, the group’s national initiatives director.
Birthright says Los Angeles registration rates for trips are fairly high among West Coast cities. Still the organization considers Los Angeles an important destination to augment its alumni programming. The Los Angeles leg of the tour will play the Avalon in Hollywood on Feb. 16.
Flipping the Birthright model on its head, the Israelity Tour is “Where West Coast Meets Middle East.” Instead of bringing Americans to Israel, the tour brings Israel to America, with music performances by Israeli hip-hop luminary Subliminal a.k.a. Kobi Shimoni and his seven-member crew — the T.A.C.T. Family (Tel Aviv City Team) — funk/hip-hop band Coolooloosh and folk singer Citrin.
“I really believe in what Birthright is doing,” Shimoni said in a telephone interview from Seattle. “I respect their efforts, and I want to help in any way that I can.”
for the Isreality blog, visit
Things are a little tense in Israel these days—even when you’re just shopping!
A group from the Jewish Federation of Nashville went to visit Jews in Ethiopia who were awaiting aliyah. This is their story
They wandered for 2700 years, but now 200 Indian Jews, Bnai Menashe—remnants of one of the Lost Tribes—have come home to Israel.
Joyous prayerful singing a la Rav Shlomo Carlebach? Sure. Now how about some prayerful dancing!
Their family has been there for 1000 years, eating Chinese food on Christmas and all year ‘round—the Last Jews of Shan-Chai
L.A. Israeli Newspaper Closes Shop
Shalom L.A., the Hebrew-language newsweekly that catered to Los Angeles’ large Israeli community, ceased production last month after 19 years. The paper had been largely subsidized by its owners, Isaac and Miri Shepher, until they transferred ownership to editor Moshe Barzilai in November.
“We basically donated it to him,” Miri Shepher said. “But he didn’t have the money to continue. He held out for four weeks, and then that is it.”
Barzilai said he is talking with a few investors about reorganizing and re-launching the weekly, which advertised a readership of 45,000 but did not provide audited circulation numbers. Barzilai declined further comment.
Shepher, who with her husband owns Encino-based Life Alert, said that every month the paper was in the red, costing her family more money than she could tabulate.
“I don’t want to know either. Lots of millions,” she said. “I should have donated the money to the State of Israel instead.”
— Brad A. Greenberg, Senior Writer
Israeli Olympic Gymnastics Hopeful Coming to Los Angeles Irina Risenson Corbeil
With a suitcase full of ribbons, clubs and ropes, the Israeli national rhythmic gymnastics champion is heading for Los Angeles, where she will compete in the LA Lights Tournament of Champions Jan. 24-27 in Culver City.
Hungarian-born Irina Risenzon, 19, placed seventh in the 2007 world championship in Patras, Greece, in September, making her the first Israeli to qualify for the Olympics in rhythmic gymnastics.
Rhythmic gymnastics combines acrobatics, ballet and athleticism in five events, in which gymnasts slink and scamper across the floor with hula hoops, balls, clubs, jump ropes and the most famous of the rhythmic apparatus, the ribbon stick that snakes and swirls through the air.
Rhythmic gymnasts train and stretch to develop the hand-eye coordination, grace and exceptional flexibility — feet and head often meet — required for the sport, which has been an Olympic event since the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Games.
Risenzon, from the Holon municipal team, has placed in the top 10 in world events for the past several years and is a serious contender for the title at the Beijing Olympics this summer. The Israeli team placed sixth all around in a ranking round in Beijing last month.
Risenzon has become a star in Israel, especially in her hometown of Holon, which is building a training center in her honor. A junior level gymnast from Israel will also be competing in LA Lights, the last major competition before the Olympics. Last year, Risenzon placed third all-around at LA Lights, which is hosted by the Los Angeles School of Gymnastics in Culver City.
Competitors from 14 countries, including 2004 Olympic champions and the current Russian world champions, will compete at the Veteran’s Memorial Auditorium, 4117 Overland Ave. The Olympic level gymnasts will compete Saturday, Jan. 26, from 4 to 8 p.m. The finals will be held Sunday, Jan. 27, from 4 to 8 p.m.
The public is invited to meet the top 10 competitors at an event at the American Girl Place at The Grove on Thursday, Jan. 24, from 3:30 to 5:50 p.m.
For the competition schedule and tickets, visit
http://www.lalights2008.com. For more information, visit http://www.rhythmic.co.il/
— Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Education Editor
Iranian Jews Get First Shaliach From Israel
Los Angeles’ Iranian Jewish community received its first Israeli shaliach (emissary) in November. Maccabi World Union’s Nave Chupkov will work out of the Eretz-SIAMAK Cultural Center in Tarzana for the next two years. Sponsored by Neria Yomtoubian Foundation and Eretz-SIAMAK, Chupkov’s mission is to help encourage Judaism and reinforce support for Israel among young Jews in the Iranian American community, as well as the wider Jewish community.
“My goals are to build a tradition for young people to attend our events on the Jewish holidays, develop leadership skills and also encourage young professionals to attend our trips that combine fun and education,” Chupkov said.
For his part, Chupkov has had some success attracting many young Iranian Jews to his events during December and has trips to Big Bear and Israel planned for the coming months.
“I am very excited about working in the Persian community, and the warmth I’ve received from them is incredible,” Chupkov said.
Eretz-SIAMAK will host a Tu B’Shevat brunch and tree-planting event on Jan. 20. For more information, call Chupkov at (818) 342-9303.
— Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer
Kids Invited to Develop Israel Ad Campaign
Israel’s Ministry of Tourism is asking American children to help develop its latest publicity material. To help promote Israel’s 60th anniversary, kids are invited to design an image for a postcard that will serve as an invitation to festivities surrounding the anniversary.
The 6-by-9 inch image can be done in a variety of media — from crayon to collage — and should reflect what it means for Israel to be 60 years old and why people should visit. Winners will receive a prize package of Israeli goodies and have their essays published in Babaganewz magazine and Web site. Entries must be received by Feb. 8.
For official rules and entry form, visit
Graduate students in business or public administration interested in working for the Jewish community are eligible for fellowships sponsored by Professional Leaders Project (PLP), a 3-year-old organization dedicated to helping young people develop as lay professionals and lay leaders in the Jewish community. In addition to financial support, the 10 fellows will receive mentoring and access to Jewish organization.
“We expect the PLP fellows to galvanize the American Jewish community and to challenge the status quo,” said Arianna Jeret, executive director of the PLP Academic Fellows program. “We are not content to merely train competent professionals; we want to develop successful leaders.”
Fellowships are now available. For information, visit http://www.jewishleaders.net.
Jewish Learning Academy Expands Mommy and Me Program
The Jewish Learning Academy, a Chabad organization on Pico Boulevard, is expanding its Mommy and Me program offering music, movement, art and drama in Jewish environment. Kreative Kids, for children aged 3 month to 3 years, will hold an open house Sunday, Jan. 13, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m., and classes begin Jan. 22.
For more information, visit http://www.jlaonline.org.
China has been the home of Jews for thousands of years, and there are still some families there ….
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It didn’t make Britain’s Top Ten Christmas records, but it’s still a killer version: Lauren Rose sings ‘Hava Nagila’ like you’ve never heard it—or danced it—before!
You are to be commended for initiating the
Tribe section (“A Moral Dilemma: ‘No Country for Old Men,'” “A Rational Jerusalem”). The two articles printed in the Dec. 7 issue were equal to anything published in The Journal. Both the articles were well reasoned and had superior writing. It is a great page.
Masse Bloomfield Via e-mail
I was appalled at the articles regarding the
Orthodox justification for murdering innocent animals in the name of some obscure tradition (“Schecting,” Dec. 21).
It is amazing to me that in this century, anyone would claim that animals do not feel pain. That was understandable more than 5,000 years ago, when animal sacrifice was practiced. However, we have learned a lot since then about the nature of animals — that they have emotions and feel pain, fear, terror, as well as love and joy.
Goats and cows and most other animals are sweet, docile and loving, but obviously, the participants in this gruesome, cruel activity have no interest in learning what we now know about the nature of animals but, rather, justify their cruelty by calling it a tradition.
If slitting throats is so painless, why don’t we use it when we invoke the death penalty for humans? One can only imagine the furor and outrage that would create.
I think our animal cruelty laws should be enforced, and those participants should not be exempt from punishment.
Arlene Cohen Los Angeles
In describing a kosher slaughter scene, Natalie Rosenstock cites a rabbinical student’s deepened belief and “respect for the way Jews do this” and his conviction of the shochet’s “holy intentions” (“Watching Ritual Slaughter Generates Strong Emotions”).
There is nothing holy about slicing into a sentient being’s throat and killing it, all for a moment of crass sensual gratification. Shechita is rife with blood, death and, as some studies suggest, the suffering of the animal.
Jews who pride themselves on practicing the precepts of compassion and mercy have no business deriving pleasure from such a base, barbaric act, no matter what the theological justifications given for it.
Talia A. Shulman Via e-mail
Congratulations to Elaine Sandberg and her new book (“ Newest Mah-Jongg Players ‘Crak’ Stereotypes – Bam!” Dec. 21). Yes, mah-jongg has definitely cracked age and racial barriers. The game has grown in popularity, as Jay Firestone points out in his article in Lifecycles.
Last August, I accompanied my husband who participated and lectured at the International Association of Yiddish Clubs (IAYC) conference held in Cleveland. It was a four-day event, and each day at lunch time (we hurried to finish our meal early) and again often at 10 p.m., four women met in the lobby of the hotel and played “Yiddish Mahj.”
One of the women suggested we play using Yiddish in place of English, and so we did. Cracks became “shpaltn,” dots became “pinlekh,” a red dragon was called royte drakon and the list goes on. My Yiddish-speaking husband, Hale Porter, corrected our pronunciation and vocabulary list, and we had so much fun speaking Yiddish mahj.
Spreading the word and game even further, I am teaching mah-jongg to seniors who reside at Beverly Carmel Assisted Living in West Los Angeles. It’s also good for the memory and to help people to use their brain cells.
Thank you to The Jewish Journal, Elaine Sandberg and American Jewish University for spreading the word.
Sydney Turk Porter Via e-mail H.O.P.E. for Many
This Dec. 26 marked 20 years since my wife died. I have found a new life, although it wasn’t easy, having my first life turned upside down. This new life would not have been possible had it not been for the almost two years I spent in the H.O.P.E. Foundation Bereavement Program in 1988 and 1989.
It was a special thrill to read your article on the foundation, knowing that it continues to do its incalculably good work (“
H.O.P.E for Bereaved, Even Years Later,” Dec. 21).
I thank the program; I thank Jane Ulman for her wonderful article, and I thank Dr. Marilyn Stolzman for her dedication to the program and for helping me cope with a great loss.
Sidney Lam Los Angeles MPAC Convention Thank you for covering the MPAC convention (“ Muslim Americans Feeling Snubbed in Presidential Race,” Dec. 21).
I believe that efforts toward examining each others point of views can only help bring peace and harmony if the reporting is balanced.
When it comes to Muslims, it is to be noted that few people from the Jewish community have made any significant efforts to do deep listening. The whole relationship between the two groups remains overwhelmed by the Arab-Israeli conflict.
With prevailing attitudes of mistrust, suspicion and even downright hostility between the two, only the courageous efforts of people like Rabbi Jacob can give us hope and direction. And yet your report failed to acknowledge his inspiring message.
It is my fervent hope that your esteemed Journal will take into consideration the need to acknowledge any and all efforts that embellish hope and harmony between these locked-in-conflict offspring of Abraham.
Dr. Nazir Khaja Chairman Islamic Information Service
After reading the article, I had to make sure it was The Jewish Journal — not a CAIR newsletter (“Muslim Americans Feeling Snubbed in Presidential Race,” Dec. 21). Are you an American arm of Hezbollah or Hamas? Just because you are a bunch of leftist Jews, don’t think the they will spare you from slaughter.
If you know history, which is questionable, remember the leftist/pacifist Jews that opened the Jerusalem gates to the Arab armies during the ’48 war and got their collective heads cut off for their naÃÂ¯vetÃï¿½(c) and stupidity. World War II, how many Jews had to die because of naivete, pacifistic rabbis and cowardice? 6,000,000. It wasn’t until the Polish ghetto that some got brave and killed a lot of Nazis.
Now you want to go through that all over again because you never learn that the only thing evil understands is power, not capitulation. There are two entities in a battle — the victor and the vanquished — and we are in a battle for civilization, and I certainly don’t want to be among the vanquished.
The second article was “Q&A With Rep. Keith Ellison.” The Qs were all questions that you would expect from Larry King or Barbara Walters — not one question of substance.
What is wrong with you people? Are you like lemmings jumping into the sea? Muslims are the enemy of the Jews, and that isn’t going to change until they change — not the Jew.
If you ever read the Quran, which I doubt, Sura 9 says it all: Lie, cheat and eventually convert or kill the infidel. You must confront the fact that you are the infidel.
If an illegitimate Austrian named Adolph Schicklegruber was running as a Democrat for high office, you people would vote for him and make excuses profusely for his, shall we say, eccentricities. That, my friends is a mental illness!
Being a leftist, progressive, Democrat or what ever you want to call yourselves these days is not a political affiliation but rather a severe mental disorder with suicidal ideation. Wake up before you condemn yourselves to the ash heap of civilization and oblivion.
I feel pity for you and yours.
Sam Snyder Via e-mail
Perhaps you guys don’t want to publish unflattering letters anymore. It is unbelievable that you’d handle Keith Ellison with such kid gloves. The man is supported by CAIR (a known supporter of Hamas), and he sat unresponsive while a Nation of Islam leader spewed anti-Semitism.
In your Dec. 7 issue, you put a woman (Madonna) on the cover who said regarding the idea of converting to Judaism: “Don’t make me sick.” (“Not So Weird”). Are you the self-hating Jewish Journal or maybe just the peace-now, we only see our rosy glass-eyed view of life journal?
J. Sand Los Angeles
Saudis’ Support of Terror
May I commend you on the first intelligent commentary I have read anywhere that seems to be on track to understand the problem our world faces related to terrorism and the concomitant issue in the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation (“
It’s Time to Act on Saudis’ Support of Terror,” Dec. 21).
As an engineer (semiretired) and a winning poker player, I know that you can only solve a tough problem when you understand the root cause. (Dealing with the effects/symptoms can, at best, only ameliorate the situation, not solve the problem.)
Your bill of particulars neatly sums up the six facts of evidence. I realize that the situation is complicated by issues such as cultural differences and the ability of despots to control the masses in many countries.
Nevertheless, I agree that the rulers of Saudi Arabia must be convinced that it would be right to take positive action and stop playing games with the free world. I agree that it is important to make the Saudis see the light.
Perhaps, we first have to convince our own leaders that your recommendation is vital to solving the terrorist threat problem and so many related problems.
George Epstein Via e-mail
Correction The article "LACMA Gets Contemporary" (Arts in LA, Winter 2007) contained the following errors and omissions: The Los Angeles County Museum of Art's community weekend for the opening of the Broad Contemporary Art Museum is Feb. 16-18. The museum's Pavilion for Japanese Art was the last work by Bruce Goff, not one of the last. Neither donor Eli Broad nor the project's architect, Renzo Piano, chose the name "Transformation" for the masterplan for the museum's reconfiguration, it came from the museum's staff. Richard Riordan's wife is named Nancy Daly Riordan, not Linda Daly. The museum's associate vice president for press relations is Barbara Pflaumer.
THE JEWISH JOURNAL welcomes letters from all readers. Letters should be no more than 200 words and must include a valid name, address and phone number. Letters sent via e-mail must not contain attachments. Pseudonyms and initials will not be used, but names will be withheld on request. We reserve the right to edit all letters. Mail: The Jewish Journal, Letters, 3580 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1510, Los Angeles, CA 90010; e-mail: email@example.com; or fax: (213) 368-1684.
Quick, name one thing that 99 percent of all American Jews agree on. Impossible, right? We are the People who pride ourselves on our contentiousness, who revel in our stiff-neckedness, who love to remind the world that where there are two Jews, you’ll find three opinions.
But it’s not always so.
According to the American Jewish Committee’s 2007 annual Survey of American Jewish Opinion, Jews are actually just one percentage point short of total agreement on a topical political issue: energy independence.
“In your opinion,” went one survey question, “how important is it that the United States achieve energy independence? Is it very important, somewhat important, or not important at all?”
Eighty-two percent of respondents answered, “Very important,” and 17 percent answered, “Somewhat important.”
I’m no math whiz, but by my reckoning that means 99 percent of American Jews recognize that America’s dependence on foreign oil must end. The reasons, clear enough to many during the first oil crisis in 1973, have only become more painfully obvious.
First, there is the fact that burning fossil fuels speeds up global warming — bad for the Jews and the other 99.75 percent of humanity.
And bad for Israel. In its 2000 report to the UN Convention on Climate Change, Israel listed the dire consequences it faced as a result of global warming. Drought, eroded beaches (goodbye tourism), hotter summers, crop devastation. The list has eerie echoes of the Ten Plagues, except no one will be debating whether it really happened.
But say your concern over Israel doesn’t extend to what will happen to it a whole 10 years from now. Say you only care about the threats it faces today.
Well, then: More immediately, our oil dependence forces us to do business with anti-democratic wing nuts like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Wahabi-loving, Israel-hating Arab regimes. Furthermore, America’s lack of leadership in developing replacement technologies for oil drives nascent powerhouses like China and Russia into the arms of Iran, another enemy of Israel. You’re worried about Iranian nukes? Choke off the money that regime gets to pay for them.
“As the U.S. continues to invest in the oil economies of the Middle East and the Muslim world,” writes Gal Luft, director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, “these economies continue to use their oil revenues to spread radical Islam, promote anti-Semitic and anti-American ideas and, in some cases, develop unconventional weapons. Every time an American goes to a gas station he is sending money to America’s enemies.”
We know this: A portion of every dollar we spend at the pump flows directly to the people trying to destroy Israel and kill us. Ninety-nine percent of us know this. And yet, we just keep on pumping.
I spend more time than most people in the parking lots of Jewish institutions: Synagogues, day schools, country clubs, agencies. You would think that if we all agree that high fuel consumption is bad for the Jews, our parking lots wouldn’t still be full of low- or even mid-mileage SUVs and luxury cars. But they are. You would think if 99 percent of Jews want energy independence, temple boards would reserve precious parking lot space for members who drive high-MPG cars. But they don’t.
“Self-interest is a powerful root from which all sorts of idealism can grow,” the philosopher Michael Walzer once wrote. In other words, it’s not noble to be green, it’s irresponsible not to be. Driving a gas guzzling car is anti-Israel. If you show up in your Mercedes M-class or Range Rover or Tahoe to a StandWithUs or AIPAC meeting, you might as well have stayed home. Mazel tov: The gas you just wasted to show your support for Israel will help fund a Hamas operative in Gaza.
Our children might look back and wonder, rightly, if we have some kind of death wish. They might ask how we can so fervently and with such unanimity believe one thing, yet so blithely do another. There is a relative handful of us who have switched to hybrids or biodiesels, but for the majority, the gap between what we believe and what we do is as deep and wide as, say, the Persian Gulf.
But no one’s perfect, you say. For those of you devoted to Mercedes — worst average fleet mileage besides Chrysler — there is another way to help. Two Jewish organizations have made energy independence the cornerstone of their activism, and you can help them.
The American Jewish Committee has been deeply involved in its Green Project, to transform itself into a model of energy efficiency and conservation. Its Fuel-Efficient Vehicle Bonus Program provides cash incentives to full-time AJC employees to purchase new hybrid cars. It’s a program that synagogues and day schools can emulate, offering even symbolic discounts to parents who drop their kids off from a hybrid.
Meanwhile, the American Jewish Congress spearheaded the inclusion of the U.S.-Israel Energy Cooperation Act (USIECA) as a provision of comprehensive energy legislation (the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007) signed by President Bush into law. The bipartisan act makes available millions of dollars to develop joint Israeli-U.S. projects in alternative sources of energy, including solar, hydrogen and biodiesel.
The idea for the provision was a natural, according to the AJCongress’ Gary Ratner. Israel and the United States share technological expertise and geopolitical interest in these alternative energy sources, he told me. “We need to be doing more of this,” he said.
Yes, we do. And, what has become unavoidably clear, given the state of Israel and the state of the earth, “we” means “you.”
Or, at least 99 percent of you.
Rob Eshman shows off his new bio-diesel-powered station wagon (March, 2007)
Israeli music sensation Idan Raichel, creator of The Idan Raichel Project shares his thoughts with Danielle Berrin of JewishJournal.com before his Nov. 2007 performance at UCLA’s Royce Hall.
You’ve seen ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ scores of times, but have you ever seen it in Japanese?
Australian TV news crew visits Jews in TehranFollowing the revelation in October that $10,000 per person was being offered by a Chicago-based Christian-Jewish nonprofit to encourage Jews to leave Iran and immigrate to Israel, organizers of the project in Israel and the United States admitted to being disappointed with the lack of response to their efforts.
The offer will end this month at the conclusion of the one-year project.
Begun in January by the
International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ), which has offices in Chicago and Jerusalem, the program offers funding through the Jewish Agency in Israel, which spearheaded it. IFCJ officials reported that of the 20,000 Jews still living in Iran, only 125 have accepted the funds.
As tensions between Iran and the United States and Israel have become increasingly heated, the IFCJ has stepped up efforts to promote Jewish immigration, said Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, IFCJ director in Jerusalem.
“If there is an attack by either the United States or Israel on Iran, it seems clear to me that even the Iranian Jews know it would be too late at that point for them to get out or not be persecuted,” Eckstein said. “In my opinion, they are playing a very dangerous game of not committing to come out to Israel.”
During a visit to Orange County last month, Eckstein said his organization initially offered $5,000 a person but increased the amount to $10,000 when the response among Jews in Iran was tepid.
The Jewish Agency has an ongoing program offering $13,000 for every Jewish family leaving Iran, but Eckstein said his organization was asked to provide additional funds per person as a bonus incentive to help those Jews who would otherwise be unable to support themselves if they left the country.
“I think there are some stereotypes [in the greater American Jewish community] that these [Iranian Jewish] people are rich; that they’ll only come to Israel to be rich — when in fact, these people come out with nothing because of the inflation,” Eckstein said. “And their money is worthless when they leave Iran. But the $10,000 has been enough to tip the scales for them to make the move, because it will help them get on their feet in Israel.”
For the past 25 years, the IFCJ has given millions of dollars solicited from evangelical Christians in the United States to help Jews immigrate to Israel from the former Soviet Union, India, Argentina and the United States. Some evangelicals believe that the return of Jews to Israel will hasten Christ’s second coming.
For their part, Los Angeles-based Iranian Jewish groups said they were unaware and not involved in the project undertaken by the Jewish Agency and IFCJ. While local Iranian Jewish leaders declined to comment on the immigration project for fear that their statements might be used by the Iranian government to seek retribution on their brethren in Iran, they said they were concerned for the safety of Iran’s Jews.
“Considering the rhetoric that emanates from Iran, anyone who knows anything about Jewish history should be extremely concerned about the future of that community,” said Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the Iranian American Jewish Federation based in Los Angeles.
Eckstein said the Jewish Agency only approached Iranian Jewish groups in New York for assistance, and the community provided $200,000 for the project. Iranian Jews in Los Angeles were not approached for any financial support.
Frank Nikbakht, an Iranian Jewish activist and director of the L.A.-based Committee for Minority Rights in Iran, said a substantial number of Jews continue to stay in Iran because they feel they will face economic and cultural challenges if they leave the country.
“Some successful and resourceful Jews [in Iran] have either a false sense of security or are willing to take risks, hoping to outlast the regime,” Nikbakht said, “while some have converted to Islam or other ‘safer’ religions, such as Christianity, to help them survive.”
According to a 2004 report prepared by Nikbakht, since 1979 at least 14 Jews have been murdered or assassinated by the regime’s agents, at least two Jews have died while in custody and 11 Jews have been officially executed by the regime.
The issue of Jewish immigration from Iran is particularly sensitive for local Iranian Jewish leaders. Since the early 1980s, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) has helped thousands of Jews escaping Iran to resettle in Israel and the United States. For the most part, its work has gone on under the media radar in order not to embarrass the Iranian government. The process varies for different people and can take anywhere from nine months to a couple of years.
Eckstein said his organization did not go to the media about the project until after Jewish Agency officials gave interviews to the Israeli newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, in October. A Jewish Agency spokesperson in Israel downplayed the potential danger of publicizing efforts to bring Jews out of Iran.
“Publicizing this project does not jeopardize the lives of the Iranian Jews; the opposite is true, and it shows that Jews worldwide care about their situation,” said Michael Jankelowitz, a Jewish Agency spokesman.
Eckstein said the Iranian government did not object to the Jewish Agency and IFCJ efforts after seeing that the Jewish community in Iran was unwilling to leave the country. In fact, members of Iran’s regime have used the lack of Jewish emigration to Israel for propaganda purposes, including releasing stories on state-run television and wire news outlets, showing Jews speaking favorably about the regime.
Jewish leaders in Iran criticized the offer made by the IFCJ in a statement, saying, “The identity of Iranian Jews is not tradable for any amount of money. Iran’s Jews love their Iranian identity and their culture, so threats and this immature political enticement will not achieve their aim of wiping out the identity of Iranian Jews.”
Local Iranian Jewish leaders said any comments made by their brethren in Iran to the international media lacks credibility, because such statements are often made under duress from the Iranian regime.
I spent the last week of November in Israel and watched the Annapolis show unfold through the lens of Israeli TV. As expected, everyone in Israel watched that show with both nervous curiosity and cynical dismissal.
But the event that truly captured the public imagination and managed to elevate people’s spirit above the mundane was one that occurred 200 miles away from Annapolis, in a place called Lake Success, and it took place 60 years ago, Nov. 29, 1947.
This year, Israel celebrated with royal fanfare the historical U.N. partition vote that paved the way for her creation. Ambassadors of the 33 countries that voted in favor of the 1947 partition were invited to a widely televised event in Rishon LeTzion, as were family members of the U.N. ambassadors from those nations, and the country immersed itself in a sober, yet inspiring historic reflection of its past, present and future.
As one who was privileged to personally experience the outburst of joy that seized world Jewry on Nov. 29, 1947, I was somewhat dismayed to discover, upon returning to Los Angeles last week, that this event passed virtually unnoticed in our community, including in the pages of this paper. Laboring to understand, I realized that another historical event, perhaps of no less impact, was also forgotten by the pages of this Journal — the Balfour declaration, whose 90-year anniversary fell on Nov. 2, 2007.
World Jewry, so I concluded, must be splitting before our own eyes into two camps, the history-minded and the history-mindless, and for some strange reason the former tends to concentrate in Israel, the latter in the United States. Thank God, I consoled myself, that we still have Chanukah to unite us — how forward-thinking it was for those rabbis who canonized a chunk of Jewish history as a religious holiday, and thus protected it from our collective amnesia.
But upon reading the Journal’s Holiday issue (Nov. 30) I realized that Chanukah, too, was splitting before our eyes, and while Israelis were singing in one voice, “We fought the Greeks and the victory is ours,” and their kindergartens were re-enacting the re-establishment of Jewish sovereignty, American Jews were agonizing over Christopher Hitchens’ discovery that the Maccabees were a gang of Jewish Taliban. One essay even suggested that Chanukah should be cleansed from its historical contaminants and focus on the spiritual, the miracle, the Temple, the candles, the latkes, the dreidel, anything but history, anything but freedom and sovereignty.
Indeed, history is ugly and dreidels are beautiful.
Continuing this sterilization of the Jewish experience one can further argue that the notion of Jewish sovereignty, because it risks violence, civil wars and other public embarrassments, is foreign to the Jewish spirit, so, the only true carriers of “Judaism’s spiritual values” are Neturai Karta and Noam Chomsky’s followers, for they are the only Jews who openly object to the ugly notion of a Jewish State. All the rest of us, historical Jews, having been praying for 2,000 years for regaining sovereignty in the birthplace of our history, are not really truthful to those immaculately conceived “Judaism’s spiritual values.”
I, for one, do not buy this sterile notion of Jewishness and of Chanukah. True, history itself can be ugly, but historical narratives and holidays are defined not by their embryonic origins, but by what they mean and how they motivate people in this day and age.
Regardless of whether Chanukah started as a war of liberation against the Greeks, a war of zeal against the assimilated or a supernatural miracle in the Temple, the meaning of Chanukah lies in the new consciousness created when H.N. Bialik wrote (after the Kishinev pogrom in 1903) “Are these the sons of the Maccabees?” It came in the energies inspired when the pre-1948 Zionist pioneers sang:
“A miracle did not happen to us;
We have not found a vessel of oil;
We carved the rock till we bled;
And there was light!”
And it comes, of course, in the spirit of family warmth and people-hood that we Jews feel today when we light the candles and tell our children about that mischievous oil vessel.
Two weeks ago, my wife Ruth and I were invited to the White House, where President Bush used our family menorah to usher in the holiday. I was relieved to discover that President Bush had no problem whatsoever explaining to fellow Americans what the meaning of Chanukah is all about.
“During Chanukah,” he said, “we remember an ancient struggle for freedom.”
Plain and simple, free of Jewish hang-ups. He then narrated the story of the Maccabees: “A band of brothers came together to fight this oppression. And against incredible odds, they liberated the capital city of Jerusalem.”
Again, Bush talked as if fighting oppression and liberating one’s capital is as natural as American apple pie and, more importantly, he took it as self-evident that people who call themselves “a people” would find pride and inspiration in celebrating pivotal events from their collective past; in other words, he took it as self-evident that Judaism and Jewish history and Jewish nationhood are inextricable.
This brings me back to the Annapolis Summit meeting. As President Bush was recounting the story of the Maccabees’ struggle for freedom and self-determination, his words rang as faithful reminders of one delicate issue that was conspicuously missing from the Annapolis agenda, but which nevertheless continues to hold the key to any progress toward a two-state solution: Arabs denial of the indigenous historical connection between the Jewish people and the land of the Maccabees.
This historical connection, bluntly denied by Iranian President Ahmadinejad, adamantly refuted by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, uniformly ridiculed by Arab intellectuals, meticulously purged from textbooks in the entire Muslim world, deceptively minimized by anti-coexistence professors in the West and skillfully avoided by post-Zionist Jewish writers in America, more than any other point of contention, has the power of unleashing the confidence-building energy that the “peace process” requires to gain traction.
That is why I see Chanukah as the pink elephant of Annapolis. The obvious historical connection of Jews to the Holy Land, so clearly symbolized by Chanukah and the president’s Chanukah speech, was hush-hushed in Annapolis — while everyone knew that only by agreeing on this connection can the post-Annapolis process move toward a compromised two-state solution.
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