October 19, 2019


The most important magazine article you’ve never read this year appeared Sep. 21 in The Chronicle Review, a publication of The Chronicle of Higher Education.

It’s about a librarian. Really.

The author, Raymond Ibrahim, describes how it is he came to translate the internal communiques and theological statements of the leaders of al-Qaeda, and what those leaders really say. Here’s a hint: It’s not what Israel’s new batch of best-selling critics say they say.

Ibrahim explains that prior to Sept. 11 he was sitting amid the stacks at California State Fresno, where he was researching his master’s thesis on an obscure seventh century battle between Christiandom and Islam.

After Sept. 11, Ibrahim, a fluent Arab speaker whose parents are Coptic Christians from Egypt, eventually landed a job as a researcher at the Near East Section of the African and Middle East Division of the Library of Congress.There he developed an intense fascination with the many Arabic books, articles and communiques dealing with al-Qaeda. And what Ibrahim noticed was that Osama bin Laden and the other leaders of al-Qaeda say one thing to the West, and another to themselves and their followers.

In their videotapes and communiques to the West, the leaders cite a laundry list of grievances as the reason for their “martydom operations:” United States support for Israel, U.S. military bases in Saudi Arabia, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and President George Bush’s refusal to sign the Kyoto Accords on global warming (really).

But Ibrahim discovered, or proved, that these reasons are strictly for Western consumption. They are, in short, lies.

What really motivates al-Qaeda is a narrow religious theology that cannot abide coexistence with non-Muslims. As Ibrahim writes: “It soon became clear why these particular documents had not been directed to the West. They were theological treatises, revolving around what Islam commands Muslims to do vis-a-vis non-Muslims. The documents rarely made mention of all those things — Zionism, Bush’s ‘Crusade,’ malnourished Iraqi children — that formed the core of Al-Qaeda’s messages to the West. Instead, they were filled with countless Quranic verses, hadiths [traditions attributed to the Prophet Muhammad], and the consensus and verdicts of Islam’s most authoritative voices. The temporal and emotive language directed at the West was exchanged for the eternal language of Islam when directed at Muslims.

Or, put another way, the language of ‘reciprocity’ was exchanged for that of intolerant religious fanaticism. There was, in fact, scant mention of the words ‘West,’ ‘U.S.’ or ‘Israel.’ All of those were encompassed by that one Arabic-Islamic word, kufr — ‘infidelity’ — the regrettable state of being non-Muslim that must always be fought through ‘tongue and teeth.'”

Ibrahim collected these writings and compiled them into a book, “The Al-Qaeda Reader,” which was published by Broadway Books in 2006.

Now, if the Jews really controlled the media — and at times like these, boy I wish they did — a book like Ibrahim’s would get all the attention and rake in all the sales that instead went to Jimmy Carter’s book on Israel or Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer’s “The Israel Lobby.”

In the latter book, the authors repeatedly cite Bin Laden’s own words in blaming Israel and America’s support for Israel for the attack on the Twin Towers. Either because they assume the Muslim mind is not sufficiently complex enough to say one thing and mean another, or because they don’t believe reading first-hand source material is enlightening, or because they are on a tear against the Jewish state, Walt and Mearsheimer never reference Ibrahim’s by-now widely disseminated work.

But here is what Ibrahim told New Yorker writer Lawrence Wright in a C-SPAN interview:

Wright: How important is Israel to the theology of al-Qaeda?

Ibrahim: Even if Israel ceased to exist, based solely on theology, the Jews are still enemies. They have to be attacked until they are dhimmis, second-class citizens.

One is temporal, the other transcends time and space. It is a fixed commandment from God…. When al-Qaeda states it has a grievance because of Israel, and a lot of Muslims and non-Muslims would agree with that, does that mean that once Israel disappears, that that’s going to bring peace between a group like al-Qaeda radicals and the West? [Bin Laden] would imply yes, but these writings show otherwise.

Ibrahim’s book received positive reviews from two unusual sources — the left and the right. He has been a fixture on Fox News, where the idea of duplicitous evil Muslims is as welcome as a cup of joe on a foggy morning. But the book has also been lauded by Reza Aslan and by Wright, who references Ibrahim in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book on Sept. 11, “The Looming Towers.”

Opposing sides can disagree over our response to al-Qaeda’s attacks, over our approach to the numerous terrorist groups and governments out there — al-Qaeda is not the only or even central address — but it is hard to refute the evidence of Ibrahim’s translation.

All this doesn’t mean Israel and the West shouldn’t take note of and act on legitimate grievances in the Muslim world. There is no good reason to add to the pool of angry or disenfranchised Muslims willing to fall for bin Laden’s hellfire and brimstone.

But Ibrahim’s solid research should serve as a corrective to those demagogues who would have the world believe that terrorism begins and ends with Israel.

Radio talkshow host Frank Beckmen interviews Raymond Ibrahim and YouTube member Darth Prophet illustrates the interview in a mashup video

‘Zero Degree Turn’ Part I (Farsi with English subtitles 10:07)
Scroll to bottom of page for more video links

A popular Persian-language drama on Iranian state-run television dealing with the Holocaust contains anti-Semitic and anti-Israel themes, Los Angeles Iranian Jewish activists have revealed.

News publications, including The Wall Street Journal, have hailed the new show, “Zero Degree Turn,” as sympathetic to the plight of Jews during the Shoah, but Jewish experts fluent in Persian have analyzed the program more closely and have come to a different conclusion.

“This TV program lists in its credits a man named Abdollah Shabazi, who was an ideological strategist for the Iranian government, and he gave this idea to make this propaganda film to show that Iranians are ‘good with the Jews,'” said Bijan Khalili, a Los Angeles-based Iranian Jewish activist and Persian-language book publisher. “But in reality, this man is the author of many anti-Semitic and anti-Bahai [Persian-language] books.”

The show focuses on an Iranian Palestinian Muslim man who, over the course of 22 episodes, helps his French Jewish lover and her family escape Nazi-occupied France by providing them with forged passports. Khalili and other L.A.-area Iranian Jews say the program is laced with blatant historical inaccuracies and messages of hate for Jews and Zionists.

“One of the objectives of this program is to show that Jews are corrupt, because they are shown as both giving bribes and accepting bribes,” Khalili said. The story includes a character called Homayoun Talab, an Iranian diplomat, who accepts bribes in order to provide false papers to Jews.

Talab, Khalili said, is loosely based on Abdol Hossein Sardari, Iranian ambassador to German-controlled France during World War II, who forestalled the deportation of 200 Iranian Jews living in Paris at the time.

Fariborz Mokhtari, a professor of Eastern studies at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., recently completed a book on Sardari’s life. He said “Zero Degree Turn” egregiously misrepresents Sardari, who never accepted money for giving Jews in France Iranian passports.

“Sardari was duty-bound to look after the interests of Iranians. Whether they were Zoroastrian, Christian, Jewish or Muslim was not very important to him,” said Mokhtari, who is Muslim and has been researching Sardari since 2002. “As he was quoted having told his inquiring nephew, ‘It was his duty to his country and to God.'”

In April 2004, Los Angeles Jewish organizations, including the Wiesenthal Center and Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills, posthumously honored Sardari for saving several hundred Iranian Jews and European Jews who were living in Paris during World War II. The late Ibrahim Moradi, an Iranian Jewish survivor aided by Sardari, attended the 2004 ceremony at Nessah and told of how Sardari had helped him and the other Jews escape the Nazis without requesting any money.

Western media outlets first learned of “Zero Degree Turn” several months ago, when English-subtitled episodes appeared on YouTube. In those shows, the existence of the Holocaust was not questioned. For this reason, the series has generated substantial attention, in part as a contrast to the repeated Holocaust-denial statements by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Frank Nikbkaht, an Iranian Jew and director of the L.A.-based Committee for Minority Rights in Iran, called “Zero Degree Turn,” with its elaborate sets, expensive foreign location shoots and actresses appearing without the state-mandated Islamic dress code, part of a larger public relations campaign by the Iranian government.

“Powerful forces within Iran have decided to erase or whitewash Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust statements out of fear of losing even more in the propaganda war aimed at European and American audiences,” Nikbkaht said. “They’re probably thinking that if Ahmadinejad won’t correct himself, or if he cannot retreat, then ‘we will do it for him.'”

At the same time, other Iran experts dispute allegations that “Zero Degree Turn” is a publicity stunt, because the program is both fictional and was produced a few years before Ahmadinejad began making his Holocaust-denial statements.

“Criticizing a fictional story for inaccuracy may not be entirely justified, unless the inaccuracies are flagrant,” Mokhtari said. “I would refrain from passing judgment on the program until I see more of it.”

Yet according to online English translations of the series’ second episode, prepared by the Washington-based Middle East Media Research Institute, Zionist Jews in the program go so far as to kill an Iranian rabbi in Paris and collaborated with the Gestapo in order to compel Jews to immigrate to Palestine.

One character in the show, an anti-Zionist rabbi named Menuhin, is asked whether fanatic Jews killed an Iranian rabbi. His response is, “It is more likely the work of the Jewish Agency. They don’t mind presenting life here as scary and unsafe in order to convince as many Jews as possible to emigrate to Palestine.”

Khalili also said that other episodes of “Zero Degree Turn” make repeated references to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which are historically out of place, because the issue was not prevalent in the 1940s. Likewise the Jewish characters in the series are shown in a poor light, because they speak an improper form of the Persian language, as compared to the Muslim characters, Khalili said.

“We have a responsibility as Iranian Jews living outside of Iran to reveal to the rest of the world how anti-Israel and anti-Semitic the Iranian government is through this program and others like it,” Khalili said.

While the show’s writer-director Hassan Fatthi, who is based in Iran, did not return calls from The Jewish Journal for comment, he told The Wall Street Journal last month that his intention is to make a political statement about the Middle East, more than to create an entertainment piece based on some historical facts.

“Iranians have always differentiated between ordinary Jews and a minority of Zionists,” Fatthi said in the interview. “The murder of innocent Jews during World War II is just as despicable, sad and shocking as the killing of innocent Palestinian women and children by racist Zionist soldiers.”

According to reports from within Iran, “Zero Degree Turn” has become one of the country’s most popular and watched television series since it began airing earlier this year.

” target=”_blank”>reported by Kelton Research is why producer Frank Yablans is convinced that this is a critical time to have a studio producing educational, faith-based films.

“We hope to educate young people and families as to where all civilization came from,” explained the 72-year-old Hollywood veteran.

Yablans, born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, said he had a “typical New York Jewish upbringing.” For more than 50 years, he has toiled in the film industry, steadily rising through the ranks to president of Paramount Pictures in the early ’70s. “The Godfather,” and “Chinatown” are just a few of the titles that made it one of the most critically acclaimed and profitable studios of that period.

“Many people refer to my time at Paramount as the golden years,” Yablans said. But now, he has turned his focus and passion to his new company, Promenade Pictures, whose first production, a computer-animated film, “The Ten Commandments,” is

When the girl was two years old, she became so sick with pneumonia that the doctors told her mother there was nothing more they could do, to just take her home.

Her father, a rabbi, arranged a minyan of 10 men to say special blessings. She lived.

At one point in her young life, she had received so many blessings for so many illnesses that her parents gave her a second name: Bracha.

At 16, she was sent to 10 different concentration camps. Near the end, she was forced to march for two weeks through the rain, without water or food. She survived on insects and wild mushrooms. By then, she weighed less than 65 pounds, and with typhus ravaging her body, she was barely clinging to life. When she was rescued by a Yiddish-speaking American soldier at 4 a.m. one morning, in an open, muddy field in western Germany, she could hardly move or say a word.

To reunite with her father in a Hungarian town called Miskolc, she had to tie herself to the roof of a train for three days, all the while breathing the fumes of the locomotive.

When she finally tracked down her father, she gave him “the hug that would never end.” For the rest of her life, she would grieve the 59 other hugs that would never happen — the hugs for her mother, four siblings and the 54 other relatives who never made it back.

More than six decades after that bittersweet reunion, Eva Brown, a tiny 80-year-old walking testament to the ideal of survival, is sitting at my Shabbat table, doing what she does best: telling stories and smiling.

She’s one of the happiest people I know.

Eva was my neighbor for many years before I moved to the Pico-Robertson neighborhood, and I would often see her walking to Cedars-Sinai to do her charity work. She would come over for holiday meals and play with the children. In her little bungalow, she told me how much she missed her husband of 50 years, Ernie, who passed away 10 years ago. We also had fun: She was my “date” once to the Maimonides’ trustees dinner — a fancy affair for which she insisted that we take the Acura NSX sports car, not the minivan.

No matter where we were or what we talked about, her smile never went away.

At our Shabbat table, on the day after Simchat Torah, she was telling stories to my mother, my three sisters and some of my kids, tales of her dark days in those 10 concentration camps. The hint of a smile never faded from her face.

For a woman who’s seen so much darkness and lost so much, and who often feels very alone, how do you explain this ability to keep smiling?

Is it the cliché that when you go through hell, you appreciate all the little blessings of life? No doubt, but I think there’s more.

As I’ve gotten to know her better, I’ve seen that a key part of Eva’s joy comes from her ability to remember not just darkness, but love. She’s more than a survivor, she’s a lover.

She remembers the love of her father, who told her to look in the mirror every morning and ask: “What can I do today to help someone else?”

She remembers the love of her younger brother Heschel, who was 10 years her junior and whom she raised like her own son.

She remembers the love of her soul mate and husband, Ernie, who for years would cuddle with Eva on his lap, rather than have her sit on a chair.

Her memories of love overflow into the present. Like the well in the backyard of her childhood home that provided water to sustain life, the deep love she feels for her family, including her two beautiful daughters and one granddaughter, is a well of joy that sustains her today. The more she feels love, the more she loves life.

For years, she has been expressing that love by sharing her story in schools, community centers and at the Museum of Tolerance. Now, her very own book, “If You Save One Life,” which she wrote with Thomas Fields-Meyer, is out. She hopes that her story of conquering darkness will inspire others to do the same.

Occasionally, though, she is reminded that the darkness can win out.

She confided to me that a recent event had shaken her up. She had to fumigate her house. Her husband used to take care of these things, now she has to. As she was making the final preparations, something in her snapped. She was told to carefully wrap all the little items in the house that might be damaged by the fumigation — things like toothpaste and bars of soap.

As she was wrapping the toothpaste, she couldn’t resist pouring out her soul to Jose, the fumigator from El Salvador. How could I be so protective of a stupid toothpaste, she asked him, while no one cared enough to protect the millions who died in that other fumigation 65 years ago? Jose saw the sadness on her face and wanted to hear more, so she told him her story. Finally, she yelled out: “They killed us like termites!”

This was not the cheerful Eva I knew, the one that is moved by love. This was the Eva that had earned the right to hate and get angry. The image of living termites being killed by gas was simply too graphic — it brought back memories that were too dark. She cried every night for two weeks, she told me, until she “ran out of tears.”

She sounded a lot better, though, when she told me that Jose the fumigator wanted to bring his children over to hear her story.

Maybe that’s the secret to Eva Brown’s smile — knowing there are people out there who will always want to hear her story.
Eva Brown will be speaking about her life and her new book on Sunday, Oct. 21, at 2 p.m. at the Museum of Tolerance.

Eva Brown tells her story of survival

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

Beaufort trailer
The story of two movies vying to represent Israel in the Oscar race is full of intrigue, confusion, backbiting and alleged skullduggery.

The films themselves are also quite interesting.

The brouhaha comes at a time when the Israeli film industry is gaining increasing international recognition and awards and for the first time in 23 years seems to have a serious shot at being nominated — and even winning — an American Academy Award.

So tension was high last month when the Israel Film Academy passed out the Ophir awards, Israel’s equivalent of the Oscar, with the best picture winner automatically becoming Israel’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film honors at the American Academy Awards.

There were two frontrunners, quite opposite in mood and tone. One was “The Band’s Visit,” described by the Jerusalem Post as “a charming, bittersweet comedy about an Egyptian police orchestra that gets lost and ends up spending a night at a tiny development town in the Negev.” [CLICK FOR ‘THE BAND’s VISIT’ TRAILER]

By contrast, “Beaufort” is a searing drama about the last Israeli unit to leave Lebanon in 2000. Its director is American-born Joseph Cedar, whose “Time of Favor” and “Campfire” were two of Israel’s previous Oscar entries.

When the votes had been counted, “Band’s Visit” won hands down for best picture and best directing honors for Eran Kolirin.

“Band’s Visit” had already been picked up by prestigious Sony Pictures Classics for distribution in North America and much of the rest of the world. Life was good, and then the plot thickened.

Although the Oscar category defined by the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is often called “Best Foreign Film,” the actual title is “Best Foreign Language Film.”

The rules clearly spell out that an entry’s dialogue must be “predominantly,” or more than 50 percent, in the language of the submitting country.

Hebrew and Arabic are the official languages of Israel, but since the Israeli and Egyptian characters in “Band’s Visit” converse in (broken) English, the American Academy disqualified the Israeli entry and left the next move up to its Israeli counterpart.

The decision was hardly unprecedented. In the past two years, the Academy has rejected nine foreign films on the same grounds. One recent example was the Italian entry, “Private,” which was ruled out because none of the characters spoke Italian, though the producers claimed the film was turned down because of its pro-Palestinian slant.

How the Israel Academy slipped up on reading the rules is another question, which is now being debated in the Israeli press.

In recent days there were various reports that Israel would appeal the disqualification decision. However, on Tuesday, Marek Rosenbaum, president of the Israel Academy, told The Journal in a phone call from Poland that “Band’s Visit” has been withdrawn and “Beaufort” was now the official entry.

But that’s hardly the end of the story. Once the qualification of “Band’s Visit” was called into question, blogs and some print columns started reporting that the producers of “Beaufort” had stealthily lobbied the American Academy to disqualify “Band’s Visit,” knowing that “Beaufort” would then become the Oscar contender.

In a phone interview, Michael Barker, co-president and co-founder of Sony Pictures Classics, said that “from the beginning there was aggressive behavior looking to disqualify ‘The Band’s Visit,'” which his company is distributing.

Barker added that in his 26 years in the film industry, “I have seen sour grapes, but this goes way above normal.”

He termed the film’s disqualification “a tragedy,” vowed to enter the movie in other Oscar categories, and predicted it would be a success when released in theaters in the middle of February.

Asked to specify his charges, Barker referred all such questions to Ehud Bleiberg, head of Los Angeles-based Bleiberg Entertainment and producer of “Band’s Visit.”

Bleiberg did not respond to repeated requests for comments.

The “Beaufort” filmmakers have remained publicly silent on the controversy, but at The Journal’s request, producers David Zilber and David Mandil e-mailed a statement from Tel Aviv.

They categorically denied that anyone connected with “Beaufort” had ever approached the American Academy regarding “Band’s Visit.”

Taking off the gloves, the producers wrote that “the false accusations leveled at ‘Beaufort’ by the producers and distributors of ‘The Band’s Visit’ are merely an attempt to escape liability for their own misleading of the American and Israeli academies and to find a scapegoat.”

Furthermore, “The producers of ‘The Band’s Visit’ and its distributors [Sony and others] will do well to take responsibility for their failure in this matter and cease making accusations against ‘Beaufort.’ Any such accusations will meet a suitable response and they will be obliged to take responsibility for their declarations.”

Ending on a sarcastic note, Zilber and Mandil wrote, “We applaud the producers and distributors of ‘The Band’s Visit’ on the media spin that no doubt will bring publicity viewers to their film. We are only sorry that such spin is at our expense.”

Although potential box office receipts and egos may have fueled the face-off between the two films, the very different moods of the two films also illustrate contrasting takes on how to garner the national prestige attendant to an Oscar nomination or win.

No Israeli film has ever won an Oscar, and the last to be among the five finalists was “Beyond the Walls” in 1984.

So what can be done to brighten the picture?

In many recent years, Israel Academy voters have favored films highly critical of Israeli society and practically devoid of sympathetic characters. Examples are last year’s “Sweet Mud,” a downbeat picture of kibbutz life, and the previous year’s even more depressing “What a Wonderful Place,” which featured an array of Israeli pimps, lowlifes and corrupt cops.

It has been argued that Hollywood Jews, who are heavily represented on the foreign pictures selection committee, are turned off by such negative portrayals.

So the light-hearted “Band’s Visit” might have been a welcome antidote to the previous gloomy films.

On the other hand, Israeli film critic Hannah Brown speculates that Oscar voters may more easily relate to Israelis portrayed in a military drama than the apolitical “Band’s Visit.”

Stay tuned for the Jan. 22 Oscar nomination announcements.

Life at Agahozo Shalom

If I wanted the kind of office where visitors shut the door and cry, I’d have become a rabbi. Or a therapist. Or an agent.

That’s why it caught me off guard when a woman named Anne Heyman sat down across from me and started, well, crying.

Heyman was in town last week to raise money and awareness for the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda. Moved to ease the plight of 1.2 million children left orphaned by the 1994 Rwandan genocide, she came up with the idea of emulating the Yemin Orde Youth Village in Israel, the model by which Israel absorbed, raised and educated hundreds of post-Holocaust Jewish orphans.

Agahozo Shalom is scheduled to open its doors in September 2008 on 140 acres. The counselors will be mainly Ethiopian Jews who themselves were raised at Yemin Orde.

Using funds provided by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and private donors, the village will provide 500 Rwandan children with community, family, an education and a vocation.

Heyman is a slim, blonde 40-something attorney, a native of South Africa who lives in New York and manages the Heyman-Merrin Family Foundation. Her husband, Seth Merrin, is a successful Internet entrepreneur.

She hopes the concept will eventually take off and more villages will arise.

“There’s no hope for the country unless you can figure out what to do with these kids,” she said.

And, as she is prone to do when talking about some of the most beleaguered humans on the planet, Heyman began to cry.

There’s a new mitzvah in the Jewish world, and its name is Africa. It is hard not to notice the increased money and energy Jews and Jewish organizations are putting into the continent.

This week, three leaders of Jewish World Watch are traveling to Chad to witness the use of solar cookers, most of which were bought and brought to refugee camps with Jewish donations so that women there will not have to leave the relative safety of the camps and risk getting raped while gathering firewood (click here to read their blog ). In two years, the Encino-based Jewish World Watch has gone from an idea to an organization with a $2 million annual budget and dozens of member synagogues (though, frankly, not enough Orthodox ones).

American Jewish World Service, based in New York, has put the Darfur genocide on the world Jewish agenda and inspired thousands of college-age Jewish youth to serve in Africa and the developing world.

Among established organizations, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) launched its Africa Institute in 2006 to spread awareness of African issues and foster better civil and philanthropic ties between Israel, Africa and the Jewish world.

Several local members of the entertainment industry helped the AJC produce a documentary, “Darfur Now” (see story, page 22).

In Israel, Hebrew University’s Institute for Public Health brings Israelis together with students from developing countries, including the Palestinian Authority, to study (in English) ways to improve medical care in Africa.

“Now you have Jewish money being used in Israel for the whole world,” Carmi Gillon, the former head of the Shin Bet and currently a Hebrew University vice president, told me. “It’s three birds in one shot.”

There is a longer history here than most of us realize. In his 1902 book “Altneuland,” Theodore Herzl, the father of modern Zionism, wrote, “Once I have witnessed the redemption of the Jews, my people, I wish also to assist in the redemption of the Africans.”

Herzl, wrote scholar Haim Divan, saw parallels between the African struggle for national independence from foreign domination and the struggle of the Jewish people for a homeland after centuries of exile.

Less than a decade after independence, Israel created MASHAV, a program of development cooperation that continues to bring Israeli agricultural and technical expertise to Africa.

But now, it seems to me, the continent is capturing the Jewish philanthropic imagination as never before. Part of this reflects the broader media attention being paid to Africa, the genocide in Darfur and the awareness of the exponential growth of the AIDS plague.

But there is also a sense that Israel, as troubled as it is, is just fine compared to much of Africa. “We’ve built our house,” Gillon said, “and now we can help build the world.”

The philosophy of the Yemin Orde Youth Village, created by Dr. Chaim Peri, is based on inculcating in youth the twin principles of tikkun halev — fixing one’s “heart” through education and therapy — and tikkun olam fixing the world through good works. The lesson is that as bad as you may have it, someone else in the world has it worse.

That idea, writ large, is what’s at play in the new African involvement. And it’s why people like Heyman fully expect a new generation of American Jewish youth to come help and volunteer at Agahozo Shalom once the project is ready.

Of course, there are those Jews who still wonder why they shouldn’t just focus on the many unmet needs in Israel and at home. Valley Beth Shalom’s Rabbi Harold Schulweis addressed them in a poem he delivered from the pulpit over the High Holy Days last month.

“Do you know of any Jewish prayer,” his poem read, “that concludes with the words ‘Sorry, but they are not ours’ …?”

It continues: The noblest vindication of our dead is that their children and children’s children will staunch the wounds of innocent men, women and children.”

For some, such connections between the Jewish past and the African present are a leap; for Anne Heyman they are a mere step.

“The Hutus called the Tutsis ‘Jews,'” she told me, describing the Rwandan factions involved in the genocide. “They said. ‘We’ll kill you and send your bodies down the river to Ethiopia.'”

I asked Heyman what the word, “Agahozo,” means.

“It’s a Kinyarwanda word,” she said. “It means, ‘The place where tears are dried.'”

And she started tearing up again — and so did I.

For more information, visit http://www.agahozo-shalom.org/.

If, on the Friday afternoon of Simchat Torah, you happened to be on Pico Boulevard, a couple of blocks west of Doheny Boulevard, and you were looking for Nathan’s Famous hot dogs or Label’s Table deli, you probably would have noticed about 50 Jews of all ages and ethnic backgrounds singing and dancing like party animals, right on the sidewalk.

Where do these people think they are, Israel?

Something has happened to the Pico-Robertson neighborhood, my friends, and I don’t mean the opening of the new glatt kosher Subway or the anticipated arrival of a new upscale kosher restaurant (Mamash). Those new eateries have generated their share of buzz, but this is whole different type of nourishment that has come to the heart of our neighborhood.

After 13 years of virtual exile, The Happy Minyan has relocated to one of the busiest stretches of the hood — with its very own storefront.

Around here, this is bigger news than the upcoming Middle East Peace Conference in Maryland.

If you want to understand the significance of this development, swing by Pico on any Friday night or Saturday and look for the Karate Academy sign sandwiched between Nathan’s and Label’s. Go inside the Karate Academy, and if you see a few aging hipsters, some Breslev and Chabad Chasidim, a few Sephardim, some young Persians, women in bandanas with a sparkle in their eyes, an adopted African American kid in payos, a yogi dancing by himself in the corner, kids running everywhere, and even a few men in regular suits, you’ll know you’re at The Happy Minyan.

Actually, you don’t have to go inside to know you’re there. You just have to be in the vicinity, close enough to hear the joyful chanting or to see a few happy daveners hanging around the entrance. But watch out; if you get too close, someone might ask you to dance.

If that kind of stuff scares you off, I suggest you stay on the north side of Pico until you are safely past Glenville Avenue. That will get you to the exquisite confines of Young Israel of Century City, a Modern Orthodox synagogue that is a marvel of perfection: perfectly friendly, perfectly designed and perfectly orchestrated.

There are many ways to describe The Happy Minyan. Perfectly orchestrated is not one of them.

“Hard to ignore” would be more like it. If you take a Shabbat stroll on that strip of Pico, you won’t just see the usual parade of earnest Jews walking with a purpose. Now there are the Happy Minyanites who turn Shabbat into their own little happening — with no other purpose than to share a little holiness and simcha with those who are looking for it.

They certainly took their time getting here.

For 13 years, this nomadic Torah-observant tribe has been doing their thing in “hood adjacent” territory, first at Beth Jacob Congregation and most recently at Mogen David synagogue, which is a good 10 to 15 minute walk west of their new location. And they did it inside. While they have developed a sort of mystique as the premier Shlomo Carlebach minyan in town, it was always easier to hear about them than to actually see them.

Ready or not, the neighborhood will see them now.

The street buzz started as soon as they moved in for the High Holy Days. One of their famous attributes is that once they get to shul, they never seem to leave. When I was there on Friday for the morning services of Simchat Torah, I left at around 4 p.m. — and I left early.

At one point, David Sacks got up to auction off the aliyot for the Torah readings that would end the year and begin the new one. I figured it’d be a quick process, so that we could all move on to the festivities. An hour later, the auction had organically evolved into a spiritual encounter group where just about everyone — men and especially women — offered to add a little donation on behalf of some soulful cause.

Instead of wrapping things up efficiently, Sacks himself would go off on holy riffs, praying for everyone to meet their soulmates this year (or in the next 72 hours), praying for “the end of loneliness” and, of course, telling the occasional Shlomo Carlebach story. No one seemed to mind that by 2 p.m., the Torah reading hadn’t yet started.

If time doesn’t exactly stop at The Happy Minyan, it is definitely a minor detail.

What won’t be a minor detail for this brave bunch is what to do with all the walk-in “business” they are sure to attract. On the day I was there, there was a continuous flow of curious visitors, including a little band of testosterone-filled Persian teenagers who seemed to have gained a second wind after finishing their own service at another shul down the block. It turns out they were the noisiest among us when we all ended up dancing with the Torah and singing “Am Israel Chai” in front of Nathan’s Famous.

Oh, and in all the commotion I did notice an interesting visitor to The Happy Minyan. It was someone named Ezra Pollak, and I recognized his face because I always see him when I go to his shul: Young Israel of Century City, that paragon of perfection on the other side of the street.

In fact, while we’re on the subject of brotherly love, guess who’s been announced in the Young Israel program this year to lead occasional “Friday Night With Reb Shlomo” services? You guessed it, the chazzan of The Happy Minyan: the very popular Yehudah Solomon, of the band Moshav.

Now, if two shuls as wildly different as The Happy Minyan and Young Israel of Century City can find things to share with one another, I’m not worried about my neighborhood — or the future of my people.

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

This music video — straight outa Pico-Robertson — was released after this column was written.
Click the BIG ARROW for ‘Miriam and Shoshana — Hardcore Jewish Chicks’
Editor’s note:Oren Kaplan,the director, emails: “There’s a guy in the video, Seth Menachem (he “plays” the shofar), who has written a few articles for The Journal. He actually proposed to his fiancee in an article in The Journal as well.”

” target = “_blank”>Jared Fogle. Through a program of turkey club sandwiches for lunch and veggie subs for dinner as well as exercise, this overweight Jew’s story helped Subway’s sales skyrocket.

Well, it seems that the ubiquitous sandwich shop is at it again.

Only this time, it’s kosher.

The West Coast’s first kosher Subway — truly the best thing to happen to this religion since payos — recently opened on Pico Boulevard, right in the heart of “the hood.” And with a fleishig (meat) menu, halacha has never tasted so good.

The menu features many of the same items as a typical Subway, but it also includes a few distinctive Jewish selections, like corned beef, pastrami and shawarma. There’s no chopped liver or gribonis on the menu, but that shouldn’t stop you from ordering a tasty foot-long pastrami for Uncle Moishe or a meatball sub for Zayde.

Jonathan Sedaghat and Sammy Aflalo, owners of this new kosher Subway, decided it was finally time to bring this franchise to the Chosen People.

“We realized that the Jewish community was really restricted by where they could eat, especially in this area,” said Sedaghat, adding that a nationally recognized restaurant would give L.A. Jews the quality and affordability they deserved.

The first kosher Subway opened last year in Cleveland, and more have since sprouted up in New York and Kansas City. Cities slated for their own shops include Baltimore; Miami; Teaneck, N.J.; and Great Neck, N.Y. According to Subway, communities in Chicago and Boston have also expressed interest.

Subway headquarters is already quite experienced in handling this wave of kashrut. The company prepared itself by “researching and interviewing rabbis,” in addition to developing kosher business templates to assist the franchisees, said Tim Miller, Subway operations specialist.

Miller added that there are even a few non-kosher Subways that are in the process of kashrut conversion, the first of which is opening in Livingston, N.J. this month.

Los Angeles’ kosher Subway maintains a Kehilla Kosher supervision and even has a sink for hand washing. Due to high costs associated with establishing and maintaining the kashrut certification, the subs are a tad more expensive than standard Subway fare: a foot-long kosher cold-cut combo goes for $9.19, while its treif counterpart runs $5.09 locally.

The prices are in keeping with surrounding restaurants, and like the area’s eateries this Subway is closed for Shabbat, opens one hour after havdalah and stays open until 3 a.m. — perfect for the kosher partygoers and late-night Torah studiers.

Sedaghat said that the neighborhood has been eating it up since the grand opening.

“We had to close two hours early on Monday because we ran out food,” he said.

The kosher Subway is located at 8948 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. Visit

Israeli singer songwriter Avigail Cohen expresses universal hopes and doubts in ‘Erev Rosh Hashana’:

There’s a last ray of sunlight,
the fading year is disappearing in the dim light.
What will the New Year bring with it?
The darkness spreads a scent of hope.

Britains’ Sky News reports from Tel Aviv on an Israeli advertising campaign to sex up its image.

A conference organized by the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute in Jerusalem last month dealt with anti-Israel attacks in the United States that constitute, according to organizers, a “long-term threat” to Israel’s standing.

Brandeis University President Jehuda Reinharz told Ha’aretz that American academics are at the forefront of those denying Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and admitted: “I see no combined effort to fight this by the Jewish organizations, and, in truth, I myself don’t know how this could be done.”

I doubt whether organizational efforts could stop anti-Israel attacks, but two incidents in the past few weeks have suggested for me a grassroots approach that, if pursued vigorously, might well slow down their growth.

The approach calls for exercising honesty, moral assertiveness and personal indignation against attacks on Israel’s legitimacy.

The incidents I am talking about started with a rather routine scenario. In fact, it has probably happened to you so many times that it did not leave a memorable mark.

Like many of us, I am on the e-mail lists of friends and colleagues who occasionally call my attention to an article worth reading.

So it was that on one of these bright California mornings, I received a message from a colleague with an article and a comment: “Palestinians, with all their suffering under the Israeli apartheid regime, have never been Holocaust deniers.”

It is, by today’s standards, a rather commonplace remark — one that could have been written by any of my friends from the far left or the Muslim community. I would normally either brush it off with a head shake: “There he goes again, the same old rhetoric,” or start an argument on whether the comparison to apartheid South Africa is appropriate.

I do not exactly know what it was that morning that compelled me to do neither of the two but resort, instead, to what I normally refuse to do — take offense. It may have been the recent vote in the U.N. Human Rights Commission, calling for a ban on “religious insults” or it may have been the latest press blitz on the moral ills of Islamophobia.

Whatever the cause, somehow an invisible force jolted me into writing my colleague thus: “The word ‘apartheid’ is offensive to me. In fact, it is very, very offensive. And, since I am not situated on the extreme end of the political spectrum, I venture to suspect that there are others on your e-mail list who were offended by it and who may wish to tell you that this word is not conducive to peace and understanding. It conveys anger, carelessness and a desire to hurt and defame. Hence, it shuts off the ears of the very people you are attempting to reach.”

After a short exchange of polite messages, in which my colleague explained that, echoing his idols, President Jimmy Carter and journalist Amira Haas, he used this word not to offend but to evoke a sense of justice among his Jewish friends, I realized that I handled it correctly.

I realized that taking offense is a statement of conscience that shifts attention from the accused to the legitimacy of the accusation. It calls into question the accuser’s choice of words, his assumptions, his worldview, as well as his intentions, and, thus, turns the accuser into a defendant, at least for a short moment of reflection.

For a split second, I even ventured to imagine how powerful it could be if each one of us were to implant a moment of reflection into the mind of an anti-Israel colleague, but I soon forgot about the incident, and I received no further messages from this colleague. Evidently, he had either deleted my name from his mailing list or had taken note of our exchange and become more conscientious of what he sent and to whom.

A few weeks later, a similar incident occurred. This time, harsh anti-Zionist slurs were scattered throughout an essay authored by the sender — a history professor at an American university. Essentially, the author blamed Zionism for being the evil force that drives Bernard Lewis’ “anti-Muslim diatribes.”

Emboldened by my previous experience, I sat down and wrote this man — let’s call him Mahmoud — a message, this time a little longer. I explained that I had found his contempt of Zionism deeply offensive and that given that I consider myself progressive and open-minded, others may share my feeling but were too polite to say so.

“I hope,” I said, “that as a writer who spends pages describing how offensive Orientalism and Islamophobia are to Muslims and Arabs, that you will be able to understand other people’s sensitivities and accommodate them in the future.”

I then went further and explained to Mahmoud that, for me, Zionism is the realization of a millennium-old belief in the right of the Jewish people to a national home in the birthplace of their history, a right that is no less sacred than that of the Palestinians or the Saudis. Additionally, I wrote, it pains me to see my hopes for peace being spat upon. Such hopes require that all sides accept a two-state arrangement as a historically just solution, and anti-Zionist rhetoric, by negating the legitimacy of this solution, acts as an oppressor of peace.

Mahmoud explained that he did not mean to delegitimize Zionism or the two-state solution. His portrayal of Lewis’ Zionism as the mother of all evils was apparently triggered by a speech delivered at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) in March of 2007, in which Lewis pitted Europe and Islam against each other, coupled with AEI (and Lewis’) one-sided support of Israel. Personally, I have never understood why a one-sided support of Israel, which to me is tantamount to a one-sided support of a quest for coexistence, would be considered a crime, but this takes us away from our main story.

The point of my story is that, again, I felt invigorated by exercising an almost forgotten right — the right to be offended.

In the summer of 1936, a year after the enactment of the Nuremberg Laws, the world turned a blind eye to Nazi Germany’s genocidal intentions as Hitler hosted the Olympics in
Berlin. With next summer’s games set to take place in Beijing, Jewish and Israeli athletes have a responsibility to help ensure that the world does not make the same mistake.

This time, the Jews are not the victims. Rather, China’s victims are the 1.2 million Tibetans who have died as a result of Beijing’s invasion of the previously independent Buddhist nation. They are the untold thousands of dissidents and prisoners of conscience who will be kept out of view in modern-day gulags, while the world’s attention is focused on the action inside Beijing’s ultramodern sporting arenas. They are the 200,000 Darfurians who, according to United Nations estimates, have been killed as a result of the genocidal campaign waged by the Beijing-backed Sudanese regime.

China’s state oil company owns the largest stake in the consortium that is developing Sudan’s petroleum industry, and China buys about four-fifths of all Sudanese oil exports. An estimated 70 percent of the oil profits in Sudan are spent on a military that lays waste to villages in Darfur.

To stand by idly while the blood of others is shed would be un-Jewish.

One Jewish luminary who isn’t staying silent is Steven Spielberg, who has threatened to resign as artistic adviser to the games unless China changes course in Darfur. His demand, he explained in a letter to Chinese leader Hu Jintao, stems from his “personal commitment to do all I can to oppose genocide.”

Unfortunately, other Jewish leaders don’t seem to share that commitment. The president of the Israeli Olympic Committee, Zvi Varshaviak, said last month that in light of its experience, Israel “will continue to act toward keeping politics outside of sport in general and the Olympic Games specifically.”

Would Varshaviak also have remained silent in light of the Jewish experience at Berlin?

We are not proposing a boycott. Olympic boycotts have been tried before — Israel, the United States and five dozen other countries stayed away from the 1980 Moscow Games to protest the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. But this time, a boycott might shift attention away from Beijing, when the goal instead should be to cast a spotlight squarely on China — on its human rights abuses and its support for genocide.

Indeed, human rights activists across the globe have teamed up to brand Beijing 2008 “the Genocide Olympics.” The Genocide Olympics campaign is a “nightmare” for the Chinese hosts and their corporate sponsors, according to BusinessWeek magazine. But that nightmare pales in comparison to the daily nightmare of Darfurians, Tibetans and the democracy activists in Chinese prisons.

If the numbers from 2004 are any guide, more than 60 Jewish athletes — about half from Israel — will participate a year from now in the Beijing Games. They can play an important role in the Genocide Olympics effort.

Regardless of whether they are dressed in the blue-and-white uniform of Israel, the blue and red of the United States or the blue and yellow of Australia, they can wear the green wristbands that have become the symbol of the Save Darfur movement worldwide. When television cameras zoom in on Jewish athletes, the green bands will be a reminder of the ruthlessness of the Beijing regime. And the bands will be a powerful sign that on the most important human rights issues facing the world today, Jews will not remain on the sidelines.

When Jewish sports stars take their place among athletes from the 200-plus nations at the Games, they should also join ranks with the activists who have signed on to the Olympic Dream for Darfur Campaign — a list that includes Ira Newble of the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team, Ruth Messigner of the American Jewish World Service and actress Mia Farrow.

Organizers of the campaign recently lit an alternative Olympic torch near the Chad-Darfur border and are carrying it to locations of past mass murders across the world — including a Holocaust site in Germany — en route to its final destination in China.

Seventy-two years after Berlin, Jewish athletes from Israel and around the world will have the opportunity to speak out for justice in the same circumstances under which other nations were all too willing to stay silent. If Jewish athletes take the lead, next year’s Olympic flame will shed light on the bloodshed that Beijing has carried on in darkness.

Peter Ganong is an intern at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem and a third-year economics student at Harvard University, where he has advocated for Darfur on campus. Daniel Hemel is a first-year international relations student at Oxford University.


One of my “headmasters for the day” this year was a first-grader. In case you don’t know it, there’s a big difference between first- graders, sixth-graders and eighth-graders. Sixth-graders will say what they think you want to hear. Eighth-graders will say just the opposite of what they think you want to hear. And a first-grader will say anything that comes to mind.

So, in mid-morning, Nathan and I were visiting a third-grade classroom, where a prospective teacher was reading a story about a magic carpet. When she asked the class to imagine where they would go if they had magic carpets, I asked Nathan for his thoughts. His instantaneous response floored me. Not Disneyland. Not Hawaii or Las Vegas. Nope. “The Western Wall,” he said.

Later in the day, Nathan assured me that he likes Disneyland just fine. And if we’d been, say, playing a video game at his home computer when I asked the question, I might have gotten a different answer. Still. A first-grader picks the Western Wall.

An accumulation of similar anecdotal evidence has long confirmed for close-in observers the effect of attending a Jewish day school, but the supporting research base was slim. But now, the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University has released a carefully conducted study — the first of its kind — of the near-term academic, Jewish and social effects of day schools on former students during their college years. To read this report is to cease being surprised at Nathan’s comment. Students who attended Jewish day school for six years or more were significantly more likely to participate in Jewish activities on campus. While you might expect this of Orthodox students, the report demonstrates the positive effects of day school on non-Orthodox students (upon whom these comments focus).

The report also validates day school students’ academic and social success. Fully two-thirds of the participants reported attending their first-choice college (virtually the same percentage as alumni of private and public high schools), most at top-quartile institutions. In fact, those from non-Orthodox backgrounds who had attended Jewish day school for at least six years expressed “higher academic self-confidence” than did their private and public school peers. Prospective day-school parents often wonder whether day schools prepare their students adequately in math (a concern I’ve never understood; why would we take math any less seriously than history or spelling?). Yet the report found an “absence of differences in math confidence” between these students and their private and public school peers, even if, like their parents, they’d wondered whether their secular school peers were receiving greater preparation. At a remarkably high level, these students rated their day school academic experience as intellectually stimulating and engaging.

“Fitting in?” Former day school students assumed leadership positions in college in proportion with public and private school alumni. They made new friends in dorms, classes and campus organizations, but when it came to dating, the study did discover a difference: Students with six or more years of Jewish day school background were significantly more likely to date only or mostly Jews than were the others (except the Orthodox). “The ‘social bubble’ of day school is not a sealed social network but is more akin to a safe foundation from which day school students venture forth to meet new friends,” the report concludes. Fewer engaged in alcohol abuse, and “by far” they indicated greater interest in engaging in community volunteerism and advocacy.

Although by itself that is a satisfyingly wholesome picture, those concerned for Jewish survival will find the big story in the far greater importance these non-Orthodox students ascribed to being Jewish, together with their far greater participation in Jewish campus events.

With tuitions in the $10,000 to $20,000-plus range, depending on grade level, day schools exceed the reach of many. Yet the schools are not making money. This is what it costs to provide the caliber of education we all expect. Indeed, secular independent schools tend to charge thousands more. Los Angeles day schools receive minimal funding from the organized Jewish community (at my school, which is typical in this regard, barely 1 percent of the budget). Tuition and gifts, mostly from current parents, enable us and our sister schools to accomplish what the Brandeis study documents.

Financially capable parents should pay for their children’s education. But when it becomes evident that the future Jewish community is a significant beneficiary, it is time for the community to think about how to ensure day school education for those who can’t afford it, and how to provide funding to maximize the quality of that education. New ventures in funding Jewish day schools are taking root in cities around the country, and exciting plans along these lines are afoot here in Los Angeles. It’s hard to imagine dollars better spent if you care about the future of the American Jewish community.

For years, I’ve read predictions of doom about the future of American Jewish life, and I’ve always guessed that the authors of those doomsday scenarios hadn’t visited many Jewish day schools. Those of us who do on a daily basis are able to take a magic carpet into the future, where we can see the children of today becoming the Jewish leaders of tomorrow.

Now, whenever Nathan and I see each other, he gives me his big, almost toothless, grin. And I give him one back, because I can travel into his future and see what he and his day school classmates will be doing decades from now.

Rabbi Laurence Scheindlin is headmaster of Sinai Akiba Academy at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles.

Vietnamese ‘boat person’ Kien Wong now lives in Haifa and owns Yan Yan, a popular Chinese restaurant.

More about the refugees rescued by Israel in this 2006 article from Tom Tugend.

Here’s all we know: A wacky college student on a Taglit-birthright trip to Israel found a kindred spirit at the flea market in Jaffa . . .

It’s Police-style power reggae as the Moshe Skier Band rocks ‘Baruch HaShem’

MUSIC VIDEO: Cockney Melody, Yiddish Ditty (British home movie) 43 secs.

Everyone’s favorite Laker girl, American Idol‘s Paul Abdul, talks about being Jewish

” target = “_blank”>http://www.outfest.org/.

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