October 15, 2019


Shoshana Li, a descendant of the Jewish community of Kaifeng, China, recently made aliyah and married an American Jewish immigrant to Israel. The wedding was organized by the Shavei Israel organization.

Young fresh Bob blows the roof off American music



VideoJew Jay Firestone got it all on tape

It was hot, but it was happy.

About 30,000 people came to the Israel Independence Day Festival on May 18 at Woodley Park in the San Fernando Valley. The day combined hard-edged Israeli rappers Subliminal with Chabad’s make-your-own-kosher pickle booth. The celebration of the 60th anniversary of Israel’s founding also included performances by Israeli and local Jewish artists, information booths, kiddie rides, great quantities of falafel and speeches from dignitaries.

“I dream of a day when this extraordinary nation will be welcomed by its neighbors, when it will live in peace and harmony,” Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said of Israel in a rousing speech. The governor reminisced about his first time in Israel as a body builder judging the Miss Israel contest: “Let me tell you, that was a great trip.”

Schwarzengger presented the Cherished Friend of the Israeli and Jewish Community of Los Angeles Award to his friend Beny Alagem, an Israeli American entrepreneur and owner of Beverly Hilton Hotel.

The Metro Orange Line eased parking woes and the festival’s new nighttime hours — it ran until 10 p.m. — took the edge off a 100-degree day.

In a makeshift courthouse at a cattle exhibition center in Waterloo, Iowa, Angela Noemi Lastor-Gomez appeared before a federal magistrate judge on charges that she had used false documents to gain employment at the nearby Agriprocessors meatpacking plant, the nation’s largest kosher slaughterhouse.

The smell of stale cigarette smoke hung in the air as Lastor-Gomez, shackled at the hands and waist, the laces removed from her white sneakers, entered a guilty plea Monday before Judge Jon Stuart Scoles.

It was over in minutes.

With federal agents leading her, Lastor-Gomez waddled from Scoles’ courtroom — housed in a ballroom with a pink neon sign out front, across the grounds of the National Cattle Congress — to another makeshift court for sentencing.

Linda Reade, chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa, told Lastor-Gomez through an interpreter that the charges against her carry a potential penalty of up to 10 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine. But under an agreement reached with federal prosecutors, Lastor-Gomez would be given five years probation and sent back to her native Guatemala.

Lastor-Gomez’s federally appointed attorney, Jane Kelly, told Reade that her client wanted to return home, having only come to the United States to work and support her family. The judge then asked Lastor-Gomez if she wanted to address the court.

“I, Angela Lastor-Gomez, want to thank you, thank you for not treating me badly,” she began in Spanish, her voice cracking and the tears beginning to flow.

Lastor-Gomez then asked to be returned to Guatemala. Her family is there waiting for her, she said. Finally, she asked for God’s blessings.

Reade then sentenced her to five years probation and remanded her to the custody of U.S. marshals.

“God bless you,” Lastor-Gomez said as she was led from the room.

Lastor-Gomez was among the first eight workers to be sentenced in connection with last week’s federal immigration raid at the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, about 75 miles northeast of Waterloo. The other seven, all men, received identical sentences.

Authorities describe the raid, which netted 389 illegal workers, as the largest federal workplace immigration raid in U.S. history. It was so large that the government had to rent the exhibition center, which initially served as a holding pen and now as a federal courthouse.

Throughout Monday, nearly 70 more detainees pleaded guilty to fraud charges in exchange for five-month jail sentences, followed by deportation, the Des Moines Register reported.

Some detained last week were released almost immediately on humanitarian grounds to care for children. Under an agreement with prosecutors, a larger number were released a few days later because no criminal charges were pending.

The remainder, 306 immigrant laborers — the bulk from Mexico and Guatemala — are still in federal custody facing charges related to the misuse of Social Security numbers and faking their identities in employment documents.

A court spokesman said he expected the hearings to be complete by Thursday night.

The raid has wrought havoc for Agriprocessors, which produces more than half the country’s kosher beef and 40 percent of its kosher chicken, mostly under the labels Aaron’s Best and Rubashkin’s. The company has scrambled to replace its workforce, importing laborers from across the country or busing them in daily from around the state.

“I see new faces all the time,” said a red-bearded Chasid, who said he was a shochet, or ritual slaughterer, at the plant.

One of those new faces is Dan Keller, 41, an unemployed single father who received a call last week from an employment agency saying Agriprocessors was hiring. A former machine operator at Tyson Foods in Waterloo, Keller now operates a Cry-o-vac for Agriprocessors, sucking the air out of packages of deli foods and other ready-to-eat products.

Each morning at about 5 a.m., Keller boards a coach for the hour-and-a-half ride to Postville. He spends eight hours vacuum-sealing bags of meat — “or product, as you’re supposed to call it” — before boarding the bus back to Waterloo.

Keller is paid $8 an hour for his troubles — less than the $12.20 he was paid as a unionized worker at Tyson, but more than the $5 an hour Agriprocessors is alleged to have paid some of its illegal workers.

According to Keller, after taxes and child support payments are deducted, he walks away with just $39 for an 11-hour day. But he’s not complaining. The bus is comfortable and outfitted with televisions, and Agriprocessors even provided lunch the first day.

“So far it’s been awesome,” Keller said. “I think they’re treating us really, really well. They’re just glad to have us at this point.”

Workers like Keller have allowed Agriprocessors to continue to function, though several people with connections to the plant say it is operating at a fraction of its usual capacity. Keller said his department normally employs 104 people. The day he arrived, there were four. Now, with the additional labor, the number is up to 34.

“They’re not up to speed yet at all,” Keller said. “They’re just trying to survive.”

Founded by Aaron Rubashkin, a butcher from Brooklyn and a member of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, Agriprocessors has attracted hundreds of Orthodox Jews to this rural pocket of northeast Iowa in the past two decades.

The company first gained national attention in 2000 with the publication of the book, “Postville,” which described the tensions between the company and the local community. Since then, Agriprocessors has come under fire over its slaughter methods and labor practices, as well as health and safety violations.

As much trouble as the raid has generated for Agriprocessors, it pales in comparison to what the residents of Postville are experiencing.

The raid has decimated the local Spanish-speaking population, which went underground in the days afterward. Children were absent from school, friends mysteriously disappeared and many sought refuge in one of Postville’s three churches.

The owner of Sabor Latino, a Spanish grocery and restaurant in downtown Postville, said his business fell by half since the raid. On Sunday, a sign advertised an all-you-can-eat Mexican buffet — $3.95 for kids, $6.95 for adults. But only one diner was in the restaurant in late afternoon.

Video de Pesaj from Argentina—‘Don’t worry, be matzoh!’

Excerpt from an Israeli TV show “Ktzarim”: some troubled people meet for group therapy. In Hebrew with English subtitles.

A classic joke in a new short video by Nick Fox-Gieg of www.fox-gieg.com

This video follows Orit’s participation in the “Prettiest of Women” beauty pageant held on Valentine’s Day (February, 14, 2008) at the Israel Mall, Talpiot in Jerusalem. There were 13 contestants total. Click to see which award Orit took home…(Note: Not all contestants appear.)

Leon Azancot, a wonderful 80 year old Tangerine Jew (he should live to 120), sang some piyyutim in Hebrew and explained them in Spanish at his insurance office over the Socco Grande (entrance to the souk) in Tangier, Morocco.

Video by Vanessa Paloma.

Vanessa wrote about her visit for The Journal.


” title=”tests the Mizmor Kosher Wate”>tries Mizmor kosher water—fresh from the riparian office buildings of Pico-Robertson.

The classic 1920 German expressionist black and white horror film “The Golem” gets a new soundtrack by Hollywood composer Carvin Knowles in this original JewishJournal.com video

Carvin Knowles writes:

In the 16th Century CE Rabbi Judah Loew was said to have created a powerful Golem to defend Prague’s Jewish ghetto.

Although I composed this segment of of score for the scene in Paul Wegener’s 1920 prequel to his silent Golem series in the summer of 2002, I only recorded it during the last weekend of October in 2007.

I played all the brass and woodwinds myself, including the oboe solo near the beginning and the gong, all in my small Hollywood apartment.

In this scene, Rabbi Loew summons the Sumerian demon Astaroth to learn the word that will bring the Golem to life—rendered in the most arcane transliteration from Hebrew that I have ever seen, the word is “Aemath” meaning ‘emet’ (Hebrew)’ or ‘truth.’ I had imagined Rabbi Loew reciting the Shema to hold the ancient demon at bay.

For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by Der Golem, the great Jewish monster of clay who only comes to life when Truth is in his breast (or on his tongue, in the original text).

Whether it is the silent film or the Hammer horror version or even Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” (which, incidentally, had it’s premier in Prague), the living statue has always terrified and thrilled me.

It is my pleasure to share a little piece of that with our audiences at JewishJournal.com.


Carvin Knowles


Inspired by Chris Crocker’s infamous and passionate YouTube appeal for people to leave Britney alone in the wake of her failed performance at the MTV 2007 Music Video Awards, Orit from Israel has created a passionate appeal to the world community to LEAVE ISRAEL ALONE!


This is directed to anyone who dares bash Israel and demand she make concessions.

The desert air was balmy and hot. The almost-full moon hung over palm trees and the fireflies glittered amid a spotlight’s beam. More than 1,000 people sat on the blanketed stone bleachers of the outdoor amphitheater at Mineral Beach for the Passover Dead Sea Music Festival, waiting patiently for the Israeli trio, HaBanot Nechama (translated as “Comfort Girls”), to hit the stage.

The crowd occupied themselves with kosher-for-Passover pizza and crepes but got grumpy when the trio delayed for more than a half-hour. Finally, the three “girls” walked onto the stage, two barefoot, one in sandals: Yael Deckelbaum, with her dirty-blonde hair and green eyes; Karolina, (who goes by one name only), with her unmistakable afro; and Dana Adini, with long brown waves that look like dreads-in-formation.

As soon as their angelic harmonies opened the show with the lyrics: “Lovers/ Don’t be afraid/ I have come to save you from the pain,” the crowd was soothed. The sound matched the surroundings — natural, organic, earthy, relaxing and glam-free.

On May 10, HaBanot Nechama will perform at their most glamorous venue yet — the Kodak Theatre — in the gala finale of the “Let My People Sing” music festival celebrating Israel’s 60th anniversary. These Israeli natives are sure to bring raw soulful simplicity and natural girl power to a stage known for hosting Hollywood’s most primped affairs. They’ve been likened to the Indigo Girls, Crosby Stills and Nash, and even the Dixie Chicks.

Embarking on their first North American tour, with stops at Radio City Music Hall and the Highline Ballroom in New York and at the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino in Las Vegas, HaBanot Nechama has come a long way from that day in 2004 when, at a Tel Aviv clothing boutique, the then-struggling artists had one of the most important girl-talks of their careers.

“I came to Dana very desperate,” related singer-songwriter Yael Deckelbaum during her first interview with a non-Israeli publication. “Karolina came desperate. About our lives, not making it, frustrations at being poor musicians, not being acknowledged, not having money. In that moment was a spark. The first spark.”

Curled up in a chair in her bohemian-style apartment in Jaffa, wearing Capri pants and a cotton tank and sans make-up, Deckelbaum spoke about the making-of-the-band on behalf of the trio in her fluent, tad-rusty English. She inherited the language and love for music from her father, a Canadian-Israeli who led a country-folk band, The Taverners, in her hometown of Jerusalem.

It’s difficult these days to interview the girls together. In addition to preparing for the tour, they’re busy developing their now-successful solo careers. Deckelbaum is finishing her first solo album, Karolina is working on her second and Adini’s acting career is soaring, with a starring role as an injured ballet dancer in a new Israeli prime-time television show, “Al Ktzot Ha’etzbaot” (On the Tip of the Fingers).

They owe much of their current success to those inchoate nights in one another’s living rooms, when, unbeknownst to them, they were forming a new band by spontaneously, intuitively pitching harmonies for the others’ songs.

“We were nourishing each other with each other,” Deckelbaum said. “I got a lot of inspiration, so I started writing songs that grew out of this inspiration — and we started writing some stuff together and jamming a lot. Our meetings didn’t feel like work. It felt like a support group.”

The name of the band does not necessarily apply to their effect on audiences, but on themselves.

“Karolina brought up the name when we were sitting in the room,” Deckelbaum said. “She said, ‘I’m feeling such a big comfort. Maybe we should call ourselves Nechama [Comfort].’ A bell went off, and that’s what it is.”

Karolina, born Keren Karolina Avratz in Eilat, contributed her version of the story over the phone from her Tel Aviv apartment.

“The fourth girl is named Nechama,” she said. “She’s the influence. Sometimes I feel it’s another lady — that there is another woman coming out because our voices come so together, like glue.”

The girls debuted on stage as a trio about four and a half years ago with three songs at an acoustic night the Jah-Pan club in the artsy Florentine neighborhood in south Tel Aviv.

“It was very clean, no ego, very special and powerful and full of love,” Deckelbaum said. “The crowd went mad. We were each very good on our own — the crowd enjoyed us very much — so when the three of us got together, it was three times stronger.”

HaBanot Nechama continued to perform regularly, and without formal musical training, the naturally talented singers relied much on intuition, trial and error, and audience call/response to perfect the act. By the time they went into the studio to record an album independently they had already built up a loyal following.

Toward the end of the recording process, they caught the attention of veteran Israeli manager Asher Bitansky, who signed them on his Labeleh record label.

HaBanot Nechama- i Love You

“They are three individual creative talents that managed to collaborate in such a wonderful way and create a tone of music, folk appearance that is rare not only in Israel but around the world,” said Bitansky, who is responsible for booking their shows in the United States. “I didn’t have to knock on too many doors to make it happen. All I had to do was introduce them, and the rest was done by the music.”

The eponymous album went platinum in Israel only weeks after its release in August 2007.

Its third song, “So Far,” dominated the Israeli charts, much to Karolina’s surprise. “I remember how insecure she was about it,” Deckelbaum said, “and how Dana and I thought: ‘Wow-this is amazing.’ Then we sat there and tried to harmonize it.”

In writing the song, Karolina “had a conversation between my heart and God, and I explained the spirit of what I’m feeling. Whatever I did, I didn’t feel good. What’s going on? Even when life is amazing I feel bad. People smile at me, I don’t smile back…. Sometimes you don’t know anything about life and yourself, and that’s OK.”

The Shoah

How incredibly written was The Jewish Journal editorial (“Genocide 2.0,” May 2).

Whether you're drinking filtered, spring or mineral water, purity has long been considered a desired element in bottled water. But when it comes to purity, only one word can truly capture it all — kosher.

And with a certification from the Orthodox Union, Mizmor Kosher Water is capitalizing on the importance of purity and kashrut in the marketplace.

“In order to be sold on the kosher shelf in the supermarket, you must have a kosher certification,” said Shoshana Teri, Mizmor CEO and president, adding that an OU mashgiach (inspector) ensures that the bottling facilities are kept clean and void of any nonkosher elements.

Though Mizmor, which is spring water, is marketed to a specifically Jewish consumer, having kosher certification is nothing new to the bottled water industry. Most bottled water is kosher, including such popular labels as Crystal Geyser, Arrowhead and Fiji.

VideoJew Jay Firestone tests the water

So what makes Mizmor specifically tailored for Jews?

The company advertises its halachic mindset by donating 10 percent of its net operating profit to underprivileged children.

“You get to quench your thirsty soul with Mizmor Kosher Water, and at the same time, you are an instant participant in raising money for children in need,” Teri said.

Mizmor donates to several organizations, including Mamash Yeshiva in Israel and the Mizmor Family Foundation in B'nai Berak, while also being heavily involved with the Jewish National Fund. Mizmor has recently filed an application to help support St. Jude's Hospital.

In the coming weeks, Mizmor will continue to donate truckloads of water to various events and organizations, among them the May 18 Israel@60 festival at Woodley Park in Van Nuys.

Teri was inspired to work with water when her father was ill in 2000. During a lunch outing, Teri's father asked for a bottle of water, and as he turned to her, he said, “My daughter, do water.”

Originally, Teri wanted to call her product “Kosher Water,” but her lawyer advised that it was too generic. Turning to God for divine inspiration, she opened up a siddur and chose the first word she found — Mizmor — which in Hebrew translates to “psalm.”

Since the company's launch in April 2007, Mizmor has sold close to 50,000 bottles and has set up its headquarters on Robertson Boulevard, just a few doors north of the Kabbalah Centre.

The water is bottled by Niagara in Irvine, Nature's Way in Pennsylvania, Silver Springs in Florida and Nirvana in upstate New York. The bottled water is distributed to Jewish communities throughout the United States. Locally, Mizmor can be found at many kosher markets, plus several Ralphs locations.

“The word 'kosher' is purity, [and] our educational project is about underprivileged children who are so pure,” said Teri, adding that “nothing would make us happier than to give more of Mizmor.” The company slogan, “The More the Mizmor,” is a trademark for that generosity.

The Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival will appropriately mark Israel’s 60th anniversary with an opening film on the country’s transition from British mandate to independent state.

“The Little Traitor,” kicking off the weeklong festival on Thursday, May 8, harkens back to 1947, when “Palestinians” referred to the Jewish inhabitants and the hated enemies were British soldiers wearing red berets.

Throughout the week, until May 15, the festival will present some 30 features, documentaries, short subjects and panel discussions at eight venues on the Westside and in the San Fernando Valley, announced executive director Hilary Helstein.

Theodore Bikel, who has a small role in the film, will appear live at the opening night screening, along with director-writer Lynn Roth. Israeli Consul General Yaakov Dayan will also address the audience.

In other highlights, Joan Rivers will receive the Marlene Adler Marks Woman of Inspiration Award, named in honor of the late Jewish Journal editor and columnist. The May 13 event at the Skirball Cultural Center will include the premiere of “Making Trouble: Three Generations of Funny Jewish Women.”

“Refusenik,” the story of the international campaign to free Soviet Jews, will have its local premiere on May 14, with Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, one of the movement’s pioneer activists, and director Laura Bialis in attendance.

‘Sixty-Six’ trailer

A sneak preview of the comedy, “Sixty-Six,” dealing with the conflict between a British boy’s bar mitzvah plans and the World Cup soccer series, closes the festival on May 15.

“Little Traitor,” based on the semibiographical novel, “Panther in the Basement” by Israeli author Amos Oz, combines the coming of age story of a young patriot with historical insights on the struggle for a Jewish state.

Proffy (short for “professor”) is an 11-year-old Jerusalem boy, who hates the British soldiers who occupy his land, impose strict curfews, and conduct midnight house raids.

With two like-minded playmates, he forms the “underground cell” FOD (“Freedom or Death”), which sprays “British Go Home” graffiti on walls and tries to disable a British convey by scattering nails on the road.

On most evenings, Proffy sneaks up to the rooftop to scan the roads for the British enemy through binoculars. Not infrequently, his attention strays to a lovely young woman in a neighboring apartment in various stages of undress.

One evening, Proffy, played with remarkable authenticity by Ido Port, is caught after curfew hours by British Sgt. Dunlop, played by a sympathetic, if slightly corpulent, Alfred Molina.

An unlikely but warm friendship develops between Proffy and the Bible-reading soldier during mutual language lessons, in which Dunlop explains the meaning of “snooker” and Proffy introduces his friend to the subtleties of “meshugge.”

After a short time, Proffy’s fellow young freedom fighters discover the relationship and denounce him as a traitor. Proffy is hauled before a Jewish Agency “court” and sternly examined by Bikel as an interrogator.

In one of its most emotional scenes, the film recreates the almost unbearable tension of the November 1947 vote by the United Nations, which will determine the partition of Palestine between Arabs and Jews. Families huddle around the radio, keeping score of each country’s vote, and then burst into the street in wild jubilation after the final count.

Lynn Roth, who directed “Little Traitor” and wrote the screenplay, is a veteran Hollywood writer and producer who has won numerous awards, especially as showrunner (executive producer) of the long-running 1980s television series “The Paper Chase.”

She has also been a longtime teacher in The Jewish Federation’s Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership Program and said that she had dreamt for decades about making a film in Israel.

After extensive preparations, she began filming “Little Traitor” in the old Musrara quarter of Jerusalem in the summer of 2006, and three days into the project the Lebanon War broke out.

“It struck me as ironic that I was making a film about fighting in Palestine in 1947, and now, almost 60 years later, the bullets were flying again,” she said.

Despite such distractions, including the army call-up of some of her crewmembers, Roth “miraculously” completed shooting the film in 28 days.

Roth, a New York native, said she is bound to Israel by many ties, not least the graves of all four grandparents in the Jewish state.

For detailed listing of films, dates and locations, call the Westside Jewish Community Center, festival sponsor, at (323) 938-2531.

Is there a more loaded word in the Arab-Israeli conflict than “refugee”? Is there anything more visceral or emotional than the sight of millions of Palestinians living in miserable refugee camps for three generations?

If any one thing has symbolized the Palestinian cause and put Israel on the defensive, it is this image — this powerful and constant reminder to the world that Israel’s creation 60 years ago came with an “original sin,” and that Palestinians deserve the “right of return.”

You can debate the fairness of this claim, but in our world of easy sound bites, the image of Palestinian suffering has become an albatross around Israel’s neck. The fact that few Jews would ever agree to this right of return — which would erode Israel’s Jewish character — has made this an enormous obstacle to any reconciliation between the two people.

But here’s the question: Will Israel ever be able to claim the high ground when it comes to justice for refugees?

This week in Montreal, where I am spending Passover with my family, I met a man who thinks the answer is yes. He is one of the leaders of the Jewish community here, and he is actively fighting for justice for Middle Eastern refugees.

Jewish refugees, that is.

As Sylvain Abitbol explains it, the expulsion and exodus of more than 850,000 Jews from Arab countries is among the most significant yet little-known injustices against humanity of the past century. For hundreds of years, and in many cases for millennia, Jews lived in countries such as Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Lybia, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia, Iran, Iraq and Yemen. In several of these countries, the Jewish population was established more than 1,000 years before the advent of Islam. From the seventh century on, special laws of the Dhimmi (“the protected”) subjected the Jews of the Middle East and North Africa to prohibitions, restrictions and discrimination — not to mention harsh conditions of inferiority. Still, many Jews managed to prosper despite these circumstances.

Things took a turn for the worse after the birth of Israel in 1948. Between the 1940s and 1980s, the Jews of Arab countries endured humiliation, human rights abuses, organized persecution and expulsion by the local governments; Jewish property was seized without compensation; Jewish quarters were sacked and looted and cemeteries desecrated; synagogues, Jewish shops, schools and houses were ransacked, burned and destroyed; and hundreds of Jews were murdered in anti-Semitic riots and pogroms.

To this day, Arab countries and the world community have refused to acknowledge these human rights violations or provide compensation to the hundreds of thousands of Jews forced to abandon their homes, businesses and possessions as they fled those countries.

But activists like Abitbol are fighting back, all the way to the White House and the U.S. Congress. Abitbol, the first Sephardic Jew to lead the local Jewish Federation in Montreal and now co-president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, connected with this movement a year ago when he joined the board of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC). Together with other organizations like the American Sephardi Federation (ASF) and the World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries (WOJAC), the movement, which is officially called the International Rights and Redress Campaign, toiled for years in obscurity.

A few weeks ago, they hit the jackpot.

That’s when the U.S. Congress overwhelmingly passed the first-ever resolution to grant recognition as refugees to Jews from Arab and Muslim countries. House Resolution 185 affirms that all victims of the Arab-Israeli conflict must be treated equally, which means it will now be official U.S. policy to mention “Jewish refugees” whenever there is mention of Palestinian refugees in any official document.

It’s a huge victory, but only a beginning. The United Nations and the world media are the next fronts in this battle for Jewish justice. Abitbol, a sophisticated man in his mid-50s who’s fluent in French, English, Arabic, Hebrew and Spanish, has no illusions about Israel’s precarious image in the world. But he’s far from being a cynic. He’s passionate about fighting for the rights of Jewish victims, and he is also a Jewish refugee (from Morocco). Yet he hardly acts like either a refugee or a victim.

Over tea at my mother’s house, he reflected on the major influences of his life. One of the things that stuck with me was something Abitbol said he learned early in his career, when he was in sales. Abitbol, who has two engineering degrees and is chairman of an innovative software company called uMind, calls the technique “listen and adapt:” You adapt your strategy and your communication to the values of your audience.

He gave me a fascinating example. While in Dubai recently on business, an Arab businessman confronted him on the situation in Israel. Abitbol, seeing that the man was a devout Muslim who believed that everything comes from God, gently explained — in Arabic — that if Israel has survived so many wars over 60 years, maybe it’s because it is “Inshallah” (God’s will). Abitbol got the other man’s attention.

Same thing when he spoke recently at a United Nations conference in Geneva on the subject of Jewish refugees. Directly facing representatives of Arab countries, he used the language of indignation and human rights that Arabs have used so successfully against Israel for so many decades, only this time it was on behalf of Jews.

Of course, he added that there is one major difference: Jews didn’t put their 850,000 refugees in squalid camps so they could have a powerful image on the evening news. They helped them resettle, so that one day, one of them would learn five languages and fly to Geneva to speak up on their behalf.

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

In this silent video excerpt from the book/dvd/cd combo ‘300 Ways to Ask the Four Questions’ Marla Berkowitz explains new signs for Matzoh and Passover and then asks the Four Questions in American Sign Language (ASL).

Fu san ede a neti disi de difrenti fu tra neti?

That means, “Why is this night different from all other nights,” in Sranan.

But what’s Sranan, you ask? Sranan is the primary language spoken in South America’s Suriname, which has one of the oldest Jewish populations on the American continent. Is is also spoken in Aruba, Netherlands and the Netherlands Antilles — with a total of 426,400 speakers today.

Who knows if anyone there is really saying the Mah Nishtana there or in those countries, but that’s what’s so delightful about Murray Spiegel and Rickey Stein’s new book, “300 Ways to Ask the Four Questions: From Zulu to Abkhaz (Spiegel & Stein). Subtitled, “An Extraordinary Survey of the World’s Languages Through the Prism of the Haggaddah” each page lists the Four questions in its original language — sometimes which must be transliterated to the English alphabet, a note about the translator, and a note about the language — how many speakers, its ranking in the world, a pronunciation key and a picture of the place. The song can be heard on the accompanying CD as well.

“From my earliest childhood memories, I know I’ve always loved Passover. It was a joyous tiem when the entire extended family came together, from guests whose names I never embered from farway towns, to my favorite cousins,” Spiegel writes in the introduction. When he later began making his own seders in graduate school, he started adding recordings of people doing odd version fo the Four questions, like Ladino, Spanish and a Hebrew Donald Duck.”

Stein was fascinated with languages too, inspired by his Russian grandfather who had known a number of languages and dialects, having worked for the Singer Sewing Machine Company across Europe before he’d emigrated to the United States. In 1972 he attended a seder where people said the Four Questions in Foreign languages. “What a great idea,” I thought. “Everyone enjoyed doing or hearing the questions done this way.”

Who wouldn’t enjoy hearing the Four Questions said in a completely foreign language – not Yiddish, Hebrew, Spanish and French, which are foreign but not as strange as Mapudungun, a language spoken by 300,000 primarily in Chile, and also Argentina; or in Yorbuba, which is also called Yooba and Yariba, one of the four official languages of Nigeria. There’s also nonsensical languages such as our very own Valley Girl and Pig Latin.

Why is this night different from all other (seder) nights? Because we’re hearing a different version of the Four Questions.

For more information, visit http://www.whyisthisnight.com/

Pro-Israel Doves Launch D.C. Outfit

J Street promo video

Pro-Israel doves are launching an initiative aimed at countering the influence of established Jewish organizations on Capitol Hill. In a conference call Tuesday, organizers announced the launch of J Street, a lobby outfit and a political action committee backed by some of the biggest names in the dovish pro-Israel community.

The new group’s executive director, Jeremy Ben-Ami, says the goal is to take on the pro-Israel giants, particularly the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), where they are the most powerful: in Congress.

Ben-Ami says the new lobby will work the halls on Capitol Hill, where he asserts the majority of lawmakers are sympathetic to the pro-Israel, pro-peace position and doing more to support Palestinian moderates, but afraid of the political consequences of speaking out.

The group is ready to go with a projected annual budget of $1.5 million, about half of which is on hand, and a staff of four. That’s a fraction of the nearly $50 million AIPAC spends — and that doesn’t even include the totals from AIPAC’s recent legacy fundraising program.

Carter in Sderot: Attacks Are ‘Despicable’

Jimmy Carter, during a visit to Sderot, called Palestinian rocket attacks on civilians a “despicable crime.”

“I think it’s a despicable crime for any deliberate effort to be made to kill innocent civilians, and my hope is there will be a cease fire soon,” Carter told reporters Monday in the beleaguered southern Israeli town on the Gaza Strip border.

The former U.S. president is in Israel as part of a Middle East tour. On Sunday, his first day in the Jewish state, Carter met with President Shimon Peres, who told his fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner that he has damaged Israel and the peace process. Carter has been sharply critical of Israel on its Middle East stance, notably in his recent book “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.”

During the meeting, Peres also criticized Carter’s decision to meet later in the week with the exiled leader of Hamas. Leaders in Washington and Jerusalem reacted with outrage last week to reports that Carter planned to meet with Khaled Meshaal, who lives in Damascus.

Carter has defended his controversial decision to meet Meshaal while in Syria.

“It’s very important that at least someone meet with the Hamas leaders to express their views, to ascertain what flexibility they have, to try to induce them to stop all attacks against innocent civilians in Israel and to cooperate with the Fatah as a group that unites the Palestinians,” Carter said in an exclusive interview with George Stephanopoulos on “This Week” on ABC aired Sunday morning.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni both declined to meet Carter, citing “scheduling conflicts.” Ha’aretz reported Monday that Israel’s Shin Bet security service has declined to assist Carter during his visit, calling it an “unprecedented” breach between the Shin Bet and the U.S. Secret Service.

Obama Launches Hebrew Blog

Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama has launched a Hebrew-language blog. In a post on the blog, Obama’s Middle East policy advisor, Eric Lynn, says the blog aims to inform Israelis of the candidate’s desire to strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship.

The blog was launched Friday with a Hebrew translation of Obama’s speech last year to the annual policy conference of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee. Obama’s campaign has labored intensively to counter sentiment in the Jewish community that the candidate is insufficiently strong on Israel.

The blog can be accessed at www.tapuz.co.il/blog.

Birthright Receiving $17.5 Million Grant

The Jim Joseph Foundation is giving $17.5 million to the Birthright Israel Foundation. Much of the gift, $12.5 million, will be used for programming for alumni, Birthright announced Monday. The remaining $5 million will go to support the free 10-day trips to Israel for 18- to 25-year-old Jews.

It was the largest gift by the Joseph foundation since it started making grants last year. Birthright has sent some 160,000 Jews to Israel since the program started in 2000, but considerable debate has focused on how effective the trips are in terms of building Jewish identity because there is little follow-up programming for participants.

In a news release, the Birthright Israel Foundation said the $12.5 million matching grant will be used to create peer communities for Birthright alumni through Birthright Israel NEXT, which will train young adults to help create 15 communities in areas with high concentrations of birthright alumni. The program, which will cost $25 million, also will offer programming and opportunities for Jewish involvement.

“Rather than feeling lost in a large Jewish community made up of organizations that are not typically tailored to their needs, Taglit-Birthright Israel alumni will now be empowered by small peer-based communities that fit with their lifestyles,” said Susie Gelman, the chairwoman of the Birthright Israel Foundation. “In these communities, the strong connections to Israel that are sparked on the 10-day trip can be sustained and amplified.”

Birthright estimates that 110,000 of its alumni are from North America.

Shin Bet Online in English, Arabic

Long a shadowy spy service, the Shin Bet, Israel Security Agency, has been slowly getting a public face thanks to its Web site (www.shabak.gov.il).

In an apparent bid to boost recruitment from civilian hi-tech firms, the Web site instituted blogs by four of its computer staff earlier this year. As of this week, the site also has translations of some of its pages in English and Arabic.

While Arabic could help the Shin Bet find spies from among the Palestinians, its main area of operations, the English pages do not contain job information and appear to be aimed more at improving the service’s international image by explaining its operations.

Frogs’ Legs Hop to Israel

Frogs’ legs are now available to eat in Israel. Tiv Tam, a leading Israeli importer, announced this week it has begun bringing in small quantities of the non-kosher French delicacy for a handful of gourmet restaurants in the Jewish state.

According to Yediot Achronot, one eatery, Chloelys in Ramat Gan, offers an appetizer of three pairs of frog’s legs or an entree of six. Price is by weight — around $15 per 100 grams.

“People are excited about us having frog’s legs,” Chloelys chef Victor Gluger told the newspaper. “But when the waiter asks if they’d like to order them, a lot of people get put off and say, ‘not today.'”

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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