January 15, 2019

The 2019 Mensch List

Photos by Cyndi Bemel

For our 14th annual mensch list, we asked readers to nominate people they know who are doing extraordinary work without receiving deserving credit for it.

We couldn’t publish every submission, but the 12 stories that follow, including the husband and wife who throw birthday parties for homeless children on Skid Row, the retired educator who continues to teach as if working full time, and the high school class president who volunteers with special needs children, are inspiring examples of what it means to be animated by action, not accolades. 

Happy 2019.

Click on the mensch names below to read about what they are doing around the community. 

1.Heather Wilk



2.Jake Schochet


3.Ari Kadin and Mary Davis


4.Meryl Kern


5.Michele Rodri


6.Naomi Goldman


7.Dennis Poncher


8.The Schenkman Family


9.Luisa Latham


10.Ray Mallel


11.Phyllis Folb


12.Cantor David Shukiar

Photos by Cyndi Bemel

Teens and Holocaust Survivors Gather at Sinai Temple

Holocaust survivor Eva Perlman and Sinai Temple teen John Levy. Photo by Michelle Neman/Click Click Photography

Thirteen-year-old Leah Khorsandi is no stranger to Holocaust survivors, having met several at an annual gathering when she was a student at Sinai Temple’s religious school. However, she told the Journal that meeting survivors at a brunch held by the synagogue earlier this month was extra special. 

“Now I have a one-on-one experience,” she said following the get-together designed specifically for survivors to meet teens. “I could ask questions and have a real conversation.”

Around 70 survivors and Sinai Temple teens attended the Dec. 2 event, which was created 10 years ago by religious school director Danielle Kassin. 

“To have so many survivors in a room, to have a chance to hear not one story but 10 stories, that to me is an optimal experience,” Kassin told the Journal. “This is our history. This is our people. This is where we come from. These are our heroes. And this is who we honor.”

Joseph Alexander, 96, said he has been coming to the event since its inception. Many of the teens knew him from previous years and greeted him enthusiastically. The Polish native lost his parents and five siblings in the Holocaust. He survived 12 concentration camps and said “nothing is off limits” when it comes to questions about his life.

“This is our people. This is where we come from. These are our heroes. And this is who we honor.” — Danielle Kassin 

“It is more important today to talk about this when there’s not too many survivors left,” he said. “When we’re gone, there won’t be any witnesses.” 

Indeed, every year when Kassin and Sinai Temple Millennial Director Matt Baram reach out to the survivors on their list (which took hundreds of hours to compile), they learn that several have died.

“It’s really sad because every year there’s less and less,” said Maya Laaly, 14, who, together with Khorsandi, spent most of the morning at a table with sisters Frances and Fraania Legasz. Frances is 93 and Fraania is 90. 

Some survivors brought photographs and documents to share, including their passports and pictures of themselves as babies or toddlers with relatives they had lost. The teens and survivors could take pictures together in a photo booth. Some survivors also took photos together. Many have become friends over the years, having met at past events or as volunteers at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust or the Museum of Tolerance.

David Wolpe, Sinai Temple’s Max Webb Senior Rabbi, addressed the attendees and said, “Each year, this is one of the most beautiful and wonderful events we have. I hope that you will tell the teens your stories so that we can carry them on throughout the generations. Enable us all to remember both the tragedies and survival of our people.”

The teens did receive some guidance in advance of the event from their teachers on how to interact with the survivors. The main message was: Be human with them. Get to know them a little. 

Among the stories the students heard was that of 77-year-old Carol Roth. She shared that when the Gestapo came to her village in Belgium, she was hurried through a trap door in her dining room and hidden in the cellar. Raised Catholic from the ages of 2 to 12 by a family she credits with saving her life, Roth did not learn she was Jewish until she was nearly 13 and on a boat to the United States with an aunt. “There was the Statue of Liberty,” Roth recalled. “I started crying. I didn’t know why I was crying.”

Nathan Farzadmehr, 13, said the experience of being among so many survivors and hearing some of their stories was emotional. “It makes you feel sad,” he said. But, he added, “I think they feel like people appreciate them. It’s an amazing experience because later on you’re not going to be able to do this. We can pass down their stories.”

Monday’s Google Doodle Honors Jewish Poet Nelly Sachs

The doodle was illustrated by German/Finnish artist Daniel Stolle

Today, when millions of users are doing a quick Google search, they might notice a black and white doodle of a typewriter.

That’s because Google is honoring the 127th birthday of Jewish poet and Nobel Prize winner Nelly Sachs. Sachs, a German-born Jewish Swedish refugee documented her fear through poetry during the Holocaust and received the Nobel Prize in literature in 1966 from her moving work.

Her poetry on the Shoah remains as one of the most powerful forms of literature that recount the Shoah.

The doodle was illustrated by German/Finnish artist Daniel Stolle, and, according to Stolle, can be seen in on Google in Sweden, Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom, Israel, Ireland and Bulgaria.

Not only was Sachs the first German woman to receive a Nobel Prize in literature, she continued to earn prestigious awards including the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade in 1965.

“In spite of all the horrors of the past,” she said upon receiving the award. “I believe in you.”

Google Doodles tweeted Monday about the doodle saying, “A Nobel Prize recipient whose profound poetry about the Holocaust—such as the ‘O the Chimneys’ poem—made her a pioneering figure in German literature.”

Obituaries Nov. 30: Sister Cecylia Roszak and Ricky Jay

Sister Cecylia Roszak, Saved Jews During WWII, 110
Sister Cecylia Roszak, one of a group of Polish nuns who risked their lives rescuing Jews from the Holocaust and was honored as one of the Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem, died last week in Krakow, Poland. She was 110 and, at the time of her death, was thought to be the oldest nun in the world.

Born March 25, 1908, she entered the Dominican order when she was 21. During the German occupation of Poland, Sister Cecylia, along with several other nuns, established a new convent in Vilnius, in what is now Lithuania. They opened its doors to 17 Jews who had escaped from the nearby ghetto, including the activist and writer Abba Kovner, who later testified at the trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. The fugitives worked with the nuns in the field during the day while continuing their resistance work, including writing, printing and distributing anti-Nazi manifestos. Kovner later claimed that the seeds for the ghetto rebellion were planted in the convent. The Jews left the convent on New Year’s Eve 1941 to continue their fight; the Germans closed the convent in 1943, and arrested Anna Borkowska,  the mother superior.

After the war, Roszak returned to Krakow, where she was a church organist and cantor. At her funeral, among the memorials was a bouquet sent by Wanda Jerzyniec, who along with her brother, was one of those saved by Sister Cecylia. 

Mother Superior Stanislawa Chruscicka told the Associated Press that Sister Cecylia’s philosophy was that “life is very beautiful but too short.” 

Ricky Jay: Magician, Actor, Author
Ricky Jay, the author, actor and magician the New Yorker called “perhaps the most gifted sleight-of-hand artist alive,” died Nov. 24 at his home in Los Angeles.

Born Richard Jay Potash was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in either 1946 or ’48, to Samuel and Shirley Potash. By the time he was 7, Jay had become adept enough to appear on a local TV show, “Time for Pets,” where, billed as “the world’s youngest magician,” he turned a guinea pig into a chicken. 

By the time he was 15, the lack of family support (Jay claimed his fondest memory of his parents was their booking magician Al Flosso perform at his bar mitzvah) prompted him to leave home. He ended up performing in the resort community of Lake George, N.Y., where he gained enough notoriety that in the mid-’60s, he was booked at the Electric Circus in New York City. Tours of the United States and Europe followed. A move to Los Angeles in the 1970s led to regular appearances at McCabe’s Guitar Shop and The Magic Castle. 

Jay practiced what is known as close-up magic; a stout, avuncular presence, he was a master of cards tricks and he could flip playing cards with such speed and accuracy he cut into a watermelon, all while keeping up a line of erudite, deadpan stage patter. A one-man show, “Ricky Jay and His 52 Assistants,” was an off-Broadway hit and filmed for a 1996 HBO special. As an actor, he appeared in David Mamet’s “House of Games,” “The Spanish Prisoner” and “State and Main,” and Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia.” In 2002, he married Chrisann Verges, who survives him. 

A student of magic and a fine prose stylist (The New York Times described him as a “master of a prose style that qualifies him as perhaps the last of the great 19th-century authors”) Jay wrote 11 books, most notably “Learned Pigs & Fireproof Women,” a history of eccentric entertainers. His knowledge of the history and mechanics of illusion led to his co-founding Deceptive Practices, which offered “arcane knowledge on a need-to-know basis.” 

Night of Broken Jews: Remembering Kristallnacht

The massacre of 11 people at the Tree of Life Congregation synagogue in Pittsburgh has prompted comparisons to the 1938 attacks on the synagogues of Germany, which occurred 80 years ago this week and became known as Kristallnacht. While the two events cannot be equated, they impose profound burdens on our memory.

In the aftermath of Pittsburgh, we have seen an outpouring of reaction against hatred directed at Jews. Pittsburgh’s mayor and police chief were on the scene at the synagogue and condemned the violence. The media have covered the story with sympathy for the victims and disdain for the killer and the hatred for which he stands. The Pittsburgh Steelers football team showed support for the community by incorporating a Jewish star in its logo, and some of its players wore the star during their Nov. 4 game. The Muslim community put political differences aside and raised more than $200,000 in solidarity with the Jews. Innumerable other actions across this country voiced condemnation for anti-Semitism and concern and support for the Jewish people. 

Indeed, the events since the Oct. 27 massacre have been moving, haunting, angering — and, at times, heartwarming. They provide us with a perspective to the events of 80 years ago that enables us to reflect upon how our world has changed, but also to clarify the persistent challenges that continue to confront us.

On Nov. 9-10, 1938, a series of pogroms took place throughout Germany. More than 1,000 synagogues were burned, their pews destroyed, their sacred Torah scrolls and holy books set aflame. More than 7,000 Jewish businesses were ransacked and 30,000 men from ages 16 to 60 were arrested and sent off to newly expanded German concentration camps, most especially Dachau, Sachsenhausen and Buchenwald. These pogroms were given a fancy name by which they are best known: Kristallnacht.

Over the past 35 years, Germany has ceased to use the term Kristallnacht, but rather refers to the event as the Reich Pogroms of November 1938. Crystal is beautiful. Crystal has a certain delicacy to it. Reich Pogroms tells a much deeper truth: state-sanctioned violence against the Jews.

There were 2,200 synagogues in Germany for 525,000 Jews — an average of nearly 240 members per congregation. Those synagogues became part of the public presence of Jews in German society, often built in triangulation with Roman Catholic cathedrals and Protestant churches to indicate that Germany was a pluralistic, multireligious society. Synagogues were an expression of the great progress that the Jews had made within Germany. By constructing buildings of significance, Jews made their presence and their prominence manifest.

So what the Nazis essentially did that night — in the most physical, most public way imaginable — was to show how far they were willing to go, what price they were willing to pay to tear the Jewish community out of the fabric of Germany. (Quite the opposite of the reaction we have seen in the United States after what happened in Pittsburgh.)

The Anti-Semitic Prelude

Hitler came to power with an anti-Semitic, racist and expansionist agenda. He told the world what he was going to do in his book, “Mein Kampf,” and in many public addresses. But there was a disconnect between what his audiences heard him say and what they believed he might do. He simply was not believed. Conservative political leaders presumed that once he was in power, the responsibility of office would force him to moderate. They would be there to guide him, to control him.

Yet, Hitler was allowed to do what he said he was going to do, and German policy evolved from 1933 onward to pursue his two main goals: the racial policy — to establish the supremacy of the master race; and the expansionist policy — to give Germany “Lebensraum,” or living space to be able to breathe, prosper and expand. 

The anti-Jewish policies happened in waves.

Hitler came to power on Jan. 30, 1933. The Nazi Party’s first attack was on Germany’s political institutions — the burning of the Reichstag and then the enabling legislation that suspended parliamentary rule and gave Hitler dictatorial powers. On March 22, 1933, the first concentration camp was established in Dachau; and on the following April 1, the first attack was committed against Jews — the boycott of Jewish businesses. The boycott was followed seven days later by the expulsion of Jews from the civil service, which included teachers in high schools, professors in the universities, doctors and nurses who worked in hospitals, lawyers and judges as well as ordinary civil servants.

And on May 10, on Hitler’s 100th day in office, books deemed un-Germanic were burned — primarily, but not only, those of Jewish authors. Books by Sigmund Freud and Albert Einstein, but also by Jack London and Helen Keller went up in flames. (A century earlier, the great German writer of Jewish origin, Heinrich Heine, had said, “People who burn books ultimately burn people.” The time between book burning and people burning would be eight short years.) 

“I would not like to be a Jew in Germany.” — Field Marshal Hermann Göring

After the book burnings, anti-Jewish policy stabilized for a time and a “new normal” came into being. Jews lived in enormous insecurity, not knowing if things would get worse, get better or be stabilized. 

If you believed the situation was terrible and only going to get worse, you took necessary steps to leave. If you believed the situation could not get much worse, would be stabilized and you could endure it, then you stayed. If you stayed too long, you were murdered. 

Until the outbreak of war, German policy was designed to force the Jews to emigrate. If German national policy and the behavior of ordinary non-Jewish citizens would make life difficult for the Jews, they would leave. About 30,000 Jews (roughly 5 percent of the country’s Jewish population) left in the first months that Hitler came to power. Sadly, some returned after a time and some did not go far enough. They came under German domination again in 1940 when the Western European countries to which they had fled were invaded by the Wehrmacht.

In 1935, the Nazis defined Jews biologically, based on their grandparents’ religion. Their policy created a bizarre situation in which many Roman Catholic priests and nuns, and Protestant ministers and theologians who had Jewish grandparents but had been baptized as Christians were defined by the state as Jews. The policy also created a peculiar anomaly in which the Christian churches fought the state primarily over those people of Jewish origin whom they regarded as Christian, but the churches did not raise the larger issue about the general policies of discrimination and anti-Semitism.

In 1936, anti-Jewish policy stopped for a time when the Summer Olympics came to Berlin. Graffiti was removed, segregated benches were covered and the Nazis were instructed to be on good behavior.

The Role of the Synagogue

Let’s talk for a moment about the synagogue. But before we do, I want to establish a principle often overlooked in Holocaust history: Just because Jews were powerless, it did not mean they were passive. The problem was not that Jews didn’t want to leave. The problem was that there was nowhere to go that could absorb so large a population.

The way that synagogue use evolved tells us a lot about the strength of Jewish activism. 

On Monday night, the synagogue became a theater because Jewish actors could not perform on the German stage. On Tuesday night, it became a symphony hall as Jewish musicians were dismissed from German orchestras. On Wednesday night, it became an opera house, because opera singers needed a place to earn a living.

“Most Jews were without illusions. Jewish life in the Reich was no longer possible. Some committed suicide. Most tried to leave. They had nowhere to go.”

On Monday morning, the synagogue became the place for distribution of welfare. Throughout the weekdays, the synagogue served as a school for Jewish children expelled from German schools. Their teachers were often professors, writers and artists struggling to survive in a new world. The art teacher might be a world-class artist; the music instructor, a concert pianist. The Jewish school was the safest place for a Jewish child, yet the most dangerous part of the students’ day was walking to and from school. Harassment was routine, bullying was accepted, violence was sanctioned.

Adult classes also were convened in the synagogue, teaching Jews “mobile professions” because the best way to survive and the best way to leave the country was to have those types of jobs. Plumbers, electricians, agricultural workers, bookkeepers, nurses, architects and musicians were mobile professions. Doctors, lawyers and accountants — whose licensing and/or knowledge of the law was fundamental to their work — found resettling cumbersome, as did writers whose expertise in the German language might limit their opportunities in a new land.

The synagogue also was a place where people who didn’t know what it really meant to be Jewish were taught about Judaism.

Jewish philosopher Martin Buber stayed until March 1938, almost to the very end, because he had founded an institute for adult Jewish studies. He tried to give people inner resources with which to face extreme degradation and humiliation, and the spiritual capacity to wear the Jewish star with pride.

The synagogue remained a place where prayers were recited, but prayers took on a new meaning.

Rabbi Leo Baeck wanted to teach the Jews how to respond to the life they were living. He composed a prayer for Yom Kippur 1935, which was read in synagogues throughout Germany on Kol Nidre. The prayer included, “We bow before Him, and we stand upright before men,” which was a way to tell the community on the most sacred of Jewish nights that part of being a Jew meant to stand against the idolatry and injustice surrounding them. 

Rabbi Joachim Prinz, one of the last rabbis in Berlin, was prohibited from preaching in 1937. He asked a Gestapo officer: “Can I lead my congregation in prayer?” The Gestapo officer complied. So Prinz read aloud the line that traditional Jews read three times a day, and he had his congregation read it again and again in Hebrew — a language the Gestapo officer could not understand: “Ve chol a choshvim olay ra’ah, meheyra hofer atzotam ve kalkel maschshevotam”  “And all who plan evil against me, quickly annul their counsel and frustrate their intentions.” In other words, “Let God confuse our oppressors.”

The Event Itself

On the evening of Nov. 9, 1938, anti-Jewish violence erupted throughout the Reich, which now included Austria. The outburst appeared to be a spontaneous expression of national anger at the assassination of a minor German embassy official in Paris on Nov. 3 by a Polish-Jewish youth, Herschel Grynszpan, who was angered by the expulsion of his family from Germany and the Polish foreign ministry’s refusal to allow their return to their homeland by invalidating their passports.

The assassination became, in fact, the pretext for what was to follow, with the violence choreographed in detail. At 11:55 p.m. on Nov. 9, Gestapo Chief Heinrich Mueller sent a telegram to all police units: “In shortest order, actions against Jews and especially their synagogues will take place in all Germany. These are not to be interfered with. …” Police were to remain bystanders to the violence, but they were to arrest its victims. Fire companies were instructed not to protect the synagogues, but to ensure that the flames did not spread to adjacent Aryan properties.

Within 48 hours, more than 1,000 synagogues were burned, along with their Torah scrolls; 30,000 Jews were arrested and sent to concentration camps; 7,000 Jewish-owned businesses were smashed and looted; and 236 Jews were killed. Jewish cemeteries, hospitals, schools and homes were destroyed.

Hour after hour, the pace of the pogrom intensified. No Jewish institution or business or home was safe. The terror directed at the Jews was often not the action of strangers but neighbors. Most Jews were without illusions. Jewish life in the Reich was no longer possible. Some committed suicide. Most tried to leave. But they had nowhere to go!

The Aftermath

The Nazis, too, had learned important lessons. Many urbanized Germans held bourgeois sensibilities and opposed the events of Kristallnacht. Consequently, the sloppiness of the pogroms and the explosive violence of Nazi storm troopers soon were replaced by the cold, calculated, disciplined and controlled violence of the SS, the elite guard of the Nazi Party. The SS would dispose of the Jews out of the view of most Germans.

“What the Nazis essentially did that night was to show how far they were willing to go to tear the Jewish community out of the fabric of Germany.”

On Nov. 12, 1938, Field Marshal Hermann Göring convened a meeting of Nazi officials to deal with the problems that resulted from Kristallnacht. Historians are fortunate that the stenographic records of that meeting survived, for few documents reveal more candidly and more directly the German policy toward the Jews at this transitional moment. Several government ministries had much at stake in the outcome of the meeting. They had urgent justice and economic matters to deal with, including how the insurance industry, which stood to lose huge sums of money if it were to pay claims from those whose property had been destroyed.

Göring was clearly disturbed by the damage from the two-day rampage — not to Jewish shops, homes or synagogues but to the German economy. He said it would be insane to burn a Jewish warehouse and then have a German insurance company pay for the loss. Why should Germany suffer, not the Jews? The idea was introduced to solve the Jewish problem once and for all, but in 1938 its meaning was in economic terms. (Only later, by 1941, would the language be genocidal.) By a series of policy decisions, the Nazis transformed Kristallnacht into a program eliminating Jews from German economic life.

Several concrete actions were taken: The community was fined 1 billion Reichmarks ($400 million), Jews were declared responsible for cleaning up their losses and were barred from collecting insurance. Göring ordered that the booty in furs and jewels stolen from Jews by looters belonged to the state, not to individuals.

In the end, Göring expressed regret over the whole messy business. “I wish you had killed 200 Jews and not destroyed such value,” he said, concluding on a note of irony: “I would not like to be a Jew in Germany!”

On Nov. 15, 1938, Jews were barred from schools. Two weeks later, authorities were given the right to impose a curfew. By December, Jews were denied access to most public places. By January, all Jewish men had to adopt the middle name of Israel; all Jewish women, Sarah.

The November pogroms were the last occasion of street violence against Jews in Germany. While Jews could leave their homes without fear of attack, a lethal process of destruction that was more effective and more virulent was set in place.

The Jews who were arrested and sent to concentration camps were the “lucky ones.” At that time, if they could get a visa to leave the country, they could be released from the concentration camp. And Jewish women — mothers for their sons, wives for their husbands, sisters for their brothers, friends for friends — left no stone unturned to get their men released. It was no longer a question of whether to leave or when to leave, but only how to leave — and no price was too steep to pay.

The American response to the 1938 pogroms was mostly rhetorical and symbolic. By 1938, the United States understood and internalized the value of freedom of religion. No other event garnered such universal condemnation. From the extreme right to the extreme left, Catholics and Protestants of every denomination condemned the violence. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt called the U.S. ambassador to Germany home — the most powerful response among world leaders — but he didn’t sever diplomatic relations.

At the same time, American public opinion showed little support for changing immigration policies to take in Jewish refugees. It was as if the American people said: We despise what Germany is doing, but that doesn’t mean our immigration policy has to change. We don’t want the Jews here. They can’t take American jobs. 

“Just because Jews were powerless, it did not mean they were passive.”

In Germany, some Jews were so certain that events were only going to get worse that they sent their children to England, into the arms of strangers on what became known as the Kindertransport. Ten thousand Jewish children were sent to England, many of whom never saw their parents again.

An effort to bring 20,000 children to the United States, led by Sen. Robert Wagner of New York and Congresswoman Edith Rogers of Massachusetts, failed. Congress feared the children would grow up and take American jobs.

By attacking the synagogue, the Nazis attacked not only the heart and soul of the Jewish community but the institution that had responded to the catastrophe. The Nazis deprived Jews of anything roughly resembling a public life or a communal life. And they violently ripped Jews out of German society. 

This was the end of the beginning and the beginning of the end.

Today, the response to the Pittsburgh killings exemplifies another way to respond to such violence. Hatred can be defeated if people of good will and elemental decency join together to show that they will not tolerate it, exacerbate it or encourage it.

Michael Berenbaum is director of the Sigi Ziering Institute and a professor of Jewish Studies at American Jewish University.

How Jewish do I want to be?

I was born in Israel to two Jewish parents. I speak Hebrew. I sent my son to conservative Jewish Day School for ten years. He had a Bar Mitzvah. I light candles every Friday night. I go to temple regularly. I observe high holidays. I make what can only be described as the world’s best matzo ball soup. I am divorced and made sure I also received a gett. I not only consider myself to be a practicing Jew, but define myself as a Jew. I am Jewish in my soul. I am Jewish by birth and by choice. I spent a large chunk of my adult life working in the Jewish community. I write for a Jewish newspaper. All that said, I woke up this morning and wondered, how Jewish do I want to be?


I’m not sure what inspired the question, but I can’t shake it from my mind. It’s all I can think about and do not know what the answer is. Perhaps it is the murders in Pittsburgh that have left me with this painful question. I have been unsettled since the horrific attack and can’t seem to quiet my brain. I live my Jewish life out loud so there is part of me that wonders if I need to change that. There is another part of me that wants to scream from the rafters that I’m Jewish and defy anyone to say anything. I am stuck between wondering how Jewish I am, and if I am Jewish enough, and that is a very odd feeling.


I am scared by what happened, but also angry. I spent many years working in Holocaust education and to have people killed this way, in 2018, is frankly debilitating. I feel sick about what happened in Pittsburgh. I am stuck and unsure what to do or how to feel. I was not alive during the Holocaust, but I heard countless firsthand stories during the years I worked at Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, so for people to be killed again, just for being Jewish, is terrifying. I have personally experienced anti-Semitism, but this is different. This is murder of Jews for being Jewish and I simply cannot comprehend it.


I am a hockey fan and this week when the Pittsburgh Penguins put “stronger than hate” patches on their uniforms, I thought it was a wonderfulI display of solidarity. I was also offended that the Jewish star on the patch was done partially in yellow.  I get that black and yellow are their colors, but the Jewish star should not have been yellow in my opinion. Important to note I understand how ridiculous that will sound to some people, but it bothered me. It was a custom made patch and easily could have been another color. I sound like a crazy person but like I said, these killings are debilitating and all my senses are heightened when it comes to my religion.


I watched President Trump visiting Pittsburgh with his wife and I was enraged. I am offended by everything lately, which is not who I am as a human being. I want so much to understand, but am not sure what it is I am expecting to understand. If someone asks me if I am Jewish, do I say yes? If someone says something unkind about my faith, do I speak up? If someone writes me an anti-Semitic comment on my blog, do I report them? Am I supposed to just accept that people hate Jews and that is the world we live in? I am struggling not only with how to define myself within my faith, but whether to share it with the world or keep it private. I am educated and awards this shouldn’t be a struggle, but I am struggling.


It will pass of course, but I don’t want it to pass without understanding my feelings. I do not want to be afraid. I want my anger to become action. I want my disgust to empower me. I want to be free to live my Jewish life in whatever way I want. At the end of the day I am proudly Jewish. I am comfortable in my practice and nobody can judge me on how much or little Judaism I practice. I am Jewish enough and God knows me. I will not allow fear to make me question my faith, but it has been a stressful week.


As I read back what I have written I am not sure it will make sense to anyone but me. I am questioning whether or not to even publish it, which is crazy. I have written my truth here for almost a decade and have never regretted anything I write, so to be questioning myself now is very sad. I have openly and honestly shared all aspects of my life here and have been blessed with loyal and wonderful readers. There are haters of course, which is always fun, but I have never been stuck like this. I will publish this because that is what I do, but today just feels off. I am hoping someone will read it and share their own experience, which always happens and always helps.


I am thinking about all Jews around the world today and know we will get through this. We are united. Orthodox, conservative, or reform, Jews are the same and together we are strong. There are enough good people in the world to help lift us up when darkness comes, so while it is of course important to be careful, fear does not need to control us.  I am one day closer to understanding, so am taking it one day at a time. I am trying to be brave and hope to go into Shabbat today with some peace. I may never understand the world we live in, but I am still keeping the faith.

Murder in Pittsburgh – My Jewish Family

Whenever there is a mass shooting in America, I watch the news in horror and cry, unable to turn off the television, naively hoping the number of dead will somehow go down instead of up. I wait for the names to be released. I want to say their names out loud and learn who they are so I won’t forget them. Whether they are Black, White, young, old, Jewish, Catholic, gay or straight, I want to know who they are. They are important to me. Sadly, we live in a country where there but for the grace of God go I. We never know when senseless killings will happen, or if they will touch close to home, to people we know.

The murders at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue on Oct. 28 hit close to home. As a Jewish woman of faith, when the 11 people in Squirrel Hill died, they died in my home. Synagogue is where I worship, so to me all synagogues are my home. A house of worship is a wonderful place. It does not matter what religion is being observed, because I respect all houses of worship the same. I am at peace whether I am in a synagogue or a church. We pray to the same God, so voices united in prayer are very powerful. For anyone to be attacked while in prayer is something I will never be able to understand.

As we learn about those who died, my heart aches so deeply I feel a physical pain. I keep thinking about the victims: 97-year-old Rose Mallinger, a vivacious regular at the temple; Cecil and David Rosenthal, inseparable brothers who had worshiped at Tree of Life since they were children; Bernice and Sylvan Simon, who married more than 60 years earlier in the same temple where they were murdered; Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, who helped AIDS patients when the disease first appeared in America; Daniel Stein, president of New Light Congregation; Joyce Feinberg, a fellow Canadian; Richard Gottfried, who respected faith and was to retire soon; Melvin Wax, always the first to arrive at temple and the last to leave; and Irving Younger, who always spoke about his daughter and grandson. I also think about Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who heard his congregants being slaughtered as he rushed others out of the sanctuary.

I didn’t know any of the victims personally, but as Jews they are my family and I mourn their passing. 

There are fewer than 15 million Jews in the world, and we are all connected. This was an act of hate against my people, and therefore against me. When I think of the 11 people killed in Pittsburgh, I think about the 6 million Jews who died in the Holocaust. I think about how it is possible for one human being to try to erase another one, just because they are different. We cannot allow anyone to be erased. We must speak up. We must say their names because these lives cannot and must not be erased. As human beings we must be outraged by this hate and look out for each other.

I am scared, but not so scared that I will be quiet. This is a time for action. These lovely people were executed because of hate, and this kind of hate — whether directed at people of a different religion, color or sexual orientation — runs deep. So deep that I can feel the shooter’s hate in my soul. But I must not think about that now. Instead, I must turn my fear into strength and fight for gun reform. I must say their names and continue to practice the religion I was not only born into, but choose for myself and share with my child. I am Jewish and these people were my family. It is in times of pain and sorrow that we must focus on keeping the faith.

Ilana Angel writes the Keeping the Faith blog on jewishjournal.com

When a ‘City Without Jews’ Was a Comedy

Wilshire Boulevard Temple will host a special screening of the Los Angeles premiere of “The City Without Jews,” a long-lost, recently restored 1924 Austrian silent film, featuring live accompaniment on the temple’s magnificent, 4,102-pipe Korn Kimball organ. 

This film could not be more timely (alas). The increase of anti-Semitic incidents in England, France, Hungary and Poland has prompted many Jews to consider emigrating from those countries. And this November will mark the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, when Nazi supporters rampaged against Jewish houses of worship, businesses, homes and citizens in Germany and Austria.

“The City Without Jews” holds many surprises, including the story of its rediscovery, restoration and, most importantly, its message: that a city that loses its Jewish population will regret doing so and be worse off for having done so.

“Die Stadt ohne Juden” (The City Without Jews) was based on Austrian-born writer Hugo Bettauer’s best-selling satirical novel. In the 1920s, even before Hitler published “Mein Kampf,” anti-Semitism flourished in Vienna, where Bettauer lived, to the shock of its assimilated Jewish luminaries such as groundbreaking psychiatrist Sigmund Freud, and writers Arthur Schnitzler and Stefan Zweig.  

Bettauer wrote “The City Without Jews” as a satire, and Hans Karl Breslauer directed the film as a comedy. However, many of the scenes in the black-and-white film now seem eerily prescient. A fanatical anti-Semite comes to power, and seeing the influence of Jews everywhere, decides to pass laws to expel them. Chillingly, there are scenes of Jews being put on trains headed for “the East” or marched out of the city. However, once gone, the Jews are much needed and much missed. In what passes for a happy ending, even the anti-Semitic politician admits the Jews are “a necessary evil.” 

“Chillingly, there are scenes of Jews being put on trains headed for “the East” or marched out of the city.”

The film opened in 1924 to great popularity in Berlin, Vienna and New York. However, several screenings in Austria were disrupted by National Socialist Party members (Nazis) throwing stink-bombs. In Linz, Austria, the film was banned.

The film disappeared and was thought to be lost because many silent films of the era weren’t kept or preserved. When the Nazis came to power, they burned books and destroyed films by Jews or those which were critical of their anti-Semitic policies. For 90 years, the film remained lost.

However, a chance discovery of a complete copy of the film at a Paris flea market by a film collector in October 2015 returned a badly damaged “The City Without Jews” to public attention.

The Filmarchiv Austria (Austrian Film Archive), recognizing a lost gem of significant cultural and historic importance, launched its largest ever crowdfunding campaign in late 2016 to restore the film, meeting its goal of 75,500 euros (approximately $87,000). At the time, The Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom reported the Austrian Film Fund as saying that “A major donation from an anonymous Jewish foundation in the U.S. after Donald Trump’s election victory and a doubling of daily donations after the defeat of a right-wing populist candidate in the Austrian presidential election had boosted its cause.” The 80-minute film was meticulously restored.

The film resonates on many levels, amid nationalist politics, xenophobia and the rise of neo-Nazis worldwide. 

Bettauer, author of the original novel, although born Jewish, had converted to the Evangelical Church in 1890. Nonetheless, after the success of the film, Bettauer was murdered in early 1925 by an ardent Nazi supporter who, after being tried for the crime, was sent to a psychiatric clinic from which he was released 18 months later. Yet “The City Without Jews” has managed to survive to be seen again by a new generation.

“City Without Jews” will screen at 4 p.m. Oct. 14 at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, 3663 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. For tickets, visit citywithoutjews.eventbrite.com.

U Mich Speaker Compares Netanyahu to Hitler in Required Lecture

Screenshot from Facebook.

The University of Michigan brought a speaker to campus as part of a required course for students who compared Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Adolf Hitler as part of his lecture.

Alexa Smith, a student at the university, wrote in a Friday Facebook post that she was mandated to watch Emory Douglas, who is a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movements and a former Black Panther, give “an overtly anti-Semitic lecture.” She shared a photo of a slide from Douglas’ lecture that juxtaposed Netanyahu and Hitler with the words “Guilty of Genocide” emblazoned across their heads.

Accompanying the slide was the definition of genocide: “The deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular ethnic group or nation.”

“In what world is it OK for a mandatory course to host a speaker who compares Adolf Hitler to the Prime Minister of Israel?” Smith wrote.

She added, “As a Wolverine, I sat through this lecture horrified at the hatred and intolerance being spewed on our campus. As a Jew who is proud of my people and my homeland, I sat through this lecture feeling targeted and smeared to be as evil as the man who perpetuated the Holocaust and systematically murdered six million Jews.”

Smith noted that she sat through a required lecture a couple years ago in which the speaker called Israel a terror state and that Israeli soldiers were not human.

“This time I will no longer sit quietly and allow others to dehumanize my people and my community,” Smith wrote. “The administration is repeatedly failing to forcefully respond to antisemitism, and so it comes back worse and worse each time. A line needs to be drawn and it needs to be drawn now.”

Yesterday I was forced to sit through an overtly antisemitic lecture as part of the Penny Stamps Speaker Series, which…

Posted by Alexa Smith on Friday, October 5, 2018

The event was hosted by the Stamps School of Art & Design for their “Penny Stamps Speakers Series Presentation.” Art students are required to watch 11 specific lectures; one of those lectures was Douglas’ lecture.

The University of Michigan told The Daily Wire in a statement:

“The menu of speakers is diverse and dynamic and we do not control or censor what they say. You may find that you discover even more about yourself and the world around you from that which you debate or those with whom you find conflict in view. Discovering what you do not agree with will help you find your voice as much or more perhaps than the things you find resonance with.”

Anti-Defamation League (ADL) CEO Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted that the Netanyahu-Hitler analogy was anti-Semitic:

In a statement sent to the Journal via email, Simon Wiesenthal Center Associate Dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper called the required lecture “beyond an outrage.”

“In the name of free speech, a public university invites a speaker who equates in word and visually Netanyahu and Hitler with the term genocide,” Cooper said. “Students are required to sit through a propaganda presentation based on an insidious lie. If Hitler was ultimate evil and Bibi = Hitler what’s the message to fellow students about Jews/Zionists on campus? Beyond an outrage.”

“Will the University apologize or take action or make a comment beyond protecting free speech of bigot?”

Amanda Berman, the co-founder and president of the Zioness movement, praised Smith on Facebook.

“I am so proud of this amazing Zioness Alexa Smith for standing up for herself amid an increasingly hostile environment for Jewish students at the University of Michigan,” Berman wrote. “Everyone should read this and be aware of what is going on — just two weeks after a professor refused to write a letter of recommendation for a student wishing to study abroad in Tel Aviv. This is anti-Semitism and we must all fight it together.”

Nazi Flag Painted on N.C. University’s Free Expression Tunnel

Screenshot from Facebook.

A Nazi flag, as well as other neo-Nazi propaganda, was spray-painted on Appalachian State University’s Free Expression Tunnel and first discovered on Sunday.

The university’s Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) chapter found the graffiti that morning; the chapter’s president, Koby Ellick, shared a photo of the graffiti on social media before students painted over it.

The graffiti featured a Nazi flag; above were the words “Heil Hitler” and to its right were the words “the Holocaust is a good thing” as well as a Star of David.

Posted by Watauga NAACP Branch on Monday, October 1, 2018

In response to the graffiti, the university’s Student Government Association (SGA) issued a statement that read that the tunnel “is not intended to cultivate a culture of hate – targeting students or individuals because of their identity, culture, profession, or expression.”

The statement added that certain forms of speech, such as defamation, are not protected under the First Amendment.

“As a public university, we are committed to protecting freedom of speech,” the statement read. “As members of the Appalachian community and contributors to campus culture, we are committed to ensuring that all people are welcomed and accepted on this campus.”

Megan Hayes, the associate vice chancellor and chief communications officer, told the Winston Salem-Journal that the university would be investigating the incident, but as of now they don’t who painted the Nazi graffiti.

The campus Hillel issued the following statement on Facebook:

North Carolina Hillel is deeply disturbed to learn that Nazi symbols and anti-Semitic language were painted on Appalachian State University’s free expression tunnel over the weekend. These words and images are incredibly painful and offensive to Jews and non-Jews alike, denigrating the memory of six million Jews and millions of other victims of the Nazis, and have no place on campus or anywhere in society.

We are working with University officials to ensure this matter is investigated and properly addressed to protect the safety and respect for all members of the campus Jewish community. Our staff are here to support any student or community member who has concerns or would like to discuss this issue.

Algemeiner’s Shiri Moshe noted that the Nazi graffiti was discovered a couple days before a 96-year-old Holocaust survivor spoke on campus on Tuesday.

The Appalachian, the university’s student newspaper, wrote on Oct. 3 that in response to the graffiti, as well as a white nationalist group’s recruiting banner being found on campus a year earlier, the paper will be involved in ProPublica’s “Documenting Hate” project.

“If you are a witness or victim of a hate incident, fill out the Documenting Hate form found under the news navigation header on our website,” the paper wrote. “Your story will be shared with ProPublica so that reporters and civil-rights groups can have a clearer picture of what’s happening and can reach out to you for more information.”

Richard Greene: How One or Two Words Can Change Your Life

One of the world’s leading experts on public speaking, Richard Greene, explains why people fear public speaking more than death, and discusses the abuse of language in the era of Trump. Visit his website.

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Check out this episode!

Director Defends ‘Anne Frank’ Production

An upcoming Los Angeles production of “The Diary of Anne Frank” has come under fire in the wake of reports that the Holocaust-themed drama had replaced Nazis with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials as the villains.

The play, based on the famous teenage Shoah victim’s diary and published in 1947, is set in a hidden “secret annex” in Amsterdam where the Frank family and others hid for two years before they were betrayed to the Gestapo.

Director Stan Zimmerman appeared on CNN to set the record straight, explaining that although he has cast predominantly Latino and Latina actors, it has not morphed into an undocumented immigration story. “If you come to the production looking for ICE members you will be disappointed,” he said.

Zimmerman explained that the casting was inspired by a CNN report about a Jewish woman from Los Angeles who sheltered an undocumented Latina woman and her U.S.-born daughters after her husband was deported and she feared the same fate. The Jewish woman who created a safe house for the family anonymously told CNN, “What was done to us cannot happen to other people.”

Zimmerman emphasized that the production, which will run at the Dorie Theatre at The Complex from Sept. 6-23, is “a word for word presentation of the 1997 Broadway production that Natalie Portman starred in. No words will be changed. We are not replacing the Nazis with ICE. The only parallel I’m making is that there is a safe house here in L.A. today [like] there were safe houses in Amsterdam and other places. The rest is art. People will interpret it the way they will.”

The director noted that Genesis Ochoa, 16, who plays Anne and David Gurrola, 15, who portrays Peter Van Daan, were not aware of Anne Frank’s story before they auditioned for the play. “Today it’s not part of the curriculum, which is a sad fact,” he said, especially since according to a New York Times survey, the memory of the Holocaust is fading,

Zimmerman hopes to reach and educate a new audience with the production, but underscored that it’s being done “out of love and honor for her story. I want people to know that as a Jew, I would never demean her story.”

“The Diary of Anne Frank” runs at the Dorie Theatre at The Complex from Sept. 6-23. Tickets are $25 online/$30 door and can be purchased at www.brownpapertickets.com

College Textbook: Those Who Died in Holocaust ‘Did Not Tap into the Strength That Comes from Their Intrinsic Worth’

Photo from Flickr.

A college textbook that’s being used in a University of North Carolina (UNC) fitness class is under fire for claiming that Holocaust victims died because they didn’t use their inner strength.

According to CNN, the book, titled “21st Century Wellness,” is being used in UNC’s Lifetime Fitness classes, which is a required for students to graduate. The book includes the following quote on the Holocaust: “The people in the camps who did not tap into the strength that comes from their intrinsic worth succumbed to the brutality to which they were subjected.”

Brigham Young University professor Ron Hager, who co-authored the book, told CNN in an email that the Holocaust reference was suggesting that “a sense of inherent self-worth can be a source of strength or motivation that can help those struggling.”

The book is also under fire for claiming that people afflicted with cancer basically chose to do so.

“Some experts have begun calling these diseases diseases of choice because how we choose to live, in large part, determines the risk of being diagnosed with disease like heart disease, cancer, dementia, and others,” the book states.

Darin Padua, UNC’s chair of exercise and sports science, told The News and Observer that certain lifestyle choices can increase the risk of disease.

“Some experts have begun calling these diseases diseases of choice because how we choose to live, in large part, determines the risk of being diagnosed with disease like heart disease, cancer, dementia, and others,” Padua said.

However, some students took umbrage with the textbook’s passages.

“I thought that it was an oversimplification that didn’t account for situational factors,” student Ryan Holmes told CNN.

Abigail Painter, UNC’s senior associate dean of undergraduate education, told CNN that the exercise and science department would be reviewing the book for possible revisions next semester.

Report: Holocaust Denying Facebook Groups Highlight Facebook’s Search Algorithm

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been in hot water over his recent comments about Holocaust deniers on Facebook. Making matters worse for him is a new report showing that Holocaust denying groups are at the top of Facebook’s search algorithm.

Business Insider reports that if a user searches the word “Holocaust,” the first pages and groups that appear are Holocaust denying groups and pages, such as The Open Holocaust Debate and Holocaust Revisionism. The latter group claims that Adolf Hitler was “a Zionist puppet.”

A spokesperson for Facebook told Business Insider that such results were due to user preferences, however the Business Insider report notes that four different people had Holocaust denying groups and pages show up when they searched “Holocaust.”

In a July 18 interview with Recode, Zuckerberg said that while he finds Holocaust denying content on Facebook to be abhorrent, it shouldn’t be taken down from the platform because “at the end of the day, I don’t believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong. I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong.”

“Witness”: Ariel Burger shares Lessons from Elie Wiesel’s Classroom

Learning about the life and work of Elie Wiesel can truly be transformational. As a man, he was one of the most enlightening thinkers responding to and expressing moral outrage to those who would perpetuate human rights abuses the world over. As a writer, he captivated readers with his blunt, yet delicate, prose about the depths of human depravity. His insights into the nature of the Holocaust changed the perception of the event for millions of people who might not have known about it otherwise. His testimony to the horrors of fascism and dehumanization was always tempered by the outlook that humanity is better than its base instinct allows it to be. Tolerance, pluralism, truth: these were the qualities that most interested Wiesel, and the world is much poorer since his recent passing.

Yet, one aspect of Wiesel that is less tangible to grasp is who he was on an interpersonal level. While we have plenty of documentary evidence to show that he was a compassionate theorist and an extraordinary man of letters, the man behind the persona is less transparent. For all intents and purposes, by the end of his life, Wiesel was a public figure akin to Martin Luther King, Jr. or Gandhi. He was a soul whose ideas moved politicians, theologians, entertainers, and citizens alike. Yet, here was also a man who suffered through so much, who somehow had the strength to radiate light with every endeavor. How was this possible? For admirers and newcomers alike, this question is as intriguing as it is challenging; how much do we want to know personally about our heroes?

In Witness: Lessons from Elie Wiesel’s Classroom (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018), Rabbi Dr. Ariel Burger displays the side of Wiesel that he knew, the Wiesel that is recognized as a once-in-a-lifetime-scholar and a spiritual innovator. Burger, a compassionate heart, fiery soul, and sharp religious mind in his own right, presents a personal side of Wiesel that we normally didn’t see. This is the humane Wiesel, the Wiesel who nurtured students and who shook the foundations to demand more decency in society. On a personal level, I was thrilled to learn that Rabbi Burger wrote this book because I knew it would show the true Wiesel. And indeed, more important than anything I can say about Rabbi Burger, Elie Wiesel’s endorsement rings loud and clear:

“I [Elie Wiesel] have known Ariel for almost a quarter-century. He is gifted as a scholar, artist, humanist, and leader. I trust him and choose him to be my doctoral student and teaching fellow at Boston University, where he excelled in both roles. The blend of knowledge and natural teaching ability That he embodies is unique. Ariel’s distinctive presence, combining creativity, insight and sensitivity with clarity of thought, makes him a natural teacher and leader, one who can help continue my work.”

Rabbi Dr. Ariel Burger

Besides these plaudits, the glowing quotes from luminaries like my teacher Rabbi Dr. Yitz Greenberg and Dr. Parker Palmer only lend themselves to the deft and serious portrayal of Wiesel that Burger renders throughout the book.

And certainly, Rabbi Burger would know Wiesel better than most people. Rabbi Burger was a close student of Wiesel’s, even serving as his teaching assistant for five years at Boston University. The classroom was, perhaps, the most intimate platform for Wiesel’s brand of transformative leadership. Burger describes this access to Wiesel’s pedagogical deftness as “A rare thing… Over the years, I saw hundreds of students transformed.”

Consider this classroom interaction that Berger describes in a moving passage in the book:

“Professor, what kept you going after the Holocaust? How did you not give up?’ Professor Wiesel [answered]: ‘Learning. Before the war, I was studying a page of Talmud, and my studies were interrupted. After the war, when I arrived at the orphanage in France, my first request was for that same volume so that I could continue my studies from the same page, the same line, the same spot where I had left off. Learning saved me.”


In the classroom with Professor Elie Wiesel. Rabbi Dr. Burger is second from right. Photo by Webb Chappell

Witness is not a book written from the perspective of a distant scholar: Indeed, Burger notes that, “This book is based on twenty-five years’ worth of journal entries, five years of classroom notes, and the interviews with Elie Wiesel’s students from all over the world.” This essential book allows readers to gain a closer look at Elie Wiesel as a scholar, a counselor, and a thinker.  We all know Wiesel the Activist who spent his life working for people suffering everywhere to protest injustice and oppression and to bear “witness,” but there are other more personal dimensions to this story as well. Now we can see Wiesel the Soul. May we continue to be inspired by the life and teachings of Elie Wiesel. We owe Rabbi Dr. Ariel Burger our gratitude for this special opportunity.


Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the President & Dean of the Valley Beit Midrash, the Founder & President of Uri L’Tzedek, the Founder and CEO of The Shamayim V’Aretz Institute, the Founder and President of YATOM, and the author of thirteen books on Jewish ethics. Newsweek named Rav Shmuly one of the top 50 rabbis in America and the Forward named him one of the 50 most influential Jews.

The opinions expressed here represent the author’s and do not represent any organizations he is affiliated with.

Simon Wiesenthal Center SMACKS Child Separation Policy Critics for Invoking Holocaust Comparison

Screenshot from Twitter.

The issue of separating children from their parents at the border has sparked an intense, emotional debate throughout the country over the past few days, even causing some to compare the policy to Nazi Germany. The Simon Wiesenthal Center has had enough of those comparisons.

Among those who have made the Nazi comparison include former CIA director Gen. Michael Hayden and former CNN host Soledad O’Brien:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) also seemed to invoke the comparison on June 19, telling MSNBC’s Chris Hayes: “This is the United States of America. It isn’t Nazi Germany, and there’s a difference. And we don’t take children from their parents until now and I think it’s such a sad day.”

Additionally, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough ranted on June 15 that the children at the border “are being marched away to showers,” adding that “the Nazis had said that they were taking people to the showers and then they never came back.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper condemned such comparisons in a June 19 statement, saying that while the child separation policy is “unacceptable,” comparisons to the Holocaust are “sickening.”

“All they achieve is to demean the memory of 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis and confuse young people who know little or nothing about history,” Hier and Cooper said. “Our border guards and Homeland Security personnel are the opposite of Nazis. Critics should stop slandering them. We live in the world’s greatest democracy. Our elected officials have the tools to fix what’s broken and our national debate shouldn’t be tainted by Holocaust revisionism and misappropriation.”

On June 20, President Trump announced that he would be signing an executive order to end the policy. His action is expected to be challenged in the courts, as it contradicts a 9th Circuit Court decision. The administration is hoping that Congress can change the law.

Hamas to Incite Gazans to Dress As Concentration Camp Victims for Border Riots

Screenshot from Twitter.

With another batch of riots set to occur at the Israel-Gaza border on June 8, Hamas plans on inciting Gazans to dress up as concentration camp victims.

Israel’s Channel 2 news is reporting that the protesters will be dressed in black-and-white striped uniforms in order to replicate what Jewish prisoners in the Nazi concentration camps were forced to wear:

The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper condemned the “macabre ploy” in a statement.

“By dressing up kids as Nazi victims, proves the only god this terrorist organization [Hamas] worships is Moloch, the pagan god of child sacrifice, for whom children’s lives are worthless,” Hier and Cooper said. “When will NGOs and U.N. agencies devoted to protecting children finally raise their voices in protests against Hamas’ barbaric tactics, including the use of civilians, children nonetheless, as human shields and cannon fodder for their endless terrorist campaigns? When will the nations like Japan, who supplied beautiful kites for Palestinian children, protest the use of these kites to set fires in Israeli nature preserves and fields?”

The June 8 riots are expected to be particularly violent, as at least 1,500 flaming kites are reportedly being prepared and Hamas is inciting Gazans to breach the border fence. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have already begun warning Gazans to stay away from the border fence and is preparing to strike Hamas targets in Gaza.

Abbas Apologizes for Holocaust Remarks

FILE PHOTO - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas adjusts his glasses during a news conference with Canada's Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon (not pictured) at the Lester B. Pearson building in Ottawa May 25, 2009. REUTERS/Chris Wattie/File Photo

After facing widespread condemnation for his recent comments, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas issued an apology for blaming the Holocaust on the Jews.

Abbas said in a May 4 statement, “If people were offended by my statement in front of the PNC [Palestinian National Council], especially people of the Jewish faith, I apologize to them.”

“I would like to assure to everyone that it was not my intention to do so, and to reiterate my full respect for the Jewish faith, as well as other monotheistic claims.”

Abbas added that the PA has a “long held condemnation of the Holocaust as the most heinous crime in history” as well as “anti-Semitism in all its forms.” He concluded his statement with a call for a two-state solution.

However, Abbas’ apology has not been warmly received.

“Abbas is a wretched Holocaust denier, who wrote a doctorate of Holocaust denial and later also published a book on Holocaust denial,” Israel Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman tweeted. “That is how he should be treated. His apologies are not accepted.”

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) also excoriated Abbas in a tweet.

“‘If people were offended is not an apology,” the AJC tweeted. “A real apology can include ending Palestinian Authority payments to terrorists who murder Jews.”

On May 2, Abbas said, “The Jewish question that was widespread throughout Europe was not against their religion, but against their social function, which relates to usury (unscrupulous money lending) and banking and such.” The blowback against Abbas has been severe to the point where even The New York Times called on him to step down after he made his anti-Semitic remarks.

NYT Calls On Abbas to Resign

FILE PHOTO - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas waves in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank May 1, 2018. Picture taken May 1, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman/File Photo

The New York Times called on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to step down from his position in a May 2 editorial in light of his recent Holocaust comments.

The remarks in question came on Monday, when Abbas blamed the Jews for the Holocaust.

“The Jewish question that was widespread throughout Europe was not against their religion, but against their social function, which relates to usury (unscrupulous money lending) and banking and such,” Abbas blustered.

The Times editorial board excoriated Abbas for “feeding reprehensible anti-Semitic myths and conspiracy theories” and losing “all credibility as a trustworthy partner.” They also criticized Abbas record, from his Holocaust denial dissertation and his failure at governance.

“Mr. Abbas, who oversees a governing system plagued by corruption and dysfunction, has lost support among the Palestinian people,” the Times editors wrote. “He has weakened government institutions that are essential for a future state and refused to call new elections, thus overstaying his term by many years and preventing younger leaders from emerging. He has also failed to unify the Palestinians in the West Bank, where his Fatah faction dominates, with those in the even more desperate circumstances of the Gaza Strip, where Hamas holds sway.”

Even with this abysmal record, the Times called Abbas’ Holocaust remarks “a new low.”

“By succumbing to such dark, corrosive instincts he showed that it is time for him to leave office,” the Times editors stated.

The editorial concluded, “Palestinians need a leader with energy, integrity and vision, one who might have a better chance of achieving Palestinian independence and enabling both peoples to live in peace.”

Interestingly, the Times published an op-ed by Abbas in 2011 titled “The Long Overdue Palestinian State,” suggesting that these recent remarks could be a turning point against Abbas in the international court of opinion if even The New York Times is souring on Abbas. The Palestinians have certainly lost confidence in Abbas as well, as a December poll found that 70% of Palestinians think that Abbas should step down.

And yet, Abbas is reportedly going to double on “even harsher” and “more extreme” rhetoric.

‘Midrashic Impulse’ Meets the Holocaust

Theodor Adorno famously insisted that “to write a poem after Auschwitz is barbaric,” and Primo Levi introduced his readers to a fellow inmate at Auschwitz who had scratched a similar warning into his tin plate: “Do not seek to understand.” Both of these phrases serve as a stern caution to anyone who writes about the Holocaust.

Both Adorno and Levi are invoked in the pages of “The Midrashic Impulse and the Contemporary Literary Response to Trauma” by Monica Osborne (Lexington Books/Rowman & Littlefield). Osborne’s brilliant and important book may carry a sober and scholarly title, but it is both lively and daring. She is willing to enter into an argument with Adorno and Levi, and she suggests that it is possible to understand the inner meanings of the Holocaust, not through history but through art and literature. Remarkably, the key to her argument is the ancient rabbinical technique of biblical exegesis known as midrash.

“[W]e are caught in the twilight between Adorno’s decree and the moral imperative of memory,” Osborne writes. Midrash, as she explains, is “an esthetic loophole that allows artists to avoid running afoul of Adorno’s representational proscription” while, at the same time, serving as “a witness to the trauma of the Holocaust.”

Osborne, a scholar of Jewish studies at Pepperdine University and a contributor to the Jewish Journal, sets out to answer a challenging and daunting proposition: “In an era in which no collective tragedy has been treated as often and as thoroughly as the Holocaust, we continue to generate art and scholarship that explores the darkness of these years,” she writes. “We simply cannot seem to get enough of the Holocaust, and despite the knowledge that there is no answer to the resounding question of ‘why?’ we persist in pursuing one through endless artistic and intellectual explorations.”

The method that she uses to penetrate these mysteries of history is the tool of interpretation known as midrash, the same approach that the ancient rabbis and sages used “to respond to the gaps, ambiguities, inconsistencies, and even what we might call wounds in the biblical text.” Osborne points out that the original practitioners of midrash sought to “deepen” and “fill out” the biblical narrative, and she characterizes the work of contemporary authors — Cynthia Ozick (“Heir to a Glimmering World”), E.L. Doctorow (“City of God”), Ann Michaels (“Fugitive Pieces”) and Dara Horn (“In the Image”), among many others, both Jewish and non-Jewish — as exemplars of novelists and short story writers who have applied the same midrashic techniques to the Holocaust.

Monica Osborne makes a careful distinction between representational and nonrepresentational approaches to writing about the Holocaust.

Osborne makes a careful distinction between representational and nonrepresentational approaches to writing about the Holocaust or, for that matter, any other “collective trauma.” She points out that Ozick’s “Heir to a Glimmering World” embraces “tentativeness and caution” when describing the life of a Holocaust survivor, as an example, because it’s an approach that Osborne calls a “paradoxical impulse both to write about the Holocaust and not to write about the Holocaust.”

Adorno’s caution hangs like a threatening storm cloud over Osborne’s book. One way to understand Adorno’s decree is that one should write about the Holocaust only as history and not as poetry, thus heeding Simon Dubnow’s equally famous call to his fellow victims of Nazi mass murder to “write and record.” Osborne herself acknowledges that “a mythologization of history is dangerous,” and especially when it comes to “collective tragedies and atrocities.” She values hard facts, and she warns against “the dangers of representation” by insisting that any author’s aspiration to write “a complete and authentic story of the Holocaust” is “an illusion.”

To her credit, Osborne notes that the Holocaust is hardly only the catastrophe that defies description or understanding. She invokes the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the events of 9/11, and she wonders out loud about what is happening in Syria today. “Will the numerous gruesome images of destroyed Syrian towns and mutilated children’s bodies give us the false assumption that we understand the depth of brutality and loss endured by people about whom we know very little?” she wonders.

Similarly, Osborne points out that “the midrashic impulse” is not confined to Jewish texts or Jewish authors. “I prefer to think of midrash as the most organic way of thinking and of storytelling, and as a mode of thinking that, though not concretely identified anywhere other than in the Jewish tradition, emerges, if subtly and in a manner that is more mystical than philosophical, within cultures and communities that maintain no apparent link to the world of Judaism.”

By way of example, she points out how midrashic thinking “shows up in American Indian culture,” a fact that she does not find surprising. “Notably, the written and oral work of both cultures often grows out of a traumatic past, which always leaves in its wake wounds and silences that must be encountered and read,” she explains. “Indeed we must learn how to bear witness to the trappings of the said in order to bear witness to the transcendence of the saying.”

Osborne is fully aware of her own audacity. “Midrash and contemporary American literature — it seems the unlikeliest of pairs,” she concedes in passing. And yet she makes a convincing case that we can only begin to glimpse the moral enormity of the Holocaust if we look at it obliquely. That is the real power and utility of midrash — “a way of reading, understanding, and responding to the world and its darknesses,” as she puts it.

Indeed, “The Midrashic Impulse” will send the reader back to the original texts just as the earliest efforts at midrash send us back to the Bible. Thanks to Osborne, our second reading will be illuminated by her powerful and radiant insight.

Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of the Jewish Journal.

Letters to the Editor: Natalie Portman, Teen Mental Health, and Millennials and the Holocaust

Natalie Portman’s Israel Decision

Is Natalie Portman wrong about not visiting Israel to pick up the Genesis Prize? Right? Justified? Anti-Israel? Playing into the hands of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions group? Influential people are lining up on both sides. But strategically, it’s the wrong conversation. There is a bigger, more critical and worrisome story beneath the surface of the Portman controversy that supporters of Israel and believers in Zionism have to wrap their heads around.

Powerful people like her, the people they influence and too many of the next generation are distancing themselves from the current Israeli establishment. We can vociferously argue the drawbacks and merits of everyone’s beliefs, but the fact is we are in danger of losing these people. And we cannot lose them. The ramifications are too great.

If Israel were a product and we were the marketers who saw a growing trend among important segments of the market, that consumers no longer were buying as they once did, we would be doing everything we could to understand why and what needed to be done to shore up our marketplace.

Instead, we just argue, write, voice outrage, support and offer many opinions. All the while, as the marketplace continues to hemorrhage.

Is our job as Israel-lovers to just to keep talking, writing and having conversation? Or is it to understand our marketplace and take action?

Gary Wexler via email

Portman’s refusal to accept her Genesis Prize in Israel makes me very sad. I used to adore her, and now I can’t watch her. Leftist conflict with Israel isn’t new, but do liberals really think they can just turn their backs on Israel and remain Jews, and that their children and grandchildren will still be Jewish? When the Babylonian exiles returned to Jerusalem, those who stayed behind, the first Diaspora, showed great deference and support in rebuilding the Jewish state despite serious controversy. And ever since, Diaspora Jews have cherished the Holy Land.

The miracle of Jewish survival has occurred in part because we don’t just believe in God, we have a deal with God, a covenant, based on our allegiance to the Promised Land. This connection has inspired Jewish hopes and pride, and kept our people together for 4,000 years. Now, as Jews by the thousands make aliyah to escape persecution, and Iran threatens Israel with a three-front war, “progressives” here and in Europe relentlessly slander Israel.

Rueben Gordon via email

Teen Mental Health Help in L.A.

Regarding your story “Making Teen Mental Health a Priority,” (April 27) help for teens with mental health issues is in our own backyard.

Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services (DHMSH) transforms lives by providing quality mental health care and substance abuse treatment from 11 sites and in nearly 100 schools. The agency helps almost 100,000 adults and children throughout Southern California each year. Its suicide prevention center — the first in the nation to provide 24/7 crisis counseling — receives more than 80,000 calls on its crisis line annually and provides support groups for people who have lost loved ones to suicide or have attempted it.

My late mother-in-law, Beatrice Stern, closest of friends with Didi Hirsch and a former DHMSH board member, took a leading role in sparking positive conversations about mental illness by establishing the DHMSH Erasing the Stigma Leadership Awards. What began as a small fundraising luncheon has grown into a large dinner, which last week honored musician Rick Springfield, actor Oliver Platt, pro football player Joe Barksdale and the Born This Way Foundation for their work toward erasing the stigma of mental illness.

Marilyn Stern, Westwood

Liberal Democrats, by Definition

I come from a long line liberal Jewish Democrats. When I married my husband, (who is Jewish), I married out of the “faith” because he is a Republican. I read to him Karen Lehrman Bloch’s column “I Am a Liberal. Are You?” (April 20) to verify his stance on each point she highlighted. He agreed with every line. Turns out Republicans can be liberals, too.

Jan Burns via email

Emotional Links to Israel

Thank you, David Suissa, for reminding me of why I swell with pride when hearing of Israel’s great accomplishments, and why my heart aches when I hear of Israel’s sorrows (“A ‘Better’ Word for Israel,” April 20). Having been born and raised in the United States, and having lived my entire life here, I needed that reminder of why. What an eloquent column that shines the light on two big words: fair and unfair.

Pamela Galanti, Chatsworth

Cartoonist Is Off Base

In light of President Donald Trump’s success at staring down nuclear missiles from North Korea, producing amazingly low unemployment numbers (especially among the poor and most vulnerable), the growth of the stock market and Gross National Product, decimating ISIS, moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem, raising workers’ pay and bonuses through tax cuts, and confirming federal judges, the “Trump Derangement Syndrome” cartoon by Steve Greenberg in your April 27 issue was particularly disgusting.

Warren Scheinin via email

The Amazing Metuka Benjamin

Metuka Benjamin could have achieved super success as a leader in politics, business or any leadership role she could have chosen (“Milken Schools President Is Moving On,” April 27). Consumed by her intense love of the Jewish people and the State of Israel, in particular, she applied her skills, talents and magnetic personality to the building of Jewish schools and the relationship with the State of Israel, not just in words and emotions, but with action. She envisioned and built one of the largest Jewish schools in the U.S., complete with a “living bridge” to Israel as a laboratory of Jewish and Zionist identity for Los Angeles students.
For people serious about the relationship between Israel and our 18- to 26-year-olds, Benjamin is just beginning, again. You may want to follow her next move. Stay tuned.

Howard Gelberd via email

Millennials and the Holocaust

The recent Claims Conference study that revealed millennials’ lack of knowledge about the Holocaust is, as Stephen Smith pointed out, due to “an uneven educational environment” (“Mandate to End Holocaust Ignorance,” April 20). The question is: What to do about it? While eight states have Holocaust Study “mandates” that vary in nature — and approximately half of the states have Holocaust teaching “recommendations” — should all states, via federal legislation, particularly, require Holocaust instruction?

One facet of the foregoing is the all-too-often failure to provide financing for Holocaust curriculum implementation. Without dollars for teacher in-servicing, materials and associated educational costs, just how “even” can Holocaust instruction become?

California is a perfect example of an unfunded, via taxes (1986 forward), but funded, via contributions (post 2002, for several years) mandate. Fortunately, for millions of California students, organizations such as Stephen Smith’s USC Shoah Foundation provide rich, ongoing, accessible Holocaust study resources. Still, a national “mandate” without means (i.e., teacher training and related funding costs) should make us cautious about what we wish for.

Bill Younglove, Lakewood

The Middle East Powder Keg

Iran having a base of military operations in Syria must never be allowed (“Collision Course,” April 27). This not only puts Israel at risk, but world peace, as well.

Add Russia’s involvement in the area and you have a recipe for a catastrophe.

George Vreeland Hill via email

Filmmaker Explores Shoah’s Aftermath

From left, Erika Jacoby, Jon Kean, Eva Beckmann and Renee Firestone at a November 2016 screening at the American Jewish University. Photo by Gary Leonard.

Writer-director Jon Kean documented the harrowing experiences of six female Holocaust survivors in his 2007 documentary, “Swimming in Auschwitz.” A decade later, his sequel “After Auschwitz” focuses on the aftermath of liberation, emigration and ultimately, how the same six women rebuilt their lives in Los Angeles.

“I’d never thought of liberation as being a sad day, that’s how naïve I was,” Kean told the Journal. “Liberation was awful for these women. That’s what drove me to make this film. I wanted to see the world through survivors’ eyes. When you’ve seen such tragedy and trauma you’d be forgiven if you gave up. But it’s the exact opposite with these women.”

After interviewing his subjects for the second time, Kean had 30 hours of emotional testimony to condense into 80 minutes. “I knew them so well that we could get to the core of things so quickly. They trusted me,” he said.

The finished product tells “an emotional story that covers history, sociology, psychology and Los Angeles in the 20th century — how Angelenos welcomed these survivors and either made life easier for them or more difficult,” he said.

Kean partnered with the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust to raise funds for the film, promote it and get it screened for young people who might not be familiar with the story. “They know the Holocaust happened but don’t know the facts,” he said. “I’m putting together a curriculum guide with the museum for the next school year. That’s where we can really affect people.”

Growing up in Philadelphia in a family with “a very strong Jewish identity but not as strong religiously,” Kean, 50, became interested in the Holocaust early on.

“In another five years, the eyewitnesses to the greatest horror of mankind will be gone.” — Jon Kean

“The father of one of my best friends was an Auschwitz survivor, and I remember him coming to our Hebrew school and talking with us. The ‘Holocaust’ miniseries came out when I was 11, and it was so powerful to me. I was transfixed by it,” he said. “My bar mitzvah speech was about Simon Wiesenthal and hunting for Nazi war criminals. I got to meet Simon 10 years ago in Vienna.”

Kean earned a degree in economics from the University of Pennsylvania but joined a friend in an acting class on a whim, moved to Hollywood, and landed roles on TV shows, including “Beverly Hills, 90210” and “Clueless.” Moving behind the camera, he co-wrote and co-directed the 1999 comedy “Kill the Man,” but failed to get subsequent scripts produced. “I wanted to do something that was more meaningful,” he said.

Kean is considering Rwandan genocide survivors as his next subject. “There is an urgency right now,” he said. “It’s not just people forgetting the Holocaust, it’s people forgetting what’s happening right now.”

That urgency exists on another level, with the Shoah generation disappearing. Three of “After Auschwitz’s” six subjects have died.

“In another five years, the eyewitnesses to the greatest horror of mankind will be gone,” Kean said, noting that Renee Firestone, 94, “travels all over the United States and speaks almost every day because she knows she has to do it now. Erika Jacoby [age 90] does the same.”

Kean said he knows “there are a lot of people who won’t see the film because of the word ‘Auschwitz.’ But to me this is a post-Holocaust story, a story about overcoming trauma. Everybody can relate to that.”

“After Auschwitz” opens May 4 at the Laemmle Music Hall and Laemmle Town Center 5 theaters. Some screenings will feature a Q-and-A session.

Sale of Nazi-Era Pass Recalls Hero Wallenberg

A life-saving document for two Hungarian Jews, signed by the late Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, has been sold for $13,750, according to a spokesman for Nate D. Sanders Auction of Los Angeles.

The sale brings renewed attention to one of the most elaborate and effective acts by a Christian, backed by his government, to foil the Nazi death machine.

The so-called “protective pass” conferred Swedish citizenship on Jewish siblings Emilne Tanzer and Iren Forgo. The passes spared them the fate of more than 300,000 Hungarian Jews killed by the SS, mainly at Auschwitz.

Specifically, the passes exempted the Jewish bearers from wearing the yellow Jewish star patch,by declaring that they were Swedish citizens awaiting reparation to their homeland.

Though the passes had no actual legal standing, the ruse worked well enough to be accepted by German and Hungarian officials most of the time.

Wallenberg disappeared in early 1945, and it is generally believed that he was arrested when Russian troops wrested Budapest from the German army, and that he died in a Russian labor camp.

In line with its policy, Sanders Auction did not identify the seller or buyer of the historical document.

In addition to issuing “protective passes,” Wallenberg used American and Swedish funds to establish hospitals, nurseries and a soup kitchen for the Jews of Budapest.

According to the Holocaust Encyclopedia, published by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Wallenberg was born in Stockholm in 1912, studied in the United States, and in June 1944 was recruited by the U.S. War Refugee Board to travel to Hungary. Given status as a diplomat by the Swedish delegation, Wallenberg’s assignment was to assist and rescue as many Hungarian Jews as he could.

Although completely inexperienced in diplomacy and clandestine operations, Wallenberg led one of the most extensive and successful rescue efforts during the Holocaust.

In addition to issuing “protective passes,” Wallenberg used American and Swedish funds to establish hospitals, nurseries and a soup kitchen. In addition, he designated more than 30 “safe” houses that together formed the core of the “international” ghetto in Budapest, which was reserved for Jews and their families holding certificates of protection from a neutral country.

Spurred by Wallenberg’s example, diplomats from other neutral countries joined in the rescue effort. Swiss Consul General Carl Lutz issued certificates of emigration to some potential emigrants to Palestine.

Italian businessman Giorgio Perlasca, posing as a Spanish diplomat, established safe houses, including one for Jewish children.

Wallenberg’s decision to put his own life at risk to help save Jews was summed up by a friend many years ago who reportedly told Wallenberg that he should worry about his own safety. Wallenberg reportedly responded, “For me, there’s no choice. I’ve taken on this assignment, and I’d never be able to go back to Stockholm without knowing inside myself I’d done all a man could do to save as many Jews as possible.”

Abbas Blames the Jews for the Holocaust

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas gestures as he speaks during the Palestinian National Council meeting in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank April 30, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas continues to become unhinged as evident by the fact that he blamed the Jews for the Holocaust in an April 30 speech.

According to the Times of Israel, Abbas’ incoherently long-winded speech blamed the Jews’ “social behavior, [charging] interest, and financial matters” for triggering the Holocaust. He also claimed that Adolf Hitler was responsible for sending Jews to Israel by allowing Jews who immigrated there to bring their assets into the area.

In other words, Abbas used a longtime anti-Semitic stereotype of Jews to blame them for the slaughter of six million Jews at the hands of the Nazis.

When he wasn’t engaging in his Holocaust revisionism, Abbas rambled about other anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, including the claim that Ashkenazi Jews have no historical lineage to the original habitants of Israel and that Israel was “a colonial project that has nothing to do with Judaism.”

Abbas also reiterated his refusal to accept any deals from the United States after President Trump’s Jerusalem move and suggested that the PA could take “take tough steps in the near future in our relationship with our neighbors (Israel) and the Americans.”

Naturally, Abbas praised the Hamas-led riots at the Israel-Gaza border.

“Thank God, they (Hamas) finally agreed and this is effective,” Abbas said, implying that the riots have been peaceful although they have been anything but.

The anti-Semitic rhetoric in Abbas’ speech certainly fits his background, which includes him writing a book that engages in Holocaust denialism.

Agunot Share Their Stories of Pain, Freedom and Redemption

For three years, Los Angeles resident Patricia Sultan, waited to receive a Jewish divorce from her husband, known as a get. Since obtaining a civil divorce from her home in Belgium, the rabbinical court (beit din), which is responsible for dissolving Jewish marriages, told Sultan that it would need her divorce papers to be translated from French to English, that it would be a complicated process, and she would have to wait until she heard back from the court for her divorce to be finalized.

“They never called back,” Sultan said in a phone interview with the Journal. “I had very confusing information and I didn’t understand how it would work.”

Without a get, women married in Orthodox Jewish ceremonies are unable to remarry within the Jewish faith. They become known as agunot — literally  “chained” women, tied to their husbands who refuse to sign the get.

Husbands may refuse to give their wives gets for many reasons, including extorting them for money, or as a way to exercise control over them. It is an issue that has plagued rabbinical courts for centuries.

Sultan kept calling rabbis and synagogues, hoping for answers. But none came. Then, just before Passover this year, Sultan found Esther Macner and her nonprofit organization Get Jewish Divorce Justice, based in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood. She called Macner on a Friday, and by the following Tuesday her ex-husband had signed the get and paid half the fees. Sultan didn’t even have to see her husband in person.

Macner told the Journal that Sultan and her ex-husband thought they needed to resolve financial matters before she could receive her get, which was not true. They also were misinformed that they needed their civil divorce decree translated from French to English.

“I feel like I’m getting myself back together,” Sultan said. “I’m not tied to this man anymore. It’s a relief.”

Sultan is one of five women who shared their agunot stories at an event organized by Macner on April 15 in Pico-Robertson. The event, which has been running for four years, aims to celebrate the women who have received their gets and support those who are still waiting.

“Getting the get is an earth-shattering experience for any agunah,” Macner said. “It is a rebirth of her life, and many of the women are isolated. It deserves a communal celebration.”

At the event, several of the women spoke of how their husbands were mentally ill or abusive. They spoke in front of other women who are trying to get a get or were “freed” with the help of Macner. Some waited nearly 15 years, while for others it took around five. The women ranged in age, said Tehillim (Psalms) for those still waiting, and talked about their particular circumstances, as well as how they survived their ordeals.

One woman, who chose to remain anonymous, said she was married to a domestic abuser for more than a decade. From the outside, she lived the perfect life, but inside her home, she was in turmoil. When she asked for a divorce, her husband and his wealthy family came at her with lawyers, and said they would bribe a beit din for a heter meah rabbanim (permission from 100 rabbis) to say she was crazy.

“I’m a child of Holocaust survivors and I thought it was my mission to protect the oppressed from the oppressive.” — Esther Macner

For three years, she fought him in court. In the spring of 2017, she attended Macner’s annual agunot event and finally received her get at the end of 2017, after putting legal pressure on her husband and winning one court case after another against him.

“You have to believe in HaShem [God], because there is nothing else that will get you through it,” she said. “[When I got my get], I had this chill throughout my body.”

Macner, an Orthodox Jew, started Get Jewish Divorce Justice six years ago. Originally from Brooklyn, N.Y., she is a former assistant district attorney in New York City. There, she specialized in domestic violence and family law.

Macner said she started her organization because she is passionate about helping agunot. “I’m a child of Holocaust survivors and I thought it was my mission to protect the oppressed from the oppressive. It’s painful to me, because I love Orthodox Judaism. It’s my identity. And this is a blemish.”

When agunot call Macner, she gets in touch with the rabbinic court she works with to see if there are solutions or legal loopholes. She calls the husbands to pressure them to provide gets, and she also counsels the agunot and writes affidavits to be used in court.

In some cases, the marriages weren’t valid to begin with. There may not have been two kosher witnesses, which covers everything from not Sabbath or kashrut observant, to not being close family members or having fraudulent activity in their backgrounds. In addition, the husband may have had a psychiatric disorder that he didn’t reveal prior to the wedding, which would render the marriage contract invalid.

Another woman who spoke at the event discovered her ex-husband’s mother had lied about her conversion, and he wasn’t Jewish, thereby invalidating the marriage. She said that before she discovered this information, the process of trying to receive the get was tearing her up.

Macner said get issues can be resolved if couples sign Jewish prenuptial agreements. These agreements state that if the couple is no longer living together as husband and wife and one of them calls the beit din to receive a get, the spouse who is not cooperating would have to pay a daily sum of money. He or she would be responsible for support, irrespective of state legal requirements.

Another way to obtain a get, Macner said, is to find legal loopholes and not give up if the husband isn’t cooperating. “Rabbinic courts should send out a summons and be much more aggressive in pressuring a guy to give a get,” she said. “They should not simply be closing the doors and saying, ‘Well, if he won’t cooperate, what can we do?’ ”

“I only got my get because my husband knew he would end up in jail if he didn’t give it to me,” one woman said. “The fact that in our religion it needs to come to this, it makes it feel so archaic. The rabbis need to get together, and this has to stop.”

Third Generation of The Holocaust, a former soldier in the IDF

I am a third generation of the Holocaust, and a former soldier in the IDF.

I was born in a small town in the center of a well-developed country. My most vivid memories from my childhood are music, laughter and quality family-time. My worst experience as a child was when I crashed my bike at the age of five, getting scratches on my knees. My parents gave me everything I wanted and needed, and my night’s sleep was tight and calm.

Since a very early age, my fellow classmates and I were taught that all of this was made possible thanks to our grandparents. At first by our parents, then by our Kindergarten teachers, our teachers, our commanders in the army and now – our professors at the University. When my grandparents were my age, they did not have a comfortable life or a calm night’s sleep. They woke up every day to the scenery of sand, mud and swamps and often to the sound of gunfire. They fought hard, every day, with the dream in their heart that their children and children’s children would have a normal life and safe happy, safe childhood.

My mother’s parents were native Israelis, because their families were smart enough to escape to the swampy state-to-be from Poland, before it was too late. Not all of their relatives were that alert, and were brutally murdered by the Nazi killing machine.

My father’s parents came from Iraq in the 1950’s, and lived in a transit camp until there was a place for them to live in at the newly established State of Israel. Many of my friends’ grandparents are Holocaust survivors, some of them are still unable to talk about those dark times. Together, natives, survivors and patriots from east and west, joined forces for us, their descendants.

Now, as they become older, it is our time to step to center-stage and do our part, as the third generation of the Holocaust. We are the last generation to hear about “those days,” where the country was built after the nightmares of the Holocaust, from first hand. We are the last generation to speak to the heroes who built this country and the heroes who survived the worst, and our life- mission of commemorating and educating will soon begin.  If I heard a testimony from a Holocaust survivor every year from first to 12th grade, and could ask my grandparents questions every day, my children would not have that privilege. They will have to rely on the stories, documentaries, and recorded testimonies. 

It is our mission to keep the memory alive, and in this time of the year it becomes clearer than ever. This special week of the year reminds us all the story of Israel, which is often being described here with the sentence: From Holocaust to Revival (free translation from Hebrew- משואה לתקומה).

With the memory of the Holocaust, we carry constant personal and public grief of the people we lost while fighting to keep our home in Israel – soldiers and civilians, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, who died protecting our country, or during a normal day that ended in a tragic terror attack.

This story of Israel, which is still being written, is told every year, during one week in April or May (The Hebrew months Nissan and Iyar). On the 27th of Nissan, we mention the national Holocaust Day; on the 4th of Iyar we mention the national Memorial Day; on the 5th of Iyar we mention our Independence Day. Those three dates tell the story of Israel, in order: we survived the Holocaust to build the state of Israel. From having nothing, we got to have everything, but sadly, this “everything” had its toll, when we lost many in our never-ending battle for our home.

During these days of remembrance, schools change their itinerary and people are allowed to skip work. Ceremonies are held in every public facility, and a grand nation – wide ceremony takes place in Jerusalem and is aired on national television. During these three days, stores are closed, and the entire nation is committed to the essence of the special day. During these days, for a brief moment, everyone stops everything and bow their heads down in grief as a siren is heard throughout the country. During those three days, the television and radio broadcasts are altered, and are dedicated to tell the story, for everyone to know.

With time, the reasons to fully commit to those days could become vaguer and it would be our responsibility to remember and cherish them, making sure our children would not forget them either. In times of Holocaust denial, growing anti-Semitism, growing indifference and threats from our neighboring countries, those reasons must burn in our guts and be our guiding light.

I am a third generation of the Holocaust and a former IDF soldier. Israel was given to me on a silver platter, with the promise to remember those who handed it to me, 70 years ago, and every single day since.

I promise to always remember and never forget. I promise to remember and remind my past, so that my children would be able to create the future.

For more updates about the day-to-day life in Israel, you can follow Israelife on Facebook here.

Sol Liber, Uprising Resistance Fighter

Sol Liber, one of the last known members of the Jewish resistance during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, died on March 21. He was 94. His legacy will live on through his three children, eight grandchildren and the testimony of his harrowing experiences at three concentration camps. His interview was number 50 of 50,000 at the University of Southern California’s Shoah Foundation.

“My father was very focused, primarily on family, work, and the Jewish people,” Liber’s son, Sheldon, said at the funeral on March 23. “He was a great teacher that shared lessons about all three [of these things] with great emphasis on personal integrity, honesty, loyalty and taking the initiative to help others.”

Liber was born in the town of Grojec, Poland, 40 kilometers south of Warsaw. He was thrust into the trauma of World War II at the age of 15 when he was drafted to fight for the Polish Army against the invading Germans. After Poland’s quick surrender, he returned home, but was soon chased out. He eventually landed with his father, mother and four siblings in the Warsaw Ghetto.

Desperate, yet resourceful, Liber would sneak beyond the walls to barter goods for food for his family. When word came the Germans intended to empty the Ghetto and disperse those who survived to death camps, Liber was led blindfolded to meet the head of the secret Resistance, Mordechai Anielewicz. He was enlisted to help smuggle children through the sewers to groups shepherding them to safety. When the Germans mounted their final attack, Liber was assigned to battle them.

“If you have the will to live, you will try anything.” – Sol Liber

After the German army prevailed, Liber and two surviving sisters were shipped on a tightly packed train to Treblinka. Once they arrived, Liber was pulled aside with 500 other men, and watched his two sisters head for the gas chambers.

He was put back on a train and sent to Majdanek. After surviving that inhumane torture camp, Liber was shipped to Buchenwald, where he spent each day in an underground munitions factory. Finally liberated by the Russians in 1945, he returned briefly to his village before making his way to Eggenfelden, a displaced-persons camp.

“My dad was both a simple and complicated man,” his son Rodney said at the funeral. “His school education was cut short at fifth grade when he was placed with a tailor to learn the trade, one he told me several times he never liked. His education on the mean streets of the world however was vast, and he wore that early experience everywhere he went and in everything he did.

“He escaped death many times, if not every day in his late teens and early 20s. He told me of at least a dozen close calls but I’m sure there were many more. He was tough and he instilled at least some of that toughness in me, which I hope has served and will continue to serve me well.”

Liber made his way to Marseilles, France, to start training to fight in Palestine, but was convinced by his cousin that it was not his fight. “You did not survive the atrocities and see your family perish to now put yourself in jeopardy. You must live on!” the cousin said. With that, he traveled to Paris, lived with his cousin and helped support the family by working as a tailor.

Liber later made the journey to Quebec to see his only surviving family member, his brother Jack, in Winnipeg. Eight months later he traveled to Montreal, where he met his future wife Bella and had two children, before moving to Los Angeles.

Years later, when asked how he survived, Liber simply said, “If you have the will to live, you will try anything.”

At his funeral, his eight grandchildren paid their respects, too. “As adults, knowing more now about his history, about the many lives he led long before our time, about the unspeakable ordeals he endured … we are filled with many emotions; pride, reverence, awe, humility,” they said. “We all want so much to honor Grandpa Sol, to repay him for all he gave us, to live up to the standard he set and to continue his legacy.”

Poll: Nearly Two-Thirds of Millennials Don’t Know What Auschwitz Is

Photo from Pixabay.

A poll released on April 12 shows that nearly two-thirds of millennials don’t actually know what Auschwitz is.

The Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness Study found that 66% of millennials couldn’t identify Auschwitz; among all adults that number was 41%.

In fact, 49% of millennials couldn’t identify a single concentration camp or ghetto; that number was 45% among all U.S. adults. Forty-one percent of millennials also thought that two million Jews or less died in the Holocaust and 22% didn’t even know or weren’t sure what the Holocaust was. Among adults, those numbers were 31% and 11%, respectively.

Making matters worse was the fact that the poll found that 70% of all U.S. adults felt that less and less people care about the Holocaust and 58% thought that something like the Holocaust could happen again in the future.

The aforementioned numbers could be due to the fact that 80% of U.S. adults have never been to a Holocaust museum and 66% don’t know a Holocaust survivor.

However, there was some good news in the poll: 93% of U.S. adults said that all schools should teach their students about the Holocaust and 80% think it’s “important” that people know about the Holocaust to ensure that it never happens again.

Still, the whole point of #NeverAgain is to ensure that people don’t forget about the horrors of the Holocaust, and the Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness Study shows that there are “significant gaps in knowledge” in the country. This is at a time when anti-Semitic attacks in the U.S. increased by 60% in 2017 and anti-Semitic incidents throughout Europe increased.

However, a recent study found that anti-Semitic attacks globally declined by 9% in 2017.

Read the full results of the poll here.

Letters to the Editor: Holocaust, Media Bias and Progressives Being Good Parents

Why the Holocaust Still Resonates

I would try to briefly reflect on Thane Rosenbaum’s question: “Is there anything left to say about the Holocaust?” (“What’s Left to Say?” April 6). David Irving and his ilk would show up with technical drawings of concentration camps to argue that the crematoriums were not really used for what all the survivors say they were used for. Or, one of the effects of the fading memories and political manipulations is the emerging concept that the Holocaust was a terrible thing, but it was not just about Jews; these revisionist “historians” would say that gypsies, homosexuals and communists also were unfortunate victims, and numerous soldiers and civilians died as a result of the war. At least Hungary, which certainly has its share of revisionists, is not confused about the word. The equivalent, Hungarian word for “Holocaust” is “vészkorszak” (the age of danger,) and it is used only in the Jewish persecution’s context and does not cover any other death, including the fallen soldiers of the Hungarian 2nd Army or other, non-Jewish civilians.

What we must repeat is that not long ago, 6 million people’s genocide took place on racial/religious grounds. It could happen again if we are not on guard.

Peter Hantos, Los Angeles

It is with concern that I read your article on the Holocaust. More and more young people regard the Holocaust as distant as Hannibal and the Alps. There’s plenty left to say, i.e., Auschwitz II (Birkenau) was so large that it required traffic lights! The camps were nearly as numerous as post offices.  Camp personnel, including guards and administration, were kept drugged on crystal meth. Back then it was known as Pervitin. This was done so they could perform their tasks without giving it thought and in dealing with the large numbers of inmates.

Daniel Kirwan via email

Poland’s Holocaust Law

Regarding your article “The Polish Jewish Story” (March 23), may I bring up a couple of rarely mentioned facts: During their occupation of Europe, only in Poland did the Germans punish those who helped Jews by death, and the punishment included the helper’s closest family (in other countries the penalties varied from dismissal from work to jail time).

On the other hand, the Polish underground, the largest anti-Nazi underground army in Europe, punished by death those Poles who snitched on their Jewish neighbors.

Also, with all due respect to the author of the article, the new Polish law, although imperfect and perhaps in need of correction, does not criminalize “any mention of Poles” being complicit in the Nazi crimes. Rather, it prohibits accusing “the Polish nation or the Polish state” as a whole, of being complicit in the Nazi German crimes.

Jozef Malocha, Chrzanow, Poland

Media Bias Against Israel 

“(((Semitism)))” author Jonathan Weisman commendably assails surging right-wing anti-Semitism, including social-media trolls and Nazis marching through Charlottesville, Va. (“A Call to Action in the Age of Trump,” March 16). However, anti-Semitism takes many forms, including media bias against Israel, which Weisman seems to ignore. His own newspaper, The New York Times, is a leading offender.

Consider the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. On May 14, 1948, Israel legally declared its independence, consistent with U.N. General Assembly Resolution 181. The next day, five Arab armies invaded the Jewish state, determined to annihilate it.

The New York Times never reports these facts. Instead, it describes the conflict as “the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation” (March 8) or “the 1948 war that broke out over Israel’s creation” (March 31). The Times’ Orwellian descriptions whitewash the Arab states’ genocidal intent continues to this day, obscuring the fact that Israel was attacked and implicitly blame Israel.

Rewriting history to vilify Israel is also anti-Semitism.

Stephen A. Silver, San Francisco

Hold on: Progressives Are Good Parents, Too

Here you go again, Karen Lehrman Bloch. In your constant search for negative comments about anything that contradicts conservative dogma, you find the other side guilty of supporting terrorism and raising kids who are insensitive bullies (“Progressive Bullies,” April 6).

As a lifelong progressive, I abhor terrorists and so do all of my progressive friends. I don’t propose that we or Israel give terrorists a pass because they had a rough childhood. Despite blame and fault, Israel is in the dominant position and must treat the general Palestinian population with as much dignity and respect that security allows, and punish terrorists as they deserve.

Regarding child rearing, our two daughters were raised in a progressive home and have become progressive adults who care about their fellow human beings in both their personal and professional lives. They are also raising children to follow our humanistic ideals.

If the proof is in the pudding, we don’t need to look further then at our conservative administration. Bullying, dishonesty, lying and lack of concern are its hallmarks.

Michael Telerant, Los Angeles

Response to Letter Writers 

In his April 6 letter, Martin J. Weisman blames President Donald Trump for the rise in global anti-Semitism (“Trump and Anti-Semitism,” April 6). Respectfully, far-right Trump support explains the emergence of “old-school” American Jew-hatred, but the explosion of Israel-bashing and anti-Semitism in the Democratic Party and on American campuses is the fault of former President Barack Obama, with his anti-Israel bias and promotion of Muslim groups in government and academia.

Moreover, Trump has nothing to do with the rebirth of European anti-Semitism, which is mainly caused by the immigration of millions of Muslims, and the rise of right-wing parties protesting them. In fact, some of those parties, like France’s National Front and the Dutch Freedom Party, are wooing Jewish support to fight Muslim misogyny, homophobia, anti-Semitism and even Christian-bashing.

Irrational Trump-hatred closes the minds of otherwise intelligent, inquisitive folks. Jewish Democrats who refuse to face this provide cover for the anti-Semites, Louis Farrakhan supporters and Israel-bashers in their party.

Rueben Gordon via email

Marc Yablonka besmirches the name of David Harris in his letter to the editor (“He Doesn’t Miss the ’60s,” April 6) when he falsely calls him a “draft evader … who persuaded others to go to federal prisons for five years for burning their draft cards,” and wrongly claims Harris “chewed up and spit out those of us who were naive enough to ride along so [he] could further [his] own egotistical adventures. … [He] didn’t give a hoot about the rest of us.”

Factually wrong on every count. Harris was the very model of patriotic objection to a governmental policy.

First, he advised his draft board in writing that he would not cooperate with any of its requirements. Second, he publicized his non-cooperation in his advocacy against the war, ensuring that he would become the focus of federal enforcement. Only then did he publicly and repeatedly urge other young men to do the same.

I should know. Harris — a former Stanford student body president — was in prison when I arrived there to begin my freshman year in September 1969.

I turned 18 that November. Federal law required I register with my draft board. I went to Palo Alto Resistance headquarters, which Harris helped establish, for counseling. The draft counselor’s kindness and respect for my struggles and questions as to what to do, even though he was to begin his own prison term for resistance the very next day, moved me to my core. It still does.

These brave men and the equally brave women who supported them will soon get their due when the documentary “Boys Who Said No!: Draft Resistance and the Vietnam War” is released.

David I. Schulman, Los Angeles


“Why Is This Sport Different?” April 6:

I love it. Baseball is timeless. There is no clock to run out. What a great metaphor for redemption.

Cyndi Buckey

“Between the Shoah and Mimouna,” April 6:

The beauty and light and optimism of Mimouna is tempered, as a sword blade is tempered in the blacksmiths forge and under his hammer, by the awful evil that was the Shoah. It is built into the very fabric of our divinely created world that the forces of destruction and savagery will never have a final conquest. … Not as long as the Chosen People can find the will to resist.

Ernest Sewell

Thank you for writing of the concerns I share about current events.

Marilyn Danko

Beautiful words.

Tamara Anzivino

5 Articles on Holocaust Remembrance and Anti-Semitism

A torch can be seen during a ceremony marking the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, in Jerusalem April 24, 2017. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day in Israel. Here is a list of recent articles I wrote recently on Holocaust remembrance and anti-Semitism. This list first appeared on the Jewish Journal’s daily Roundtable – a daily newsletter I highly recommend (sign up here)

  1. Last year, I asked if we will still remember the Holocaust in 2000 years.

As we remember the Holocaust, we are obliged to think about these highly practical matters. We must think about them as we are the first generation of Jews that will soon have to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day without any survivors around to tell us their stories. We are the first generation of Jews that will soon be sharing the burden of having to shape a Remembrance Day for the ages. Tisha B’Av survived for 2000 years, and is still with us. Can we guarantee such staying power for Holocaust Remembrance Day?

  1. On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, I remembered that in Israel remembering the Holocaust is a daily feature of life:

From January to May, Israel marks not one but three Holocaust Memorial days. There was International Holocaust Remembrance Day, marked this week, and there is the religious Memorial Day, marked, along with other Jewish tragedies, on the Asarah be-Tevet fast, and then there is the actual, official Memorial Day, a week after Passover. Yet in most cases, the Holocaust occupies us not because of special duty — a day that calls for a pause. In most cases it is us, busying ourselves with it because nothing has more power to grab our attention. We do not pause to remember the Holocaust; we remember it while on the move.

  1. In the New York Times, I argued that Israel’s response to anti-Semitism is always colored by Israeli geopolitical interests:

Israel’s silence on the White House’s Holocaust statement tells us a few disturbing things about the Jewish state. The most important is that there is a limit to what Israel is willing to sacrifice in its denunciations of anti-Semitism. Take the example of Austria’s Freedom Party, which was founded by former Nazis. For years, Israel refused to have contact with the party because of its anti-Semitic leanings. But as it grew in power — and came around to backing the Jewish state — Israel was becoming more receptive to accepting the Freedom Party’s courtship.

  1. I also questioned whether it’s a good idea for all Jewish students to visit Auschwitz:

There’s no doubt that these trips have merit. They certainly make Israeli students appreciate the scope and severity of the horrors of the Holocaust. These trips also force young Israelis see with their own eyes what can happen to a people when they are hated and defenseless — a lesson that is as important today as it ever was. So why end these trips? First, because they contribute to a misperception by many Jews that remembering the Holocaust is the main feature of Judaism. Second, because they perpetuate the myth that Israel itself is born only of the ashes of Europe.

  1. And recently I mourned the tendency of Jews to utilize anti-Semitism for their partisan political purposes:

Much more so than in the past, we point fingers at one another as we search for the mysterious factors that ignite anti-Semitism. We see anti-Semitism everywhere, we use anti-Semitism for thinly veiled political purposes, and we identify anti-Semitism among our ideological rivals while turning a blind eye to anti-Semitism within our own ideological camps.