June 26, 2019

New Israeli Restaurant Seeks Diverse Diners

Mamilla — a new kosher meat restaurant in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood serving high-end Mediterranean cuisine — held a soft opening on May 28, drawing close to 100 people.

Located on the corner of West Pico Boulevard and Bedford Street, Mamilla replaces the modern-American kosher sports bar Osher Bar & Grill, which lasted less than a year. The co-owner of both restaurants, Joseph Kamelgard, is the same, but that’s where the similarities end. 

“Conceptually, in order for a restaurant to succeed, especially a kosher restaurant, it has to appeal to a broader audience,” Kamelgard told the Journal. “Although we did get a lot of customers [to Osher] who were not Jewish or didn’t keep kosher, the volume wasn’t really there to support the restaurant.” 

For Mamilla, Kamelgard formed a partnership with Israeli brothers Yosef and Oren Ben Elisha, who moved to Los Angeles 15 years ago and currently own The Boulevard in Encino, an event venue for private parties. “It’s very important to us that the customer is always going to smile, always going to feel comfortable, always going to get the service and aid they expect from us,” Yosef told the Journal. “We want to bring what we brought to the Valley at The Boulevard to the city [at Mamilla].” 

“We decided this might be a good partnership — to use what [the Ben Elisha brothers] know, and their experience combined with my location and tapping into the Jewish community on this side of town, but also the greater Israeli community,” Kamelgard said.

Kamelgard added he envisions Mamilla providing customers with an Israeli experience that “makes them feel nostalgic and reminds them of being back in Israel at a restaurant. We chose the name Mamilla because that’s a neighborhood in Jerusalem,” he said. “They have an upscale mall … the Mamilla mall. By giving it a name that’s recognizable to Israelis in particular, [it gives] them … an idea of what their expectations are.”  

The owners also hired an Israeli interior designer, Sally Chaprak, to reflect modern designs of restaurants in Israel. The blue velvet couches and lounge chairs provide a relaxed atmosphere, and the full bar gives off a nightclub feel. 

“[I] think that with all the older restaurants here on Pico, this is a very young vibe.” — guest Ariel 

“The Israeli clientele tend to come out … at later hours, so it’s important for us to be able to accommodate that,” Kamelgard said. “We want it to be a hangout place.”

An Israeli-born guest named Ariel was impressed. “[I] love the urban vibe and the music and the fact that you have the different kind of seating,” he told the Journal at the opening. “[I] think that with all the older restaurants here on Pico, this is a very young vibe.” 

“Right when you walk in, you feel swankier,” said Darren Melamed, another guest. “The decor is very contemporary. It definitely feels upscale.”

At the soft opening, guests were served complimentary appetizers, including tuna tartare on fried pita chips and homemade bread with three side dips: beet tahini, olive oil and a garlic paste. Other starters on the menu include beef-filled Moroccan cigars, which melt in your mouth, with a side of pink tahini, tomato salad with a fresh mint taste that comes with hummus and pita chips, and fish shawarma with vegetables and eggplant puree. For the main course, guests could choose from fish, duck, or steak. The dishes are small sharing plates, each presented beautifully. The pareve desserts include three flavors of sorbet (coconut-cilantro-lime, chili-mango and strawberry-basil), halva chocolate mousse, a traditional Israeli dessert pudding called Malabi, and more. 

“I like the fish shawarma,” a guest named Jackson said. “It has unique texture; it’s complex and yet it’s straightforward — you know what you’re getting.” He also praised the ambiance. “It’s a very good vibe, it’s very hip,” he said. “I see an establishment like Mamilla [taking] this community to the next level.”

Mamilla is OK Kosher certified and officially opened to the public on May 30.

Melissa Simon is a senior studying journalism at University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Jewish Journal summer intern. 

American Jewish Voters Are Overlooking Israel

Every grade school student learns in social studies class that democracy is based on the concept of majority rule. But as we get older, we realize that it is actually a system of minority rule with majority acquiescence. To put it another way, small numbers of true believers who care passionately about an issue can almost always prevail over a larger group with greater numbers but less commitment. 

This is a concept that descendants of Joshua, David and Judah Maccabee should understand with little additional explanation. The more we care about something — a cause, a concept or a country — the more likely we are to achieve our goals. But the converse is true as well.

Which is why a recent poll from the Jewish Electorate Institute is so disconcerting. When 1,000 Jewish American voters were asked to prioritize 16 policy issues as to their importance in the 2020 elections, a candidate’s stance on Israel ranked dead last. While most American Jews still would classify themselves as pro-Israel, the safety and security of the Jewish homeland scarcely caused a ripple in the collective political consciousness of our community. 

Dead last. It seems that the Diaspora is complete — not just geographically but psychologically.

Jewish voters’ disdain for President Donald Trump and discomfort with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are contributing factors to the diminished import of Israel to their votes. It has become easier for many American Jews to simply deprioritize the issue to avoid sorting through their complicated feelings and conflicting cultural, historical and political loyalties. 

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti recently demonstrated the difficulties that emerge when attempting to articulate a pro-Israel anti-Trump point of view. Garcetti’s careful but largely futile efforts to explain that wanting the U.S. Embassy to be in Jerusalem on one hand and opposing the manner in which Trump accomplished that goal on the other were perfectly logical. But the criticism he took from true believers on both sides of the debate is an excellent example of how murky the waters have become for American Jews who would like to continue their support for Israel without lining up next to the president. 

For many years now, Jewish voters have paid more attention to domestic policy rather than issues related to Israel. Some of this is based on the belief that most (but not all) candidates in both major parties can be counted on to support Israel’s needs when necessary. But much is also based on the growing cultural divide between American and Israeli Jews, as evidenced by controversies in recent years regarding conversions of the non-Orthodox, the role of female rabbis and regulations for prayer at the Western Wall.

Of greater concern is the possibility that the diminished interest in Israel among Jewish voters here is simply the passage of time. The existential threat to Jews that led to the creation of Israel seems less real to many whose experience with anti-Semitism is limited to news reports and history books. So it’s not surprising that the attitudes of American Jews are much different than our Israeli counterparts when it comes to issues of safety and security.

For the same reason, it’s equally unsurprising that the most dauntless pro-Israel voices among American Jews tend to come from the Persian Jewish community. The atrocities that forced so many Jews from Iran are 30 years more recent — and one generation less removed — and so the horrors seem more real. If the American Jewish community is going to reassert ourselves more forcefully on behalf of Israel, I suspect that effort will be led by Sephardic Jews.

Finally, it’s worth noting that America’s most virulent opponents of Israel do not share our lack of focus or motivation. While public opinion polls show that most American voters consider themselves to be supporters of Israel, our adversaries are growing both in numbers and intensity. An increasingly diffident American Jewish community will face much more difficult challenges — and threats — in the years ahead unless we regain that lost commitment.

Dan Schnur teaches political communications and leadership at USC, UC Berkeley and Pepperdine. He is the founder of the USC-L.A. Times statewide political survey and a board member of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust.

Image of the Week: Fires

An Israeli firefighter battles flames in the area of Tarum, near Jerusalem, during the recent fires that raged throughout Israel.

Credit: Jerusalem Fire and Rescue

Jerusalem: The Beating Heart of Jewish History


If you do a Google search on any Jewish topic, you will almost certainly be directed to the site myjewishlearning.com.

This website is one of the several media outlets that form 70 Faces Media, “the largest nonprofit, nondenominational Jewish media organization in North America,” which is funded by a range of familiar Jewish philanthropic names — among others, the Samuel Bronfman Foundation, the William Davidson Foundation and the UJA-Federation of New York.

According to the “About Us” page, myjewishlearning.com “is all about empowering Jewish discovery for anyone interested in learning more, [offering] thousands of articles, videos and other resources to help you navigate all aspects of Judaism and Jewish life.” 

This website is certainly one of the internet’s most prominent storefronts for Judaism and the Jewish world, which makes the assertions in its article on Yom Yerushalayim startling beyond belief: 

“Unlike Yom Ha’atzmaut — which is a day to celebrate the existence and successes of the modern Jewish state [of Israel] — Yom Yerushalayim can make some politically liberal Jews outside of Israel uncomfortable, due to the continuing conflicts over the future of the city. Even some Jews who believe that the city should remain undivided and under Israel’s control choose not to emphasize Yom Yerushalayim as a day of joy because of the deeply emotional, violent, and controversial state of affairs surrounding the Arab portions of Jerusalem.”

Yom Yerushalayim, or Jerusalem Day, is the annual anniversary for the reunification of Jerusalem, when Jews across the world celebrate the liberation of east Jerusalem on June 7, 1967, and particularly the Old City and Temple Mount, from the control of the Jordanians, who had captured the eastern part of the city during Israel’s War of Independence, expelled all the Jews from their homes, and removed the permanent Jewish presence that had persisted there across the centuries. 

On that heady day in June 1967, for the first time since the Roman era, Jews were finally in possession and control of their capital city Jerusalem, the beating heart of Jewish life since the days of King David some 3,000 years ago.

Why a website that professes to promote Jewish learning and Judaism would choose to focus on Jews whose disconnect with their Jewish heritage is so profound, that they fail to see the miraculous Jewish hegemony over Jerusalem as the fulfilment of countless prophecies, is beyond puzzling. 

And if the answer is that the website must offer a balanced view, the mere fact that the insidious opinions of anti-Semites and fringe radicals has progressed so far into the mainstream that they need to be cited in the cause of balance is extremely worrying. 

I studied at a yeshiva in Jerusalem in the late 1980s. At the time, it was just over 20 years since reunification, and the city was a bustling metropolis, with lush public parks and modern suburbs situated alongside updated and upgraded older neighborhoods. 

The Old City — which had languished terribly under Jordanian rule — was accessible and fresh, with access to the holy sites available to Jew and Gentile. Already then, tens of thousands of visitors came from all over the world each year, able to stay in world-class hotels and take advantage of this ageless jewel, a city that was as invigorating as it was safe. 

What a sea change from the Jerusalem of history, so aptly described by one 19th-century visitor, Frederick Henniker, in an 1823 published account of his visit there: 

“The streets of [Jerusalem] are narrow and deserted, the houses dirty and ragged, the shops few and forsaken; and throughout the whole [city] there is not one symptom of either commerce, comfort, or happiness.”

Today, 30 years since my time in yeshiva, Jerusalem has further exceeded itself — it is a thriving city with every modern amenity, and a public transport system that outclasses many in the Western world. 

Moreover, Judaism and Jewish life, including a vast range of Torah institutions and countless synagogues to cater to Jews of every shade and stripe, have at no point flourished over our long history as they do in Jerusalem today. 

What further proof do we need of the advent of Messianic times than the rebuilding of the ruins of Jerusalem into this gleaming beacon of Jewish life? Right before our very eyes, we can see the realization of biblical prophecy. 

In 1718, Italian Jewish traveler Rabbi Immanuel Chai Ricci visited Safed in northern Israel, and decided to settle there while he studied kabbalah. In 1731 he published “Hon Ashir,” an eclectic work containing both a commentary on the Mishnah and a poem set to music. 

Ricci also used the book to describe his time in Safed, noting the fulfillment of the prophecy in Bechukotai, as iterated in the Talmud (Sotah 49b) regarding the Messianic era, “and the Galilee shall be in a state of destruction” (Leviticus 26:33): “Your land shall become a desolation and your cities a ruin.” 

In Ricci’s words, “I saw with my own eyes how the Galilee lay in ruins — but thank God I was also happy to see … that new houses were being built every day, and in my opinion, this [reconstruction] is truly a sign that the Messiah is on his way.” 

Never mind Galilee — imagine if Ricci visited Jerusalem as it is today, to see the ruins of this ancient holy city overshadowed by countless burgeoning neighborhoods full of life and vigor, teeming with proud Jews who have returned to their ancestral homeland. 

Yom Yerushalayim is not just an anniversary celebration; it is a day that reflects the anticipation of a nation over thousands of years for the ultimate redemption. 

And if there are people out there who find this primary Jewish directive slightly awkward in the face of unresolved political issues, perhaps they need to reflect on their true commitment to Jewish identity. 

Meanwhile, it is certainly the case that such people have no place in an article on Yom Yerushalayim.

Rabbi Pini Dunner is the senior rabbi at Beverly Hills Synagogue, a member of the Young Israel family of synagogues.

Affair Has Repercussions in ‘The Reports on Sarah and Saleem’

Adeeb Safadi and Sivane Kretchner in “The Reports on Sarah and Saleem” Photos courtesy of Dada Films

What begins as an extramarital affair between a Jewish Israeli café owner and a Palestinian deliveryman has dire consequences in the film “The Reports on Sarah and Saleem.” Set in politically and culturally divided Jerusalem, it may evoke a “Romeo and Juliet” star-crossed romance but plays like a chilling cautionary tale.

“I’m not a fan of romanticized narratives about Palestinians and Israelis coming together without addressing the oppressing systems that set people apart in the first place,” Palestinian director Muayad Alayan, who wrote and co-produced the film with his brother Rami, told the Journal.

Alayan, 34, said, “The film takes the audience deeper into the lives of this
couple as well as their marriage partners, showing the multilayered complexity of the story’s world that is Jerusalem — which to me is a main character in the film — with a specific political environment that exacts a much higher price for what would otherwise be an everyday social drama about infidelity.”

Stating that he is intrigued by the moral dilemma inherent in the story, Alayan said, “The film at its core is about power and privilege and how the crushing sociopolitical systems push people to act selfishly and hurtfully toward one another in order to survive and keep the privileges they are afforded, be they political, social, legal or economic.”

Adeeb Safadi, Sivane Kretchner-‘The Reports on Sarah and Saleeem’. Photos by Dada Films

Filmed in Arabic and Hebrew and starring Palestinian and Israeli actors, the film posed “endless” challenges for Alayan. “Beyond the financial issues, which are worse than for independent filmmaking in most of the world, film production here suffers a lot from the political situation,” he said. “We were not able to get any permits for our Bethlehem-based crew to cross the checkpoints to the Jerusalem locations. To be honest, every day of production you never know if you will get through your production day or not. If you do, you count your blessings.”

The director, who made his feature debut with “Love Theft and Other Entanglements” in 2015, is now working on a haunted house family drama, also set in Jerusalem.

Having shown “The Reports on Sarah and Saleem” at several film festivals in the United States, Alayan believes it will resonate with American moviegoers. “I noticed that some audiences could relate the story of the film to their own experiences with race, gender, power and privilege in the U.S.,” he said.

“The Reports on Sarah and Saleem” opens at Laemmle’s Royal, Town Center and Playhouse 7 theaters on June 14. 

Gifts From Jerusalem

I arrived in Jerusalem on Yom HaZikaron, the day of remembrance for fallen soldiers. Despite the day’s somberness, little Israeli flags waved cheerfully from the side mirrors of thousands of cars and fluttered from thousands of apartment building windows in celebration of Yom Ha’atzmaut, which immediately follows Yom HaZikaron. 

I had jumped at the opportunity to return to Israel and teach at a writers’ seminar. Since my last visit with my husband two years earlier, Israel had claimed ever-growing space in my heart and mind. Rising anti-Semitism in the United States and abroad makes Israel feel, more than ever, the place that we should call home. 

The shuttle van driver from the airport fit a classic Israeli stereotype: reckless and rude. His sudden, screeching brake action kept me praying hard, my stomach lurching. Welcome back to Israel! I thought.

My relief upon arriving in one piece at the home of my friend Maya and her husband, Eliezer, was immense. Maya and I had been the best of friends at UC Berkeley, both active in Jewish campus leadership. After graduation, I cried as she left for a year’s stay in Israel. How would I get along without her? 

Her letters revealed her love of the land and the people. The friend I knew as Marcia became Maya, declared herself an olah chadasha (new Israeli citizen) and became a special education teacher. She and Eliezer, another oleh, have raised a beautiful family in Jerusalem. I always admired Maya’s decision, sometimes wishing I had shared her boldness and vision. Long gaps between our visits or other communication don’t matter. Whenever we reconnect, it’s as natural and dynamic as when we were young.

That first night, Maya and Eliezer took me to an outdoor prayer and song celebration for Yom Ha’atzmaut. I was swept up in the joyous spirit of more than 1,000 other Jews celebrating Israel’s birthday. Jet lag had no chance against such a soul-stirring experience, and Maya and I joined hands and danced and sang with other women. Despite the huge crowd, I even bumped into several friends from Los Angeles. Only in Israel!   

I also spent several days at the home of a woman I had met through an online Jewish writers’ network. With five of her nine children still at home, Libby’s daughters graciously slept on futons in the dining room while I commandeered their room. 

“Jet lag had no chance against such a soul-stirring experience, and Maya and I joined hands and danced and sang with other women. “

Libby made aliyah 17 years ago and became an accomplished writer. We carved out time to talk about our work and professional goals, identifying how our complementary skills could help each other. But our conversations transcended work and merged into the personal. We shared confidences. When I expressed some surprise at how much I found we had in common given that she is Charedi and speaks Yiddish much of the time with her children, she observed, “Beneath all the labels, categories and dress codes, we are all human beings, with hopes and dreams, joys and sorrows, struggles and triumphs. It was neither Orthodoxy or Chasidus that brought us together, but our shared humanity.”

Every day in Israel felt like a gift, an opportunity to breathe in the holiness of Jerusalem, to feel the imprint of Jewish history, the comfort of being among so many Jews. Israel, a land of miracles, offered up some for me. Plagued with chronic headaches, I never seem to get them there. And despite all the walking, even on hard stone surfaces, my finicky right knee always behaves. 

The evening I left, I was still packing in scattershot fashion when Libby called to me, “Come look at the sunset!” We gazed together from her fourth-floor apartment windows at the extraordinary beauty of Jerusalem’s twilight, bathing the Judean hills in pinkish-orange and then dusky purple as the sun eased itself below the horizon. 

“Jerusalem of gold,” I said, and Libby smiled and echoed the sentiment.  

On the street below, my heart was full and tears spilled from my eyes. Libby and I hugged each other tightly before I slid into the back seat of a taxi. I had come to Israel mainly for professional opportunities, but I left with so much more. I was nourished with the reassuring bond of a cherished and longstanding friendship, and discovered an unexpected channel for a brand-new and special friendship
to blossom.

Judy Gruen is the author of “The Skeptic and the Rabbi: Falling in Love With Faith.”

Yarden Wines’ Anne Markovich-Girard on Passover Wines and the Israeli Wine Industry

Courtesy of Yarden Wines

Passover is upon us! Coincidentally, Earth Day and other spring holidays will also be taking place during Passover week. For this year’s seder, you ought to consider sustainably-produced wines from Israel’s leading producers of fine wine: Golan Heights and Galil Mountain Wineries.

Known as Israel’s “wine country,” the aforementioned regions in northeastern Israel are celebrated for a range of terroirs and climates which account for great diversity in style. Yarden Wines encompasses Golan Heights Winery and Galil Mountain Winery, as located in the Golan Heights and Galilee regions of Israel, respectively. Both are imported by Yarden Inc.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Anne Markovich-Girard, vice-president of Sales for Yarden Wines. Highlights from that Q&A are below.

Jewish Journal: Passover is coming up very soon. Any idea where you’ll be spending Passover?

Anne Markovich-Girard: From the U.S. to Israel, our team will be spending the holiday with close friends and family.

JJ: Do you have a favorite Passover dish?

AM-G: We decided to have some fun with this question and made it a team effort. Dorit Ben Simon, our executive manager, enjoys lots of delicious dishes, her favorite being her mom’s Moroccan fish and beef stew – but of course can’t skip the matzo ball soup! Other team favorites include Mafrum (a Lebanese dish consisting of potatoes stuffed with meat in a tomato sauce), charoset, and gefilte fish.

JJ: You work with some of Israel’s leading producers of fine wine. When did you first become aware of Israeli wine country?

AM-G: Believe it or not, I first became aware of it in 2015!

And how did you wind up in the wine world?

AM-G: I followed an untraditional path. I have a degree in Fine Arts that led me to the service industry, exposing me to the world of wine. From there, I went on to get a degree in marketing and business from Northwestern University. I then encouraged and supported my friend’s business in Chicago, becoming her wine buyer. Through this experience, I realized I really enjoyed selling wine. I have been in the wine world since, emerging myself and becoming a certified sommelier.

JJ: As a certified sommelier, how would you describe the difference in taste between kosher wines and non-kosher wines?

AM-G: There is no difference predicated by that definition. Wines are defined by their terroir, not kosher versus non-kosher. The difference is when wine is “mevushal” as flash pasteurization arrests the development of the wine from further aging. It immaturely ages the wine, halting further evolution.

JJ: What about sustainable wines? Is that something you can easily taste?

AM-G: Sustainable farming is important is creating high-quality wine. But I think it would be impossible to taste this directly!

JJ: Golan Heights and the Galil Mountain Wineries are two of the popular wineries in Israel. Have you visited either of those vineyards before?

AM-G: Yes, of course! They are the Yarden wineries. The vineyards are very beautiful, and they are so close to many amazing destinations, like Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Courtesy of Yarden Wines

JJ: What are some of your favorite Israel-related wines?

AM-G: My favorites are Yarden Blanc de Blancs, Yarden Brut Rosé, Galil Cabernet and Galil Blanc de Noir. 

JJ: Passover and kosher wine aside, what is coming up for Yarden Wines?

AM-G: We have our new partnership with Skurnik Wines, which we are very excited about – it is a great opportunity! We also have our winemakers visiting the United States in June. Victor Schoenfeld from Golan Heights Winery will be in Los Angeles and Micha Vaadia from Galil Mountain Winery will be in New York. 

JJ: Finally, Anne, any last words for the kids?

AM-G: If you have not tried Israeli wine, right now is a very exciting time to do so! Israel is an emerging wine region in the world.

More on Yarden Wines can be found online at www.yardenwines.com.

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.

Image of the Week: Seder in Warsaw Ghetto

Credit: Yad Vashem

Seder in the Warsaw Ghetto

A seder in the Warsaw Ghetto in Poland. The imperative to remember is a significant part of Passover. In the exhibition “And You Shall Tell Your Children,” Yad Vashem in Jerusalem explores some of the ways Passover was observed throughout Europe during the Holocaust.

Credit: Yad Vashem

On the Path to Annexation Coalition?

From left: Benny Gantz; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Photos by Amir Cohen/Reuters

According to exit polls conducted on Israel’s national election day, April 9 (this story was written when only exit polls were available, and the final vote tally wasn’t known), no leader got a clear mandate to do as he pleases. Voters finally can rest after having played their role in this election. Incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, are just beginning a long journey of tough and treacherous negotiations with small and power-hungry parties. Their aim seems simple: to gain the support of 61 members of the Knesset. But it’s not really simple. For one, because getting to 61 seats means, in many of the possible scenarios, getting the support of parties with a great sense of entitlement. 

Let’s examine the scenarios, all of which must be based on early results and exit poll numbers. By the time you read this, the numbers might have changed (for information on changes, including updated graphs of possible coalitions, see the Journal website). But one thing is worthy of note at the outset: Israelis didn’t approve of small, radical parties in this election. Israelis voted for the center. They voted for two parties whose ideologies are  similar. More than half of the votes went to the two big mainstream parties: Likud and Blue and White. 

Blue and White has more seats, so its leaders will argue that they deserve a chance to form a coalition. But the party’s advantage isn’t overwhelming. Its leaders argued during the past few weeks that they need an advantage of more than five seats to get a mandate from the president. The exit polls didn’t reveal such an advantage, and so, if it can’t present President Reuven Rivlin with new information — such as a commitment of parties such as Kulanu or Yisrael Beiteinu to join a Gantz coalition — the president is unlikely to choose Gantz over Netanyahu. Rivlin probably would prefer that because although it’s common knowledge that relations between Rivlin and Netanyahu are quite tense, there is the office to consider, and the legacy. Rivlin must have looked at the polls on the night of April 9 and realized that he will have no choice. Netanyahu has a clearer path to forming a coalition.

Netanyahu’s coalition is likely to include all of the members of his previous coalition. The Likud Party is stronger than is was in 2015, but this strength will not translate to more leeway in the forming of the next coalition. That’s because small parties in small coalitions tend to be demanding. A coalition can’t form without the United Right, so the party will expect significant reward. A coalition can’t form without Kulanu, so that party’s Moshe Kahlon will expect significant reward, possibly even the position of finance minister. Yes, he might have only four seats, but he still wants to retain this senior position. 

“Blue and White is probably the most mainstream party in Israel’s history.”

The price will be paid by the members of Likud. Netanyahu won’t have many cards to play with. If he must give away the education, defense, finance and justice minister posts, Likud members will get less senior cabinet ministries. And yes, they will grumble, they will complain behind Netanyahu’s back. But they can’t much argue with a leader who delivered another victory, for a fifth time. True, the Likud party is not the largest party. It was not the largest party 10 years ago and still formed a coalition.

In every election, there are few memorable events that join the pantheon of great political moments. In 1981, tomatoes were thrown at Shimon Peres. In 1996, Israelis went to sleep thinking that Peres would be the next prime minister, and woke up the next morning to discover that no, it was Netanyahu. In 1992, Yitzhak Rabin made a memorable, if brute, victory speech (“I will lead, I will navigate”). In 2001, the fierce Gen. Ariel Sharon was downgraded to a teddy bear-type grandfather. 

In 2015, Netanyahu’s election day warning that Arab voters are “flocking to the polls” was the high point — and low point — of the campaign. And no, this Netanyahu last-minute clip wasn’t the direct cause for Likud’s final surge and ultimate win. There’s no proof to back that up. And yet, it was a moment that captured the essence of Netanyahu’s political strength and weakness: his mastery of political strategy and laser-beam ability to implement it, and his complete lack of concern for decency. 

In 2019, Netanyahu displayed those same qualities with a vengeance — first, when he was pushing hard for the merger of right-wing and radical right-wing factions. He was the matchmaker of the Jewish Home, a very right-wing party, with Otzma Yehudit, a small, fringe faction that many, including Supreme Court justices, consider to be at least partially racist. One member of this faction was eliminated as a candidate by the court, but the other stayed. Netanyahu, in his quest to use all available votes on the right, is personally responsible for the fact that this radical member of the Knesset gained a seat at the table (on April 9, leaders of the Jewish Home vowed that he will get the seat no matter the number of seats the party ends up capturing).

During the final days of the campaign, Netanyahu did something that seems like the exact opposite of what he intended to do previously. In a blitz of interviews and other public appearances, he warned voters that the right-wing camp was about to lose, and that the only way to prevent such an outcome was to vote for Likud. Not any party that was part of the bloc. Not any party that had committed itself to join his coalition. Only Likud. Netanyahu trusts no one. Not the leaders of the New Right party, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, not the leader of Kulanu, Moshe Kahlon; not the leader of Yisrael Beiteinu, Avigdor Lieberman. The media counted all these leaders as members of Netanyahu’s bloc. And yet, the prime minister decided to take a risk and propagandize against them. 

The risk was twofold. 

Risk No. 1: Parties essential to forming a coalition might not cross the electoral threshold of 3.25%. Only a few weeks ago, Netanyahu was willing to tolerate a racist so as not to lose any vote, but now he was suddenly willing to risk many votes of parties who might not cross the threshold. 

Risk No. 2: Leaders essential to forming a coalition might get angry and decide to take revenge after the votes are counted. These leaders were disappointed by Netanyahu’s so-called “Gevalt campaign” because it put them at risk. But the prime minister is cynical about such things. When he wins, all is forgiven. At least, he hopes it’s forgiven. If he loses, none of it matters. 

Netanyahu’s lack of concern for decency was his rival’s main asset. Gantz heads a group of decent leaders. For most of the campaign, with few exceptions, they didn’t use harsh language, didn’t incite against others, didn’t attempt to polarize the public. They made a bet that Israelis got tired of Netanyahu’s hyperactive rhetoric. They made a bet that many Israelis who might agree with Netanyahu’s policies are tired of his personality. Thus, their main effort was not to be an ideological alternative to Netanyahu, but rather to be a behavioral alternative to his way of politicking. And in a way, their bet worked just fine: Blue and White came from behind and within two to three months to become the largest Israeli party — in fact, the largest party in many years. The last party to gain a similar number of seats was Sharon’s 2003 Likud Party.

“Rivlin must have looked at the polls on the night of April 9 and realized that he will have no choice. Netanyahu has a clearer path to forming a coalition.”

The party that was assembled for this mission, Kahol Lavan (Blue and White), is a makeshift group of former generals, officials, activists and celebrities who agree on most things and also agree to be agreeable when they disagree. That’s one thing that Netanyahu isn’t capable of doing. Moshe Yaalon is a former member of Likud, and a rather hawkish member. Yair Lapid was a minister in Netanyahu’s government, and is also quite hawkish. The party that Lapid headed until the merger into Blue and White was also a diverse group of people who don’t always agree with one another. 

Blue and White is probably the most mainstream party in Israel’s history. It says nothing controversial. It does nothing controversial. It proposes nothing controversial. It is a party of the status quo. That is its main strength, that is its main weakness. Thou shalt not insult your fellow citizen. Thou shalt not hurt any feelings. Thou shalt not rock the boat. Thou shalt not storm the Bastille — be it the Supreme Court, the media, old elites, the academy. These leaders insisted on only one controversial position: They will never join a coalition headed by Netanyahu. On the night of April 9, they reiterated their commitment to never sit with Netanyahu. So, a unity government is out of the question, unless further complications make such option the only wat to avoid another round of election.

To make himself attractive to right-wing voters, Netanyahu made a bold statement that on the eve of election day got only a fraction of the attention it deserved. Asked by an interviewer if the next government, headed by him, would annex the settlement blocs in Judea and Samaria, the prime minister said yes. “I’m going to apply sovereignty, but I don’t distinguish between settlement blocs and the isolated settlement points because from my perspective, every such point of settlement is Israeli,” Netanyahu said. Some of his rivals dismissed this as empty campaign rhetoric. They were wrong. 

Well, not completely wrong. The timing surely was tied to the election and to Netanyahu’s decision to pillage his allies on the right. But they would be wrong to assume that annexation would be nothing more than a campaign ploy. Netanyahu, usually cautious in the diplomatic arena, often reluctant to initiate moves as bold as annexation, smells an opportunity. The annexation of the Golan Heights recently was recognized by President Donald Trump’s administration. If the Golan can be annexed, why not Gush Etzion? 

Not long ago, an Israeli presented this exact question to a Trump administration official. “What’s the difference between the Golan and the Gush?” The response was silence. Obviously, the official didn’t see much difference. The Gush was taken away from Israel in the war of 1948 and was recaptured by Israel in 1967. Two years ago, Lapid, one of Netanyahu’s main rivals, participated in a foundation stone-laying ceremony for a new neighborhood in Kfar Etzion. He said that the Gush is “at the center of Israeli consensus.” When Netanyahu ponders the possibility of gradual annexation of areas in the West Bank, backed by the Trump administration, the Gush is a good place to start.

“In a blitz of interviews and other public appearances, Netanyahu warned voters that the right-wing camp was about to lose, and that the only way to prevent such an outcome was to vote for Likud.”

On the eve of the election, the Trump administration handed Netanyahu another piece of political ammunition. In an unprecedented move, the administration designated the elite Iranian military unit, the Revolutionary Guard, a “terrorist organization.” It took the prime minister maybe 20 minutes from the moment the decision was announced to the moment he first used it in a radio interview — one of more than a dozen a day he conducted between April 7 and April 9.

Trump was Netanyahu’s most useful political tool. Trump’s friendship with Netanyahu was his most talked-about asset. The president moved the American embassy to Jerusalem, canceled the Iran nuclear deal, recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan. Netanyahu believes that he deserves some of the credit for these actions. He believed that the voters give him credit for these actions. 

Gantz could take credit for no such achievements. A few weeks before election day, he knew nothing about the looming Trump peace plan. He was not briefed by anyone. He was not asked to weigh in. Gantz knew all along that Netanyahu is Trump’s choice. In private conversations, he made the assumption that if and when he becomes prime minister, the administration will be quick to adjust to the new reality. And he is probably right about that.

On the night of April 9, the Trump peace team was following the news coming out of Israel and weighing its options: They can hold publication of the plan until a new government is formed, or they can put the plan on the table now or right after Rivlin decides who gets to form the next government. 

Each of these options has its advantages and disadvantages. Choosing the later date would give a new Israeli government time to prepare for what’s coming. Choosing the earlier date would shape the negotiations as a new coalition is formed. Before election day, more than a few observers and pundits assumed that an early issuance would be a pretext to forming a unity government. The plan would hand Netanyahu and Gantz the ladder with which to climb off the tree of mutual snub. 

There is logic behind such an assumption. The parties on the right probably would object to any peace plan; Netanyahu and Gantz recognize that Israel must respond positively to the plan; unity is the logical outcome. That is, if one assumes that the right would object to the plan. But what if the Trump plan is much more acceptable to right-wing voters than previously assumed? What if the plan is one that a Kahlon and a Lieberman and a Rafi Peretz (of the Jewish Home) can accept as a basis for negotiation? 

“In Israel’s context, unilateralism usually is associated with withdrawal… Netanyahu’s unilateralism is different. It is about annexation of areas and settlements. Netanyahu’s unilateralism could be a glue that holds together a coalition.”

Don’t dismiss such an option, and with it the option that an early publication of the plan would help Netanyahu form not a unity government but rather a right-religious government. Here is what Netanyahu is going to tell them: We have a great opportunity to completely overhaul the parameters of an Israeli-Palestinian settlement. We can form a coalition, say yes to Trump, wait for the Palestinians to say no (they already did, and will do it again), and then turn to unilaterally shaping the future. 

In Israel’s context, unilateralism usually is associated with withdrawal. From southern Lebanon in the late 1990s, from Gaza in 2005. Even today, different groups advocate for unilateral moves in the West Bank, from evacuation of settlements to setting up clear borders. 

Netanyahu’s unilateralism is different. It is about annexation of areas and settlements. Netanyahu’s unilateralism could be a glue that holds together a coalition. There is a narrow window of opportunity, he would whisper to his prospective allies, when I am still here — before the indictment and trial and verdict (those joining him will get cushy jobs and will be asked to commit to see him through the trial). There is a narrow window of opportunity, he would whisper to his prospective allies, when Trump is still in office — before the threat of a Democrat in the White House (maybe Beto O’Rourke, who called Netanyahu a “racist” earlier this week) makes unilateralism too risky. 

Let’s get over our personal grievances and work together to seize this opportunity, Netanyahu would tell them, with the Trump plan laid on the table. If this is a plan that guarantees no evacuation of Jewish settlements; if this is a plan that guarantees a retention of control over the Jordan Valley; if it guarantees freedom of operation to the Israel Defense Forces in all of the West Bank; if it calls for a united Jerusalem; if this is the plan, and indeed, it seems to be the plan — would they dare say no?

Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.

Honeymoon Ending? How Israel Could Turn on Trump, and Vice Versa

Photo by Ronen Svulun/Reuters

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asserted during a recent visit to the White House that the Jewish state had “never had a better friend” than United States President Donald Trump, most citizens back home nodded in agreement. In fact, the U.S. leader’s approval rating is higher in Israel than anywhere else in the world.

Trump has done what most Israelis never imagined possible, foremost by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and then moving the U.S. Embassy to the holy city. During Netanyahu’s most recent trip to Washington, Trump officially recognized Israeli sovereignty over the parts of the Golan Heights captured from Syria in the 1967 war.

Equally critical is that, unlike the Obama administration, Trump’s hard-line approach to Iran dovetails with that of the government of Israel, and especially Netanyahu. To this end, the president withdrew from what he called the “disastrous” 2015 nuclear accord aimed at barring Tehran from developing nuclear weapons, and reimposed economic and diplomatic sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

Trump also has implemented financial penalties on Hezbollah, the Iranian proxy in Lebanon that effectively paralyzes that country’s government, while now, the State Department designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization. 

U.S.-Israeli military relations, meanwhile, are at an all-time high, underpinned by a 10-year memorandum of understanding granting the Jewish state over $3.8 billion in yearly funds (although the lion’s share must be spent in the U.S.). The two countries regularly conduct joint exercises and last month, for the first time, the U.S. military’s European Command brought with it the THAAD missile-defense system.

In this vein, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a close Trump ally, announced his intention to formalize a mutual defense agreement that he said would demonstrate to the international community that “an attack against Israel would be considered an attack against the United States.”

Perhaps most important to Israelis is that after 25 years of rejection by the Palestinians, most notably by turning down three comprehensive Israeli peace offers, Trump is holding Ramallah to account. He cut hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian aid to the West Bank and Gaza Strip after Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas imposed a boycott on all U.S. officials in the wake of Trump’s decision on Jerusalem. Trump also shuttered the Washington mission of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which dominates the PA and still views itself as the official voice of the Palestinian people.

Similarly, Trump has little patience for UNWRA, the United Nations agency responsible for looking after Palestinian refugees. Many view the body as perpetuating, rather than solving, the refugee problem by financing generations of Palestinians from cradle to grave instead of integrating them into their resident countries. (The U.N. agency also happens to be stacked with employees of Hamas, the terrorist group that runs the Gaza Strip, something that amounts to tacit support for one of Israel’s most brutal enemies.)

In response to the financial cutoffs — coupled with the perception that Trump is biased toward Israel — Palestinian politicians and journalists have slammed the president’s point men on negotiations. Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, international negotiator Jason Greenblatt and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman have been referred to, respectively, as naive and inexperienced; a “Mongoloid”; and a shill for the “settler” movement.

“The possible demise of the “bromance” between Netanyahu and Trump would definitely harm the interests of both countries while empowering their enemies.”

While the disrespect is mainly explained by Trump having done more than any other U.S. leader to endear himself to Israelis, the White House’s soon-to-be-released peace plan could end the honeymoon with Jerusalem by sparking a major government and public backlash — to which Trump might, characteristically, respond impulsively and with fury.

In reality, Israelis and Palestinian remain so far apart on the core issues of the conflict that it is almost inconceivable that peace talks can be jump-started.

First, Israel considers the division of Jerusalem — the eastern part of which the Palestinians claim for the capital of a future state — as an absolute nonstarter. This is largely predicated on the political supremacy of the Israeli right and a majority of the population that deems Jerusalem the Jewish people’s “eternal and undivided” capital (although rumors have circulated that Trump will offer the Palestinians control over various suburbs on the outskirts of the city).

So, too, there is exactly zero chance that some 5 million Palestinian refugees will be allowed the right to return. (Notably, only about 750,000 were displaced or left voluntarily from Israel during the 1948 war, meaning that the vast majority of these people are the offspring of those who actually fled.)

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2008 reportedly offered to absorb 10,000 of these people every year for a decade in return for peace, but the Palestinians never responded. His proposal also included Israel handing over about 95 percent of the West Bank and the formation of an international body to oversee holy sites in Jerusalem. (The Gaza Strip had been relinquished in 2005 by his predecessor, Ariel Sharon.)

The thorniest issue may be the future status of the West Bank, where approximately 500,000 Israeli citizens live in scattered communities. On April 6, Netanyahu added fuel to the fire by affirming that “all the settlements, without exception, regardless of the blocs, must remain under Israeli sovereignty.”

More specifically, the prime minister stressed that on his watch, not a single Israeli would be uprooted from the West Bank and that there would be no discussion about peace whatsoever if Trump even suggested this.

Then, the next day, Netanyahu went a step further by saying “a Palestinian state will not be created, not like the one people are talking about. It won’t happen.”

Normally, pundits would attribute such statements to election rhetoric, but Netanyahu claimed that he conveyed these non-negotiable conditions to Trump during their March meeting. The prime minister also told the president that Israel demanded “continued control of all the territory to the west of the Jordan” River in order to secure the nation.

This revelation caused yet another uproar in Ramallah, with top-ranking PLO official and longtime peace negotiator Saeb Erekat suggesting that “Israel will continue to brazenly violate international law for as long as the [global] community … reward[s] it with impunity.” He added that the Palestinians would “pursue [their] rights through international forums, including the international criminal court, until we achieve our long overdue justice.”

Erekat was implying that the PA was committed to achieving statehood, although not through a U.S.-mediated initiative, which it has repeatedly shot down out of hand.

No amount of Israeli politicking is likely to moderate the PA’s intransigence, but there is still a chance that to get a better deal. That said, recent reports suggest that the most Trump would be willing to offer is minor interim steps focused on economic development, which in turn might improve Palestinian lives and thus make them more amenable to compromise.

Alternatively, the most unpredictable American president in history could drop a bombshell on Israel and follow his predecessors’ lead by endorsing the two-state formula with associated stipulations. This potentiality stems from an understanding that the PA, along with Arab nations, would never countenance an accord that offers fewer benefits than previous ones.

Therefore, if the White House is serious about presenting a proposal that will not be pronounced “dead on arrival,” it would have to contain various elements to entice the Palestinians to return. 

Therefore, Trump’s “deal of the century” could put him on a collision course with what is liable to be a government headed by Netanyahu, and parliamentarians who are even more nationalistic. If so, their respective constituencies could force the coalition’s hand, prompting angry reactions that quickly overshadow, and possibly undo, much of the good will.

The possible demise of the “bromance” between Netanyahu and Trump that plays out in the media would definitely harm the interests of both countries while empowering their enemies.

Remember: Pesach Is a Blessing

Every year, about a month before Pesach, I start to see the anxious updates from friends on my newsfeed. “I have sooo much cleaning to do,” they say, or “Pesach is so expensive,” or “I wish I could afford a Pesach resort and leave this all behind!” 

I get where they are coming from. I’m sure, especially when you have kids, that it’s extremely tough to find the time to clean the entire house and the money to afford expensive Pesach groceries. It’s stressful to host dinner parties while still looking fabulous and getting to shul on time. I hear many people say that they feel like slaves to the holiday, which completely defeats its purpose. 

When I’m purchasing overpriced Pesach salad dressing, hauling in the special dishes from the garage, scrubbing down the countertops or finishing my tenth hour of cleaning, I do start to get wound up. If I decide to combine my Pesach cleaning with my spring cleaning or I forget to take breaks, I get very overwhelmed. 

But then I take a step back and focus on what I love about it. Pesach has always been my favorite holiday. It was the first Jewish holiday I ever celebrated, in high school, years before I converted. I enjoyed sitting around the table with my high school boyfriend’s family and learning about this fascinating part of Jewish history. 

Today, I love being at the meals with my own family and friends, hearing the amazing story of our Exodus and tasting that incredible first bite of the Hillel sandwich. When my husband gets so much joy out of that special lamb dish I make for him once a year, it makes me happy. I love inviting over a bunch of our secular friends to experience the joy of Judaism, and taking sunny walks around the neighborhood, because when else do I have the time? I fully take in the prayers at synagogue and this different way of existing, if only for a few days. 

“I connect with the story of Pesach on a metaphorical level, because I believe that we still are not free.”

I connect with the story of Pesach on a metaphorical level, because I believe that we still are not free. We are not free from society’s expectations of us and anti-Semitism, which seems to be prevalent more and more lately. Our bank accounts and our mobile devices and our fears and our stress are traps. Thankfully, Pesach shows us that no matter if we’re experiencing slavery on a literal or a metaphorical level, we can break free from it. 

If you’re getting anxious just thinking about the holiday, keep in mind that Pesach only happens once a year, and it usually goes much faster than we expect. We spend so much more time worrying about it and building it up in our heads than actually experiencing it. 

We have to remember that this holiday is a blessing. It’s when God directly intervened to free us and ensure we could reach our potential and become the Jewish nation. That wasn’t the only miracle of Pesach. It’s also the most celebrated Jewish holiday, and even the most disconnected Jews go home to their families to sit around the seder table and learn a little bit of Torah. 

This holiday, when you’re disgusted by dusting, moping while mopping or trying to hold back your discomfort at the checkout line, keep in mind the positive parts of the holiday. As soon as it starts, it’ll be over, and you’ll be eating another slice of pizza again in no time. You won’t have the opportunity to do Pesach for another 12 months. Soak in the time with God and the experiences with loved ones. Cherish the cleaning. Be delighted by the delicious food. 

After all, next year you might not even have the opportunity to clean your home or invite people over. You very well may be in Jerusalem, dancing in the streets with your fellow Jews and celebrating the arrival of peace around the world.

Chag sameach.

GOP Has Little Hope of Gaining Jewish Majority

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; Photo by Amir Cohen/Reuters

The ghost of President Warren G. Harding was in Las Vegas the first weekend of April. So was President Donald Trump. Both were at the annual meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), where 2,000 attendees heard Trump make the case that the GOP’s strong support for Israel should lead to increased support from Jewish voters. 

Harding was the last Republican presidential nominee to win the Jewish vote, when he captured a 43% plurality of Jewish support in a three-way race in his 1920 election. It’s now been more than 30 years since a Republican nominee has attracted even one-third of the Jewish vote.

Trump and his supporters believe they can reverse this trend, based partially on Trump’s actions but mostly on the growing anti-Israel sentiment among a young generation of Democratic leaders. That belief is based on two faulty premises, both of which will make the Republicans’ effort to coax Jews away from the party of Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) difficult to achieve.

The first false assumption is that the choice between the two parties is a choice between absolutes. Even American Jews who oppose the Iran nuclear agreement and support moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem do not see one party as completely bad for Israel and the other as absolutely good. Rather, they see their choice as between one party that is very, very good for Israel, and another that is very, very, very good. 

That one extra Republican “very” is not sufficient to balance off the advantages that Democrats hold with most Jewish voters on abortion rights, climate change, immigration reform and many other domestic policy priorities. While most American Jews see individual lawmakers like Tlaib and Omar as unacceptable, the continued support for Israel among most Democratic leaders still leads to overall positive feelings toward the party among large majorities of Jewish voters. The challenge for Democrats is to prevent the spread of Tlaib’s and Omar’s attitudes in the party’s ranks. But barring the emergence a Jeremy Corbyn-esque presidential nominee, the Democrats have more than enough influential leaders whose strong support for Israel makes this a decidedly uphill fight for the GOP.  

[Netanyahu’s] focus on evangelical supporters of Israel reflects his realization that Jewish voters in the U.S. alone do not provide him with a sufficient base of support.

The second problem with this argument is that it assumes the majority of American Jewish voters make Israel their top priority at the ballot box. But American Jews have shifted their focus to domestic policy. A 2016 Ruderman Family Foundation study found that Israel was no longer among the top five issues influencing American Jewish voters, continuing a long-term trend. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may not understand many things about American politics, but his focus on evangelical supporters of Israel reflects his realization that Jewish voters in the U.S. alone do not provide him with a sufficient base of support. Netanyahu’s approach has polarized American Jews, further blurring the definition of support for Israel among many left-leaning Jewish voters, even while evangelical voters have become more motivated. 

At the RJC meeting, some wealthy Trump supporters shared their plans to spend more than $10 million next year to persuade Jewish voters to support the president’s reelection. While they almost certainly understand that winning the Jewish vote in 2020 is impossible, a targeted effort aimed at sizable Jewish populations in swing states like Florida, Pennsylvania and Nevada could affect the razor-thin margins that will determine how those states cast their electoral votes.

As anti-Israel sentiment hardens among young progressives, leaders such as Tlaib and Omar can be expected to frequently cross the line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. But until those attitudes become more pervasive in Democratic circles — and until Republicans distance themselves from equally intolerant voices of nationalism and xenophobia — a sea change in Jewish partisan voting is not in the offing anytime soon.

Dan Schnur is a professor at USC’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism, UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies and Pepperdine University.

Two Must-See Shows That Celebrate Israeli Cuisine

Shopping at the Shuk HaNamal from “Somebody Feed Phil”

The Israeli gusto for innovation hasn’t skipped a beat in any category. Just as the country’s startups and tech firms have made advances in many fields, gastronomy is another category where Israel shines.

In its 70 short years as a nation, Israel has developed a reputation as a leader in the food realm. Tel Aviv has developed a reputation as a gourmand’s paradise among international travelers, who often are shocked to discover that you can find virtually any type of cuisine in the city cooked to very high standards. The incredible fusion that exists in Israel, where 170-plus cultures have blended to make “Israeli cuisine,” is the subject of heated debate among Israeli chefs and diners. 

Spend some time anywhere in the country and the conversation will circle around to food — yours, theirs, your next meal, your last one. Jews talk about food a lot, and in Israel, where family recipes and grandma’s cooking are such a large part of the Shabbat ritual, part of the “home cuisine” movement shines through in the restaurants.

The austerity period of the young nation lasted until the 1970s, when an economic boom produced a startup nation of foodies. Israelis no longer content to eat at home began to travel and bring back the cooking styles and techniques of faraway places. Yet they never turned away from their native food. The result is a thrilling food landscape with its roots in the Middle East’s most ancient recipes using the freshest local produce prepared with the techniques of Europe, Asia and North America. 

It’s not your grandmother’s Israel and it’s not just about falafel, hummus and Israeli salads. But in recent years, it’s difficult to find a more diverse travel destination for food experiences than Israel, including sprawling food markets, dives, casual beachy and high-end fancy restaurants. From Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to the Galil, Israel has grown into a modern-day Garden of Eden for the discerning eater. A reality TV show and a documentary spotlight how cooking is another frontier that Israelis have conquered.

“Somebody Feed Phil” (Netflix): What happens when a Jewish, Los Angeles-based television writer and creator of the hit series “Everybody Loves Raymond,” Phil Rosenthal, leaves behind the bland world of his parents Ashkenazi food and travels to some far-flung destinations, including Israel? The two best things — comedy and food. Rosenthal is a self-professed food novice — he said he didn’t even taste garlic until he was in college — so imagine his surprise at the flavor explosion he experiences when he travels to Israel and gets hand-fed shakshuka by the “Doctor” himself, Bino Gabso, (Dr. Shakshuka, Jaffa’s famous shakshuka restaurant in the flea market.) While Rosenthal, more like a kid in a candy store than an adult father of two, is led around Tel Aviv, Jaffa, Caesarea and Acre by legendary chefs and food personalities such as Israeli-American restauranteur Michael Solomonov, the viewer benefits from Rosenthal’s decidedly nonculinary background. 

Rosenthal’s Jewish food knowledge seems to have stopped at jarred gefilte fish and his mother’s stringy brisket, so he is blown away by what he experiences in some of the country’s most famed gems. In what can be described as a happy-go-lucky version of Larry David meets the locals for a laugh and a nosh, Rosenthal seems to recognize the change in Israel from his younger days of visiting the country as a bar mitzvah boy.

It’s heartening to see how his connection to the country and the people are transformed through his expanding palate. Of course, the show features many cameos of some of Israel’s iconic food staples, like sabich, a sandwich made from fried eggplant, and Israeli salads dressed with tahini stuffed inside a fresh pita or the gizzard and oxtail soups he’s served in the Yemenite quarter in Carmel market. But the show’s main strength is more about the people whom Rosenthal encounters. 

“Somebody Feed Phil” also features another ingredient that’s not found in other typical reality-TV shows — Rosenthal’s parents. At the end of each segment, his 90-year-old parents are featured in a Skype call from their son. It may not surprise you to know that his parents were the inspiration for actor-comedian Ray Romano’s fictional parents on “Everybody Loves Raymond” but their charming appearances will leave no doubt in your mind.

“Spend some time anywhere in the country and the conversation will circle around to food — yours, theirs, your next meal, your last one.”


“Hummus! The Movie” (Amazon): Probably my favorite doc that I recommend about food in Israel, “Hummus! The Movie” was written and produced by Israeli documentary filmmaker Oren Rosenfeld, who started his career as a photojournalist covering the Second Intifada. Perhaps because of his background and obvious passion for the subject matter, “Hummus” is an interesting glimpse into past and modern-day issues in Israel beyond food.

The film features snapshots into the lives of three unusual restaurateurs, each representing a completely different experience of modern Israel and shedding light on cultural and social issues that affect them. By focusing on a small group of completely diverse people, Rosenfeld takes his passion for hummus and brings the viewer along as his subjects work, struggle and make decisions. Jalil, a sweet, young Christian Arab from Ramle, takes over his family hummus restaurant and tries to make changes to keep himself challenged while he is being pulled to follow his dream of opening a place in Berlin. 

Eliyahu, a formerly dreadlocked drifter turned Chasidic Jew with a young wife and family in tow, runs a chain of successful kosher hummus restaurants all over the world and believes in the mystical powers of chickpeas.

Then there’s Suheila, a hardworking Arab woman who takes over her father’s hummus business. After her brothers drive the restaurant into debt and decline, Suheila forgoes marriage and family to become the first Arab woman in the market to own a business. She is crowned the official “King of Hummus” in a highly promoted national contest, much to the chagrin of the generations of male-owned “hummusiyas” that don’t take too kindly to the judges’ decision.  

There is also a series of interesting side characters like Olivier, a Benedictine monk, whose lack of culinary prowess puts him on a quest to find the tastiest hummus after his fellow monks ask him to refrain from taking his turn to cook the monastery meal. In his search for what to serve on his night to serve dinner, he goes in search of the best hummus, and discovers the role hummus plays in the communal lives of Israeli Arabs, Jews and Christians. 

In addition to the touching personal stories and the entertaining commentary on Israeli life and food from some of Israel’s most famous food personalities, the film is much more than about hummus. In an amusing segment of the film, we witness the backstory and observations of the Guinness World Record adjudicator who comes to Israel to judge the Israeli entry for the “world’s largest serving of hummus.” We hear from the previous Lebanese record holder, whose 5,000-kilo (11,000-plus pounds) world record is bested by an Israeli competitor. This is not only a lovable and touching film but one that will make you very, very hungry. Don’t attempt to watch without having immediate access to a pita and a plate with a healthy smear of its namesake.

“Hummus! The Movie” is now playing on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play and Vudu.

Yamit Behar Wood, an Israeli-American food and travel writer, is the executive chef at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, and founder of the New York Kitchen Catering Co. 

The Transformation From Orthodox Ari to Artist Alef

Ari Marrache is the type of person to whom a casual “how are you?” warrants an excessively jubilant response. “I’m amazing, living the life!” was his answer today. But that wasn’t always the case. For years, the 32-year-old struggled to find his place in the world. The person Marrache presents to the world today, a bisexual artist with the street name Alef, is a far cry from the young Orthodox boy who was riddled with self-doubt. 

For Marrache, Alef is a “superhero,” someone with “something to say and who allowed me to finally be the person I always wanted.” Like the British artist Banksy, Alef never allows himself to be pictured in relation to his work. 

Born and raised in Gibraltar, Marrache’s family moved to Israel when he was 9, where they lived in Orthodox neighborhoods in and around Jerusalem. When he was 18, Marrache moved to London to study fine art at the prestigious Central Saint Martins University of the Arts. But a year later, seeing no future in the arts and no way to make money, he transferred to law school. But he lasted only two years in law school. He spent the following five years in Madrid, working a variety of jobs.

In 2013, Marrache returned to Israel and began to work with his father, an art collector and dealer. He built a name for himself as an art consultant and curator, curating exhibitions for young, unknown artists. “I lost money but gained experience,” he said, laughing.  

For Ari Marrache, Alef is a “superhero,” someone with “something to say and who allowed me to finally be the person I always wanted.”

Marrache realized that he, too, wanted to present his works to the world. He enlisted the help of someone close to him to choose which works to display for his first exhibition. Marrache selected a piece but was told by that person to leave it out because it was “crap and childish.”

Marrache ignored the advice and he ended up selling the piece. “I saw it as a sign from the universe,” he said. “That act of self-love, of believing in myself, was a miracle.”

A strong believer in karma, Marrache invested most of the money he made from his first sale into buying the work of another emerging artist. Three months ago, Marrache left his job as a gallery manager to concentrate on his painting. 

Since that first exhibition, he has sold 100 Alef original works to collectors in New York, London, Paris, Berlin, Athens and Tel Aviv. Their motifs are recurrent: urban landscapes with buildings and TV antennas jostling one another.

Cranes are present in almost all of his works as they are in Tel Aviv’s cityscape. “They symbolize the victory of the Jewish people returning home and building it,” Marrache explained.

Like many street artists, Alef has an unquenchable thirst to brand himself on the city itself. He might, for example, transform a dilapidated electric box into a piece of art. He laughs as he compares it to an alpha-male spreading his seed. “I’ve always been this gentle guy and yet know I’ve unleashed this thing and I can’t stop it. It’s a train that’s going a million miles an hour and if I get off, I die.”

Kids With Disabilities Get Therapy, Hope at Jerusalem’s Shalva Center

Photos courtesy of Shalva

When Sara gave birth to her second child last October, she was surprised to learn that the newborn — her daughter, Lily — had Down syndrome. 

“I didn’t know during the pregnancy, so it took time to learn about the condition,” said the 30-year-old Israeli mother, who lives in a coastal city in central Israel. “At the time, I didn’t know anyone with Down syndrome or what it entails.”

Although Sara and her husband could have spent months searching for the therapies Lily needs to reach her full potential, they learned about the Shalva National Children’s Center in Jerusalem while still in the maternity ward. 

When Lily was 3 months old, Sara began to commute to Jerusalem to participate in Me & My Mommy classes, part of a once-a-week therapy and training program for parents and their children, from newborns to 1 1/2 years old.  

“It’s amazing,” Sara said. “You have a hydrotherapy session, physiotherapy, speech therapy, and as a mother you learn the therapies so you can do them the rest of the week.”

She also appreciates the support she gets from other parents. 

“There’s an amazing group of mothers in the same situation as I am,” Sara said. “There’s always a 45-minute break, so we mothers can sit and talk together at the same time.” 

Once a month, parents are invited as a group to speak to a social worker while the staff cares for the babies. “We have a chat, the social worker asks certain questions to learn how we’re doing,” Sara explained. “Every mother has the opportunity to share.”

For Sara, the drive to and from Shalva can take up to three hours round-trip, “but it’s worth it,” she said. “I know a couple that comes to Shalva from Tiberias [in the north] every Sunday. In fact, they’re moving closer to Jerusalem to be closer to Shalva.” 

Founded by Kalman and Malki Samuels in 1990, the nonprofit Shalva organization provides a range of therapeutic and educational services to 2,000 infants, children and young adults with developmental disabilities or delays, autism and other conditions. 

All services are provided free of charge and are offered on a first-come, first-served basis. Government ministries usually make the referrals. The children come from every socioeconomic, religious and ethnic sector of Israeli society and sometimes beyond. 

“We’ve had United Nations employees who chose to work in Israel because of Shalva,” said Meira Brandwein, a development executive for the organization, as she gave a tour of the center. “We’ve also had individual parents, government officials and university students come to us from around the world to learn from us and bring the tools back to their own countries.” 

The Samuels, an Orthodox couple, launched Shalva several years after their son Yossi became deaf, blind and extremely hyperactive after receiving a tainted vaccination shot for diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus. Like Helen Keller prior to her breakthrough with Anne Sullivan, Yossi was deeply frustrated and isolated by his inability to communicate.    

“Malki vowed to HaShem that if he found a way for Yossi to connect with her and the world, she would devote her life to helping other parents of children with disabilities,” Kalman Samuels told the Journal.

“You have to get used to a new reality when you have a child with a disability.”
— Sara, Shalva mother

Shalva started in a small rented apartment and grew exponentially over the years, as parents and government ministries struggled to find the right services for children. In 2016, the organization moved from its bustling but cramped headquarters into a new $60 million building that is as beautiful as it is functional.

“We included all of the features, all of the services parents of children with disabilities hope and dream of for their children,” Samuels said. 

Prior to entering the building, visitors encounter two brightly colored playgrounds that can accommodate dozens of children at a time, and a heartwarming sculpture of children at the center of a traffic circle. 

Brandwein said the sculpture, which depicts a person surrounded by other people, exemplifies Shalva’s mission of enabling families to raise their disabled children at home, in the heart of society. “It signifies a child being raised by an entire community, surrounded and embraced by the world,” she said.  

The atmosphere inside the center is equally welcoming and intentionally designed to not give off institutional vibes. The atrium in the building’s lobby “bridges the inside and the outside. Our children are part of the larger community and the community is part of us,” Brandwein said. 

Every wall of the building’s lobby was designed to inspire shalva, the Hebrew word for serenity and tranquility. One wall is filled with photos of Shalva children interspersed with the words “Peace,” “Faith,” “Dignity” “Love” and “Inclusion” in Hebrew and English. Another wall bears a verse from Psalms 122:7: “May there be peace within your walls, Shalva, serenity within your places.”

Unlike the long corridors that dominate most major health institutions, the Shalva building has five airy pavilions and clusters of rooms and offices. In addition to numerous therapy rooms, the 11-story building offers an art room, a music studio, hydrotherapy pools, a well-equipped gymnasium, an auditorium, Snoezelen multisensory therapy rooms that help reduce agitation and anxiety, an attractive restaurant that provides training and employment to adults with disabilities, and a disability-friendly oral health clinic — one of only a handful in the country. In the summer, hundreds of children attend Shalva’s summer camp. 

Ori Sasson, an Israeli Olympic judoka, created a rehabilitative judo program at Shalva, and partially funded it by auctioning off his uniform. The building also functions as a community center that hosts educational workshops and seminars, which help fund the building’s maintenance and the organization’s programs.

“You can see how far they have come. They are a living testament to what children with disabilities can achieve.” — Malki Samuels

Shalva was also designed to be an emergency response center at times of national crisis. It can double as a bomb shelter for up to 1,200 individuals, including overnight. 

The need for such a structure became apparent during Israel’s 2014 war with Hamas in Gaza, when hundreds of thousands of Israelis were forced into bomb shelters, the vast majority of which weren’t accessible to people with disabilities. 

While the building has many uses, its main objective is to be comfortable and welcoming to the children and young adults it was built to accommodate. An artist spent six months painting murals of animals, castles and other child-friendly images on every floor.  

There is an entire floor with respite apartments, where children and young adults can spend a night away from home in a safe, supervised environment. Each apartment has four bedrooms (one for staff), a bathroom, a living room and a TV.

“These overnight stays provide parents with the opportunity to spend more time with their other children or simply to rest,” Samuels said. 

The organization also runs an independent living initiative that allows young adults to leave their parents’ home and live in the community. The apartments operate under the supervision of the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services. 

Every Shalva program has a waiting list, but the organization’s new quarters have allowed it to serve many more children, including those with complex disabilities. 

“Our goal, our purpose is to prepare children with disabilities for inclusion in Israeli society,” so that they can enjoy the same rights and access as any other person, Brandwein said. That preparation begins almost at birth, with the Me & My Mommy early intervention program. 

“The parents learn the tools needed to do their children’s therapies at home,” Brandwein said as we watched a physical therapist teaching a mother how to give a comforting massage to her fussy 6-month-old baby. “Every family receives counseling with professional staff and support groups. We have plenty of fathers coming, too.” 

Often, parents are overwhelmed by the news that their child has a disability.

“Some parents arrive here heartbroken, as if they’re hoping we can fix this,” Brandwein said. “Through the program, they develop a greater sense of acceptance and hope and are fortified to take ownership of their child. Sometimes the mother will just hold the baby. What’s important is the love and connection.” 

On the surface, Shalva’s preschool programs look much like programs at other facilities — the children love to draw, sing and dance, and jump into the ball pit — but its teacher-to-student ratio is extremely high and the children receive a larger-than-usual array of therapies. By the time many of the children complete kindergarten at Shalva, they are ready to attend mainstream schools. 

Once in school, children ages 6 to 21 are invited to participate in Shalva’s after-school program, where they socialize while participating in activities such as drama, music, art, sports and swimming.

The need for a meaningful framework becomes even more important when young adults with disabilities turn 21 and “age out” of the school system. 

As part of its vocational training program, Shalva teaches an intermediate culinary and food preparation course in cooperation with the Ministry of Labor. 

“This isn’t an introductory course. The goal is to prepare them to work in the mainstream,” Brandwein said as we visited Café Shalva, a bright, welcoming dairy restaurant that employs people with disabilities in a wide range of restaurant jobs. 

For young adults who cannot work independently, Shalva offers workshops where they create marketable products from handmade soap to ceramics. 

“We get orders in the hundreds, from companies and individuals who want to give our products as gifts,” Brandwein said. Many Israeli companies and organizations present their employees with gifts before Passover and the High Holidays. 

The employment programs have a family support component: A social worker and occupational therapist are in touch with the participants’ families on a regular basis. For Samuels, it is especially gratifying to see Shalva graduates return to the organization as employees, and not only in the restaurant.

“You can see how far they have come. They are a living testament to what children with disabilities can achieve,” Samuels said.   

Tal Kima

Tal Kima, now 22, began to attend Shalva’s afternoon program when he was 13. Today, he works in Café Shalva. He waits tables but his favorite job, he said, is polishing the cutlery. “It gives me satisfaction to work here,” he said during a short work break.  

Kima, a musician, also plays in the Shalva Band, a professional group that Shalva has been nurturing for years. Among the band members, Kima and Yair Pomburg, both percussionists, have Down syndrome; Anael Khalifa and Dina Samteh, the lead singers, are blind; Yosef Ovadia, its drummer and vocalist, has Williams syndrome; and Guy Maman, who is visually impaired, plays keyboards and sings. Shai Ben Shushan, the band’s director, is a disabled army veteran. Sara Samuels, a longtime volunteer with Shalva, plays guitar.

The band, which has performed inside and outside Israel, came to the world’s attention in 2018 after performing in the Israeli competition leading to the Eurovision Song Contest. Although the band withdrew from the competition that is scheduled to be held in May in Tel Aviv — because it would have necessitated performing on Shabbat — it will perform during an interval of the Eurovision semifinal. 

“Making other people happy makes me happy,” Kima said, explaining why he loves playing with the band. 

Back at Shalva’s preschool, the school’s alumni also work as paid volunteers alongside teachers.

“They’re able to identify a child’s challenges and can direct the child more efficiently” than some of the professional therapists, “especially when it comes to developing speech,”, Brandwein said.  

“Our goal, our purpose is to prepare children with disabilities for inclusion in Israeli society.”
— Meira Brandwein

Shirel Sprung, 19, from Tel Aviv, is one of 67 National Service volunteers who work at Shalva. She said she specifically asked to be placed at the organization.  “I feel like I’m part of a family here,” she said. 

The therapists at Shalva agree that working for the organization isn’t just any job. 

“When I wake up, I’m excited to go to work,” said Leah Tecotzky, a speech therapist. “I’ve never felt this way before. The people I work with are an amazing staff, and we feel like family. I love working with the babies because I see the progress they make, but it’s the moms who give me the strength to continue. They’re dealing with not-so-easy situations, and some are very young or have very large families.” 

Alan Shapiro, a physical therapist, said it is both “meaningful and fun” to work at Shalva “because I know I’m contributing something very important to the child’s future.” 

He also praised Shalva’s flexibility. “I feel I have the freedom to do what’s in the best interest of the child,” Shapiro said. “If I think a child needs more therapy, he can get it.” 

Sara, Lily’s mother, considers Shalva a life raft in a capricious sea. 

“You have to get used to a new reality when you have a child with a disability,” Sara said. “There’s this strong support network from the staff and the other mothers. This is where I get my information and learn about equipment, like special spoons” that babies with poor coordination or weak muscles can hold.

“If Shalva wasn’t here, it would be very difficult,” Sara added. “Shalva is a safe place. It’s a place where you can share and feel comfortable. It’s more than the physiotherapy or the speech therapy. The emotional side is very important, and it’s something I wouldn’t get elsewhere.”

Michele Chabin is an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem. 

Marathon Mother ‘Speedy Beatie’

Bracha “Beatie” Deutsch.

With a cascading brown sheitel, long sleeves and five young children in tow, 29-year-old Bracha “Beatie” Deutsch looks like 95 percent of her female neighbors in Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Har Nof. Yet Deutsch is anything but orthodox. Having completed five marathons, Deutsch was crowned Israel’s champion when she won the Tiberias Marathon earlier this year with a formidable time of 2 hours and 42 minutes. A remarkable feat for anyone, much less a woman who stands at only 4.9 feet tall, is a mother to 5 children under the age of 8 – the youngest of whom is not yet 2 – and who only took up running some three years ago.

In 2015, Deutsch, or “Speedy Beatie” as she’s now known among friends, felt that something was missing in her life. “I had lost touch with who I was,” she said. She had always loved sports but hadn’t done any exercise since the birth of her firstborn. She wanted to start running and knew that the only way to motivate herself was to set her heights high. So she signed up for the Tel Aviv Marathon and finished it in 3:27, unheard of for someone who had started running only four months earlier.

“It was a very empowering experience. We have no idea what we’re capable of and what inner strength we have,” she said. Still, she says, her success isn’t down to her. “My natural athleticism is clearly a gift from God and I can’t take credit for that. I fully acknowledge that my strength is coming from Him.”

“Bracha Deutsch’s next goal — with the encouragement of her rabbi — is to represent Israel in the 2020 Olympics. However, making an impact on other people’s lives, breaking down barriers between Israel’s secular and religious communities and creating Jewish unity is the real finish line for her.”

Deutsch immediately became hooked. She began running a few times a week, waking up at 5am and sometimes accompanied by her husband, a yeshiva teacher and amateur cyclist whom she calls her “biggest cheerleader.”

She is happy for her children to come and cheer her on in races, and in the process, be exposed to people who are not religious. “I want my children to be loving and tolerant,” she said. She added that motherhood is her most challenging undertaking to date. “Being a mother is ten times harder than any race.”

Even though she said she “never had plans to become a famous runner,” Deutsch quickly caught the Israeli media’s attention – not least of all because her unusual sportswear comprising an over-the-knee skirt, long-sleeved jersey and head covering. A year and a half after her first marathon, Deutsch completed another in 4:08. The reason for her “slow” finish time? She was 7 months pregnant.

Deutsch made aliya in 2009 from Passaic, NJ. She works full time for a non-profit called Olami but is phasing out of her job in order to concentrate more on her training and being there for her children. “I don’t think you can do it all,” she said. “You have to decide what you are going to make time for and what not. Learning to say ‘no’ is one of my biggest challenges, but I’m learning.”

Deutsch’s next goal – with the encouragement of her rabbi – is to represent Israel in the 2020 Olympics. She’d already beat the 2016 criteria of 2:45 but it has since changed to 2:29. Deutsch is equanimous about her chances. “Most people who run in the Olympics, their whole lives are defined by that. Mine isn’t so if it doesn’t work out that’s okay.”

For Deutsch, making an impact on other people’s lives, breaking down barriers between Israel’s secular and religious communities and creating Jewish unity is the real finish line.

Deutsch is disarmingly candid about her relationship with God. “I’m a very spiritual person but in a very grounded way.” Every run is spent in constant conversation with God, she says, so hearing that she had inspired a young woman to begin talking to God was the greatest win.

“Making it to the Olympics is a side point,” she said.

Team Shalva Raises Money for Disabilities at Jerusalem Marathon

Runners from Team Shalva's group at the Jerusalem Marathon. Photo courtesy of Shalva Children's Center.

More than 1,000 marathon runners joined Team Shalva for the 2019 Jerusalem March 15.

Shalva, the Israel Association for the Care and Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities, broke a record having the largest group of runners in the 2019 “Winner” Marathon. More than 1,600 participants (of the more than 40,000 in the marathon) from Israel and abroad represented Shalva in various marathon tracks.  

Of the 1,600 participants, 650 runners came from all over the world, including the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Mexico and Australia. Members of Team Shalva ran in order to raise money to support Shalva’s programs for children with disabilities and their families and participated in the all the various tracks of the marathon, including the full marathon.

“The children feel themselves to be an inseparable part of the Jerusalem marathon, and from our point of view, it makes a significant statement for inclusion and acceptance,” Avi Samuels, chairman of Shalva, said in a statement.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of Team Shalva in the marathon and also the community run, which was initiated in the first year of the marathon by Shalva in cooperation with the Jerusalem municipality. Shalva is the largest and longest-running social organization in the marathon. More than  1,000 participants joined for the community run which is a 800 meter-track designed for families and people with disabilities.

The organization raised $1.5 million dollars from the event, which will go to finance future therapy sessions and programs.

“Participating in this marathon is a really unique, life-changing experience, and we are honored to have had so many people join us for this wonderful event and demonstrate their support for a more inclusive society,” Samuels added.

The Shalva Band, who was seen on “HaKokhav HaBa,” an Israeli interactive reality TV singing competition, led the Shalva contingency in the community run. The band is made up of eight musicians, young men and women, among them people with disabilities, who perform on stage together

Shai Ben Shushan, the creator and director of the group, was a soldier in an elite army unit, who was severely wounded in action. As a result of his own rehabilitative process, he decided to help others, using the potential of music to connect people with special needs to the population at large.

Team Shalva also had 300 runners from the Israeli Air Force, Jerusalem police and fire department and Magen David Adom marathoning with them this year as well as schoolchildren, home designer and Instablock creator Moshik Galamin and fitness coach Anat Harel.

“The marvelous energy of the community run was no doubt due to the Shalva children, which drew in the crowd with their love of life,” Samuels said. “My heartfelt thanks go out to all the people who got up early and came to hug us, among them members of the air force, police, fire department and the amazing emergency medical personnel…a special thanks to Mr. Moshe Lion, mayor of Jerusalem, who enabled us to continue this wonderful marathon tradition for its tenth year.”

The Many Faces of 21st-Century Anti-Semitism

Some of the 80 gravestones vandalized in a Jewish cemetery in the eastern French village of Quatzenheim, Feb. 19, 2019. (Frederick Florin/AFP/Getty Images)

The ancient Greeks imagined shape-shifting monsters of myriad faces. Today’s anti-Semitism is chimeric or kaleidoscopic. Choose from these up-to-date manifestations of age-old Jew hatred: 

  • Don ski masks and attack an aging rabbi in Buenos Aires in front of his terrified wife
  • Shame a French schoolgirl by ripping off jewelry identifying her as Jewish as she walks home from school
  • In the dead of night, use spray paint and black markers to deface New York public school playgrounds with anti-Semitic graffiti
  • Toss bricks through the window of a synagogue — then throw firebomb
  • Overturn tombstones in ancient Jewish cemeteries
  • As a Labour Party politician in the United Kingdom, spout conspiracy theories that the Mossad is already plotting to steal the next national election
  • Parade missiles promising “Death to Israel” through the streets of Tehran
  • Pass a fetid stream of United Nations Human Rights Council resolutions ignoring real culprits while condemning Israel for imaginary crimes against human rights
  • If you are an American Democratic congresswoman who tweeted that evil Israel is “hypnotizing the world” — wait seven years to mumble an unconvincing apology
  • As a Latino muralist in Los Angeles, which has the second-largest Jewish population in the world, proudly paint a giant mural on a high-profile commercial space depicting Israelis as the devil incarnate murdering children. Then, after the company owning the space defends you against charges of anti-Semitism, explain how you visited Israel and saw the genocidal face of Jews murdering Palestinians
  • Write an op-ed in the prestigious New York Times implying that staunchly pro-Israel Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was instead the spiritual founder of the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions movement
  • Preach to African Americans that Jews that their traditional civil rights allies instead are members of “the Synagogue of Satan”
  • Turn Jewish summer camps into vehicles for anti-Israel indoctrination
  • As a college professor in Michigan, renege on a promise to write a letter of recommendation for a Jewish student who wants to study in Israel
  • Organize a whisper campaign to blackball students who visited Israel from running for campus office
  • Harass Jewish-American college students who voice support for Israel or wear yarmulkes on campus
  • Flood the internet with notorious anti-Semitic images dating from the Middle Ages that show hideous Jews as child murderers, shylocks and well poisoners
  • Falsify history by denying the Holocaust or the Jewish people’s 3,000-year link to Jerusalem and the Holy Land
  • Accuse Israel Defense Forces soldiers of murdering innocent Palestinians in order to sell their body parts on the international market
  • Deny Israel the rights to self-determination and self-defense while brushing off criticism with the lie that “anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism”

Welcome to the 21st-century’s horrible house of mirrors in which every reflection distorts the truth about the Jewish people and Israel. Our ultimate vindication against tormentors and traducers will be in the Lord. Until then, we will keep our powder dry.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is the associate dean and director of Global Social Action Agenda at the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Harold Brackman is a historian and consultant to the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Why Would Bibi Make a Deal With Kahanists?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Photo by Ammar Awad/Reuters

“The embodiment of hillul ha-Shem [profaning God’s name] in Judaism today is the Kahane movement, whose latest political incarnation … has just been brought into the Israeli mainstream … with the active encouragement of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.”

— Yossi Klein Halevi

“We aren’t talking about an ideological partnership with the far-right but rather a legitimate ad hoc merger to establish a bloc that can prevent the left from taking power.”

— Dror Eydar

So which is it?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to push for a political deal that could help bring representatives of the far-right Kahane movement into the Knesset has prompted widespread anger and condemnation, including a rare rebuke from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). The organization, retweeting a stronger condemnation of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), said it had “a longstanding policy not to meet with members of this racist and reprehensible party.”

AIPAC did not mention Netanyahu by name, nor the parties involved, but the message was clear: Netanyahu crossed a line.

Yair Lapid of the Kahol Lavan party called it a “shameful deal.” Well-known Israeli Rabbi Benny Lau likened it to “a destruction of the temple.” Roni Milo, a former minister of Netanyahu’s Likud party, argued that “no real student of [Zeev] Jabotinsky” — Likud’s ideological pillar — “can accept this.” 

Was this condemnation justified? That depends on whether you think it is crucial for Israel to keep Netanyahu in his job as prime minister. 

To understand this issue, one must begin with the scenario leading up to the deal — a product of Israel’s complicated electoral system. It goes like this: A coalition must have at least 62 seats in the Knesset. According to current polls, the Netanyahu coalition has a slim edge of one or two seats. Moreover, this edge is fragile because of Israel’s electoral threshold, which requires that a party must receive a minimum of 3.25 percent of the vote — about four seats — to even get into the Knesset. Two weeks ago, some of the parties that Netanyahu relies upon were dangerously close to coming up short of the threshold. In such a case, the votes they gain would be split proportionally between all parties based on a complicated formula.

So, Netanyahu faced a dilemma: If he did nothing, the right-wing parties could end up fighting and splitting apart, risking the majority that has kept him in power. But the prime minister has strong ambition and a long memory. He still remembers 1992, when the right was split and lost control of the Knesset when a few parties in its coalition failed by less than a percentage point to meet the threshold. 

The result was the Yitzhak Rabin government, which led to a sharp turnaround in Israel’s policies, in particular the Oslo Accord with the Palestinians — a turnaround Netanyahu and most Israeli voters came to regret and reject.

As one watches the recent developments in Israel’s political arena and ponders Netanyahu’s actions, one must keep 1992 in mind. Because sometimes, a few percentage points have great consequences. 

“The Arab Balad Party had representatives in the Knesset that assisted terrorists, supported Hezbollah and rooted for Syria’s Bashar Assad. Still, the Meretz party opposed the move to deny a state-funded pension from the founder of the party.”

The leaders of Otzma Yehudit, a marginal entity on the far-right outskirts of Israel’s political system, consider themselves the disciples of Rabbi Meir Kahane, a Brooklyn-born activist known for his radical views. Before he was assassinated in a Manhattan hotel in 1990, Kahane served one term in the Knesset before Israel’s courts ruled him unfit to run again and the United States government declared his Kach party a terrorist group. His successors continue to call for the annexation of greater Israel and the expulsion of people whom they consider disloyal to Israel — by which they probably mean most Palestinians.  

Kahane’s disciples have followers. Not very many, but not as few as one would hope. Their followers tend to be religious and right-wing. They are on the margins of the camp that holds Netanyahu’s coalition. To their left — yes, the term “left” is a little awkward in such context — is the right-wing religious party, Jewish Home. It is a party in crisis. Its two charismatic leaders, Ministers Naftali Bennett and Ayeled Shaked, departed to form the New Right Party, and some voters are going to leave with them. 

Enter Netanyahu and his long memory of political disasters. If the Jewish Home party doesn’t cross the threshold, the right could lose close to four seats. Netanyau’s coalition currently does not have two — let alone four — seats to spare. So, he took action: He leaned hard on Jewish Home’s leaders to include two Kahanists on their list. If all right-wing religious parties join forces, their list will surely cross the threshold. No votes will be lost. And Netanyahu will get his coalition. 

What is the meaning of all this?

When Kahane was elected, many members of parliament made sure to excuse themselves from the main hall when he was making speeches. Then they changed the law, forbidding parties that reject democracy or support racist ideas from running for the Knesset. In 1988, Kahane could no longer run. The Supreme Court sealed his party’s fate by declaring that its purposes and actions were “clearly racist.”  

Kahane did not have much impact when he was a Knesset member, nor did any of his disciples. They formed new groups and parties and are allowed to run, unless or until the courts say otherwise. Michael Ben-Ari, one of two Kahanist activists who could become Knesset members thanks to the deal, was a member from 2009 to 2013 and no one seemed to notice. From time to time he would make a controversial comment or stage a provocative protest, but his impact on Israel’s policies was marginal and his presence was contained. Netanyahu probably believes that if Ben-Ari were to become a Knesset member again, the same scenario would likely be repeated. 

Rabbi Meir Kahane in 1984

No serious observer suspects that Netanyahu is a supporter of the Kahane ideology. He is not. For him, the question is one of balance: Which would be worse — one Kahanist in the Knesset or a government headed by someone other than Netanyahu?

Let me suggest an answer: Neither will be the end of the world.

This is not the first time a Kahanist will be in the Knesset. Israel survived Kahanists before, including the original. Similarly, Israel existed before Netanyahu and, hopefully, it is going to survive his departure from office. 

Obviously, not all people agree with this assessment — namely, the prime minister. 

Netanyahu believes that keeping him as the leader of the government is essential for Israel’s future — so essential that he is justified in forging a dirty deal with the Kahanists. If one agrees that the country will be in grave danger without him, an ugly deal with a marginal faction of extremists would seem a small price to pay.

Does anyone believe such foolishness? Does anyone really think that Netanyahu is so essential to Israel?

You might be surprised to learn that the answer is yes. About half of Israel’s population is going to vote for a Netanyahu coalition, despite the Kahane deal. These Israelis are not happy about having a reprehensible Kahane ideology in the Knesset, but they accept it as an ugly political reality preferable to the alternative.

They accept it because they remember Oslo and understand that political purism can be dangerous to the practitioner. They also accept it because they believe the attack on Netanyahu is hypocritical. Parties that are denouncing the prime minister for letting in Kahanists were not so keen to censor problematic political elements on the left when such opportunities presented themselves. The Arab Balad Party had representatives in the Knesset that assisted terrorists, supported Hezbollah and rooted for Syria’s Bashar Assad. Still, the Meretz party opposed the move to deny a state-funded pension from the founder of the party, who escaped Israel when the authorities realized he was a Hezbollah spy. 

But even without going so far as blaming the left for relying on supporters of terrorism, Israeli right-wingers have reasons to giggle when the left accuses them of cutting dirty deals. Was not Oslo a result of a dirty deal?

Netanyahu can still recount in detail how the Rabin government, struggling to form a slim majority to pass what is known as Oslo B — an agreement that gave the Palestinians self-rule in some areas — essentially bought the votes of two Knesset members (they got positions and benefits in exchange for their votes).

Gonen Segev, one of the two politicians who gave Rabin his 61-59 majority, was just sentenced to 11 years in prison, having been convicted for spying for Iran. That’s right, the man without whom there would be no Oslo Accord is now a convicted spy.

Of course, a large group of people see the Kahane deal as a red line that should not be crossed, no matter the circumstances or consequences. 

“There’s a difference between a racist party entering the Knesset — the fringes of Israeli democracy can unfortunately contain such elements — and their being encouraged by the prime minister,” said Yohanan Plesner of Israel’s Democracy Institute.

Rabbi Lau made a similar point: “In the name of love for the land of Israel and maintaining sovereignty over it, the prime minister enticed the followers of Rabbi Kook [from the Jewish Home party] to make the abomination of racism kosher and enable it to enter the gates of the Knesset.”

Both are right. The involvement of Netanyahu in cutting such a deal potentially could confer a grain of legitimacy on an abhorrent ideology.

So what would opponents of the deal expect?

Apparently, they expect Netanyahu and his supporters to tolerate the prospect of a loss in the next election — and much more. “Jewish safety and sovereignty cannot come at the expense of Palestinian rights, freedoms and dignity,” wrote Batya Ungar-Sargon, the opinion editor at The Forward. She is extremely angry at Israel and at the deal. She also has her priorities set: Palestinian rights first, safety second. That is, the safety of me and my children. Naturally, with such priorities, condemning the Kahane deal is quite easy, as it allows for no argument in favor of the deal. 

“No serious observer suspects that Netanyahu is a supporter of the Kahane ideology. He is not. For him, the question is one of balance: Which would be worse — one Kahanist in the Knesset or a government headed by someone other than Netanyahu?”

Right-wing Israelis are not receptive to complaints about dirty political deals, even less so when those arguments come from people in the United States — people who won’t suffer the consequences if Israel’s election produces a bad outcome.

Israel Hayom, Israel’s most popular newspaper, which is highly supportive of Netanyahu, was critical of AIPAC’s tweet: “For years, the left has counted in every coalition calculation the pro-Palestinian radical left along with it. This included Arab parties working to destroy Israel’s Jewishness by claiming that it was ‘racism.’ … Where was AIPAC so far, why did we not hear this moral preaching to the Israeli left about this alliance?”

On social media, as usual, the response was sometimes more brutal.

Irit Linur, a very well-known, controversial and popular Israeli novelist, radio personality and commentator, posted: “If the righteous Jews of the United States have the will and the energy to fight abhorrent racism that operates under the auspices of parliamentary legitimacy, let them refer to Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, two anti-Semitic congresswomen, both of whom doubt Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, and recently accused AIPAC of bribing American politicians to support Israel. In my opinion, it is a scandal that a legitimate party accepts two anti-Semitic racists such as Omar and Tlaib. … So if AIPAC is already at the preaching mode, take care of your party first, in the country where you are a citizen, and mess with our parties when you become citizens of the State of Israel.”

Many Israelis liked the post, giving it 2,100 likes, 268 comments and 323 shares.

For most Israelis, politics is not always easy. Had they been told in advance that the only way to ensure their safety was to have two Kahane representatives in the Knesset, I assume most of them would have grudgingly accepted the deal. And in fact, that is exactly the message conveyed by the prime minister’s actions: “It’s either the deal or your safety — because a coalition other than mine is not going to keep you safe.”

Do I buy this argument? No. I abhor the Kahane deal. 

But for the reasons I’ve attempted to explain, I understand why other Israelis do.  

Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.

Meet Avia Joel Pinkovitch: The Teenage Peacemaker

At 17, Israeli-born Avia Joel Pinkovitch may be a little young to take part in negotiations for a final status solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but in her mind, she and her fellow 11th-graders have more chance of achieving peace than the generations that came before them. 

“To us, this conflict seems very primitive,” Joel Pinkovitch said. “Now that I live here, I see just how alike both sides are.”

“Here” is the Eastern Mediterranean International Boarding School (EMIS) in Kfar Hayarok, just north of Tel Aviv. Twenty percent of Joel Pinkovitch’s grade is comprised of Israelis, 20 percent are Palestinians and 60 percent are international students from 21 countries including Rwanda, Indonesia, the United States, Guatemala, Vietnam, Afghanistan and several European nations. 

Joel Pinkovitch started studying at EMIS this year, after spending the rest of her high school career in a more mainstream school, which she said she loathed. The only focus in her previous school, she said was on passing exams. 

“I felt like I didn’t have anyone to talk to,” she said. EMIS, she explained, focuses on teaching students the tools to solve problems by themselves. In addition, she said, the subjects are taught by experts in the field who love what they teach.     

“I want to be doing good in the place with the most bad.”

“I feel like I’m looked at as an adult, as a smart person with the potential to go far,” she said. Her dream is to serve as a combat medic in the military. “I want to be doing good in the place with the most bad,” she said. She then plans to become a surgeon who also practices alternative medicine. 

EMIS recently hosted marathon “peace talks” on behalf of the school’s Leon Charney Resolution Center. Ninety students participated in negotiations facilitated by conflict resolution experts Sapir Handelman and Professor Peter Jones, and moderated by retired Brig. Gen. Israela Oron, former commander of the Israel Defense Forces Women’s Corps. At the end of the talks, the 11th-graders signed a “peace agreement.”

The students were allowed to choose which side they wanted to represent. Joel Pinkovitch was the only Israeli who chose to represent the Palestinians. “I wanted another perspective and I thought it would also be interesting for [the Palestinians] to see an Israeli represent them,” she said, adding that a Palestinian friend of hers was deeply touched by the gesture.

The negotiations didn’t begin well. Her Israeli counterparts were offended that she would choose to represent the other side. But later, she said, they understood that it worked to their benefit that she was Israeli. “I could understand both sides,” she said. 

The negotiations dealt with all the conflict’s sticking points, from security concerns to the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees, to Jerusalem. “There was a lot of arguing,” Joel Pinkovitch admitted. “It wasn’t violent, but it was vociferous.” 

Still, the teens managed to make compromises. Among them, was deciding that the West Bank security barrier would be handed over to an international peacekeeping force and that passage between checkpoints for Palestinians would be eased. “The end goal would be to get rid of [the barrier] altogether,” she said. 

Joel Pinkovitch waxes hopeful about the future. “It seems absurd that this conflict still exists,” she said. Whereas previous decades were fraught by wars and a lack of knowledge about the “other,” the digital era has eradicated the distance between people and enables people to get know one another better, she said. 

“Before I came [to EMIS], I didn’t know what a Palestinian was,” she said. “And suddenly now, he’s in my room. He’s my friend. He is no longer ‘over there.’ In my opinion, that’s the way to begin finding a solution.”

The Man Behind United Hatzalah, Saving Lives With Rapid Response Times

Eli Beer

Eli Beer was just 7 years old when a bus exploded in front of him as he was walking home from school in Jerusalem. A wounded man pleaded with Beer to help him. Frightened and unable to help, Beer ran off. He tried to forget what he had seen but couldn’t. 

The incident motivated Beer, now 45, to dedicate his life to saving others. When he turned 15, he became a licensed emergency medical technician (EMT) and volunteered with an ambulance crew. But when it took him 21 minutes to cross Jerusalem in heavy traffic to reach a choking 7-year-old, a delay that resulted in the boy’s death, Beer decided to take matters into his own hands. 

Founded by Beer in 1992, United Hatzalah (the Hebrew word for “rescue”) is a nonprofit organization that runs solely on donations and is committed to saving lives in Israel and around the world with lightning response times. Hatzalah-trained volunteer EMTs use “ambucycles” — ambulances on motorcycles — to dodge traffic and provide lifesaving services free of charge. 

Today, the organization has grown to more than 5,000 volunteer medical responders treating over 300,000 people per year. It operates in 21 countries across Europe, Australia, South America and North America, and it’s coming to Africa soon. 

Ahead of United Hatzalah’s inaugural Los Angeles gala on Feb. 28, Beer spoke with the Journal about the organization and his plans to eventually bring operations to L.A. 

Jewish Journal: Why were you so confident this idea would work? 

Eli Beer: You could be the greatest ambulance and EMT crew in the world, but if you don’t get there in time, none of it matters. I never thought about a 90-second response time to everywhere in Israel as my goal. Initially, I thought about my neighborhood. About 4,000 live there, so I thought if I have 15 people responding to emergencies, that would be enough. Eventually, I thought we’d have to expand and form a network of volunteers that would be dispersed everywhere in Israel. 

JJ: Hatzalah is known for pioneering location-based GPS technology. How did that start? 

EB: The first time I saved someone’s life, when Hatzalah was just getting started, I got there in 30 seconds. I heard the emergency call from police scanners. I ran because it was a block away. We had to break into this field using chutzpah. Organizations like Magen David Adom (the Israeli version of the Red Cross) wouldn’t dispatch calls to us, even in my neighborhood, even though we were closer. But with police scanners, we could get there with no problem. 

“Whether or not you’re a Zionist, which side of the conflict you’re on, that isn’t a part of [United Hatzalah]. Anyone who wants to be part of this system that puts life before anything else can join.”

JJ: And you obviously upgraded from police scanners. 

EB: Uber, basically, unintentionally copied our model. The whole intention is not giving rides for free, but saving lives for free. Our app, which was developed before Uber and Lyft, notifies the closest 10 volunteers using 250 algorithms. 

JJ: I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up the motorcycles. 

EB: That’s right. We’re the ones who invented the two-wheel “ambucycles.” It has everything an ambulance has, apart from the bed, except it’s on two wheels and can skip all the traffic, increasing response time. Technically, I’m the first one in the world who drove one. 

JJ: Who are your volunteers? 

EB: They are incredible people. Most of them come from low-income jobs or communities and they just want to make a big difference. They come from religious backgrounds, ultra-religious backgrounds and secular backgrounds. They’re Arabs, Muslims, Christians, Druze and Jews. 

JJ: You’ve established Hatzalah outposts all over the world. What goes into starting Hatzalah in a new territory? 

EB: The one who wants to start it has to be totally meshugge. It needs to be someone who’s willing to put a regular life aside for this mission. Once they have the right leadership in place, we work with the group. We bring them to Israel and get them set up with everything they need. Then they can go back to their country and start recruiting people, getting the right equipment, working with 9-1-1 dispatchers.

JJ: Will Hatzalah be coming to Los Angeles? 

EB: We’re slowly starting to come to the United States. Right now, we’re in Jersey City. We originally started there four years ago, mainly serving the Jewish community. There’s a Hatzalah crew in Los Angeles but they’re technically not affiliated with us. They’re mainly serving the Pico-Robertson and La Brea-area Jewish communities. We’re friends with them, though. They visit us in Israel and we visit them. Soon, though, our plan is to expand to New York, Los Angeles and other places in the States. 

JJ: Why is Hatzalah holding a gala in Los Angeles at the end of this month? 

EB: We want more support and more awareness for the mission. Jay Leno is one of our biggest supporters. He loves our mission and backs us big-time, so we decided to do a gala there and honor him. We’re just hoping to get a lot of people, especially young people, involved in our organization, and we’re going to make the gala a lot of fun. 

JJ: What are you hoping to highlight to the Los Angeles Jewish community? 

EB: Saving lives. We’ve treated 3.5 million people. They all got amazing help and no one had to pay for it. But what’s right up there is the diversity. Once we opened up to let just anyone in with a good heart, not just Jews, that’s when we changed the name to United Hatzalah. Not only do we save lives, but we’re able to bring all different types of people in Israel together. It’s an unbelievable display of tikkun olam. Many people only see Israel’s bad sides. It also has a lot of beautiful sides. We’re bringing a volunteer to the gala. She’s a Muslim woman with five children who has never been outside of Israel. We’re also bringing an ultra-religious Jewish woman. Whether or not you’re a Zionist, which side of the conflict you’re on, that isn’t a part of this. Anyone who wants to be part of this system that puts life before anything else can join. It’s a beautiful thing. n

Woman Stabbed to Death In Jerusalem

Screenshot from Twitter.

A 19-year-old woman was found dead in Jerusalem on Feb. 7, with multiple stab wounds and stripped of all her clothing.

The woman, identified as national service volunteer Ori Ansbacher, was found in Ein Yael, which is in between Jerusalem and the al-Walaja village in Judea and Samaria, after being reported missing earlier in the day.

“When we reached the scene, we were taken to an open area,” Magen David Adom medic Seffi Mizrahi told reporters. “There we saw the 19-year-old woman who was unconscious, without a pulse and not breathing. Unfortunately, all we could do was pronounce her dead.”

Four Palestinians were arrested in connection with her death, but they were eventually released due to a lack of evidence tying them to the crime scene. Ansbacher’s death is being treated as a possible murder.

“Ori Ansbacher was murdered last night in Jerusalem with shocking brutality,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement. “We all embrace the Ansbacher family and the Tekoa community. The security forces are investigating the murder. We will find those responsible and deal with them to the fullest extent of the law.”

Ansbacher’s funeral was held on Feb. 8.

“Thank you, my Ori, that you chose to come into this world through me,” Ansbacher’s mother said. “Thank you for 19 and a half years of light and joy. I ask now, as you rise up to a world where there is only good, that you give us the strength from above to continue to believe in the good in this world. Send us your light from above so we can continue to put on a good face.”

Florida: Jerusalem Is the ‘Undivided’ Capital of Israel

The Florida cabinet issued a January 29 proclamation recognizing a united Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

The proclamation called Jerusalem Israel’s “eternal and undivided” capital; the Jerusalem Post notes that while the Trump administration has recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, they have not commented on if it should be divided or not.

“As a state we must continue to demonstrate our broad and deep support of our ally and economic partner by implementing pro-Israel policies,” Florida chief financial officer Jimmy Patornis said. “Today we declare to the world that Florida stands united with Israel.”

Deputy Consul General of Israel to Florida Guy Gilady said that Israel was “deeply humbled” by the proclamation.

“The state of Florida has long been a stalwart supporter of the Jewish nation,” Gilady said. “We see a much deeper sense of true friendship that defines the current Florida-Israel relationship. Under your leadership, we see a deep understanding regarding the values that our nations share, the values of hope democracy and freedom and free enterprise.”

The proclamation happened on the same day that Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) announced that Airbnb was going to be put on the state’s Scrutinized Companies List for de-listing from Israeli homes in Judea and Samaria, meaning that Airbnb will ineligible for state funding when it goes public unless it abandons its Judea and Samaria policy.

Website Hosting’s Female Orthodox Face

Miriam Schwab

When an ultra-Orthodox magazine approached Miriam Schwab for an interview about her fledgling startup, the first question she asked was whether her picture would be included. Regretfully, the reporter told her, the magazine’s policy was not to publish any photos of women, ostensibly on modesty grounds.

“I can’t and I won’t be in a publication that has a discriminatory policy against women,” Schwab said, even though she covers her hair and is the granddaughter of the rabbi who founded Toronto’s chapter of Agudath Israel, the group that advocates on behalf of Orthodox Jewry. 

While Schwab acknowledged the importance of the piece, she couldn’t in good conscience accept the offer.

“In Judaism there has never been a concept of a woman covering her face,” she said. “That’s not Judaism; that’s a perversion of Judaism. It’s extremism.” She added that the Torah wouldn’t mention the matriarchs’ beauty if it was immodest. 

“Women always had a voice in Judaism, and they should continue to have that,” she said. “In terms of humanity, our faces are our identity, it’s how we recognize people. And when you take that away, you take away our identity.”

“Women always had a voice in Judaism, and they should continue to have that.” — Miriam Schwab

Schwab’s company — which the magazine missed the chance to profile — is Strattic, a web hosting platform. In the mid-2000s, Schwab was one of the first people in Israel to become an expert in WordPress, a content management system used to publish online content. Schwab ran a company called Illuminea, which used WordPress to build websites. But she was all too aware of WordPress’s shortcomings, including its architecture, which left openings for hackers and slowed down websites considerably. After 12 years, Schwab took the plunge and decided to create something better.

Strattic turns WordPress into a static host generator. “We’re the next step in hosting,” Schwab said. “You can have the worst-coded, most-hackable website and be completely irresponsible about maintaining it and it doesn’t matter.”

She said the static website, essentially a mirror site — or what Schwab calls a “snapshot” —  is exponentially faster and has almost no way to hack into it because there’s no entry site. 

Two years ago, thanks to her revolutionary idea, Schwab was accepted into two accelerators in Jerusalem. Today, a team of seven manages the company, which took on its first client almost a year ago. It has a long list of people waiting to become users of its product. “We have 600 companies that have signed up without doing any marketing,” Schwab said. 

Two aspects of founding a startup that are often cited as the most challenging — raising the seed funding and working long hours — weren’t that challenging for Schwab. As a mother of seven, she said, she doesn’t believe in working 24 hours a day. 

“People talk about the importance of avoiding burnout after they burnout,” she said. And regarding capital? “I was always confident we’d raise the money.”

For Schwab, the most painful aspect of founding the company was hiring the right people. “A product lives or dies by the people on the team, in my opinion,” she said. “But we’re at a place where our team is amazing and works so well together.”

Torah Scrolls Vandalized at Jerusalem Synagogue

Torah scrolls vandalized in Jerusalem synagogue Jan. 29. Photo from Facebook

Vandals broke into the Siah Yisrael synagogue in Jerusalem Jan. 28, damaging Torah scrolls, walls and other Jewish ritual objects. Members of the synagogue found the items early Jan. 29 scattered across the floor.

“This morning we were shown a shocking case of the desecration of a synagogue and destruction of Torah Scrolls in Kiryat Yovel,” Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion said in a statement. “This was a serious incident that is reminiscent of  dark times of the Jewish people; we will not allow crimes like this to occur in our time.”

Photos obtained from the Jerusalem Post show the Torah scrolls dirty and dusty and a hole cut into the side of the art.

According to the JTA, the synagogue does not have any security cameras.

“I am shocked at the desecration of a synagogue in Jerusalem,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement. “The police must immediately find those responsible in order to bring them to justice.”

Israeli politician and former Speaker of the Knesset Reuven Rivlin, wrote on Twitter, hoping that the Israeli police find the people responsible and “bring them to justice.”

The Jerusalem Post also reported that this attack comes after attacks on two synagogues in the central coastal city of Netanya. The Netan Ya Reform congregation was flooded on the night of Jan. 26 when unknown vandals broke in and placed a hose through it with the water running. Prayer books, furniture and building infrastructure was ruined by the water, which was knee-deep as of Jan 27.

The same weekend, prayer books were burned at the Orthodox synagogue McDonald International Shul (or New Synagogue) in Netanya, where the words “Hail Satan” were found graffitied on the wall.

“Two synagogues were vandalized in one week, the first in Netanya, and the second one – this morning in Jerusalem, our capital” Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein told The Jerusalem Post. “It happened here, in the Jewish state.”

An Ancient Moon and a Modern Fascination

Painted by Lisa Goldberg

On a bitterly cold January night (or early morning, to be exact), I stood out on my front porch and there it was. A blood moon. It was my third trip outside, as I had gone out every few hours—first to see the full moon, then to see the eclipse beginning, and now this. My entire family was asleep, but I “shared” the experience with millions of others around the world. I had purposefully stayed awake for this and it did not disappoint.

The next morning, Tu B’Shevat (which always happens on a full moon), my social media feed exploded with pictures of that beautiful and awesome site. Once upon a time, people would see such a thing and think the world was ending. Now, we plan for days in advance to marvel at nature’s beauty. With our modern telescopes and internet stream. Remember the Great American Eclipse of 2017?

It truly is amazing to think about. In the age of the endless news cycle, streaming, and text messaging, why are we still as fascinated by the moon as we were fifty years ago when Neil Armstrong first set foot? But, then again, that is our entire lives as Jews—balancing the old with the new. The ancient with the modern. Indeed, we can have both. They are not mutually exclusive.

Tonight, Jews around the world will light Shabbat candles, fulfilling an ancient commandment at the end of a busy week. Depending upon their level of observance, they will engage in various recreational activities. Some as old as a game of chess, others as modern as a Netflix video. Different Jews with different traditions. On Saturday morning, out comes an ancient scroll read aloud in a most likely modern building. Old and new. Ancient and modern. It is everywhere.

In his weekly column in the Detroit Free Press, Mitch Albom unapologetically writes about his continued ownership of a flip phone. “I don’t care about phones. To me, they are there for talking and for hanging up. I don’t need to carry the world in my pocket. I don’t need to post my life.” A modern writer who still uses “old” technology.

Anyone who has been to Israel has experienced this dichotomy. One day, you are walking through the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem and the next day, you find yourself amidst the bustling nightlife of Tel Aviv. However, one need not go to Israel to have this. It is the entire history of the Jewish experience. Each Jewish holiday (appropriately placed against the ancient cycle of the moon) has a mix of old and new. Hanukkah candles substituted for oil. The Passover seder plate now includes an orange. The list goes on and will continue to be updated for eternity.

L’dor V’dor. From each generation, we create our own traditions, combining the old with new. And it is as beautiful as a blood moon at midnight.

Disclosures: the author’s husband is Mitch Albom’s cousin. The painting included with this story is an original created by the author.

Lisa Rothstein Goldberg is a social worker and Jewish educator. She currently lives in Louisville, Ky., with her husband and two young daughters.

Noam Gershony: From IDF Pilot to Gold Medal Paralympian

Noam Gershony. Photo courtesy of LOTEM

At the outbreak of the Second Lebanon War in 2006, Noam Gershony was serving in the Israel Defense Forces as an Apache helicopter pilot when his aircraft crashed, killing his co-pilot and leaving him severely injured. 

“I stopped having big plans because I had a pretty good idea of what my life was going to look like when I was serving,” Gershony, 35, told the Journal in a phone interview during a recent visit to Los Angeles. “I was supposed to serve five or 10 more years, and all of a sudden, things changed.“

During his rehabilitation, Gershony started playing wheelchair tennis. He also tried wheelchair basketball, swimming and the shooting range before settling on tennis. Six years later, he went on to win the gold medal in tennis at the 2012 London Paralympics. 

Although he retired from wheelchair tennis after the Paralympics, Gershony continues to work out regularly. “Walking is still a challenge,” he said, “so it’s important to keep in good shape.” 

He also continues the work he started during his rehab, which includes volunteering for organizations that help individuals with special needs, children with disabilities and at-risk youth. “I like it better than tennis, actually,” he said. 

Gershony, who regularly travels the world to share his inspiring story, was in Beverly Hills last month to speak with Jewish National Fund (JNF) donors. JNF has partnered with the Israeli organization LOTEM, which provides 30,000 children and adults with special needs access to outdoor educational activities. 

LOTEM operates two centers, an ecological farm in Emek HaShalom Nature Park near Yokneam and a space in Jerusalem. Its programs help a variety of people, including individuals with visual and hearing impairments, physical, intellectual and emotional challenges, and children on the autism spectrum, as well as at-risk youth and mothers and children residing in shelters for victims of domestic violence.

Gershony began volunteering two years after his accident because he wanted to do something with more meaning, rather than just concentrating on himself and his condition. He began teaching mathematics to at-risk youth.

 “[Volunteering] gives you something that no other thing in life can give you,” he said. “Giving something without asking for something in return puts [things] in perspective.”

“People approach me after hearing my story and they say big words like ‘inspiration’ and ‘hope.’ I try to remind people of how good their life is and put things in perspective.” — Noam Gershony

Born and raised in Kfar Saba, Gershony said he was “born into your average Israeli family” and had the “perfect” childhood and a supportive family, both growing up and after his injury. 

“When you are young, you don’t really know how to appreciate it because you are surrounded by kids who basically come from the same background,”“ he said. “I had everything. I served in the military. I was accepted to flight school and graduated as a pilot. Then I became a guy with a disability. Then, a few years later, I became an athlete and won a medal in the [Paralympics], and a few years after that I became a speaker.”

Gershony speaks about being able to appreciate what you have and focusing on the positive.

“People approach me after hearing my story and they say big words like ‘inspiration’ and ‘hope.’ I try to remind people of how good their life is and put things in perspective,” he said. “Other people are struggling with crises, so maybe my story and my decisions [can] enlighten the path they need to [take].” 

Plucky Young Woman’s Road to Recovery

Adina Elbaz sits behind her ride partner, Rocky Brody.
Photo courtesy of Wheels of Love, ALYN Hospital

Adina Elbaz had just celebrated her 16th birthday when she was hit by a minibus on her way to school. Sustaining major head trauma, Elbaz lost the ability to walk, talk and breathe unassisted. Doctors weren’t sure she would survive. 

Elbaz, now 22, said she is grateful she has no recollection of the accident. “Thank God I have no [psychological] trauma,” she said, “so I have no problem going [back] to the place [where] I was hit.”

She is also grateful for the friends and family who sat vigil by her bedside for several months on end, and the people who took care of her five siblings while her parents took care of her.

Elbaz is especially grateful to ALYN, a pediatric rehabilitation hospital in Jerusalem. She spent a month in the intensive care unit at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem before being transferred to the neurosurgery department where most of the patients were octogenarians. 

Moving to ALYN was a great blessing, Elbaz said, and leaving it many months later was a bittersweet experience. “I had a hard time accepting that I had to leave my home, to go into the real world,” she said.

“I feel like this must have been God’s plan for me.”

The nurses at ALYN were “cute and warm and fun” and did not wear uniforms, she said. They would gently reprimand visitors who said anything mildly negative while in the room with Elbaz, even when she was still in a coma. She had been at ALYN several months when, no longer requiring a feeding tube, she could eat the dinner cooked by the wife of her father’s study partner while he and her father learned Torah at her bedside.

She recalled one occasion when she rolled the meal’s tinfoil wrapping into a ball and played catch with her father and his study partner. A doctor spotted them and retrieved a tennis ball from her office. Before long, nurses, doctor, patient and visitors were playing catch. “At some point, the ball got stuck in the ceiling. It might still be there,” Elbaz said, laughing.

Perhaps most startling of all is Elbaz’s attitude toward the man who was driving the car that struck her. She has not met him but wants to. “I feel really bad for him,” she said, noting that he is an older man who lost his 16-year-old son in a car accident.

“Maybe he feels guilty,” she said. “I want to show him that, yes, I do have my issues today but I’m doing well. I want to calm his conscience. I don’t feel it was his fault in any way. I know it was meant to happen. I don’t know why, but if it wouldn’t have been him it would have been someone else.”

The experience has prompted Elbaz to pursue neuroscience. In November, she will begin undergraduate studies in biotechnology. But before starting classes, she’ll take part with her tandem bicycling buddy Rocky in ALYN’s “Wheels of Love” fundraising drive — an annual 5-day cycling tour that draws some 600 cyclists from all over the world. 

The first year of the tour she rode a tricycle for a few minutes at the finishing line. She recalled her physical therapist telling her that one day she would be riding a bicycle, to which Elbaz responded, “Yeah, right.” 

Now, six years later, Elbaz can ride a bicycle.

In the year and a half she spent at ALYN relearning how to talk and walk and eventually how to ride a bike, Elbaz never once asked the universe, “Why me?”

“I feel like this must have been God’s plan for me,” she said. “For what I need to achieve in this world and to be a better person.”

Shalhevet Students Meet With Koolulam Founder

Photo by Ricky Rachman

Every morning, Or Taicher, one of the founders of Israel’s social flash mob-style sing-along craze Koolulam, opens his email in search of inspiration to start his day. A few months ago, a message sent by Shalhevet High School administrators did the trick. 

“That’s the reason I’m here today,” Taicher told more than 200 Shalhevet students gathered in the school’s gymnasium the day before erev Yom Kippur. An online link led Taicher to a Koolulam-inspired video of Shalhevet’s student body, aided by live instrumentation, singing Matisyahu’s “One Day” in honor of Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. 

“I was truly moved by what I saw,” he said. And that’s saying something. 

Since kicking off in Tel Aviv last year, Koolulam — a play on the English word “cool,” the Hebrew words “kulam” (everyone) and “kol” (voice), and “kululu,” a festive ululation of Sephardic Jews — has soared in popularity throughout Israel. Thousands of tickets to take part in arena-filling Koolulam events are sold in minutes. Swaths of strangers come together … to sing. 

Koolulam partners with nongovernmental organizations and local municipalities to reach every sect of Israeli society. To date, more than 100,000 people from diverse backgrounds have attended to learn musical arrangements (which take about an hour) and sing well-known songs in English, Hebrew and Arabic. The videos garner millions of online views, making Koolulam an international phenomenon. 

During Taicher’s recent visit to Shalhevet, proceedings kicked off with 30 seconds of silence in honor of Ari Fuld, the American-Israeli terrorism victim who was stabbed in Gush Etzion on Sept. 16. The Shalhevet choir then sang “One Day” for Taicher before 17-year-old Lucy Fried interviewed him.

“It all started with curiosity,” Taicher said. “Two years ago, I saw a video of thousands of people praying at the Wailing Wall. I was so moved, so inspired. I asked myself, ‘How can I pass that along? How can I inspire others?’”

Taicher, a filmmaker, recalled brainstorming ways to help unify a fractured Israeli society marred by a lack of constructive political dialogue. He immediately considered the international language of music. 

“I wanted to do something that could make connections instead of separating people,” he said. “This is how it began. I feel that music has a lot of power. It can open hearts and build bridges.”

Beyond bridging ethnic and religious divides in Israel, the mass singing sensation has proven to be a diplomatic tool. Earlier this summer, Kyai Haji Yahya Cholil Staquf, the secretary general of the world’s largest Muslim organization, Nahdlatul Ulama, which is based in Indonesia and has more than 60 million members, called Taicher on his cellphone and confessed to being a Koolulam fan. 

“I wanted to do something that could make connections instead of separating people. This is how it began. I feel that music has a lot of power. It can open hearts and build bridges.” — Or Taicher

“I hung up. I thought it was a joke,” Taicher said. But it wasn’t. Taicher and his two co-founders, Ben Yefet and Michal Shahaf Shneiderman, set off to plan a truly majestic event for Staquf’s Jerusalem visit slated for mid-June. The 800 available tickets sold out in six minutes. The attendees included Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders. The crowd convened at midnight in the courtyards of the Tower of David in the Old City of Jerusalem to sing Bob Marley’s “One Love” in English, Hebrew and Arabic (the Journal reported on this story in its June 29 edition).

Shortly after the Koolulam event, Indonesia, a country with no previous diplomatic ties to Israel, opened its borders to Israeli passport-holding tourists. “This showed me that what we’re doing, our movement, it’s working,” Taicher said. 

He also noted that Koolulam receives Facebook messages from Arab fans around the world. Some even contain apologies for harboring unfounded hate of Israel. 

Koolulam’s founders will receive the 2018 Asia Game Changer Award in New York next month, which Taicher called “an unbelievable honor.” Fellow honorees include the founder of the Syrian White Helmets and the Thai rescuers who saved a dozen teenage soccer players in a flooded cave earlier this year.   

Ari Schwarzberg, Shalhevet’s dean of students, told the Journal that initiatives like Koolulam help frame conversations on Zionism divorced from politics. 

“I think that the way our school views the value of Zionism, one of the ways we deeply feel it, is demonstrating that Israel has the great potential to be a place that models the best version of the Jewish people,” he said. “It gets complicated with politics. But this seemed to be one of those initiatives that represents the best of the Jewish people and a way to show our students and our community a way of deepening the understanding of what Zionism is.” 

Taicher told the Shalhevet students it was an uphill battle to get Koolulam off the ground, saying he heard the word “no” a lot. “You can’t let it stop you,” he said. “Now we have over 100 people working for us and we’re making a change.”

He also spoke about Koolulam’s expansion plans, which he said may involve opening branches in Los Angeles, New York, South Africa and Abu Dhabi. A South African event is scheduled for November. 

“It was really cool to get a chance to talk with [Taicher],” Fried said following the discussion. “It’s really inspiring that he created something so powerful despite all the rejection he faced.” 

Many Shalhevet students expressed interest in attending a potential future Koolulam event in Los Angeles. Tobey Lee, 16, told the Journal the idea sounded fun, but it’s not the singing he’s drawn to.

“Koolulam is something bigger than just singing a song,” he said. “It’s creating something bigger than music. It’s really cool that it’s creating peace.”