November 15, 2019

AJC Teaches Jewish Teens Advocacy Skills

Participants in AJC's Leaders for Tomorrow program.

What is the difference between Jewish advocacy and advocacy by Jewish advocates?

Why is it called “anti-Semitism”?

What is a Jewish issue? 

Is climate change a Jewish issue?

These are just some of the questions that were asked during a recent gathering of two dozen high school students in West Los Angeles. The students, who represent a variety of area public and private schools, both Jewish and nondenominational, are participants in Leaders for Tomorrow (LFT), a program of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) designed to empower the next generation of Jewish leaders to advocate for Jews, Jewish causes and Israel.

Joanna Lieberman Snir, AJC’s deputy director for leadership development and board engagement, told the Journal the program got its start in New York five years ago after an area student approached AJC CEO David Harris. The student said one of his teachers had repeatedly expressed anti-Israel sentiment and he wasn’t sure how to respond. The student’s mother was active with AJC. 

They asked AJC “to put together a program to help students like him to respond,” Lieberman Snir said. “AJC’s leadership was really inspired by this notion.” 

Shortly thereafter, the first cohort of LFT students began meeting. A facilitator steers the discussions. The next year, the program kicked off in Chicago. Currently, there are 12 groups across the country, including the one in Los Angeles, which started last year. Each group of teens, primarily high school sophomores and juniors, meets approximately seven times over the course of the school year. The students also gather in Washington, D.C., in the spring. Other than that trip, there is no cost to participate, but students do go through an application process that includes both a written portion and an interview. Prior Jewish advocacy work is not required. 

“One of the great things about the LFT program is we have students coming at it with varying perspectives, varying backgrounds,” Lieberman Snir said. “We also have many students who haven’t really been previously engaged in the Jewish community at all.”

“It’s really preparing me for the future and the reality of being Jewish.”
— Sydney Luchs

At each meeting, there is a general session topic, which can include “Israeli Society Today,” “Being Jewish on the College Campus,” and “AJC’s Global Approach to Advocacy.”

“The idea at the end of the day is students are having a comparable experience with comparable takeaways,” said Zev Hurwitz, the Los Angeles facilitator and AJC’s director of campus affairs. 

At the first session, which took place in September and focused on Jewish identity, there was a combination of group discussion, small group and partner activities, and, finally, circling back and sharing. The students also created maps of their own Jewish identities. For the second meeting in late October, participants were joined by representatives from Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Youth Council and heard from Sgt. Mike Abdeen of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, who spoke about the rise in hate crimes and how to help, as well as Tim Zaal, a former white supremacist who now is a regular presenter at the Museum of Tolerance.

Hurwitz likes to give the teens plenty of room to go where discussions take them or pivot if current events dictate a response. “If students have siblings who have experienced troubling activity in college, we will definitely make time to have those conversations,” he said.

Participant Sydney Luchs, 15, a sophomore at Taft Charter High School in Woodland Hills, told the Journal she applied because “I’ve noticed that anti-Semitism has become almost normalized in the political environment right now. As a person who wants to work in politics in the future, I wanted to figure out how to be an advocate for Israel but didn’t have the tool set to do it.”

She added that the program does a good job in teaching people how to be advocates. “So far, I’ve learned a lot of facts on how you deal with things. It’s really preparing me for the future and the reality of being Jewish.”

Jewish Students Protest U of I Student Senate Resolution Saying Anti-Zionism Isn’t Anti-Semitism

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) Student Senate passed a resolution denying a link between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism on Oct. 23, causing more than 400 Jewish students to walk out of the meeting in protest.

Fox Illinois reports that the resolution passed with 29 votes in favor, four against and four abstaining. The resolution states that the Oxford English dictionary defines Zionism as “the assured settlement of [Jewish people’s] race upon a national basis in Palestine” and condemns “the constant conflation of Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism.” 

The resolution also endorses Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) UIUC’s demands for Chancellor Robert Jones retract his Oct. 9 email denouncing a presentation titled “Palestinian Resistance to 70 Years of Israeli Terror” as being “anti-Semitic.”

Student Lauren Nesher spoke during the meeting on behalf of the Jewish community on campus and accused the student government of moving forward with the resolution without taking into account the Jewish community’s thoughts on the matter.

“Not a single Jewish cultural house was consulted, and yet it purports to speak for the campus community,” Nesher said. “We watched as it was beelined through the senate and the committee during some of our holiest of days, with the explicit intent to avoid our input.”

She added that the resolution’s passage shows that student leaders believe “that Jews on this campus do not have the right to define” anti-Semitism. 

“We will not negotiate anti-Semitism,” Nesher said. “We will not negotiate our safety. We will not negotiate our fear. We will not negotiate our homeland. We will not negotiate anti-Semitism.”

Nesher urged “Jewish students and their allies” at the end of her speech to walk out with her because “we were never invited to take part in this conversation.” As the students walked out, audience members started chanting “Free Palestine,” according to Fox Illinois.


Student Senator Ian Katsnelson, the lone Jewish representative in the student senate, told WCIA that he viewed the resolution’s lack of Jewish input “as a means to silence Jewish voices” at UIUC and that the Jewish community will not allow others to define what anti-Semitism is. “That’s something that is a Jewish right,” Katsnelson said.

StandWithUs Associate Director of Campus Affairs Liora Bachrach said in a statement, “The transparent goal of this resolution was not to oppose anti-Semitism but to shield anti-Israel groups from any accountability when they cross the line into hate speech against Jews. The fact that this was even introduced is a mark of shame on ISG, which has made a mockery of its own stated values. We are proud of Jewish students who came out in large numbers, and showed that ISG has no legitimacy or credibility to speak about this issue.”

‘Never Again Is Now’ Sounds the Alarm on Rising Anti-Semitism

Evelyn Markus, left, and Rosa Zeegers Photo courtesy of Evelyn Markus

Evelyn Markus, the daughter of Dutch Holocaust survivors, moved to Los Angeles in 2006 with her partner Rosa Zeegers. She no longer felt safe in Amsterdam amid escalating anti-Semitic attacks on the streets, at sports stadiums and after finding a pink Star of David graffitied on her front door. With Jews increasingly under siege all over Europe and a rise in anti-Semitism in the United States, Markus is sounding the alarm with the chilling documentary titled “Never Again Is Now.” 

In the film, Markus, a psychologist and conflict-resolution coach turned activist who founded the nonprofit Network on Anti-Semitism, combines the story of her parents’ Holocaust survival with a history of the rise in hatred toward Jews from the political left, right and Muslim religious extremists. She interviews politicians, experts and Jews who feel scared and threatened as they face the possibility of leaving their homes.

“I wanted to tell the story of the Jews’ current exodus from Europe and why they don’t feel safe anymore,” Markus told the Journal. “I didn’t make the film to tell the story of my parents, but my fear of being in Europe and my anger over having to leave has a lot to do with what happened to them,” she said. “My parents assured me that the Holocaust was a unique event in history that could never happen again. But 75 years later, here we are again.”

After her mother’s death in 2014, Markus discovered a letter from her mother to her father detailing how she survived thanks to the American troops who liberated a concentration camp-bound train in April 1945. Markus agreed to tell that story as long as she could speak about the current crisis. “If we want to stop anti-Semitism, we have to do it at an early stage,” she said. “There’s starting to be more awareness now, but progress is too slow.”

While Markus feels safe in the United States despite the increase in anti-Semitism, and feels free to display a Star of David, mezuzah or an Israeli flag, that’s not the case on many college campuses in light of the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. “In the U.S., we’re at the beginning stages of why I left Europe.” 

“My parents assured me that the Holocaust was a unique event in history that could never happen again. But 75 years later, here we are again.” — Evelyn Markus

While she applauds that “this government is very supportive of Israel, moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing the Golan Heights as Israeli territory and seems to have a pro-Jewish impact on the government of Saudi Arabia,” Markus is worried by “a very angry tone of voice that’s encouraging hatred” coming from the  U.S. leadership, one “that could trigger feelings of hate to come out,” she said.

She proposes several ways to avert disaster. “White supremacist anti-Semitism is driven by strong anti-immigrant feelings and conspiracy theories about ‘the Jews’ driving immigration,” she said. “Education programs like A Classroom of Difference of the Anti-Defamation League are, in my mind, an important part of a solution. It educates children at a young age about bias and the fallacy of conspiracy theories.” 

Noting that increases in immigration and anti-immigrant feelings lead to a rise in hate and blaming of Jews, especially in a declining economy, she suggests increasing anti-bias education programs. She also proposes supporting Muslim reformers “who want to modernize their religion in a way similar to liberal Judaism or liberal Christianity.”

As for the far-left anti-Semitism on U.S. college campuses, “It is driven by a passionate solidarity with the Palestinians and their rights,” she said. “Maybe it would help to better inform people at the far left about the line between legitimate criticism of Israel and when it becomes anti-Semitic,” she added, citing a United Nations report. “Criticism of Israel is fine as long as it doesn’t use demonization, a double standard or delegitimization of the Jewish state.”

Markus, who was not raised religious, became more so when she was 19 and “spent two years involved in Jewish learning, one of them in Israel. Then I fell in love with a woman and couldn’t combine Orthodox Judaism with being a lesbian, in my mind,” she said. “But I always kept an admiration for Jewish tradition, culture and religious texts because there’s so much wisdom in there.”

She met Zeegers, also the daughter of Holocaust survivors, through mutual friends in 1982 at a party celebrating Zeegers’ wedding. A year later Zeegers divorced after coming out as a lesbian, and she and Markus married in 2007. (Zeegers’ ex-husband also came out as gay.) They belong to the Temple of the Arts in Beverly Hills.

Coinciding with the release of the documentary, Markus has launched a website at joinneveragainisnow.com, where she will blog biweekly and people can share their thoughts via social media. “Nobody has the answer on how to stop anti-Semitism. I invite people who care about the subject to share their ideas and help to develop better answers to the problem,” she said.

Markus wants people to take the rise global of anti-Semitism seriously and “look at what you as an individual can do to stop it. Then you help the Jews and society,” she said. “I would urge individuals to stand up and become active in a way that suits their strengths, to do something.”

“Never Again is Now” is streaming now on Amazon Prime. 

U of I Student Government Sends Resolution to Committee Saying Anti-Zionism Isn’t Anti-Semitism

Photo from Flickr.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) Student Government voted on Oct. 17 to send a resolution to a committee stating anti-Zionism isn’t anti-Semitism, the Daily Illini student newspaper reports.

The resolution, titled: “Condemning Ignorance of Racism and Equating Anti-Zionism with Anti-Semitism,” addresses the recent controversy surrounding a presentation shown at a mandatory Sept. 25 housing meeting that was titled “Palestine and the Great March: Palestinian Resistance to 70 Years of Israeli Terror” and referred to Palestinian “martyrdom” as “death which is desired by a warrior.” UIUC Chancellor Robert Jones said the presentation contained “anti-Semitic content” in an Oct. 9 campus-wide email.

The resolution calls on Jones to retract the email and apologize “for wrongfully categorizing Anti-Zionism as Anti-Semitism, slandering many students’ image and their cause,” according to a copy obtained by the Journal. The resolution also condemns “the constant conflation of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.” The resolution could be amended in the Committee on Diversity and Inclusion before going to a final vote.

According to the Daily Illini, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) UIUC President Ahlam Khatib urged the student government to pass the resolution, arguing that the charge of anti-Semitism is used “to silence Palestinian voices.” He added: “Anti-Zionism is not a racist ideology, it is not against a people, it is against a state.”

Former Student Senator Max Shapiro criticized the resolution during the public comment section, arguing it would send “an explicit message from community leaders at the University of Illinois that Jews on this campus do not have the right to define what hatred against them is.”

Student Senator Ian Katsnelson, who is the only Jewish member of the student government, applauded Jones during the Oct. 17 meeting for condemning the presentation, arguing that in doing so “he has made us, as Jewish students on campus, truly feel safer.”

Jones defended his condemnation during the annual meeting of the faculty on Oct. 14, saying, “When things are created or said or done that create an unhealthy or unsafe environment, I will speak out as well.”

SJP UIUC issued a series of demands on Oct. 15 calling for Jones to retract his condemnation of the presentation as anti-Semitic and unequivocally state that anti-Zionism isn’t to anti-Semitism. If Jones didn’t adhere to SJP UIUC’s demands, they will be calling for his resignation.

In March 2019, then-UIUC undergraduate student Hayley Nagelberg explained in a Daily Illini column that she had faced several instances of anti-Semitism on campus. 

“As a freshman, my name and pictures were shared on social media captioned with anti-Semitic slurs,” she wrote. “I was kicked off of a University committee because of my religion as a sophomore. I filed dozens of reports with the campus bias team documenting discrimination against me because of my religion that went unaddressed. Now in my senior year, the University Board of Trustees has not responded after I presented a log of over 30 documented acts of discrimination which occurred over two and a half years.”

Nagelberg went onto criticize the student government for passing a resolution on anti-Semitism she argued had been watered down since it omitted “specific requests the Jewish community made regarding vicious anti-Semitic acts that have occurred repeatedly on campus — requests such as one mandating that references to Nazis and Hitler be classified as anti-Semitic” and “addressed a wide variety of other ‘isms’ or minority groups and misrepresented entirely what anti-Semitism is.” Such a resolution would make anti-Semitism worse on campus, she argued.

“The ISG emboldened anti-Semitism on this campus, silenced Jewish students and voted directly against the Jewish community by passing a resolution that it was told explicitly did not address anti-Semitism,” Nagelberg wrote. “It proved our student community does not know what anti-Semitism is, and anti-Semitism must be defined to be combated.”

Who Are the Jews of the City of Angels?

Most Los Angeles Jewish voters support liberal positions on domestic policy issues, identify more as Democrats than as Republicans, and strongly disapprove of President Donald Trump’s performance. For the majority who oppose the president’s re-election, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) tops their preference list.

Most Jewish voters do not belong to a synagogue or temple and define their Jewish identity as “ethnic” rather than “religious.” At the same time, Jewish voters strongly endorse the preservation of Israel as a Jewish state, are worried about rising anti-Semitism, and express support of Israel even when there are policy disagreements with Israel’s government.

These are some of the major findings of the Jewish Voter Survey of more than 1,800 Los Angeles County Jewish voters, conducted by the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State LA in partnership with Evitarus, under the direction of managing partner and lead researcher Shakari Byerly. The initial poll findings were released Oct. 3 at the Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Koreatown. In this story, we dive deeper into the data to help promote a community conversation.

The PBI/Cal State LA Jewish Poll is part of a pathbreaking project to survey four major racial and ethnic communities in Los Angeles County: Asian Americans and Latinos (conducted in 2016); and African Americans and Jews, both completed in 2019. The Jewish community is one of the core communities of L.A. County, with a long history of civic engagement and intergroup activity. We will be comparing the results across these communities to search for what they have in common and what is unique to each of them.

“We found an actively engaged Jewish community, deeply embedded in the civic arena, and highly informed about public affairs.”

Los Angeles is home to the third-largest Jewish community in the world after Israel and New York City, with an estimated population of half a million. Yet, there hasn’t been a full examination of L.A. County Jews for more than two decades — since a 1997 Jewish Population Survey sponsored by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, which conducted a previous survey in 1979. 

We found an actively engaged Jewish community, deeply embedded in the civic arena, and highly informed about public affairs. To a degree unusual in today’s United States, Jewish voters of all ages follow events through newspapers in print or online (68%); they also sign petitions and send letters to public officials (77%); attend rallies and meetings (44%); and support both Jewish (44%) and non-Jewish (77%) charities and causes. Levels of education are extraordinarily high, with 77% having a college or postgraduate degree, including 37% with a graduate degree.

We asked several questions about Jewish identity and found that when given the choice, the majority (63%) of respondents thought of being Jewish primarily as an “ethnic” identity, compared with 25% who thought of themselves primarily as Jewish by religion. Most Jewish voters (69%) are “unaffiliated” with a synagogue or temple, while a third belong or someone in their household does. This finding is consistent with the 1979 and 1997 L.A. surveys finding synagogue membership to be 25% and 34%, respectively. Attendance at religious services is relatively low, with 46% saying “never” or “almost never,” and another 15% going approximately once a year (presumably for the High Holy Days).

On the other hand, 55% list a specific denomination, such as Reform, Conservative or Orthodox. In other words, more Jewish voters describe themselves as members of a denomination than are affiliated with a synagogue or temple.

Concerning the Holocaust, our survey demonstrates that the many years of effort by organizations and individuals to keep the recollections and testimony of that monstrous crime alive across the generations in the Jewish community has not been in vain.

A clear majority (58%) indicated that being Jewish was very or somewhat important in their lives. When asked what being Jewish meant, large numbers of Jewish voters said remembering the Holocaust (95%), being involved in social justice activities (87%), celebrating Jewish holidays (68%) and caring about Israel (69%). Nearly one-third (31%) follow Jewish-oriented media.

With the impending passing of the generation of those who could directly testify to the Holocaust, will the torch of remembrance be passed on? When examined by age, we find that younger voters have not “forgotten” the Holocaust. Our survey demonstrates that the many years of effort by organizations and individuals to keep the recollections and testimony of that monstrous crime alive across the generations in the Jewish community has not been in vain. The importance of that memory is shared by 90% of millennials (ages 18 to 38), 96% of Generation X (ages 39 to 54), 98% of baby boomers (ages 55 to 73) and 98% of the silent generation (ages 74 and older).

“Los Angeles is home to the third-largest Jewish community in the world. Yet there hasn’t been a full examination of L.A. County Jews for more than two decades.”

Nearly three-quarters (73%) of Jewish voters strongly endorsed the need for the preservation of Israel as a Jewish state, including 55% of millennials, 70% of Generation X, 84% of boomers and 88% of the silent generation. Jewish voters clearly support Israel, even where there are disagreements with that government’s policies. A heavy majority (86%) described themselves as “generally pro-Israel,” although that group comprised three segments: approximately one-fifth overall (19%) were “supportive of the current government’s policies”; 31% were “critical of some of the current government’s policies”; and 36% were “critical of many of the government’s policies.” 

The demographics of these Jewish voters held some surprises. Nearly two-thirds have lived in L.A. County for longer than 20 years, and only 1 in 5 have children younger than 18 at home. But despite the image of an affluent and settled community, there are plenty of Jewish voters struggling economically in a metropolis where housing is expensive and often out of reach for young people. Fully 40% of Jewish voters are renters, 7% live with parents and 1% are without housing. These housing patterns also reflect the challenge facing younger voters planning their futures in Los Angeles. Fifteen percent of Jewish voters have household incomes of less than $50,000 a year and 6% of less than $30,000.

While many characterize Jews as “white,” only 83% of respondents selected that designation. We found small but collectively significant numbers of Latino/Hispanic, African American, Middle Eastern and other Jewish voters who, together, defined themselves as nonwhite. A high percentage (12%) identified as LGBTQ. We also found 44% of Jewish voters came from households where one or both parents were not Jewish.

The longstanding tendency of Jewish voters to lean toward Democrats and to support liberal causes is reflected in our poll. Democratic identifiers (54%) far outweigh Republicans (13%). On the issues we tested, Jewish voters were strongly liberal, with the most intense backing for liberal social issues: 

Support for same-sex marriage 89%
Pro-choice 83%
Support for gun control 83%
Path to citizenship for undocumented residents 72%
Support Affordable Care Act 71%

Opposition to President Trump (75% disapproval, 70% strongly disapproving) and his reelection (74%) was significantly higher than the Democratic share of party identifiers, and was most intense among the youngest Jewish voters.

Among those voters who said they opposed Trump’s reelection, the largest support went to Warren. She outpaced former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.). Biden’s support comes from the oldest voters, Sanders gets his core backing from the youngest and Warren’s backing is consistent across age groups.

“Despite the image of an affluent and settled community, there are plenty of Jewish voters who are struggling economically in a metropolis where housing is expensive and often out of reach for young people.” 

On ideology, younger voters are the most liberal. On party, the lines are fairly similar across age groups.

Despite these numbers, the Jewish community is not a political monolith. For example, Orthodox Jewish voters endorse political positions at variance with the larger Jewish population.

We oversampled traditional Orthodox neighborhoods such as Beverly-La Brea and Pico-Robertson, and ultimately interviewed 99 voters who identified as Orthodox, which is just at the edge of statistical significance. Orthodox Jewish voters identified as strong Republicans (43%) compared with 6% of all Jewish voters. Only 15% of Orthodox respondents were strong Democrats, compared with 40% overall. Trump’s approval rating among Orthodox Jews is 70% compared with 23% overall, although one-quarter of Orthodox Jews strongly disapprove of the president. A clear majority of Orthodox Jewish voters endorsed the option of generally supporting Israel and the policies of its government.

On issues, Jewish Republicans endorse positions that are different from Jewish voters in the survey overall, with the closest alignment across parties being on the pro-choice position on abortion.

Jewish voters in Los Angeles County are very worried about rising anti-Semitism (75% extremely or very seriously concerned). Hate crimes against Jews and Jewish institutions have been on the rise, with violence in Pittsburgh and Poway and a recent attack near a synagogue in Germany raising new fears. The survey shows a considerably higher level of concern about anti-Semitism than the 1979 and 1997 Los Angeles Jewish population studies.

The anti-Semitism question allowed for open-ended responses, opening the door to a deeper understanding of Jewish voters’ concerns. We received a significant number of comments — some being quite extensive — indicating anti-Semitism in various forms is very much on the minds of Jewish voters. When put into categories, there were three types of comments about anti-Semitism. The most numerous concerned the rise of white nationalism and the “alt-right”; a smaller but significant number cited rhetoric from public officials and others on the progressive side regarding Israel and Jews; a third group cited more generalized phenomena, including Holocaust denial, a general rise in anti-minority sentiment, and anti-Semitism online and in social media.

The Jewish Voter Survey revealed a dynamic, diverse, engaged, concerned and committed Los Angeles Jewish community. The connection of this survey to our polls of three other major communities of Los Angeles provides a valuable perspective. Each community is deeply unified around certain core issues of survival and beliefs yet at the same time is divided internally over the gap between the religious and the secular points of view, and on key political and social issues. Each community is working to engage its younger members who, in turn, have their own points of view of what issues and commitments are most important.

“The Jewish community is  not a political monolith.”

We found very substantial differences between younger and older voters among Asian Americans, Latinos, African Americans and Jewish voters. Yet there were some areas in which the generations are on the same page. These age dynamics are critically important for understanding where each community is going and for the possibilities of intergroup work.

We have many more months of study ahead of us and look forward to sharing what we gather with the wider community. We will further examine the impact of gender, religious affiliation, racial identification and other variables. A survey like this is just one signpost, and more surveys will be vital. We hope it is the start of a productive conversation.


Raphael J. Sonenshein is executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State LA. For more information about the Jewish Voter Survey and the institute’s four-group survey project, click here. The survey was supported by the Diane and Guilford Glazer Philanthropies, former State Sen. Alan Sieroty and a number of individual donors.

Why Do College Students Regularly Protest Jewish and Israeli Speakers on Campus?

Photo by Pexels

Yom Kippur was the day before the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities’ conference on “Racism and anti-Semitism.” The holiest day of the Jewish year, Yom Kippur is a day of atonement and repentance. Like many Jewish people, I spent the day fasting in shul. Since I attend services on Bard College campus, this meant I also spent the day with students. Between morning services and evening services, the students told me about a planned protest against one speaker: Harvard Professor Emeritus Ruth Wisse.

For the next two hours, I talked with students about the protest. They all were Jewish, with some being members of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). Some students were supportive of the protest, some were not. One of the students pulled out her computer and read me a statement Professor Wisse had made, cited on Wikipedia: “Palestinian Arabs [are] people who breed and bleed and advertise their misery.”

I told them that personally and politically, I did not agree with everything Wisse had said, but she had a right to speak. I made my case as the assistant director of the Arendt Center. I said Professor Wisse is 83. She’s a survivor. She has dedicated her life to the Yiddish language. It is not responsible to protest her. I told them this is a panel about anti-Semitism and the protest will be seen as anti-Semitic. 

The students proceeded with their mostly nonverbal protest and were removed when they verbally interrupted Professor Wisse’s talk. When Wisse finished her remarks, there was a thoughtful discussion between her, Batya Ungar-Sargon, Shany Mor and members of the audience. (Watch the video here.) 

The following day, at the beginning of the panel discussion “Racism and Zionism: Black and Jewish Relations,” Ungar-Sargon read a statement condemning all the conference participants for not calling out the student protestors as anti-Semitic, and being complicit in anti-Semitism. She left the conference, refusing to engage her fellow speakers and the audience in conversation.

In response to this, I offered a session so people could discuss what was happening. They asked many serious questions: Why was the only panel protested the only all-Jewish panel dedicated to a discussion of anti-Semitism? Was the protest anti-Semitic? How might we reconcile that charge with the fact that many of the protesting students were Jewish? What is our role as educators if not to prompt students to examine their thinking and the rationale behind their political opinions, without preempting their right to peaceful protest?

Anti-Semitism is a very real problem on college campuses, and we need to address the underlying political causes motivating students to protest Israeli and Jewish speakers. There were plenty of controversial speakers at our conference against which the students could have spoken out. If they had tried to shout down a speaker of color, there would be enormous outcry.

Students today do much of their protesting online, “calling out” and “canceling” students deemed insufficiently loyal to a party line on racial and social justice issues. Protest is, in part, a culture of performance where students parade their virtue − but they do most of this online and in non-public situations. It is highly disturbing that protesting speakers who defend Israel now is seen as an act that gains students social capital. It is evident that even if the protesters themselves had sound political motives and were not in the least anti-Semitic, their protest exists within a larger context of campus culture that sees criticism of Israel to be not only allowable but ennobling.

“It’s our job as educators to help students see how dangerous and prevalent anti-Semitism is right now and how their actions can perpetuate a culture of anti-Semitism.”

BDS protests such as the one we saw last week play off anti-Semitism and contribute to it. Political slogans such as “Zionism = Racism” are persuasive to college undergraduates and fail to reckon with the complex history of Israel and Palestine. But simply calling students anti-Semitic is not enough. Call-out culture from the left and right is not going to help us combat anti-Semitism on college campuses.

In 1969, Theodor Adorno and Herbert Marcuse had a debate about student protests. Adorno was against them; Marcuse was for them. Having escaped the Holocaust, Adorno pleaded with Marcuse to see the rise of left fascism on college campuses. Adorno appealed to Marcuse by reminding him what they withstood, and that protesting Jewish speakers is a form of left-wing authoritarianism.

We need to have this debate again − today.  

If we are going to stop perpetuating a culture of anti-Semitism, we need to address the mobilization of groups like these on college campuses and the chilling effects these protests can have on Jewish life. We must ask why Israel has become a focal organizing point for radicalizing students. It’s our job as educators to help students see how dangerous and prevalent anti-Semitism is right now and how their actions can perpetuate a culture of anti-Semitism.

This is why the Arendt Center actively is working to create spaces to have these difficult conversations. We are working to address anti-Semitism on college campuses by developing workshops to educate students so they can form political opinions based on facts instead of talking points political organizers hand them. We must protect free speech, but we also must address these protests and ask why speakers such as Professor Wisse and Shany Mor end up paying the cost for free speech.

Last spring, we held our first Campus Plurality Forum on Israel and Palestine with students and experts including David Bernstein, Riham Barghouti, Jamil Dakwar, Letty Cottin Pogrebin and Sarah Schulman. Over the course of two days, students from Students for Justice in Palestine and from the Jewish Student’s Organization sat together in conversation, read, talked, listened to experts and engaged in critical dialogue.

We are at the beginning of this work, and we are dedicated to opening spaces for conversation so students are equipped to discuss these serious issues. Hannah Arendt was a fierce defender of free speech. She believed it is “Only in the freedom of our speaking with one another does the world, as that about which we speak, emerge in its objectivity and visibility from all sides.” 

To mark the beginning of Sukkot, I had dinner with friends, neither inside nor outside, in their sukkah. In many ways, the sukkah resembles the conference and conversation spaces we work to make: openness on many sides, all parties sitting together, experiencing the vulnerability and growth that comes from exposure to that which is unfamiliar. A space where no one is silenced by others, no one disinvited, where there is no evasion of challenging questions. Rather than building walls, we are proud to create an open forum where people with different opinions can come together to stop and think.

At one point over dinner, as we talked about the conference, my friend’s 8-year-old daughter asked, “What is anti-Semitism?” I told her Professor Wisse defines it as any politics organized against Jewish people. She wanted to know how a Jewish person could be anti-Semitic. A few days after Yom Kippur, on the eve of Sukkot, this child affirmed my immediate response to the protest: What students need is not to be called anti-Semitic; they need education. It is our job as professors to teach students how to think, not what to think.


Samantha Hill is Assistant Director for the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities at Bard College.

Shaare Zedek, Friendship Circle, JCF

Beverly Hills High School’s Jewish Culture Club held its inaugural Shofar Factory event on Sept. 24. Photo courtesy of JEM

Rabbi Danny Illulian, director of education at the JEM Community Center, orchestrated the inaugural Shofar Factory event at Beverly Hills High School’s Jewish Culture Club on Sept. 24.

Daniel Rabkin, president of the club, taught the students the history and importance of the shofar.

The class then manufactured actual shofars for the students to take home. Sunny Sassoon, executive chairman of Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, sponsored the event. Sassoon provided each of the children a Coffee Bean gift card upon successful completion of their shofar.


Actor Will Arnett (left) and Robert Shapiro of the Brent Shapiro Foundation. Photo by Rachel Murray/Getty Images for The Brent Shapiro Foundation

The Brent Shapiro Foundation for Drug Prevention held its Summer Spectacular on Sept. 21 at the Beverly Hilton. 

The invitation-only gala marked the 14th year of the foundation, which seeks to build strong educational and social communities in some of L.A.’s most socioeconomically challenged neighborhoods in order to offer positive alternatives to drug use.

Robert and Linell Shapiro created the Brent Shapiro Foundation following their son Brent’s death due to an accidental overdose in 2004. The couple wished to honor their son’s life and promote prevention and awareness of chemical dependence. The foundation’s mission is to save lives through awareness and effective programs that incentivize kids to abstain from drugs and alcohol.  

The evening was hosted by actress Eva Longoria and featured musical performances by Sheila E. and Pia Toscano. The foundation gave the Spirit of Sobriety Award to actor Will Arnett, who has been candid about his sobriety, both personally and through his work on the Netflix series “Flaked.” 

Prominent entertainment industry leaders and celebrities gathered to recognize advances in the fight against addiction and rally around the growing movement to end the disease. Notable attendees included Priscilla Presley, Harry Hamlin, Adrienne Maloof, Anne Winters, Evan Ross, John Savage, Kathy Hilton, Maksim Chmerkovskiy, Mike Binder, Rick Hilton and Sugar Ray Leonard.

The Shapiros presented three full-ride college scholarships and 10 $5,000 college scholarships to members of Brent’s Club, its educational drug prevention program, for successfully completing high school without failing a drug test.

The gala raised money for Brent’s Club, which works in conjunction with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Brent’s Club programs educate preteens and teens about the consequences of drug use and works to prevent the formation of dangerous habits, actively showing children how to lead drug-free lives. Members participate in regular drug testing, and as a free, rewards-based program, the club sponsors community outings and once-in-a-lifetime activities.

— Ayala Or-El, Contributing Writer


From left: “Mad Men” creator Matt Weiner, New York Times writer Bari Weiss and Temple Israel of Hollywood Rabbi Emeritus John Rosove at the Skirball Cultural Center. Photo courtesy of Rabbi Rosove

New York Times writer and editor Bari Weiss appeared with “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner to discuss Weiss’ recently released book, “How to Fight Anti-Semitism,” examining contemporary hatred against Jews.

Held Sept. 22 at the Skirball Cultural Center, the hour-plus discussion, like Weiss’ book, focused on the history and current rise of anti-Semitism in the United States.

“I don’t think it’s ever possible to fully eradi-cate anti-Semitism,” she said. “Anti-Semitism is in the DNA of Western civilization.”

The 450 attendees included Skirball Cultural Center Founding President Uri Herscher; Temple Israel of Hollywood Rabbi Emeritus John Rosove; Iranian American professor and author Saba Soomekh; New Israel Fund Founding Director Jonathan JacobyMaura Resnick of the UCLA Y&S Nazarian Center for Israel Studies; Writers Bloc founder Andrea Grossman, whose nonprofit literary organization co-sponsored the event; and Joel Bellman, who was press deputy to former Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.

In an interview after the event, Weiner said he was inspired by Weiss’ book. “It’s about pride and standing up for yourself,” the TV producer said. “It made me hopeful.”


From left: Andrea Goldrich-Cayton, Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles President and CEO Marvin Schotland; Bet Tzedek CEO Jessie Kornberg; and Sam Yebri. Photo courtesy of the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles

The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles on Sept. 18 held “What’s Next in Jewish Innovation?” at the Beverly Hills home of Foundation Trustee Lynn Bider and her husband, Les. 

The event brought together Foundation donors and leadership with recipients of the institution’s Cutting Edge Grants in the arts, for the empowerment of individuals with disabilities and the engagement of people at all ages in Jewish life. 

Cutting Edge Grants are multiyear awards of up to $300,000 to social entrepreneurs and innovative organizations to develop and implement programs of high visibility and impact in the L.A. Jewish community.  The Foundation has awarded Cutting Edge Grants totaling more than $21 million to 100 initiatives since their inception in 2006, according to a statement by the organization.

The evening’s highlight was a panel discussion moderated by Foundation Trustee and Cutting Edge Grants Committee Vice Chair Sam Yebri in conversation with Andrea Goldrich-Cayton, a philanthropic and community leader, and Jessie Kornberg, president and CEO of Bet Tzedek, a public interest law firm.

 

Friendship Circle of Los Angeles’ Walk4Friendship L.A. drew families of children with special needs to Shalhevet High School, on Sept. 22. Photo courtesy of Friendship Circle of L.A. 

The 10th annual Walk4FriendshipLA, a 2-kilometer walk and festival benefiting Friendship Circle Los Angeles (FCLA), was held Sept. 22 at Shalhevet High School.

Walk4FriendshipLA is the annual community awareness program and fundraiser for FCLA, a nonprofit organization that supports Jewish children and young adults with special needs and their families.

FCLA Chairman of the Board Michele Weiss, whose son has been a recipient of FCLA services for 16 years, said the organization has been indispensable to her family. 

“We are thrilled that the event was a success in raising critical funds for programming that encourages social, developmental and educational opportunities,” Weiss said. “Our family has seen its impact on our son Joseph’s life firsthand, and our other teenage children have also gained tremendous skills as longtime volunteers who have developed leadership and sensitivity to inclusion in the Jewish community.”

“It was so exciting to see over 600 enthusiastic people of all ages in blue and pink T-shirts that said, ‘Step Up and Walk 4 Friendship,’ ” FCLA Development Director Gail Rollman told the Journal.

The afternoon was filled with celebration beginning with an opening ceremony and shofar blowing by FCLA Executive Director Rabbi Michy Rav-Noy, who led the charge through the neighboring streets.

When the walkers arrived back at Shalhevet, they were greeted with a variety of free activities and entertainment, including inflatables, bungee jumping, a Lego party, Hot Wheels race cars, a puppy party, the Shofar Factory and a live concert by Distant Cousins. A Rosh Hashanah
festival featured holiday crafts and a photo booth where children made New Year greeting cards to send to friends
and family.

“It was such a strong feeling of unity,” a parent of a special needs child said. “Our family loves how Friendship Circle makes everyone feel welcome, accepted and important.”


From left: Joel Storch, Terry Storch, L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz and Leah and Sam Yebri. Photo courtesy of Western Region of the American Committee for Shaare Zedek (ACSZ) Medical Center in Jerusalem

The Western Region of the American Committee for Shaare Zedek (ACSZ) Medical Center in Jerusalem presented its Eshet Chayil award to Terry Storch and Leah Yebri on Sept. 12.

Sinai Temple Senior Rabbi David Wolpe gave the dvar Torah and Sinai Cantor Marcus Feldman chanted the Avinu Shebashamayim prayer and Eshet Chayil blessing. 

Comedian Marc Schiff had the audience laughing and Regional Campaign Advisory Council Chair Barak Raviv made the presentations on behalf of Shaare Zedek. 

L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz gave the honorees a special presentation from the city. 

Special guests included former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Jewish Journal Publisher and Editor-in-Chief David Suissa.


Want to be in Movers & Shakers? Send us your highlights, events,
honors and simchas. Email ryant@jewishjournal.com.

One People, One Voice

Elan Carr, second from left, speaks at the panel discussion hosted by Bnai Zion Foundation. Photo courtesy of Bnai Zion Foundation’s Facebook page

 In the two weeks before I went to hear a panel hosted by Bnai Zion Foundation called “What Will It Take to Combat Anti-Semitism?” a spate of attacks in Brooklyn included a 63-year-old rabbi being hit in the face with a large brick. Assaults also have involved the wielding of leather belts and metal, and kicking baby strollers.

“I’m not sure if there are more anti-Semites today or they feel more emboldened,” said historian Deborah Lipstadt at the panel at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun (KJ). “It’s probably a little bit of both.” She broke down the surge of anti-Semitism into four sources: the radical left, white supremacists, Islamists and sectors of the mainstream Muslim community.

This categorization represented the only false note of an otherwise highly informative evening. In 2019, there already have been 152 reports of anti-Semitic hate crimes in New York City; the vast majority of the suspected perpetrators have been young black males.

Is there a fear of naming this fifth category? How is denial of this category helping the Orthodox and Chasidic Jews in Brooklyn, who are under near-weekly attacks?

KJ’s Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz soon corrected the record. “There are segments of hate in the black community, possibly whipped up by Louis Farrakhan.” 

Yet, “it’s not the 1930s,” Steinmetz said. He pointed out that the headquarters of the German American Bund was one block north of the synagogue at that time, with regular marches down 86th Street. 

According to Elan Carr, U.S. Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism, today Jews have “many friends and allies around the world.”

“We’re not just fighting against anti-Semitism,” Carr said. “We’re fighting for our society. Anti-Semitism indicates a disease of democracy, of civil society.” He mentioned that President Donald Trump refers to it as the “vile poison of anti-Semitism.”

I have to note that, after he said that, there wasn’t a snicker or hiss in the crowd. KJ is an Orthodox shul, but the Upper East Side in general is somewhat of an oasis of centrism —Trump has plenty of detractors, but I hear more about how progressives are destroying the Democratic Party. Three Israeli clothing stores thrive on Madison Avenue, underscoring the point that “philo-Semitism” — Jewish contributions to humanity — has to be part of the fight.

“Instead of coming together, we’re fighting with each other. We are saying, ‘I’m allowing my political identity to take primacy over my Jewish identity.’”
— Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz

Carr pointed out that in the United Kingdom, the problems started on campuses but little was done because the thinking was “It’s only students.” Now, 40 percent of European Jews say they want to leave Europe.

Here, Carr said, we now have “24/7 indoctrination” against Jews and Israel on college campuses. He noted that anti-Israel propaganda — from professors — has even infiltrated math classes.

The AMCHA Initiative released a report this month stating that in 2018, anti-Semitism from the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement skyrocketed on campuses, while instances of classic anti-Semitism declined. Most alarmingly, expressions “promoting or condoning terrorism against Israel” increased by 67 percent, and BDS supporters, including professors, fueled the majority of harassment against Jewish students.

Carr said the Trump administration is creating an “interagency process on anti-Semitism” that will unite the departments of State, Justice, Treasury and Education to confront this swelling scourge, on campus and off.

Carr, an Iraqi Jew, also is very focused on the inculcation of Jew hatred in Arab countries: “What starts in the Middle East never stays in the Middle East.”  But he said that Arab leaders are becoming more receptive because of the fight against Iran. Carr said he would be going to the Gulf states soon to engage Arab leaders specifically on this issue.

A main point of the evening was Jewish infighting — the weaponizing of anti-Semitism for political gain. Said Steinmetz, “It’s a great concern that when we’re coming under threat, instead of coming together, we’re fighting with each other. We are saying, ‘I’m allowing my political identity to take primacy over my Jewish identity.’ ”

Carr pointed out that it’s only because the Jews in the U.K. have been united that progress has been made. “We have to do that here,” Carr said. “One people, one voice, united.”

“Unity is not uniformity,” said Steven Savitsky, president of Bnai Zion. We have to unify on the issue of safety, even with Jews who have vastly different political views.

Then there was a very big “but.” We don’t have to include in this “big tent” — what Journal Publisher and Editor-in-Chief David Suissa has called Big Judaism — Jews who have made it their life’s work to destroy the Jewish people. All the panelists agreed that groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace should be ostracized. “A line must be drawn,” Savitsky said.

On the good-news front, a couple of “Jewish solidarity” events have taken place since the panel discussion: one in Manhattan and one simultaneously in Brooklyn; Poway, Calif.; and Pittsburgh.

Sadly, exactly one week after the panel, a 24-year-old Chassidic man was beaten in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant. Surveillance footage shows four young black males chasing him; two then punched and kicked him and ran away with his cellphone. The Anti-Defamation League is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the case.

“This incident comes at a time when visibly observant Jewish individuals are unable to walk the streets of Brooklyn without feeling fearful that they may be assaulted or attacked because of their religion or faith,” ADL NY/NJ regional director Evan R. Bernstein said in a statement. “This is completely unacceptable and contrary to everything we stand for as New Yorkers. The violence must stop now.”

The New York City Police Department will increase their presence in Jewish neighborhoods ahead of the Jewish holidays, Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York Police Department Commissioner James O’Neill announced. “We will not accept hatred in New York City,” de Blasio said.

“This is the fight of our generation,” Savitsky said. “This is a fight we cannot lose.”


Karen Lehrman Bloch is an author and cultural critic living in New York City.

Bari Weiss Talks Israel Love, Handling Haters and More

Bari Weiss. Photo by Sam Bloom

New York Times opinion editor and writer Bari Weiss discussed her new book, “How to Fight Anti-Semitism,” at the Skirball Cultural Center, on Sept. 22. The provocative writer appeared in conversation with “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner. Before a sold-out crowd, they spoke about Weiss’ book, which says that contemporary anti-Semitism comes from the far-right, the far-left and from radical Islam.

Following the discussion, which was organized by Writers Bloc, Weiss sat down for an interview with the Journal. The following is an edited transcript of the conversation.

Jewish Journal (JJ): Why do you advocate so strongly for Israel?

Bari Weiss (BW): It is my job as a journalist–and certainly a journalist with the platform I have–to tell the truth about things that are shrouded in conspiracy or that are lied about. Israel is one such topic. So I’m just doing my job. But I think you are asking a deeper question [which is] ‘Why do I care about Israel?’

JJ: Yes. Can you explain?

BW: I am of the strong view that Israel’s existence makes the lives of diaspora Jews far more secure. I think it is a delusion to think otherwise. I also think, just from a historical perspective, that the fact that we are alive during the Jewish return to political sovereignty is remarkable. I think about that a lot.

I consider my job as an outspoken Jewish Zionist to be a) defending Israel but also in the same way being an American patriot is about criticizing this president, part of being a Zionist is criticizing Israeli policy when it’s harming Israel and betraying Jewish values. So I pride myself on doing that, too, in my columns.

JJ: Yet you still are opposed to Trump, who supports Israel. How can that be?  

BW: No policy is worth the price of what Trump is fundamentally doing to our culture and our politics, and what he is doing to our culture and politics is fundamentally making America less safe for everyone, including Jews. Policies can be unraveled by the next president. The thing that cannot be made whole again so easily once it’s broken is the breakdown of decency, of civility, of the belief that someone of a different skin color or who was born in a different country is just as American as someone who is white and whose family came here on the mayflower. He is calling those bedrock values into question and that is unbelievably dangerous.

JJ: What is it like working at the New York Times, which has a reputation for having a bias against Israel?  

BW: What you see tonight and what you see in my columns is only part of what my job is. I’m also a commissioning editor, so I am in the mix when we try to figure out what deserves to run in our pages. We’re trying to do something that increasingly is unique in the news business, which is we have an op-ed page with editors with some diversity of views. That is something we pride ourselves on, especially in a news environment where it’s very easy to find the pages where everyone agrees.

JJ: How do you handle criticism on Twitter?

 BW: I mute people. I try to limit my time I am very lucky to be surrounded in my actual life, in the real world, by people who know me and love me and understand that there’s an avatar not just of me but, increasingly, of everyone. I’m maybe a prime example of that but that is just one of the terrifying things about social media in general, which is there are real people in the world and there’s a two-dimensional version of them.

JJ: You call yourself center-left but your view sounds more to the right. Can you explain how you reconcile that?

 BWIf you go down the list of policies i support, that is where I come down. But to be honest, I don’t spend that much time labeling myself anymore, because it’s useless. The markers are changing so rapidly. You have Tucker Carlson making Elizabeth Warren’s arguments on Fox at night, economically speaking, so—things are just changing so rapidly that you can call me whatever you want. I really don’t care.

 

Author Bari Weiss on Fighting Anti-Semitism

Matthew Weiner (left) with Bari Weiss; Courtesy of the Skirball Cultural Center

Author Bari Weiss has a pro-Jewish message for those concerned about anti-Semitism: “This is a time to dig deep into the particulars of who we are,” the New York Times opinion writer and editor said during a Sept. 22 conversation with television producer Matthew Weiner (“Mad Men”) at the Skirball Cultural Center, co-sponsored by Writers Bloc.

Weiss, a Pittsburgh native who now lives in New York, told the audience of 450 that she began writing her first book, “How to Fight Anti-Semitism,” which was released Sept. 10, after last year’s shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in her hometown. 

Contemporary anti-Semitism, she said, comes from “the three-headed dragon” of the far right, the far left and radical Islam. So while she has condemned the white supremacist anti-Semitism that led to the Pittsburgh and Chabad of Poway shootings, Weiss also criticized the Jewish community’s willingness to denounce anti-Semitism on the right while ignoring it on the left.

“It is much easier in our community, in which 75% of Jewish Americans still vote Democrat, to condemn people like [Rep.] Steve King (R-Iowa) than to condemn people like [Rep.] Ilhan Omar,” (D-Minn.), Weiss said. “It is just socially much more difficult and much more complicated for us.”

Weiss went on to say if anti-Semitism from the left often manifests as anti-Zionism, inclusion in liberal, progressive circles is contingent on one’s willingness to “disavow Jewish power, and the most potent symbol of Jewish power is, of course, the State of Israel. So, in a sense, you have to convert to anti-Zionism.”

During the commotion, Skirball Founding President Uri Herscher took a microphone on the side of the stage and said, “I think the conversation is great … but [Weiss’ book] title is ‘How to Fight Anti-Semitism,’ and I think a lot of people came to hear you speak about the book.”

On the issue of intersectionality, Weiss said, “It’s this very smart theory that in practice is terrible,” adding that it creates a caste system that puts Ashkenazi Jews near the bottom, “just above the white, cisgendered, able-bodied tall man.”

“I’ve experienced a lot of anti-Semitism in my life,” Weiner said, describing an incident in which he ran into former classmates from his Los Angeles private high school and was left speechless when the classmate said, “Matt wasn’t a loser in high school. Matt had the misfortune of being born Jewish.”

Weiner said his more pressing challenge today is speaking about Israel to his own children, who see it as a colonialist power. 

At that moment, someone from the audience yelled, “Let [Weiss] talk!” Then a cellphone rang and during the commotion, Skirball Founding President Uri Herscher took a microphone on the side of the stage and said, “I think the conversation is great … but [Weiss’ book] title is ‘How to Fight Anti-Semitism,’ and I think a lot of people came to hear you speak about the book.”

READ MORE: BARI WEISS TALKS ISRAEL LOVE, HANDLING HATERS AND MORE

“Speak for yourself,” someone else called out from the audience.

“I am speaking for myself,” Herscher said.

“I think we are having an extremely Jewish experience,” Weiner quipped. “I would like to ask for pledges now.”

After the event, Weiner told the Journal he was surprised by Herscher’s interruption but nonetheless said, “I am a person very open to all ideas.” 

After order was restored, Weiss, who describes herself as center-left politically and holds pro-Israel views that include criticisms of the Jewish state, went on to speak about her own family’s wrestling with the politics of the day, with her sisters and her mother not allowing their “Trump-curious” father to vote for Donald Trump for president in 2016. 

“We prevented him from voting for Trump, and he wrote [on his ballot] Steph Curry [the NBA star]. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the next election, especially if it’s Bernie [Sanders] or Elizabeth Warren [as the Democratic candidate],” Weiss said. “I think a lot of Jews could be writing in Steph Curry.”

Weiss said while she supports Trump’s relocation of the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, his scuttling of the Iran nuclear deal and his recognition of Israeli control over the Golan Heights, Trump’s disregard for civil discourse has had a poisonous effect on the country. But she also empathizes with those that don’t see themselves reflected in the current Democratic Party. 

“Trump’s terrible and then people look at what they fear can be happening to the Democratic Party and they feel, ‘This place I thought was my natural political home is no longer hospitable to me,’ ” she said. “‘How can it be hospitable to me when anti-Semitism is now politically survivable?’”

The conversation spotlighted the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, which has largely failed to gain traction among elected officials. Despite a recent adoption of an anti-BDS bill in Congress, Weiss said the movement has succeeded because it has misled people about its real aim: the elimination of the State of Israel. 

Turning to the news of the Israeli elections, Weiss predicted that a potential leadership transition would reveal that anti-Zionism is not, as anti-Zionists claim, about disagreeing with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but rather about seeking the destruction of Israel. 

“It’s going to lead to the end of the romance between Trump and the Israeli prime minister,” she said. “It’s going to lead to the end of disgusting race-baiting against the Arab population, which constitutes 22% of the population. Hopefully, it will lead to a loosening of the stranglehold that the rabbinate holds on religious life, but it’s also going to be clarifying. I think … we are going to see the people who claim their problem was Bibi Netanyahu, it wasn’t actually their problem at all. Their problem is with the existence of the State of Israel.”

Asked by an audience member about Jewish students on college campuses who are attracted to progressive groups that delegitimize or demonize Israel, Weiss said, “We need to be offering them something better.” 

Speaking with the Journal after the event, Weiss said, “The most gratifying are the young people I am hearing from, whom I am hearing from every day now, and it’s just amazing. [My book] is reaching the kind of people I want it to reach.”  

ADL’s Jonathan Greenblatt Talks Tachlis on Anti-Semitism

Sinai Temple Rabbi David Wolpe (left) and Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt. Photo by Ryan Torok.

While there has been a decrease in anti-Semitic sentiment in the United States, anti-Semitic incidents are on the rise.

So said Anti-Defamation League (ADL) CEO Jonathan Greenblatt in a discussion with Sinai Temple Senior Rabbi David Wolpe on Sept. 11.

Speaking to a crowd of approximately 100 people, Greenblatt said, “Sentiments are actually pretty good in this country and better than they’ve ever been since we’ve been in business, but … acts of harassment and acts of violence increased [in 2018]; acts of assault and whatnot increased 105%, punctuated by the murder in Pittsburgh [at the Tree of Life synagogue] where 11 people were literally shot in cold blood in the pews where they worshipped on a Saturday morning.”

Greenblatt, who has helmed the ADL since 2015, also said he believes anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism and that it is possible to criticize Israel and support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement without being anti-Semitic.

He also dismissed the perception among political conservatives that the ADL is exclusively focused on condemning anti-Semitism on the right — particularly statements from President Donald Trump — while ignoring anti-Semitism on the left from the likes of Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.). Much of that criticism comes, Greenblatt believes, because of his previous position as a special assistant to President Barack Obama.

Greenblatt also spoke about anti-Semitic forces in Europe, stating that Central European nations, including Hungary, Poland and Austria, and Scandinavian countries, including Norway and Sweden, are experiencing a rise in right-wing extremist political parties. He said these countries are taking their cues from an earlier, more anti-Semitic time in Europe, whereas Western European countries, such as Spain and the United Kingdom, “have radical left-wing movements afoot.” 

He added that Jews in Europe face a “triple threat” from the “radical left, the extreme right and Islamic jihadism, all of which are threatening to their Jewish communities.”

Asked by Wolpe how much of the anti-Semitism in Europe is attributed to Islam, Greenblatt spoke of the radicalization of impressionable Muslim youth in France and Germany. He said this was due to imams getting their talking points from leaders in Iran and Turkey who are committed to “fomenting extraordinary anti-Semitism. ”

Greenblatt also took to task Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, saying Erdogan was responsible for purchasing property in East Jerusalem to, among other things, spreading Turkish influence in the region. 

“That’s not very encouraging,” Wolpe said. 

“Nope,” Greenblatt replied. “It’s not.”

During the question-and-answer period, Chloe Levian, a StandWithUs Emerson Fellow at Santa Monica City College, asked Greenblatt if there were ways she could fight anti-Israel attitudes on her campus.

Greenblatt said one way the ADL has been helping is by partnering with campus Hillel groups and working with Jewish members of universities’ board of trustees. 

The evening concluded with a tribute to those who died in the 9/11 attacks in 2001. Taking their cues from Wolpe and Greenblatt, audience members stood and bowed their heads in silence.

Dear Persian Jews: Tradition Is Not Enough

Like many children in the U.S., I once begged my mother to let me attend a Friday night sleepover.

“It’s Shabbat night,” she declared in Persian. “You don’t go out on Shabbat night.”

“Why?” I prodded. “I want to go to this sleepover and eat something called ‘Chinese food.’”

“But we’ve always ‘done’ Shabbat.” she cried. “It’s a time for family and ‘Full House.’”

I should note that I grew up in the 1990s, when ABC aired “TGIF” television programs like, yes, “Full House.”

I didn’t accept my mother’s response because there was no soul in it. 

There’s something about this story that’s uniquely Persian, and at the risk of excommunication, I’ve been waiting 20 years to declare the following:

Given our misguided belief that tradition alone is enough to ensure Jewish continuity, many Iranian American Jews likely will not have Jewish descendants in the coming decades.

It’s our fault. We applied an old formula to a new country.

In Iran, we didn’t worry much about assimilation. First, social anti-Semitism made marriage between Jews and non-Jews very difficult. In the U.S., anti-Semitism doesn’t break up relationships. For Persian Jews, the job of promoting Jewish marriage often belongs to parents, and if those parents die without having imprinted the need and beauty of Jewish continuity, intermarriage will be the result. 

“If your kids find little meaning in synagogue services, find another synagogue.”

Second, we felt less need in Iran to go beyond tradition (toward more learning and Jewish practice), particularly after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, because we were merely trying to survive. No one worries about whether their children will retain their Jewish identity in a country that constantly keeps them in their place as Jews. That’s not an issue in the U.S.

Third, there was an unspoken distance between Muslim and Jewish children in Iran. Often, they learned and played together (at non-Jewish schools), but the level of interaction that Jewish children who attend public schools in the U.S. today have with non-Jewish friends is much greater.

In Tehran, I didn’t partake in non-Jewish traditions with non-Jewish children; in the U.S., I couldn’t wait to help my Christian friends hang ornaments on their Christmas trees, and I viewed them — with their “free” Friday nights — as truly liberated.

There are many Persian Jews who actively are staying connected to Judaism but they now seem a minority. 

The High Holy Days are a good time to observe my assumption in practice. If you’re a parent, ask yourself if your children — whether 12 or 25 — are exhibiting true joy, or at least, curiosity, about the holidays, or are they simply going through the motions? Are you basically forcing them to attend synagogue services? There’s no joy in that.

Do they ask even one meaningful question at the Rosh Hashanah table, or do they view the meal as a mandatory experience to which they must “pay their dues” before returning to their beloved phones?

Are you using this extraordinary time of year to guide your children, or are your children watching as you roll your eyes in synagogue because you’re bored out of your mind, too?

I’m Persian, and I don’t get Persians.

Beautifully but maddeningly traditional, we actually throw ourselves at sefer Torahs when they’re brought down to the pews, but in our homes, we outsource our children’s hearts and souls to their friends and phones.

My mother used to practically shove other women out of the way to steal a kiss on the Torah, but she never managed to invade my heart with an intoxicating love of being Jewish, because her mother had raised her only with tradition, too.

But my mother grew up in Iran. In the U.S., my Judaism was competing with public school and Friday night sleepovers.

If your kids find little meaning in synagogue services, find another synagogue. If they associate Shabbat only with food (however comforting) and idle chatter, start telling stories. Above all, if they don’t exhibit passion about being Jewish, you must start modeling this for them by practicing Jewish customs with joy — right before their eyes. 

Soulful joy makes for a full house.


Tabby Refael is a Los Angeles-based writer and speaker. 

The Process to Replace Leadership of Women’s March Was a Sham

People gather for the Women's March in Washington. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

The announcement in today’s Washington Post that Women’s March co-chairs Linda Sarsour, Tamika Mallory and Bob Bland will no longer serve on the board is only part of the story. The other part is that the process to replace them has been a sham.

Before highly-controversial Sarsour, Mallory and Bland even began the process to find their replacements, they already had overstayed their official term, violating their organization’s bylaws. What followed was an undemocratic, opaque process, with some local Women’s March organizers thinking the previous co-chairs would handpick the new board.

“I’m sure it’s going to be all internal, and they will put in their own people or reelect themselves,” Angie Beem, president of the Washington state chapter, told The Jewish Journal after the announcement.

 In fact, one of the new board members, Zahara Billoo, who runs the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) San Francisco office, has compared Israeli soldiers to ISIS terrorists, according to the Investigative Project on Terrorism, and has written that being pro-Israel is being “pro-terror, pro-violence, pro-land theft, and pro-apartheid.”

Sarsour first announced to Women’s March organizers that it was time to step down six months ago. The Post reports the trio officially stepped down on July 15, although they did not announce it publicly nor update the website.

The original Women’s March, Inc. bylaws, which were written when the first board was solidified in 2017, stipulate leaders must step down and be reelected every two years. However, it was weeks after the co-chairs’ term had ended when the organization began its search for new board members.

As you may know, Women’s March board has two-year terms, and we are now approaching the end of this first board term,” wrote Sarsour in an email to Women’s March state and local level chapter leaders, co-signed by Chief Operating Officer Rachel Carmona. The letter, entitled “Women’s March Board Transition Update” was sent March 21, 2019, by a source connected to Women’s March, Inc. and was reviewed by The Jewish Journal.

“We have officially opened the process for the 2019-2021 board to shape the next phase of our work,” wrote Sarsour and Carmona, attaching a Women’s March board application. “This open process will include a formal application and review by a board nomination and selection committee, comprised primarily of members of the 2019 March Steering Committee who volunteered to be part of this process.”

“Founders have one rotating seat & Carmen is in it,” Sarsour tweeted after the announcement of the new board, referencing how Carmen Perez will stay on the board of the organization. However, nowhere in the bylaws of Women’s March, Inc. is a rotating seat for founders mentioned. “This AMAZING group of women stepped up, most of whom I worked w/ YEARS before WM,” Sarsour wrote.

Sarsour, Perez, Bland and Mallory were not elected into leadership

“The initial directors shall be those persons whose names and addresses are set forth in the Certificate of Incorporation and they shall serve until the next meeting of members at which directors are elected and until the election and qualification of their successors,” specifies Article I of Women’s March, Inc. bylaws.

Scandals have plagued leadership under Sarsour, Mallory, Bland and Perez, including support of those espousing anti-Semitic stances. More than 10,000 people signed a petition demanding they step down from Women’s March, Inc. Teresa Shook, the founder of the movement, has called for them to resign over their missteps with Jewish and LGBTQ women.

The controversy began when Mallory faced criticism for sitting on stage with Louis Farrakhan as he declared “the powerful Jews are my enemy.” Perez, who will remain on the board, has posed holding hands with Louis Farrakhan on Instagram. Sarsour also is associated with Farrkhan; she delivered a speech at a 2015 rally organized by him in his celebration.

In 2019, 100,000 attended the official Washington D.C. Women’s March – 400,000 less than who showed up into 2017. Since its founding in 2017, the organization has lost the majority of its partners; over 287 organizations have pulled support from Women’s March Inc. including the Southern Poverty Law Center, Emily’s List, the Human Rights Campaign and the Democratic Party.

Currently, only 10 chapters remain officially affiliated with Women’s March, Inc.

Three weeks after the email regarding a shift in leadership, Women’s March, Inc. sent out affiliate agreements to other march groups. It promised “Women’s March, Inc. will ensure that there is at least a minimum of two board seats reserved for Women’s March Chapter representation,” which “individual WM Chapter organizers can self-nominate and WM Chapters will then vote based upon their geographic area for the desired WM Chapter board rep.”

However, this directly contradicts the letter Sarsour and Carmona sent, who wrote the new leaders will be selected by the Steering Committee, which was handpicked by the board, not local organizers. There was no mention of a democratic process.

These agreements seemingly offered local marches a voice in leadership, and operated more like a cease-and-desist letter rather than an opportunity to have a voice in the upcoming elections.

Miranda Marquit, lead organizer of Women’s March of Idaho Falls, told The Jewish Journal that up to this point, all it took to be affiliated with Women’s March, Inc. was to list your march on its website. She confirmed that although it is listed on the website, Idaho is no longer affiliated with Women’s March, Inc.

“While the controversy surrounding this year’s march has some influence, the biggest thing is that we’re considering changing the format to do something more locally focused,” Marquit explained. She noted all Women’s March, Inc. provided its affiliates was an eight-page “Sister March Guide” and an invitation to an occasional conference call.

When asked how often she gets email invitations to the Women’s March calls, Marquit says, “I honestly just delete them without opening them.”

The agreement, sent out March 25, stated that if local marches do not affiliate, they must cease all use of the WM emblems within five days and immediately remove the name “Women’s March” from the chapter’s assumed name, domain names and social media accounts. It also asserts that non-affiliated marches must cease selling “Women’s March” merchandise, which funds grassroots activism.

Women’s March, Inc. also requires its affiliates do not “challenge the validity or ownership of any of the WM emblems,” which includes the term “Women’s March.” 

This is unusual, given that the Women’s March already gave up its legal claim to trademark the term “Women’s March,” which 14 other organizations disputed they owned in court.

Even odder was that Women’s March, Inc. not only sent out the draft affiliate agreements to groups with whom they wanted to solidify their partnership, but also to sporadic activist groups with the name “Women’s March” − even those that had no ties with it.

A leader of a large Women’s March group in California confirmed to The Jewish Journal that it had received the affiliate agreement, even though the chapter has openly divorced itself from Women’s March, Inc. and is affiliated with Los Angeles-based Women’s March Foundation.

In exchange for affiliation, Women’s March, Inc. offers online training, public relations support, amplification of local actions on its social media pages, web support and access to “network-wide communications platforms like Slack.” 

The organization did not offer to distribute any of its funding to grassroots organizers who sign on with it. In contrast, March On, a competing women’s march organization, has given 19 percent of its total funding directly to affiliates, investing approximately $250,000 in local groups, March On told The Jewish Journal.

In July, Samia Assed, who runs the New Mexico Women’s March told The Jewish Journal she has not received any funding or organizing resources from the parent organization, but Carmen Perez once came and spoke at a meeting.

Assed said she would sign the agreement because “I won’t splinter the movement. I won’t weaken it.” However, she had problems with the leadership. “Do I believe Linda and Tamika are anti-Semitic? No. Do I think they acted stupidly? Yes.”

In September it was announced she had joined the Women’s March Inc. board.

For many local chapters, not having a say in major decisions is a deal breaker.

“I don’t see how there will be an election when we have no say in anything they do. I don’t know how they would do the vote,” Beem said of the new board’s selection process. “If we had that kind of power, we could have voted them out. But it takes the board members to vote out a board member, and you know none of them are going to go against each other. I don’t see how an election can happen in this vacuum.”

Women’s March Announces That Sarsour, Mallory, Bland Resigned

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Linda Sarsour, Tamika Mallory and Bob Bland have stepped down as co-chairs of Women’s March, Inc. on July 15, according to a statement released on Sept. 16.

The Women’s March said in a statement on their website that Sarsour, Mallory and Bland “will transition off the Women’s March Board and onto other projects focused on advocacy within their respective organizations.” Bland, who served as co-president of the Women’s March along with Mallory, told The Washington Post that the leadership was in the works for some time. 

Sarsour, who is a surrogate for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) presidential campaign, told the Post, “I am grateful to the women who stepped up to shepherd the Women’s March. This is what women supporting women looks like.”

Co-chair Carmen Perez is staying with the Women’s March.

The statement went onto list the names of 16 new board members for the organization.

The Women’s March has been plagued with accusations of anti-Semitism, stemming from Sarsour, Mallory and Perez expressing warmth toward Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and a December report from Tablet alleging that Mallory and Perez accused Jews of being behind the American slave trade, among other allegations of anti-Semitism. 

Some of the reactions from the Jewish world include:

Associate Dean and Director of Global Social Action Agenda at the Simon Wiesenthal Center Rabbi Abraham Cooper said in a statement to the Journal that he’s “grateful” that the Women’s March is “taking back control from extremists who hijacked this vital American campaign for social justice, creating an anti-Semitic litmus test for social activism that denounces Zionism and demonizes Zionists.”

Two Former Labour MPs Criticize Corbyn’s ‘Institutional Anti-Semitism’

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party, gives an election campaign speech in Basildon, June 1, 2017. REUTERS/Neil Hall/File Photo

Two members of parliament (MPs) who left the UK Labour Party criticized the party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, for institutionalizing “anti-Semitism” in the party during Sept. 10 speeches at the House of Commons.

MP Ivan Lewis, who donned a yarmulke during his speech, accused Corbyn’s leadership of turning Labour into “the party of institutionalized anti-Semitism. So much so Mr. Speaker that a majority of Jews feel they would not be safe in the event of [Corbyn] becoming prime minister.” Lewis, who was accused of sexual harassment in 2017, left Labour in December.

MP Ian Austin explained in his speech that he bolted from Labour in February “to shine a spotlight on the disgrace it’s become under [Corbyn’s] leadership,” adding that “extremists” who sometimes work with and defend “terrorists and anti-Semites” have taken over the party.

At least nine MPs have resigned from the Labour party in 2019, with many stating that the party has become plagued with anti-Semitism under Corbyn. More recently, Labour MP John Mann resigned from parliament on Sept. 7, telling the Jewish Chronicle (JC) that Corbyn has become “an enabler” of anti-Semitism.

A JC poll in Sept. 2018 found that more than 85 percent of British Jews view Corbyn as anti-Semitic.

“The poll was conducted after the Labour leader was at the centre of further rows,” the JC wrote at the time. “In July, photos of Mr Corbyn surfaced from a 2014 event in Tunis, where he laid a wreath commemorating the terrorists behind the Munich massacre of the Israeli Olympic team in 1972. In August, a video emerged of him speaking at a 2013 event, during which he said of British ‘Zionists.’”

Corbyn has denied that anti-Semitism is a serious issue in his party.

Baba Sale Congregation Vandalized with ‘Free Palestine’ Graffiti

Photo courtesy of Zev Opos.

Baba Sale Congregation in the Fairfax district of Los Angeles was defaced with “Free Palestine” graffiti on the morning of Sept. 11.

Zev Opos, who is on the board of directors for the congregation, told the Journal that three female witnesses saw three men in hoodies drawing on the synagogue. One of the witnesses said described one of the suspects as “a tall African-American man,” Opos said.

“Once they finished tagging and saw the women, they ran to their car, which was waiting for them on Oakwood [Avenue], and they drove away,” Opos said.

The Journal has obtained video footage from the congregation showing a hooded man spray-painting the synagogue, before driving off in a vehicle.

Photo courtesy of Baba Sale Congregation.

Photo courtesy of Baba Sale Congregation.

Opos said that while there have been “small graffiti incidents in the past” at Baba Sale, there has never been large anti-Semitic graffiti until now.

“We’re a Jewish house of worship that’s located 7500 miles from the Middle East where this conflict is taking place, and we came under attack solely for being Jewish,” Opos said, “because we as a congregation, we don’t take any political positions and we’ve never made any political statements.”

He added that Baba Sale is a Moroccan shul, so the graffiti opens old wounds given the history of Arab nations expelling Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews following the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.

“It shows that anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are really rooted in the same place, and that’s [a place] of hate,” Opos said, adding the congregation will now undertake additional security measures, including requiring attendees to punch in a code before entering the synagogue, or having someone inside let them in.

“The security companies that are employed by us, they are being updated that they need to be on higher alert as a result of this incident,” Opos said.

Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Los Angeles tweeted it is “working with law enforcement on this shocking act of vandalism on a synagogue. As our annual audit reflects, anti-Semitic incidents have been on the rise in California.”

In a follow-up tweet, ADL Los Angeles said:  “Vandalism is never ok, and blaming all Jews as a way of criticizing Israel is clear anti-Semitism.”

American Jewish Committee Los Angeles Regional Director Richard S. Hirschhaut said in a statement, “When I see the Moroccan Jewish synagogue in my neighborhood grotesquely vandalized with ‘Free Palestine,’ it’s a harsh reminder that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism have the same roots. This is part of a disturbing and unacceptable trend of anti-Semitic crimes in Los Angeles that we must confront.”

"When I see the Moroccan Jewish synagogue in my neighborhood grotesquely vandalized with 'Free Palestine,' it's a harsh…

Posted by AJC Los Angeles on Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Opos wrote in a Sept. 11 Facebook post: “‘Free Palestine’ is a dog whistle which means replacing Israel with Palestine. ‘From the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea Palestine shall be free.’ The targeting of a Jewish house of worship nowhere near Israel shows that this is about Jews. Raw anti-Semitism.”

He added that he wanted to “send a clear message that we are not afraid, we will not be intimidated, and we have no fear.”

This vandalism took place, on 9/11 of all days, at my beloved Baba Sale synagogue in LA’s Fairfax District only minutes…

Posted by Zev Opos on Wednesday, September 11, 2019

UPDATE: Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz said in a statement to the Journal, “Acts of intolerance and hate have no place in the City of Los Angeles. We will not allow for the peace and tranquility of our communities to be disturbed by those who propagate fear.  We stand with the congregants of Baba Sale. My Director of Public Safety has been briefed by the Area Commanding Officer of the Los Angeles Police Department and all resources will be brought to bear to apprehend the suspect(s).”

A Different Kind of Arms Race for Our Community

There’s a man who sits near me at minyan who davens with his phone on the table in front of him. The screen stays on, split into four camera angles of the street outside, and he keeps an eye on it.

Sometimes, after I finish the Amidah, my eyes wander over to the live feed. People shuffle by, heads buried in their devices, and I imagine who they might be or where they could be going. Perhaps they’re hustling to a later service, or heading home from a faster one. I don’t think anyone with evil intentions will appear. But the thought of it does invariably enter my mind. Here to make time with the Great Surveillance Camera In The Sky, instead I catch myself looking over my shoulder. 

It seems like only yesterday that we were living and praying in a bubble of sweet naiveté. Times have changed. White supremacy is in bloom and is drawing oxygen from a toxic national discourse and a vacuum of moral leadership. The last year saw two of our holy spaces come under violent attack. Tree of Life is now the name of a massacre.

It has now been 20 years and a few weeks since a man carrying an automatic rifle walked into the North Valley Jewish Community Center and opened fire, hitting five people before fleeing the scene. If you live here, you’ve heard the backstory: The gunman, bent on killing Jews, cased three other institutions first but found them well secured. He settled on the first soft target he could find. 

The attack has informed security policy at Los Angeles Jewish institutions ever since. The logic: Fortify yourself as well as, if not better than, your neighbor. What else explains the arms race now quietly unfolding between synagogues in my neighborhood? My shul installed security cameras only once the shul up the street had them. When one shul arms its guard, or adds a second, the others follow suit. The newest big shul on Pico Boulevard, with 8-foot cinder block walls, could pass for a fallout compound. How far off are metal detectors?

“We will not defeat anti-Semitism with taller fences and more video cameras. We can’t just raise the drawbridge. We need offensive tactics, too.”

Even as our concerns become embedded in our architecture, things inside shul almost always feel the same. The cholent tastes the same, the niguns are the same, I avoid the same people and arrive during the same part of Musaf. To be clear, I’m glad we have someone at minyan with an eye on the door. I wouldn’t suggest that the threat against our places of worship does not warrant more rigorous security — of course it does. Feeling safe is essential to the work of connecting with God and with one another, even if our prayers themselves betray a growing fear.

Consider, however, the implications of a strategy whose ethos is not outrunning the lion, so to speak, but outrunning the other human. Each new layer of security further isolates our communities from one another, weakening the exchange of knowledge, tradition and good will between us. I suspect I’m not the only Jew feeling less inclined to shul-hop these days.

What’s more, by insulating ourselves from danger, we wall ourselves off from the society that we live in and remain responsible to. As Jewish culture is assailed and disinformation about us abounds, retreating from the public sphere runs contrary to our interests. We should be making ourselves more accessible, more inclusive, more involved in causes that are not our own. We will not defeat anti-Semitism with taller fences and more video cameras. We can’t just raise the drawbridge. We need offensive tactics, too, a corresponding arms race, a friendlier competition between our beloved institutions, to fortify the values that make our community worth protecting.

So, maybe Judaism has to circle the wagons. But why not make one giant circle instead of a thousand smaller ones? Orthodox shuls should partner with other Orthodox shuls, of course, but they also should be organizing charity events with Reform congregations and symposia with Conservative temples. We must insist on finding religious and cultural common ground because it’s not that hard, first of all, and second, because we need one another more than we realize.

This is the moment to emphasize, not dial back, interfaith and cross-cultural outreach. These engagements are particularly fruitful: They humanize the stranger, strengthen alliances and remind us that we’re not going it alone. We can’t just ask other groups to show up for us — we have to show up for them, too.

It’s a way to train some surveillance cameras on ourselves. When we build a wall between ourselves and society, we might become less vulnerable to the symptoms of hate — an armed guard deters a would-be attacker — but we become more susceptible to contracting the disease ourselves. No culture, religion, political identity or level of observance makes one safe from developing xenophobia, racism or apathy. That means all of us have to be not only vigilant in rooting out those strains of thought, but proactive in warding them off, too.


Louis Keene is a contributing writer for the Jewish Journal. His column In Good Faith runs every other week on the Journal’s back page. He’s on Twitter at @thislouis.

Uniting Around a Big Judaism

When you feel under attack, you’re not inclined to think big. You’re more consumed with immediate threats.

The Jewish world these days is feeling under attack. Whether it’s the rise of anti-Semitism from all sides, the continued assault of BDS or an intersectionality movement that isolates Jews, the bad news keeps coming and throwing us off balance.

This is in addition to the ongoing challenge of maintaining our Jewish identity in a fast-changing and secularized culture.

The nasty business of politics, of course, has made everything worse. Many Jews process current events, including attacks on Jews, through a strictly partisan lens: How will this help my side and hurt the other side? All too many of us have become foot soldiers in a political fight to the death.

The net effect is a community deeply divided at the worst possible time. In this vulnerable state, is it any wonder that our responses to the whirlwind of threats have been so scattered and ineffective?

So, it’s worth asking: What would be a more effective response? How can we fight anti-Semitism in a way where the Jewish community comes out ahead? 

At a time of rising attacks on the Jewish people, how can we come together around a tradition that has nourished us for 3,300 years?

I’d like to suggest an approach I call Big Judaism.

As much as anything, Big Judaism represents an attitude. It encourages us to think big. Most importantly, it asks us to look at what unites us rather than what divides us. It doesn’t expect us to agree with one another or change our views — that’s not the point. 

The point of Big Judaism is to take a step back and look at the big picture: At a time of rising attacks on the Jewish people, how can we come together around a tradition that has nourished us for 3,300 years?

Big Judaism is about projecting strength rather than weakness. Bullies and haters feast on weakness. We must meet them with this unified message: If you hate Jews and Judaism, we will double down on both.

Big Judaism is about coming together to share our big ideas with humanity, from the serene beauty of Shabbat to the Jewish imperative to repair the world.

America is an ideal place to go big on Judaism. I know it’s popular to look at the rising anti-Semitism and pretend we’re back in pre-Holocaust days. This hyper-alarmism may be good for media ratings, but it dishonors a country that embraces our ideals and defends our rights.

For Jews right now, the axiom that “the best defense is a good offense” has never been more applicable.

A good offense means not settling for the rhythm of the victim — they hate, we call out; they attack, we call out; they spray graffiti, we call out.

A good offense means projecting pride in our Judaism whether we are attacked or not.

And when we are attacked, we must do more than “call out” or call the police. If a synagogue finds a swastika on its walls, it ought to organize a Torah rally and strengthen its Jewish programming. If Jewish students find anti-Semitic pamphlets, they ought to throw a Jewish pop-up party on campus.

Because anti-Zionism is often a cover for anti-Semitism, it must be addressed the same way — by doubling down on Judaism. The best way to defend the Jewish state is to stand up for Jewish pride.

Anti-semitism is indeed a threat, but a broken and splintered Jewish community is an even bigger one.

Each denomination, each community, each Jewish group can contribute in its own way. Every Jewish holiday is an opportunity to make the values and rituals of Judaism more visible and prominent. We can’t allow armed guards in front of synagogues to become the emblem of modern-day Judaism. This shows fear and darkness at a time when we need to show strength, unity and light.

Big Judaism doesn’t mean we stop criticizing our own and holding ourselves accountable. It does mean, however, that we recognize we’re also accountable to our community to unite as a “big family” against common threats. At moments like these, it is the duty of Jewish leaders everywhere to bring us together for a higher cause.

Many of us have become so consumed with politics that it’s hard to see any higher cause. The Jew-haters are hoping we will stay this way, tearing one another apart while they continue to tear us down. Anti-semitism is indeed a threat, but a broken and splintered Jewish community is an even bigger one.

As we’ve learned throughout our history, Jew-haters don’t care whether we’re Democrats, Republicans, Sephardic, Ashkenazi, atheists, Zionists or what have you. For the haters, “Jew” is enough to treat us as one.

If “Jew” is enough for them, why is it not enough for us? With the High Holy Days around the corner, it’s time to think big. It’s time to fight back against our common threats by uniting around a Big Judaism — one that respects our differences but honors our shared heritage and destiny as a Jewish family.

Then we win no matter what.

Israeli Assaulted in Germany While Speaking Hebrew

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

An Israeli tourist was assaulted in Berlin on Sept. 9 as he was speaking to three other men in Hebrew, the Jerusalem Post reports.

The tourist was conversing with the three men outside of a nightclub when the assailant punched the tourist in the face and then fled. The tourist told police that the assailant was “Arab-looking,” according to the Post. The Post also noted that the police report on the matter described the assault as having an “anti-Semitic background.”

Israeli diplomat Dan Poraz tweeted out a link to the story, writing that “its 2019 not 1939.” He added in a follow-up tweet, “To almost every trip abroad, to almost any destination – Jews will usually be cautious/uncomfortable about speaking Hebrew. In fact, there’s only one place in the world in which Jews speak Hebrew freely.”

A German intelligence agency released a report in June stating that there was a 71.4 percent increase in anti-Semitic violence from 2017 to 2018 and 20 percent in anti-Semitic hate crimes overall in the same timeframe. In May, German Commissioner Felix Klein warned Jews against publicly wearing kippahs in the country, a statement he later backed down from after facing criticism over it.

“Germany’s domestic intelligence agency notes #antiSemitism is a core element of both right & left-wing extremism, and also essential to Islamist extremist ideology,” Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted in June. “We must tackle this rise in anti-Semitism and extremism, no matter the source.”

Swastikas Found on Several Homes in San Pedro

Photo from Wikipedia.

A slew of swastikas were found on around a dozen homes and buildings in San Pedro on Sept. 2.

Siamak Kordestani, American Jewish Committee Los Angeles Regional Office Assistant Director, tweeted out photos of some of the swastikas:

Police Office Paul Winter told the Daily Breeze newspaper that the vandalism spanned from “Grand Avenue to Pacific Avenue, and from 12th Street to 19th Street.” He also said that the police are looking for a 6’2” white male as a suspect and that they are investigating the matter as a hate crime.

Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council President Doug Epperhart told the Daily Breeze that he had never seen such graffiti before in his 27 years living in San Pedro, pointing out that most graffiti in the area is “gang-related.” 

Temple Beth El Rabbi Cassi Kail told the Daily Breeze, “The man who did this chose to invoke something, provoking fear and from a place of hatred. Even if it wasn’t specifically against the Jewish community, it’s against all people who value diversity and respect for another.”

Community activist Lion Lyons told Spectrum News that he is going to organize a community meeting to address the matter.

This community, as you can tell, we’re very diverse and we don’t have time for that,” Lyons told CBS Los Angeles. “First off, we want to educate our youth and seeing that this doesn’t happen and at the same time, let them know that everyone’s welcoming here.”

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted, “Sickening display of #antiSemitism in California where swastikas were found painted onto over a dozen houses. Glad to see the community has already come together to take action and seek justice. @LA_ADL is working with law enforcement to assist in any way.”

StandWithUs Urges FIFA to Make Sure Israeli Fans Can Attend Qatar’s World Cup

Photo courtesy of StandWithUs.

StandWithUs called on the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) to allow Israeli fans to attend the 2022 World Cup in Qatar in a Sept. 3 petition.

The petition states that “Qatar does not recognize Israel and bans Israelis from entering” the country, pointing out that Israel isn’t on Qatar’s list of nationalities and territories that can obtain a visa. The petition also notes that FIFA’s policies explicitly bans discriminatory against those based on ethnicity and country of origin.

“We call upon FIFA not to score an own goal and to uphold their Code of Ethics, which is premised on protecting international football from ‘illegal, immoral or unethical’ practices,” StandWithUs CEO and Co-Founder Roz Rothstein said in a statement. “If Qatar is allowed to ban fans on the basis of national origin, this would be a clear violation of FIFA’s guidelines.”

She added, “If Qatar is allowed to ban Israeli fans from entering this will reflect negatively on FIFA, which has made inclusion a primary hallmark of their ethos.”

The Jerusalem Post notes that Hassan al-Thawdi, who heads Qatar’s World Cup organizing committee said in 2017, “Everyone is welcome to Qatar. What we ask is that when people come, just to respect – we’re a relatively conservative nation… all we ask is that every fan who comes in, and every fan is welcome, all we ask that people respect that.”

FIFA did not respond to the Journal’s request for comment.

In March, the Sunday Times reported that Qatar allegedly bribed FIFA with $880 million to host the 2022 World Cup; FIFA said at the time that they would cooperate with the investigation into the matter.

There have been prior instances of countries banning Israelis from participating in athletic tournaments, such as Malaysia. 

Qatar has funneled money to Islamic terror groups like Hamas and promulgates anti-Semitic propaganda through myriad books.

NY County Chair Says Video Warning of Chasidic ‘Takeover’ Will Return

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

The head of the local Republican Party in Rockland County, N.Y. said that their video warning of a Chasidic “takeover” in the county will eventually be back.

The video, titled “A Storm Is Coming”, accuses Rockland County legislator Aron Wieder, a Chasidic Jew, and the “Ramapo Machine” – referencing the town of Ramapo, which has a large population Chasidic and Charedi Jews – of “overdevelopment” in Rockland County. The video claims that Wieder is attempting to sell land to 75 Yeshiva camps and that he and the “Ramapo Machine” of attempting to redistrict the county to increase their “power to take over Rockland.”

Rockland County GOP Chair Lawrence Garvey told the New York Post that they had taken down the video from their site on Aug. 29, but said this was because it “accomplished its goal of highlighting the issues that face our county. And second, [we] took it down because the controversy stopped adding to number one above.”

Garvey then said that “the video will be back, because this conversation is important to Rockland.”

New York City Councilman Kalman Yeger tweeted, “This is not a partisan issue. The @NewYorkGOP Chair can and must take action against the Rockland County Chair’s antisemitic divide-and-conquer campaign.”

Former Democratic New York Assemblyman Dov Hikind tweeted, “Anti-Semitism in broad daylight, why?! Because there are no consequences for these haters. If the @GOP is ok with local representatives tarnishing their party with such anti-Semitism they will pay for it at the ballot-box nationwide.”

The Republican Jewish Coalition and Anti-Defamation League New York and New Jersey have previously condemned the video as anti-Semitic.

DOL Official Reinstated After Resigning for ‘Sarcastic’ Remarks Bloomberg Called ‘Anti-Semitic’

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Department of Labor (DOL) official Leif Olson was reinstated on Sept. 4 to his position in the department after he initially resigned due to a Sept. 3 Bloomberg report calling his comments on Facebook “anti-Semitic.”

The DOL said in a statement posted to their website, “On Friday, August 30, 2019, Senior Policy Advisor of the Wage and Hour Division, Leif Olson offered his resignation and the Department accepted. Following a thorough reexamination of the available information and upon reflection, the Department has concluded that Mr. Olson has satisfactorily explained the tone of the content of his sarcastic social media posts and will return to his position in the Wage and Hour Division.”

The comments in question are from Aug. 2016, when Olson posted a status mocking white nationalist Paul Nehlen for a 70-point defeat in his attempt to primary then-Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). A commenter called Ryan a “neo-con,” prompting Olson to reply that “neo-cons are all Upper East Side Zionists who don’t golf on Saturday if you know what I mean.” The commenter then said Ryan is a Jew, and Olson replied that “it must be true because I’ve never seen the Lamestream Media report it, and you know they protect their own.”

Bloomberg reporter Benjamin Penn called the aforementioned remarks “anti-Semitic” in a Sept. 3 piece reporting that Olson had resigned from the DOL; Olson told Bloomberg that his Facebook comments were “sarcastic criticism of the alt-right’s conspiracy theories and anti-Semitic positions.” Anti-Defamation League spokesman Jake Hyman told Bloomberg that the posts were anti-Semitic; later in the day he told The Washington Post, “We appreciate Mr. Olson’s clarification that he intended to be sarcastic with his posts and accept his explanation of the content in question.”

Olson tweeted, “I’m grateful to be heading back to work. Thank you, Acting Secretary @PatPizzellaDOL and @WHD_DOL Administrator Cheryl Stanton for the opportunity to continue to serve.”

Bloomberg and Penn have stood by their reporting prior to the DOL’s Sept. 4 announcement, saying that Penn simply sent the department a screenshot and they responded that Olson had resigned. Neither have responded to the Journal’s requests for comment.

Sharon Osbourne Calls Corbyn ‘Arrogant’ and ‘Repulsive’

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

‘The Talk’ co-host Sharon Osbourne, wife of musician Ozzy Osbourne, called UK Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn “arrogant” and “repulsive” in an interview with The Sun published on Sept. 4. 

Osbourne said, “I hate him so much!” when The Sun asked her about Corbyn.

I want to hurt him. I want to physically hurt this man,” Osbourne said. “He is the most arrogant, ugly f—. I want to hurt him. Oh my God, he is revolting, so ugly, inside and out. This ugliness oozes from him, he’s repulsive.”

Osbourne, who is of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, went on to describe her concern about the growing anti-Semitism in the Labour Party 

“It’s always been around and it will always be around and that’s what terrifies me because of all the ugly groups that are coming up all over the world,” Osbourne said. “It’s always the Jews or the blacks or the Muslims — everybody hates somebody.”

Osbourne also discussed about the various instances her late father, Don Arden, faced anti-Semitism while serving in the British Army during World War II, including his fellow soldiers forcing him to “dig a hole” in the pouring rain because he’s “a f—— Jew and this war is over you.”

The Labour Party has faced myriad allegations of anti-Semitism under Corbyn’s stewardship and the Labour Party leader has been criticized for abetting the rise of it; more than a dozen Labour Party members have resigned from the party over the anti-Semitism allegations. 

On Sept. 4, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson challenged Corbyn to join his efforts to call snap elections after the House of Commons blocked his attempt to get a no-deal Brexit bill passed. Corbyn rebuffed Johnson.

Jewish Bluegrass Duo’s Single ‘Homesick’ Written to Combat Anti-Semitism

Gabriela Rose and Nick Cameron of Mama Danger; Photo by Dan Johnson

“We want people of all minorities to feel heard. We want non-Jewish people to understand the experience of what it’s like being Jewish and being a minority in this country and not feeling like it’s our home.”

So says Gabriela Rose, 24, one half of the multi-instrumental bluegrass duo Mama Danger. Together with Nick Cameron, 25, their latest single, “Homesick,” draws upon the anti-Semitism and other injustices they have experienced in their southern community of Asheville, N.C.

“I felt this melancholy in the community about identity and living in the South and being Jewish,” Rose told the Journal. “I wanted to speak to that … because Judaism isn’t really talked about in the South and often having a Southern identity has a negative connotation. I want to be proud of being Southern but also be proud of being Jewish. And there is a conflict between those identities.” 

“Homesick” was written toward the end of 2018, not long after the Tree of Life synagogue mass shooting in Pittsburgh. “We wrote it as a single because it was such a specific emotion regarding the whirlwind of the media,” Rose said. 

‘Homesick’s’ lyrics include: “Branches bloom in my lungs. Stealing songs left
unsung.” 

Said Rose, “I’ve always been fascinated by the imagery of trees and branches and how they mirror what our anatomy looks like on the inside. There is also that feeling like you don’t have a voice and what you are saying doesn’t have an impact.”

She added the duo is “very covert with our Judaism [in “Homesick”], because we want to bring people in to listen to the song and then fully understand it.” 

There is a line in the chorus that says: “To ignite this ever-burning flame.”

“Our theme within the song is to ignite this [flame], which is a symbol of the Jewish people prevailing through adversity,” Rose explained. “So often, the story of Judaism is that Jews have been misplaced and pushed around so there is this longing for a home that doesn’t necessarily exist and that is starting to feel that way in America.”

Born and raised in Raleigh, N.C., Rose said, “My mother is a piano teacher, my brother is a drummer, my other brother is a bassist and my father plays guitar. So we would do the whole family band thing. I always grew up around music and especially folk music.” 

Rose’s father is Israeli so a large majority of her family lives in Israel. “I grew up going to Israel, riding camels in the Negev desert and playing in the streets of Tel Aviv,” she said. “Judaism is a very core part of my life.” 

“I felt this melancholy in the community about identity and living in the South and being Jewish. Often having a Southern identity has a negative connotation.” 

— Gabriela Rose

However, growing up in the Raleigh area, Rose said, “I have been bullied for
being Jewish. I’ve been tokenized and made to feel different in a predominantly white community.”

Cameron hails from Maryland. His mother is Jewish and his father is Christian but it was important to them they celebrate the different holidays of both religions. He grew up doing theater and that turned into musical theater, which turned into just music. It wasn’t until 2014 when he moved to Asheville that his Jewish identity came into play. 

“Because the area of Maryland I grew up in had a pretty large Jewish population, I had lots of friends who were really more knowledgeable about Judaism than I was,” Cameron said. “So I never really thought about it until I came to Asheville and I became a lot of people’s one Jewish friend. I was the token Jew as it were, and it was eye opening.”

Rose moved to Asheville in 2013, to study psychology at UNC Asheville. It was in 2016 that she found her way to the music department, where she met Cameron. They were part of the university’s ambassador choir, and during a trip to perform for President Barack Obama’s final Christmas at the White House, a close friendship was forged between them. “On that trip Nick and I became friends and I felt comfortable to share with him the songs that I had been writing over the course of my life,” Rose said.

In seeking out a band name, the duo tried to create an anagram from both their names but came up short. Then they put the word “anagrammed” into an anagram generator and it came up with Mama Danger.  “It had a bluegrassy ring so we went with it,” Cameron said. 

However they do not consider themselves merely a bluegrass band. “We are pretty influenced by a band called Punch Brothers,” Cameron said “They look like a bluegrass band but when you look into their music, it is kind of like all over the map. You can hear jazz and classical and pop. So we are inspired by their disregarding of genres.” 

Aside from Mama Danger, both work at the Asheville Jewish Community Center, where Rose is a preschool teacher and Cameron works in the after-school program twice a week. 

“Living in the South and being Jewish is a core part of a lot of the Jewish population’s identity,” Rose said. “In Asheville, the community is very small (3,500 Jews in all of western North Carolina). “Our Asheville JCC has faced some anti-Semitism and in the past couple of years, we were one of the many JCC’s that had a bomb threat called in. We have had people vandalize the Jewish cemetery and post anti-Semitic flyers around town. And oftentimes, the JCC has to go on high alert. It is scary and I have to teach 4-year-olds what to do when a bad guy comes.”

Moving forward, the duo hope to be a voice for marginalized people. Said Rose, “The future for us is to continue to grow within the western N.C. community and spread our message and the acceptance of a Jewish identity through our music
and playing at Jewish events and non-Jewish events.”

‘Homesick’ is available on Spotify.

Questions for Omar After She Tweeted My Article

FILE PHOTO: Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) holds a news conference to discuss legislation creating "a federal grant program to help local governments invest in waste reduction initiatives", at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., July 25, 2019. REUTERS/Mary F. Calvert/File Photo

I was notified last week that Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) had tweeted an article of mine, which credited the freshman congresswoman for my newfound comfort in covering my hair with a headscarf rather than a wig, to her million-plus followers. 

The reactions I encountered from friends and family were twofold. The first, overall incredulousness for the publicity of it all (thousands of comments and retweets!). The second was sorrow and shame. One family member likened the article to complimenting Hitler for having a backbone. A rabbi cautioned that I should consider doing teshuvah (repentance) for writing the piece, which portrayed a positive aspect of Omar, whose statements and tweets have been anti-Semitic. Only my mother, a complex amalgam of PETA-supporting, bleeding-heart Republican, called it tikkun olam, and noted that in the midst of the hateful rhetoric going back and forth, I had said something friendly and human and true.

As for my personal reaction, I felt that I had been used. In her tweet, Omar sliced my sentence, cutting the portion that declared my discomfort with her views and exhibiting instead the part that showcased her coolness. In addition, my title had been changed, whether to become more readable or clickable I’m not sure, but I definitely wouldn’t have credited her with being an “inspiration.”

It’s not hard to admire Omar for her boldness, whether with regard to headgear or to forging forward despite death threats and controversy. It’s harder to draw inspiration from her, though, when her support of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement seems more about “banishing those damn Semites” than caringly and constructively finding solutions that meet both Israeli and Palestinian needs.

As an organizer for Better Angels, a political depolarization group, I’ve learned to enter fraught conversations only after setting firm ground rules: respectful language, using “I” statements, and an agreement to stay curious and connecting, instead of attacking and condemning. Were I to have the opportunity to converse with Omar in person, I would add one more ground rule: Can you sign on to the statement that I have a right to safety and security just as much as you have a right to safety and security? Because without that commitment, any conversation, and any potential inspiration I can draw from you, becomes a nonstarter.

“Rep. Omar, I’m not yet convinced we’re on the same page.”

And my ability to feel safe is drawn up with the safety of Israel. I have too much family there, too strong an emotional and spiritual connection, and too much familiarity with Jewish persecution across the globe to feel at ease if Israel is threatened. And checkpoints and settlements, which Omar has denounced and publicly hoped to visit during her aborted trip to Israel, are all safety measures to avoid terror attacks and losing wars of elimination. They emerged out of bloody necessity, not out of colonization or a power grab, as she has claimed.

Omar’s statements about Jews and Israel have many in the Orthodox Jewish community panicking, partly for their content, but more so for the ease with which she appears able to utter them, given her platform as a member of Congress. My original article title, “Silver Lining to Omar in Congress,” was meant to cheekily reference that sentiment.

But while Omar has backpedaled on several of her statements, citing ignorance or saying they were taken out of context, she’s still a supporter of the BDS movement, which promotes, among other things, the rights for 5 million descendants of Palestinian refugees to return to homes and residences in Israel. That essentially would mean a Palestinian majority in the State of Israel, planting Hamas eerily in control and, voila, curtains for Israel and all the Jews in it.

So that’s why, Rep. Omar, I’m not yet convinced we’re on the same page. I first need to know if we can agree to this basic foundation: I want you and your family to live and thrive safely, as long as you want me and my family to live and thrive safely. Are you with me? If so, then let’s talk.


Rachel Wizenfeld is a Los Angeles-based writer, a school psychology graduate student and an organizer for Better Angels, a national political depolarization group.

WATCH: AJC Video on Rising Anti-Semitism in NY

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) released a video on Sept. 3 highlighting the rising anti-Semitic violence in New York City.

The video begins with the question, “What would you say if you learned there were over 100 anti-Semitic assaults in a European city? If Jews were being ambushed, attacked, stabbed, kicked, choked, bludgeoned?”

The video then states that such things are occurring with rising frequency in New York City, pointing out that hate crimes have risen 81 percent in 2019 from the year prior in the city, but “few people are aware of this increasingly dangerous situation.”

The Americans Against Anti-Semitism coalition tweeted on Aug. 31 that over the past week there have been two instances of Jews being bludgeoned with stones in New York City and one instance of a Jewish man being hit with a belt buckle while the assailants shouted “F***ing Jew!”

The Anti-Defamation League highlighted the fact that a beach club in Queens was vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti, tweeting, “From vicious #antiSemitic attacks & harassment in Brooklyn, to now #antiSemitic graffiti in Queens, New York has a serious issue with #antiSemitism currently. More action needs to be taken from public leaders and authorities to curb this #hate.”

New York City Councilman Chaim Deutsch told Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) that the recent rise of anti-Semitism in the city is “very concerning and very disturbing to me. It’s irrelevant if it’s been happening in the past. The main impact of this is what’s happening in the present.” He also praised the fact that the city is opening a hate crimes prevention center and that he was able to obtain funding to put cameras throughout his district in Brooklyn.

However, one New York City resident, Alexander Rapaport, told JTA that he was unsure how the city could take proper action against anti-Semitism when “hate is something in your mind. How do you counter that?”

Dept. of Labor Official Resigns Over ‘Sarcastic’ Posts Bloomberg Called ‘Anti-Semitic’

Screenshot from Facebook.

A Department of Labor (DOL) official resigned on Aug. 30 after Bloomberg reported that the official had some “anti-Semitic” Facebook posts from 2016; the official says his posts were making fun of the alt-right.

The official, Leif Olson, posted a Facebook status in Aug. 2016 regarding then-Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) defeating white nationalist Paul Nehlen in a congressional primary in an “emasculating 70-point victory.” A commenter then claimed that Ryan was a “neo-con,” prompting Olson to respond, “No he’s not. Neo-cons are all Upper East Side Zionists who don’t golf on Saturday if you know what I mean.”

The commenter then said Ryan’s “a Jew. Everyone knows that.” Olson responded, “It must be true because I’ve never seen the Lamestream Media report it, and you know they protect their own.”

When Bloomberg provided a screenshot to the DOL for comment, the DOL replied that they “accepted the resignation of Leif Olson effective immediately.”

Olson told Bloomberg that his comments were “sarcastic criticism of the alt-right’s conspiracy theories and anti-Semitic positions.” Olson also wrote on his Facebook page, “I never thought I’d see the day when making fun of alt-right anti-Semites led to being branded an anti-Semite, but here we are.”

Tablet’s Yair Rosenberg argued that Olson’s comments were “brutally sarcastic from start to finish,” pointing out that “Breitbart had hyped a Nehlen victory and a repudiation of Ryan; instead, Ryan won by nearly 70 percent.”

Additionally, Rosenberg noted that the Bloomberg report left out a commenter on the post saying, “I’m trying to find the correct response to epic sarcasm. I guess I’ll give you my son’s favorite compliment: you speak sarcasm like it’s your first language.” Another commenter later said it was “not Breitbart’s best day” and Olsen responded, “not breitbart-dot-com’s best series of months, you mean.”

The Anti-Defamation League initially told Bloomberg that Olson’s comments were “clearly anti-Semitic,” but later told Rosenberg that they “appreciate Mr. Olson’s clarification that he intended to be sarcastic with his posts, and accept his explanation of the content in question.”

Bloomberg is defending their reporter.

“We stand behind our reporting,” a Bloomberg spokesperson told The Washington Post. “We contacted the White House and the Department of Labor asking for comment on Mr. Olson’s Facebook posts. Within four hours, the Department of Labor responded that Olson had resigned.”

Rosenberg theorized that the DOL’s response was due to the Trump administration “trying to demonstrate zero-tolerance on anti-Semitism, in a way here that shows how they don’t really get anti-Semitism.”

Ted Frank, a friend of Olson’s tweeted, “Tell me, what honest report calls this sarcastic criticism of anti-Semites anti-Semitic? Leif is a friend, and I’d trust him with my Jewish life. I’m appalled at Bloomberg’s hit piece disrupting his life for no reason.”

ADL, Jewish Groups Criticize Fresno Event for Featuring Speaker with ‘Anti-Semitic’ History

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Central Pacific and other Jewish groups are criticizing an event taking place at Clovis Community College (CCC) on Sept. 18 featuring Alison Weir, a speaker that ADL Central Pacific says uses “anti-Semitic tropes.”

The event, titled “Uncovered: Israel’s Occupation of Palestine,” is hosted by the Fresno-based news outlet GV Wire, which covers issues in the Central Valley. Weir has claimed that Israel harvests Palestinians organs, been featured on a white supremacist radio show and in white supremacist publications and blamed Jews for anti-Semitism, according to Tablet’s Yair Rosenberg. Both Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation have disassociated themselves from Weir over the aforementioned issues.

CCC President Dr. Lori Bennett said in an Aug. 30 statement that the CCC is not sponsoring the event and it is not in any way affiliated with the college or any student groups on campus.

While external organizations pay to rent facilities at Clovis Community College, it does not mean an endorsement of the speaker and/or organization. Clovis Community College is committed to maintaining a safe campus of inclusion and equity for all,” Bennett said. “Clovis Community College does not endorse hate speech or anti-Semitic remarks.”

ADL Central Pacific Regional Director Seth Brysk said in an Aug. 30 statement that they respect Weir’s right to express her views, but that “the leadership of Clovis Community College and other community leaders” should condemn her.

Under the pretense of political activism, Weir routinely employs classic anti-Semitic tropes: Weir blames Jews for anti-Semitism, labeling Jews a ‘race’ that is ‘an object of hatred of all the peoples among whom it has established itself’; promotes versions of the anti-Jewish blood libel (the accusation that Jews prey on gentiles for their blood); and likens Israeli policies to those of the Nazis, a comparison explicitly cited in the respected International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism,” Brysk said. 

Other Jewish groups criticized GV Wire for hosting Weir.

We are shocked that GV Wire would organize a talk with someone who seeks airtime on white supremacist shows and has promoted the medieval blood libel that Jews ritually murdered Christian children,” American Jewish Committee Los Angeles said in a statement. “A robust debate on Israel and the Palestinians is important and welcome.  But in the aftermath of the Pittsburgh and Poway killings, and countless other attacks on Jews throughout the country, it is disturbing that someone with a blatantly anti-Semitic history would be given a platform by this media organization.”

Associate Dean and Director of Global Social Action Agenda at the Simon Wiesenthal Center Rabbi Abraham Cooper told the Journal in a phone interview that the event is “an advocacy event” and questioned why GV Wire didn’t also provide a speaker with an opposing viewpoint to Weir to provide more balance on the issue.

“She hates Israel, slanders Israel, devoted her life to doing this in word and in writing,” Cooper said. “She is even too much for people who still feel there’s still spaces for dialogue on the issue. She’s not a dialogue lady, she’s a propagandist.”

StandWithUs CEO and Co-Founder Roz Rothstein similarly said in a statement that Weir is “notorious for spreading vicious hate and wild conspiracy theories about Jews and Israel.” She added that GV Wire and other organizations supporting the event are not legally obligated to carry on with the event.

“If they do not withdraw support from the event, they will be complicit in promoting anti-Semitism – an increasingly deadly form of racism,” Rothstein said.

The Progressive Zionists of California also said in a statement to the Journal, “As a group whose members have experienced her vitriolic attacks first hand, we are shocked that anyone would platform her and her reprehensible views. In 2019, as hate crimes against Jews in California continue to skyrocket, it is irresponsible to endorse such hate.”

GV Wire has not responded to the Journal’s request for comment.

UPDATE 1: Weir said in a statement to the Journal she was “shocked” that the ADL and AJC “are going to such trouble to try to impede my talk at a small college in Clovis, California. As I write here, I think the purpose is to prevent people from learning the facts about Israel-Palestine. The ADL has tried to bully the college, intimidate me, and scare off Fresno/Clovis citizens. But the college hasn’t canceled the event, I’m going to be speaking there, and, I hope, people who live in the Fresno-Clovis area will come to hear me for themselves and make their own decisions.”

She added, “I have written a multitude of articles on Israel-Palestine (some of them are here). Two of them were detailed, thoroughly cited articles about Israel’s connection to organ trafficking. A number of my sources were Israeli news media. You can read them here and here. Both were published by respected, progressive news organizations… I have been interviewed on a multitude of news media, most often liberal or left-wing ones. In my appearances, I provide facts about Israel-Palestine and speak out against all racism, bigotry, and violence.  I feel all Americans, regardless of their race, religion, or political perspective have the responsibility and need to be fully informed about Israel-Palestine, since all of our tax money is going to the over $10 million per day that American politicians give to Israel. You can see our mission statement and principles here.”

Weir also pointed to her response to JVP as well as one of her essays titled, “Anti-Semitism Is Wrong.”

UPDATE 2: GV Wire Publisher Darius Assemi said in a Sept. 4 statement to the Journal, “The mission of GV Wire is to explore, explain and expose. We are bringing Ms. Alison Weir to Clovis Community College as part of our ongoing speaker series. Our hope is that audience members will listen and weigh what she has to say about Israeli and Palestinian relations and decide for themselves the best path to peace.”

He added, “We do not take a position on the speaker’s information. Our goal is to provide different perspectives than those customarily provided by the mainstream media on issues of global concern. Continuing our efforts to examine important topics from all sides, we are reaching out to Jewish organizations to schedule a speaker who will provide a countering viewpoint to Weir’s analysis at a future date in our speaker series.”

Second Chasidic Man Attacked with a Rock in NY

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

A second Chasidic man was attacked with a rock in Brooklyn, N.Y. in the span of less than a week on Aug. 29, COLlive.com reports.

The victim, who has not been identified, was in his truck waiting for the traffic light to change on Brooklyn Avenue in Crown Heights when a rock was tossed into the driver’s side of the truck, which had the window down. The rock struck the victim in the eye, causing a laceration on his head. He is not currently hospitalized, according to the local New York news station 1010 WINS.

An official from the New York Police Department told COLlive.com that the alleged attack is being investigated as a possible hate crime. ABC 7 New York Editor Morena Basteiro similarly tweeted:

Sgt. Mary Frances O’Donnell, spokesperson for the NYPD Deputy Commissioner Public Information’s office, told the Journal in an email that they’re looking for a male suspect at this time.

Anti-Defamation League New York and New Jersey Regional Director Evan Bernstein tweeted, “.@ADL_NYNJ is aware of this alleged #antisemitic incident in #Brooklyn and is is talking with #NYPD to learn more information.”

On Aug. 27, Chasidic Rabbi Avraham Gopin, 63, was assaulted in Lincoln Terrace Park; the assailant struck him in the face with a brick and began punching several times until Gopin fought back. Gopin’s injuries included a broken nose and knocked out teeth from the attack.

It was hate,” Gopin told CBS New York. “He said, ‘Jew, Jew.’ He said something in that direction… he was for certain looking to kill. No doubt about [that].”

It is not yet known if the two attacks are connected.