June 26, 2019

Why Choosing a Torah Path Is So Hard to Explain

Orthodox Jews like me often must try to explain our beliefs and practices to those who hold many misconceptions about Judaism.

A Christian colleague once asked me, “Is pork still not kosher?”

“Still not and never will be,” I answered.

A Jewish woman cornered me one night after a laughter yoga class and said, “I didn’t know you were allowed to attend a mixed gathering like this. Do you get out much?” On the flip side, when I recently arrived in Israel, the passport control man looked at me and asked, “You can go around in your community with that much hair showing from your beret?” I smiled and said yes. Then he whipped out a picture of his wife, who wears berets like I do. “She used to be Satmar,” he explained.

I used to carry loads of my own stereotypes about Torah observance. The most embarrassing one was thinking most Orthodox women were just Stepford Wives with two sets of dishes. Despite being a writer always in search of a good story, it never occurred to me to write a book about my slow transition to tradition — until a terribly awkward incident at a weekend writers’ conference.

I tried to duck out unnoticed on a Saturday night, being needed at home, but as the elevator doors were closing on my way down to the lobby, another writer jammed his foot inside and joined me. You didn’t need a journalism degree to be curious about the tall red and white box on my luggage cart with the incriminating label “KOSHER LAMP” on it.

“What is a kosher lamp?” he asked in a snarky tone. I knew instantly he was a Member of the Tribe. Most non-Jews wouldn’t dare be so chutzpadik about someone else’s religion. Hadn’t I already paid the price for being shomeret Shabbat by walking up the 11 flights of stairs on Friday night and Saturday, carrying my homemade meals on a paper plate to get to the conference room?

I tried to explain about the movable cover over the lamp, but I knew it sounded technical and weird. I failed the Hillel test spectacularly. When Hillel had been challenged to explain the entire Torah while standing on one foot, he did so masterfully — in one sentence. The MOT parried a second sarcastic question as we parted ways.

I was so frustrated. I hated being seen as some unthinking religious fundamentalist. A formerly snarky nonobservant Jew myself, I also had looked down on my brother and sister Jews who dutifully walked to shul on Saturday while I was driving right past them on my way to the movies.

This fellow writer and Jew knew nothing of my years of personal struggle — intellectual, emotional, spiritual — that preceded and to some extent continued in my life as a baalat teshuvah. How could I explain in mere seconds what it had taken me years to understand and appreciate? The magic of Shabbat is that it is a day when we stop frantically doing to enjoy the serenity of being. Yes, the laws of Shabbat observance are strict and numerous, but they are required for the integrity of the experience.

“A formerly snarky nonobservant Jew myself, I also had looked down on my brother and sister Jews who dutifully walked to shul on Saturday while I was driving right past them on my way to the movies.”

My decision to finally write a memoir about my experiences gained added urgency because around the same time, several anti-Orthodox memoirs were published, mostly by people in Chasidic communities. Their stories were uniformly damning, even dystopian. These books were lavished with media attention, despite several of the writers having little to no publishing history. The Jewish Book Council, an important review clearinghouse, reviewed them all. Yes, leaving religion is sexy.

In writing about Orthodoxy at its narrowest borders and in some cases, without the perspective of distance in time to offer a counterbalancing view, these writers unfairly reinforced the adjective “Orthodox” with “repressive.”

I could not let those writers speak for me. I chose my journey only after serious thought, study, conversation and observation. My truth was that signing onto the covenant at Sinai had given me great gifts of a warm and supportive community, pleasure and intellectual stimulation through Torah study, and a solid framework for my marriage and family life. I had been stunned to discover how little about Judaism I really knew. For example, I was blown away to learn the idea of an immortal soul — which I always thought was Christian — was Jewish in origin. What other emotionally nourishing ideas had been dropped from the syllabus?

Choosing Torah observance felt right but also was scary. It threatened my sense of self as a feminist and my social standing among my close Jewish friends. None of them ever asked me why I was doing this.

Thousands of formerly secular Jews have become Torah-observant over the last generation, and our stories are underreported. My life has been immeasurably enriched but still has plenty of challenges, as all lives do. While many mitzvahs have come naturally to me, such as giving 10 percent to tzedakah and trying to avoid lashon harah, or gossip, others — like covering my hair after marriage — were deeply unpalatable. I resisted for years until I found a measure of understanding and acceptance of the reasons behind them. If I find out one day that having kept a mitzvah that was hard for me earned me more points “up there,” I won’t mind.

Orthodox Jews get a lot of bad press, and some of it is deserved. But the beautiful stories about Torah life seemingly only are told in books and articles geared toward an insider crowd. Leaving Orthodoxy is sexy; joining it is not. My book, despite my credits as a longtime journalist and the distinctiveness of a funny memoir about finding Orthodoxy not abhorrent but rather wonderful, was ignored by all the secular media outlets that rushed to publicize the religion-as-abuse memoirs. Even the Jewish Book Council took a pass.

As for the MOT who razzed me about my “Kosher Lamp,” I am happy to report he came over to me as I packed my car, smiled and wished me a good week. I smiled in return. It had been a classic baal teshuvah moment — wanting all our MOTs to accept us.

My story is for him, and for all of us.

Judy Gruen’s latest book is her memoir, “The Skeptic and the Rabbi: Falling in Love with Faith” (She Writes Press). Her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, Jewish Action, Aish.com and many other media outlets.

Inspiration and a Rallying Cry for Graduates

The following is Judea Pearl’s speech at the fourth annual UCLA Jewish Graduation on June 16.

Dean [Maria] Blandizzi, friends, families, distinguished guests and especially you, the graduates.

I am deeply honored by the opportunity to address this graduating class, and to speak to you on topics that are so very dear to my heart.

I know that I am speaking today to a unique group of graduates. Unique, because all of you felt the need to add a distinctly Jewish color to one of the most memorable days of your life.

And the question you are probably asking is: What is the nature of this extra color we call Jewish? Is “being Jewish” some sort of a birthmark with which one is burdened or blessed for life? A genetic incident? How can one be proud of a genetic incident? Is it a religious belief? An ethnic loyalty? A commitment to a certain mode of behavior or perspective? An attitude? Is it just a collection of sweet childhood memories, decorated with mother’s cooking? Or a language to communicate with our ancestors and decode their wisdom and experience? Most importantly, could a coherent, meaningful answer ever emerge from a community whose members view the  question through such diverse prisms?

The question is not trivial, and it shook up the core of my soul 17 years ago, when our son Daniel was murdered in Karachi, Pakistan, and his last words, facing his abductors’ camera were: “My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish — I am Jewish. Back in the town of Bnei Brak, there is a street named  after my great-grandfather, Chaim Pearl, who was one of the founders of the town.”

These words have since become an identity banner to every Jewish soul, to every lover of Israel and to every scholar of peoplehood. But at the time, they raised more questions than answers: What did he mean? What does any of us mean when he or she says: “I am Jewish?”

So we asked 300 people, from all walks of life — journalists, comedians, rabbis, musicians, even kids in camps — what it means to them to be Jewish, and 150 of them responded and gave honest answers, compiled in this book. The answers were as diverse as Jews love to be — two Jews, three opinions — but they have a common denominator, which can be read clearly in the essays of Shimon Peres, Amos Oz and A.B. Yehoshua, and which happen to coincide with my own answer.

To me, being Jewish means to identify with the past, present, and future of a collective of individuals who happen to call themselves “Jews.”

This might sound a bit circular, but it is not. Many definitions in logic sound circular and still convey profound meanings.

We should not beg for safe space but create one, through assertiveness and self-awareness of our just cause.

As an act of choice, I select a certain thread of history and label it “mine,” that is, relevant to me. Similarly, I imagine the destiny of other members of the collective and label it “ours,” that is, relevant to our children. This is indeed what “people-hood” means: A collective bonded by common history and common destiny.

But who are we? And how did this historical bondage shape us?

I look down the history of ideas and I find our little subculture scoring an impressive list of accomplishments. I see Jews as the scouts of civilization — the ones who question conventional wisdom and constantly seek the exploration of new pathways. Abraham questioned the wisdom of idolatry; Moses questioned the wisdom of servitude and lawlessness; the prophets questioned institutional injustice; and so the chain goes on from the Maccabees, Jesus and Spinoza to Marx, Herzl and Freud, down to Einstein, Gershwin, the Zionist Chalutzim, who created the miracle of Israel, and down to the civil rights activists of the 1960s.

As individuals, we do not consciously choose this lonely role of scouts, border-challengers or idol-smashers. It has penetrated our veins, partly from the Bible and the Talmud through their persistent encouragement of curiosity, learning and debate, and partly from our free-spirited parents, uncles and historical role models. But mostly, this role has been imposed on us by the travesties of history. Conventional wisdoms were mighty unkind to us, so our sanity demanded that we challenge those conventions and, in due course, we have learned to challenge all conventions.

Thus, is my Jewishness a blessing or a burden? Do I prefer the trails of the scouts to the safety of the bandwagon? You bet I do. It is only from those trails that I can see where the voyage is heading, and it is only from there that I can discover greener pastures. I am Jewish, and I doubt I would be in my element elsewhere.

This combination of loneliness and creativity brings me to discuss the painful situation in which we, Zionist Jews, find ourselves on this campus vilified and demonized by BDS [boycott, divestment and sanctions] cronies, betrayed by our longtime progressive allies, and abandoned to exclusion and namelessness by those who should promote equity, diversity and inclusion on our campus.

As many of you know, you and I were recently labeled “white supremacists” by a top BDS ideologist who was a guest lecturer at the Department of Anthropology. I repeat: UCLA Department of Anthropology — let shame rest with those who earn it. As of today, that lecturer has not yet been asked to apologize to the literally thousands of students and faculty at UCLA who are devout Zionists, champions of human rights and social justice, whom she labeled “white supremacists.”

I feel obliged to share with you my rather optimistic assessment of this situation, since many of you will be facing a similar climate in graduate schools or in industry or the business environment.

I am optimistic because we have learned to pinpoint precisely what strategy will snap us out of this predicament and, fortunately, the strategy is not unrealizable.

It involves two elements. First, recognition of identity. Second, word power.

Let me elaborate. First, we should stop using the term anti-Semitism in our arguments and complaints, because it makes us easily dismissible by anyone who wishes to take cover under the slogan “anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism.” Why make it easy for them? Instead, we should demand explicit recognition as “Identity Zionists.” Since Jews are a history-bonded collective, and Israel is the culmination of Jewish history, elementary high school algebra dictates that Zionism is an essential component of Jewish identity. Zionist students and faculty should therefore be recognized as legitimate participants in UCLA’s tapestry of inclusion and diversity. I said “Zionist” not “Jewish,” which is easy to pay lip service to. This means that in all matters concerning code of conduct, Zionism should attain the same protection status as any religion or nationality or identity-distinct collective, and anti-Zionism should turn as despicable and condemnable as Islamophobia, women  inferiority or white supremacy.

This idea is not mine. Such recognition was accepted by California State University in a recent legal settlement of a lawsuit filed by students at San Francisco State. It is now binding, and we should insist that an identical wording be accepted by the UCLA administration.

“For many Jews, Zionism is an important part of their identity.”

We should insist on it in every meeting with UCLA officials, relentlessly, incessantly, before we even make an appointment. It is a prerequisite for any discussion of our posture on campus and it is the litmus test for our inclusion or exclusion in or out of the Bruins family.

I should add that the administration’s failure to grant us this recognition is not entirely their fault — no one has asked them to do it. We naively assumed that it is self-evident so, as time passed, they forgot how to spell “Zionism.” No more! Zionism has a spelling.

Our second weapon is word power.

We should not beg for safe space but create one, through assertiveness and self-awareness of our just cause. He who does not defend his identity from slander cannot expect to be respected. Remember that, to an outside observer, silence is interpreted as an admission of guilt. The term “anti-Semitism” connotes submissive begging for protection, and should be replaced by a fighting word “Zionophobia” — the irrational fear of a  homeland for the Jewish people.” It rhymes with Islamophobia, on purpose, of course. When you call someone a “Zionophobe,” it means: “If you deny my people’s right to a homeland, something is wrong with you, not me.”

Jewish students will regain respect only when “Zionophobia” becomes the ugliest word on campus. It depends on us; if we use it often enough, it will become the ugliest.

In summary, I believe that once we insist on recognition of our identity and once we arm ourselves with a powerful fighting word, “Zionophobia,” campus climate will change dramatically, and the words “I am Jewish” will ring again as a mark of pride, creativity and accomplishment.

I wish you much success in your future careers, as you continue the long and heroic  journey of our people, a journey of dignity, creativity and excellence.

Judea Pearl is a professor at UCLA, president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation and a co-editor of “I Am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl” (Jewish Lights, 2004), winner of the National Jewish Book Award.

June 28, 2019

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Two Nice Jewish Boys: Episode 143 – Jewish Pride, Changing Sexes and Keeping Kosher

We all have the power to choose. Free will is a tenet of most religions and philosophies. But there are some things in life, that no matter how you look at it, you can’t choose. You can’t choose your parents. You can’t choose your face (at least not the one you’re born with), and you can’t really choose your sex at birth. It is what it is.

If Yiscah Smith would have been given the choice of how to be born, it might not have necessarily been as Yaakov, a Jewish man. But that’s what fate, or God or whatever you wanna believe in – chose. But when the time came, Yiscah did make an incredible choice, which led her to become the observant woman that she is today.

As many of you know, June is pride month. Last Friday Tel Aviv hosted its Pride Parade, and we’re continuing to discuss the fascinating questions about gender, sexuality and Jewish identity. With us today is Yiscah Smith, author of “Forty Years in the Wilderness, My Journey to Authentic Living.” She lives in Jerusalem and teaches at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. We are very honored and thrilled to have her here with us on the show today.

Yiscah’s TedX Jerusalem talk here. Her website with more info is here.

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Facing Trauma, Personal and as a People

One measure of Rabbi Tirzah Firestone’s elevated stature in the Jewish world is the fact that her new book has been heartily endorsed by such a long and diverse list of Jewish writers, healers and teachers, including Gloria Steinem, Susannah Heschel, Rodger Kamenetz, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Rabbi Naomi Levy, Sarah Davidson and Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, among many others.

“Wounds into Wisdom: Healing Intergenerational Jewish Trauma,” a joint publication of Adam Kadmon Books and Monkfish Book Publishing Company, is the story of her self-appointed mission to retrieve and untangle the secrets in her own family, which includes both victims and survivors of the Holocaust, and to do the same for fellow Jews who have endured the Shoah, religious persecution in Russia and Iran, and the violence of combat and terrorism in Israel.

“Like many post-Holocaust families, my parents did not speak directly of these matters,” she explains at the outset. “Yet, there is an inner compulsion to know. ‘One has to know one’s buried truth in order to be able to live one’s life,’ writes the late Professor Dori Laub, himself a survivor.”

Firestone is renowned both as a spiritual leader and a practicing therapist. Raised in an Orthodox family, she is the founder and rabbi of a Jewish Renewal congregation, Congregation Nevei Kodesh in Boulder, Colo., and she fuses the traditions of Kabbalah, the principles of depth psychology, and the feminine wisdom tradition into her teachings.

“Wounds into Wisdom” is based on Firestone’s conviction that the unspoken experiences and memories of one’s parents and other caregivers can be unconsciously transmitted into the minds of young children: Her father, for example, never spoke of his experiences as a liberator of Bergen-Belsen during World War II; only after his death did Firestone and her siblings find the photographs of the camp that he had hidden away in his files. Yet she insists that what he saw was somehow transmitted to his own children. “Trauma is embedded in the nervous system through all of our senses,” she writes.

She credits the “psychological health of the Jewish religion, where memory is sanctified and trauma is memorialized,” for allowing us to bear what might otherwise be an insupportable burden and to extract meaning from suffering that seems beyond understanding. Yet she recognizes and rises to the challenge of “go[ing] beyond an identity of victimhood.” Her goal is to guide her readers, both as individuals and as members of the Jewish community, to reclaim their dignity and agency without forgetting what they have survived. 

Not surprisingly, Firestone offers psychotherapy as a model for coping with trauma, both the intimate kind that can affect an individual — molestation, criminal violence, combat experience — and the collective kind that can befall a whole people. She urges us to disclose our secret suffering to “a safe witness” in a “safe place,” and she holds out the promise of redemption.

“Rabbi Tirzah Firestone’s goal is to guide her readers, both as individuals and as members of the Jewish community, to reclaim their dignity and agency without forgetting what they have survived.”

“With a compassionate listener, we enter a circle of safety where we can slowly begin to trust again,” Firestone writes. “In this relationship, where we are truly seen and heard, we may begin to find meaning in our experience, and our humanity can begin to be restored after it has been stolen from us.”

The second half of her book is devoted to a kind of seven-step program for the treatment of trauma, ranging from “Facing the Loss” to “Taking Action.” Along the way, she identifies the obstacles that may arise, some of which operate at the molecular level and others that operate in history and politics.

Firestone warns, for example, that medication for dealing with anxiety and depression only masks the underlying causes. She writes, “[T]he residual images and sensations remain embedded in the nervous system, reminding people that they are still susceptible at any time to further triggering and that their inner state is still volatile.” 

Even more pointed is her caution against what she calls “hyperarousal,” that is, the tendency to overreact to a perceived threat. As an example, she points out how a prayer vigil over the 2006 war in Lebanon turned chaotic when one participant expressed the hope “that all sides, including Israel, ‘would act with self-restraint.’ ” The audience, which had been “stiffly prayerful,” turned suddenly noisy and bellicose. “This was a hair-trigger: Jews had been passive in the Holocaust. Never again would they be sheep led to slaughter!” Yet she insists that such a reflexive response can be dangerous, even fatal.

“Self-defense is an unquestionable right, for Israel and for any person or group that is under life-threatening attack,” she concedes. But when a threat triggers “the limbic response of an entire group, that segment of the human nervous system that is responsible for survival at all costs,” our ability to accurately perceive and appropriately respond to a threat can be gravely impaired. To show us an alternative, she quotes an Israeli man named Rami, whose daughter was killed by a suicide bomber on Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem.

“This is not our destiny to keep on killing people in this Holy Land of ours forever!” Rami cried out to a group of fellow bereaved parents. “It’s not written anywhere, and we can change it. We can break once and for all the endless cycle of violence and revenge and retaliation. And there is only one way to do it. This is simply by talking to each other. Because it will not stop unless we talk.”

To her credit, Firestone does not promise a quick cure to the ill effects of trauma in life and trauma in history. “Healing from trauma can take years, sometimes decades,” she insists. But the long ordeal does not condemn us to a lifetime of suffering. That’s why she uses Israel, an embattled country where trauma is a common experience and a continuing one, as an example.  

“[E]veryone who lives in this tiny land has lost loved ones: sons and daughters, teachers and students, comrades in arms, relatives, and friends,” she explains. “Yet Israeli culture is far from morose. It throbs with life and vitality.” And she quotes an Israeli woman named Daniela on the survivor’s credo: “I will either live or I will die, but I will not agree to a living death.”

“Wounds into Wisdom” fairly glows with the light that sometimes emerges from a charismatic teacher, but Rabbi Tirzah Firestone is also hard-headed, plainspoken and, above all, deeply courageous. This is not a touchy-feeling self-help book; rather, it is a stirring call to action.

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

Are You More Liberal or More Jewish?

Here is a question that might sound strange: Do you want Jewish American liberals to have views identical to those of non-Jewish American liberals, or is it better if Jewish liberals are somewhat different than other American liberals? I wonder how Jewish liberals would answer such question. I wonder if they aspire to see all liberal views converge. 

I have no reliable answer to my odd question, but I have answers to other questions about the way Jewish liberals think. A new study by Irwin Mansdorf of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, a right-leaning think tank, polled three groups of American liberals: non-Jews, Jews unaware that the study is about Jews, and Jews aware that the study is about Jews. The first thing Mansdorf learned was that awareness about the survey’s nature doesn’t change the results much. Jews in both groups gave almost identical answers to most questions.

But some issues clearly separate the liberal Jew and the liberal non-Jew. Example: The Jew is much more worried about anti-Semitism. Mansdorf focused on hardcore liberals, who make about 40% of the U.S. Jewish population. Presenting them with a question about priorities, more than 60% of the liberal Jews prioritized fighting anti-Semitism over all other options. Liberal non-Jews tended to prioritize “supporting Black Lives Matter” (about 50%, with about 20% prioritizing anti-Semitism). So there is a clear difference.

Jewish liberals also differ on Israel. Here is one example: When asked if the most important component of a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to have Israel recognized as the nation-state of the Jewish people, more than 50% of the Jewish liberals said yes, while the level of agreement among non-Jewish liberals was about half (24%) of that. When asked if Zionism was a “legitimate national liberation movement for the Jewish people,” about half of all liberal Jews said yes, while merely 16% of non-Jewish liberals said yes. A quarter of all non-Jewish liberals described Zionism as “racist and apartheid ideology.” Among liberal Jews, thankfully, the number was lower — about 1 in 10. 

But here’s where things get complicated. Here’s where Mansdorf must caution that “as attitudes of liberal Jews begin to mirror attitudes of the general liberal population, Jews, as a distinct ‘bloc,’ may become indistinguishable and less significant.” In which areas do Jewish liberals resemble non-Jewish liberals? It begins with their “ethnic identity.” For Jews and non-Jews, it is important to openly identify as members of their ethnic group (for Jews it is still more important). For Jews and non-Jews, it is not very important to have a life partner of the same ethnic group, and even less so to have their offspring “choose a life partner” from their ethnic group. In other words: The ability to say, “I’m Jewish” is a priority, but Jewish continuity is less a priority.

Where else do we see convergence in the views of non-Jewish and Jewish liberals? In the younger age groups. Younger liberal Jews are more like liberal non-Jews. Let’s look at one example: All respondents were asked to agree or disagree with the statement “Zionism reflects the need for a safe refuge for Jews.” A clear majority of Jews older than 60, agreed with the statement. Only a one-third of non-Jewish liberals (33%) agreed with it. And what about under-60 liberal Jews — the younger cohorts? They are somewhere in between. A little more than half of them (56%) agree with the statement, which signals a departure from the previous generation of liberal Jews, and resembles more liberal non-Jews.

There are more such examples in the study, but we can stop here to repeat the question at the start of this column:
Should we strive to retain a difference between liberal Jews and liberal non-Jews?
The tribal Jewish perspective on this matter — admittedly, my perspective — is clear: I want Jews to be different on some issues. I want them to be more supportive of Israel. I want
them to care about having another generation of Jews. Having said that, I understand that a non-tribal liberal perspective might be different. Thus, I cannot say with certainty if the Mansdorf study is good or bad news. 

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

Best Jewish Moments of the MTV Movie and TV Awards

Israeli Actress Gal Gadot presents. Photo by REUTERS/Mike Blake

Members of the Tribe were among the winners and presenters at the MTV Movie and TV Awards, which took place on June 15 at Barker Hangar in Santa Monica and aired on MTV two days later on June 17.

Gal Gadot was the event’s first presenter, handing out the award for most frightened performance to Sandra Bullock for “Bird Box.”

Dan Levy won the best comedic performance award for his role in “Schitt’s Creek” and gave thanks to MTV, noting he once worked there (actually, for its Canadian counterpart) and the cast, singling out his father and co-star Eugene Levy. He shared his takeaway from his “Schitt’s Creek” experience. “Kindness always wins. Love is best served unconditionally,” he said. “And wearing sweaters in the dead of summer is a very, very bad idea.”

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the subject of the acclaimed documentary “RBG,” was named the recipient of the best real-life hero award. She did not attend the event.

How Jewish Women Are Being Harassed Online for Fighting Anti-Semitism

As a Jewish woman who frequently shares her opinions on social media, I’ve been targeted online by white supremacists, communist bots from China, die-hard Donald Trump fanatics, Polish nationalists and Laura Loomer (before she was yanked off every kind of social media known to man). But the worst abuse I’ve received has been from my political home: the left.

Whenever I speak up against anti-Semitism, hordes of liberal men dogpile me, informing me I have a “bad take,” and calling me “stupid,” a “dumba– s—,” “fragile,” “delusional” and a “basic, petty worm.” Sometimes, they send me images of male anatomy or animals defecating. My critics have gone as far as to mock my appearance and advise me to get plastic surgery, or simply tell me to drown.

Unfortunately, I’m not alone.

Although all sorts of women experience abuse online, Jewish women face obscene sexual harassment for speaking out against hate. What’s more shocking is that the attacks come from progressive circles. Despite the left’s emphasis on gender equality, progressive men cruelly and consistently mob online Jewish women who are fighting anti-Semitism.

“Any time a Jewish woman, especially on Twitter, speaks up about anti-Semitism, we get hordes of trolls in our mentions, trying to silence us,” said Rafaella Gunz, a journalist for Gay Star News who lives in New York City. The 25-year-old has received messages telling her “Judaism is a racist cult, worse than Nazism” and “go f— yourself you white supremacist zio fascist b—-.”

“Not only do they despise people taking a stand against anti-Semitism (especially true on the left in my experience), but when the person taking a stand is a woman, there is a much more visceral reaction,” Gunz wrote in an email. “They call us words they wouldn’t call men: b—-, c—, whore.”

Kaitlyn Abas, a 26-year-old waitress in the United Kingdom who is active on social media, agrees. “I’ve seen more Jewish women, including myself, get abused more than men,” she said. “I think they see us as weaker. Clearly, they’ve never met a Jewish woman in their lives because if they had, they’d know how strong we are.”

To me, these attacks are a direct response to Jewish women’s strength. Many of us are unapologetically outspoken against bigotry. When our foes notice how determined Jewish women are in the face of anti-Semitism, they try to intimidate us with floods of misogynist abuse.

While Natalia Sloam, assistant managing editor at Linkwell Health, said she’s often called “condescending phrases such as ‘pet, sweetheart or darling,’ ” other women assert they’ve been threatened with promises of violence.

“What we are seeing is none other than victim blaming, carried out by the activist community that popularized the term.”

“I’ve been told to go back to the gas chamber. I’ve been told I should be raped, repeatedly,” said Elayna Tell, a personal assistant in Washington, D.C., who said she has experienced dogpiling from progressive men online.  “Simply because I speak about the Jewish experience as a Jewish woman.”

These attacks are rooted in anti-Semitism and misogyny.

After college student Ellen Borenstein called out anti-Semitism on Facebook, a man taunted her, writing, “I’ll send you a box of Kotex.” When Chicago-based 39-year-old Naomi Schmahl spoke up against anti-Semitism on the left, she was sent messages calling her a “Nazi whore” and “b—-” and to “go get f—ed but don’t reproduce, the world doesn’t need any more of you neocons running around.”

“I’ve been threatened. I’ve been called everything from a Jewish b—- to a baby killer to a Satan worshipper,” Abas said. “I feel alone. I feel sick. I feel like no one really cares. Each abusive message drains me as a person. I took out ‘Jewish’ from my Twitter bio so I’d get less abuse.”

Few are more explicitly Jewish on Twitter than Tablet contributing editor Carly Pildis. “I have been harassed by both the left and the right,” Pildis told me. “It’s definitely a trend.”

But for others, the attacks overwhelmingly have come from left-wing voices.

“I get more anti-Semitism from the left than I do the right, at the moment,” noted Abas, who predominantly is targeted for speaking out against anti-Semitism within the British Labour party. Sloam, who lives in London, is in the same boat. “It is absolutely extraordinary to me that this comes from Labour members,” she said. “They are supposedly the ‘anti-racist’ party, but since [Jeremy] Corbyn has become [the party’s] leader, everything has changed.”

According to Carly Susman, New York-based junior art director at the advertising agency Soubriet Byrne & Associates, the problem has crossed the Atlantic. “I see so much of it happening, specifically in spaces that pride themselves on being diverse and welcoming — anything from the Women’s March, [Rep.] Ilhan Omar’s tweets, other leftist spaces. I feel defeated and unwelcome pretty quickly,” the 27-year-old said.

In the case of prominent New York Times opinion editor Bari Weiss, speaking out against anti-Semitism involves being called a b—-, whore and “bislut.” Some of her critics, one of whom said, “do not call yourself a lefty. You are nothing but an Israeli whore,” refer to her as a “worthless stupid c—” and wish for her violent death.

Now, Weiss is explicitly a liberal. But progressives are the first to attack her, along with scores of other left-wing Jewish women.

“I’m a registered Democrat but don’t always agree with the far left, as a lot of harassment comes from them,” said Renae Ison, 36, a customer service representative in Louisville, Ky. “I regularly feel dogpiled by them.”

“We not only get intimidated by the right, we are also incessantly harassed by the left — and this includes way too many Jewish men,” said Sara Bobkoff, a progressive writer living in the Netherlands. “If Jewish men put the focus on Jewish women, they can deflect from being targeted themselves and show loyalty in a movement where their role is precarious to begin with.”

When Schmahl accused liberal Jewish cartoonist Eli Valley of normalizing anti-Semitism, she was dogpiled. “I’ve been harassed by Neo-Nazis before but I’ve never had this level of sexual violence directed at me,” she tweeted.

What is the justification? If a woman criticizes anti-Semitism on the left, she is betraying progressive values. “If I speak up about anti-Semitism on the other side of the aisle, I get labeled as some sort of Republican enabler and not on the left,” progressive activist Schmahl said.

“Although interviewing many Jewish women who’ve faced this made me feel validated, it didn’t make me feel better.” 

For these men, social justice is a loophole to harass Jewish women without being called out as sexist. They rationalize we are the real threats to progressive ideas such as gender equality if we speak out against anti-Semitism demonstrated by people with whom they are politically aligned. In their eyes, they are the true feminists. Women are simply getting in the way.

When Schmahl went public with the abusive messages she received from criticizing anti-Semitism on the left, more liberal men shamed her for speaking out against the harassment. “I don’t know who you are trying to impress by making your conversations public on Twitter but it’s a low blow,” a man who identified himself only as Chris wrote to her. “It might do you some good to get a tougher skin,” Chris said. “The thing that I hope you understand is airing these comments publicly only strengthens the right. I know women who get inappropriate messages like this from overzealous people, they certainly don’t tweet about it publicly because they know it can be used against the left, they understand that there’s a greater good involved.”

For Chris, the greater good involved not ever coming forward with the sexism Schmahl experienced from progressives. “Your energy and time would be better spent going after conservatives and those fake lefties who enable them, these are the real culprits of sexism, misogyny and anti-Semitism,” Chris wrote, deciding that liberals who called a strange woman on the internet a whore weren’t the real misogynists. “I would also encourage you to consider deleting your thread with the messages you received from Eli’s followers and in the future think about how your tweets about others may hurt real progressives.”

(From left) Author Ariel Sobel and Sara Bobkoff, progressive writer from the Netherlands.

Chris is right. There are real progressives hurting from sexism, misogyny and anti-Semitism. But it’s not men like him; it’s women like Schmahl. Not only is the left demanding our silence on anti-Semitism, but also on sexist harassment we receive for speaking out against it. If a Republican terrorizes a woman, it’s despicable; if a Democrat does it, it’s “overzealous.”

The rationale behind the abuse is creative. Many liberal men are desperate to sexually harass a woman on behalf of another woman. Criticized Ilhan Omar’s tweets? There are plenty of “Bernie Bros” (angry male supporters of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders) ready to call you a dumb b— in her (and what they see as feminism’s) defense. God forbid, if, like 97% of Jews, a woman supports Israel’s right to exist, anything goes. Everyone knows it’s disgusting to call a woman a whore, but according to this crowd, if you call her a “zio whore,” she deserves it.

What we are seeing is none other than victim blaming, carried out by the activist community that popularized the term.

“We not only get intimidated by the right, we are also incessantly harassed by the left — and this includes way too many Jewish men.” — Sara Bobkoff, progressive writer from the Netherlands

“Misojewny,” “anti-Semisogny” or whatever term you’d like to use to describe hatred of Jewish women, exists on the left, just like misogynoir, the hatred of black women. Although these prejudices take different forms, both are rooted in the desire to take down the most vulnerable woman in the room. Jewish women often are blamed for others abusing us, particularly if we have a controversial stance on Israel. This makes Jewish women easy targets for progressive men.

Some people might think these scenarios are cherry-picked. This article began as an investigation of harassment against Jewish women by anyone and everyone, but scores of victims kept pointing their fingers to the left.

That’s not to say Jewish women don’t receive harassment from the right. Ariel Gold, the staunchly anti-Zionist national co-director of CODEPINK, the women-led grassroots peace and justice organization, has been subjected to misogynist hate from men who believe she encourages anti-Semitism. Gold said she recently received a message that read “suck big fat Nazi d— you kapo b—-,” along with a picture of male anatomy. She’s also been told, “I hope all your Arab friends rape you at once” and received verified death threats.

“I think they see us as weaker. Clearly, they’ve never met a Jewish woman in their lives because if they had, they’d know how strong we are.” 

I spent months this year with my picture as the pinned tweet of a white supremacist’s Twitter feed, which was devoted to spreading “profiles” of predominantly Jewish women and their anti-racist tweets as proof Jews are “trying to replace the white race with black people.” The humiliation and targeting I experienced was unbearable.

But it haunts me that the self-identified feminists I should be able to go to for help in these scenarios are not speaking out against this behavior. In fact, I find harassment from the left to be much crueler and consistent; others find it unbearable.

For Sloam, the harassment has reached a breaking point. “I’ve been on Twitter for 10 years and I am seriously considering changing my screen name. It’s my real name and I feel vulnerable,” she said.

I put on a tough front, but I feel vulnerable, too. 

I’ve tried blocking and reporting. Still, these men remain fixated on me, regularly attacking me long after I’ve had a “block” party. The worst part is that some women who dislike my opinions are all too happy to join in on the misogynist dogpile. These liberals rail against me because by speaking out against left-wing anti-Semitism, I am somehow “not progressive enough.” The truth is, no woman — progressive or not — deserves to be sexually harassed, whether she votes Republican, Democratic, Libertarian, Communist or Labour.

“I put on a tough front, but I feel vulnerable, too.”

Although interviewing many Jewish women who’ve faced this made me feel validated, it didn’t make me feel better. The women quoted are among the few who felt safe enough to use their names. Some were so terrified of more harassment, they made sure their social media handle wouldn’t be included in this story.

To break this cycle of abuse, I’d like to make less an argument than a plea. When you see a Jewish woman being dogpiled, come to her defense. When someone on Twitter gets “ratioed” (has much more disapproving comments than likes), it’s not a joke. It’s a rabid mob hellbent on silencing us, intent on damaging our mental and emotional health.

Please, jump in and tell the perpetrators they are engaging in sexual harassment. The progressive abusers often identify as feminists. Nothing would unsettle them more than getting called out for mistreating women. We have to recognize this for what it is: sexual harassment tinged with anti-Semitism.

Regardless of our gender, we must speak out against this abuse, and not just for women whose opinions we agree with — or even women we like. For women, Jewish or otherwise, to have voices in our society, we need the right to disagree without being mobbed, threatened and humiliated.

Ariel Sobel is a screenwriter, filmmaker and activist, and won the 2019 Bluecat Screenplay Competition. Her website is arielsobel.com.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misattributed a quote. Chris wrote, “It might do you some good to get a tougher skin.”

JFLA Offers Loans for College Students

As students celebrate their high school graduations, many are already navigating the high cost of student loans as they prepare to enter college. However, there is one resource for local students that might help alleviate that burden.

The Los Angeles Jewish Free Loan Association (JFLA) offers interest-free loans for students — Jewish or not — who live in L.A. County. 

“You have a group of people or families who can afford to pay $75,000 a year to go to Harvard or wherever and then you have the rest of the world,” Rachel Grose, executive director of the Jewish Free Loan Association, told the Journal. “We see it here all the time: students who are going to graduate school and they owe $200,000 or more for their undergrad [schooling]. It sticks with them.”

Jewish and non-Jewish students who live in Los Angeles County can apply to JFLA, which offers loans for any post-secondary schools.

When Grose became executive director two years ago, the loan cap was $3,500 a year. Students can now borrow up to $10,000 a year with a total loan of $35,000. JFLA makes the payment process as easy and painless as possible, according to Grose.

“Since our student loan program was established in the late 1980s, we have always required the student pay a small monthly amount, and that is our way of remaining in touch with them,” she said. 

“You have a group of people or families who can afford to pay $75,000 a year to go to Harvard or wherever and then you have the rest of the world.” — Rachel Grose

Students pay $75 per month while they are in school, regardless of the loan amount or their balance. The money is taken directly out of the student’s bank account.  

To apply, students need to fill out the pre-loan application available on JFLA’s website and then undergo an interview. To be approved for a loan, the student will require guarantors with a steady income and good credit. With one guarantor, students can borrow up to $5,000; with two, they can borrow up to $10,000. Married parents count as one guarantor. Guarantors can be anyone over 25, and students generally ask their grandparents, aunts or siblings, Grose said.

“We are in the risk-taking business and our objective is to help all students graduate,” Grose said. “We will go back and forth with the client. If they come in with a terrible guarantor, someone’s going to call them and say, ‘Look, with this guarantor, we can only loan you X dollars. If you want Y dollars, you need to find another guarantor.’ ”

Grose admits that $10,000 per year may not be enough for some students. “It depends where you’re going to college,” she said. “If you are going to Santa Monica College or Northridge or Cal State Long Beach, our loan is going to cover you. If you’re going to USC, it’s not going to cover you. I think part of this is also a real education for students. They need to understand what they’re getting themselves into.”

JFLA also helps out with grants and scholarships. “We partner with JVS [Jewish Vocational Services] and their scholarship program,” Grose said, “so anyone who goes to JVS and applies for a scholarship gets a referral to us. A lot of agencies outside of JVS refer [students] to us. There are no other interest-free lending services. We’re the one shop in town.”

The deadline to apply for a JFLA college loan for the fall 2019 semester is June 14. Applications will be reviewed in August. For more information, visit jfla.org/for-borrowers/types-of-loans/student-loans. 

Combining the Spiritual With the Practical

Chana Shemghatan, 18
High School: Valley Torah
College: Undecided

Chana Shemghatan has spent her time at Valley Torah High School working hard to achieve good grades and giving back to her community. She not only balanced AP Calculus and AP Language, she also found the time to serve as co-president of her 12th grade class, volunteer with ETTA — a Jewish special needs organization — and participate in the Holocaust Remembrance Project, where she received the Exemplary Chessed Award three times. 

Next up: Shemghatan will spend her gap year at Tomer Devorah Seminary in Jerusalem.

“When you go to seminary, you have a whole year to just concentrate on yourself and know your strengths and weaknesses,” Shemghatan told the  Journal. “I wanted to do that before I go out into the real world.”

Between studying for school and leading her senior class, Shemghatan was as an ETTA youth board member. She’s been volunteering with the organization since her freshman year. 

“Volunteering teaches you to be so grateful,” she said. “It helps you be more patient, caring, responsible and a hard worker.” 

For her work with the Holocaust Remembrance Club, Shemghatan interviewed survivors. “People in my generation are some of the last to see these Holocaust survivors face-to-face,” she said. “They are getting older and passing away. It’s important to grasp every story and hear every experience so we can take it in and pass it down.”

Shemghatan has many interests — theater, math, science and the law — but plans to study to become a physician’s assistant (PA). “I was always so interested in the medical field,” she said. “I wanted to be a doctor, but I know that it’s hard to marry young or have a family because I want to be home for my husband and kids. A PA has short hours, so I could do what I love and also be with my family.” 

“Volunteering teaches you to be so grateful. It helps you be more patient, caring, responsible and a hard worker.” 

Shemghatan said she is also very spiritual and proudly Jewish. She said it’s calming to believe in God, because she knows there is a higher power looking out for her. She loves being able to openly express her Judaism because when she lived in Iran as a child, she and her family weren’t able to. 

“We had to hide that we were Jewish,” she said. “[Now] I can go out and feel Jewish and dress like I’m religious. That’s a great feeling to have.”

Shemghartan is excited about the future. “I’m so excited to be an adult,” she said. “In high school, they tell you what you need to learn. Everything is handed to you. I’m excited to go and be a [physician’s assistant] and make a difference and be my own person now.”

Keep on reading about our 2019 Outstanding Seniors here.

Contributing to the Greater Good

Kyle Newman, 17
High School: Milken Community Schools
College: UC Berkeley

Kyle Newman’s interest in the sciences emerged early on. “I always loved science, engineering and math,” the Milken Community Schools high school valedictorian told the Journal. “I was obsessed with Legos. I loved drawing building plans and experimenting, and my interest built over time.”

In 10th grade, Newman competed in an international physics competition in Israel. During his junior year, for the Conrad Spirit of Innovation Challenge, he co-invented an app-controlled patch device that uses electric impulses to stimulate nerves and increase circulation in the leg. He conducted his own bioengineering research at the Schmidt biosensor lab at UCLA last summer, and as the recipient of a Regents Scholarship, he will enter UC Berkeley as a bioengineering major this fall.

But Newman is not a stereotypical science nerd. He’s also passionate about world history and music. A tenor who also plays guitar and the saxophone, he would like to minor in music and join a jazz band at college. His essay on composer George Gershwin was a finalist in the Norman E. Alexander Jewish writing competition, and he has helped his AP literature teacher with her doctoral research. 

He has volunteered with Milken’s social action and justice group Yozma and is a member of the Zaman arts collective of Mizrahi Jews. Last summer, he taught himself to read Farsi.

“My parents always wanted me to explore what I’m passionate about,” Newman said. “I’m definitely a perfectionist, but I never set a bar for myself. There’s no limit to it.”

“I’m definitely a perfectionist, but I never set a bar for myself. There’s no limit to it.”

The son of Iranian immigrants and a Westwood resident, Newman’s father died last year after suffering a stroke. His mother, Jasmine, has been his rock. “Seeing her strength in this terrible time was very inspirational for me and helped me get through it,” he said.  

Judaism also has been a source of strength. “Ever since I was little, Judaism was always grounding,” he said. “I think it’s a privilege to be part of a legacy that has continued for thousands of years. Jewish values have a subconscious influence on how I live, how I respect my parents and elders. Judaism definitely influences what I do.”

Newman volunteers at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, working on a project called Messages of the Future. “We interview Holocaust survivors about their story but also about issues and current events,” he said. “At a time when people are losing sight of history, we’re getting testimonials that are living proof of what happened. We’re the last generation that will be able to hear from these survivors before they pass away We’re making the truth permanent.”

This summer, Newman plans to hang out with friends, visit his sister Mandy, who is studying for her doctorate in psychology in New York, attend a family wedding in Paris and do some SAT tutoring. He’s looking forward to college and the future.

“Whatever I wind up doing, I want to make a contribution to the greater good, whether it’s inventing a device in the medical field or something to help the environment, or using my engineering expertise in the field of medicine,” he said. “Whatever I do, I want it to have a direct impact.”

Keep on reading about our 2019 Outstanding Seniors here.

Beginning Their Adult Lives: Outstanding Grads of 2019

Outstanding high school seniors are more than their GPA, a laundry list of extracurricular activities or their acceptance into an elite university. They are ready to tackle the challenges of adulthood. These 14 accomplished high school graduates are among those who embody that sense of self, maturity and more.

To high school seniors everywhere, including those we didn’t have the space to feature, mazel tov on your graduation. Here’s to you reaching even greater heights.

Click on the names of the outstanding seniors to read about their achievements.

Jacqueline Bohrer, 18

Robert Carlson, 18

Elyse Forman, 18

Elisheva Gross, 18

Kyle Newman, 17  

Samantha Renard, 18

Oren Rimmon, 18

Naomi Rubin, 18

Noah Rossi, 18

Clara Sandler, 17

Louie Shapiro, 18

Chana Shemghatan, 18

Jack Zager, 18

Elisheva Zisblatt, 18

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.

It’s Never Too Late to Be a Ruth

Everyone at upstate New York’s small Temple Beth El knows Linda North as an active member of the Jewish community. The 70-year-old regularly attends services and celebrations with her husband, Bruce, supports her grandsons with their religious education and milestones, and pitches in at temple whenever she is needed.

What not everyone knew was that until May 24, North was not Jewish. She grew up as a non-practicing Christian. “My early experiences with organized religion consisted of my mother sending me and my two sisters to Sunday school when she needed a morning of peace and quiet,” North wrote in her congregation’s newsletter before her conversion. 

North wanted to belong to a religion, but just couldn’t seem to find the one that made ethical and intellectual sense to her and also touched her heart.

 “During my teens, I went to many different church youth groups with my friends. I was always seeking a religious home that felt right to me, but never found what I was looking for,” she also wrote in the newsletter. 

Like a modern-day Ruth, North found her tribe at Temple Beth El. Her first serious exposure to Judaism came in the form of her husband, Bruce, and whom she married in 1970. “I first started coming to temple after my son-in-law Matt and daughter Allison married and had children,” she wrote. “Bruce was already playing the cello for services on a regular basis. Since our grandsons … were being raised Jewish, we wanted to understand the importance of being Jewish in their lives. What we found was a welcoming spiritual community with teachings and values that matched our own. I found the peacefulness of Shabbat brought me a sense of joy that I had never experienced in another religious setting.”

“I want my grandchildren to know that I stand for them and that I stand with them as a member of the Jewish community.”

North’s official steps toward Judaism began after the Tree of Life shooting in Pittsburgh in October, which had a profound impact on her. “It hurt me that I was not Jewish,” she said. “It made me know that I no longer wanted to be an outsider. For a long time, I have felt a spiritual connection to the practice of Judaism. I have attended services for several years and relate to the value and ethics and practice of social justice that are inherent in the teachings of Judaism. I want to be part of the community that stands for those things. I want my grandchildren to know that I stand for them and that I stand with them as a member of the Jewish community.”

At Shabbat services on May 24, North got her wish. Before Rabbi Norman Mendel began the words of welcome and official blessings, North’s husband surprised her with her own tallit, saying that if she was going to be a Jew she needed to dress like one. 

“We’re simply doing what’s already been a part of your life. You’re already a part of this congregation,” Mendel said as he faced North in front of the open ark. “You’re already a part of our spiritual family.”

Presenting her with a certificate acknowledging her study, Mendel then revealed North’s chosen Hebrew name to the congregation: Ruth. An apt choice for a woman who embraces her chosen religion as if she had been born to it.

“This is a beautiful moment,” Mendel said. “You are part of the very foundation of what makes Judaism, Judaism: thinking, questioning, involving, being socially just and impacting everyone you meet with that philosophy.” 

Said North: “I feel complete and joyous.”

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.

A Challenge to Lethal Rejection

Rejection. It is a strong action that elicits even stronger emotions. The most common reactions are bitterness, depression and anxiety but even worse, rejection destabilizes our innate need to belong. Rejection follows the same pathways in the brain as physical pain and, in extreme cases, feels akin to an emotional and/or social death.

Many families’ initial foray into Jewish community and synagogue life occurs with the acceptance to the early childhood program at their local synagogue or Jewish Community Center. Yet, it is often tougher to get into the preschool they want than it is to get into an Ivy League school, and parents feel pressured to make the cut. Parents are requesting letters of recommendation, calling in favors, touring the temple two or three times so that the administration will get to know them, donating more money, joining several synagogues, and more to secure coveted spots at Jewish preschools. Seriously? It’s just preschool.

In many cities, getting into a preschool has become tantamount to applying to Harvard. Preschool has become big business for synagogues, which often survive off the revenue of their early childhood programs.

Once upon a time, a couple would move into a neighborhood and join the local synagogue of an affiliation that resonated with them. Easy. What changed? Why does it have to be so difficult to enter Jewish communities?  

The rationale that synagogues use for the admission process is often valid on face value:

Yes, preschools must limit the number of students.

Yes, it is important to ensure families remain members into old age so that our communities are self-sustaining and robust.

Yes, some families can be tough to deal with.

Yes, we have lots of diversity now, especially in cities such as Los Angeles.

Yes, some children have identified special needs.

Yes, some families need financial assistance.

These arguments and more could be made for the right to accept or reject students. However, isn’t it time that we all started to practice what we read and teach? Lessons such as:

We are all created b’tzelem elokim, in God’s image. If so, aren’t all applicants worthy? Even the ones with special needs?

Al tifrosh min haztzibur, don’t separate yourself from the community. Unless the synagogue rejects you?

Havei dan kola dam becaph zechut, judge each man favorably. Only if they pay in full?

And who should be choosing whom? Should a preschool director, rabbi or board member choose who gets to enter our communities after a five- or 10-minute interview? Or should our community members, who after much searching and touring, questioning and working, choose us?

There is a famous midrash that says that God didn’t actually choose the Jewish people. That instead, we chose God. We should be allowing our families to choose God as well, and to choose to worship and belong to God within the communities that they feel most connected to. If we don’t, I fear that these same families, stinging with the pain, humiliation, fear and depression of rejection, may end up choosing something else entirely.

Imagine a Jewish community in which no one gets rejected. The only words that families would hear would be “acceptance,” “love” and “welcome!”

“Our school is full but we will call you if a space opens up.” This would no longer be a personal rejection. Instead, they are messages of acceptance and inclusion, with the hope that a space will open up in one of the schools. The synagogue would be welcoming, regardless of admission into the school.

Instead of a lethal rejection, it just might be the other door they enter the synagogue through. 

Oh, what a world it could be!

Tamar Andrews, director of Temple Isaiah preschool, is an early childhood education professor.

Harvey Keitel to Play Jewish Gangster Meyer Lansky

Harvey Keitel. Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

Harvey Keitel, who played Mickey Cohen in “Bugsy,” has signed on to play another Jewish gangster, Meyer Lansky. Written and directed by Eytan Rockaway, “Lansky” finds the titular mob boss retired and living in Miami Beach, still under investigation by the FBI for hiding millions of dollars in his criminal career. The story unfolds as he tells his story to a journalist, played by Sam Worthington.

Rockaway’s script is based in part on interviews his father, history professor Robert Rockaway, conducted with Lansky.

Also in the cast is Emory Cohen (“Brooklyn”), who appears in “The Loudest Voice, “ Showtime’s miniseries about the rise and fall of Fox News’ Roger Ailes. It premieres June 30 on Showtime.

“Lansky” begins production in August.

New Chamber Group Performs Piece Influenced by Shoah Experience

The Los Angeles Youth Orchestra (LAYO) has announced the creation of a new musical group, the Contemporary Adventure Ensemble (CAE), which brings some of L.A.’s seasoned professional musicians together with several LAYO alumni and advanced students. 

LAYO, which was founded 20 years ago by conductor and artistic director Russell Steinberg, is composed of 120 student musicians between the ages of 8 and 18 from 60 schools throughout the Greater Los Angeles area.

CAE’s debut concert will take place May 30 at First Presbyterian Church of Santa Monica and will include pieces by illustrious 20th-century composers Aaron Copland, Heitor Villa-Lobos and Dmitri Shostakovich. The concert also will feature two 21st-century chamber pieces by contemporary L.A. composers: “Scale 9” by pianist-composer Sean Friar and the chamber orchestra premiere of Steinberg’s “Rucksack.”

Steinberg — who lives in the San Fernando Valley and studied music at UCLA before getting a doctorate in musicology from Harvard — composed “Rucksack” in 2015 for Holocaust survivor Juliane Heyman’s 90th birthday. A 14-minute dramatic piece for chamber orchestra, spoken word and mezzo-soprano, “Rucksack” is based on Heyman’s 2001 memoir, “From Rucksack to Backpack.” 

The musical “Rucksack” intertwines two sections from Heyman’s memoir: her harrowing escape from the Nazis while a teenager during World War II and a misadventure she had soon after arriving as an immigrant to the U.S. The stories are connected by the rucksack she carried across Europe as she and her family fled the Nazis and the rucksack she was wearing when police detained her as she was hiking in the Poconos in Pennsylvania. 

“Rucksack” intertwines two sections from Juliane Heyman’s memoir: her harrowing escape from the Nazis while a teenager during World War II and a misadventure she had soon after arriving as an immigrant to the U.S.

Over lunch at a café in Encino, Steinberg told the Journal his inspiration for the piece came while he was reading Heyman’s memoir and was “taken by the neutral way she wrote about her escape from the Nazis. She had this very objective way of framing [these emotional and terrifying events]. It said something about her ability to survive.”

His “Rucksack” goes back and forth between the Shoah and the Poconos sections. “In the Holocaust part, there’s a snare drum, a military aspect, a sense that she’s fleeing the Nazis,” Steinberg said. “The music tries to express some of the emotional things she’s talking about. … That’s why I want the instruments to play in a precise militaristic style during the European part. And then during the Americana part, I want it to be freer, looser, warmer.”

Russell Steinberg; Photos courtesy of Los Angeles Youth Orchestra.

In her memoir, Heyman writes about how she and her family arrived at the Statue of Liberty while World War II was still raging. As a teenager at Barnard College, she went hiking with a friend in the Poconos, unaware that for police in a small 1940s town their rucksacks signaled that they could be runaways heading for a life of prostitution. 

“[Heyman] is just mildly amused by being stopped by the police,” Steinberg said, “and I thought the pairing was interesting. … I tried to merge these two stories together so that you don’t know whether it’s the Nazis arresting her or the police in Pennsylvania. That was my vision, to try to disturb the listener into a little bit of confusion.” 

But only a little confusion. Steinberg said he wanted the piece to be easy to follow. “So when she tells the Nazi story, I have the singer speak, sometimes rhythmic speech, and let the instruments tell the emotions of the story. When she tells the story of hiking in America, that’s in bel canto, normal operatic singing.”

The mezzo-soprano performing his work is Geeta Novotny. “Geeta is a remarkable singer — she can do anything,” Steinberg said. “Here is a piece with singing and speech and rhythmic speech, and she’s able to modulate her voice. It’s a joy to do it with her. When I wrote the piece, it was just piano and voice, but I always envisioned it with more instruments. I envisioned it having more color.” 

He added that “Rucksack” is not the only piece in the concert that has a “humanistic” aspect. “If I had to have a theme for the concert,” he said, “it would be resistance to tyranny. This incredible piece by Shostakovich, [String] Quartet No. 8, was mentioned in his autobiography.” 

Steinberg said that the humanistic label also applies to Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring,” which ends the concert. “When I thought of pairing my piece with ‘Appalachian Spring,’ it seemed the most natural thing because Copland himself represents all those things, all the ‘hated’ groups: immigrant parents, Jewish, homosexual, socialist, the list goes on,” he said. “And somehow in his music, Copland melded all that together into a style that is quintessentially American.”

Steinberg said he understands that the United States has had a complicated history when it comes to accepting immigrants and defining what is American, which is one of the reasons he chose Heyman’s memoir as a source for the chamber piece he composed. 

He pointed out that America’s history with immigration — with “the other” — “has always been a jumble. … That mixed feeling about immigrants is part of our DNA, and I’m hoping that the audience will take away that what has made us great is our openness to immigration, and that if we continue to have xenophobic thoughts, we will no longer be a great country.”

The CAE concert is May 30 at 7:30 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church of Santa Monica, 1220 2nd St. For tickets and more information, visit the website

Making 1 Million Missing Jews of Color Welcome

Group photo of the Jews of Color Field Building Initiative. Photo from Facebook.

I live in as diverse a Jewish community as there may be in America, in Brooklyn, N.Y., but often look around synagogue sanctuaries and other gathering spaces and wonder why there aren’t more black and brown Jews present.

Yehuda Webster’s experience tells us why. One Monday morning last November, Webster, who is African American and Jewish, was returning a sefer Torah he’d rented for a bar mitzvah where he officiated.

Webster — who lives in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood, studied at the Jewish Theological Seminary and in Israel, and ran a b’nai mitzvah tutoring company — carried the holy scroll toward his Lyft. A Chasidic man challenged where he was going. Webster ignored him. Within moments, another Chasid began pestering him. “I defensively told them I owed no explanation and their continued demands and harassment were racist,” Webster wrote on his Facebook page. 

He got into his vehicle but another car, driven by a Chasid, blocked it. Twenty or 30 Chasidim quickly circled. Police eventually dispersed the crowd. “It was one of the most racist and terrifying moments of my life,” Webster wrote.

In response, Webster doubled down on the Jewish community. He started JOC Torah Academy, a space where Jews of color (JOCs) learn from other JOCs. 

Most JOCs, however, walk away when they experience racism, said Ilana Kaufman, who directs the Jews of Color Field Building Initiative. “Racism pushes Jews of color away and we seek our refuge elsewhere,” she said. We spoke just before her initiative released a first-ever analysis of Jewish population studies, titled “Counting Inconsistencies: Analysis of American Jewish Population Studies with a Focus on Jews of Color.”

It found that a million Jews of color are missing from counts of America’s Jewish community. 

“Racism pushes Jews of color away and we seek our refuge elsewhere.”

— Ilana Kaufman

The meta-study was directed by Stanford University’s Ari Kelman, who analyzed seven national Jewish population studies, 15 local and community studies and four student studies. Some studies didn’t ask about race, others did inconsistently and used sampling techniques resulting in undercounting of JOCs, like relying on “Jewish” names.

“My friend Lee Smith would not get called, while Whoopi Goldberg, who isn’t Jewish, would,” Kaufman noted. “Jewish demographic tools don’t have any capacity to count Jews of color in a household,” she said. “It’s as if non-white Jews simply don’t exist.” 

In ways small and large, white Jews communicate to JOCs that they don’t belong. Today JOCs represent 12 to 15% of the American Jewish population. The Jewish community, like America in general, becomes browner with each generation. By 2042, over half of Americans will be multiracial or people of color, Kaufman said, and it will be no different among American Jews.

Raised with her twin brother, David, by their white Jewish mother in San Francisco (their African American father wasn’t involved), Kaufman felt caught between two worlds starting as a preteen. At Jewish camp, she felt unable to bond with the other Jewish girls over hair and clothes, she said. 

After 20 years as a teacher and administrator, Kaufman, 47, worked at the San Francisco Jewish Federation as a program officer and at the city’s Jewish Community Relations Council. In 2015, sickened that black men were being killed by police officers, she pivoted toward connecting racial justice and Jewish philanthropy. A year later, she started the JOC Field Building Initiative. 

Now that we know roughly how many JOCs are missing, how should the community respond? 

“We need a strategic plan where we pave pathways to real dialogue and eventually have leadership teams filled with engaged and savvy JOCs,” Kaufman said. “Our Jewish community is getting more racially diverse. If we stay as we are, we will tumble backward into a past where we don’t count and value all Jews,” she added. “Which Jewish world do you want to live in?”

I, for one, prefer to live in Kaufman’s world, where every Jew counts, rather than push away those who don’t fit into some preconceived notion of what Jewish looks like.

Debra Nussbaum Cohen is the Jewish giving maven at Inside Philanthropy and is a freelance journalist living in New York City.

Herman Wouk, Pulitzer-Prize Author, Dies at 103

Herman Wouk; Photo by Patrick Ecclesine

Herman Wouk, Pulitzer-prize winning author known for “The Winds of War” and “Marjorie Morningstar” died May 17. He was 103.

According to NPR, Wouk died in his sleep in his home in Palm Springs.

Wouk was one of the major writers to write about World War II and the first to bring Jewish stories to a general audience. He won the Pulitzer in 1952 for his navy drama “The Caine Mutiny”

His work has been adapted for film and television. He also worked with Jimmy Buffett to adapt his 1965 novel “Don’t Stop the Carnival” into a stage play.

Wouk’s Jewish identity remained strong throughout his career. “Marjorie Morningstar” became one of the first million-selling books about the Jewish experience. He also set his novels “The Hope” and “The Glory” in Israel. In 1959 he published “This Is My God” which outlines key practices of Judaism. In 1999 he was awarded the Lifetime Literary Achievement Award by the Jewish Book Council.

Jonathan Karp, president and publisher of Simon & Schuster told NPR that Wouk “really was the Jackie Robinson of Jewish American fiction.”

Karp, who also edited Wouk’s last memoir “Sailor and Fiddler” added that Wouk “was on the cover of Time magazine for “Marjorie Morningstar,” and he popularized a lot of themes that other writers like [Saul] Bellow and [Philip] Roth and [Bernard] Malamud, would deal with in their novels.”

Many went to Twitter to mourn the loss of the iconic World War II writer who would have turned 104 on May 27.

San Diego and Palo Alto Among 100 Communities Celebrating Ohr Torah Stone Anniversary

Ohr Torah Stone Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander addressing an emissary group in Cancun. Photo courtesy of Ohr Torah Stone

More than 100 Jewish communities in 20 countries will celebrate the 20th anniversary of Ohr Torah Stone’s Beren-Amiel and Straus-Amiel programs over Shabbat, May 17-18.

Based In Israel, Ohr Torah Stone is a modern Orthodox movement founded in 1983 by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, and these trained Shabbat emissaries from various communities will discuss Israel-Diaspora affairs.

Countries participating in the event are the United States, New Zealand, Germany, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Colombia, Mexico, South Africa, Sweden, China, Finland, Switzerland, Poland, Spain, Australia, Uruguay, Ecuador, Brazil and Austria.

In California, the San Diego and Palo Alto Jewish communities will also take part in the event. 

President and Rosh HaYeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander said that the Beren-Amiel and Straus-Amiel programs were created to bring Israel and Diaspora communities together by training rabbis to strengthen Jewish identity and existence in communities around the world.

“This Shabbat we celebrate the integral role that these programs have played in bringing the Israel-Diaspora relationship closer on a grassroots level,” Brander said in a statement. “We’re very proud of our emissaries and the critical role they have played in building and helping to sustain communities in the Diaspora. We have graduated more than one thousand emissaries in the last two decades. While the emissaries offer a tremendous service to the communities where they serve, they also receive so much. They come back to Israel enthused about engaging the Jewish community along with new skills and perspectives on teaching, educating and serving communities that they put into use here in Israel. It is why upon return to Israel 90-percent of our shlichim serve in positions of Jewish communal service.”

Adam Schiff Discusses Mueller Report with Jewish Democrats

Congressman Adam Schiff; Photo by Lorin Granger

In a conference call with the Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA), Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) took President Donald Trump to task for invoking executive privilege to prevent the release of the unredacted Mueller report. 

The Trump administration’s actions were “completely overbroad and baseless,” Schiff said. “Their goal is to stonewall. Their goal is to draw the process out while simultaneously blaming the Democrats.”

The May 9 conference call with approximately 50 JDCA leaders and supporters came on the heels of multiple U.S. House committees, including Schiff’s House Intelligence Committee, demanding access to the unredacted Mueller report and related documents and witnesses. 

Schiff said he hoped the fight over the release of the unredacted report and other documents would not result in a drawn-out battle in court but “that may be where we end up.” 

He added that the unprecedented confrontation between the executive and legislative branches would have significant implications for Congress’ oversight of future administrations.

“Here is what is at stake,” Schiff said. “It is not just whether the country gets the facts about what the Trump campaign did … it is about future presidents, too. To avoid oversight by making claims of privilege and litigating them, if they can succeed with that type of gambit, there is no way to hold this president or future presidents accountable.”

JDCA Board Chair Ron Klein also spoke about what he saw as the threat the Trump administration presents to democracy, the rule of law and the pursuit of justice.

“Today we’re in a critical point in our history when such values have been threatened by the president, and we believe it is incumbent upon Democratic leaders in Congress to conduct oversight of the executive branch and fully investigate the findings of the Mueller report,” he said.

“Here is what is at stake. It is not just whether the country gets the facts about what the Trump campaign did … it is about future presidents, too.”
— Rep. Adam Schiff

JDCA Vice Chair Barbara Goldberg Goldman added, “In the aftermath of the Mueller report’s release, it has become crystal clear to all of us that Attorney General [William] Barr has failed in his duty to serve the American people. He is no longer the people’s chief law enforcement officer; instead, he appears to be the president’s personal defense attorney.”

Schiff also spoke about what he termed “deep fakes,” which he said was technology that allows people to create digital forgeries and spread false information. 

“Nothing is more corrosive in a democracy than the idea that there is no truth,” he said. “There is potential for enormous mischief and a tech race between those creating the technology and those trying to create the technology to detect these fakes.”

JDCA Executive Director Halie Soifer posed questions to Schiff that had been submitted in advance by attendees on the call, including one about whether there would be Russian meddling in the 2020 election and whether Trump would leave office quietly if he loses. 

“I don’t think there is much risk that Donald Trump will call out the military and there will be tanks in the streets,” Schiff said, “but you could foresee how a large part of the country would feel disenfranchised if there was again Russian meddling that went unanswered by a president who may even welcome that help.” 

In an interview with the Journal following the discussion, Soifer said she hoped the call with Schiff provided an opportunity to understand JDCA’s role in supporting officials who are driven by Jewish and democratic principles.

“The reason we are having a conversation like the one we had today,” she said, “is because we want to give voice to those values and ensure the Jewish community has the opportunity to engage with members of Congress like Chairman Schiff who are defending those values each day.”

The Fight Against Anti-Semitism Is the World’s Responsibility

Anti-Semitism is a sign of illness in the culture that hosts it. It poisons the culture’s history and legacy.

The pre-Holocaust anti-Semitic reenact-ment we are witnessing today is spreading around the world. In addition to Europe and the West, the viral meme of anti-Semitism has affected parts of Asia with no prior Jewish population or history of anti-Semitism. Even some developing countries — many of which have benefited from Israeli technological support — have espoused, for geopolitical reasons, new anti-Semitic and/or anti-Israel positions couched as anti-Zionism and anti-Israelism. They are using the cause of Palestinian independence as an excuse.

From the trauma-field perspective, reenactment generally happens as an unavoidable repetition of trauma, but it also may be seen as an unconscious attempt to recreate the situation to correct the initial traumatic event.

Our challenge is whether we repair or repeat this reenactment.

This reenactment is an opportunity not only for Jews to do what they were unable to do before and during the Holocaust, but also for the nations of the world to repair what happened to their own cultures regarding the Holocaust. It is an opportunity to effect long overdue changes in worldviews and in the understandings of their own cultures and religions as they relate to Judaism.

Like all racism and bigotry, anti-Semitism is a sign that something is wrong with the culture and people of the nation exhibiting it. The population suffers, feeling ignored or oppressed, with too many of its basic universal needs unfulfilled. The people’s physical, economic or religious safety may be threatened, with their self-images, senses of identity and competence threatened or denied.

They use anti-Semitism as a stopgap to ignore their problems. When anti-Semitism flares up in a group of people, it means there is a huge reservoir of despair and anger, which is easier to alleviate by taking it out on those different in culture, nationality, religion or race.

Minorities usually are the scapegoats when bad times arise, but anti-Semitism goes viral more than other forms of bigotry. To distance themselves from their Jewish origins, replacement theologies in Christianity and Islam made Jews scapegoats. This often unconscious, 2,000-year-old meme of anti-Semitism has infected 3 billion people. The worldwide spread of the exiled Jewish people and their unique combined culture, nation, religion and race add to this tragedy.

However, people’s problems do not go away because they project them onto Jews and/or Israel. To the contrary, their problems worsen, camouflaged by hatred against the minority. To their frustration
and helplessness, they add hatred and meanness — which do not make people happy.

While the fight against anti-Semitism is vital for the Jewish people and Israel, it is even more so for the community of nations and the collective consciousness it holds.

Clearly, the Jewish people need to — and will — fight anti-Semitism wherever they are. Our well-being, the survival of our children and our existence as a people depend on it. Yet, it is important to make clear to the nations of the world that anti-Semitism is not just a Jewish problem, but the nations’ problem; more than the Jews, they need to fight.

The ability of Jews and gentiles to fight anti-Semitism is relatively new. Thankfully, people are acknowledging that need to fight. But anti-Semitism has become a favorite viral meme for any wrongdoing and any offense, anywhere. Thus, we need greater accuracy against and a stronger will to fight anti-Semitism. This only can arise from nations understanding it is in their own interests to fight anti-Semitism, as well as from the Jews’ new ability to confront the nations ignoring it.

“Canary in the coal mine” is a metaphor for warning of serious dangers to come. The cliché that the “Jews are the canary in the mine” is accurate. Anti-Semitism often is the first indicator of the erosion of a collective psyche’s well-being. It is the moral and ethical measure of how a culture has been compromised. Anti-Semitism is everyone’s problem.

A well-balanced culture welcomes Jews and other minorities, relishing in their creativity and capacities to collaborate and contribute to their host nations. A quickly ailing culture shows signs of anti-Semitism. It starts on the fringes of society, usually dismissed as atypical, and often includes demonizing the haters and dismissing the problems underlying their anti-Semitism. Little by little, anti-Semitism becomes mainstream, infecting the political structure while camouflaged via branding and demonizing the mostly powerless fringe groups, which carry the weight of the nation’s fall into bigotry.

Anti-Semitism is an indication of a culture’s incapacity to handle uncertain, difficult or changing times and understand its traumatic periods. Finding a scapegoat helps people focus on a common enemy responsible for the instability and all that is bad. They believe getting rid of this enemy will bring back safety, predictability and well-being.

Falling into anti-Semitism, or any kind of racism, bigotry or reverse racism, is a sign ghosts of the past and old traumas have been triggered. The dark shadows of the culture emerge, leading to religious or anti-religious exclusivism; cultural, racial or ethnic tribalism and hatred for the foreign or the different — all of which are preludes to the disintegration of a culture into violence and war. 

That is why anti-Semitism is the nations’ problem, a world problem, and not just an Israeli or Jewish one.

Anti-Semitism hides behind anti-Zionism. Unmasking the anti-Semitic face of anti-Zionism is a crucial and easy task.

Anti-Semitism or geopolitical considerations drive activists around the world who only espouse the Palestinian cause; only decry Palestinian deaths that happen at the hands of Jews; refuse to address the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; ignore any and all causes of oppression or lack of freedom; and ignore the needs of Israelis.

By falsely defining Zionism as Jewish racism against Palestinians, anti-Semitic people feel justified and moral in attacking Israel. Anti-Zionism is a good cover for those who, for geopolitical reasons, must stand against Israel. It makes people feel good about themselves, believing they are contributing to an ethical world — yet they have no awareness of their actions’ consequences on both Palestinians and Jews.

As further self-justification that they are not anti-Semitic, these activists are committed in principle to memorializing the Holocaust and defining it as something historically unprecedented and other-worldly. They ignore that for centuries, history had been leading up to it; they act as if no one but Hitler has ever contributed to the isolation, denunciation and dehumanization of the Jews. They blissfully ignore the current viral anti-Semitic deeds taking place around the world under the cover of anti-Zionism. With self-righteous indignation, they accuse Zionists of being Nazis and attack Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. They demonize Jews and Israelis, justifying their hatred (these otherwise good, loving people) because the Zionists are contemptible and the essence of evil, which is so Hitler-like.

The approach to peace around the world must change. People looking to contribute to sustainable peace must consider the suffering of all sides of an issue. Every caring citizen, peace activist or elected leader must incorporate the fight against anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism into their dialogues. There no longer can be unwitting anti-Semitism. We all must be aware of rhetoric that contributes to racism, bigotry, hatred, murder and violence.

The international community can learn to assess the danger of violence by analyzing its anti-Semitic excesses, manifested in attacks against Jews and Jewish institutions. 

There are several levels of action countries (and we) may take:

Heal the religious wars
We must maximize interfaith efforts between the Abrahamic religions to heal wars of religion.

We should never talk about the Holocaust without including the anti-Semitic atmosphere and traditional religious patterns that caused it. Much work has been done but more is needed. The Vatican’s Nostra Aetate Council in 1964 exonerated the Jewish people from deicide. Christian Zionist and evangelical backing of Israel is an important effort that should be better known. Think about Eastern European countries supporting the State of Israel, and Jewish communities being safer from anti-Semitic attacks there than in Western European nations.

Other efforts include the apology of the king of Spain for the Inquisition; Spain and Portugal’s invitation to give honorary citizenships; the king of Morocco and the president of Egypt’s invitations for expelled Jews to come back; and Islamic voices who recognize the Jewish people and the Jewish state. The media needs to give more attention to all these efforts. We must help religions with significant extremist elements revert to their times of magnanimity, when their cultures were not in the throes of the trauma of loss and paralysis.

Rehabilitation programs
We need a program allowing cultures to move beyond the horrors they committed and be fully rehabilitated. Without this, the weight of shame and humiliation can jeopardize the connection of youth to older generations and their own cultural past, and manifest in demonizing the victim. We see this danger in the resurgence of anti-Semitism, even in countries very vigilant about it. We need to find more successful reparation and rehabilitation processes.

I detail this process in “New Paradigm for Holocaust Education,” which can be found online (blogs.timesofisrael.com/more-than-a-meme-against-genocide). The guidelines that allow a perpetrator culture to redeem itself and rejoin the community of righteous nations include taking responsibility, emotionally processing difficult feelings and making reparations. Most importantly, reparation and rehabilitation mean preventing repetition; committing to finding the roots of bigotry; changing cultural values, worldviews and conditions that fed it, including unhealed collective trauma; and preventing it in other countries.

Reframing the concept of the Chosen People
The Jewish nation is called to be in service of humanity, the creation of God. Being a Chosen People and a light unto the nations is not arrogance. Our chosen status does not imply a genetic superiority. We have received a blueprint for working toward higher levels of consciousness and of being in service, which has inspired other religions. The Seven Laws of Noah included all humanity in this design, and anyone may choose to be of service and be a light unto others.

Correctly using intersectionality
Meant to strengthen the hands of minorities fighting for equality and recognition, the concept of intersectionality at times has been co-opted because of the viral anti-Semitic meme. An intersectionality that targets Jews because of their resilience, or defines oppression by color and not by power structure, only creates more divisiveness. It risks being co-opted by traumatic energies, becoming just another forum for reverse racism and a new elitism of victimhood, which wrestles control from people over their own destinies.

Healing the Jewish trauma
Despite our remarkable resilience and productivity, many Jews struggle with a huge burden of trauma. Some have left their tribe; a small number have turned against the safety of their own people; and most struggle to find religious unity. It behooves the community of nations to help the Jewish people feel secure and honored so they can continue serving in the role they were meant to play: Denouncing anti-Semitic threats whenever and wherever they appear.

We need to heal the Jewish trauma, which manifests in several ways:

Differences between Jewish movements
Reconciliation is a difficult but crucial task to accomplish. All voices have to be acknowledged and helped to clean up their core messages from traumatic aspects, whether it’s a far-right party that believes it has to match the enemy’s aggression with Jewish aggression, or the J Street movement that, in its search for peace, puts the blame on Israel and wants it to take all of the risks.

Assimilation versus isolation
For some, there is the need for the religious nature of Israel to have more influence. It is a real fight between them and those who want a secular Israel with a liberal lifestyle, following the model of Western nations and being subject to the international community’s values and judgment. In the Diaspora, the battle is between those who need to isolate and insulate — for fear their religion will be diluted and secular contamination will take over — and those who want a Diaspora community that fully integrates in its host country.

It is a struggle between those who have deep desires to be accepted and appreciated by others (and have a fear of alienating others) and those who want Israel to maintain its principles and promote its interests even if it must stand alone. These proponents want alliances with others and want to be part of the community of nations, but not at the expense of Jewish interests.

Wanting to be a light unto the nations and belong
The Jewish people need to resolve the conundrum of wanting to be a light unto the nations and an exemplar Chosen People with the reality of surviving in a country surrounded by declared enemies. The battle continues between those who believe Israel has betrayed the ideal of peaceful Jewishness and ethical Judaism (some even prefer the dissolution of the Jewish state for the sake of this purity) and those who feel their fight for physical survival justifies the use of force and must deal with the painful choices that come with it.

Achieving balance
Solutions only will come from the unification and balance between those who hold the flag of Jewish physical survival and religious geographical mandate, and those who hold the flag of the ethical pursuit of Judaism, including compassion for strangers and the downtrodden. It is incumbent on us to develop awareness of polarization within the Jewish community, practicing self-regulation processes that center us enough to communicate with people with differing views, and achieving the necessary flexibility to reach compromises.

There must be realistic assessments of geopolitical realities. We must measure the unfulfilled needs of people involved in conflict with the Jewish people and with Israel, and determine how many of their actions trauma distorted. There must be patience to wait for the right times, the right leaders in key places and the right alliances. This may be where it is helpful to have faith and not think of ourselves as so powerful that we have all the answers.

The Torah blueprint may contain the righteousness of claims on both sides, once their traumatic layers are cleaned from them. It is mostly, but not only, a lack of balance that creates polarization, making people unable to talk to one another and unable to find the solutions they need.

The Jewish people want the world to take responsibility for its part, and we need to fulfill our part. The best way is to free ourselves from our trauma.

Gina Ross is founder and president of the International Trauma-Healing Institute in the U.S. (ITI-US) and its Israeli branch (ITI-Israel). She is the author of “Beyond the Trauma Vortex Into the Healing Vortex,” a series of books on healing trauma, and the creator of the Ross Model: Protocol for Conflict Resolution and Successful Communication.

Mayor Garcetti Travels to Israel with AJC for Week-Long Seminar 

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti. Courtesy of the L.A. Mayor's Office

Mayor Eric Garcetti is joining a bipartisan delegation of U.S. mayors in Israel along with American Jewish Committee (AJC) to participate in a week-long educational seminar.

The seminar organized by AJC Project Interchange, is designed to further enhance U.S.-Israel relations. This delegation is chaired by Mayor Garcetti and marks the first delegation under the support of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the U.S. Conference of Mayors and AJC, the highlight of which is an annual mayors’ delegation to Israel.

“Los Angeles and Israel share so much – vibrant cultures, beautiful landscapes, diverse communities, ties of family and friends, our experiences as dreamers, and our common belief in democracy,” Mayor Garcetti said in a statement to the Journal. “Our delegation is showing how cities lead on the world stage, how mayors get things done, and how urban centers can tackle everything from innovation and climate change to immigration and economic growth.”

Other mayors attending this trip are Kathy Sheehan from Albany NY, Rick Kriseman from St. Petersburg FL, Michelle de la Isla from Topeka, KS, and Shane Bemis from Gresham, OR. Laura Waxman of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Melanie Pell, AJC’s Managing Director of Regional Offices and Garcetti’s Chief of Staff Ana Guerrero are also in attendance.

The seminar is intended to provide these policymakers with a first-hand understanding of Israel. The delegation will learn about Israel’s democracy, society and regional challenges. They will also be visiting Tel Aviv, Haifa, the Lebanese border and Jerusalem including the Old City.

The delegation will have the opportunity to meet with influential figures across the political and social spectrum, including Israel President Reuven Rivlin and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman. They will also travel to the West Bank and meet with Palestinian civic and business leaders in the Palestinian Authority.

Importantly, the mayors will meet with their Israeli counterparts to discuss the best ways for helping their home communities on smart city development, economic growth technology start-ups, urban revitalization and city administration.

“From water management to immigrant absorption and technological innovation, Los Angeles and Israel have much to learn from one another,” Siamak Kordestani, AJC Los Angeles Assistant Director for Policy and Communications, said in a statement. “We are pleased that our Mayor, Eric Garcetti, is leading this important delegation to explore Israel and its challenges and opportunities. American and Israeli cities stand to benefit through expanded economic, academic, and cultural ties.”

The Pioneer Complex

books on wooden deck tabletop

When I was a freshman in high school, my classmates and I were given pop quizzes every so often. They were a chore, nobody liked them, and of course, they were mandatory.

One day something dawned on me. “What if I just cheat?” So I did. The next pop quiz I received was tackled with a strategy consisting of looking at the other students’ answers, deducing by intuition, and occasionally just guessing. 

When I received my grade — a retrospectively predictable D-minus — I was fairly mortified, and that was the end of my career as a cheater.

Looking back, of course, there were many reasons why cheating, at least in the way that I cheated, would never be effective.

First of all, the students I was cheating of could have had the wrong answers. 

Secondly, it probably would have, all things considered, been easier not to cheat.

The most important reason by far, however, is that classroom tests are, by nature, designed to be difficult to cheat on. After all, there has never been a high school
student who hasn’t tried to cheat at some point, and even the most oblivious of teachers know this.

This is not a simple anecdote, and my point here could not be further from an Aesopian “Kids, do well in school.” 

Once the young skeptic lets go of his pioneer complex, he may become empowered by the wisdom of his forebears.

Why is this anecdote important? Because many young people can apply their logic to tests but very few seem to correlate that logic to things that truly matter.

When a young American decries America itself, calls it a totalitarian country; when a young scholar cites religion as the cause of all wars and bloodshed in history; when a child turns his or her back on family and swears allegiance to the board of education, there’s a pioneer complex going on.

Why does the young generation tout itself as the “progressive” generation, among other names? Simply put, they’re under the impression that they’re the first people ever to popularize — perhaps even speak or think — such notions.

They’re not.

Nietzsche, one of the first to call himself a nihilist, coined the eternal “God is dead.” Karl Marx, “Religion is the opiate of the masses.”  

But anyone who has read the Book of Exodus knows that rejection of one’s own God, people and country has pre-dated the known world.

There’s a certain level of truth to their notions, but then, the student who cheats on a test might occasionally answer a question correctly; without a basis in research, this truth can never be fully realized, not even in their favor. Those can most successfully argue their case who swallow their pride and examine the history behind their notions, rather than believing that history begins with them, or that they are the first to entertain these thoughts.

If the young atheist takes into consideration the possibility that religious zealotry may have been borne of evil, rather than the other way around, this not only would
mean giving merit to the views of others who may disagree (such as I), but also giving themselves a true platform to refute those opposing views.

Once the young skeptic lets go of his Pioneer Complex, he may become empowered by the wisdom of his forebears; even if his perspective doesn’t widen, he is likely to become a more potent speaker and thinker. 

But this can happen only if the notion of “firsthood” is discarded.

Remember — all the true inventors, innovators and pioneers — our Teslas, our Turings, our Einsteins — had a deep understanding of the history behind their notions. They studied under mentors, they read tomes upon tomes of references, and — even if God wasn’t a part of their spiritual vocabulary — they recognized that they were not the sole proprietor of right and wrong.

Because, in the end, why cheat on a test when you can ace it, and, in doing so, prove the teachers wrong?

Noah Mamet is a writer, artist and aspiring composer. Born in Boston, he currently lives in Utah, studying content writing and digital media. 

Tovah Feldshuh on Being Golda Meir

Acting legend Tova Feldshuh talks about her new Golda Meir film, her Broadway and Hollywood career and climbing Mt Kilimanjaro.

Jewish Bucket List Item No. 4: Kosher Cooking

As a child, I remember sitting on a stool in my grandmother’s kitchen, watching her prepare Jewish delicacies ranging from kishka (made from matzo meal, shmaltz and spices) to kichel (a sweet treat that resembles a scone). We were always sent home with a “packala” (large grocery bag) full of leftovers.

These memories came flooding back as I prepared to take on my Jewish bucket list kosher cooking adventure. Over the last few years, I have really gotten into cooking. I particularly enjoy making soups as well as chicken and meat dishes, but my palate was ready for some new flavors, so chef Lenny Nour of Charcoal Grill & Bar on Beverly Boulevard invited me into his fleishig kitchen to prepare some tasty kosher food. 

Billed as a “Mediterranean restaurant with a taste of Jerusalem,” the restaurant opened last summer and plays Israeli music. 

“Every dish that I make is a microcosm of my life,” said Nour, whose mother is from Italy and father is from Iran. “I was born [in Los Angeles], raised in Israel and Italy, and brought all of my experiences into my menu. Every dish mimics this pattern of where I have been and the memories I created and my love for food.” 

The first dish we made was one of Nour’s specialties: Charcoal Eggplant. This hearty vegetarian offering is one of his most iconic at this wood-burning steakhouse. 

“It’s literally fire and vegetables,” he said. “This is the one I am most proud of, because I took something like an eggplant and made it more popular than some of the meat that I have.”

We started by charring and peeling the classic Israeli vegetable before smashing it into a dish. After sprinkling it with a little bit of sea salt to bring out the flavor, we covered it in tahini (ground sesame seeds). 

“This is the classic [Israeli dish], eggplant and tahini,” Nour said. 

“A lot of chefs say, ‘How do you cook without butter?’ For us, it’s not an issue. Because Israeli food was designed without ever having to use milk in its meat.” — Lenny Nour

I then decorated the eggplant with a drizzle of silan (Israeli honey made from dates), then added garlic confit (garlic melted in oil), the house chimichurri (a mixture of cilantro, parsley, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and dried red chiles), and roasted and crushed candied pecans. We topped it off with freshly cut cilantro before adding deep-fried pita chips for scooping.

“This is where we take it to the next creative level,” Nour said. “I actually woke up one morning, had this idea, and it just flowed and kept evolving until I got this.” And this particular dish, he added, is the culmination of his upbringing and travels. 

“For me, it’s important to have a connection to my heritage, to my religion, to my people, to my culture, but also express that through the creativity in my food,” he said. “I think for a long time in America kosher cooking was looked at as a limitation. But in Israel, everything is pretty much based on kosher cooking. A lot of chefs say, ‘How do you cook without butter?’ For us, it’s not an issue. Because Israeli food was designed without ever having to use milk in its meat.”

It was the most beautiful and yummy eggplant I have ever tasted. Simple and delicious. I think these are important elements not just in kosher cooking, but also in any cooking. I can’t wait to try this — or my version of this — at home.

I am still seeking items for my 2019 Jewish bucket list. Please send your ideas to deckerling@gmail.com.

Dispelling the Myth About Jews and Poverty

Photo from the conference. Photo courtesy of The JFN International Conference

Every year, I look forward to attending the Jewish Funders Network (JFN) International Conference and being inspired by the breadth and depth of philanthropic work being accomplished through the generosity of foundations and individual funders. 

I recently returned from JFN 2019 in San Francisco, where a large crowd from all over the world descended on the Bay Area, ready to gain knowledge of trends and challenges affecting our Jewish community. 

Of the myriad significant issues facing us, however, I’d like to draw attention to one vexing challenge that isn’t always at the forefront of our communal agenda: poverty in the American Jewish community.

There is a persistent myth about the American Jewish population that looms large in our country’s collective imagination. This fiction is unique in that it’s cited both by well-intentioned allies who wish to express their admiration for American Jews, as well as anti-Semites who wish to voice their contempt and mistrust. Sometimes, this myth is even repeated proudly by American Jews themselves. 

The myth is this: American Jews are a “model minority” who have uniformly achieved financial success and security. This, quite simply, is not true. 

“Jewish poverty is a significant issue that deserves our urgent attention.”

The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation convened an important session immediately following the JFN Conference to bring light to this critical issue. This session helped me further appreciate the growing plight of close to 20 percent of the Jewish population living in or near poverty in the United States today. This touches people of all ages and all backgrounds, from aging Holocaust survivors to individuals with disabilities to single-parent families seeking employment. 

The statistics are a stark reminder that the issue is widespread, and growing. Forty-five percent of children in Jewish homes are living in poor, or near poor, households. Between 16 percent and 20 percent of these households are earning less than $30,000, with 7 percent making $15,000 or less. These are not statistics that show uniform wealth. In fact, while some of the most dire cases are, not surprisingly, retirement-age and elderly people, young adults are also among those most affected.

Jewish poverty is a significant issue that deserves our urgent attention, and there is so much more we can do to uplift the most vulnerable members of our community. 

At the panel, I was reminded of a particularly painful fact: A significant portion of impoverished Jews worldwide are Holocaust survivors. These people certainly have suffered enough, yet they have urgent and critical health and welfare needs, and are aging with little hope. More than one-third of the 100,000 survivors in North America (as well as 60,000 in Israel and 62,000 in the former Soviet Union) are living at or near poverty.  Time is of the essence to reverse this trajectory and do chesed (kindness), in order to help survivors to live in dignity.

As a Jewish professional who has been involved in Jewish communal activity all my life, I know this has always been an important cause. However, given our world at this time, I feel this issue must be addressed urgently. How many of our fellow Jews are unable to participate fully in Jewish life due to financial barriers? Mitigating Jewish poverty and increasing Jewish access should be a major priority at every synagogue, Jewish institution and major philanthropic organization. Together, we must work to dispel the comfortable denial that has allowed deep economic stratification to fester without much notice, and take decisive action to ensure that all members of our community can participate fully in Jewish experiences. 

We should all work toward a day when we can say that the existence of Jewish poverty in the U.S. is a myth. Unfortunately, the struggles currently faced by many members of our community are far too real. 

By embracing our collective values and tearing down financial barriers to become more accessible and inclusive, we can ensure every Jewish American has the opportunity to partake in the richness of Jewish communal life. 

Jeremy J. Fingerman is the CEO of the foundation for Jewish Camp.

Shaming Religious Fanatics

Every time terror strikes, a similar and logical drama unfolds. We express shock, outrage and revulsion at the level of human depravity, we grieve for the victims, we commit to fighting the evil of terrorism, and then we resolve to overcome the darkness of that evil with the light of human solidarity.

This is not just the right thing to do — it’s what we need to do.  

When the terrorist act is motivated by religious belief, as was the case with the horrific massacres in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, we are careful not to offend the religion as we condemn the evil of the act. That is also the right thing to do.

By now, we know that the bombings of churches and hotels across Sri Lanka, which resulted in 321 dead (as of press time) and more than 500 wounded, were carried out, according to local authorities, by a radical Islamist group (and perhaps a second) with help from international militants.

It’s worth noting that reactions from across the Jewish and non-Jewish worlds generally avoided mentioning the religion of the alleged perpetrators.

“There is no silver bullet when you deal with religious radicals who are willing to kill and die in the name of their God. But at the very least, we owe it to all past and future victims to look for ways to disturb their souls.”

“We denounce this heinous outrage and appeal for zero tolerance of those who use terror to advance their objectives,” World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder said in a typical reaction.

“We are outraged by the horrific attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka. … Such outrages cannot be tolerated in any civil society, and nobody should be forced to worship in fear. We hope that those who are responsible and those who aided and abetted them will be brought to justice,” Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations Chairman Arthur Stark and Executive Vice Chairman Malcolm Hoenlein said in a statement.

Those statements could have applied to any terrorist act, regardless of motive.

It’s true that when the motive is fascism or racism or any motive not rooted in religion, we are less reluctant to condemn the ideology, as we saw with the recent attacks in Pittsburgh and New Zealand. But maybe because a disproportionate number of violent acts are committed in the name of Islam (including many against other Muslims), we are especially and justifiably sensitive not to paint all Muslims with that dark brush.

The question remains, however: Can we add something to our condemnation of religious terrorism that would deter such acts without offending a whole religion?

I realize there is no silver bullet when you deal with religious radicals who are willing to kill and die in the name of their God. But at the very least, we owe it to all past and future victims to look for ways to disturb their souls.

“Can we add something to our condemnation of religious terrorism that would deter such acts without offending a whole religion?”

One approach we have tried is to claim the terrorist has “hijacked” or “perverted” his religion. But because this is usually directed at the general public, it serves more to defend the image of the religion than to shame potential killers.

And let’s face it: Any fanatic who thinks he is doing God’s work by murdering innocent people — whether he is Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim or Hindu — deserves to be humiliated.

You can’t shame a religious killer with secular talk; the only language he’ll listen to is the language of faith. Religious leaders of all faiths must speak directly to their own fanatics and show them why they are sinners. The point is not to defend a religion with the public, but to shame and potentially even rehabilitate fanatics who harbor murderous beliefs.

As part of that process, we ought to consider different labels for religious killers. It’s not enough to use obvious labels like terrorist or extremist or hijacker of religion. That just feeds into their pathologies.

One label I heard recently that may have some merit in diminishing the fanatic is “half-believer.” A religious killer may be a believer, but he is incomplete. He has a long way to go before he can be a true believer. Because of his violent ways, not only is he not superior to others, he is inferior. That is pretty sobering. 

I have no clue, of course, if any language can ever get the attention of a religious extremist who is drunk on certitude. Maybe the only real language is the blunt threat of physical violence or “bringing them to justice,” which must always be our primary options.

But what I do know is that every time a fanatic murders in the name of religion, all religions suffer. It’s up to each faith to take responsibility for their own fanatics. That wouldn’t necessarily eradicate terrorism, but it would help rehabilitate religion.

Two Nice Jewish Boys: Episode 135- Eytan and Naor Spill the Beans Cross-Episode

Joining Daniel Roth, host of the Angry Falafel Podcast today are Eytan Weinstein and Naor Meningher, creators of the Two Nice Jewish Boys podcast – a show they describe as a glimpse into Israel and some of the interesting people in it and I’m very happy to have them at the falafel palace today.