April 23, 2019

April 19, 2019


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March 29, 2019

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Feb. 22, 2019

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Feb. 15, 2019

Feb. 8, 2019

I’m Not Making Unsupported Claims; You Are!

In the Letters to the Editor section of the Jan. 31 Jewish Journal issue is a letter titled, “Don’t Print Speculation.” The letter’s author complains about a column by Dan Schnur which, he says, contains an “unfounded supposition” about Donald Trump. He then goes on to broadly accuse “Never Trumpers,” saying, “Without any facts to support their position, they rely on conjecture, speculation and innuendo.”

I completely agree that unfounded accusations about people are far too common, especially in social media, so I wanted to see for myself what this letter was referring to. Assuming this author is writing about Schnur’s Jan. 16 column, the letter writer seems to have missed the second paragraph, in which Schnur lays out a series of facts as evidence in regard to Trump’s connections with Russia.

One may or may not agree on what to make of those facts, but at least they are there. On top of that, I read the message of the column as warning us against jumping to conclusions and urging us to wait until Special Counsel Robert Mueller publishes his findings of Trump and Russia.

So, right off the bat, this appears to be a case of the letter writer falsely accusing Dan Schnur of coming to an “unfounded supposition.” It gets worse from there.

He accuses BuzzFeed of publishing an “unverified dossier” even though BuzzFeed at the time provided appropriate context for it, and much of the dossier has since been verified. He also takes BuzzFeed to task for the story in which it claimed Michael Cohen was instructed by Donald Trump to lie to Congress.

In other words, the letter writer does exactly what he accuses “Never Trumpers” of doing. He accuses them of relying on “conjecture, speculation and innuendo” without any facts, and then as an example, he uses two examples from a single media outlet, with the first example being that apparently he just didn’t like the facts the outlet published (the existence of the dossier is a fact and what it contains is a fact, whether or not all of those contents have yet been verified), and the second example being a case in which facts as BuzzFeed understood them were supplied, although the accuracy of some of those facts are currently in dispute. It’s true that some may believe the letter writer’s complaints may reflect poorly on BuzzFeed, but they are not examples of speculation without facts, and they hardly support his broad claim about “Never Trumpers.”

I do not place the whole blame for this on the letter writer. Although we can’t control what is being said on social media, responsible media outlets like the Jewish Journal can, and I believe should, refrain from contributing to the degradation of intelligent public discourse by printing columns, blogs, letters to the editor, or anything else which contain patently false or obviously misleading information, nor should it print ad hominem attacks or broad claims that are unsupported by facts. The Jewish Journal cannot solve the problem, but it can refrain from contributing to it.

Feb. 1, 2019

Jan. 25, 2019

Jan. 18, 2019

Jan. 4, 2019

We Can’t Afford to Leave Anyone Behind

Photo from Flickr

Preparing the workforce of the future can’t happen in silos. Training workers for the changing nature of jobs in the near future and beyond takes a joint effort, and business must play a key role in those partnerships. That was the important message that came out of the recent Business-Led Education town hall in Santa Monica, co-hosted by WorkingNation, the Milken Institute and the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation.

“We need to think about what the 21st-century workforce is going to look like, and unless we establish partnerships with business, education and government, people will be left behind,” said Kevin Klowden, executive director of the Milken Institute’s Center for Regional Economics and California Center. 

“We’ve come to think that there’s really not a solution in this talent space that doesn’t involve partnership,” said Jane Oates, president of WorkingNation, a nonprofit media company that reports on the future of work. 

Technology is changing what jobs look like faster than at any time in our history. Right now, there are millions of open jobs around the country and millions of job seekers. Unfortunately, there is a skills mismatch — employers are looking for workers with certain skills and those job seekers are coming up short. 

Jeanie Wade, Northrop Grumman’s head of human resources, said there is a huge demand at the Los Angeles-based company for “engineers, especially system engineers, mechanical engineers, aerospace engineers. The other area are technicians. These would be folks who would work on our assembly lines, manufacturing. We have a lot of employees who do assembly and fabrication for us.” Wade said the company may get 400 people applying for a job, but “most of our candidate don’t pass” the skills requirements, making it difficult to hire for the positions.

Making a connection between business needs and curriculum was at the forefront of the discussion. “Talent is equally distributed but opportunity is not,” said Soraya M. Coley, president of Cal Poly Pomona. She said her school has put a lot of emphasis on apprenticeships, working with local businesses to give students the chance to learn on the job. Another initiative, the Future of Work and Human and Civic Engagement, is “very intentional about not preparing our students for any particular job,” Coley said. “We’re more focused on what are the competencies, the knowledge-based experiences that our students need to have and how we help them think about being adaptive and engage in what is going to be the economy of change and disruption.”

Jay Banfield is the managing director for Year Up, a nonprofit that acts as an intermediary, connecting young adults who need opportunity with companies that need talent. Year Up has partnered with more than 300 companies across the country to provide opportunities through internships combined with classroom learning. “I guarantee you that every single one of [the companies] has talent acquisition at the top of their priority list. There is an appetite for companies to engage in this,” Banfield said. “Several decades ago, companies saw themselves as passive consumers of education. They see the need to be active now. To me, that is encouraging.”  

“Several decades ago, companies saw themselves as passive consumers of education. They see the need to be active now.” — Jay Banfield

Eloy Ortiz Oakley, chancellor of the California Community Colleges, concurred that communication is the greatest challenge. “There is a drive toward automation and the application of artificial intelligence, the skills are consistently changing and there is very little communication from the creators of this innovation and the way we are training the workforce,” Oakley said. “It is taking us way too much time to get students ready for the jobs being created, let alone jobs of the future.”

The makeup of the future workforce is a moving target. Working together, businesses, educators, civic leaders and nonprofits can address the needs of businesses, and the workers, to create a skilled workforce ready to fill those rapidly changing jobs.

Ramona Schindelheim is the senior business correspondent and executive producer for WorkingNation. 

My Person of the Year: Nadia Murad

Nadia Murad was 21 in the summer of 2014 when ISIS militants attacked her Yazidi village in northern Iraq, close to the border with Syria. The militants killed those who refused to convert to Islam, including six of her brothers and her mother.

According to media reports, after being captured, Murad was taken to Mosul, where she was forced to convert to Islam and endured three months as a sex slave at the hands of the militants. She was bought and sold several times and subjected to sexual and physical abuse during her captivity.

She tried to escape, but was immediately caught by one of the guards, she told the BBC. Under their rules, she said, a captured woman became a spoil of war if she was caught trying to escape. She would be put in a cell and raped by all the men in the compound. The militants called this practice “sexual jihad.”

“Referring to the thousands of women still in ISIS’ grip, Nadia Murad added: ‘It is inconceivable that the conscience of the leaders of 195 countries around the world is not mobilized to liberate these girls.'”

A Muslim family that had no connection with ISIS helped Murad escape. She managed to cross into Iraqi Kurdistan and found refuge in camps with other Yazidis. She later reached Europe and now lives in Germany.

Since winning her freedom, Murad has campaigned for the thousands of women who are still believed to be held captive by ISIS.

She was awarded the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize by the Council of Europe in 2016, and called for an international court to judge crimes committed by ISIS in her acceptance speech in Strasbourg, France.

That same year, Murad also was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament. She was named the United Nations’ first goodwill ambassador for survivors of human trafficking later that year.

In October of this year, Murad was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

“A woman being raped on a battlefield in Mosul should get as much attention as a woman being raped in a hotel room in New York City.”

Despite all that, Murad still hasn’t become a household name in the United States. As The World Tribune reported after her victory, “News that Yazidi sex slave survivor Nadia Murad has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war barely registered on the American media radar screen.”

Because she’s gone largely unnoticed in America in the era of #MeToo, if I were editor of Time magazine, Murad would have been my choice for Person of the Year.

Murad offers a unique opportunity for the #MeToo movement to become more global. Among the things I love about the movement is that it wasn’t a flash in the pan. Since it exploded on the scene over a year ago, more and more victims of sexual abuse have felt free to speak out. A crucial conversation has begun. Justice, however halting, is being served. The cause is now ingrained in our national consciousness.

Murad’s story takes the issue of sexual abuse from the home and workplace to regions of armed conflict. It expands the #MeToo movement internationally to where it is sorely needed.

In her address after receiving the Nobel Prize, as reported in The New York Times, Murad condemned “the international community’s indifference to wartime sexual violence and pleaded for new efforts to arrest or punish those responsible.”

“Thank you very much for this honor,” she said, “but the fact remains that the only prize in the world that can restore our dignity is justice and the prosecution of criminals.”

Referring to the thousands of women still in ISIS’ grip, Murad added: “It is inconceivable that the conscience of the leaders of 195 countries around the world is not mobilized to liberate these girls. What if they were a commercial deal, an oil field or a shipment of weapons? Most certainly, no efforts would be spared to liberate them.”

We like to think of globalism in terms of economic interdependence and the protection of the environment, which are hugely important. But justice for victims of sexual abuse ought to be another pillar of globalism. A woman being raped on a battlefield in Mosul should get as much attention as a woman being raped in a hotel room in New York City.

As Murad told the Jewish Journal in an interview last year, “When ISIS is held accountable, when my people are protected, when the women are freed and my people live with dignity, I will be happy then.”

Accountability. Protection. Freedom. Dignity. Happiness. Not a bad list for 2019.

Happy New Year.

Dec. 21, 2018

To Beat Trump, Dems Need New Strategy

“Hey, let’s talk to people who were always going to vote for us anyway!” That seems to be the sum total of the Democratic Party’s strategy to beat President Donald Trump’s Republicans in recent elections. 

Political parties are brands as much as Coca-Cola and Apple are. Like them, parties can squeeze only a minimal amount of growth from existing fans.  

To thrive, Dems must persuade those who aren’t current supporters. Whether indifferent, lapsed party loyalists or those actively voting against them, Democrats’ brand is in poor shape with these segments. 

Fortunately, there’s a simple — if not easy or quick — way to fix this. Israeli psychologist Daniel Kahneman, the first psychologist to win the Nobel Prize in economics, has provided the blueprint.

Kahneman delineates two modes of thinking: System 1 decisions, driven by instinct, memories and engrained learning, yields instantaneous decisions. System 2 decisions, based on deliberation and logic, need more time to form. Although we like to believe our choices are rational, System 1 biases and intuition often pull the levers.

The ultimate goal for any brand is to be selected without the decision-maker doing much thinking at all. Democrats would love to be the no-brainer choice. But those gut-level voting decisions can happen only if Dems start capitalizing on System 1 brain processing and stop preaching to their existing fans. 

That means three things: Stop throwing valuable resources into campaigning to the already-convinced. Plow that money into persuading those who aren’t. Finally, cast off naïve ideas about the influence of facts and figures. 

This doesn’t mean going all-in on emotional marketing. All emotional responses originate in System 1, but not all System 1 thinking is emotional. 

“The left is not a monolith, despite what many conservatives imagine. Most Americans aren’t invested in politics. They’re intensely practical people.”

Brushing your teeth doesn’t require strategic thinking. “Auto-pilot” and muscle memory are nothing but System 1 — not emotion — at work. You also probably don’t deliberate much before buying your usual newspaper. Your brain knows better than to perform a critical audit of all your options for that one. It’s a System 1 decision devoid of emotion. 

Likewise, Democrats can’t win elections with “We’re not the evil GOP” as their brand identity. Leveraging what people used to love about their party would be more strategic. 

For example, alienated voters might be swayed by seeing Democrats embrace the notion that the white working class, especially males, deserve a shot at the American dream. But liberal extremists won’t go there — even though it helped Dems win elections for decades. 

The left is not a monolith, despite what many conservatives imagine. Most Americans aren’t invested in politics. They’re intensely practical people, focused on their families, local communities and minding their own business. If the Democrats can find what resonates with those individuals, they can become a party that such people believe people like them vote for. This would take Dems one step closer to becoming the no-brainer election choice.

This doesn’t mean abandoning fact-based overtures. In consumer marketing, purchase of pricier items or those with lengthier consideration periods is often triggered by System 1 beliefs layered with System 2 data. If you’ve always loved Nikes and need new cross-trainers, information about the brand’s political activism can give you permission to buy what you wanted all along.

But factual details about a brand can go only so far. If individuals simply don’t think of Democrats as candidates for “people like me,” they won’t vote for a certain candidate just because she has impressive degrees or experience.

This makes it all the more imperative for Democrats to build a brand that can poach voters from Trump’s base and beyond.

Jackie Danicki is a business consultant and media contributor. 

Ayelet Shaked: Mideast Peace Plan Should Wait

MK Ayelet Shaked presented Natalie Sopinsky of Rescuers Without Borders with an award for excellence at Beth Jacob Congregation. Courtesy of Sopinsky

Israel Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked has been a major force behind the ascent of the Jewish Home party, the third most powerful party in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government coalition, which maintains a slim one-seat majority in the Israeli Knesset.

The Jewish Home party, known in Hebrew as HaBayit HaYehudi, is to the political right of Netanyahu’s Likud party, with its support of Israeli settlements and opposition to creating a Palestinian state in the West Bank, among other positions.

Hoping to raise awareness of her message and connect with Diaspora Jewry, Shaked, 42, visited Los Angeles on Nov. 29 for a day that included meetings with local Jewish leaders, a community address at Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills and an interview with the Journal at the Koreatown office of the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles.

During the interview, Shaked stated her views on why now is not the time for a Middle East peace plan, the security challenges facing Israel, her journey from secular Jew to a leader in a conservative religious Zionist party, her political aspirations and the relationship between young American Jews and Israel. An edited transcript of the interview follows.

Jewish Journal: What are some of the greatest challenges currently facing Israel?

Ayelet Shaked: From a security perspective, of course, Iran. And we are very happy with [President Donald Trump’s] decision to back off from the Iranian deal. This is something we are definitely supportive of and happy with. And we have huge challenges in the north regarding Hezbollah, which is working on getting precise missiles that can reach everywhere in Israel. And we have a challenge that Iran now is trying to entrench itself into Syria, and we are not going to let it happen. Of course, in the south, with Hamas in Gaza [it is also a challenge]. We are in a pretty good diplomatic period. We are strengthening the relationship with the moderate Sunni countries in the Middle East, and the economy is good.

JJ: You recently said that a proposal from the Trump administration for peace in the Middle East is a “waste of time.” What conditions on the ground would have to change for you to welcome a peace proposal from the U.S.?

AS: I want to say that I really appreciate the effort that the [Trump] administration is doing to promote peace, because we want peace and this administration is very friendly to Israel. We definitely appreciate the efforts. To be realistic, I think the gap between the Palestinians and Israel is much too big in order to be bridged, but we will wait and see what will be the proposal. I can tell you that my party and I are against a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria. We did this experiment once in Gaza, and we are not going to do this experiment again in Judea and Samaria. But let’s wait and see what the administration has to offer.

JJ: What’s your current relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu? It is rumored you may one day be prime minister. Is that something you are interested in?

AS: We are working together on a daily basis. Everything is fine. Prime Minister Netanyahu will be the prime minister after the next election. It is a well [-known] fact. With every poll you see, there is a right [-wing] majority in Israel, so I believe there will be a coalition with Netanyahu as the prime minister. The question is what will be the coalition. And I do hope to be part of the government after the next election, which will be in 2019, but we don’t know when.

JJ: What are your personal political aspirations?

AS: Right now I am in the Ministry of Justice and I am doing a lot of work. It is a very powerful and important ministry in Israel, and I want to stay in the office for the next election. After that, in politics it is hard to predict the future.

JJ: Can you try?

AS: No, I think it is really hard. I’ve said many times I think, after Netanyahu, [Jewish Home chair] Naftali Bennett is the most suitable person to lead Israel.

JJ: Can you talk about your personal journey? You worked in tech and are from a secular background, and now you are in politics and one of the most visible faces of a religious Zionist party. How did that happen?

AS: I was always interested in politics. When I was in the army in the Golani troops, I served with Zionist and modern Orthodox guys and I became friends with them. I was always a right-wing girl as far back as I can remember. I went to study electronic engineering and computer science because I was good at math and my father told me it is a very good profession. And so I did it, although it wasn’t really my passion. Then I went to work at Texas Instruments. But after the [2005] disengagement from Gaza, I felt I needed to be where the decisions were being made, and I left Texas Instruments and I joined Netanyahu to work with him. Then I met Naftali Bennett and the rest is history.

JJ: What are some of your passions besides politics?

AS: I have no life, just work and family. It is very tough work, and I have two little kids, so I try to be with them every time I am not at work. So I am just left with work, my kids and books.

JJ: What kind of books?

AS: Actually I am in the middle of a very interesting book. “Win Bigly: Persuasion in a World Where Facts Don’t Matter” by Scott Adams, about President Trump.  Have you heard about it? Very interesting. I recommend reading it. I started to read it on the airplane here.

JJ: What role does Judaism play in your life?

AS: I was raised in a traditional family and my father arrived from Iran. He is Iraqi, but arrived in Israel from Iran. My mother was in Israel for five generations, they came on the first aliyah to Israel, and we were a very Zionist home.

JJ: Does your mother’s family history have a lot do with your Zionist beliefs today?

AS: Maybe, but my father is also very Zionist, he came from Arab countries and those weren’t the best place to live in. Although when he was living in Iran it was a very good period under the shah.

JJ: What are some of your goals pertaining to the relationship between American Jewish youth and Israel?

AS: We definitely want to strengthen the relationship of the youth with Israel. It is very important to us. I think the youth here in the U.S. need to understand that around the world and in the very liberal communities to be anti-Semitic it is not politically correct. But to be anti-Israel is super in [vogue], and the anti-Israeli movements are just another shape of anti-Semitism today. I hope the Jewish community and also the liberal community will understand that; and they will understand they will always have two homes, one here and one in Israel. 

Picture Frame Gift Wrapping For the Holidays

When it comes to giving gifts, whether for Hanukkah, birthdays or whatever occasion, I like to be creative with the wrapping rather than just plunking the present in a gift bag from the 99 Cents Only Store. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) On the other hand, I also don’t like to spend too much time with it, since I’m a last-minute shopper and wrapper. 

Here’s a gift-wrapping idea that personalizes the gift with a frame for a photo, and it’s super easy to boot. (You can tell by how short the tutorial is.) You can insert the recipient’s photo in the frame, or a picture of a pet or loved one. It’s a heartfelt way to jazz up any gift.

What you’ll need:
Wrapping paper
Coordinating paper

1. Wrap your present as you normally would with the gift wrap of your choice.

2. Cut out a rectangle from paper or cardstock of a coordinating color. Then cut out an opening inside that rectangle for the photo. Glue the frame to the gift, but don’t glue the top edge because that’s where the photo is inserted.

3. Insert a photo, and write the recipient’s name on the frame if you wish.

Jonathan Fong is the author of “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at jonathanfongstyle.com.

Weekly Parsha: Miketz

One verse, five voices. Edited by Salvador Litvak, Accidental Talmudist

Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have dreamed a dream,
and there is no interpreter for it.” –
Genesis 41:15

Nili Isenberg
Pressman Academy

Sometimes, like Pharaoh, we feel so alone in our lives. We are beset by challenges that no one can understand, not even ourselves. In our dreams, we replay what has happened during the day, turning events into a jumbled nightmare of concerns and anxieties. They eat us up inside, ravaging our physical and mental states as we become like ugly, emaciated cows. And there is no interpreter for it.

There is no one to explain why these are the circumstances of our lives. Just this past month, we have all asked: Why Pittsburgh? Why Thousand Oaks? Why is our world figuratively and literally on fire?

Mei HaShiloach (Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Leiner, 1801-1854) took a mystical approach to our verse. He argued that “everything in this life is like a dream that needs interpreting,” in an active, engaged process.

When my son was diagnosed with Angelman Syndrome five years ago, we learned that he might never achieve the most basic functions in life, such as walking and talking. At the time, my husband and I felt like we had accidentally crossed into a delusional alternate reality, an inexplicable dream. We continue to struggle with this reality every day, looking for an explanation, while still holding in our hearts the faith that God’s world has a design and meaning. But faith is not an explanation.

For Pharaoh, his dream was finally explained by Joseph. How much longer will the rest of us have to continue our search for an explanation?

Rabbi Nolan Lebovitz
Adat Shalom, “My Daily Offering” podcast, “Roadmap Jerusalem” filmmaker

The Hebrew Bible loves the motif of foreshadowing dreams as a method of communication from the divine. Saying there is “no interpreter” for his dream is a reflection of Pharaoh’s negative outlook. Unlike this part of Pharaoh’s statement, the Jewish tradition believes in the power of possibility. There are always answers for those prepared to question, always new rewards for those willing to take risks, always interpreters for difficult dreams, even for Pharaoh. Pharaoh continues this same verse by saying, “but I have heard it said of you [Joseph] that for you to hear a dream is to tell its meaning.” 

In response, Joseph gives Pharaoh the key to all of our struggles: humility. Joseph attributes to God his amazing ability to interpret dreams. For when we maintain belief in God, answers seem more attainable, rewards seem more reachable, and dreams seem more interpretable.

With God’s help, there is nothing we can’t achieve. That is why President John F. Kennedy concluded his famous “moon speech” on Sept. 12, 1962, at Rice University by saying, “Well, space is there, and we’re going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail, we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.” 

May we all chase our dreams … with God’s help.

Peter Himmelman
Musician, author, CEO and Chief Dream Enabler of Big Muse

Pharaoh’s name translates as “Explosion.” He had an explosive personality with an explosive, childish temper. Pharaoh also possessed a spirituality so explosive that even Moses had been afraid to approach him. Spirituality, however, does not equate to holiness. 

Pharaoh’s worldview was one of extreme egoism and, as such, lacked all sensitivity toward God. Pharaoh famously said, “The Nile is mine and I created it.” And in the verse that immediately follows ours, Joseph states that, “Only God can interpret dreams.” Without a connection to God, Pharaoh and his advisers were powerless to correctly interpret his dreams. 

When we place ourselves at the center of the universe (and face it, at times we all do) we become locked in a kind of myopic mental cage. Our opinions, our beliefs, and our prejudices then start to comprise our micro-reality. When we cut ourselves off from the larger world and the larger community, not only are we diminished, we diminish those around us as well. 

It sounds paradoxical, but when you reflect on the times you were most joyful —perhaps it was when you held your child for the first time — it’s likely you felt very small. I don’t mean less important; I mean you became cognizant that you were merely an infinitesimal part of an infinite universe. 

Interpreting dreams is an expression of creativity at the highest level. Like Joseph, we, too, are at our most creative when we are most alive to our awareness of God — the constant Creator of everything. 

Rabbi Chaim Tureff
Temple Beth Am and director of STARS Addiction Recovery 

Pharaoh is confused and needs guidance. The sheer terror of not knowing what is going on next paralyzes him. He is confounded by his dreams. 

Pharaoh looks around and is told by his chamberlain of the cupbearers about a young Jew who can guide him. Pharaoh has hit bottom and has nowhere to turn except to Yosef. This is very similar to a sponsor/sponsee relationship in 12-step programs. 

The “dreams” are symbolic of the continual spiraling out that one experiences when they are in their active addiction. They look left, right, forward and behind but are unable to find solace. Nothing helps ease the addict’s “dream.” 

When they allow themselves to find their Yosef, and turn over their will to the guidance of someone more experienced in these issues, they find their interpreter. Instead of the responses to their “dreams” that many other people try to interpret, they find a true interpreter, a sponsor, someone who understands their “dream” and can interpret them and help them move forward in their life. 

Kylie Ora Lobell
Jewish Journal Contributing Writer

In this verse, the frightened Pharaoh is turning to Joseph to interpret his disturbing dreams about meager cows. Immediately, Joseph replies, “Not I; God will give an answer [that will bring] peace to Pharaoh.” Joseph is owning up to the fact that he cannot provide comfort — only God can. 

Any answers he gives are actually from God, since God created him. Too often, like Pharaoh, we seek answers to our problems from other human beings. We worship celebrities who supposedly show us how we should live. We follow leaders blindly. We poll our family members and friends for help. We rely on our therapists to solve our issues. But before long, we realize that we can find comfort and peace only by turning to HaShem. 

If Pharaoh had learned to pray, look inward and rely on God, perhaps he would have discovered his interpretations on his own. But because he wasn’t a believer, he had to rely on Joseph, who was. In our daily lives, we need to be like Joseph. We have to recognize that HaShem is in control, and that in the end, only he can help us solve our problems, show us the right path and enable us to lead productive, fulfilling lives, with many prosperous years ahead. 

Poem: Got a Light?

1. This light’s for Hanukkah …
for a people who choose to begin
our best of days with light.
What special Jewish day
doesn’t start with an open flame?

2.  This light’s for the Dreidel…
for the great miracle that
happened there, unless
you happen to be there
where it’s changed to here
because we’re inclusive like that.

3. This light’s for latkes …
Potato pancakes
because everything good
begins and ends
with potatoes.

4. This light’s for Sufganiyot …
Jelly doughnuts. Not quite as popular
as latkes in all the official surveys
but, really, who can complain
when a doughnut comes along?

5. This light’s for oil …
Be careful, it’s flammable!
Bad for you in every way!
But fry anything in it and the
memory of that miracle
flies back into our hearts.

6. This light’s for Maccabees …
Judah and his whole crew.
When the not really elected leaders
started to pooh-pooh everything
they risked life and limb
for all these lights. Stand up
like a Judah, my friends.

7. This light’s for the shamash
Doesn’t take a night off.
Does the essential work that
lets the other eight shine.
Be the shamash you wish
to see in the world.

8. This light’s for miracles …
It doesn’t matter if a great miracle
happened here or there
just that you believe that one
could happen at all.
How many miracles are you missing?

Got a light?

God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 21 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

Brave Students Oppose Anti-Semitism

Photo from Flickr.

Most of us never have to deal with anti-Zionist activists protesting outside our homes or harassing us at our jobs. We can make a conscious decision to face our opponents at rallies or protests or in other public settings, but we almost never enter into in-person encounters unless we deliberately choose to do so. 

But brave pro-Israel students at UCLA and other universities face that challenge every day. Last week, I wrote about the threat of anti-Semitism on our college campuses and praised those students for the work they do and the risks they take to confront that threat. But even while we support and applaud those courageous young people, many in the Jewish community have come to view the campus battle lines as something far removed from our own lives. 

What happens on college campuses, though, rarely stays on college campuses. And the thing to remember about college students is that they often graduate. After they receive their diplomas, they take with them into the real world the lessons they learned both inside and outside the classroom. A cultural attitude or policy preference that a young person develops as an undergraduate doesn’t disappear when they finish college; it accompanies them for many years afterward.

Once they complete their education, these young people grow up to stay at Airbnbs when they travel. They buy music from Lana del Rey and Lorde. They join the National Women’s March, even if the March’s leaders are consorting with Louis Farrakhan. 

None of these ideological or consumer choices make someone anti-Semitic, of course. But our biggest danger as a community doesn’t come from a small number of haters as much as from a much larger group that ignores or tolerates or minimizes hate. The more difficult challenge is not from those few individuals who learned during their college years that they should despise us, but rather the much larger group that learned they just shouldn’t care very much one way or the other.

This ambivalence manifests itself in every corner of society. The owners of Airbnb aren’t anti-Semites. It just never occurred to them that discriminating against Jewish settlers on the West Bank was anything more than a politically correct concession. Most of the singers who refuse to perform in Israel aren’t intentionally malicious, but rather simply oblivious to the security necessities of a nation that must protect its people against terrorism. And those Women’s Marchers who choose to excuse the behavior of their leaders aren’t haters themselves, they’ve just decided that the March’s other goals are higher priorities than standing up against hate directed toward the Jewish community and homeland.

Until now.

With the notable exception of courageous leaders like Amanda Berman and her colleagues at the Zioness Movement, too many Women’s March participants and supporters have been willing to overlook the close relationship that March leaders Linda Sarsour and Tamika Mallory maintain with a notorious anti-Semite like Farrakhan. It was only after Farrakhan’s most recent invectives against the Jewish people that broader pressure began to build on Sarsour and Mallory to distance themselves from him. (Women’s March Founder Teresa Shook, actor Alyssa Milano and several regional March leaders deserve special credit for their efforts to bring necessary attention to the controversy.) 

Sarsour and Mallory have issued defiant and unsatisfactory responses to this pressure, creating a dilemma for all the women and men who support the March’s goals. Is it better to pretend that Farrakhan’s allies in the March leadership have satisfied our concerns about their relationship with him and their support of his agenda? Or does it make more sense to continue to push for their ouster, even at the risk of potentially weakening the broader impact of the March scheduled for Jan. 19?

The answer can be determined by how troubled each of us is when anti-Zionism oozes into anti-Semitism, and where this particularly noxious brand of hatred ranks on the list of outrages to decide how much that disagreement matters to each of us.

Dan Schnur is a professor at USC’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism, and at UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies. He is the founder of the USC-L.A. Times statewide political survey and the former director of the American Jewish Committee’s Los Angeles region.

Airbnb’s Decision Is a Teachable Moment

Photo from Flickr.

When Airbnb announced its decision to remove listings in Israeli settlements, supporters of Israel immediately expressed deep concern. While we can disagree about the specific responses, ranging from boycotting Airbnb entirely to reaching out to state representatives to fight this decision, I leave that to the Israel advocacy organizations to figure out. 

As an educator, I’m more interested in the educational implications of this moment, with one guiding question — how should we discuss this decision with our children and students?

Here are four educational issues to consider:

1. Significance of the moment. The boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement is not new, but when a major company like Airbnb takes its cues from BDS, this is a troubling development that could signal a new level of targeted hostility toward the Jewish state.  This must be noted.

2. Criticism vs. disproportionate criticism. Every student knows that when one child is singled out repeatedly for reprimand, while other students are rarely mentioned, it’s usually the teacher who is to blame. Criticism of Israel is legitimate, but singling out Israel for disproportionate criticism is not. For example, students should be encouraged to express different opinions on Israeli history and Israeli politics, with some supporting the recent nation-state law and others disagreeing with it. Allowing for that dispute is the hallmark of a healthy educational and democratic experience within a Zionist framework. Yet an example of disproportionate criticism would be suggesting that Zionism is racism, which the United Nations did in 1975 (and retracted in 1991). When China murders its own citizens or when countries segregate its own people, as the United States did until 60 years ago, the delegitimization of these countries or the threat to their right to exist is not mentioned. As for those who cry that bringing up the misdeeds of other countries is mere “Whataboutism,” I think that misses the mark in this case and shows a lack of empathy towards the feeling many Israelis have when they are the target of obsessive criticism.

“Criticism of Israel is legitimate, but singling out Israel for disproportionate criticism is not.”

3. Misrepresentation of nuance. Nuance has become such a buzzword to the point that it has lost much of its meaning. Seemingly, everyone wants to show they own the gray space. Airbnb’s self-congratulatory sense of pride centered around what it perceived as taking the middle road — choosing not to boycott Israel entirely despite its West Bank policies but also ensuring it punished the specific people in the specific territory it believes are particularly problematic. 

I’m a big proponent of nuance, but nuance should be articulated thoughtfully and meted out responsibly, and this decision by Airbnb feels like it’s less about nuance and more about idiosyncratic capriciousness dressed up in sophistication. Nuance requires consistency, and the choice to single out Israel among all the nations of the world, and punish Israel for policies Airbnb disagrees with, seems like it is more about caving into a certain zeitgeist right now, in which Israel plays the favorite scapegoat.

4. Misguided self-righteousness. The pursuit of moral and just behavior should be the Jewish community’s North Star, but we know that the pursuit of righteousness can sometimes take a dangerous detour into sanctimony. And sanctimony is the subtle opposite of humility. 

There is no better example than Airbnb’s decision here. Businesses are becoming more entangled with politics than ever before, and when Israel is often demonized as the “big, bad guy,” then automatically people will come to the conclusion that the settlements in the West Bank are oppressive and anachronistic without taking the time to consider Israel’s security needs and the national-religious aspirations of being there.

Let’s hope Airbnb reverses its decision, but even if it chooses not to, let’s remind the youth that we cannot control the actions of others; we can only impact what is within our locus of control. Let’s use this as an opportunity to teach our students about the uniqueness of the Jewish experience, to be willing to stand up for ourselves, and to not make the same self-righteous, non-nuanced mistake Airbnb just made.

Noam Weissman is the senior vice president of education of Jerusalem U, a digital media company focused on Israel education and Jewish identity.

READ MORE: Israeli Band’s Viral Video Slams Airbnb Over Anti-Israel Move
Florida, Illinois Might Use Anti-BDS Laws Against Airbnb
Beverly Hills City Council Advocates for Boycott of Airbnb

Chief Rabbinate’s List Has Glaring Omissions

This week, Israel’s Chief Rabbinate, for the first time in its history, published an official list of non-Israeli rabbinical courts whose authority it accepts for the purposes of conversion to Judaism and divorce. The list’s publication resulted from a near-daily battle waged by the organization I founded and direct — ITIM: The Jewish Advocacy Center. In the past six years, ITIM has held meetings, filed legal petitions, initiated Knesset hearings and more to pressure the Chief Rabbinate to make its decision-making — which affects the lives of thousands of Jews in Israel and around the world — transparent to the public it is supposed to serve.

I welcomed news of the list’s publication. But within moments of reviewing it, I was hit with the reality: Yes, there is now a list, but it again shows the Chief Rabbinate’s incompetency, even as it tries to be more transparent.

The list of 70 Orthodox rabbinical courts approved for conversion and 80 approved for divorce is out of date and inconsistent. Some of the rabbis listed no longer reside in the communities they are meant to serve. Others appear twice. Although the list purports to be comprehensive, there are major American rabbinical courts that have been omitted.

But the real flaw isn’t about who is or isn’t on the list. Rather, it is the glaring lack of concern that the list demonstrates for the tens of thousands (perhaps hundreds of thousands) of Jews whose rabbis “don’t make the cut,” according to the Chief Rabbinate. Rather than embracing Jews — particularly Jews by Choice — the Chief Rabbinate is dismissing and excluding them. This is a biblical prohibition: Our tradition teaches us to love the convert, certainly not to persecute him or her. 

As I write this, my inbox is teeming with emails from people around the world who converted through rabbis not on the list. “Where does this leave me?” they are asking.  I don’t yet know how to answer.

And what about Los Angeles? The Chief Rabbinate’s list of approved rabbis consists of four rabbinical court directors in Los Angeles: Rabbis Avraham Teichman, Avrohom Union, Shmuel Ohana and Nissim Davidi. And although another seven rabbis are included, it is unclear whether their conversions will be accepted without approval of one of the four directors.

Moreover, there are prominent Los Angeles Orthodox rabbinical courts that have been operating for decades but have been left off the list. Who will speak up for their hundreds of converts? What about the hundreds of conversions that took place more than two decades ago, when virtually none of the rabbis on the list was performing conversions?

“Our tradition teaches us to love the convert, certainly not to persecute him or her.” 

The list makes a travesty of halachic [Jewish legal] thinking and drives a further wedge between Jews in Israel and around the world. The Chief Rabbinate’s deliberate politicization of conversion — by choosing some rabbis and not others — highlights its attempt to extend its monopoly on Jewish life beyond the borders of Israel into the rest of the Jewish world, where, frankly, it isn’t wanted or needed. With both intermarriage rates and religious extremism on the rise, the Rabbinate ought to be a body that promotes moderation and diversity rather than one that espouses fundamentalism and exclusion — the very things the list demonstrates.

In the coming weeks, ITIM will take every possible step to rectify the situation. It will file petitions on behalf of rabbinical courts that wish to be included on the list, and will assist individuals concerned about their official Jewish status in Israel. As ITIM does this, I will be thinking back to January 2016, when I stood in a Jerusalem municipal court as Justice Naava Bar Or demanded the Chief Rabbinate make a list of acceptable rabbinical courts available to the public. She concluded by dressing down the director of the Chief Rabbinate’s Personal Status Division. “Your office is acting with no moral or Jewish values,” Bar Or told him.

And I will be thinking back to July 3, 1950, when Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion spoke in the Knesset on the issue of “Who is a Jew?” He said, “The State of Israel is not a Jewish state merely because the majority of its inhabitants are Jews. … It is a state for all the Jews wherever they may be and for every Jew who so desires.”

Rabbi Seth (Shaul) Farber is the director of ITIM: The Jewish Advocacy Center. He lives in Raanana, Israel, with his wife, Michelle, and their five children.

Is America a Racist Country?

There’s a powerful story in the Nov. 26 issue of Time magazine titled, “I Love America. That’s Why I Have to Tell the Truth About It.” It’s written by Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen.

In his piece, Nguyen addresses the criticisms of America and other countries that he included in other writings, which prompted protests from a few U.S. military veterans. Nguyen explained that those criticisms were really a sign of love.

“I made such criticisms not because I hated all the countries that I have known but because I love them,” he writes. “My love for my countries is difficult because their histories, like those of all countries, are complicated.”

I understand Nguyen’s way of expressing a “difficult” love through criticism. Love is a complicated emotion. And criticism can spur improvement and help make things better. 

What I would suggest is that if we don’t complement criticism with progress, we can create a distorted view of reality. Take, for example, the issue of racism in America.

In recent years, there’s been a popular meme contending that America is an inherently racist country. As The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson declared in 2015, “America will only end racism when it stops being racist.” Even President Barack Obama said at the time that “racism remains a blight that we have to combat together.”

Since President Donald Trump entered the White House two years ago, the racism meme has only gotten louder. From the continued expansion of Black Lives Matter to professional football players protesting police violence against Blacks to white supremacists making more noise, the implication has been that racism is alive and thriving in America.

But is it? Let’s pull back and look at the bigger picture.

According to a 2017 report in The Economist, “Americans appear far less racist than in the past. Only 4 percent of Americans supported interracial marriage in 1958. By 1997 that was 50 percent; today it is 87 percent.”

Also, according to The Economist, “racially and ethnically motivated hate crimes reported to the FBI fell 48 percent between 1994 and 2015.”

How about racist hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan? According to a 2012 report in Slate, the KKK is “clearly contracting, since its rolls have shrunk from millions in the 1920s to between 3,000 and 5,000 today.” 

“While we must always stay vigilant and pounce any time racism rears its ugly head, we also have an obligation to show the full picture.”

In a recent podcast interview on City Journal, Hoover Institution Senior Fellow Shelby Steele, who specializes in the study of race relations, multiculturalism and affirmative action, also touched on the theme of racial progress:

“The impulse of racism is something that all human beings, I think, have to come to terms with, struggle against, learn all sorts of moral lessons from. But it is not, I don’t believe at any rate … the problem that Black America faces today. And I think one of the most unrecognized features of American life is the enormous moral progress America has made since the ’60s.”

Steele, who is Black, added: “I grew up in segregation. I know what that was like. And when I look at my life today in America, everything is wide open. I can do anything I want. … I don’t detect any will in the society, in American society, to oppress Blacks anymore. Any hint of wanting something like that would be utterly ruinous to a person, to their reputation. They would pay a terrible price for it.” 

None of this is to suggest that racism is dead, or even dying, in America. As Steele reminds us, the “impulse of racism,” however shameful, is something that may never be eradicated. 

What the new reality does suggest, however, is that the long arc of racial justice in America is going in the right direction.

You probably wouldn’t know about this progress from watching the evening news, for the simple reason that good news doesn’t sell. It’s hard to imagine a special report on CNN on how “Americans appear far less racist than in the past.” How sensational would that be? 

And yet, we need those reports. While we must always stay vigilant and pounce any time racism rears its ugly head, we also have an obligation to show the full picture. Bad news may be more lucrative than good news, but good news can often give us a more balanced view of reality.  

That’s why I wrote this column. Just like Viet Thanh Nguyen, I love America, and I have to tell the truth about it.

And part of that truth is: Just as Jews light a candle for every night of Hanukkah, America has fought its own darkness by lighting a candle of justice for every generation.

For me, it is those inexorable candles of hope, however hazy they may appear at times, that are the real drama of this country.

Happy Hanukkah. 

Will Mars Landers Save Us From The Firestorms?

Smoke from the fires in Butte County completely obscure the hills that would normally be visible in this photo. Photo by Susan Barnes

On Monday this week, I was driving to lunch when I heard, live on the radio, the last few minutes of the landing of NASA’s InSight lander on Mars. It was a suspenseful few minutes, and I could hear the emotion in the voices of the announcers as the good news started to come in. The heat shield successfully separated. The telemetry looked good. The lander located the ground and approached at a reasonable speed.

Unexpectedly, I found my eyes growing misty. Human beings had, once again, against stiff odds, managed to do something that would have been impossible in my parents’ childhood. A lander had been deployed on another planet, and it gave me great hope about what we can accomplish when smart people work together to find a solution to a complex problem.

On Wednesday last week, I was grateful for the rain that finally cleared out the dense smoke and debris from the air that was plaguing the community where I live since shortly after the wildfire in Butte County started. It made my eyes water, it made my chest feel tight, and it kept me indoors, even more than usual for an indoors type like me.

The three largest wildfires in California history have occurred in the last 12 months. Many of us believe these large wildfires have been caused, at least in part, by climate change, with fuel loads increased after the recent long drought in the state.

Last Friday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a special report that states, “Warming from anthropogenic emissions from the pre-industrial period to the present will persist for centuries to millennia and will continue to cause further long-term changes in the climate system, such as sea level rise, with associated impacts.” In other words, climate change is here to stay.

Is it any wonder, then, that after seeing the devastation of these recent wildfires, and the release of this report that seems to say they’re only going to get worse while the President continues to deny the need to do anything about it, that I got a bit emotional about the triumph of human endeavor over long odds embodied in the InSight Mars landing?

In Breshit (Genesis) 1:26 we read, “And God said, ‘Let us make a human in our image, after our likeness, and they shall rule over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the heaven and over the animals and over all the earth and over all the creeping things that creep upon the earth.’”

Some say this passage means that since God gave the world to us to rule over, we have every right to do anything we want with it, including causing mass extinctions and climate change. Others say this passage means that, since we were made in God’s image, we are responsible for trying to behave like a benevolent ruler, and are tasked with taking great care of the earth and all the living beings on it.

Given the evidence I’ve seen over the last 20 years or so, I’m not overly optimistic that we’re going to have the will to try to stop climate change before it gets much worse than it already is. I’m even less certain that we’ll ever find a way to reverse it, and return the earth to a pre-industrial “normal.”  I have long thought the only way to save humankind may be to find a way to get off this planet, to colonize elsewhere, so our descendants can learn from our mistakes and do better on other worlds in our solar system and others.

So part of my emotion about the success of the Mars landing is not just about the triumph of mind over matter. It’s also a hope, however small, that it will be followed by a viable, self-sustaining human colony on Mars, as a first step toward human colonization on other planets in other star systems. It may seem like a far-fetched thing, but I fear that if we don’t soon change course, it may be our only hope for the human species to thrive, rather than to just try to survive trapped on a harsh, weather-beaten earth.

Two Nice Jewish Boys: Episode 115 – The Liberal That Battles BDS on Campuses

The battle against BDS is a sort of David vs Goliath style fight. On one side you have the BDS supporters, heavily funded by foreign governments and NGOs, reinforced by celebrities, activists and an army of social media justice warriors. And on the other side you’ve got a handful of eloquent volunteers who stand as a human shield, trying to protect what’s left of Israel’s dignity in the world.

The battle is not an easy one at all. Ask Hen Mazzig. Hen is an Israeli Jew from Mizrahi descent (we’ll get to why that’s important later). After a meaningful service in the IDF, Hen decided he can’t stand on the sidelines any longer and watch as his country’s PR crumbles. While he’s a proud member of the LGBT community here in Israel and even critical of the right-wing government and its policies, Hen has been touring the world for years, giving lectures at extremely hostile campuses, and generally getting the word out there – BDS is bad, for everyone, especially the Palestinians.

Hen joins us today to discuss his life and the path that led him to fight BDS.

Hen Mazzig’s official website, his Facebook and Twitter.

For more Two Nice Jewish Boys, click here.

Two Nice Jewish Boys, Jewish news, Jewish journal, BDS, Campuses, Liberals, David vs Goliath, Hen Mazzig, LGBTQ

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#WeAreAllJews: The Jewish Media Stand With Pittsburgh

Earlier this year, our colleagues at the three leading Jewish newspapers in the United Kingdom published the same front-page headline and joint editorial voicing concern over rising anti-Semitism in Britain’s Labour Party.

Today we have found a mournful occasion to follow in their footsteps.

For many Jews, the United States has long held a unique role in our collective imagination. It has been an unprecedented land of promise, of refuge, of freedom, of opportunity and of safety.

But after the horrific attack last Shabbat at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh, in which 11 of our brothers and sisters were brutally murdered, we can’t help but be shaken and concerned for the America we have come to know and love.

We therefore join together to unequivocally condemn this brutal act of anti-Semitism and all deadly acts of hate. We also condemn the climate of hate that has been building for some time now, especially on college campuses and on social media, where the veneer of anonymity has allowed anti-Semitic cesspools to flourish, and from irresponsible political leaders who engage in hateful speech and are abetted by the silence of others.

As journalists, we hold a variety of opinions about politics in this country and in Israel. The American Jewish community is diverse, and those differences are reflected on the pages of its media.

In coming together now, we are not erasing those differences, but rising above them to issue a call for solidarity and respect, and asking our political and communal leaders to do the same.

The gunman who invaded a sanctuary on Shabbat did not distinguish among his victims. To him, they were all Jews.

We are all Jews. Let this horrific massacre be a moment of redemption as well as grieving. Let us argue with each other as Hillel argued with Shammai — with civility. Let us acknowledge our common humanity with other Americans who have been subject to unconscionable violence, too.

Jewish media has a long and proud history in America, and we pledge to continue our mission to inform, reflect and bind our communities — even more necessary in this painful time.

Jane Eisner, Editor-in-Chief, The Forward

Dovid Efune, Editor-in-Chief and CEO, The Algemeiner

Ami Eden, CEO and Executive Editor, 70 Faces Media (JTA, Kveller, Alma, My Jewish Learning, Nosher, Jewniverse)

Nadine Epstein, Editor-in-Chief and CEO, Moment Magazine

Sue Fishkoff, Editor, J. The Jewish News of Northern California

Jerry Greenwald, Managing Editor, The Jewish Press

Lisa Hostein, Executive Editor, Hadassah Magazine

Gabe Kahn, Editor, New Jersey Jewish News

Janet Perez, Managing Editor, Jewish News of Greater Phoenix

Brett R. Rhyne, Editor, The Jewish Advocate, Boston

Gary Rosenblatt, Editor and Publisher, Jewish Week of New York

Joshua Runyan, Senior Editorial Director, Washington Jewish Wee

Liz Spikol, Editorial Director, Baltimore Jewish Times

David Suissa, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief, Tribe Media/Jewish Journal

Jonathan S. Tobin, Editor-in-Chief, Jewish News Syndicate

The post #WeAreAllJews: The Jewish media stand with Pittsburgh appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Get a Lot, Then Give It Away

Photo from PxHere

The Jewish Journal’s Oct. 19 edition seemed like a one-trick pony: On page after page, ads expressed the same beautiful sentiment: praise for Jack Nagel, a philanthropist who died Oct. 12 in Los Angeles at the age of 96.

Upon reading the first ad, I felt saddened because of his death. After reading the second ad, I felt proud of his indescribable generosity. And after reading the third ad, I began to feel ashamed that I don’t prioritize giving. The only building that would ever have my name on it would probably be called the Tabby Refael School of Passive-Aggressive Ranting … and Kabob Management. 

By the time I had read the Journal cover to cover, I wanted to be like Nagel. We all should have felt this way.

I have a certain vision of myself as a great-grandmother: There I am, seated in a rocking chair surrounded by many Jewish great-grandchildren, my loyal robot dog by my side, telling stories that impart the most important thing elders can teach youth: good values that are hard to argue against. 

As my drone butler brings me a cup of Persian tea (without spilling it on my head this time), my great-grandchildren, in all their glorious wisdom, ask me what my life can teach them. Hey, it’s my daydream, and I’m allowed to have unrealistically wise great-grandchildren. 

The stories I’ll recount, whether having endowed chairs in Israel studies in the United States; or having brought every remaining Jew out of Iran; or having lavished local Holocaust survivors with amazing accommodations; or having funded centers for education or rehab programs that now bear our family name — every story will exude the same theme: I didn’t keep; I gave.

“By the time I had read the Journal cover to cover, I wanted to be like Jack Nagel. We all should have felt this way.”

I want money. I want lots of it. I want it so I can give it away. 

Of course, I’ll put some of it aside for my kids’ (and their kids’) Jewish education, for trips to Israel to reunite with family, for tzedakah globally, and for an occasional, giant tub of saffron and rose water ice cream that I’ll devour in the comfort of my rocking chair and in the company of my robot dog.

Nagel’s great-grandchildren know about his philanthropy but what about every student at YULA in Los Angeles or Bar-Ilan University in Israel?

I’m not suggesting that everyone who has benefited from Jack and his wife Gitta’s generosity tattoo the name “Nagel” on their foreheads. In fact, Judaism reveres anonymous giving. But here’s the problem: Our eyes have become so accustomed to seeing family names on hospital or school buildings, that we seldom stop to really think about what they gave us, whether a good education at Bar-Ilan or access to life-saving care at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem.

At schools, I propose that during orientation or on the first day of the academic year, students are taught about the people, lives and legacies of those whose altruism often has provided the foundation on which they stand — and I’m referring to the literal foundation of the building. 

I’m sure that many schools already try to impart these values, but I guarantee that if I show up to a campus and ask students young and old to list even one philanthropic name who made the endeavor possible, there would be a cricket or two chirping. 

It’s not the students’ fault. It’s no one’s fault. We simply need to learn how to stop and pause in front of all those lovely, bronze plaques that adorn the walls of schools, hospitals and synagogues, even if the cynic in us wonders whether some well-endowed folks simply liked to see their names on plaques. 

I need to go back to thank some kind folks, and so do you, I’ll bet.

After reading through eight ads in the Journal that thanked Jack Nagel, I understood that he didn’t care about names and plaques, but I also got a glimpse of his story: a Holocaust survivor who lost everything and then spent the rest of his life giving everything. Now that is a story that should be taught on the first day of school.

Tabby Refael is a Los Angeles-based writer.

U.S. and Them: How Americans See Themselves in Israel

On our first trip to Israel, we traveled via Rome to Jerusalem. At the hotel in Rome, we needed to get a converter from the front desk to operate our electric appliances, and the only English-language TV channels were BBC and CNN. Our room at the King David, by comparison, was equipped with a U.S. outlet, and we could watch episodes of “CSI” in English with Hebrew subtitles.

That’s only one measure of the cultural affinity between America and Israel, of course, and Amy Kaplan drills down much more deeply in “Our American Israel: The Story of an Entangled Alliance” (Harvard University Press). Be forewarned: Kaplan is a harsh critic of Israel, and she questions all of the assumptions that prompted President Barack Obama to affirm the existence of an “unbreakable bond” between the two countries.

Kaplan is the Edward W. Kane Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania, a former president of the American Studies Association, and the recipient of fellowships from both the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute of Advanced Studies at Princeton.  Her scholarly eye falls on every aspect of what she characterizes as the “mythic status and tenacious appeal” of Israel in the American imagination, and she sharply criticizes what she calls “the strangeness of an affinity that has come to be self-evident.”

Indeed, the title of her book reaches all the way back to 1799, when a New England minister preached a Thanksgiving sermon about “Our American Israel” because, as he saw it, “the people of the United States come nearer to a parallel with Ancient Israel than any other nation upon the globe.” She is just as intrigued by the way that artifacts of popular culture, such as Leon Uris’ 1958 best-selling novel, “Exodus,” and the subsequent movie version have shaped American perceptions of Israel: “One cannot overestimate the influence of ‘Exodus’ in Americanizing the Zionist narrative of Israel’s origins.” And she points out that AIPAC sent a copy of the 1978 TV miniseries “Holocaust” to every member of Congress “as part of an intense lobbying campaign against a plan to sell aircraft to Saudi Arabia.”

Kaplan recognizes how the hard realities of recent American experience have only brought us closer to Israel. “After September 11, 2001, Israel’s experience of terrorism offered Americans a ready-made vocabulary for articulating their own sense of unprecedented trauma,” she writes. But she also points out that the theological longings of “Christian Zionists” are equally powerful in shaping American policy toward Israel: “The significance of Israel was not in realizing the political goal of Jewish sovereignty, but in manifesting’s God’s sovereignty and making it possible for some Jews to convert to Christianity to correct the fatal mistake they had made in rejecting Christ two millennia ago.”

“Kaplan insists on showing us the other side of every coin. ‘The Six-Day War’ is commonly considered the turning point in the special relationship between the United States and Israel…yet the victory also marked the emergence of a ‘global counternarrative.’”

Kaplan often confronts us with facts of history that are sometimes awkward and uncomfortable. A British participant in the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry, which studied the impact on Jewish migration to Palestine in 1946, pointed out a certain dire parallel between America’s manifest destiny and the Zionist project: “Zionism after all is merely the attempt by the European Jew to rebuild his national life on the soil of Palestine in much the same way as the American settler developed the West,” wrote Richard Crossman. “So the American will give the Jewish settler in Palestine the benefit of the doubt, and regard the Arab as the aboriginal who must go down before the march of progress.”

Kaplan insists on showing us the other side of every coin. “The Six-Day War is commonly considered the turning point in the special relationship between the United States and Israel,” she writes. “The small nation’s lightning victory and righteous cause appealed to a nation embroiled in the Vietnam War, and Americans en masse fell in love with Israel.” Yet the battlefield victory also marked the emergence of “a global counternarrative,” one that “framed the rise of Palestinian nationalism as a Third World revolutionary movement and linked Israel not with anti-colonial struggles but with American imperial power in Vietnam.” By 1982, when Israel invaded Lebanon, the atrocities in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps prompted columnist George Will to declare: “Palestinians have now had their Babi Yar.”

Ironically, the tragedy in Lebanon only validated the Palestinian in the eyes of some American observers. “A liberal consensus emerged in the 1980s around a narrative of two peoples fighting over one land, and a belief that only mutual recognition could resolve the conflict between them,” she explains. Thus did the two-state solution become an article of faith in American foreign policy, at least until President Donald Trump, “with Vice President Mike Pence, a Christian Zionist, by his side,” recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv. By doing so, Kaplan argues, “he appealed not only to his pro-Likud Republican Jewish backers, but also to white Christian evangelicals, who overwhelmingly supported him in the election.” And so “[the] liberal consensus has now been replaced by a conservative one.”

Kaplan concludes that Israel today is perceived by Americans not as a light unto the nations but as “an invincible victim constantly besting the challenges of a perpetual war.” Her concerns and doubts about Israel, which run throughout “Our American Israel,” are eventually spoken out loud. She concedes that Israel, nowadays hailed as the “start-up nation,” is seen by some Americans as “an idea factory, manufacturing the ‘meta-ideas’ of the future.” But she argues that “it will be a dystopian future: all around the world, people will inhabit cities that look like military zones, occupied by police indistinguishable from soldiers, and monitored by sophisticated systems of homeland security.”

Kaplan must already know that she will draw unfriendly fire from the right for the point of view she expresses in “Our American Israel,” but no American who loves and supports Israel can afford to ignore the arguments that she makes. She points out that the phrase “no daylight between the United States and Israel” has joined the phrase “unbreakable bond” in the vocabulary of the Americans who support Israel, but she refuses to ignore the facts of history or to refrain from the advocacy of even the most challenging ideas. “We must let in daylight if Americans are to understand why and how this bond has come to be seen as unbreakable,” Kaplan writes, and surely she is right about that.

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