May 22, 2019

Al Jazeera Suspends Journalists Over Holocaust Video

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Al Jazeera announced on May 19 that they are suspending two journalists due to a since-deleted video posted to the network’s Arabic Twitter account stating that “Israel is the biggest winner from the Holocaust.”

The Al Jazeera AT + Arabic account reportedly tweeted out the video with the caption, “Gas ovens killed millions of Jews, that’s how the novel says. What is the truth of the #holocaust and how did the Zionist movement benefit from it?” The video, translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute, features host Muna Hawwa stating, “The narrative that six million Jews were killed by the Nazi movement was adopted by the Zionist movement, and it is being reiterated every year on the so-called ‘Holocaust Memorial Day.’”

She goes on to state that Jews weren’t the only victims of the Holocaust, but the focus is on the Jewish victims because “Jewish groups had financial resources, media institutions, research centers, and academic voices that managed to put a special spotlight on the Jewish victims of the Nazis. Nevertheless, the number of victims of the Holocaust remains one of the most prominent historical debates to this day.”

Hawwa then says that there are some “who accuse the Zionist movement of blowing [the Holocaust] out of proportion in the service of the plan to establish what would later be known as the ‘State of Israel.’” She concludes the video by saying that “Israel is the biggest winner from the Holocaust, and it uses the same Nazi justifications as a launching pad for the racial cleansing and annihilation of the Palestinians.”

According to The Wrap, Al Jazeera issued a press release May 19 stating two of their journalists had been suspended over the video and that the video was published due to a lack of “oversight”; the journalists were not identified and the duration of the suspensions was not specified.

“Al Jazeera completely disowns the offensive content in question,” Dr. Yaser Bishr, executive director of Al Jazeera’s digital division, said in a statement.

Mehdi Hasan, a presenter for Al Jazeera’s English network, tweeted, “As someone who has spent my life slamming antisemitic Holocaust denialism, esp in Muslim communities, glad to see Al Jazeera bosses taking disciplinary action against 2 of their journos for a ridiculously offensive and dumb video – and disowning it, too.”

However, others, such as writer Ariel Sobel, tweeted that “Al Jazeera has always been anti-Semitic.”

Seth Frantzman, the Jerusalem Post’s Op-ed editor, wrote in a May 20 piece that Twitter has disabled the video from all accounts that shared it, “claiming it infringes Al Jazeera’s copyright.”

‘Eva.Stories’ Uses Instagram to Connect Today’s Youth With a Holocaust Story

Ever since cell phones became a staple in our lives, those who work in Holocaust education and Holocaust memory have grappled with how to combine social media and Holocaust education in a meaningful way. Conferences are held each year on the topic of technology, education and memory with leading scholars and museums. 

Holocaust memorial sites have flirted with using cell phone technology in their exhibits. Some have optional apps you can download to enrich your knowledge, while cities such as Amsterdam have released apps with maps of places pertinent to Anne Frank’s life. 

But no one has dared to go as boldly as “Eva.Stories,” which integrated Holocaust memory into Instagram with a dramatized story.   

For years, Holocaust educators have grappled with educating young people. At the same time, we often eschew the use of the technology teenagers surround themselves with. That’s why “Eva.Stories” — which got over 120 million views in the first 24 hours after it launched on May 1 — is so effective. 

Created by father-and-daughter team Mati and Maya Kochavi, “Eva.Stories” reveals the last few months of real-life 13-year-old Hungarian Holocaust victim Eva Heyman. The pair used Instagram Stories as their medium — a choice of platform that initially drew ire from some observers. 

Just as young people are criticized for being on their phones too often, there was concern that a serious subject could not be conveyed through a “superficial medium.” Angry social media users wondered how Eva would charge her iPhone during electricity shortages, and Yuval Mendelson, a Hebrew-language columnist for the Israeli daily Haaretz, wrote that “Eva.Stories” was a slippery slope between Instagram stories and selfies at Auschwitz.

“The Eva.Stories Instagram page and its positive reception teaches us one thing: If we wish to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive, we must meet youth where they are.” 

It’s easy to see the hesitation. Anyone who visits the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum in Poland can routinely observe visitors taking selfies on the iconic railway tracks that transported millions to their deaths, or posing for photos under the “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign. While the museum doesn’t expressly forbid this, the behavior is frowned upon. 

Combining cell phones, social media and Holocaust education seems, at the most basic level, to be completely tone-deaf. But from the day “Eva.Stories” was released, the results have proved otherwise.

Little-known British actress Mia Quiney took on the title role of Eva and the Kochavis hired a cast of unknowns, arguably making the project even more effective. Over the first several hours “Eva.Stories” was available, over 100 million users became transfixed by the story of the teenage girl as she shared her life via Instagram. And while Eva used emojis and Instagram polls, they somehow felt right for the story. 

The cast wasn’t all anachronistically using phones. Eva doesn’t even acknowledge that she is using a smart phone or Instagram. The social media stories, instead, served as her diary. Eva’s diary did, indeed, exist and has been published but was never widely translated.

What resulted was a beautiful story about a relatable young girl whose light was extinguished far too soon at Birkenau. 

While naysayers still exist, some going so far as to call “Eva.Stories” “gimmicky,” the story attracted the attention and accolades of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the White House Instagram account and even comedian and third-generation survivor Sarah Silverman. Instead of hindering Eva’s journey, utilizing social media brought an entirely new angle to it. 

As a writer, I have been told by those in the publishing industry not to write about the Holocaust because there is nothing new to say. But this project proves there is still everything to say. Perhaps these things can be said through a tool we’re still reticent to use. Social media comments on “Eva.Stories” back up this theory.

Roneet Rahamim wrote, in part, “I can’t help but think this is what it would be like if this happened today. It brings it home in a jarring sort of way.” 

Sabrina Perl concurred, writing, “I think it made her story relatable to a new generation that finds it hard to relate to the Holocaust. The survivors are dying out. This is an amazing way to make the experience relatable, fresh and current.” 

Others commented that had social media been in use during World War II, Anne Frank and other preteens and teens would have been documenting their struggles in a similar way. 

While Holocaust education strives to educate about the perils of evil and the millions who died in the genocide, one thing always remains clear: We want the next generation to understand these are individual stories. Telling young people that 6 million people died 75 years ago is incredibly difficult to grasp. Seeing the stolen goods at Auschwitz is jarring, but it isn’t enough to disentangle the single victim from the masses, the pair of shoes or pair of glasses from the pile of thousands that sit on display. 

We speak often of the concept that 6 million means one plus one plus one plus one and so on, and are frustrated when we find that many teens aren’t very interested in learning about these individuals who seem to have lived so long ago and so far away. 

The “Eva.Stories” Instagram page and its positive reception teaches us one thing: If we wish to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive, we must meet youth where they are. In doing so, we cannot continue to be reticent to new technology, fearing that it will somehow corrupt their minds or “dumb down” history. Instead, we must embrace it for what it is without judgment.

Anne Frank dreamed of being a famous writer. Her dream came true with the help of her father, a decade after her death. Eva Heyman dreamed of becoming a famous photojournalist. Her dream came true almost 75 years after her death, and using the medium of Instagram feels even more authentic to what she wanted out of life: to silently capture it. 

By meeting young people where they are, we learn not only to find more stories in the trove of the millions that are still untold, but make them heard. As the new generation becomes the one that will bear witness, we can no longer be afraid of utilizing all available technology mediums and potentially breaking taboos.

“Eva.Stories” may have just helped usher Holocaust education, as well as remembrance, into a new era.

Anna Scanlon is a writer and Holocaust educator who holds a doctorate in Holocaust and Memory from the University of Leicester in England. 

Jewish Art Lost and Found in ‘Chasing Portraits’

Elizabeth Rynecki; Photo by Shoey Sindel Photography

Elizabeth Rynecki’s great-grandfather Moshe, a Polish Jew, was a renowned artist who was murdered in 1943 at the Majdanek concentration camp. His family has recovered more than 100 of his paintings since the war, but many more pieces are missing. The quest to locate Moshe’s lost art has been Rynecki’s mission for longer than a decade, and it’s the subject of her first film, “Chasing Portraits.”

Moshe’s vivid, expressionistic paintings depict Polish Jews at prayer, work and leisure, preserving on canvas a world that no longer exists. Painted between World War I and World War II, “They’re frozen in the moment, with no premonition of the Holocaust to come,” Rynecki told the Journal.

Although she did not bear witness to the Holocaust as her grandparents and father did, she said, “I knew the paintings were survivors and they had a voice that needed to be heard. I had an obligation to tell the story. That’s what has driven me forward.”

Her project began in 1999, when she built a website for Moshe’s art and discovered more paintings existed. “Chasing Portraits” was filmed during a 10-year period between 2008 and 2018; in the interim, Rynecki wrote a book of the same name, published by Penguin Random House in 2016. “Having the book in place gave me more credibility, and it helped me raise the funds I needed to finish the film,” she said.

As seen in the documentary, Rynecki made several trips overseas to view Moshe’s paintings. The Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw has 52 of them, and Yad Vashem in Israel has one the family donated, entitled “Refugees.” While in Poland, Rynecki made a difficult visit to Majdanek. “I felt an obligation to go, but I was really hesitant about filming there,” she said. “I wanted to make sure it was respectful. Ultimately, we included it, without narration.”

Rynecki also tracked down private collectors, one of whom gave her a painting she’s fairly certain is a forgery. “There’s an increased interest in Jewish art in Poland and people are selling copies, trying to capitalize on that,” she said. “It doesn’t matter to me if it’s not an original because this man had a desire to do what he could to help heal those wounds a little bit. That, to me, was so meaningful.”

She had quite a different experience with a woman in Israel who has Moshe’s paintings but refuses to let Rynecki see them. “The family gave me photographs of the paintings but they’re really bad. It’s not the same. For me, there’s a visceral connection to the paintings,” she said. “I want to see them in person.”

Although the situation is frustrating to her, taking legal action to reclaim the art is problematic, if not impossible. Rynecki lacks the sales receipts, insurance documents and inventory lists that would serve as proof. She also knows Moshe sold, gave away and bartered his paintings, and she wouldn’t have rights to those. Private collectors aren’t subject to guidelines about Holocaust-era art the way museums are. Filing would be very costly because each disputed painting would require a separate claim. 

In addition, copyright protection ends 70 years after the death of the artist, so Moshe’s paintings no longer are covered. Rynecki discovered counterfeit paintings on a Chinese website, ordered them and wrote “MADE IN CHINA” on the back. “Three generations from now, I don’t want people to think they’re real,” she said.

“Although she did not bear witness to the Holocaust as her grandparents and father did, she said, “I knew the paintings were survivors and they had a voice that needed to be heard.” 

Although there won’t be a famous court battle in her future like the one in the movie “The Woman in Gold,” “I’m really grateful for [the movie] and ‘Monuments Men’ because they brought attention to Holocaust-era looted art and gave the topic a lot of publicity,” Rynecki said. She has come to believe there can be historical justice without legal justice.

“Would it be fantastic to have another Rynecki painting in my possession? Absolutely. And if anyone has one and doesn’t want it, I will take it,” she said. “But every time an audience sees the film, they see the paintings and know his story, and that, to me, is 100 times more important than having another painting in my possession. Artists want their work to be seen, and my hoarding them doesn’t accomplish that goal.”

Raised in a Reform Jewish home in the San Francisco Bay area, where she runs her family’s commercial real estate company and lives with her husband and two sons, Rynecki is not religious. “I’m more of a food and culture Jew,” she said. “I feel
like this project is my connection to the Jewish world.”

Making the documentary has given her some closure, “but it will never quite end, because there’s always the hope that somebody else will step forward,” she said. “I do believe there are more paintings out there and I’m hoping as the story spreads, people may realize they have a painting, step forward and allow me to see it if they know I’m not going to sue them for it.”

As for the bigger-picture impact, “I hope that it inspires people to dig into their own family histories,” Rynecki said. “We all come from somewhere, and that influences and impacts who we are. Just asking those questions and having a better sense of that is so important.”

“Chasing Portraits” opens at the Laemmle Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills on May 17. Elizabeth Rynecki will participate in several Q&A sessions opening weekend. Visit for information.

Get Serious About Holocaust Education

Photo from the National Museum of the USAF.

We were two of the youngest Jewish-Americans to run for Congress in 2018 — Naomi Levin and Bryan Leib. We have many things in common, including our backgrounds, our core beliefs, our love for Israel and the reasons we ran for Congress against insurmountable odds. 

We have a mutual belief that Congress should do more to educate our next generation about the Holocaust. In April 2018, a bipartisan group in the House of Representatives (four Democrats, four Republicans) introduced a bill called the Never Again Education Act (HR 5460). It was introduced in response to an alarming survey by the Claims Conference asserting that more than two-thirds of American millennials have never heard of Auschwitz. 

Furthermore, more than 45% of those surveyed couldn’t name one of the ghettos or concentration camps, and 9 in 10 surveyed responded “yes” when asked if American students should learn about the Holocaust. 

After hearing the results of this study, it became clear that the memory of the Holocaust is quickly fading while anti-Semitism around the world is on the rise. I (Leib) am the grandson of a Holocaust survivor and I (Levin) have relatives who survived the Holocaust. We will never forget about the Holocaust and we are personally invested in seeing Holocaust education rolled out nationwide. But what about the millions of Americans who don’t have grandparents or relatives who are Holocaust survivors and can’t name a single concentration camp? 

In response to these shocking statistics, the eight members of the House introduced a bipartisan bill that would authorize and fund the Department of Education to provide grants to carry out educational programs about the Holocaust. We and many others applauded these eight members who introduced the bill and started working with our friends, community members and members of Congress to whip up support for additional cosponsors of the bill. 

To date, the bill has 53 co-sponsors (33 Democrats, 20 Republicans). The growing number of cosponsors seemingly would have increased the likelihood that the bill would be voted on in committee with recommendation for a full vote on the House floor. 

Here is where things get weird and, well, frustrating. The bill was referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on April 10, 2018 (the same day the bill was introduced), and now more than 365 days later, the bill has not been read once in committee and has not been voted on in committee. 

We don’t believe the federal government should tell Americans how to live our lives. However, in this case, we will make an exception because our future depends on it. 

The federal government has a real opportunity to pass a real bill that will have tangible and measurable results — that will affect the lives of our children. If we don’t start educating the next generation about the Holocaust, Adolf Hitler and the 6 millions Jews that were erased from existence, then we run the risk that history will repeat itself. 

We, Bryan Leib and Naomi Levin, are calling on Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Chairman Bobby Scott and the bill’s original lead sponsor, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), to breathe life back into this bill, get it out of committee and onto the House floor for a full vote. 

In the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., “The time is always right to do what’s right.” This bill is right, the cause is just and members of Congress must stop placating the American people by telling us they care about the growing tide of anti-Semitism and actually do something to address it. This bill is their opportunity to change the tide and make an impact. Will they? Your move, Congress.

Bryan E. Leib is a program manager for the Israeli-American Council and a member of the board of the National Museum of American Jewish History. He ran for Congress in Pennsylvania’s 3rd Congressional District. Naomi Levin, a software engineer, ran for Congress in New York’s 10th Congressional District. She is a board member of Endowment for Middle East Truth. 

Tlaib’s Holocaust Distortion Hurts Palestinian Cause

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) listens during a House Oversight and Government Reform hearing. Reuters/Leah Millis.

It’s a sign of how bitter our partisanship has become that even strong Israel supporters like House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer feel obligated to defend fellow Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s gross distortions of the Holocaust.

This shouldn’t be a partisan issue, but one of historical truth. By perpetuating a false Palestinian narrative around the Holocaust, Tlaib hurts her own cause by reinforcing the pathologies that have poisoned all efforts at peace with the Jewish state.

Let’s review what she said in her now-infamous podcast interview:

 “There’s always kind of a calming feeling I tell folks when I think of the Holocaust, and the tragedy of the Holocaust, and the fact that it was my ancestors — Palestinians — who lost their land and some lost their lives, their livelihood, their human dignity, their existence in many ways, have been wiped out, and some people’s passports,” she said.  “And just all of it was in the name of trying to create a safe haven for Jews, post-the Holocaust, post-the tragedy and the horrific persecution of Jews across the world at that time. And I love the fact that it was my ancestors that provided that, right, in many ways. But they did it in a way that took their human dignity away and it was forced on them.”

Many critics have focused on the phrase “a calming feeling” in connection with the Holocaust. But as wrong and awkward as that was, the more serious offense is with history. As historian Benny Morris writes in The Atlantic, Tlaib “deployed deliberately imprecise language, misleading her listeners about the early history of the conflict in Palestine and misrepresenting its present and possible future.” 

Perhaps the most insidious misrepresentation is the claim that Palestinians were somewhat accommodating or helpful toward the Jews around the time of the Holocaust. The truth is the opposite.

“After Hitler’s accession to power in Germany in 1933,” Morris writes, “German and then Eastern European Jews sought escape and safe havens. … Palestine emerged as the only potential safe haven.”

Unfortunately, he adds, “from 1933 onward, Palestine’s Arabs — led by the cleric Muhammad Haj Amin al-Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem — mounted a strident campaign to pressure the British, who governed Palestine, to bar all Jews from entering the country. To press home their demand, in 1936 they launched an anti-British and anti-Zionist rebellion that lasted three years. Apart from throwing out the British, the rebellion’s aim was to coerce London into halting all Jewish entry into Palestine.”

In other words, Palestinian Arabs were intent on repelling rather than providing a “safe haven” for Jews.

Tlaib’s distortion of that truth is dangerous enough on its own. It’s neither necessary nor helpful to accuse her of anti-Semitism because that distracts from the very real peril of rewriting history.

As Michael Oren tweeted, “Tlaib’s comment was not anti-Semitic but ahistorical. The Palestinians massacred Jews, violently opposed their search for shelter, and collaborated with the Nazis.”

This truth, needless to say, is highly inconvenient to Palestinian activists like Tlaib, because it forces them to confront their own people’s responsibility for the miserable predicament that has marked their history.

If Tlaib were interested in helping her cause, she would have the courage to tell her people the truth. First, that their Jewish neighbors have a 3,000-year connection to the land; that Jews started building Israel decades before there was Hitler and the Holocaust; that the Arab world rejected all offers of a Palestinian state in favor of scapegoating and attacking the Jewish state; and that it is in the Palestinian interest to cooperate with Israel to build their own state and a better future for everyone.

Instead, she has echoed the distorted, false and chronic Palestinian victimhood narrative that has frozen any hope for progress in the lives of her own people.

Her colleagues in Congress would be wise to call her on it, even if it probably won’t give her a calming feeling.

Auschwitz Memorial Condemns Online Store for Selling Clothes Containing Nazi Death Camp Images

Screenshot of Redbubble Holocaust mini Skirt. Screenshot from Twitter.

Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum required online marketplace, Redbubble, to remove items May 7 and prohibit the selling of products bearing photos of the concentration camp located in Poland.

Products— including tight miniskirts, tote bags and throw pillows—contained images of the brutal Nazi death camp scene. Imprinted on the items for sale were photos of an electronic fence, guardhouse and train tracks that contributed to the murder of millions of Jews and other minorities during the Holocaust.

In response to the items, Auschwitz Memorial tweeted, “Do you really think that selling such products as pillows, mini skirts or tote bags with the images of Auschwitz – a place of enormous human tragedy where over 1.1 million people were murdered – is acceptable? This is rather disturbing and disrespectful.”

Redbubble quickly responded to the Auschwitz Memorial’s complaint by thanking them for bringing it to their attention and agreeing that the controversial items disobeyed the online company’s community and content guidelines.

The online retailer tweeted: “We are taking immediate action to remove these and similar works available on these product types.

According to the Washington Post, a Redbubble spokeswoman stated, “Redbubble takes a strong stance against racism and violence, including the atrocities committed in Nazi concentration camps, and scan specifically for this type of content daily.”

“We have taken immediate action to remove the works identified by The Auschwitz Memorial, and apologize that it was necessary,” the spokeswoman continued. “We are continuously working to ensure that we are able to keep offending content of this nature off of Redbubble and will be further adjusting our policies moving forward.”

Since Redbubble users are authorized to upload their own innovative items, the online retailer does not approve each product before it becomes public on the site. Users are expected to responsibly upload items that align with the website’s guidelines.

Auschwitz Memorial continuously takes action to ensure that such an atrocity is respected, and survivors are protected.

A Time for Mourning, Reflection, Celebration, and Gratitude

The following was adapted from a speech given at Aish San Diego at a service following the end of Yom Hazikaron

We are at the beginning of a most unusual transition – that to my knowledge is the only one of its kind in the world – a national and intentional move from sorrow to jubilation – due to the pairing of Yom Hazikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day) with Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day).

Israel has two major memorial days: Yom Hazikaron (the Remembrance Day for Israel’s fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism) and Yom HaShoah Vehagevurah (Israel’s Holocaust and Heroism Memorial Day). Yom Hazikaron is a reminder of the cost we pay, and sadly continue to pay, in order to have a Jewish State; while Yom HaShoah is a reminder of the cost of not having a Jewish State.

One of the most unique features of Yom HaShoah and Yom Hazikaron is the siren that sounds across the entire State of Israel at 10:00 and 11:00 a.m. (respectively); bringing the entire country to a complete halt. If you haven’t been in Israel to witness the sounding of these sirens, I highly recommend you make travel plans to do so. It is one of the most moving things you can experience.

Across the country, people stop what they are doing and stand at attention for the two minutes that the siren blares. Tel Aviv’s crazy traffic (think NYC traffic on steroids) stops in the streets, even on the highways; and drivers and passengers alike step out of their cars to stand at attention. As Israelis say, from Metula in north to Eilat in the south, the country stops in its tracks to mourn and honor the fallen as one.

Remarkably and exceptionally, less than 8 hours after the sounding of the Yom Hazikaron siren, the Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations begin. After 24 hours of grief and remembrance, of watching heart-wrenching news story after news story, featuring the many brave soldiers who sacrificed everything, of crying for the numerous young men and women taken from our small nation way too early, Israelis celebrate their independence madly, wildly, passionately, and gratefully.

It is this thankfulness that I want to discuss today. During our Maariv service for Yom Ha’atzmaut, we will shortly be reciting prayers of Hoda’a (of gratitude). And as Jews – blessed to be alive in 2019 – we have much to be grateful for when it comes to the existence of the modern state of Israel.

Most of us have no memories of a time when Israel didn’t exist. A significant number of us also have no living memory of a time when Israel last fought (in 1973) an existential war. As a result, it is only natural that many of us take Israel as well as its existence for granted.

The existence of Israel, of a Jewish state, which we all know (in an age of growing antisemitism) is the safe haven, the proverbial “escape hatch” for all Jews worldwide, is as much a part of our reality, of our everyday lives, as the cup of coffee most of us have in the morning.

But the Yom HaShoah and Yom Hazikaron sirens, which stop everyone in their tracks in Israel are there to remind us that this reality is nothing short of a miracle, that while it may be our “normal;” in the history of the Jewish people, it is very plainly a “new normal.” A “normal,” which we should never take for granted and that we should understand is not only necessary to prevent future Shoah’s, but was also hard-earned with the blood and sacrifice of heroes.

And that is why Israel’s founders wanted to have Yom Ha’atzmaut immediately follow Yom Hazikaron. So all of us, before we turn to the joy and jubilation of celebrating having a safe haven as well as sovereignty and freedom in our indigenous, historical and religious homeland, pay homage to those who sacrificed and lost so much in order for us Jews to have our miracle of state, after nearly 2000 years of dreaming, longing, and praying for it.

As David Ben Gurion famously said, “In Israel, in order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles.”

And a miracle Israel truly is. And as our tradition, and the “Al Hanisim” prayer teaches us – we should always be thankful for miracles.

On the eve of this past Passover, Bibi Neyanyahu sent out a message via social media where he said: Citizens of Israel, Jewish brothers and sisters around the world, each year on Seder night, I am deeply moved,  … Passover touches upon the roots of our national identity. Thousands of years ago we raised the banner of freedom and liberty. We went from slavery to freedom, from subjugation to independence. We began our long journey from Egypt to our home — Zion and Jerusalem.”

The incredible story of our people has no parallel,” Bibi continued. “Even in bitter exile, under unbearable conditions, we maintained our unique identity. We did not surrender. We kept our faith. Generation after generation, we read in the Haggadah, ‘Next year in Jerusalem!’ We held on to our hope. And that hope, my friends, became reality.” Netanyahu went on to say that “Israel is systematically and persistently becoming a global power.”

After 2000 years of exile, after 2000 years of persecution, and out of the ashes of the Holocaust, the worst attempted genocide in modern history, the Jewish people have their own state. And what a state it is …

Over the last 35 years, Israel has experienced dramatic – almost miraculous – certainly unprecedented and unexpected – improvements in its economy. The inflation rate declined from 447% to 1.5%. Thanks to the growing economy, defense expenditures as a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) went down from 20% to 5.8% (2016), higher than the U.S. military expenditure of 3.8%, but still a vast improvement. Exports in 1984 were $10 billion and in 2018 they exceeded $110 billion. And while per capita income in 1984 was $7000, in 2018 it was nearly $42,000, surpassing many European countries, and almost exactly the same as our former colonial master, England. Women in Israel’s labor force were 30% in 1984; that number now stands at almost 60%. And while the GDP in the U.S. (2017) grew by 2.3%, in the U.K by 1.8%, and Italy by 1.5%, Israel’s GDP growth was 3.3%; and it has grown at that pace for most of the past decade.  

And Israel is not just an economic success story. After all, money is not everything. Israel is #1 in the world in the number of museums per person. It has over 200 museums, and counting. Israel leads the world in the recycling of waste water (close to 90%) while in second place, Spain is only 20%. Israel leads the world in the number of people employed in research and development; and in a related stat, Israel is the second most educated nation in the world following Canada, above Japan. And Israel, with barely 9,000,000 citizens has 2 universities in the top 100 in the world, comparing incredibly well with countries over 10 times its size, like Germany and Japan, which each have 4 universities in the top 100. And Israelis, despite all of the trials and tribulations, and the incredibly rough neighborhood they live in, are happy. Recent surveys and studies regularly rank Israelis as the 10th happiest people in the world.   

And Israelis have reason to be happy. And proud. Again, despite the trials and tribulations, the enemies who regularly threaten and attack Israel (as we just saw this past weekend when Hamas indiscriminately fired nearly 700 rockets and missiles at Israel in under 36 hours), the British Economist survey on the best places in the world to be born and live placed Israel as 20th, ahead of countries such as the U.K., France, Italy, and Japan.  

In 2018, Bloomberg ranked Israel’s health system as the sixth best in the world, ahead of the U.S. and many European states. At 84.4, the life expectancy for Israelis is the 7th best in the world, and Israel is generally considered the 10th healthiest country in the world. And U.S. News and World Report recently ranked Israel as the overall 8th most powerful country in the world behind only the 5 UN Security Council countries, Germany and Japan. Think about that … 75 years after the Holocaust; 71 years after the nascent Jewish state with only 600,000 citizens and an army made up of many Holocaust survivors fought off 7 Arab armies in order to achieve the independence we are celebrating tonight, Israel is ranked as the 8th most powerful country in the world.

71 years since the Jewish people reconstituted our state in our indigenous homeland, Israel is already the 10th oldest uninterrupted democracy in the world. Israel is a country where army generals don’t plan coups and revolutions, but they do often run in elections as leftists and centrists. That is, in and of itself, something to be proud of and not take for granted. After all, very few of Israel’s original 600,000 citizens or early immigrants who came to the country fleeing persecution or ethnic cleansing from either Europe or Arab controlled lands, came from countries that had any experience with democratic rule.

But while all of these rankings and statistics are important and impressive, they are not what truly captures for me the miracle of Israel. The reason, those of us who have been blessed to be alive at this time, have so much to be thankful for, so much to be celebrate.

What really moves me is the everyday miracles, the extraordinary becoming the normal, the utterly impossible and amazing, becoming routine and for many, even mundane.

In 1896, when Herzl published “The Jewish State,” most people thought the very idea of Jewish state was not just improbable, but impossible. They also thought that the idea of Jewish nation-state where our people’s mother tongue would be Hebrew once again, was pure folly.

So every time I am in Israel, I am amazed by the little things, and I promise myself I will not take them for granted. Hearing a toddler speaking Hebrew; listening to commercials in Hebrew selling everything from mortgage loans to bubble gum; a Star of David on a 747 passenger jet; everyone from my taxi driver to the radio broadcasters on Friday saying “Shabbat Shalom;” or practically the entire country shutting down on Yom Kippur.   

To be amazed by, and thankful for Israel: I don’t need Israel to be a technological leader; to be the “start-up nation.” I don’t need it to have the most per-capita Nobel Prize winners in the world; I don’t need it to produce incredible TV shows like Shtisel, Fauda, or Kfulim (False Flag). Or to have one of the most amazing restaurant scenes in the world.  All of that is a bonus. 

Nevertheless, and despite all of Israel’s incredible accomplishments; despite it representing the first successful movement of an indigenous people to regain their sovereignty in their land, as we know all too well, and memorialize on Yom Hazikaron, there are still many in the world who find the existence of Israel as offensive as they previously found the existence of Jews. There are still those who continue to attack us and who seek to return us to being weak, defenseless and wandering people without a national home. A people whose plight can once again be ignored by the nations of the world, as the dictators and tyrants seek our annihilation.

And as a country surrounded by enemies, by some of the worst dictatorships and terrorist groups on the planet, it would not be far-fetched to assume that Israel and Israelis would retreat into their own shell whenever possible. To save their energies for “fighting their own battles” as it were.

But Israelis do not do that. Not even close. So, in addition to appreciating and being so thankful for the “mundane” or the “normal” of having a Jewish state after 2000 years of exile, oppression and persecution; and for the realization of 2 millennia of dreaming and praying for that state, for “next year in Jerusalem;” I am also thankful for how incredibly moral and good that state is. How charitable it is.

Israel always offers a helping hand. Whether it is in response to tragedies in Haiti, Japan, Nepal, Mexico, or the Philippines; Israelis are there, saving lives and rescuing people. Israeli charities are also all over the world. Providing clean water resources where once thought impossible. Helping farmers in 3rd world countries discover the miracle of Israeli farming and irrigation techniques that drained swamps and made the desert bloom.   

And Israel’s charity and helping hand is not limited to Israel’s friends. During the Syrian civil war, Israeli soldiers regularly brought Syrian victims to Israeli hospitals, frequently provided life-saving and life changing care to thousands of Syrians. Israel’s “Save A Child’s Heart” also often saves the lives of children from countries that not only do not have relations with Israel, but are also avowed enemies of Israel.

In the early 1700’s, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, authored what many consider to be one of the premier works on Jewish ethics, called “The Path of the Righteous,” which expounds on how – according to the Talmud – one can achieve righteousness. Per Rabbi Luzzatto, there are three main categories of charity: giving of one’s wealth, giving of oneself physically, and giving of one’s wisdom.

As we see, by sending its soldiers, doctors, and field hospitals all over the world in times of crisis, by sharing its water innovations, agricultural techniques, and solar power technology with 3rd world farmers, and by providing life-saving heart surgery to children from all over the world; and without regard for whether they come from nations that are friend or foe, Israel excels in all 3 categories of charity.

Something every Jew, every member of Am Yisrael, can and should be incredibly proud of.


Recently, Michel Bacos, the Air France pilot who stood shoulder to shoulder with the Jewish hostages at Entebbe, died. At his funeral, the Hatikva was played at his request. Thinking about his bravery and solidarity led me to re-watch Operation Thunderbolt, the movie about the incredible rescue of the Jewish hostages led by Bibi Netanyahu’s amazing brother, Yoni Netanyahu. And that got me to reading some of Yoni’s amazing letters (as documented in the book by Herman Wouk, “The Letters of Jonathan Netanyahu”).

While most of Yoni’s letters are deeply inspiring, and I commend the book to all of you, one passage, which he wrote on March 17, 1969, stood out to me as I thought about this Yom Ha’atzmaut and how thankful we should be, as members of Am Yisrael at a time when the State of Israel is celebrating its 71st independence day. What Yoni wrote was:

“On me, on us rests the duty of keeping our country safe.  …we are united by something that is above and beyond political outlook. What unites us produces a feeling of brotherhood, of mutual responsibility, a recognition of the value of man and his life, a strong and sincere desire for peace, a readiness to stand in the breach, and much more. I believe in myself, my country, my family and my future. This is a special people, and it’s good to belong to it.”   

Yoni Netanyahu, like so many of the brave and incredible soldiers of the IDF, understood how special it is to be alive at a time when there is once again a Jewish state, and a Jewish army, to defend the Jewish people. To be a safe haven for us, a country that will – as it did on July 4, 1976 – send its best, brightest and bravest over 2000 miles to rescue Jews who were about to be massacred by terrorists.

Like Yoni so eloquently identified  at the tender age of 23, those of us who are blessed to live at a time that our ancestors could have only dreamt of, have a duty to be more than just thankful (though that it is certainly a start). Just like the brave Air France pilot who stood shoulder to shoulder with all of his passengers, we Jews – who have so much to be thankful for as we celebrate Israel’s independence – owe our brothers and sisters in Israel a commitment to stand shoulder to shoulder with them. To support them. As Yoni wrote, to demonstrate a “readiness to stand in the breach” for them, for Israel.

To be active in Synagogues, which like our Shul (B’H) support Israel and demonstrate Ahavat Yisrael in both word and deed. To support organizations that do the same, like StandWithUs, FIDF, and AIPAC. To never shy from stating our opinion, and by standing up for Israel and against antisemitism in the court of public opinion.

Anyone who knows Jewish history knows how special it is that after 2000 years we are no longer homeless wanderers; and that today we have a Jewish army flying a Star of David, ready to defend us, as well as a sovereign and free state in our homeland ready to welcome us as brothers and sisters.

That is something to be incredibly thankful for, and it is something worth fighting for. Chag Sameach.

Rudi Gernreich: More Than the Monokini

From “Fearless Fashion: Rudi Gernreich” Photo courtesy of Skirball Cultural Center

For pop culture aficionados and those who remember the 1960s, Rudi Gernreich will forever be associated with the scandalous topless “monokini” bathing suit he designed in 1964. But the Austrian Jew, who escaped Vienna in 1938, was more than a fashion provocateur. A pioneer of such liberating clothing as the pantsuit, unisex bodysuits and underwear without infrastructure, he was also a gay rights activist. The new Skirball Cultural Center exhibition “Fearless Fashion: Rudi Gernreich” celebrates his life and work.

Featuring 150 artifacts and 50 mannequins, the exhibition takes visitors on a journey from Gernreich’s early life in Vienna through his most iconic looks and their inspirations. Audio recordings of Gernreich and his friends and colleagues add to the experience. Curators Bethany Montagano and Dani Killam gave the Journal a sneak preview, and explained the idea behind the exhibit.

“We decided to do this exhibition not only because of Rudi Gernreich’s Jewish heritage but also what he did when he came here, from his immigrant refugee roots, to start from nothing and have the vision to effectuate cultural change writ large,” Montagano said. “We wanted to convey that we should use whatever means we can to effect social change and this show really gets across the idea of creating a more just society and being more inclusive, all the things we strive for at the Skirball.”

In addition to clothing borrowed from the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and private lenders, the curators obtained artifacts from the UCLA Special Collections, including personal papers and photographs.

“It was about a three-year process,” Killam said. “We found photographs of Rudi growing up in Vienna, a photo album of him and his family, a very early sketch that he created around 1930. We have a photograph of his aunt’s dress shop where he was introduced to fashion and his creativity blossomed.”

Although he wasn’t a practicing Jew, Gernreich identified as Jewish. “His father, who owned a hosiery company committed suicide as the Nazi regime took over Vienna. Rudi escaped with his mother and then sent back for his two aunts. That’s very much tied to Jewish history and the Holocaust,” Montagano said.

Although he wasn’t a practicing Jew, Gernreich identified as Jewish. “His father, who owned a hosiery company committed suicide as the Nazi regime took over Vienna. Rudi escaped with his mother and then sent back for his two aunts. “

                — Bethany Montagano

Aptly, the exhibition kicks off with a mannequin dressed in Gernreich’s topless bathing suit, a panel reading CENSORED across the top. “It’s how people know Rudi,” Montagano said. “It’s also one of the biggest messages behind his work: that it’s not about sexuality, it’s about freeing the body, body positivity, not feeling shame about nudity, about loving yourself. Each section is about freedom: freedom to move, freedom to choose.”

Topless bathing suit by Gernreich

Gernreich’s understructure-free bras, bathing suits and unisex bodysuits celebrated the female form and were revolutionary at the time, Killam said citing thong underwear as an example. “He pushed people beyond their comfort level. That’s what makes change, and we see those changes today.”

Gernreich’s early years in Los Angeles are also represented in the exhibition, showcasing his work with the Lester Horton Dance Company and as co-founder of the gay rights Mattachine Society. There’s also a peplum top and pedal-pusher pants outfit that was sold at the Jax boutique in the 1960s. But the exhibition concentrates mainly on the 1960s and ’70s. “We settled on this specific range of his career, because his fashion aligned with what was going on at the time,” Killam said.

“He’d sit outside his studio on Santa Monica Boulevard and watch kids walk by and see what they were wearing,” Montagano said. “He was also designing in response to flower power, the Watts riots, Kent State [shooting]. He reacted to that and was willing to take a risk.”
One section of the exhibition shows two costume designs from 1976; a striking black-and-white long dress from 1971; a selection of miniskirts and pantsuits; and an area highlighting Gernreich’s brightly colored, ready-to-wear line and his design process. Another section shows how he used unconventional and unexpected materials including transparent plastics, vinyl inserts, bike springs and dog leashes in his avant-garde designs.

“The biggest challenge was to strike the perfect balance between a well-executed exhibition and one that does justice to an underrepresented fashion designer,” Montagano said. She has her theories as to why Gernreich isn’t as well known as other designers of the era.

“There are a couple of explanations,” she said. “One, Rudi died early, at 62. He also got fed up with the fashion industry several times. He broke with high fashion precedence and struck a deal with Montgomery Ward in 1966. Some people may say he sold out to couture, but he made clothing more accessible to people.”

Rudi Gernreich

She added she believes Gernreich would be proud of the exhibition, “because we show the depth and values breadth of his design acumen and we were able to put forward his social conscience and values that drove everything he did.” 

“One of the things I love about Rudi Gernreich is he had such a sense of joy and wit in his approach to fashion and I’d like people to leave with a sense of joy and enthusiasm about the clothing and objects they saw here,” Killam said. “People tend to look at clothing from a superficial viewpoint and lens. But clothing is material culture and it can convey social messages. The message I’d like people to come away with is that what you wear is powerful.”

Montagano emphasized that the exhibit “gets into so many issues that we’re dealing with now, and the very innovative ways that Gernreich traversed very difficult subjects like gender fluidity and body image. I hope people will be inspired by that and moved to use whatever platform they have for good,” she said. “I hope that they come away inspired.”

“Fearless Fashion: Rudi Gernreich” is on view through Sept. 1 at the Skirball Cultural Center.

The Resilience of the Jewish People

On Yom HaShoah, I lit a candle in remembrance of the innocent lives lost during the Holocaust. As the flame flickered in front of me, I also reflected
on the resilience of the Jewish people despite genocide, exile and involuntary immigration.

I recently visited the Shanghai Jewish Refugee Museum, site of the former Ohel Moishe Synagogue, at the corner of Changyang Road in Hongkou District, China. Between 1933 and 1941, Shanghai provided a safe haven for 18,000 to 23,000 European Jewish refugees escaping the atrocities in Europe. The majority were Viennese Jews who undertook the 8,500-mile journey by ship or train to create a new life in the most unlikely of places.

A plaque prominently displayed on the wall quotes Evelyn Pike Rubin, one of these stateless refugees: “Tomorrow we would be starting a new life in a strange city, in an unfamiliar country with an unfamiliar language, climate, and people, where we would be safe and free.”

The local Shanghainese welcomed the Jewish refugees and shared their own scarce resources with them despite the vast differences between their cultures. It didn’t take long for the newcomers to adapt to Chinese culture. They learned to appreciate its people, Chinese opera and cuisine. Many learned the language by going to Chinese cinema and learned to write Chinese characters. This allowed them to read the newspapers. At the same time, the immigrants preserved their own traditions. Jewish schools and publications, as well as European-style cafes, restaurants, bakeries and clubs, transformed the Tilanqiao neighborhood into “Little Vienna.”

The local Shanghainese welcomed the Jewish refugees and shared their own scarce resources with them despite the vast differences between their cultures. 

The Shanghai museum displays hundreds of artifacts depicting this mutual respect and peaceful coexistence, including documents, letters, photographs and personal items such as a bamboo rickshaw toy from the late 1930s or early ’40s. One picture is of the wedding of Sylvia and Karl at Ohel Moishe Synagogue on October 15, 1944. A few years later, their son was one of 500 Jewish babies born in Shanghai. Another black-and-white photograph that caught my eye depicted a young Jewish girl and her two Chinese friends happily holding hands.

These photos evoked my own memories of having to immigrate from Iran to Houston in 1987 after the Iranian revolution. I, too, had to leave my home abruptly and quickly adapt to a new culture and surroundings. One day I was wearing the mandatory Hijab, covering my hair with a large scarf and covering my body with a long cloak, and the next day, I was sporting cowboy boots and airy summer dresses.

Many of my Iranian Jewish counterparts, who are neither Ashkenazic nor Sephardic but Mizrahi Middle Eastern Jews, relocated to sunny Los Angeles. Like the European Jews who sought refuge in Shanghai, they adapted to the American culture but at the same time managed to preserve their own Persian Jewish traditions. Farsi language schools and publications, as well as many Jewish-owned Iranian-style cafes, restaurants, bookstores, bakeries and clubs, have turned Westwood Boulevard into “Tehrangeles.”

For the Shanghai Jews, the glory of the city remains in the past because the refugees gradually left after the end of the war. For the Iranian Jews, the glory of Iran remains in the past because they now are at the point of no return. However, the Hebrew words “Am Yisrael chai,” (“The Jewish nation lives”) is an expression of the spirit to survive and to rebuild against all odds.

On Yom HaShoah, in addition to reminiscing about the lives lost and the glory of days gone by, we should celebrate the revival of the Jewish people in unique communities around the world.

Jacqueline Saper is the author of the memoir “From Miniskirt to Hijab: A Girl in Revolutionary Iran” (Potomac Books — University of Nebraska Press) to be released on Oct. 1. 

May 10, 2019


Read our previous issues online here.

Anti-Semitism Is Also the Internal War of the Jews

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

The struggle against anti-Semitism—everywhere, at any time— is an external struggle: to enlist support circles, to identify trends, to neutralize dangers.

The struggle against anti-Semitism—everywhere, at any time— is also an internal struggle: to crystallize consciousness, to formulate a correct response.

The external struggle is easy to form, even if it is not easy to win. Once anti-Semitism raises its head, the Jews react. They cry out, they protest, they do what they can. And, of course, anti-Semites have their own tools. They also know how to organize and enlist support. But the contours of the battlefield are relatively clear. Anti-Semites and their supporters on the one hand, Jews and their allies on the other.

The internal struggle is more complicated. This is the struggle for the souls and minds of the Jewish people, or, to be more dramatic, for their sanity. anti-Semitism harms Jews from the outside. It makes it difficult for them to operate in general society, sometimes damaging their property, sometimes inflicting wounds on their bodies. But it must be noted that it also harms them from the inside. It undermines their confidence, turns them – turns us—into anxiety-ridden, restless survivors. It is hard to think about the Holocaust without becoming all of these things.

This is the internal war of the Jews. The war to remain happy and calm even in an anti-Semitic environment. The war to be human when humanity is eroded. The war to respond proportionally to danger, using the right means and the correct rhetoric. It is a war that prompts a constant tension between the need to be alert to a sly and determined enemy without overreacting or becoming excessively fearful.

In recent months, as it becomes clear that anti-Semitism is raising its head in different places, in different communities, Jews are being forced to fight back. They must think about the proper ways to do it. They must ensure the safety of synagogues and butcher shops and schools in France, in America, in Argentina, in Britain. They must attempt to neutralize the power of anti-Semitic groups to harm the vital interests of the Jewish people.

At the same time, one must not forget or neglect the inner preparation for a new era. The Jews of this generation, especially Israeli Jews, are not accustomed to life in the shadow of anti-Semitism. Some of us thought that the problem of anti-Semitism would be solved when Israel was established. Some of us believed that the world had become enlightened enough not to allow more anti-Semitism. Some of us aptly suspected that anti-Semitism was still alive, but they did not really feel it. For most Jews in Israel, anti-Semitism is a distant rumor, rather than a daily reality. It was something to learn about and remember, not to forget. It was not something whose constant presence made it impossible to forget.

If anti-Semitism comes back to play a significant role in Jewish life, after a fairly short respite, Jews will have to get used to it again.

What!? This is out of the question!

In fact, learning to live with anti-Semitism is the only option. Not in the sense of consenting to it, or in the sense of accepting and surrendering to it. Rather by way of being realistic, and understanding that we can’t control everything. There are things – and anti-Semitism is one of them – that you just have to learn to live with. There are sickness and sorrow, there are floods and earthquakes, there are hurricanes and fatal accidents, and there is also anti-Semitism. We fight back, we adapt.

Holocaust Remembrance Day, which Israel marks today, is a time to stop and think about the grave consequences of hatred for Jews. It is an important day when it starts, and it is an important day when it is over. It is important when it allows us to stop and remember. It is important when it passes and allows us to go back to normal.

But what is normal? It is quite possible that anti-Semitism is back to being part of Jewish normalcy.



Emerging Leaders Learn to Fight Anti-Semitism at Poland Conference

More than 100 high school and college students gathering in Krakow, Poland for March of the Living's first Emerging Leadership Conference to fight anti-semitism. Photo courtesy of Elie Klein/March of the Living.

(Krakow, Poland)- March of the Living kicked off its first Emerging Leadership Conference May 1 discussing the Shoah and how to combat anti-Semitism and intolerance around the world.

Twenty one young leaders who have previously attended the March in Poland were selected from around the world to help educate and inspire more than 100 high school and college students from Canada, Panama, South Africa and the United States to take a stand against anti-Semitism, ahead of Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Rabbi Dr. Danny Schiff, foundation scholar at the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, said in the wake of the April 27 attack on Chabad of Poway in Southern California and the Tree of Life shooting in Pittsburgh six months ago, “It is true – there is rising anti-Semitism. But it is also true that there are those who want to embrace us and support us, to hold us up and help us rebuild.”

He added, “The Jewish people do not dwell alone, we have friends who want to offer their support. So if we are serious about combatting anti-Semitism, let us choose our allies and work together. Let’s not pretend that we are by ourselves.”

March of the Living Emerging Leaders program director Michael Soberman; Dr. Zohar Raviv international VP of education for Taglit-Birthright Israel; and Alberto Levy also shared their experiences of first-hand exposure to anti-Semitism and how they will not let hatred and bigotry define them.

Twenty-five-year-old Izzy Lenga who is one of this year’s emerging leaders works with the UK Labour Party and the Jewish Labour Movement. Her activism came after experiencing direct anti-semitism during her first year at the University of Birmingham when she saw a “Hitler was right” sticker on campus among many other incidents.

“I’ve got complaints for a few years and I am seeing an absolute lack of action from the Labour Party,” Lenga told the Journal. “[Anti-Semitism] exists everywhere right to the top of the leader [referring to Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn] and who he surrounds himself… It’s words without action… What we need is action, not words.”

She added it’s been difficult to support the progressive British Labour Party because it attacks her faith by not calling out anti-Semitism in the UK. However, she said the best way to gain support for the Jewish people is with a shared dialogue.

“What I‘ve been saying to my progressive friends is [to] listen to Jewish people when they share about their experiences with anti-Semitism just like you would, just like you should, with all other minority groups when they talk about their oppression,” Lenga said. “Listen, understand, believe and take action with us. Stand with us. Help us lead this fight against anti-semitism.”

Emerging leader Ye’Ela Eilon-Heiber from Vancouver was excited to attend the conference and march this year to learn more about anti-Semitism in different countries. She said although there aren’t as many anti-semitic events occurring in Canada, it still exists.

“Having only a Canadian perspective sort of limits it [experiences with global anti-Semitism] but now that I’ve gotten to speak to people all over the world, it opens my mind about how anti-Semitism can show itself and how we can work against it,” Eilon-Heiber said. “I have actively chosen not to hide my Judaism and with the volunteer work I do I try to bring together the Jewish community and other communities I’m a part and try to create that dialogue where we can openly talk about why anti-semitism or racism are problems in other communities as well.”

The conference later divided the young adults into groups and asked them to draft a resolution that they would agree to follow when fighting future anti-Semitism. The final draft will be released at the 31st annual March of the Living event May 2.

The one message Schiff, Lenga and Eilon-Heiber emphasized is that they will continue to stand strong despite the hate towards Jews.

“We must acknowledge that the best response to anti-Semitism is to embrace our Judaism ever so fervently and deliberately. Embracing Jewish life is the best way to frustrate the well-laid plans of anti-Semites,” Schiff said. “Every one of you can undermine their plans by committing to become the finest Jews imaginable.”

The NYT cartoon leaves no doubt: “classic” Antisemitism is back!

A photo is worth a 1000 words. This means that it’ll take much more than a plain apology (with probably zero intention behind it) to erase what The New York Times did last week.

In case you missed it, the popular paper’s international print from Thursday included a cartoon showing “blind” Donald Trump holding Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, depicted as a dog on a leash. As you can see, this image contains several, clear, Antisemitic characteristics, most visible is Israeli PM being presented as a dog, having a particularly big nose, and wearing a star of David on his neck. A classic Antisemitic cartoon.

It didn’t take long for the backlash to begin, and on Saturday, NYT posted an editor note that’s said to be printed in Monday’s edition: “A political cartoon in the international print edition of The New York Times on Thursday included anti-Semitic tropes…The image was offensive, and it was an error of judgment to publish it. It was provided by The New York Times News Service and Syndicate, which has since deleted it.”

The apology was not accepted by a lot of members of the Jewish community. The American Jewish Committee tweeted: “Apology not accepted. How many @nytimes editors looked at a cartoon that would not have looked out of place on a white supremacist website and thought it met the paper’s editorial standards? What does this say about your processes or your decision makers? How are you fixing it?”

Frankly, I’m with them. Apology not accepted, and, if you ask me, not really intended either. The New York Times has been leading an anti-Israel agenda for a long time now, and the line between that and Antisemitism is extremely fine.

This cartoon came out in perfect timing, actually. A week before our national Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is a great opportunity to contemplate on how far we’ve come on the one hand, and how close we are to having history repeat itself.

That NYT cartoon is a clear representation of classic Antisemitism. In comparison, look at this one, from 1940, showing Churchill led by what can be described as a classic anti- Semitic representation of a Jew. Can you spot the similarities?

This “classic” Antisemitism has been hidden for 7 decades almost. People were embarrassed to express their hateful, awful opinions, from the fear of being criticized and shut out from their communities. Those opinions, of the Jews running the world and being the reason for all the ills of society, were automatically compared to the ones held by the Nazis and their followers before and during WWII, and those who held them kept them tucked in, only letting them crawl out in the shadows.

But something has changed, and that’s a lot thanks to the “new” Antisemitism. The one that uses the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to legitimize Antisemitic opinions and ideas being expressed out loud. It hides behind the legitimate criticism over Israel’s way to handle the conflict, but if a discussion begins, it somehow always ends with “but the Jews…”

The New Antisemitism is not direct and straight forward. It does not compare Jews to vermin or directly ask people to carry on Hitler’s legacy. Instead, it uses an innocent and peaceful rhetoric to gradually delegitimize the state of Israel and the right of the Jewish people to their own country. By using the same method many anti-Israelis often use, the new anti-Semites create hatred toward the Jewish people as a group modernly turning us into a villain of some sort. With a fair share of lies and that peaceful rhetoric, “the Jew” becomes a person to blame for all the world’s suffering, and the Holocaust turns into an event that is only second to what the Palestinians are going through nowadays.

Instead of denying the Holocaust, this rhetoric wisely connects it with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict thus incites hatred toward “The Jews” for surviving the Holocaust and later forming an independent state. It is very important to remember that while the State of Israel often makes the connection between the Holocaust and the state (משואה לתקומה, From Holocaust to Heroism), it is not an actual narrative. Many of the Jews who founded the state of Israel lived there many years before the Holocaust took place.

The Holocaust has no direct relation with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Genocide of the Jewish people did not directly cause the ongoing dispute over the small, strategic piece of land at the heart of the Middle East, and the survival of a few 70 years ago is heroism, not an attempt to bring suffering into the world. But with enough free time, malicious intentions and viral activity, any story can be believed to be the objective truth.

This “new” Antisemitism still exists, and The New York Times, even if not pushing is directly, takes part in helping those who do by taking a very imbalanced, anti-Israel agenda, that’s not always being pointed out in a way to allow people to activate their own judgement, but in the form of “fact framing.”

Therefore it’s hard for me to believe the sincerity of their apology. All they did was allowing themselves a bit more liberty, joining the new wave of the old, “classic” Antisemitism.

It didn’t happen overnight. It took some time. But slowly, they all stepped out of the shadows, not fearing to let their dark opinions be heard. They enjoyed the “new” Antisemitism and watched how it’s becoming legitimate to, basically, blame the Jews for stuff, and sought the opportunity to go all the way.

The problem? In the age of the interned, it has become very hard to stop them. And seeing that people who hold such dark, scary opinions are our next door neighbors (and not only tattooed skinheads,) makes it seem almost okay…

The “new” Antisemitism was very hard to stop, because it was hidden. We failed to stop it, and the old one kicked back in. We cannot allow cartoons such as the one published on NYT be published again! We cannot and should not rest until it becomes very clear that Hitler’s legacy has no place in today’s society. History CAN repeat itself. You can see it happening already in the form of businesses not allowing  Jews in, or in the form of Antisemitic cartoons being published in popular papers.

This is out chance to take a stand, without even leaving the comfort of our homes. We must take a sand behind our keyboards, and fight for the sanity of this society, before it will devour itself again.


The Holocaust From a Dog’s Perspective in ‘Shepherd’

“Shepherd: The Story of a Jewish Dog” unfolds from the perspective of Kaleb, a German shepherd. Separated from his owners by the Nuremberg Laws’ ban on Jews owning pets, he is adopted and trained by an SS officer to work at a concentration camp, which leads to a reunion with his 10-year-old master, Joshua. It’s based on the best-selling novel “The Jewish Dog” by Israeli author Asher Kravitz.

“To tell a story about the Shoah through a dog and with a dog brings in emotions that I felt had not yet been explored,” writer-director Lynn Roth told the Journal. Roth was teaching a filmmaking course in Israel when a student brought his friend Kravitz’s idea to a pitch class. She loved the story, and when she read the book, “There was no way I could let this go,” she said. 

Although the basic plot is the same, Roth’s adaptation departs from the novel where the canine hero talked and served as the narrator. “The book had an entirely different tone,” Roth said. “This is more like an old-fashioned dog movie.”

The core messages also remain the same: Dogs bring out the best in people and humans can learn a lot from them. “If we could be more like dogs, we might be living on a higher level. They function on pure love,” Roth said. “To me, the relationship with a dog is one of the most profound relationships a human can have. I learn from my dog all the time — forgiveness, patience, love, all the things that make life better.”

However, working with multiple canines—including the five that played Kaleb — was a challenge. “I had to learn patience in a way that I never had before,” Roth said. “We had to be completely still and not make eye contact with the dogs while the trainers trained them. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking and time is money. But if you don’t get the scenes with the dogs right, [none of it will] be right.”

“Shepherd” was shot in and around Budapest, Hungary, which stood in for Germany. “Germany has been so rebuilt it was hard to find locations that look like World War II,” Roth explained. “We shot the concentration camp on a standing set where they shot ‘The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.’ ”

On location, she had to contend with freezing weather and the fact that there was a limit to the number of hours that child actor August Maturo could work. But having made the “The Little Traitor” with a child lead, she was prepared. “I love working with children,” she said. “I love their wonder toward life.”

Roth was born in Manhattan, grew up on Long Island and moved to Los Angeles as a teen. She grew up “very Jewish” in a family of rabbis and cantors, her Transylvania-born father among them. “There were 12 children in my paternal grandfather’s family. Four went to Israel, four came here and the ones that stayed perished,” she said.

Her interest in writing and directing emerged early. “When I was a kid, I would organize the block and put on a show. I guess I had it in me,” she said. “Coming from a family of rabbis and cantors, that was theater to me — ‘shul business.’ It felt completely natural.”

In addition to being the first woman to showrunner of an hourlong drama series,  “The Paper Chase” (1983-86), Roth worked on a lot of projects about women’s issues. “Most of my television movies were about women overcoming obstacles and triumphing,” she said. “Now I’m in my Jewish phase. I’ve made some documentaries in Israel, ‘Little Traitor,’ ‘Shepherd.’ I have a feeling that whatever I do in the future might have a Jewish theme.”

After its West Coast premiere at the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival, “Shepherd” will continue to play the Jewish festival circuit, aiming for a theatrical release in the next six months. Roth is also trying to get it seen by children outside the Jewish community as a way to teach about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism through the experiences of the canine hero. “I really want to get it into Catholic schools, schools in African American and Latino communities,” she said. She thinks it’s appropriate for children who are 11 years old and older.

“I am hoping that this film will have some influence on people,” Roth said. “I hope they never forget this time in history and look around and see what’s
happening now with anti-Semitism and understand that these things could happen again.”

As a low-budget, independent feature, “this movie was made with spit and blood,” she said. “These are hard movies to get made. But it was worth every minute.”

“Shepherd” will screen at 8 p.m. May 4 at Laemmle’s Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills; and at 2:30 p.m. May 5 at Laemmle’s Town Center, 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino. Both include Q&A’s with Roth and cast members.

Azerbaijani Muslim who saved thousands of Jews from Holocaust

Abdol-Hossein Sardari Qajar

When he began his diplomatic service in Paris, he was hoping to have a calm, unencumbered life as a diplomat in one of the world’s most beautiful cities.

But very shortly after his arrival, this City of Love turned into a City of Hatred due to Nazi invasion. Many of his diplomat colleagues fled the city, including his ambassador. But he decided to stay in Paris – a decision that would change his life and the lives of thousands of others.

This was Abdol-Hossein Sardari Qajar, a diplomat of Azerbaijani descent from Iran. He belonged to the famed Azerbaijani Qajar dynasty who ruled Persia from 1789 through 1925. Following a long series of wars between Persia and Russia in the early 1800s, the historic territory of Azerbaijan had been divided between these two empires. Hence there is a large, 30 million-strong Azerbaijani community in Iran today. Sardari Qajar was a member of this indigenous Azerbaijani community of Iran.

Following his ambassador’s departure from Paris, the 26-year old Sardari Qajar was in sole charge of the Iranian mission there in his capacity as Consul General. This is when the hell broke out. Nazis and their French collaborators would search the country for each and every Jew to send them to death camps.

There were around 150 Jews from Iran, Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan (primarily from the city of Bukhara) in France. Once the northern parts of France were occupied by Nazis, these Jews presented themselves as ‘Jugutis’ to the collaborationist Vichy government and Nazi forces. Jugutis were Persian Jews who were practicing Judaism privately at home in Iran and were nominally shown in their official papers as Muslims.

In September 1940, the Nazi occupation forces ordered all Jews of France to register with the police. This is when Sardari Qajar understood he had to act. And act very fast. He sent a letter to the Vichy government arguing that Jugutis were actually well-assimilated Persians by culture and intermarriage and should not be considered Jews. He wrote:

“According to the study, the Jugutis of Central Asia belong to the Jewish community only by virtue of their observance of the principal rites of Judaism. By virtue of their blood, their language, and their customs, they are assimilated into the indigenous race and are of the same biological stock as their neighbors, the Persians and the Sartes (Uzbeks).”

By effectively arguing that Jugutis were also ‘Aryans’, hence racially akin to the Germans, Sardari Qajar actually beat Nazis in their own game.

After much persuasion, Sardari Qajar finally succeeded with his plan. When all Jews of France were forced to wear the yellow Star of David and 75,000 were sent to Nazi death camps, an exemption was issued for Iranian Jews. Moreover, Sardari Qajar started issuing new Iranian passports for Jews, without the consent from his government, which allowed them to leave Europe. This risky and selfless act of compassion saved around 3,000 Jewish lives as passports were issued for entire families and their friends.

Fariborz Mokhtari, the author of “In the Lion’s Shadow: The Iranian Schindler and his homeland in the Second World War,” noted: “[Sardari] started issuing these passports to Jewish Iranians because that was his main concern. But the Jewish Iranians had French or non-Iranian partners; some of them were married to non-Iranians. After he helped the Iranians, they went to him and asked him to help their friends. Sardari trusted the Iranians and therefore he trusted the people they introduced to him [and gave them] Iranian documents.”

Sardari Qajar’s life after the war was marked with many tragedies. He was devastated when the woman he loved and wanted to marry to – a Chinese opera singer – disappeared during her trip in China without a trace. He also faced much pressure in Iran in the early 1950s for “disobeying the government orders and overstepping his authority while in Paris”, eventually being forced to quit the diplomatic service and move to UK, where he passed away in 1981 in poverty.

He never sought any recognition for what he did. When Yad Vashem asked him in 1978 of his work in France, he answered: “As you may know, I had the pleasure of being the Iranian consul in Paris during the German occupation of France, and as such it was my duty to save all Iranians, including Iranian Jews.”

In 2004, Sardari Qajar was honored by the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, which has been home to many of the Jews he saved. Some other Jewish organizations have also honored and recognized this courageous Azerbaijani. I hope very much that the Simon Wiesenthal Center, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and other Jewish institutions will finally do justice to Sardari Qajar, by properly recognizing his Azerbaijani heritage as well.

Considering the 2,000-year old peaceful co-existence of Jews with the Azerbaijani people, it is deeply meaningful that Sardari Qajar was of Azerbaijani descent. What Sardari did for Jewish people was a natural expression of who he was, and where he came from. He was cut from Azerbaijani cloth, made of courage and love for brotherhood that makes religion or ethnicity irrelevant. Sardari Qajar did what he was raised to do: respect and protect the sanctity of human life. Every human life.

As we see increasingly more ethnic, religious and racial hatred, engulfing different parts of world, stories like that of Sardari Qajar’s saving innocent people of other faith, risking their own lives, give us hope for the world where humanity trumps everything that divides the humankind.

Sheikh Works to Clarify Islam, Understand Judaism

Sheikh Mohammad Al-Issa

Since his appointment as secretary-general of the Mecca, Saudi Arabia-based Muslim World League (MWL), Sheikh Mohammad Al-Issa has been making headlines all over the world. He has visited the Vatican, condemned the Holocaust and Holocaust denial, spoken out against those who use Islam to promote violence and terror, and organized interfaith and outreach conferences. One of these initiatives was the 2nd Conference on Cultural Rapprochement between the United States of America and the Muslim World, an interfaith summit in New York City this past October that brought together hundreds of activists from all over the world, as well as speakers from different faiths.

“Our mission is to clarify the truth,” Al-Issa said.

In January, Al-Issa authored two pieces on the importance of Holocaust remembrance, one of which was written in English for American audiences. He also explained why he broke with taboos and openly discussed Muslim-Jewish relations. The MWL’s statement after the terrorist attack on Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue was the first time the organization condemned anti-Semitic violence. Despite these examples of “responsible leadership,” as Al-Issa described them, much skepticism surrounds the MWL, which has been known to support religiously stringent Salafist groups and partner with the Muslim Brotherhood. Likewise, despite Al-Issa’s rejection of all forms of extremism and his consistent course of action in that regard since joining the MWL in 2016, questions remain about the sincerity of MWL’s intentions, its independence from Saudi government policies and whether Islam as a religion is as dedicated to peace and tolerance as Al-Issa’s message. After all, Al-Issa is a former Saudi justice minister. How can he keep regional politics out of religious activity?

During Al-Issa’s last visit to New York in early February, shortly after the publication of his articles regarding International Holocaust Remembrance Day, I interviewed him for two hours to clarify these and other issues.

Al-Issa told me that the MWL is a completely independent organization. As an example, he cited his recommendation for a “peace caravan” that he presented at the October interfaith summit. The idea for the caravan, which would consist of representatives of the three Abrahamic faiths — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — traveling to Jerusalem, came “completely, 100 percent separated away from politics,” he said. For now, the MWL remains the only organization considering this caravan and the details have not yet been worked out.

However, Al-Issa said the MWL has other plans in the works, including a program to introduce some form of Holocaust curriculum to educational systems for Muslims.

The MWL, Al-Issa said,  is attempting to spread a message of peace and tolerance, and it is combating ideological extremism through the dissemination of “clarifying facts” about Islam through education, traditional media, social media and by organizing conferences — “trying to get deeper into [extremists’] ideology and by dismantling this ideology from within.” The strategy is the same, he said, whether the extremists in question are hardline Muslims or hardcore critics who reject Islam as a legitimate religion.

“We are  never satisfied with regular replies,” Al-Issa said. “We get deep into deterrence. We also discuss scriptures. Then we start dialoguing: ideology against another ideology.” He added that when the MWL lays out the facts about Islam being a “moderate religion,” people’s reactions are often very positive. The MWL also works to reveal certain groups’ hidden agendas and misleading messages. “We deal with everybody,” he said.

To prevent undesirable entanglements, the MWL requires prospective partner organizations or institutions requesting funding and support from MWL to demonstrate a track record of success on the ground, he said. 

To combat dangerous stereotypes of different groups of people; and to overcome acrimony introduced to the Middle East through centuries of feuds, grievances and, more recently, Western disinformation and conspiracy theories, the MWL utilizes workshops and conferences aimed at humanizing others and promoting tolerant attitudes, he said.

Most recently, the MWL held a conference in Mecca for 1,300 Muslim clerics and scholars from all over the world.  The aim of the conference, held next to the Kaaba, was to combat terrorism and religious extremism, and to inculcate the attendees with the message about seeing humanity in every person, Al-Issa said. That particular conference produced a historic statement that the “Creator, in His Wisdom, created people different,” he said. “We should respect other religions. If we see someone making a mistake or doing something inappropriate, we shouldn’t blame the religion for it, but hold the individual personally responsible for that. We believe that no religion is extreme. On the other hand, we also believe that absolutely no religion has no extremists. We find extremists in every religion throughout the world.” 

Since his installment as the secretary-general of the MWL, Al-Issa has traveled extensively, meeting with dignitaries and counterparts from other faiths all over the world, and organizing events in many different countries. In Morocco, Al-Issa met with local Islamic leaders to review the application of Sharia law and to sign a research and data-based agreement with Morocco’s Muhammadian League of Scholars to encourage “enlightened Islamic speech” and “combat extremism.” MWL also has held gatherings  in the Shiite-majority Azerbaijan and brought approximately 700 leaders and activists to a summit in Sweden. 

Al-Issa said that everywhere he goes, he sees many people in need of assistance from international organizations such as the United Nations. “God commanded us to help the others who are less fortunate,” he said. “The power we have, the money we have, is God’s money. God has been generous to us. And we, as brothers and sisters to those people, have a duty to help them.”

One way MWL offers its assistance is directly through governments, to avoid falling into traps with unreliable organizations and to guarantee that its money will not go to extremists, Al-Issa said, adding that even if a government is corrupt, it can still be held accountable for distribution of services. 

Exchanging ideas with foreign dignitaries and addressing large and diverse groups are nothing new for Al-Issa, although having a faith-based agenda to counter extreme ideas is certainly a new direction for the MWL, he said.

All of that, however, is gradual. Currently, the MWL does not have a program for normalizing the image of other groups or countering biases for Muslim communities around the world; however, the organization welcomes proposals from schools and other organizations, with creative ideas on how to address the problem in a way suitable for a particular community. 

Much of the time, the best way to educate children is through empathy. “We have to make sure that we teach ethics of loving others, even from different religions, and for children to learn to respect one another despite differences in faiths and ideas,” he said. 

The MWL also assists in countering mistranslated Qurans and faulty theological messaging by organizations with agendas, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, which for decades had a near monopoly on English-language translations of the Quran, Al-Issa said. An example is the word “kafir,” which has been widely translated as “infidel” but which, Al-Issa said, is better translated in English as “disbeliever.” “We have a right to disbelieve each other’s ideas. That does not mean that either of us is against this ideology or this religion,” he said.

Misconceptions about the use of these words are being promoted by extremists with their own agendas, according to Al-Issa.  Any nation striving to defend itself against an aggressor can call a war “jihad.” 

Would it have been possible to expand Islam in the early days without the use of force, just through preaching and education? “You cannot impose religion by force,” Al-Issa said. “Anyone who tries to impose religion by force has a special, private kind of agenda, and it has nothing to do with religion. … Only Prophet Mohammed was infallible and could know the ultimate good for the religion. Other people could not. Furthermore, some of his followers — not all of them — also had political agendas and waged wars in the name of Islam, even though they had other reasons for it.”

While Al-Issa is striving to reintroduce the concept of a moderate, tolerant and peaceful Islam into theological discourse, Muslim communities are facing apostasy and conversions to other religions as a result of disillusioned people judging Islam by the actions and rhetoric of some of its misguided practitioners; reacting to abuse and overreach by Islamic governments, communities, families and imams; or facing movements by Westerners seeking to introduce atheism and secular humanism as an alternative in the Middle East and other parts of the world.

Al-Issa said Muslim and non-Muslim governments are doing well in respecting the teachings of Islam, while others are using their support or opposition as a cover for their own political actions and abuses. The best way to address this issue and to help everyone is through education, he said. The MWL is working to develop a conference that will touch on this topic, which thus far is titled “Belief in the Ever-Changing World.”

Reflecting on the compatibility of science and faith, and MWL’s role in tackling thorny issues in an educational way, Al-Issa stated that he sees the mission of MWL as reigniting the spirit of Al-Andalus, which at its best symbolized a great exchange of ideas between scientists, philosophers, poets and theologians of the Abrahamic faiths, who lived and worked side by side in harmony.

Irina Tsukerman is a New York-based human rights and national security lawyer.

A Nazi Woman Lives as a Jew in ‘The Last’

Jill Durso and Rebecca Schull in “The Last.” Photo courtesy of CAVU Pictures

Writer-director Jeff Lipsky knows that some audiences may view him as an apologist for Nazis. Indeed, in his film “The Last,” the central character, Claire (Rebecca Schull) is its spokesperson. She is a 92-year-old unrepentant German-born Nazi, defending herself with conviction. She is also terminally ill and plans to take her own life, but does not want to die without revealing the truth. The twist here is that she has lived her life as a Jew.

“My challenge was to give her a backstory that was unimpeachable, so that any question an audience might have, she has answered,” Lipsky told the Journal in a phone interview. “I am not trying to make a Nazi sympathetic, but rather I’m asking audiences to put themselves in her shoes. Given her circumstances, I defy anyone who is being honest with themselves to say they would have behaved differently.”

“The Last,” Lipsky’s seventh indie film, is a multigenerational Jewish family drama awash in theological and philosophical discussions that explore how each member of the family responds to Claire’s shocking confession. There’s her great-grandson Josh (AJ Cedeño), a modern Orthodox Jew; Josh’s Catholic-born wife, Olivia (Jill Durso), a Jewish convert; Claire’s nominally observant granddaughter Melody (Julie Fain Lawrence); and Melody’s husband, Harry (Reed Birney), an agnostic.

Lipsky, whose films frequently focus on families in crisis, said “The Last” was a departure in its autobiographical inspiration: Lipsky’s nephew, like Josh, is a modern Orthodox Jew, and his Catholic wife is a convert to Judaism and a more committed Jew than virtually anyone else in the family. Lipsky felt there was a story there that cried out to be told.

He also wanted to chronicle a family dating back to the Holocaust. After reading a feature in the paper about someone discovering that his grandfather was a Nazi, Lipsky found his narrative linchpin.

They later admitted it was disturbing for them to see a sympathetic character voicing such terrible thoughts. I hope audiences can see Claire’s irrational, virulent anti-Semitism for what it is. And maybe it could even help inform them on what’s going on now.” — Rebecca Schull

Lipsky also decided to incorporate historical figures into his chronicle, which led him to Dr. Carl Clauberg, a German gynecologist who conducted medical experiments on Jewish women at Auschwitz. In the film, Clauberg becomes Claire’s mentor, lover and savior. 

“For her to reverse her philosophy, even decades later, would represent a rejection of Carl [and her] mother,” Lipsky said. “She’d view it as an act of cowardice. She is no more able to abandon them than she is her new family, whom she has raised as Jews and loves just as much.”

Still, the question remains: Why did she pose as a Jew to begin with and maintain the disguise for more than half a century?

“Survival,” Lipsky said. “It was the only way she could get into America, and then she assimilated herself into a New York community of Jews.”

Schull, 90, told the Journal in an interview at her apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan that she might have hesitated about tackling the role more than she did if Lipsky weren’t Jewish.

Best known for her seven-year stint (1990-97) as Fay Cochran, the genial ticket agent on the sitcom “Wings,” Schull said, “I might have been suspicious that [Lipsky] was expressing some deep-seated feelings he couldn’t express otherwise. Jeffrey’s intention was certainly not to stir up anti-Semitism.”

Nonetheless, as a Jew who hailed from a fervently Zionist home and raised her three children Jewish, she was conflicted.

“There was some kind of leap that I had to make,” she said. “Claire is horrible, but she is a demanding role and I was intrigued. It’s my profession.”

In learning her lines, Schull said she found a way to make Claire sound intelligent, reasonable and spontaneous. “She tells her life’s story, and if you just keep repeating what she’s saying, her thinking becomes part of you,” she said.

At a recent screening of “The Last” at the Jewish Community Center in New York, responses were generally positive, with audience members citing the film’s risk-taking originality and Schull’s extraordinary performance.

Still, Schull recalled a couple of friends who remained silent. “I can take criticism,” she said, “but to say nothing, is wrong. They later admitted it was disturbing for them to see a sympathetic character voicing such terrible thoughts. I hope audiences can see Claire’s irrational, virulent anti-Semitism for what it is. And maybe it could even help inform them on what’s going on now.”

Said Lipsky: “You can love the film or hate it, but if it challenges audiences to discuss it and ideally never forget it, then it has done what it’s supposed to do. I’d like moviegoers to leave the theater believing that even when things seem clearly black and white, there are shades of gray.”  

“The Last” opens April 26 at the Laemmle Royal, 11523 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles; and the Town Center 5, 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino. Lipsky and Schull will participate in Q&A’s after the 4 p.m. and 7:10 p.m. screenings on April 26 at the Royal, and after the 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. screenings on April 27 at the Town Center 5.

Simi Horwitz is a New York-based feature writer and film reviewer.

Exclusive: ‘Fox & Friends Weekend’ Co-Host Pete Hegseth on ‘Battle in The Holy City’ Special

Photo courtesy of Fox News

Pete Hegseth is arguably best known as a co-host of “Fox & Friends Weekend,” which airs on Saturdays and Sundays from 3-7 a.m. But Hegseth has also been the host of his own program on Fox Nation entitled “Ace Of Spades: The Hunt For Saddam Hussein,” which has featured interviews with soldiers, military leaders and intelligence officers who tell the story of how American soldiers tracked down and captured former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Hegseth – the author of the highly-acclaimed 2016 Simon & Schuster title “In The Arena” – is also a U.S. Army veteran, holding two Bronze Stars and a Combat Infantryman’s Badge for his time in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Hegseth, a Princeton University graduate, is the host of Fox Nation’s new special “Battle In The Holy City.” Released on April 11, “Battle In The Holy City” saw Hegseth travel to Israel with rare access that places cameras have never gone before. He also interviewed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while in Israel, in addition to speaking with U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, Rabbi Ken Spiro and the City Of David Foundation’s Doron Spielman.

Highlights from my interview with Pete Hegseth are below.

Darren Paltrowitz: How did the opportunity to go to Israel for this special come about? Was it in the works for a long time? 

Pete Hegseth: Israel—and Jerusalem specifically—have become a very special place to me. After making multiple trips there in the past few years, it became clear that a larger story needed to be told. This is a passion project for me, and I was honored to undertake it.

DP: So you had been to Israel before filming this special? 

PH: Yes, multiple times. Five or six times in the past four to five years. 

DP: Was there a highlight for you as part of this trip? 

PH: Going to the Temple Mount — the site of the two previous Jewish Holy Temples. And overall, seeing the holiest sites in person with special access. There are so many dynamics in the Holy City, and we wanted to bring them to life.

Watch clips of Pete Hegseth here.

DP: Is there anything amazing about the trip that you didn’t get to include within the special itself? 

PH: This special is mostly about the old city of Jerusalem. There are so many other topics we could cover, and I hope to do more specials like this. Specifically, I would have like to have gone inside the Dome of the Rock; but as a non-Muslim, we were not permitted.  

DP: Having spent time with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu directly, is there anything you think people have wrong about him?

PH: He is a straight-forward guy, who carries himself with a great deal of gravitas. He wears the weight of Israel on his shoulders, and you can tell he loves his country.

DP: What else are you working on at the moment? 

PH: Hopefully more specials on the story of Israel and the many threats the Jewish people face in the region and around the world. From Judea and Samaria, to Gaza, to the Golan Heights, to the scourge of Holocaust denial, there is so much more to tell.

DP: When not busy with reporting, where does your free time usually go? 

PH: I don’t have much free time, but I like to spent it with family and playing sports with the kids. 

DP: Finally, Pete, any last words for the kids?

PH: Learn history! Learn about Western Civilization. Learn the Bible. Without understanding history, it’s easy to be deceived in the present. I think this documentary contributes to that ethos as well.

Bolsonaro: Comments on Forgiving Crimes of Holocaust Taken Out of Context

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, left, with Israeli Tourism Minister Yariv Levin and Yad Vashem Director of External and Governmental Affairs Yossi Gevir at Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem on April 2, 2019. (Itzik Harari/Yad Vashem)

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Brazil’s president said that his comments on forgiving the crimes of the Holocaust were taken out of context.

President Jair Bolsonaro’s clarification was published late Saturday night on the Facebook page of the Israeli ambassador to Brazil, Yossi Shelley, and were addressed to the people of Israel in Hebrew, Portuguese and English.

“I wrote in the guestbook of the Yad Vashem museum in Jerusalem: “Those who forget their past are doomed to not have a future” Therefore, any other interpretation is only in the interest of those who want to push me away from my Jewish friends,” Bolsonaro wrote in the post.

He continued: “Forgiveness is something personal, my speech was never meant to be used in a historical context, especially one where millions of innocent people were murdered in a cruel genocide.”

He reportedly did not repudiate his remarks in any official Brazilian forum.

Bolsonaro was slammed publically by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial for saying at a meeting late last week with Evangelical pastors in Rio de Janiero that: “We can forgive, but we cannot forget. Those who forget the past are condemned to not have a future,” he said, according to the New York Times. His comments drew applause from the pastors.

Bolsonaro, an ardently pro-Israel Christian, visited Israel two weeks ago, where he had a private tour of the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.

Following his visit to Yad Vashem, Bolsonaro said that Nazism was a leftist movement.

Anti-Vaccine Activists Use Holocaust-Era Yellow Star of David to Promote Their Cause

Anti-vaccination activists are using yellow stars on social media and at events. (ADL)

(JTA) — Anti-vaccination activists are using the yellow Star of David that Nazis forced Jews to wear during World War II to promote their cause.

Activists are using a star that has the words “No Vax” in Hebrew-stylized letters on social media, while others are wearing yellow stars at events, according to a Friday report by the Anti-Defamation League.

Del Bigtree, CEO of the anti-vaccination group ICAN, wore a yellow star last week at a rally in Austin, Texas, and activists in suburban New York’s Rockland County likened a ban on unvaccinated children in public spaces to combat a measles outbreak to Nazi treatment of Jews, The Washington Post reported.

The ADL slammed the comparisons.

“It is simply wrong to compare the plight of Jews during the Holocaust to that of anti-vaxxers,” Jonathan Greenblatt, the group’s national director, told the Post. “Groups advancing a political or social agenda should be able to assert their ideas without trivializing the memory of the 6 million Jews slaughtered in the Holocaust.”

The anti-vaccination movement has risen in popularity in recent years. Recent measles outbreaks have been traced back to Orthodox Jewish communities, where some parents are refusing to vaccinate their kids.

Finding a Younger Audience with ‘The Cat Who Lived With Anne Frank’

The Cat Who Lived with Anne Frank; Illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley. Courtesy of David Lee Miller and Steven Jay Rubin

Since it was first published in 1947, “The Diary of Anne Frank” has been adapted for film and stage, while the memoir itself has been republished and adapted with illustrations.

Seventy-two years after its first publication, David Lee Miller and Steven Jay Rubin decided to tell Anne’s story through a very different set of eyes: cat eyes. 

“The Cat Who Lived with Anne Frank” (Penguin Random House Publishing), a new children’s book out now, invites readers to meet Mouschi, the cat who lived in the annex with the Frank family. 

Since the Holocaust is an important subject to teach and the number of survivors is decreasing, Miller, 62, of Westlake Village, and Rubin, 67 of Los Angeles, said they felt compelled to reach and educate a younger audience through a sweet, curious and adventurous cat.

“We were really sensitive to the subject. In no way did we ever want to trivialize the Holocaust,” Miller told the Journal in a joint phone interview with Rubin. “But in this time of hate — we have preschoolers getting active shooter drills — we focused on keeping it historically accurate about a slice of Anne’s life from the point of view of the cat who actually lived in the annex.” 

Rubin said people have a hard time dealing with copious amounts of depressing news, so stories about the Holocaust can be difficult to digest. Anne’s story allows them to talk about intense subjects and reach young people at the same time. 

“Anne Frank’s story has always been a gentle inspirational lead into historical events,” he said. “She didn’t realize that she was reaching out to millions of people who could identify with a young person writing under those extreme conditions. … She’s always been kind of a gateway to history. That’s why she’s very still much in the news.”

Through Mouschi’s eyes, the reader experiences a dangerous world filled with “black spiders” (Nazi soldiers), yellow stars (Jewish people), angry dogs and a world of hate from an omnipotent source. 

“What did the cat think of this strange situation where people never go outside, they tiptoe around all day, they can finally talk at night?” Rubin asked after pondering the idea one day while rewatching the 1959 “Diary of Anne Frank” film. 

“Through Mouschi the cat’s eyes, the reader experiences a dangerous world filled with ‘black spiders’ (Nazi soldiers), yellow stars (Jewish people), angry dogs and a world of hate from an omnipotent source.

Miller and Rubin spent many months researching the Frank family and the events that led to their arrest. They visited Amsterdam and included details about other families that helped Jews escape. They utilized pages from Anne’s diary that incorporated Mouschi’s life and even discovered a rule where Jews couldn’t own pets, which made Mouschi’s presence more important. They also studied Miller’s cats for inspiration. 

Rubin added that there were many drafts of the story, and various “trial and errors” before they came to the conclusion that they didn’t have to include every detail about Anne’s life, since the story was about what Mouschi knew. 

“The last thing we wanted was the Nazis breaking into the attic at the end, capturing the family and sending them to a concentration camp,” Rubin said. 

Instead, they created a story around Anne’s dreams developing on paper and Mouschi being there through all of it, and that Anne is writing to the cat. The cat wonders if anyone will “hear my girl’s words.” 

Through Anne’s diary entries, we discover that Mouschi’s mouse-chasing noises risk their safety, his fleas affect the humans’ hygiene and his ability to come and go from the annex allows the reader to see what is happening in the outside world.

On his outdoor adventures, Mouschi witnesses Dutch resistance fighter Jannetje Johanna Schaft help rescue Jews from the Jewish Theater, and the Amsterdam zookeepers who were keeping Jews safe. 

Mouschi’s adventures; Illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley. Courtesy of David Lee Miller and Steven Jay Rubin

“In Mouschi’s travels, he could have easily found himself wandering by the Jewish Theater or he could have wandered by the zoo and seen the Jews hiding above the tiger cages,” Rubin said. 

Miller added, “We were always amazed by the powerful stories.” 

The book, filled with poetry, beautiful illustrations by Elizabeth Baddeley and dark themes with a hopeful twist, is already gaining traction, just two months after its release. Miller said it has reached the hands of elementary, middle and even high school students who have been moved by the story.

“It’s kind of for all ages, in a way,” Miller said. “When a book has huge amounts of imagination or is very poetic, it becomes a book for everyone.” 

In addition to the book, Miller and Ruben have adapted it into a screenplay and hope to create an animated feature titled “Mouschi.” 

Rubin said he was around 8 or 9 when he first learned about the Holocaust and remembers being taught if it were to happen again, it would happen in the United States. 

“Our book tells the story as a counterpoint to people who don’t know what the Holocaust is or people who are denying that it occurred,” he said. “It couldn’t be more relevant than ever with everything going on in the world right now.”

North Africa and the Holocaust

As I was working with the team creating the Dallas Holocaust Museum and Human Rights Center, we decided to tell the story of the Holocaust geographically rather than thematically and chronologically. After all, the fate of Jews varied country by country. German policy differed in various countries, in part depending on German attitudes toward the local population, German plans for the geographical area after their assumed conquest, and the attitudes of the local population toward their own Jews, whether they be citizens or not. 

Furthermore, the Holocaust happened at different times in different countries. For the Jews of Germany, Nazi policy evolved over six years (1933-1939) before World War II even began, and eight years before the Final Solution – the systematic annihilation of the Jews — became German state policy. In occupied Poland, ghettos preceded the murder of Jews and lasted for between two and four years. Elsewhere in Eastern Europe, ghettoization followed the massive massacre of Jews in what has become known as the Holocaust by bullets. There could be no doubt in these regions that the intent of the German occupation was the annihilation of the Jews — in Nazi-speak: extermination.

 In Macedonia, ghettoization was a matter of weeks, deportation a matter of days. Hungarian Jews were persecuted by the German-allied Hungarian government and were taken for slave labor but not murder until after the German invasion of March 1944. Ghettoization followed swiftly in April and early May and deportation began on May 15. By the first week of July 1944 the countryside was Judenrein, without Jews, and all that remained were the Jews of Budapest.

As we explored the Holocaust geographically, one of the problems we faced was how to describe the fate of the Jews of North Africa, who lived under French or Italian or even, during World War II, German occupation. Should we treat those countries independently of their European colonial rulers, or treat them as an offshoot of France and Italy, the dominant colonial rulers?

I wish I could say that we debated the issue philosophically. In the end it was merely determined by spatial considerations, and I shall leave it to future museum visitors to consider the wisdom of our choice. 

I read Aomar Boum’s and Sarah Abrevaya Stein’s book, “The  Holocaust and North Africa” — the result of a 2015 conference sponsored by UCLA and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum —with great interest and considerable gratitude, for it explores the fate of Jews in North Africa during World War II, when colonialism and the Holocaust met.

In each North African country, the fate of the Jews differed by the nature of colonial rule, the colonial power’s attitude toward collaborating with the Nazis on implementing the Final Solution, and the duration of German or allied and collaborationist colonial powers’ control in these lands. As Christians persecuted Jews in countries with an overwhelmingly Muslim-majority population, the attitude of the Muslim population, and most especially its leaders, impacted the fate of the Jews. What also determined Jews’ fate was how swiftly liberating Western allied powers came to control these countries, replaced colonial leadership and reversed anti-Jewish policies imposed by the colonial powers allied with or occupied by Germany.

“Any consideration of the Holocaust in North Africa operates under a handicap… The accepted narrative is that the Holocaust was only a European event.

Any consideration of the Holocaust in North Africa operates under a handicap, as many of the authors remind us repeatedly. The accepted narrative is that the Holocaust was only a European event. North Africa is regarded as a peripheral issue at best, a footnote if considered at all. And while a variety of camps were in North Africa, there were no death camps. Furthermore, with the post-colonial collapse of these Jewish communities by migration to Israel, France or North America, their experience during World War II often takes a back seat toward their more recent trauma, and their sense of loss is the loss of their homes and the demise of their communities that took place in the 1950s and ’60s. The events of the 1940s fade into oblivion. 

There was never any doubt that Sephardim were also victims of the Holocaust. All scholars must consider the European dimensions of the fate of Sephardic Jews in Greece — the great Jewish community of Salonika was deported in 1943 — and in the Balkans, where the Jews expelled from Spain found a haven, but most have avoided North Africa as it does not fit into the Europe-centered narrative. This book is an overdue and most necessary offering that should force a reconsideration of the issue. 

The role of the Holocaust in Israeli national identity further complicates the matter, as the greater the concern with the Holocaust, the more Mizrahim in Israel feel neglected and disregarded. There may also be a sense of “Holocaust envy.” How can their experience during the Holocaust or in exile from their homeland compare as a catastrophe? And there certainly were significant omissions in terms of compensation, reparations and the recovery of property.

“The Holocaust and North Africa” is a carefully chosen title. Notice that it is not entitled “The Holocaust in North Africa.” The term Holocaust evokes ghettos and death camps and more recently murder by bullets, and little of this occurred in North Africa. The book could have also been titled “Where Colonialism and Holocaust Meet” or “Where Colonialism and Fascism Come Together.”

The book is divided into four parts. The first considers the meeting together of colonialism and fascism in consideration of the French colonies of Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, and the Italian colony of Libya, which for a time was occupied by Germany. Ironically, Jews fared better under French colonial rule than they did in Vichy France and quasi-independent but strongly collaborationist France; and certainly far better than they did in German-occupied France, where Jews had greater rights before the German invasion. Colonialist Italian rulers were more lax in enforcing anti-Jewish legislation than their counterparts in Italy, and in both Italy and Libya conditions deteriorated dramatically after the Germans invaded Northern Italy and reinstated Mussolini. 

The second part of the book deals with diverse experiences of different North African Jewish populations. Occupation, internment and race laws differed country by country, often year by year, and even within some countries by regions, whether rural or urban.

The third part considers the narratives of this period of time, the joining of memory of the past with contemporary efforts to find a useful history; and the final part deals with the efforts, mostly by Holocaust historians, to find a place with the greater narrative for the experience of North African Jews.

One wonders how many more narratives remain to be discovered and how deeply historians of this generation and the next will probe this region. One also wonders whether fictional accounts of the time will be written, and whether this material, mostly in French, will be translated into English or Hebrew. The admirable work of the Yitzhak Ben Zvi Institute, dedicated to the history of Sephardic Jewry, simply cannot compete with the intellectual and economic powerhouse of Yad Vashem.

Conferences vary in the quality of presentations and their written record is usually uneven. Most often, their impact is ephemeral. Not so the conference that resulted in this book. The chapters offer a consistency of quality and perspective, and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Future historians will have to consider the fate of North African Jewry, country by country, region by region. This reviewer hopes that future historians do not end their research and their writings at the borders of Europe. “The Holocaust and North Africa” proves that there is much to be learned.

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

Harrowing ‘Sobibor’ Dramatizes Death Camp Escape

Scene from “Sobibor” Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films

On Oct.14, 1943, 300 prisoners escaped from the Sobibor death camp in Poland, killing a dozen Nazi SS officers in the process. The Russian-made Holocaust drama “Sobibor” dramatizes the desperate escape plot while depicting the hellish existence those not immediately sent to the gas chambers endured.

Often difficult to watch, the film unflinchingly shows Nazi acts of sadism-for-sport. But its message about hope and humanity amid the darkness is clear.

In an e-mail interview, director Konstantin Khabenskiy, who also stars as Russian-Jewish revolt leader Alexander ‘Sasha’ Pechersky, said of his directorial debut, “It was important for me to understand and show how a person is changing in these circumstances, in a death camp. How do they try to remain themselves, not lose their reason, the ability to resist?” 

He added that this applied to the Nazis, too. “I tried to understand them as much as possible. Not to justify, of course, but to understand. I wanted to make a film where the death camp would be the main character, [where] people exist as if in its shadow. The legendary uprising and its preparation are not so important. It’s more important to show the camp and the people in it.”

Although Pechersky was a real person, little is known about some of the other men behind the uprising. “For example, Boris Tsibulsky, Pechersky’s closest ally,” Khabenskiy said. “How to accurately reproduce his image on the screen, if there are no documents about him, only two paragraphs in Pechersky’s memoirs?” For Khabenskiy, it was more important to get the historical details right and “show how people live and act in such circumstances.” 

Khabenskiy had advisers from the Alexander Pechersky Foundation vetting everything about Sobibor, the uprising and prisoners’ fates, and he aimed for accuracy in the scenery, weapons, transportation and uniforms, down to the buttons. 

Khabenskiy initially turned down the offer to become involved in the film, but reading Pechersky’s memoirs and other research materials changed his mind. “It took probably about two years before I realized that this story could be interesting for me as an actor and even some more time until I agreed to become a director,” he said.

“It was important for me to understand and show how a person is changing in these circumstances, in a death camp. How do they try to remain themselves, not lose their reason, the ability to resist?” 

— Konstantin Khabenskiy

But wearing both hats proved to be a physical and logistical challenge. “You have to run all the time from the shooting area to the camera and back,” he said. “It is not easy not to be able to look at yourself from the outside, to appreciate the scene in which you participate.” 

“[Directing] is a completely different profession,” he said. “I talked to many outstanding directors and I know that they look at everything that happens on the set with different eyes. The main challenge was to understand for myself if I could embody what I had learned from them in my own film.”

Although “Sobibor” graphically depicts Nazi brutality, the director “tried to remove excess cruelty from the screen. We have not shown one-fifth of what the prisoners of Sobibor write about in their memoirs.” 

Although the Sobibor escape story has been the subject of books, documentaries and the 1987 TV movie “Escape From Sobibor,” it is not widely known. 

“It seems to me that this is how human consciousness works,” Khabenskiy said. “It is convenient for people to imagine one thing instead of a multitude: Anne Frank as a representative of the victims of the Holocaust, Elie Wiesel as a representative of the survivors, Raoul Wallenberg and Oskar Schindler as representatives of the Righteous Among the Nations. The same thing happened with the camps. Everyone heard about Auschwitz and Dachau and much less is known about the rest, although many of those camps are much higher than Dachau in the number of victims.”

An estimated 250,000 Jews were murdered at Sobibor. Of the prisoners involved in the revolt, most were captured or killed. Only 53 survived the war, including Pechersky.

Khabenskiy admitted that his apprehensions about making the film lingered after he finished it, despite the fact that it was a hit in Russia and was its Oscar entry this year. 

“But I know one thing. I did my best,” he said. “If something did not work out, it is not because I didn’t try. We had dozens of options for editing the film, and until the last moment we continued to work on it. If the premiere were a little later, perhaps the final version of the film would have been a little different.”

He’s not eager to try directing again any time soon. “My main profession is [as a] theater and film actor,” Khabenskiy, who is a major star in Russia, said. “I learned that this is what I can do best. I do not think that I will soon try to repeat the experience of filmmaking.”

On the eve of “Sobibor’s” release in the U.S., “I would like the audience to leave the cinema hall emotionally enriched,” he said. “This is not about any particular knowledge or message, but about a certain change in the emotional structure.”

“Sobibor” opens March 29 at Laemmle’s Music Hall and is available via Video on Demand.

Hakeem Jeffries: Majority of House Caucus Democrats Are Pro-Israel

Congressman Hakeem Jeffries

WASHINGTON D.C.: “I represent the ninth most African American district in the country [Brooklyn and Queens] and the 14th most Jewish.”

This was just one of the statements made by House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Conference (AIPAC), that received raucous cheers and applause during a packed to the gills breakout session, filled with diverse attendees.

Indeed, moderator Labriah Lee, AIPAC’s director of outreach and engagement, made a point of stating, “I think it’s incredible to see diversity here across racial lines, political lines, across gender lines.”

In the conversation with Jeffries, which covered everything from his rising star in the Democratic party, to his work on criminal justice reform and his support for Israel, Hakeem said he believed that electorally, “the heart and soul of the Democratic base are middle-aged African American, largely church-going women who have powered elections all across the country including the election twice of President Barack Obama.”

Hakeem said this was important to note because, “I believe that we are the most authentic representatives of the American people and the House of course is the institution that was designed to represent the current people and the current mood and current passion.”

Of his unwavering support for Israel he said having been to Israel three times now (the first in 2008, then again as freshman congress person and finally last year with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff), on his first two visits he went to Yad Vashem.

“Just in terms of the historic tragedy that the Holocaust represented, just to be able to experience it with both Jewish and non-Jewish colleagues in a meaningful way,” helped him put into context the district he represents, he said.

“I represent people who were directly victimized and their families adversely impacted by the Holocaust. I talk often about the fact that I serve more Russian speaking Jewish immigrants from the Former Soviet Union than any other congressman in the country. I mean, Hakeem Jeffries, who knew?”

Understanding what happened in the Holocaust, he said, “when you anchor that against that outrageous crime against humanity in the annals of human history, you understand the importance to strongly stand by Israel and its right to exist as a homeland for the Jewish people as a Jewish and a democratic state.”

Jeffries also showed off his understanding of the geopolitical situation on the ground in the Middle East and the threats Israel faces. “Being physically on the ground and having the opportunity to interact with a wide variety of stakeholders [from] defense, the IDF, the intelligence community professors and others had a meaningful impact on me,” he said. He added that it’s why he is urging all the new congress members to take the congressional trip to Israel this August.

Congressman Hakeem Jeffries in conversation with AIPAC Outreach Director Labriah Lee

“I say often, when you step back and see Hamas in Gaza and the dangerous situation including elements of Al Qaeda in the south, in the Sinai, Hezbollah in the North, the chaos in Syria including Russia and other [adversarial] entities including ISIS as well as Iran with nuclear aspirations in that region — it’s clear Israel lives in a tough neighborhood.”

Drawing on his own roots, Jeffries said, “As someone who came of age in central Brooklyn in the late 80s and early 90s, I know from tough neighborhoods. I’ve learned from my own experiences that when you live in a tough neighborhood, at the end of the day the only thing that you can guarantee people respect is strength, which is why I’m committed to [Israel].”

Asked about the “current debate” around Democrats in the House — a veiled reference to the controversy surrounding Ilhan Omar’s (D-Minn) comments about Israel, Jews and AIPAC, Jeffries said, “The overwhelming majority of the House Democratic Caucus is strongly pro Israel, has been strongly been pro-Israel and will remain strongly pro-Israel.”

He added, “I’m committed as are many of my colleagues to [Israel] because of the shared democratic values of our two countries and the shared strategic interests of our two countries in an important region of the world.”


YULA, DLP, ADL and Mensch Foundation Honors

Mensch International Foundation Founder Steve Geiger (right) honored conductor Zubin Mehta with the Mensch Award at Mehta’s Los Angeles home. Photo courtesy of of Steve Geiger

The Mensch Foundation, in a ceremony on March 14 at Temple of the Arts in Beverly Hills, honored Hungarian Holocaust survivor Bill Harvey, who was a hairstylist to Hollywood stars, including actress Judy Garland; renowned Indian musical conductor Zubin Mehta, director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra; and the late Leon Bass, an African-American soldier in World War II who encountered the survivors of Buchenwald while serving in a segregated unit; and refugee-aid organization HIAS.

The Shabbat program also paid tribute to the nearly 600,000 Hungarian Jews killed during the Holocaust and to the memory of the late Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, who the Nazis deported from Hungary in 1944. (March 19 marked 75 years since German forces occupied Hungary. Two months after the occupation, in May 1944, the Germans ordered the deportation of the country’s Jews, most of whom were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau.)

During the event, Mensch Foundation Founder Steve Geiger discussed the state of Hungarian Jewry.

Temple of the Arts Rabbi David Baron led Shabbat services featuring the 40-voice Spirit of David Black Gospel Choir. 

Established in 2002, the Mensch Foundation aims to stamp out stereotyping and anti-Semitic and racist thinking. The nonprofit organization also serves Holocaust survivors in need.

From left: David Labkovski Project honoree Connie Marco; David Labkovski Project Executive Director Leora Raikin and David Labkovski Project Founding Board Member Lisa Lainer-Fagan. Photo courtesy of Leora Raikin

The third annual scholars luncheon for the David Labkovski Project (DLP) was held at the Marriot Hotel in Sherman Oaks on Feb. 24.

Drawing 200 guests, the gathering honored Connie Marco, a daughter of Holocaust survivors and founding member of the DLP, with the Legacy of Hope Award for her commitment and dedication to Holocaust education.

DLP Founder and Executive Director Leora Raikin provided an overview of the milestones achieved by the DLP during this past year, including the teaching and exhibiting of the DLP at West Point Military Academy.

Keynote speaker Marc Milstein lectured about the impact of the Holocaust and trauma on genes.

There was also a silent auction with hundreds of donated items.

The luncheon also showcased a DLP-produced virtual reality experience, “Step into the Past — Leap into the Future,” which allowed guests to travel back in time and explore Jewish cultural life in Vilnius, Lithuania, before the Holocaust.

The mission of the DLP is to educate people about the Holocaust through the art of Lithuanian-Israeli artist David Labkovski, who lived from 1906–1991.

YULA High School 2019 honorees Sheryl and Mark Hyman and their four sons at the YULA 2019 trustees event. Photo courtesy of YULA High School

YULA High Schools’ 2019 Trustees Event honored husband-and-wife philanthropists Sheryl Neuman and Mark Hyman for their dedication to
supporting the Jewish community. The orthodox high schools’ annual event also recognized Rabbi Uriel Hazan, from the YULA class of 2000, with the Young
Leadership Award.

Held on March 5 at YULA’s Nagel Family Campus, the evening opened with the class of 2019’s Batya Tropper and Ari Willner welcoming the YULA trustees and alumni.

YULA Girls High School Head of School Rabbi Joshua Spodek presented the
Young Leadership Award to Hazan.

YULA Boys High School Head of School Rabbi Arye Sufrin spoke about YULA’s mission, the honorees’ commitment to Jewish education and their support for YULA. He presented the Trustee Honoree award to Neuman and Hyman, who raffled a free week in their apartment in Israel. The winners were Dorit and Alan Teichman.

The evening concluded with author and radio host Michael Medved, Rabbi Hanoch Teller and Jewish Journal Publisher and Editor-in-Chief David Suissa giving guests copies of their books.

From left: Howard and Stephanie Sherwood, ADL Regional Director Amanda Susskind, LAPD LGBTQ Liaison Julianne Sohn, ADL Regional Board Chair Scott Harris and Elaine and Larry Sherwood. Photo courtesy of the ADL.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), at a luncheon ceremony on March 12 at the Skirball Cultural Center, honored Southern California law enforcement personnel with its Helene and Joseph Sherwood Prize for Combating Hate. The award recognizes those who went above and beyond their basic job descriptions to keep their communities safe.

This year, the ADL’s individual honoree was Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) LGBTQ Liaison Officer Julianne Sohn. Sohn worked on a daily basis to bring change, awareness and acceptance by empowering the voices of the LGBTQ community, both from the community at large and from within police culture. 

Sohn thanked the ADL and the Sherwood family for their work in ensuring inclusivity and safety in the community and the “LGBTQ community in L.A., the ones who show up, do the work, and show us how to lead the way.”

Group honorees included the Inter-Agency House of Worship Task Force, a partnership of the LAPD, the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD), the Pasadena Fire Department and the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office for bringing to justice the arsonist who intentionally desecrated houses of worship in Los Angeles and Pasadena.

“Arson destroys much more than the building itself. It can devastate a neighborhood and a community that depends on the church for support and as a place to worship their faith,” LAFD Chief Mike Castillo said.

The San Luis Obispo Police Depart-ment (SLOPD) received the award for launching Police And Community Toge-ther, comprised of community members and advocates that partnered with
SLOPD to affect positive social change through dialogue.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department and Orange County District Attorney’s Office also received an award for Operation Rounding Third, a 20-month-long criminal investigation into the activities of the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang and its subordinate white racist gangs on the streets and in the jail system of Orange County.

— Erin Ben-Moche, Staff Writer

ADL: Rep. Clyburn ‘Should Apologize and Retract’ Holocaust Comments

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) called on House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) to “apologize and retract” his recent comments about Holocaust survivors and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.)

Clyburn told The Hill on March 7 that Omar’s experience in fleeing violence from Somalia “is much more empirical — and powerful — than that of people who are generations removed from the Holocaust. There are people who tell me, ‘Well, my parents are Holocaust survivors.’ ‘My parents did this,’” Clyburn said. “It’s more personal with her. I’ve talked to her, and I can tell you she is living through a lot of pain.”

The ADL tweeted in response, “It’s offensive to diminish the suffering of survivors & the continuing pain of Jews today. We respect @WhipClyburn’s long record of public service, but he should apologize & retract.”

Simon Wiesenthal Center Founder and Dean Rabbi Marvin Hier told the Journal in a phone interview that Clyburn’s comments were “terrible. The fact that [the Holocaust] may now be about our grandparents and about our great-grandparents, it doesn’t matter,” Hier said. “It’s as if it occurred today. It was that kind of a wake-up call for world Jewry.”

American Jewish Committee Los Angeles  Assistant Director for Policy and Communications Siamak Kordestani  said in a statement sent to the Journal, “There have been enormous numbers of Jewish refugees since the Holocaust, even in modern times. In the late [19]40s and 50s, around 800,000 Jews from Muslim countries had to flee because of lethal anti-Semitism, and their property was expropriated. Around the time I was born in Iran in the 1980s, many Jews were fleeing the country because of war, political turmoil and anti-Semitism.”

Clyburn posted on Twitter: “We can be no more or any less than what those experiences allow us to be. To recognize and honor the experiences of one member of our Caucus does not mean that we ignore or dishonor the experiences of another.”

Director Sought to Put Hope in ‘Transit’

Franz Rogoski and Paula Beer in “Transit.” Photo courtesy of Schramm Film

Director Christian Petzold’s movie “Transit” is set in a timeless France overflowing with refugees from various countries who, while flanked by advancing military forces, are attempting to flee the country.

Although the film evokes the Holocaust — the occupying army is from Germany, and there are references to “the camps” — we never hear the word “Nazis” or see swastikas, and only one of the many ambiguous characters admits to being Jewish. We’re told that some of the refugees are intellectuals and writers, but we’re left to guess why they are attempting to take flight. 

That said, the setting clearly is not in the 1942 timeframe depicted in Anna Seghers’ 1944 novel of the same name, which inspired the film. The story appears to take place in the present, but it’s devoid of computers and cellphones.

The German-born Petzold, 58, told the Journal in a telephone interview that he was deliberately vague about the film’s era, as he tried to create a “conversation between a historic time and the contemporary world.”

“I’m not saying that all refugees are the same,” Petzold said. “They’re totally different. In fact, I don’t really know very much about today’s refugees. I know much more about the refugees fleeing in 1942 because of the literature that I’ve read and because my own family talked about them. Still, refugees face many of the same responses from countries across the world that say, ‘We don’t need you. We don’t want you.’ Refugees live in camps or are put in prisons.”

Petzold said he found it ironic that today’s enlightened Germany is seeing an upswing in anti-Semitism. He attributed the increased expressions of bigotry to the rise of global capitalism, whose critics channel their hate and anger into virulent anti-Semitism. In times of crisis, he said, people in power will always use Jews as targets for their aggression.

Winnowing the 300-page novel into the screenplay was a complicated feat, Petzold said. One challenge was that, while the first half of the novel was set in Paris, Petzold wanted to focus on the location of the book’s latter half, Marseille, among people in transit who need to reinvent themselves as a survival tactic.

“All refugees try to be storytellers like Primo Levi,” Petzold said, referring to the Italian Jewish chemist, writer and Holocaust survivor who wrote several books, including his account of being a prisoner in “Survival in Auschwitz.” “They try to write something down that they can’t write down. I try to show people who find new identities as a lover, father or friend.”

To the extent that the characters succeed, there’s hope. Petzold believes the film concludes on an affirmative note. 

“I love it when characters at the end of the film don’t need me — an audience member — anymore,” Petzold said. “That’s a happy ending. And as the credits roll we hear the [band] Talking Heads, singing [“Road to Nowhere,” with the lyrics, “Well we know where we’re going, but we don’t know where we’ve been”]. It makes me feel that for the first time in my life I’m in a good church whose doors are open. You have a song in your head. You feel you can go outside with a tune.”

Simi Horwitz is an award-winning writer based in New York. 

Fighting to Retrieve a Nazi-Looted Painting

The Pissarro hanging in Lilly’s parlor in Germany in the 1920s, where Claude Cassirer played as a child. Inset: Pissaro’s 1897 painting, “Rue Saint-Honore in the Afternoon, Effect of Rain.” Courtesy of Cassirer family

For nearly two decades, a San Diego-based family has been trying to retrieve a valuable painting relinquished under duress to the Nazis during the Holocaust. 

The painting, currently valued at more than $30 million, hangs in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid, but in December 2018, an attorney representing the family argued in a Los Angeles court that the museum did not acquire the painting in good faith. 

The plaintiff is 64-year-old David Cassirer, the great-grandson of the late Lilly Cassirer, a German Jew who owned the Camille Pissarro impressionist masterpiece “Rue Saint-Honore in the Afternoon, Effect of Rain.” 

Pisarro, whose full name was Jacob Abraham Camille Pissarro, was a Jewish artist. Created in 1897 and depicting a Paris street scene on a rainy day, Lilly surrendered the painting to the Nazis in exchange for exit visas for herself and her husband, Otto, in 1939.

According to court documents, the painting was smuggled out of Germany to the United States in 1951. Lilly filed a restitution claim for the painting with the German government in the 1950s and in 1958 was awarded a $13,000 settlement. 

Baron Has-Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, a German industrialist whose family allegedly had close ties to Hitler, purchased the painting from a New York gallery in 1976. In 1988, he donated the painting, along with his collection, to the Spanish government, which formed the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection Foundation to display the works.

Courtesy of Cassirer family

Lilly’s descendants thought the painting had been destroyed until a family friend saw it in the museum’s catalog in 1999. 

David Cassirer’s father, Claude, was the original plaintiff in the case. When Claude died in 2010, David became the plaintiff. Cassirer’s claim was dismissed in  2015, but in 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled Cassirer could move forward with his suit against the museum.

During the December hearing, Thaddeus Stauber, representing the museum, did not dispute that Lilly Cassirer owned the painting, or that the Nazis looted the piece. Instead, he argued neither Thyssen-Bornemisza nor the museum were aware they were purchasing Nazi-looted artwork. 

Cassirer’s attorney, David Boies, argued Thyssen-Bornemisza did know, stating that as a serious art collector, Thyssen-Bornemisza previously had purchased paintings from the famous Cassirer gallery in Berlin, which is where the Pissarro hung before Lilly inherited it from her first husband. 

Since the gallery was owned by Jews, Boies argued, Thyssen-Bornemisza likely would have known the Pissarro belonged to Jews. In addition, court documents claim that ripped labels on the back of the painting are evidence that whoever took ownership of the painting after 1939 attempted to conceal that it had been looted.

A ruling on the case is expected this spring.

Two Nice Jewish Boys: Episode 126 – Grandson of a Nazi who Volunteers with Holocaust Survivors

Israel and Germany’s relationship has known ups and downs over the years. When Israel was established, in 1948, it upheld a policy of enforcing a complete and total boycott on Germany. Israelis swore never to buy a Volkswagen car, never own a Bosch refrigerator, and never to accept a dime of aid from the state that inherited Germany from the Third Reich. But circumstances brought West Germany and Israel closer together during the 1950’s, as Germany needed Israel’s forgiveness for global legitimacy, and Israel needed Germany’s financial aid to avoid bankruptcy. A decade later, total clemency was afforded to the Germans by Israel, embassies were opened and diplomatic relations grew deeper and deeper. To this day, Germany claims to have a special relationship with Israel, and its obligations to Israel’s future and security are constantly reaffirmed, with words at least.

And indeed, in recent years Israelis travel in huge numbers to Germany. Many of them stay and dwell in Berlin, once the city of Hitler, and now a flourishing and vibrant world cultural center. But whereas young Israelis fascination with Berlin has been discussed time and time again, a more overseen element of the relationship remains undisclosed – the attraction of young Germans to Israel.

Alex Deize is a German born Christian. He’s been living here in Israel for some time now, in the northern city of Tiberias. But the story here is what led Alex to Israel – a shocking discovery about his family’s past and the path to God.

We’re extremely thrilled to have Alex here with us today.

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Endurance of ‘Holocaust’ and ‘Schindler’s List’

Photo from Universal Studios.

Two anniversaries this spring deserve recognition as turning points in bringing the then largely ignored horror of the Holocaust home to the post-World War II generation, thanks to the enormous impact of television and movies.

In 1979, the miniseries “Holocaust” had viewers in Europe glued to their TVs, and on March 3, 1994, Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List” opened in Berlin.

During that decade and a half, I went on a number of press trips to Germany at the invitation of the Federal Republic of Germany and the municipality of Berlin. I planned to do a series of interviews with the younger generation on the current art and theater scene and query the older generation on the fortunes of my favorite soccer teams from my own childhood in the German capital. But within a few minutes of starting the interviews, my interlocutors invariably turned the conversation to the Holocaust. Older interviewees attributed their awakening to watching the four-part “Holocaust” miniseries, starring Meryl Streep and James Woods, which had debuted in the United States on NBC in 1978. It traced the fates of two Berlin families, one Jewish and the other Christian.

Thirty-six percent of all Germans with TV sets watched the miniseries, and Der Spiegel, Germany’s equivalent of Time magazine, could barely contain its enthusiasm. “The [series] has managed to do what hundreds of books, plays, films and television broadcasts, thousands of documents and all concentration camp trials in three decades of post-war history failed to do — inform Germans about the crimes committed against the Jews in their name in such a way that millions were shaken,” its reviewer wrote.

That same year, the German parliament eliminated the statute of limitations, which had set a cutoff date for the prosecution of war crimes committed by German citizens.

“We don’t know what obstacles the producers of ‘Holocaust’ encountered, but it took Hollywood’s self-described ‘900-pound gorilla’ to put ‘Schindler’s List’ on movie screens.”

Fifteen years later, when “Schindler’s List” opened, German media competed in lauding the film based on the story of the “good German,” businessman Oskar Schindler, who did what most Germans could not or would not do to save Jews from Nazi extermination.

In an unusual front-page editorial, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Germany’s equivalent to The New York Times, noted, “All indications are that Spielberg’s film will move and excite the country. Everyone should see this film.” The Washington Post correspondent in Berlin credited the film with the “reopening of a national debate about guilt, courage and the unresolved mysteries of mass murder.”

We don’t know what obstacles the producers of “Holocaust” encountered in selling their project to NBC, but it took Hollywood’s self-described “900-pound gorilla” to put “Schindler’s List” on movie screens.

When he first outlined his vision to make an R-rated, three-hours-plus film in black and white without big stars, Spielberg said his bosses at Universal Pictures suggested if he felt the need to commemorate the Holocaust, he should make a generous donation to a museum but spare the studio the humiliation — and financial loss — of making a movie no one would watch. Spielberg said he agreed that the project would be a box-office flop, but he felt he had to go ahead and make it anyway.

So much for Hollywood prognostications. “Schindler’s List” was made with a $22 million budget. Its gross earnings, in the U.S. alone, came to almost $97 million.  It also brought Spielberg, after 17 films, his first Oscars, for best director and best picture.  

Last fall, Spielberg re-released the film on its 25th anniversary. The Forward stated that Spielberg decided to re-release the film based on his “perception of a renewed cycle of hate.” His view is buttressed by global reports of rising anti-Semitism, proving once again that in every generation, the battle against “the oldest hate” must be fought anew.