November 21, 2018

12 killed in attack on U.N. compound in northern Afghanistan [VIDEO]

Afghan protesters angered by the burning of a Koran by a U.S. pastor killed at least 12 U.N. workers in Mazar-e Sharif, reports.

At least 12 people were killed in Afghanistan Friday, most of them foreigners, when a United Nations compound was stormed by Afghans enraged by a Florida pastor’s burning of a Koran, according to Afghan officials.

Thousands of protesters mobilized after a midday sermon, then surged toward the offices of the United Nations in Mazar-e Sharif, northern Afghanistan’s largest city and normally a bastion of calm.

Some in the crowd broke into the U.N. office and attacked the staff, killing security guards and members of the U.N. mission, officials said.

The attack drew worldwide attention, which had been diverted in recent weeks from the Afghan war by upheaval in the Middle East, and threatened to undermine administration efforts to portray Afghanistan as moving steadily toward stability.

Video courtesy of AP.

Napolitano visiting Israel to check security projects

United States Secretary for Homeland Security Janet Napolitano is in Israel to check on joint security projects between the two countries.

Napolitano visited Israel Monday and Tuesday as part of a multi-country tour that has included stops in Ireland, Afghanistan and Qatar. She will head to Belgium to meet with European Union and World Customs Organization officials, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

“The United States and Israel have a strong and enduring partnership, and the reason for my visit is to make sure that all the things that we’re doing in partnership with Israel—aviation security to cyber-security, to science and technology, research that we are undertaking together focused on security—that all of those activities are being done in a productive and robust fashion,” Napolitano said Monday during a meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres.

Also Monday, Napolitano visited the Western Wall and Yad Vashem, where she participated in a wreath-laying ceremony honoring the 6 million Jewish victims of the Holocaust. She also met with Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor, who is the minister of Intelligence and atomic energy, and Minister of Transportation Yisrael Katz to discuss threats from terrorism and the ongoing security partnership between the United States and Israel, according to a statement from the Department of Homeland Security.

During the meetings, Napolitano reiterated her commitment to promoting enhanced international aviation security and sharing information and best practices with Israeli aviation authorities in order to counter threats of terrorism, according to the DHS.

Napolitano was scheduled to meet Tuesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and visit the Ben Gurion International Airport to meet with airport officials.

The dreadful ‘D’ words

Divorce, dissolution, divestment: These are words that spell the end of a relationship and of what might have been — through time and patience — a meaningful and inspiring marriage.

We know how often this happens to people we know, and so it is happening at this moment to the State of Israel. Like meddling in-laws, we, the world community, sit in the family room voicing our interests in the couple’s future, yet the minute we sense marital discord, we rush for the exit or take sides and fan the flames.

Israel has a population of 7.2 million — 76 percent Jews, 20 percent Arabs and 4 percent immigrant workers. The Israeli-Arab citizenry breaks down as 82 percent Muslims, 9 percent Christian and 9 percent Druze. All these groups live together in an intricate array of diverse ancestry, professional ties and domestic dependence. Each citizen has a vote in the functioning democracy that is the State of Israel, and by extension a voice at the family table of the Knesset.

The entire world debates how to intervene in this contentious and vociferous marriage, whose every dispute we mostly hear second-hand from the world media. Do we continue to support Israel, even though we know there are serious domestic disputes and inequities? Should we divest from, abandon, a world leader in high-tech, biotech, medical and environmental enterprises that benefit the world? In our desire to punish the couple, or one partner, do we ultimately punish ourselves?

These were some of the questions we sought answers to when we joined the Los Angeles Religious Leaders Delegation in an interfaith mission to Rome, the Vatican, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in January 2008, a group of Jews, Catholics, Methodists, Episcopalians and a Muslim.

Israeli society is far more complex than we had envisaged. With the exception of the Druze and Bedouins, the Christian and Muslim Arab citizens of Israel identify themselves as Palestinian by nationality and Israeli by citizenship. Nowhere is this glass partition more apparent than in Jerusalem, where we experienced the psychological barrier between Arabs and Jews. Although many Israeli-Arabs earn more than their counterparts in other Middle Eastern countries, their wages and the social services they receive in Israel are not on par with Israeli Jews. This Israeli-Arab minority needs to be nurtured, ensured equal social status and accorded full civil rights and municipal services.

According to Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh, who covers the West Bank and Gaza for various publications and with whom we met, the employment discrepancy can be attributed to two factors: a lower level of education in the Arab work force, resulting in skills more suited to lower paying jobs, and anti-Arab employment discrimination, at all levels of business sectors. Toameh — respected by both Israelis and Palestinians — outlined proposed solutions to the problem, noting that the Israeli government is prioritizing educational reform in the Arab sector, and making genuine efforts to increase Arab employment in higher-paid professions.

As a Christian and a Muslim, who ourselves would be minorities in Israeli society, we believe our most constructive role should be to support responsible investment in Israel, not punishment through divestment actions destined to backfire.

Rather than divestment, we support investment — financial and otherwise — in Israeli enterprises that address social and economic inequalities, enable joint business enterprises, increase employment among the Arab population, and offer high-quality social services to underprivileged and minority citizens. Such enterprises are seeding the ground for a flourishing, mutually beneficial society for Israelis and Palestinians.

For example, at Tel Aviv’s Bialik-Rogozin School, at-risk students from lower socioeconomic level Jewish and Arab families and children of immigrant workers harmoniously coexist in a project partially funded by Cisco Systems. Children find a safe haven at Bialik-Rogozin, and receive a quality kindergarden through 12th-grade education. At Mishkenot Ruth Daniel Multicultural Center in Jaffa, Jewish and Arab teenagers interact socially and engage in a variety of social justice projects together, many of which benefit Palestinians in the West Bank.

We also came to understand how successive corrupt Palestinian leaderships have fed the political, economic and humanitarian crisis in the territories. Any wishful thinking that divestment will lead to military calm along Israeli-Palestinian borders is strategically flawed. The present war of attrition between Israel and self-governing Gaza has been instigated and sustained by the extremist Hamas leadership whose charter calling for the eradication of Israel harms the very people it claims to serve, malnourishing the nascent Palestinian state which otherwise has the support of virtually the entire international community.

On the occasion of Israel’s 60th birthday, we believe people of good will should turn away from the destructive D words of Divorce, Dissolution and Divestment, and work instead for peace, security and happiness for both Israelis and Palestinians. We believe in supporting the prosperous marriage that can result from targeted investment and economic partnerships between the respective states, and between their many peoples.

Bishop Mary Ann Swenson oversees 390 United Methodist Congregations in Southern California, Hawaii, Guam and Saipan. Dr. Nur Amersi is the executive director of the Afghanistan World Foundation.

Vets for Freedom shed light on war

As Shabbat ended on March 15, 150 teenagers, parents and senior citizens came to hear members of Vets for Freedom speak at YULA High School. As a 15-year-old freshman in high school, I wanted to attend to hear these soldiers’ stories because I care about our country. I also wanted to hear their side of the war, and after the soldiers spoke, I saw the war in a new light.

Vets for Freedom is a nonpartisan organization informing the American public about the importance of succeeding in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The first vet who spoke was one of the leaders of the organization, Pete Hegseth, an infantry platoon leader who served in Guantanamo Bay. He spoke about how the Iraq War should be won and his recent visit to Baghdad. According to Hegseth, the neighborhoods are completely reformed compared to those of 2005, because Al Qaeda was expelled by the American troops who lived among the population.

Hegseth also got a standing ovation for what he said regarding Guantanamo Bay: “[The prisoners] would come here tomorrow and kill Americans or our allies, and it is important we would keep them out of that fight. We have to have a place to hold them.”

Next was Jeremiah Workman, a Marine squad leader in Fallujah, who talked about the two to three weeks of “house-to-house” combat to kill insurgents. Workman compared the battles there with the city’s recent situation. He commented how the gunfire has subsided and how soldiers are invited to some Iraqi weddings.

Workman passed on the microphone to Steve Russell, a colonel who was involved in the capture of Saddam Hussein. Russell took the event to more of a meditative and philosophical mood. He used historical examples to show the negativity of people, just as today many people are negative about this war. For example, he explained how people put down the Wright Brothers, the Spirit of St. Louis and Apollo 13.

“Our nation will prevail as long as even a few Americans take a stand and still believe in this country and honor her welfare above self-promotion, political advancement, and promoting unhappiness,” Russell said.

After hearing his speech, I felt that I should do more for my country and listen to what George Washington said about placing one’s nation over one’s individual self. His reflective speech instilled a feeling of patriotism in me and really made me start thinking about, as John F. Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

After this I realized that the whole event wasn’t just about success in Iraq, but was also about reviving our pride in American heritage and culture.

The final speaker was David Bellavia, a staff sergeant in an infantry unit in Iraq. Bellavia wrote “House to House,” a book about the hand-to-hand infantry combat in Fallujah. He founded Vets for Freedom.

“We took five guys, all Afghanistan and Iraqi veterans,” he explained. “We got together and said that we are going to stand accounted for.”

Bellavia lightened the mood when he took the stage, with jokes about math and what it’s like to be a target. However, he also presented a more serious note, stating how he could not understand why the radical Muslims are attacking Israel.

“Why is it that there’s so much hatred toward Israel? What are the foreign policy issues in Israel that cause militant Islam to murder? The domestic policy is self-preservation. It’s to hold on to what they’ve had for thousands and thousands of years, and still they acquire the wrath of militant Islam,” Bellavia said.

He also pointed out, “There might be a time down the road when you’re called. When you hear the calling of your nation with a rifle or a flag. It might be with your community or the people you worship with, but understand there are people right now that want to destroy you strictly based on the fact that you worship the God you worship and because you were born to the parents you were born to. You will eventually have to confront it, and hoping and wishing they go away empowers them. No more.”

After this, I realized I needed to defend both my religion and my American heritage and to question issues presented to investigate all aspects.

Afterward, there was a book signing and all 55 “House to House” books were sold. When I got home I started reading “House to House.” I reflected about how the soldiers and marines are heroes for risking their lives to defend us.

This summer I’m visiting Washington D.C., and I will now look at our achievements with a sense of pride. I’m glad that our soldiers see Israel as an ally, and I believe militant Islam has to be defeated. It was riveting to hear actual soldiers talk about their experiences first-hand, and these four veterans are truly heroes.

Phil Cooper is a freshman at Beverly Hills High School.

Speak Up!

Tribe, a page by and for teens, appears the first issue of every month in The Jewish Journal. Ninth- to 12th-graders are invited to submit first-person columns, feature articles or news stories of up to 800 words. Deadline for the April issue is March 15; deadline for the May issue is April 15. Send submissions to

A beautiful day in the neighborhood

Jihad follows twisted path from Afghanistan to Israel

The path of jihad begins in a cave on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. From there, it takes a dizzying spin through Iran, wends its way through the Middle East and then settles, inevitably, in Israel.


And who shall die

I’d like to suggest a small addition to your synagogue’s High Holiday services this year, as if they’re not long enough.
Sometime before the recitationof the mourner’s kaddish, or perhaps just before the Torah is returned to the ark, pull out any Sunday Los Angeles Times, and turn to the obituary section.
Then have your rabbi read the names listed under Military Deaths. If you can spare another minute or two, select one of the extended obituaries the L.A. Times compiles on Californians who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Each Sunday, the Times runs the Department of Defense’s list of that week’s American military deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan. The paper accompanies those with fully reported stories on any Californian killed. For the past few months, I’ve been reading these articles religiously.
For example:
Army Sgt. Andres J. Contreras, of Bell, killed in his HumVee by a roadside bomb. By age 11, Contreras was taking care of his five younger brothers. At 23, he leaves behind a 4-year-old daughter, Grace.
Army Sgt. Thomas B. Turner Jr., 31, of Cottonwood, on his second stint in Iraq, killed when his Bradley fighting vehicle ran over a roadside bomb in Muqdadiya, north of Baghdad. Turner loved ranching and motorcycles. He and his wife, Jennifer, had a 21-month-old son, Ethan, and her 8-year-old daughter, Sarah Cantrell.
“My sister had to explain to my niece that Daddy is sleeping and he won’t wake up,” Jennifer’s sister, Meredith Coghlan, told the Times.
“Does this mean he won’t e-mail me back?” Sarah asked.
Sgt. Jeffrey S. Brown, 25, of Trinity Center, was a 6-foot-1, 220-pound high school fullback known for his easy laugh and ready smile. He was on his third tour of duty when his helicopter crashed into a lake in Al Anbar province. Brown’s last words, according to his father, were “Fifteen feet to water!”
Brown’s father, a Vietnam veteran, was angry that the Army extended his son’s service through the stop-loss program, the so-called “backdoor draft.”
“My kid should not be dead,” Ed Brown told the Times, “because he did live up to his contract, and the Army did not live up to theirs.”
I spend every Sunday morning with these names and faces, over coffee, in the comfort of my home. They haunt me, in no small part because of the numbers of dead they represent. On the same page the Times also publishes the Defense Department’s ongoing tally of the American war dead. As of last week:In and around Iraq: 2,676.
In and around Afghanistan: 277.
Other locations: 56.
That’s a lot of heart-wrenching stories that I’ll never read, that no one will ever read.
Our words lead to actions, our actions have consequences — we are accountable for what we say and do to one another, and to God. That is the enduring message of the High Holidays; it’s the ethical foundation of our faith. And it’s why the Jewish default emotion is, of course, guilt.
In the days when the Temple stood, the High Priest made a confession on behalf of himself and his household. Today, the Hineni prayer and the Avodah service recreate the gravity of the priestly confession.
“Please do not hold [the congregation] to blame for my sins,” the cantor chants, “and do not find them guilty of my iniquities, for I am a careless and willful sinner.”
These litanies provide moments of grave public accountability, when our leaders accept the moral weight of their own transgressions.
I’m no rabbi or leader; I’m a guy who writes a column. My own early endorsement of the war was lukewarm and conditional, very Tom Friedman-, David Remnick-esque, but it was approval.
“The soldiers who are fighting this war have our absolute support,” I wrote just as the shooting started. “Our support for the war they are engaged in is, however, conditional — not on the actions of our soldiers, but on the decisions of their commander-in-chief.”
I believed in the danger of Saddam Hussein; I believed his demise would help turn the tide against Mideast despotism; I believed — in retrospect, how could I? — that the intelligence community that got Sept. 11 so wrong had Iraq right.So instead of writing, “No!” in as many persuasive ways as I humanly could, I offered a weak, lawyerly, “Well, OK.”
I don’t fantasize for an instant that my half-of-one-thumb-up was all President George W. Bush needed to launch the second Iraq War. But if my conviction convinced one reader, I’m sorry. I apologize.
And I apologize to the families of the dead. To the sons and daughters of the fallen. To the extent that those of us who should have known better didn’t try to stop this war before it started, to the extent we trusted men and women who were undeserving of our trust, we bear the guilt of these untimely deaths.
True, the final chapter is not written on this war. Wait, some will say, od tireh, you shall see how good it will yet be.
No. What will be good will be for our leaders to stop adding to the obituaries; to confess their wrongdoings, their hubris, their misjudgments; to atone for wasting good lives in a bad war.
Atonement, the prophet Ezekiel said, brings, “a new heart and a new spirit.”This administration has two years left to redeem itself for the lives it has squandered in fault and in folly. May all of us join with a new heart and a new spirit to help it, or force it, to do so.
Shana Tova.

Ancient Texts Could Unlock Persian Past

It took Iranian Jews in the United States nearly three decades in exile from the land their ancestors called home for 2,700 years to appreciate the rich history and culture preserved in their literature.

Considered one of the oldest but least- studied Jewish writings in the world, Judeo-Persian writings consist of the Persian language written in Hebrew characters by Jews living in what today are Iran, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and some parts of India during the last 1,000 years.

“In Iran the Jewish community was not aware of the value of Judeo-Persian writings, but now that they are away from their home they feel more attached to their heritage and want to preserve it,” said Nahid Pirnazar, founder and director of the nonprofit Los Angeles-based House of Judeo-Persian Manuscripts foundation.

Pirnazar, who obtained her doctorate from UCLA in Iranian studies with an emphasis in Judeo-Persian writing, said she formed the House of Judeo-Persian Manuscripts in 2000 after a significant number of Iranian Jews in Southern California expressed their interest in learning more about these ancient texts.

“There are probably hundreds and hundreds of Judeo-Persian manuscripts in the possession of Iranian Jews,” Pirnazar said. “Not knowing what they are, they think they’re copies of Torahs.”

Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution sparked a mass exodus of Jews; today approximately 30,000 to 35,000 Jews from Iran live in Southern California.

For the last five years, Pirnazar has spent her own money in addition to small donations from local Iranian Jews to acquire copies and even originals of Judeo-Persian manuscript collections owned by museums, libraries and individuals in the United States, Europe, Israel and Iran. Her ultimate objective is for the House of Judeo-Persian Manuscripts to amass the largest collection of Judeo-Persian works in the world.

“Our first goal is to collect and transliterate these manuscripts into the Persian script before the generation that can read them easily is gone,” Pirnazar said. “The next step is to eventually publish and translate some into English and other languages.”

According to “Padyavand,” a series of books about Judeo-Iranian studies by professor Amnon Netzer of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Judeo-Persian literature consists not only of Jewish biblical translations and commentaries but also secular poems, dictionaries, medical texts, scientific treatises, legends, calendars and translations of works by non-Jewish masters of classical Iranian literature.

The oldest Judeo-Persian manuscript — which is also the oldest extant example of Persian writing — is a 37-line merchant’s letter dating to the year 750 C.E. It was discovered in the early 20th century by archaeologists in eastern Afghanistan, according to Padyavand.

Judeo-Persian came into being following the Arab Islamic conquest of Persia in the seventh century, when the Jews of Persia, who then spoke what is known as Middle Persian, refused to write the Persian language in Arabic letters but instead wrote Persian with the Hebrew letters they were familiar with, Pirnazar said.

Aside from its linguistic value, Judeo-Persian literature has been a unique window into the previously unknown and painful history of Iranian Jews, who lived under oppressive kings for centuries. According to Vera Basch Mooren’s book, “Iranian Jewry’s Hour of Peril and Heroism,” the Iranian Jewish writer Babai Ibn Lutf chronicles in Judeo-Persian a seven-year time span in the early 17th century when the Jews in the Iranian city of Isfahan were forced to convert to Islam or face execution.

In 1629, Isfahan’s Jews ultimately were permitted to return to Judaism after two of their leaders interceded on the community’s behalf with Safi I of the Safavid dynasty.

Pirnazar also said Iranian Jews continued writing and reading Judeo-Persian up until the beginning of the 20th century but gradually drifted away from it as they secularized and Iranian society opened to them.

Bijan Khallili, an Iranian Jewish publisher and owner of the Los Angeles-based Ketab Corporation, has been publishing Iranian Jewish-related books in Persian and English for more than 20 years.

In 1999, his company published 3,000 Persian-transliterated copies of a Judeo-Persian Torah commentary originally written by the 12th-century Iranian Jewish writer Shahin. He also hopes to publish a Persian translation of a Judeo-Persian text written by the 15th-century Iranian Jewish writer Emrani.

“Sales of the Shahin Torah were OK. Mostly only older Iranian Jews can read the book since it is in Persian,” Khallili said. “The main problem is that younger people can’t read Persian writing, and they are the ones usually buying these books because they want to learn about their history, so we are looking to publish more of them in English.”

Nearly five years ago, interest in Judeo-Persian was rekindled in the Southern Californian community after the Habib Levy Foundation in Los Angeles began providing endowments for a class on Judeo-Persian that was initially taught by Netzer and now is taught by Pirnazar at UCLA.

“A lot of Iranian Jews still do not know that Judeo-Persian studies exists,” said Tannaz Talasazan, 21, an Iranian Jewish student at UCLA. “I think this course on Judeo-Persian is a great opportunity for young Jewish people, especially Iranian Jews who grew up here in America, to learn more about who they are and where they came from.”

The UCLA course not only has received tremendous praise from young Iranian Jews but also has sparked the curiosity of some Iranian Muslim students wanting to learn more about an aspect of Persian literature and poetry they hadn’t known.

“Being able to read Judeo-Persian script was certainly a feeling that I will never forget,” said Reza Khodadai, a veteran of the Iran-Iraq War who now is a biochemistry major at UCLA. “It was at the final exam, when I answered the whole transliteration section, I was reading a script that had always been unknown to me and I was seeing that it was actually in my own language of Persian.”


Articles of Faith


I keep wondering how the editors of Newsweek will frame their upcoming editorial note correcting their misreported story on the Quran desecration.

At least 17 people were killed in riots that broke out after the May 1 Newsweek story asserting that American interrogators at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, tried to humiliate prisoners by flushing a Quran down the toilet.

The report infuriated Muslims throughout the world. In Afghanistan, an anti-American riot broke out that left some 17 people dead and more than 100 wounded.

By Monday, Newsweek retracted the story. But somehow the lexicon of terse editorial apology falls short. “Newsweek regrets the error” just doesn’t begin to cover it.

No, this isn’t like getting the domestic supplier numbers on a Wal-Mart story wrong by a factor of 10, which the magazine also did last week. This was a matter of faith and belief, which, to the apparent surprise of Newsweek editors, also is a matter of life and death.

“The big point that leaps out is the cultural one,” Michael Isikoff, who reported the story for Newsweek, told The New York Times. “Neither Newsweek nor the Pentagon foresaw that a reference to the desecration of the Quran was going to create the kind of response that it did.”

What? How is that possible?

Isikoff, the other reporter John Barry and Newsweek’s editors should have been more savvy.

“It does seem incredible to me that a reporter wouldn’t understand that desecrating someone’s holy book would be an outrageous offense,” said professor Diane Winston, holder of the Knight Chair in Media and Religion at the USC Annenberg School for Communication. “It would help if Isikoff and other reporters knew when they wrote these things that they would have an effect.”

At the same time, Newsweek had every right and responsibility to report the story correctly. After all, if my government is using the profanation of religion as a torture tactic, I’d like to know about it. The documented abuses at Abu Ghraib and other detention centers have tarnished the positive results of the Iraq War, and there is every reason for a democracy to monitor its military. Shifting the focus to the messenger for a moment, however justified, shouldn’t distract journalists from pursuing important stories with hard-to-anticipate consequences.

The lesson in this tragedy is not just the obvious one about relying on shaky anonymous sources. It is this: Journalists need to learn to take religion seriously.

“Religion, spirituality and moral values are the heart of each of us,” said former Los Angeles Times editor Michael Parks, “and they’re not covered by the news media, not nearly enough, not well enough.”

Parks, who also belongs to The Journal’s board, directs the School of Journalism at the USC Annenberg School For Communication. He spoke at the installation ceremony for Winston held April 8 at USC. Winston holds the only J-school chair in the country dedicated to religion and media (Columbia’s Ari Goldman also specializes in religion and media).

The chair’s creation couldn’t come at a more opportune time.

Think about it: Sept. 11, Terri Schiavo, the Kansas City Board of Education debate on creationism, “The Da Vinci Code,” the “Left Behind” series, the former and current popes, Orthodox protesters in Jerusalem — faith has leapt from the ghetto of the sleepy, weekly “Religion Section” to the bloody, daily front page.

The problem, as Winston told me, is that reporters are by and large ill-equipped to handle the move.

“Most of us don’t have a background in world religion,” Winston said of journalists. “How do we make sense of it? How do we feel about it? We know these are important issues, but we don’t know what to think about them.”

The result is coverage that often portrays religion in a black-and-white, kooks-versus-rational-beings way, which fails to draw out and explain the more mysterious, faith-based aspects of belief. And then there’s the example of Newsweek, which should have at least delved into the potential consequences of the Quran-flushing accusations before reporting them.

There are exceptions. Winston said the Los Angeles Times’ Teresa Watanabe, Don Lattin at the San Francisco Chronicle and writers Jeff Sharlet, Jeffrey Goldberg and Yossi Klein Halevi do excellent jobs translating complex religious issues to the public.

Winston’s own background straddles religion, journalism and academia. She has a doctorate in religion from Princeton University, a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University, a master’s in Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School and a bachelor’s from Brandeis University.

She worked as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun, Dallas Morning News, Dallas Times Herald and The News and Observer in Raleigh, N.C., and directed religion and media projects at New York University and Northwestern University.

Now settled in Los Angeles, she is a member of the IKAR congregation, where her 5-year-old daughter attends Hebrew school. Her two stepdaughters are Presbyterian.

Los Angeles, Winston said, is an ideal place for journalists to learn how to bridge the worlds of faith and facts.

“People have this idea of L.A. being godless and irreligious, but that stereotype is not representative of the larger culture here,” she said. “This city is a living laboratory of religious diversity, and people here take it seriously.”

Now Winston needs to train a new generation of journalists to do the same.


Hamas and the Triple Standard

When it comes to Israel’s fight against Hamas, a triple standard seems at work.

Israel is now completely at war with Palestinian terror groups, no less than America is at war with Al Qaeda worldwide and Saddam loyalists in Iraq. Hence, Israel must escalate its rules of engagement, mimicking those recently established by American forces in our own war against terror waged in Iraq and Afghanistan. As such, Israel should preemptively and unrelentingly eliminate Hamas and company where they stand as soon as they are identified or self-identify.

By "eliminate," I mean kill. By "as soon as they self-identify," I mean as soon as parading militants don the green-masked and explosive-bedecked uniform of a suicide bomber, or publicly proclaim themselves as waiting for orders to do so, whether the militant is beating his chest in a rally or cradling a megaphone in a press conference. By "where they stand," I mean wherever they are located — in a car, in a training camp or in a public protest procession. Israel must hit Hamas members while they marched in uniform in the West Bank and Gaza before they change clothes into Chasidic garb and Israeli pop attire and then board buses in Jerusalem.

For precedent, we need only look to recent tactics employed by our own military and coalition forces in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere.

On June 9, American forces in Iraq launched Operation Peninsula Strike, which chased down and killed a group of Saddam loyalist ambushers, first reported as 27 but then adjusted downward to just seven. The day before, Americans located and utterly destroyed a loyalist training camp, killing 70, and detaining about 400 other suspects. Even as I type, these successes are being repeated in a new sweep across the width of Iraq, locking down towns as U.S. troops go door-to-door hunting for Saddam loyalists and arm caches. And of course everyone remembers the first shot of the Iraq War — a precision "decapitation strike" in the heart of a residential neighborhood. "Decapitation" is military lingo for pre-emptive assassination of top leadership.

Speaking of aerial assassination and assault, last November, a joint CIA Predator tracked an Al Qaeda cell in a private car speeding across the Yemeni desert. A Hellfire missile incinerated the car and its six occupants. In Afghanistan, American bombers, Predators and gunships incessantly bombed suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda wherever they were discovered, in a cave, in a hut, on a mountaintop, at a wedding. America has done all this on the other side of the world.

Israel is fighting a similar war for survival but right down the street.

Yet there seems to be a triple standard at play. America can assassinate and decapitate, send in gunships and missiles, surround and lock down whole towns, and round up and detain suspects by the hundreds in its war on terror creating one standard. Hamas, in the minds of some, is engaged in mere "rogue resistance," and its bus bombs and murder squads should be overlooked as incidental to polite roadmap discourse — thus creating a second standard. At the same time, Israel is expected to exhibit restraint and not fight back as vigorously and preemptively as America does — creating a third standard. Such restraint is as absurd as it is self-destructive.

Naturally, the issue of collateral damage and innocent civilians arises. Therefore, Israel should do as America did before launching its war against Iraq. Remember? America issued instructions and leaflets to Iraqi civilians not to stand near any member of Saddam’s military or its infrastructure. Israel should do the same: issue warnings that the Palestinian populace avoiding standing near anyone self-identifying or identified as Hamas or a terrorist. That said, Israel should deploy long-range snipers, helicopter gunships, assassination and decapitation and all the other tactics regretfully needed in a war against terror that has been embedded within a civilian setting.

And then, Israel should continue to eliminate Hamas terrorists where they stand until the forces of peace within the Palestinian community can rise to the occasion.

Edwin Black is the author of “IBM and the Holocaust” (Crown 2001). His next book, “War Against the Weak” (Four Walls Eight Windows) will be published in September.

Never the Same

Danny, 10, can recite the Five Pillars of Islam: faith, prayer, charity, fasting and pilgrimage.

Jeremy, 12, understands the difference between Predator armed drones and Global Hawk surveillance drones; between 500-pound "dumb" gravity bombs and 2,000-pound "smart" precision-guided bombs.

Gabe, 14, knows that Pastun and Dari are the spoken languages of Afghanistan while Pastuns, Uzbeks and Tajiks make up the main ethnic groups.

Zack, 18, can locate most of the "stans" — Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

Since Sept. 11, on a practical and comprehensible level, my sons have learned about the religion of Islam, the military capability of the United States, the ethnicity of Afghanistan and the geography of Central Asia.

On an impractical and incomprehensible level, they have learned that their world can change horrifically and irreversibly in a split second.

They have learned that evil exists.

"Your lives will never be the same," I told them on Sept. 11. Even more than Dec. 7, 1941, altered the lives of their grandparents and Nov. 22, 1963, altered the lives of my husband, Larry, and myself.

Some changes happened immediately. I put a halt to Zack’s early decision application to an East Coast school. I forbid visits to theme parks, stadiums and venues with large gatherings. And I replenished and expanded the emergency supplies.

In the following few weeks, in a warranted and comforting burst of patriotism, we adorned our car windows, garage and boys’ bedroom walls with American flags. My younger sons replaced pop singers and athletes with firefighters and police officers as their heroes. And we mourned the victims, crying as we read their encapsulated biographies in The New York Times "Portraits of Grief."

Six months later, our lives are still not the same.

Yes, the fear of immediate danger is less palpable.

Larry and I have let Zack apply to three East Coast colleges. We have allowed Jeremy to visit Magic Mountain and Gabe to visit CityWalk and Century City. We have resumed going out to dinner, though less frequently, and supporting our faltering economy, though less enthusiastically. We have taken down all the flags except for a child-made felt flag that hangs in the front hall.

But I still nervously await the next terrorist attack on United States territory.

I still cry easily, this last time when journalist Daniel Pearl was first kidnapped and then viciously murdered.

And I find myself agreeing with Dr. Chris Giannou, head surgeon of the International Red Cross, who has spent 20 years in war-ravaged countries, including six weeks in Afghanistan last fall. He said, "For me, the world is divided between the bad and the worst, not the good and the bad."

But my sons, at least outwardly, are more optimistic.

"It’s not as if I walk into Dad’s office [on the 40th floor] and think, ‘Oh no, an airplane’s going to fly into the building.’ You can’t worry about that stuff," Gabe says.

"I can’t think about the terrorists all the time. It’s too sad. It’s what Osama wants us to do," Jeremy adds.

Perhaps their youth affords them more resiliency. Or affords them no basis for comparison, unlike their grandparents who witnessed World War II, or Larry and me who lived through the assassinations and upheavals of the late ’60s and ’70s. Or perhaps they’re repressing fear is too painful to surface.

I see their anxiety, however, when they talk about Israel, when they read about yet another suicide bomber in this increasingly volatile and seemingly insolvable conflict.

"It seems so unfair," Zack says, "that I get to plan for college while my Israeli friends have to go into the army."

These friends include our beloved "adopted" son, Ya’ir Cohen, who lived with us two years ago for three months and visited last October, as well as the other Israeli teens from Tichon Chadash High School who participated in Milken Community High School’s Israel Exchange Program.

They also include Gabe’s friends from the A.D. Gordon school in Tel Aviv, who visited Heschel Day School last year as part of The Jewish Federation’s Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership 2000.

My sons’ concerns are heightened by having experienced Sept. 11. By knowing how it feels to have their own country unexpectedly and brutally attacked.

But despite the world situation, which he reads about in detail in the newspapers, Danny is enthusiastically making plans for his birthday party in April.

Jeremy, as Cantor Jay Frailich of University Synagogue says, "is really cooking" as he learns his prayers and aliyot for his bar mitzvah in June.

Gabe is engrossed in rehearsing his lines for Milken’s spring production of "Comedy of Errors," in which he’s playing Dromio of Syracuse.

And Zack is enmeshed in the final semester of his senior year.

Yes, their lives will never be the same. They have permanently lost their naiveté and sense of invincibility. But perhaps, despite the sadness and the uncertainty, I could benefit from their forward-looking attitudes.

As Robert Frost said, "In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: It goes on."

Rallying for the Other Victims

Human rights activist Medea Benjamin held up photo after photo from her recent trip to Afghanistan, each telling a unique horror story: of children so severely traumatized by the United States bombing campaign that they no longer speak; of a 20-year-old Afghan man who did not have the money to get medical attention after being injured in a bombing raid and later lost his leg; of a mother who lost two children and, with no other way to get food, sends her remaining son out into the streets each day to beg.

"The media did great work following Sept. 11, painting portraits of the victims," she told her audience. "But so far there have been only small mentions of the civilians being injured and killed in the bombings in Afghanistan."

Benjamin was the guest of honor during Friday night services Feb. 8 at Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills. She spoke about calling scores of people who had lost loved ones in the tragic events of Sept. 11, asking if they would go to Afghanistan and share their grief with families there who were dealing with their own losses in the wake of the bombings by U.S. forces.

In the end, she was accompanied by four friends and relatives of victims: Kelly Campbell, 29, whose brother-in-law Craig Amundson was killed in the Pentagon attack; Derrill Bodley, 56, a music professor at Sacramento City College who lost his 20-year-old daughter, Deora, when United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania; Eva Rupp, 28, Deora Bodley’s stepsister; and Rita Lasar, 70, whose brother Abe Zelmanowitz worked at the World Trade Center and chose to remain with his friend Edward Beyea, a quadriplegic, on the 27th floor where both perished when the building collapsed.

Benjamin called the trip, which took place in mid-January and was sponsored by Global Exchange, a nonprofit international human rights organization, "one of the most profound experiences of my life."

"I was with four people who had all suffered profound losses and yet found within their grief the wherewithal to make this trip and express their feelings to the Afghans," she said. "What was interesting was they told me later they never felt as much at home after Sept. 11 as they did in Afghanistan, where every family had lost a loved one."

Benjamin said that within the group there were sharp divisions over the American bombing campaign but all agreed that, no matter what their opinions, the U.S. needed to find a way to help civilians who have been hurt and that there should be full disclosure by the American military of the effects of the bombings.

"Right now, we don’t know how many people have been killed in Afghanistan and that’s the problem — we should know," she said.

Benjamin also spoke of the horror of cluster bombs which leave behind bright yellow "bomblets" that remain a danger to Afghan civilians.

"Every day we were there, a child was brought in with injuries from these bombs," she said. "One little girl told us of yelling at her little brother to drop one, but it was too late — he was killed and she lost both her hands [trying to save him]."

Amid these stories, the activist said the upsetting part was that the Afghan people she met still trusted that the United States would help them.

"One woman we met who lost her husband and several children [in a bombing] went to the American embassy with a letter she’d gotten someone to write in English, asking for help. She was turned away as a beggar," recalled Benjamin, a steely note creeping into her voice. "So Rita [Lasar] and I went back there with her and Rita asked the soldiers there, are we not both human beings? Is it not so important in this time in history to let the Islamic world know we care about them?"

After returning to the United States, the group appeared before Congress to ask for more direct aid for the Afghan civilians. They were told it could take up to a year before funds could be released and that the only way to expedite the request was to take it to the top.

"So now our mission is to get to President Bush," Benjamin said. She then asked the audience to contact the White House and their representatives in Washington, D.C., and if possible to make a donation to Global Exchange, which has put together its own fund to help Afghan civilians.

A longtime activist, Benjamin is probably best known for running on the Green Party ticket for the U.S. Senate against Dianne Feinstein in the 2000 elections. Rabbi Steven Jacobs, leader of Kol Tikvah, first met Benjamin at a meeting with other civil rights leaders following that year’s controversial presidential election in Florida.

"There are maybe four people I’ve known who have devoted their lives to being agents of change and transformation. Medea is a giant in the world," Jacobs said.

The Global Minute

Suddenly, we find that an alternate universe shadows our world. Its inhabitants see our culture as their poison, our politics as their oppression, our freedom as their threat — The question is how we could have been so blind. Only now is most of America learning about fundamentalist Islam. Just one year ago, when then-candidate George W. Bush didn’t know the name of President George W. Bush’s best friend, the president of Pakistan, the public’s response was, “So what?” So, this: Our blissful ignorance turned out to be deadly.

What are the reasons we revelled in ignorance? Americans, ensconced on a continent oceans away from Eurasia, have been historically inward-looking.

Another reason can be found by looking at one American institution that has changed drastically since the attacks: television news.

As the hype correctly states, more Americans get their news from television than from any other source. Journalist Edward R. Murrow saw this potential long before anyone else, in 1951, when CBS showed the Golden Gate Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge simultaneously: “No journalistic age,” he said, “was ever given a weapon for truth with quite the scope of this fledgling television.”

For some time now, that weapon has been woefully dull. Remember pre-Sept. 11 CNN? Squeezed between Gary Condit, the Beltway infighting, sports, weather, business and entertainment news was something labeled, “The Global Minute.” That’s it: 60 seconds to fill us in on what was happening with the other 5.9 billion people on this planet. Where were they suffering? Whom did they hate? What did they need? Weeks could go by without hearing a peep about South America or Indonesia, not to mention Afghanistan. Once I even timed a global minute. It lasted 49 seconds.

CNN was not the greatest offender — at least it spared a minute for the rest of the world. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, other networks sharply curtailed their spending on international coverage. News divisions were no longer seen as the standard-bearers of network quality: they had to turn a profit, or at least cover their costs, same as soap operas and game shows. CNN scaled back too, though with about 30 foreign bureaus, it stayed ahead of the networks.

And it stayed way ahead of our local television news. KCBS, KTTV, KNBC, KABC and KCOP used serious coverage of international news as a segue between Tom Cruise’s marital problems and freeway car chases. In the happy/glitzy world of local news, an in-depth look at oil policy or Third World ideologies went out with John Chancellor’s overcoat.

The stations argued that they were giving the viewers what they wanted.

Maybe so, but they were also abdicating their responsibility as for-profit licensees entrusted with public airwaves. When former Sen. Gary Hart released his commission’s report two months ago on the probability of domestic terror, how many stations covered it? If he had another affair while researching terrorism, then he would have gotten some airtime.

How did this sad, pre-Sept. 11 state of affairs come to pass? Television news producers are generally smart and committed people who spend an inordinate amount of time defending the product they create. They blame the penny-pinching network executives. Network executives blame the bottom line: Advertisers pay for ratings, not civics lessons.

And so the chicken faces the egg. Are we ill-informed because we don’t care, or do we not care because we’re ill-informed? I know that Jewish Americans, who do care about the Middle East and other faraway lands, are often ill-served by facile evening news coverage of Israel and its neighbors.

The solution is really simple: make international news as gripping and as relevant as it is. Nowadays, TV news is having no problem doing that: CNN and other outlets are giving us good, even courageous coverage at considerable expense.

It may be, when the lull comes in this war, that we will yearn to flip on TV news and see nothing but amazing animal rescues. But a lot has changed in America in the past six weeks, and judging from the high Nielsen ratings that CNN and MSNBC have been getting, so has our taste for global news. It’s true that sex and celebrity sell, but so, it turns out, do life and death.

The Ear of the Beholder

When I worked for Warner Bros. Records, I spent a good deal of my time trying to calibrate, coordinate and prognosticate the exact moment the headlining artist would take the stage. This involved calls to the manager, the road manager, the box office, the artist and spiritual mediums. In four years there, I never once saw an opening act.

I bring all of this up because I recently found myself listening to something called Nestling Willy, an opening act for something called Caroline’s Spine. Nestling Willy sounded like a trio of pneumatic drills, slightly out of tune and amplified to the point of pain. I did not decipher one single word that they were singing — screaming, actually. They could have been screaming in another language for all I know, but I can’t even imagine what other culture could produce such a mess. Sadly, we can’t blame this on Afghanistan.

The reason I suffered so has to do with a girl named April who is as lovely as a spring day and knows the drummer, the pneumatic drill in the middle. She invited me to meet her at the show. "Do you like them?" she asked.

This was the moment in the movie when everything stops and gets all fuzzy. I think: Could I be with someone who actually likes this music? I mean, if she was an Al Qaeda operative, we could agree that she simply wasn’t worth the trouble, but where exactly do you draw that line? How low would you go? I don’t expect everyone to have as great taste in music as I, but how much sacrifice is expected in order to let romance flourish? I might have walked through the fires of hell to woo fair April, but even Dante would have hesitated to conjure this trio.

If, as part of my elaborate plot to win her favors, I tell her I do like them, I’m setting myself up for a lifetime of headbanging. Then, when I tell her I don’t want to walk down the aisle at our wedding to the strains of Metallica, she’ll know I was patronizing her. A refrain of the great romantic poet Meatloaf comes to mind: "I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that."

Yet, if I answer truthfully, "No, they suck," I’ll probably never get a chance to find out if this is the music she likes to listen to at top volume during the sexual act. (On the other hand, I don’t think I could perform to my usual high standards if this music was being played anywhere in the vicinity.)

Why don’t I like these guys? I used to be a pretty "with it" cat in my day. I try to keep up with the kids, but I don’t know if this was "grunge," "speed" or heavy metal. Heavy mental is more like it. I’m sure it would take a while to get a straight answer out of these three nincompoops as to what exactly it is they think they’re playing. It could be something called "alternative," but an alternative to what, I wonder? Good music? I sprinkle some applause their way in recognition of the effort.

At least it was free. My friend Charlie got me "on the list" — as though free admission was recompense for being tortured at the hands of amateur musicians.

I counted 41 people in the club. We were small in number, but we were mighty. Then April asked me to sign up for the band’s mailing list, which she was passing around on a clipboard. I would gladly have signed anything she presented to me, including a credit card receipt for their bar tab. After completing a lap of the crowd, she shilled for the band, pulling some guy out onto the dance floor with her, which had been utterly deserted to this point, as if the band was on fire and the audience was afraid of dancing too close to the flames. She abruptly abandoned him to continue her direct marketing solicitation, leaving the poor slob stuck out there, shaking his groove thing all alone with his shattered rock ‘n’ roll dreams lying in a heap all around him.

I know just how he feels. It seems April and Ringo might be more than just friends, which makes me a groupie for their groupie — chewed up and spit out by the star-maker machinery.

I exited quietly before the inevitable encore, crossed a barren Fairfax to my waiting car and turned on the radio. Ella Fitzgerald was taking the Ellington band through "Caravan." Order is restored.

J.D. Smith is banging his head @

Continued Help Could Harm

Like many other charitable groups, the American Jewish World Service (AJWS) is collecting money to benefit the victims of the devastating Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

But in addition to helping those hurt by terrorism, the New York-based humanitarian group has faced another concern in recent weeks: fear that heightened tensions with Afghanistan will threaten people the AJWS helps in the impoverished country.

Since 1999, the AJWS has been one of a handful of American groups funding more than 30 secret schools for females in Afghanistan. The Taliban prohibits girls from attending school and does not allow women to work.

The AJWS — which supports anti-poverty and community support projects in developing nations — is believed to be the only Jewish organization that funds projects in Afghanistan, a country controlled by the fundamentalist Islamic Taliban regime since 1996.

Ruth Messinger, the group’s president, said that in a U.S. war in Afghanistan, “the worst victims would be the people who we are helping, who are already victims of the Taliban.”

The women who teach in the underground schools do so at great personal risk, potentially subject to the death penalty if caught. They teach in private homes and assign girls different times to enter and leave so as not to draw attention.

Because of the longtime dangers of working in Afghanistan, the AJWS has never sent its own volunteers or staff there, although it does in most countries it assists. Instead, it works through a Western human rights organization whose identity cannot be disclosed for fear of repercussions from the Taliban.

The AJWS contributes approximately $100,000 a year for the schools, which serve more than 1,000 girls. The group also provides some funding for health programs for Afghan women, as well as some aid for Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

So far, the schools and health programs are continuing, and AJWS plans to continue its funding, Messinger said.

But as more and more Afghans and aid workers flee the country, the programs’ future is uncertain. And the AJWS is expecting heightened request for aid from the refugees in Pakistan.

Schools in the most jeopardy right now are those in and near Kabul, which is likely to be targeted by U.S. bombing, said Catherine Shimony, the AJWS’ director of international programs.

Already, an Afghan woman who lives in Pakistan near the refugee camps and usually travels several times a year to the United States to give updates about the schools, had to cancel a planned visit to New York.

In the past, the group has not been shy about advocating on behalf of other issues that affect beneficiaries. Last year, it persuaded several other Jewish organizations to lobby for debt relief for developing nations.

As the situation heats up, the AJWS is not sure whether to take a specific position on how the United States should react to the attacks, or simply keep trying to support the schools, Messinger said.

However, she said, she will continue to urge Americans to step up grassroots, anti-poverty assistance to troubled countries as a way of “improving our international position.”

“It’s always better to wage peace than to wage war,” she said.

Israel Under Siege

On the news it’s easy to find sickening
evidence of the terrorist war being waged against Israel; harder to
find, but no less real, are other insidious assaults that are growing in
number and venom. This week, the United Nations World Conference Against
Racism, which convened in South Africa, was transformed into a
forum for vicious anti-Israel accusations. And in Israel itself, the
Temple Mount is the focus of a relentless archaeological
attack designed to rewrite history.

Months ago no one anticipated that Arab nations
would hijack the Racism Conference and use it to defame Israel. But by
just last month, delegates were busy debating language that
equated Zionism and racism. Although that language has now been
rejected,provocative new proposals emerged that are just as
damaging.Arab countries, for instance, want the
Conference to find that Israel has committed “crimes against humanity.”
If the Conference made this ludicrous finding, the next step could be to
convene war crime tribunals.

Israel is also accused of perpetrating a new
“kind of apartheid.” And while Sudan, Afghanistan, and Serbia have well
documented records of violent human rights abuses, Israel is the
only country singled out as an aggressor state. Other proposals include
insisting that the Holocaust be written with a lower case “h” to
lessen the magnitude of the tragedy, and condemning Israel’s Law of
Return. Arab nations have abused the Racism Conference
as a platform for denigrating Israel and eviscerating its moral standing
in the world.These attacks must be denounced in the
strongest possible terms.

At the same time, the historical integrity of
the Temple Mount is facing a dire threat. Over the past year, the
Palestinian Waqf,the Muslim religious trust that oversees the area, has
dug a gaping hole more than 164 feet long, 82 feet wide, and 40 feet
deep in the southeast corner of the Temple Mount. Recent tests by
the Israeli Antiquities Authority suggest that the excavations may have
damaged the foundation of the southern wall of Temple Mount.

The Temple Mount is at the crossroads of world
religion. It is outrageous that the Waqf and the Palestinian Authority
have not been held accountable for this desecration. The
Kidron Valley garbage dump, which is now filled with over 1,500 tons of
earth from the site, is reportedly strewn with artifacts from the
Muslim, Christian, and Jewish Temple periods dating back to the 6th
century. The world’s indifference to this devastation
resembles the unwillingness to denounce Palestinian destruction of
Joseph’s Tomb last October. It is also in stark contrast to the valiant
international effort to deplore the destruction of ancient Buddhist
statues by Taliban forces in Afghanistan.

Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority are
engaged in an effort to undermine the founding principles of Israel’s
establishment and existence. They seek to dehumanize the Israeli
people and make them legitimate targets for terrorism.

The United States and the world Jewish
community cannot be silent in the face of these threats. Israel is by
far America’s closest ally in the Middle East and the tragic murder of
American visitors and residents of Israel throughout this conflict only
underscores our vested interest in Israel’s stability and security.

We must lead the fight to condemn anti-Semitic
vitriol unleashed at the U.N. World Conference. We must bring an end to
the Palestinian Authority’s degradation of the holy sites
in world religion. We must stand in solidarity with the Israeli people
and support Israel’s right as a sovereign nation to defend its
vital interests.