March 25, 2019

Hundreds Protest Rep. Ilhan Omar in Woodland Hills

Protestors against Rep. Ilhan Omar lined the sidewalk on Canoga Avenue, outside the Hilton Woodland Hills where Omar was appearing.

More than 400 people protested against Rep. Ilhan Omar in Woodland Hills as the freshman Minnesota Congresswoman headlined a Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) March 23 fundraiser at the Hilton Woodland Hills.

On Saturday afternoon, the Los Angeles Police Department closed down several blocks of Canoga Avenue for the protest, where protestors wore red Make American Great Again baseball caps and yellow Stars of David with the word “Jude” on them, carried American flags and Israeli flags, waved signs that called Omar an anti-Semite and chanted slogans that called for her to leave Congress.

“Hey, hey, ho, ho, Omar’s got to go!” protestors shouted.

Demonstrators carried signs that read “Remove Hate from our House;” “Your Hate Makes us Stronger,” “This is How it Started in Germany;” “No Sharia Law in America;” “Reject Ilhan’s Bigotry” and “Ilhan Omar is [sic] Pile of Human Waste.”

Young liberals, dressed in blue, also attended the protest demonstrating issues with Omar. Photo by Ryan Torok

A giant banner stretching across the sidewalk read, “Islam Doesn’t CAIR for Free Speech,” with headshots of Fox News host Jeanine Pirro, who was suspended for saying that Omar follows sharia law, and activist Laura Loomer, who has been “silenced on many platforms,” the banner said.

Members of San Fernando Valley Israeli community turned out, including David Zerbib, a bodyguard who was at the L.A. Fitness next door to the protest, heard the noise and decided to join.

“I heard about Ilhan Omar being in town…it’s an honor to be here among everyone else,” he said.

While some have said that Omar’s wearing of a hijab indicates that she wants sharia law in the United States, Zerbib said the problem was not with her head covering but with her rhetoric.

“Wearing a hijab doesn’t show hatred…if you believe in that do so…but wearing a hijab doesn’t give you the right to spew hatred the way she does,” Zerbib, who wore black workout clothes and an Israeli flag tied around him like a cape, said.

While there did not appear to be any arrests or instances of violence, the protest at times became ugly. As apparently-Muslim people in formal clothing walked into the hotel across the street, protestors shouted hateful remarks including “traitors” and “bastards.”

Leonard Furman, a retired Russian Jew from Porter Ranch, made his anger known in less confrontational ways. Furman was among the many protestors who wore a yellow Star of David on his shirt.

“I thought it would be very appropriate to have one and show who I am,” he said.

The rally against Omar was a grassroots effort that was publicized largely through social media, drawing not only Jews and Israelis but Christians, as well.

“As a Christian it is the belief that it is my duty to stand behind Israel,” said Kira Innis, who wore a Make America Great Again hat. “[Israeli Prime Minister] Bibi Netanyahu is our ally and our friend. While the liberals have spent eight years under the last guy shivving him in the back, President Trump now has his back and Ilhan Omar would seek to undue the very key work that has been done by our president to help aid the Jewish people.”

“Down with the likes of Ilhan and up with the likes of Judge Jeanine,” Innis added, referencing the Fox News host whose show has not aired since she said this about Omar on March 9 in her opening: “Is her [Omar’s] adherence to this Islamic doctrine indicative of her adherence to Sharia law, which in itself is antithetical to the United States Constitution?”

Furman said he was pleased to see that Omar concerns not only Jewish people but people of many backgrounds.

“I am glad people of different denominations, not only Jews came to express outrage,” he said.

Israeli-Americans Dekel Zelig and David Zerbib protested against Omar. Photo by Ryan Torok

This past February, Omar tweeted that American support for Israel is “all about the Benjamins baby.” Many said her comment reinforced that Jews control the world with money. She also denounced AIPAC as having too much influence on the U.S. government. And she said that her unwillingness to express loyalty to Israel was why many were upset with her, evoking the stereotype that Jews have dual loyalties.

CAIR-Los Angeles’s fourth annual “Valley Banquet” featured Omar, one of two Muslim women elected to Congress last year, as the keynote speaker.

CAIR, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit with chapters around the country, is one of the top 10 most anti-Israel groups of America, according to the Anti-Defamation League, which said CAIR has a “long record of anti-Israel rhetoric, which has, at times, crossed the line into anti-Semitism.”

On Saturday, a protestor named Paul, a self-described independent, dressed in blue to distinguish himself from the demonstration’s Trump supporters. While some have said Omar’s tweets were not anti-Semitic but legitimate criticisms of Israel, Paul, who declined to give his last name, said otherwise.

“We’re here protesting the poor excuse for her series of anti-Semitic, conspiratorial canards, in conjunction with her criticism of Israel. Not just her sheer criticism of Israel but that they are tainted with very historically dangerous stereotypes towards Jews,” Paul said. “Her poor excuse is that what she meant by these series of tweets is she just wants money out of politics. Here we are demonstrating that she is taking over $60,000 from PACs, she is currently at an event that is a PAC and a lobbying organization that donated, contributed to her campaign, so obviously she is not against that,” Paul said. “So we feel that dialogue needs to be advanced, her hypocrisy needs to be illuminated, and that we condemn it.”

This Purim, Stand With All Who Stood With Us

Rabbi Robin Podolsky, pictured far left, at the Interfaith press ponference Photo by Ryan Torok

Our interfaith press conference and vigil at the Islamic Center of Southern California on March 15 felt something like returning home. We were responding to the hideous massacre of Muslims at prayer in Christchurch, New Zealand, and all of us — Jews, Sikhs, Christians and just good people who couldn’t bear to be anywhere else right then were received so graciously and with so much love by our Muslim siblings that it was not at all clear who was comforting whom.

It’s the most cosmopolitan house of worship I’ve ever attended — where everyone from great-grandparents to toddlers smiles at one another; where people of every shade, size and style of dress, who come from six continents and speak multiple languages, unite in prayer.

We’d been there before: after the Muslim ban was announced; after the 2016 election; after the Orlando massacre of Latino gay men by a man who professed Islam; and after Pittsburgh.

So many of the Muslim people we prayed with at the recent Christchurch vigil had come to stand with us at our vigil after the Pittsburgh massacre. Women from my interfaith support group who share stories and food and sewing and art making — Catholics, Protestants, Muslims and Jews — were there, embracing, not from an abstract sense of human fellowship but because we belong to one another. We love one another. We felt the pain, the wrenching body ache, one feels when someone hurts the people we love. It is the price — and the glory — that comes from reaching out to, making friends with, and building personal stakes in the well-being of people we have been told to distrust.

Also at the vigil were social justice organizations like Bend the Arc, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, L.A. Voice, and Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice. There were priests and rabbis, ministers and imams. There was Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, City Attorney Michael Feuer, City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, and Wilshire Center-Koreatown Neighborhood Council member Jarin Maruf.

Each speaker, in addition to offering words of comfort and shared grief, addressed some hard, necessary truths. Several reminded us that, like the Pittsburgh shooter, the accused killer in New Zealand wrote about Muslims and immigrants as “invaders,” deploying a trope that emanates from the highest office of our country.

“We have a bitter version of the story to retell. … we name the Haman who walks among us still.”

The very next Shabbat after the massacre was Shabbat Zachor, the Sabbath of Remembrance which comes before Purim, the holiday in which we celebrate our own deliverance from a massacre. We remember Amalek, the ones who attack from behind and were the first, our Torah teaches, to attack the people Israel had after they had been liberated from slavery and entered the desert wilderness. We are told that Amalek attacked the old and very young, and those too weak or ill to fight. In our tradition, Amalek is conflated with Haman of the Purim story, the one who incites genocide, the one who wants to destroy an entire people or religion out of hatred and fear.

We will hear our Torah in synagogue and we will be asked to remember. “Remember what Amalek did to you on the road…” (Deuteronomy/Devarim 25:17). Remember our implacable opposition to the genocidaire, to all the Amaleks and Hamans, to the Hitlers and inquisitors and crusaders; all of those for whom difference is an unconscionable affront to be punished with extinction.

Then comes Purim. The holiday is fun for kids, but, at its core, it is a holiday for adults. Purim plunges us to the depths of our humanity, the mess and vulnerability that comes with being flesh and having partial knowledge, tethered to the Divine by the thread of our souls.

The narrative in our Megillah, which we are commanded to hear, is not really a story for children. It’s a tale of Diaspora Jews threatened with imminent extermination, who are saved at the last minute by a Jewish harem queen married off to a drunken fool, coached by her unmarried uncle and his best friends, the eunuchs.

Purim is a holiday in which Diaspora Jews celebrate their situation as insiders/outsiders. The emotional climax of the story puts the protagonists on opposite sides of doors and walls. Esther, the secret Jew, is married to a drunken, malleable king, who has been persuaded through bribery by a bigoted vizier to authorize the extermination of the Jews. The Jews, Haman the genocidaire explains, are a dangerous ethnic minority who persist in their own religion and customs. They are disrupters — invaders even.

Esther is confined to the harem. Mordecai, the known Jew, is making a public performance of grief, wailing immoderately just outside the city gate (where public conversations were known to happen). Mordecai is engaged in very serious performance art — clothed in sackcloth and ashes, he cries out his grievance, making sure that no one in the capital city of Shushan could say that, whatever happened to the Jews, they knew nothing about it.

The go-between who connects Esther with Mordecai is Hatach, a eunuch — a person who can slip between gendered worlds and between the inside and outside of the palace and the city. It is he who serves as the vital link through whom Esther and Mordecai can plan their resistance. The Jews and the eunuch act in solidarity to create change. They are insiders and outsiders, dependent on one another.

On Purim we celebrate deliverance with excess — first we fast, then we feast. It’s a mitzvah (only to be observed by those who don’t risk their health or life to do so) to get too hammered to know our best friends from our enemies.

There are four mitzvahs to fulfill on Purim. There’s the bit about drunkenness, to be enjoyed in the course of a festive meal. The others are to hear the story of Purim read from the Megillah once at night and once during the day, to give gifts of food to friends, and to give gifts to the poor.

Our custom is to celebrate with masquerade and song; to dress up in costumes (many rabbis allow and even encourage cross-dressing on this night); and to put on Purim spiels, satirical plays that retell the story, often in light of current events. This is Jewish carnival, a chance to lampoon and to wear those masks that reveal hidden truths about who we are and wish to be.

This year, we have a bitter version of the story to retell. This year, we name the Haman who walks among us still. As Rabbi Sharon Brous said at the Islamic Center, “I lift up all who suffer at the hands of white supremacy — a hateful, radical ideology that has wreaked havoc and devastation across generations and oceans.”

This year, as we celebrate the worth of keeping our religion and culture while being true to the larger communities and polities in which we live, we remember how vulnerable we are. We remember who was there to hold us when we mourned, and with whom we must identify if we are all to survive what’s in store.


Rabbi Robin Podolsky teaches at Cal State Long Beach, writes for Shondaland, and serves as a Jewish Community Engagement Fellow at J Street. 

Muslims, Jews Need to Support Each Other

By now we know that hateful rhetoric provides the scaffolding upon which extremists justify their violent acts. But often, we fail to recognize when the rhetoric of our public discourse crosses the line from legitimate critique into these hateful tropes. 

It’s why many Jews find Rep. Ilhan Omar’s tweets and statements abhorrent, even as many Muslims struggle to understand why what she said was so bad. Muslims hear a thoughtful critique of the Israel lobby.  Jews hear the Cliff’s Notes version of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” — rife with undertones of financial control and global conspiracy. 

But Omar and her Muslim defenders are not the only ones to cross this line from legitimate critique into stereotype-ridden language. We in the Jewish community are often guilty of the same. To many Jews the common criticism of Muslim leaders and organizations rests on solid reasoning, even as Muslims mentally check the box of almost every recognizable Islamophobic trope. Linking Muslim public figures to terrorism no matter how many degrees of separation? Check. Accusations of Muslim intent to govern America by Islamic law? Check. Contorting and curating facts to paint a narrative that a Muslim elected official is actually a terrorist plant? Check. 

There are real communal disagreements between Muslims and Jews. I personally get frustrated with our differences. In recent months, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) — a Muslim-American civil rights organization — spearheaded an effort with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for Los Angeles to refuse federal funds allocated under the umbrella of “Countering Violent Extremism.” They claimed these social programs serving the needs of at-risk youth and resettling refugees were a back door for the government to keep tabs on the Muslim community. (Fact check: They weren’t). I was heartbroken for the extraordinary organizations that did not receive needed funding because CAIR’s campaign worked. I also disagree with what I consider to be CAIR’s lack of a nuanced view of the Israel-Palestine conflict and how they wielded it as a divisive wedge at the Women’s March. I question whether such confrontational tactics are ultimately the best strategy for furthering the rights and interests of Muslim Americans.

“What will it take for us … to stand shoulder to shoulder against the rhetoric that targets us both as unwanted minorities?”

But I recognize the difference between political acts I disagree with and political acts that are acts of terror. Calling CAIR or any other Muslim organization or leader who participates legitimately in the American public discourse “terrorists” crosses the line into Islamophobia. These accusations are no less problematic than the ones leveraged against Jews of controlling American foreign policy with our money and our influence.

 The deepest irony of the public conversation between Muslims and Jews is that we share the same fear — the questioning of our loyalty to America. And yet, we fail to recognize how freely we engage in this accusation of treason against each other.

In spite of our commonalities as minorities in the United States, we too have inherited and internalized the anti-Semitic and Islamophobic suspicions of the larger culture around us. We have become almost obsessively enraged with each other. 

Maybe we do it because we subconsciously think that if the other is considered to be the threat, then we won’t be. Maybe we believe that our country and western civilization has to have an enemy and we’re all touching our noses to say, “Not it! Look at them!”

Muslims and Jews can continue to have the same accusation-hurling conversation over and over, but I fear that leaves both of our communities vulnerable. I fear that we feed into the rhetoric that violent extremists from Pittsburgh to Christchurch thrive off of. How many more mosque and synagogue shootings do we need before Muslims and Jews are willing to do some collective self-reflection about the stereotypes we hold of each other? What will it take for us to work through our disagreements to stand shoulder to shoulder against the rhetoric that targets us both as unwanted minorities?

Muslims and Jews alike will be better served when we do the work to examine and question our deeply held stereotypes of the other and stop contributing to the rhetoric that tears the other down. Because, when we do, we actually just tear down ourselves.


Rabbi Sarah Bassin is the associate rabbi at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills.

Actress Rafaëlle Cohen Explores Israelis’ Love of Berlin

The “Cities of Love” film franchise showcases great metropolises around the world. “Berlin, I Love You” features 10 vignettes set in the German capital, introduced by the Israeli character, Sara, played by Los Angeles-based French-Jewish actress Rafaëlle Cohen. However, it’s easy to miss Cohen’s name in the marketing materials, especially alongside some of her famous co-stars, including Keira Knightley, Helen Mirren, Luke Wilson and Mickey Rourke. 

The film was released in the United States in February to lackluster reviews, many of which blasted the vignettes for barely scratching the surface of what makes Berlin so lovable. It only received a two-star rating on the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDb) and a one-star rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The film can be streamed now on Amazon Prime.

But the story of an Israeli singer (Cohen) and her German love interest, a street performer named Damiel (Robert Stadlober), frames and anchors the film. A review in Variety said, “But at least these two characters offer a semblance of continuity, against which the shorts serve as variably amusing digressions.” 

Brushing off critics, Cohen told the Journal at a restaurant in West Hollywood that she would rather focus on the film’s beauty as well as her good fortune in being cast in a tale that resonated with her as a Jew who periodically visits friends and family in Israel. 

Having spent several weeks living in Berlin in the summer and fall of 2017 to film the movie, Cohen said she sees Israelis’ attraction to Germany among third-generation Holocaust descendants as a unique, postwar act of German-Jewish reconciliation. 

While the Israeli Embassy in Germany has no official statistics on how many Israelis currently live in the German capital, NPR’s Daniel Estrin reported that according to Tal Alon, the Berlin-based editor of the Hebrew-language magazine Spitz, at least 10,000 of them are estimated to have moved to Berlin in the past decade.

“I know there was a movement of Israelis for many years to Berlin, and it fascinated me to see that the flower that blossomed out of the crack of the war was coming back to meet its root.” — Rafaëlle Cohen

Of her time in the European hot spot, Cohen said, “First of all, I felt the presence of Israelis in Berlin who had true open minds. And I know there was a movement of Israelis for many years to Berlin, and it fascinated me to see that the flower that blossomed out of the crack of the war was coming back to meet its root. I found that so beautiful.”

Berlin, Cohen added, is “the only place in Europe that I felt was really willing to seek forgiveness and ask for forgiveness, and realize the harm that has been done.”

Cohen was born in Paris. Her mother is from Tunisia and her father is from Morocco. The family moved to London when she was 3. Cohen originally became an engineer in London but abandoned the profession in 2011 to follow a career in the performing arts. She landed the role in “Berlin, I Love You” just two months after moving to Los Angeles from London in 2017. 

“I believe in divine alignment and divine timing,” Cohen said. “I believe I create my own reality and I came [to Los Angeles] to create what I was here to create, and I see the magic every day.”

She also described meeting the director of “Berlin, I Love You,” Josef Rusnak, as one of those magical moments. “I was told he met many celebrities, but he really wanted to find someone who could sing and have this Israeli feel,” Cohen said. 

With her long curly hair and olive skin tone, Cohen certainly looked the part. But more importantly, Cohen found the Israeli character intriguing. In the film, Sara takes her German beau on a mini-journey from the home her Holocaust survivor grandmother was forced to flee, to the steamy dance floor of the famous Berghain nightclub and the beloved public outdoor karaoke extravaganza at the Mauerpark Sunday flea market.  

“It was a dream to be able to interpret so many different aspects within one character,” Cohen said. “There’s this angelic kind of innocent being who wants to enjoy life. There’s the peaceful being. There’s the raw woman who has sensuality who wants to eat [Damiel] up and to give him so much pleasure. There’s the singer, with the ability to sing in front of 2,000 people and share music.” 

These days, some Jews look askance at Jews who make their lives — and loves — in a capital stained by its attempt at Jewish genocide. Sara, Cohen said, captures that third generation who find healing in returning to Germany. It’s part of the process of forgiveness, she said. 

“There is no resentment to be had. There is only now,” Cohen said. “Sara’s grandmother is proof of that. If there is one thing that the Shoah survivors teach us, it’s let’s be grateful for the life that we have. And let’s not darken our days with resentment.”

Cohen notes the contrast between Berlin and Paris, where today, bubbling anti-Semitism is making headlines in the French capital. She said she believes these expressions of Jew-hatred come in part from a lack of honest confrontation over the past among descendants of French Nazi collaborators, and she would rather they express their frustrations, however negative, and begin to heal.

“Anti-Semitism is mostly unspoken, precisely because it is so shamed, so people don’t even want to go near their thoughts on the matter, let alone express [them],” Cohen said. “They use the conflict in Israel, which is talked about on the news, to express their hidden frustrations against Judaism; hence the many amalgamations between French Jews and Israelis or French Muslims and Palestinians.”

Cohen still regards Paris as one of the most beautiful cities in the world but said she is now falling for Los Angles. And since shooting the film, Berlin has given L.A. some competition. 

“I sensed the same sense of freedom that I feel [in Los Angeles in Berlin],” she said. “The freedom [to become] who you want to be. And it’s the only place I felt that way in Europe. I think it’s totally linked to the fact that Berlin is the only city that really faces its darkness. I fell in love there.”  


Orit Arfa is a journalist and author based in Berlin. Her second novel, “Underskin,” is a German-Israeli love story. 

Why I’m Going to AIPAC This Year

AIPAC conference

I’m going to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference on March 24-26 in Washington, D.C., this year, and I’d like to explain why:

• I’m participating in the conference because I want to listen, converse and mingle with 20,000 people who affirm that a strong relationship between Israel and the United States is good for both countries and good for the people living around them. If two democracies are able to share security information, scientific know-how, academic and cultural exchanges, everyone benefits.

• I’m going to the conference because I’m passionately committed to the ideas that gave birth to Israel: that the Jewish people, long exiled by force from our homeland, now have the opportunity to return and establish a state that is Jewish, democratic and secure, doing the hard work of integrating millennia of Jewish tradition with contemporary commitments to liberal democracy, freedom of speech and press, and equal dignity for all its residents. As with America, the dream is greater than the reality. As with America, I will never give up on working to bridge the gap so that the dream becomes the new reality. And I celebrate each time the dream progresses.

• I’m attending AIPAC’s conference because I’m committed to Zionism, the notion that the Jewish people have the right to national self-determination no less than any other group. I understand that this right implies that the other people of the Middle East, including the Palestinians, also have a similar right. Either every group of people has the right to national self-determination or there is no such right. In affirming that Jewish national self-expression is a virtue, I simultaneously admit that right to Palestinian national self-expression as well. Standing on the shoulders of former Israeli President Chaim Weizmann (1874-1952) and other brave Israelis, I hope to help advance the dynamic reality of two peoples living side by side, affirming the dignity of both.

• I’m going to AIPAC’s conference because American democracy not only affirms, but celebrates citizen advocacy, electoral involvement, petitioning and lobbying our elected and appointed officials so they can better represent the insights, convictions and priorities of the people who send them to Washington in the first place. As individuals, we can do only so much, but together, educated and mobilized, we can exercise our constitutional right and empower our representatives to serve us that much better. 

• I’m attending the conference because anti-Semitism, the age-old bigotry against the Jewish people, has once more reared its ugly head. As with countless other hatreds that seem to feed off today’s partisanship and viciousness, we are all threatened when any one of us is marginalized, attacked or disparaged because of their faith, color, gender or sexual orientation. I want to stand with others who will fight anti-Semitism and these resurgent hatreds from a place of mutual empowerment, shared commitment, and simple humanity.

“I’m attending AIPAC’s conference because I’m committed to Zionism, the notion that the Jewish people have the right to national self-determination no less than any other group.”

• I’m participating in AIPAC’s conference because I’m proud of America’s bipartisan commitment to a two-state solution, and I want to join with others who also advocate for that imperative.

• I’m joining with AIPAC’s participants because I’m committed to a broad interfaith coalition that embraces Jews, Christians, Muslims and others who come together in common dignity and a shared commitment to doing better together in the future, recognizing that democracies thrive in the rich diversity of all of their people — conversing, arguing and working it out together.

• I’m going to AIPAC’s conference because I am committed to a big tent. There are many ways to love Israel — from the right, the left, the center, and each has a role to play in something bigger. Just as we don’t connect to the United States as a monolithic entity but forge special connections with Americans with whom we share a common vision, or shared values, or mutual dreams, or a comparable agenda, so, too, we connect with those Israelis who share our vision of the future of Israel. I want to stand with others like me, to make sure that my way of loving Israel continues to have a presence and a voice at this gathering.

• I’m attending AIPAC’s conference because I have family and friends in Israel: college buddies, dear colleagues, activists, entrepreneurs and artists I love and admire, as I admire courageous Palestinian voices for peace and coexistence. My presence there feels like a way of standing with them, standing for them, advocating on their behalf, loving them.

• I’m attending AIPAC’s conference because, deeper than politics and partisanship and policy, I love the land of Israel, its people, its scents and foods and sights. I resonate with its history, my history, and its honor roll of prophets, sages, poets and mystics. I thrill at its modern wrestling into existence and its contemporary struggles to live out the values of its Declaration of Independence. I want Israel to thrive as a beacon of vitality and justice, of innovation, pluralism, diversity, creativity and renewal. 

AIPAC’s annual conference is one of the best places to help advance these values. I will be there, this year, to take a stand.


Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson is Abner and Roslyn Goldstine Dean’s Chair at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, and vice president at American Jewish University. He will serve as a scholar at AIPAC’s Policy Conference in Washington, D.C.

Gadot, Rivlin, Sela Fire Back Against Netanyahu’s Instagram Remarks

Gal Gadot at the UK premiere of “Criminal” at The Curzon Mayfair in London on April 7. Photo by Anthony Harvey/Getty Images

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin joined Gal Gadot March 11 in pushing back at remarks made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu wrote on social media March 10 that “Israel is not a state of all its citizens. According to the nation-state law we passed, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people — and not anyone else.”

The Times of Israel reported Rivlin rebuking Netanyahu at a Jerusalem conference about Egyptian-Israel peace March 11 by saying, “We must get to the point where we are truly able to say: No more war and bloodshed between Israelis and Arabs. Between Israel and all Arabs.”

“I refused and refuse to believe that there are political parties that have surrendered the character of Israel as a Jewish and democratic, democratic and Jewish, state,” Rivlin continued. “Those who believe that the State of Israel must be Jewish and democratic in the full sense of the word must remember that the State of Israel has complete equality of rights for all its citizens.”

Netanyahu’s response came from an Instagram post made on March 9 by model and actor Rotem Sela, who wrote, “Dear God, there are also Arab citizens in this country. When the hell will someone in this government convey to the public that Israel is a state of all its citizens and that all people were created equal, and that even the Arabs and the Druze and the LGBTs and — shock — the leftists are human.”

Actress Gal Gadot who is most well known for playing DC superhero Wonder Woman, backed Sela in an Instagram story (which has since expired) March 10 writing “Love your neighbor as yourself …  The responsibility to sow hope and light for a better future for our children is on us. Rotem, sister, you are the inspiration for us all.”

A Guide to Deciding If Netanyahu Should Stay or Go

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

“The attorney general has reached a clear conclusion, by which corrupt, improper motives, were at the core of Netanyahu’s actions.” So, this is it.

Or maybe not. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said he plans to indict Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, pending a hearing. The decision was announced 40 days before election day. The hearing will come many months after election day. Mandelblit clarified — and muddled — the situation by the same action. He informed voters that there is evidence Netanyahu is criminally corrupt, pending a hearing and a trial. He also confused voters by revealing this information. How should they respond to it?

There are three typical responses in Israel to this new, if expected, development. One is to see Netanyahu as not guilty, despite the new information, some of it quite disturbing, that appears in the 50-page document that details how Mandelblit reached his conclusion. One is to see Netanyahu as guilty, despite the fact that there is still a hearing that can change legal minds, and possibly a trial, which can vindicate or implicate him. 

The third option is the that of the perplexed voters, those who don’t yet know how to respond to the new information. Pollster Menachem Lazar told me that about 1 in 5 voters haven’t decided whom to vote for. That’s 24 seats in the next Knesset. Professor Camil Fuchs of Tel Aviv University has tallied that about 15 percent of voters are undecided. But based on other questions he asked, Fuchs believes that there are many more voters who still might change their minds. Of course, not all of these voters are undecided because of Netanyahu or his looming indictment. But some are. What should they weigh as they make a decision? I am not sure that all of them run through all the options in a methodical way, but there is a way to do such a thing. It goes like this:

If you consider Netanyahu guilty, and a bad prime minister, then don’t vote for him (or for parties supportive of him).

If you consider him not guilty, and a good prime minister, then vote for him (or for parties supportive of him).

If you consider him not guilty, and a bad prime minister, then don’t vote for him (or for parties supportive of him).

“What should undecided voters weigh as they make a decision?”

But here is the tricky scenario: If you consider Netanyahu guilty, and a good prime minister,  then you must ask a follow-up question: Would you tolerate a corrupt prime minister for any reason? 

If not, don’t vote for Netanyahu (or for parties supportive of him). 

But if under certain circumstances — say, if you think that without him, the country would be in grave danger — you’re willing to consider a corrupt, yet efficient, prime minister, then another follow-up question is necessary: Is this the case of corruption, and is this the man, and are these the circumstances that could prompt you to elect a corrupt yet efficient prime minister?

This is where the 50-page document issued by Mandelblit becomes handy. Voters likely have a solid opinion of Netanyahu as prime minister. Voters also have a perspective of Israel’s current circumstances. So, all voters need to complete their assessment is the document. They should read it and make one of the following two conclusions:

One: This is too much corruption for me to tolerate Netanyahu because A) Israel’s circumstances are not grave; or B) There are people besides Netanyahu who can deal with the circumstances (grave or not).

Two: This seems corrupt, but I still want Netanyahu because A) Israel’s circumstances are grave; and B) Only Netanyahu can deal with such circumstances.   

Is it easy to reach a conclusion? For some it is, for others it isn’t. Try to understand the dilemma.


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

Hard Lessons Before Steps Toward Peace

War and conflict are a messy business that rarely corresponds to the tidy accounts taught in schools. That certainly can be said about Israel’s struggle to be born and exist. Intellectual honesty demands a hard look at all aspects of the turmoil and its effects on Israelis and Palestinians.

Conflicts are always messier when opinions are fueled by religion. For many Jews, resettling the land of Israel after an absence of 2,000 years marked by wandering, persecution and near annihilation represents the attainment of a safe haven and the chance of becoming a “normal” nation.

From childhood, Palestinian children are taught that their ancestors had been living on the land for thousands of years and were uprooted by a European-Asiatic people with no valid claim to the land, displacing their parents and grandparents. The world stood idly by, they are told, and allowed this to happen because of guilt over the Holocaust. It is a sacred duty of every Palestinian to devote their lives and perhaps even to be martyred to drive out the “Crusader imperialist Jews,” they are taught.

The Arab-Israeli conflict is exceedingly complex. To couch it simply in terms of “an occupation of a land by a people who have no claim to it and the subjugation of its native people who have the sole rights to that land” completely negates the possibility that the other side has a narrative that ties them to the land, or even the possibility that the other side has a right to a narrative.

Lost in the war of ideas that underlies the conflict is the simple notion that this is simply a land dispute between two peoples who lay claim to all of the area referred to by some as Israel and by others as Palestine.

“Each side is taught to regard the other as stereotypical evil, the ultimate “other,” people to fear and loathe.”

In my view, the Israeli-Palestine conflict will never be resolved at its root cause until each side reaches a profound conclusion that the other has a valid narrative that binds them to that land.

Each side eventually must come to the realization that the other side “isn’t going anywhere.” Only then can the process begin toward true mutual respect, coupled with the understanding that in no way, shape or form can one side hope to exert total control over all of the land. After that is understood, both sides are left with three options: unending conflict, division of land where each side must compromise deep-seated religious beliefs, or living as equal citizens in one multiethnic society.

Teaching students only one side of the story, something that is becoming increasingly prevalent in American universities today, is not only intellectually dishonest but will ultimately perpetuate the conflict indefinitely.

At the root of this conflict is prejudice in its purest form. Each side is taught to regard the other as stereotypical evil, the ultimate “other,” people to fear and loathe. Very little effort is expended to bridge the gap by trying to meet as people on a large scale in good faith.

Much ink has been spilled over the years on the terrible cancer that is prejudice, which we all experience to a greater or lesser extent. Mostly, we read about the victims of prejudice and rightfully so, but not enough is said or written about the corrosive effect that being the target of prejudice has on its perpetrators. There are many forms of bigotry and the terrible cost that is paid by all involved. Most of us, when asked what prejudice is, describe racial prejudice. Although that is the most pervasive form of prejudice, especially in the United States, prejudice, in general, is about judging a  person without having sufficient facts about that person.

Studying the effects of prejudice is becoming increasingly important during a time when there’s an upsurge of its ugly impact all over the world. Until both sides in the Arab-Israeli conflict move beyond their prejudice, the shootings, stabbings and bombings will never end.


Leo Rozmaryn is a reconstructive hand and microvascular surgeon and author of “Lone Soldier,” a historical fiction novel of romance, mistaken identity, war and politics set during the tensions between the U.S. and Israel during the early 1970s. For more information, visit lonesoldierbook.com. 

How Do We Define Ourselves?

Identity is such a personal thing. It helps to define who we are, it gives us a place to stand in the world, it connects us to others, it can set an agenda for our purpose in the world, it can direct us to the kind of work we choose to do or validate our worthiness as a result of the work we have chosen. There are so many different aspects of who we are and how we express ourselves in the world. I am a wife of 46 years, a mother, a daughter, a grandmother, a caregiver, a designer and Jewish fiber artist, a teacher, a mentor, a Reiki master, a cantor, and a rabbi. Each plays a role in the sum total of who I have become. And of course let us not forget I am a child of G-d as well, as is each one of us.

But lately I find myself responding and thinking of myself foremost as a child of Holocaust survivors. This was certainly the foundational seed, along with love and hope that began my growth and development. Surrounded by a community of survivors, in Stockholm Sweden, post Holocaust; it was the framework and the mirror that reflected and reminded me of that reality. Years and layers of experience, learning, experimentation, mistakes, growth, and expansion enhanced a fundamental core bequeathed by my parents, my ancestors, and HaShem. So today I am a sum total of it all. Yet in a world that now faces rising anti-Semitism, with both a non-verbal and verbal onslaught of attacks, it is this that I identify with the most. It taps into tribal identity, paranoia, and fear as well as a cellular level of trauma buried within my DNA.

Who am I? I know I am a Jewish woman who has been dedicated to sharing a loving partnership, to family, personal transformation, and work that supports others in their growth and journeys. Yet I can’t help but be reminded, in this toxic, dangerous, and rageful environment, that danger exists, not only in this country but intensely among our European neighbors. The EU Fundamental Rights Agency has spent years surveying the growing tide of harassment and attacks and have watched the numbers increase among a dozen European countries. In the past year it’s gone up 40% in Belgium and Germany, 30% in Netherlands, Poland, Spain and Sweden, and approx. 25% in France, Denmark and Austria. With a vulnerable elderly Holocaust Survivor killed in her flat and a young boy attacked who was wearing a Kippah, France reflects the deep personal nature of Anti-Semitism and 95% of its French citizens see this as a major problem.

Photos courtesy by the author

With the expansive influence of the Internet, it reflects the largest expression of this hatred and probably equals that of Hitler’s Mein Kampf whose sold five million copies at the start of WWII, in 11 languages. Published in 1925 it took years to spread its poison; today it takes minutes to reach millions around the world. How different can it be in our own country when even our President doesn’t put a stop to the hateful rhetoric of, “Jews will not replace us,” in Charlottesville, shouted by angry and bigoted ‘human beings’ (a term I use loosely). I find myself sadly becoming aware it could happen all over again.

Photos courtesy by the author

Lamentations the powerful literature of one of the earliest experiences of a Holocaust in our tradition, where our community was dismantled and destroyed and our first Temple brought down, is a haunting reminder of the pain and suffering so early in our formation as a people and yet it ends with the words, “Bring us back to You, Hashem…renew our days as of old,” to a time when walking down the street in my home town of Toronto, Canada with Star of David or Kippah was not a calling card for danger.

It is a scary time; security is fragile, and division is palpable. Who am I now takes on new meaning.

Kingsborough Community College Embroiled in Anti-Semitic Allegations

Kingsborough Community College. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

An anti-Semitic harassment campaign appears to be being waged against identifiably Jewish and pro-Israel professors at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn – one of the storied City University of New York’s (CUNY) 25 colleges and graduate and professional schools, which educate some 275,000 students.

Despite tens of formal complaints filed with college and CUNY administrators over the past three years and the federal government’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and a lawsuit filed in federal court in 2016, leaders there appear to have taken little action.

While there are many documented instances of anti-Semitic graffiti at other universities and student government efforts to adopt resolutions backing divestment from companies that do business in Israel, Kingsborough’s situation involves what Business Department Chair Jeffrey Lax, describes in his 2016 federal lawsuit against the CUNY system and a former Kingsborough provost, a “pervasively hostile work environment” for “outward Jews.”

In 2016, CUNY’s chancellor ordered an outside investigation into charges of anti-Semitism at several other colleges, though not, at the time, at Kingsborough.

The report detailed multiple allegations of sporadic, isolated anti-Semitic behavior over several years and concluded that there is “no unchecked anti-Semitism” at CUNY schools.

However, the Journal spoke with several CUNY faculty members who have been victims of anti-Semitic harassment. Michael Goldstein is a 20-year-veteran business communications teacher and administrator at Kingsborough. An indefatigable cheerleader for the community college, which sits perched on Brooklyn’s shoreline, a public high school on the campus is named for his father, Leon Goldstein, who served as Kingsborough’s president for 29 years.  

Michael Goldstein became a victim of anti-Semitic attacks last year.  In February 2018, he arrived at his office on the Kingsborough campus and discovered that a  photo of his father presiding over a college graduation, hung outside his office door, had been defaced with swastikas and epithets written in pen: “F*** Trump Goldstein, Kill the Zionist Entity.”

“The vandalism marked the start of a systematic and pernicious campaign in which I have been targeted and harassed because of who I am and what I believe… this is an orchestrated, aggressive movement to destroy me,” Goldstein wrote in a Feb. 13 op-ed for the New York Daily News.

Goldstein told The Jewish Journal that he considers himself Kingsborough’s ambassador and resident school historian, organizing and speaking at events on campus and off, at high schools and community gatherings. The recent attacks, he said, have dimmed his enthusiasm for such activities.

Last May, as students arrived for final exams at the college, 1,500 fliers were left in classrooms and offices with images grabbed from Goldstein’s Facebook page, including a photo of his 13-year-old daughter. Goldstein is as energetic a re-poster of memes and cartoons on Facebook as he is a Kingsborough booster. His posts are visibly pro-Israel and opposed to progressive politicians including 2020 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. While he is liberal on social issues including gay marriage and immigration, and voted for Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election, Goldstein said he was disappointed with Obama’s relationship with Israel and in 2016 voted for President Donald Trump because of his stance on Israel.

Goldstein said at least one faculty member was caught on college videotape distributing the fliers, but that Kingsborough leaders have refused to make that video available to attorneys working with Goldstein.

In addition, a Communist newspaper called “Challenge” published four separate articles between June and November of 2018 calling Goldstein racist, anti-Muslim and anti-gay. The paper was distributed widely just outside the campus gates, Goldstein said, adding that colleagues warned him that those campaigning to get him fired are “trying to get students to constantly harass me. I’m afraid one will take it too far by getting physical. I’m afraid of getting punched. I’ve never had a problem before this. I don’t want to be seen as racist or anti-Muslim. I like people for who they are.”

Now, among the academic left this anti-Israel attitude crosses into anti-Semitism all the time. I’m very pro-Zionist, so I’m automatically an oppressor — Michael Goldstein

Goldstein told the Journal fliers were put under his office door attacking him. They were also distributed widely around campus. In addition, he said, students banged on his office window, frightening him. Following these incidents, Goldstein requested campus security protection. He received it months later, but only after multiple requests and after a Christian administrator’s office was papered with crosses. Goldstein now has a campus safety officer escort him everywhere he walks on campus, and sit outside his office door whenever he’s inside.

“I can’t go to any community events anymore, even though I used to create and run them,” Goldstein said. “I used to be called ‘the mayor of Kingsborough.’ For many years I knew everyone, knew their families. Now I am isolated.”

He said he believes he’s being targeted because,  “now among the academic left this anti-Israel attitude crosses into anti-Semitism all the time. I’m very pro-Zionist, so I’m automatically an oppressor, and they think I hate Palestinians. I teach Palestinian students all the time. They’ve identified me as someone they can go after because I have no power. I’m low hanging fruit. They see me as a capitalist overlord and it’s funny. I make less than they do, probably.”

Last October, someone put nails in both Goldstein’s and Lax’s car tires while they were attending a faculty council meeting. They both filed complaints about the tire damage with campus security, but said nothing was done to track down those responsible.

This latest attack against Lax comes two-and-a-half years after Lax filed his federal lawsuit in February 2016, alleging his career has been damaged by Kingsborough administrators who, he claimed, have created a hostile work environment for those who are visibly Jewish.

Michael Goldstein

The lawsuit was filed with the assistance of The Lawfare Project. Lawfare Project founder and executive director Brooke Goldstein told the Journal, who also represents both Lax and Michael Goldstein told the Journal, “The lawsuit is a symptom of a much larger problem, which is a very dangerously hostile environment at CUNY for Jewish students and professors. Multiple violations of basic civil rights of Jewish professors and students are taking place on campus, and instead of dealing with the situation as it is legally obligated to, the administration is at best wilfully ignoring it, and at worst aiding and abetting it.”

The 2016 lawsuit names Stuart Suss, former interim president and provost at Kingsborough, claiming that Lax’s civil rights, along with state and city laws, were violated by religious discrimination and harassment in a pervasively hostile work environment. Lax, who teaches employment law, identifies as a feminist and has supported legal workplace protections for LGBTQ employees.

“Everyone in my classes seems to get along. If you don’t mention [Zionism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict], it won’t explode. Once the issues are raised, it can be combustible.” — Sharon Flatto 

Suss allegedly told another professor that “there are too many Jews” on Kingsborough’s faculty. While Suss himself is Jewish, Kingsborough professors said he is not religiously observant. When Lax filed a complaint at Kingsborough about earlier anti-Semitic harassment of other faculty members, he said that then Kingsborough president Farley Herzek told him to “let it go.”

The lawsuit alleges that Suss was orchestrating an effort to get rid of current religious Jewish faculty, and worked to not hire new ones.

Suss “ridiculed, intimidated, and insulted Jewish employees through systematically eliminating Jews from the faculty, excluding and minimizing the roles of the Jewish faculty members who survived elimination, subjecting Jewish faculty members to frequent verbal harassment and disparate treatment, and encouraging anti-Semitism on Kingsborough’s campus,” Lax’s lawsuit states. Suss “insisted upon scheduling the interviews of Jewish candidates for positions at Kingsborough on Jewish holidays. By mid-2015 the religious discrimination became so palpable that some department chairs encouraged Jewish candidates to remove all religious head coverings, and any other personal items symbolic of their religious beliefs, before meeting with Suss. Discriminatory hiring practices have reduced the number of Jewish faculty members at Kingsborough and contributed to the pervasively hostile work environment.”

Suss did not return multiple requests for interviews by the Journal.

After Lax filed his lawsuit in federal court in February 2016, Lax claimed in legal documents that the retaliation increased, stating, “CUNY significantly reduced [my] compensation and excluded [me] from a compensation increase that a majority of Kingsborough’s chairpersons received.”

Lax is seeking a jury trial and damages from Suss and CUNY. In September, CUNY filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. Both sides are awaiting the judge’s response.

The Journal reached out to Kingsborough’s President Claudia Schrader, and to CUNY’s media relations head seeking an interview with Interim Chancellor Vita Rabinowitz about anti-Semitic incidents on campus.

Kingsborough’s director of marketing and communications, John Aaron, responded with a statement: “The incidents to which you refer are under active investigation and, as such, we are not at liberty to comment beyond providing the following assurances: So long as the investigations are ongoing, and until the process is resolved in accordance with college and university procedures, we are taking all necessary measures to safeguard those who feel threatened, and to uphold the rights of those accused.”

However, in a Feb. 21 leaked email to CUNY trustees, Schrader wrote that recent positive developments at Kingsborough have “been overshadowed, to some extent, by the spate of negative news coverage that has recently appeared in the local press regarding allegations of anti- Semitism on our campus. The campus is also being besieged by a torrent of angry emails, expressing outrage on the part of individuals who are unknown and external to the college.”

“Last spring, the Progressive Faculty Caucus (PFC) held a meeting focused on discrimination. The group scheduled it for a Friday night, declining to change the date even after non-Jewish PFC members complained that those who kept Shabbat would be unable to attend.”

On Feb. 25, Schrader sent an internal memo to Kingsborough’s faculty decrying the fact that “our community continues to be embroiled in tension.” She wrote, “In times of heightened emotions, we must take lengths to resist ad hominem attacks and strive to maintain constructive, inclusive dialogue. I urge every member of this campus community to refrain right now from the temptation to point fingers and cast blame. Doing so is counterproductive to the kind of engagement we all need at this time…let us resolve to do the difficult work needed to reach a mutual, workable understanding and chart a unified course forward.”

Other observant Jews or pro-Israel faculty members also say they have been harassed, to lesser degrees.

Economics Professor Susan Aranoff has taught at Kingsborough for 35 years. She told the Journal the climate has changed markedly in recent years. She used to attach two small flags – an American flag and an Israeli flag – to her car. Two years ago the  Israeli flag was broken twice and at one point was stolen, while the American flag was left alone. After those incidents, she decided not to replace them. She filed complaints at the time with college authorities who, she said, dismissed it as “ordinary vandalism.”

Aranoff, Goldstein, and other faculty members the Journal interviewed said last spring the Progressive Faculty Caucus (PFC) held a meeting focused on discrimination. They scheduled it for a Friday night, declining to change the date even after non-Jewish PFC members complained that those who kept Shabbat would be unable to attend. Aranoff lives within walking distance of Kingsborough’s campus, and asked a PFC organizer where, exactly, the meeting would be held, so that she could attend. She said he refused to tell her.

The PFC is ostensibly open to any faculty member. Aranoff said she asked multiple times to be added to its email list. At the time, she said, she thought that the caucus’s purpose was to “enhance Kingsborough’s teaching environment.” However, after months passed and she wasn’t added to the distribution list, Aranoff said she eventually realized that the PFC is open to anyone but religious Jews.  

Aranoff and other faculty members said not long after the request to change that Spring 2018 Friday night meeting, the university administrators blocked their campus-based messaging system and the PFC took their message system off campus.

Currently, the PFC has no website, no listing available on Kingsborough’s website and no listed phone numbers. Though publicly invisible the PFC is powerful, Aranoff told the Journal. Its members lobby “for candidates for positions on college council or various committees, so [Jewish faculty members are] disadvantaged in not being part of that group,” she said.

Aranoff and another senior faculty member, who is an Orthodox Jew and asked not to be named for fear of retaliation, filed a complaint with Kingsborough’s diversity officer last spring. Aranoff said the officer, Victoria Ajibade, left the college about 10 days later. In March 2018, Aranoff and her colleague filed a complaint alleging discrimination by the PFC with the EEOC. Aranoff said she was told to call to make an appointment to give their statements at the EEOC office. She said she left multiple phone messages with the officer assigned to their case, but he never returned the calls and she eventually gave up.

Ajibade did not respond to the Journal’s multiple requests for comment.  

Those being harassed at Kingsborough all cited Kingsborough Associate Professor of English Anthony Alessandrini, Associate Professor of Sociology Katia Perea and Associate Professor of Chemistry Patrick Lloyd, as being their chief antagonists within the PFC, none of whom responded to the Journal’s requests for comment.

Goldstein told the Journal that Alessandrini “is the head of the PFC, the puppet master, quiet and well spoken, and was a founder of (the anti-Israel) SPJ  (Students for Justice in Palestine)” at New York University when he was a student there.

Alessandrini, an ardent advocate of the Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) effort. wrote a recent essay on the website Jadaliyya titled, “After the Elections: Solidarities Old and New.” In it, Alessandrini writes about the BDS movement and links Jewish “whiteness” to white supremacy. 

Appropriating a 1984 essay by black American writer James Baldwin, in the essay, Alessandrini calls white Jews white supremacists, writing, “the struggle against Israeli apartheid needs to be articulated more clearly as a struggle against white supremacy, on a global scale.”

The Journal also reached out to religious Jewish professors on other CUNY campuses to see if they had experiences similar to those at Kingsborough.

David Gerwin, a professor of Social Studies Education at Queens College and chair of the faculty union there, wears a yarmulke. He said that in his 21 years there he has not experienced or heard about any ongoing anti-Semitic harassment.  

Sharon Flatto, professor of Judaic Studies at Brooklyn College and deputy director of its graduate program, is also an observant Jew. While there has been anti-Semitic behavior on her campus, as documented in the 2016 CUNY investigation, she said none of it has entered her classrooms, where she has many religious Muslim and Jewish students.

“It’s not so grim day-to-day,” Flatto said. “Everyone in my classes seems to get along. If you don’t mention it, it won’t explode,” she said, referring to Zionism or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “Once the issues are raised,” she acknowledged, “it can be combustible.”

Aranoff said administrators, faculty members and students at Kingsborough are expressing anti-Semitic attitudes more openly today than in years past. About a year ago she said a male, Muslim student first muttered and then audibly said something anti-Semitic. She asked him why, and he expressed resentment that ‘Jews have their own ambulances and schools.’ “I told him that Hatzalah (a privately funded Jewish community ambulance service) will pick anybody up when they call. The student said, ‘why should we pay for that?’ and I told him that there is no charge. A Christian student present pointed out that Catholics also have their own religious schools.

“I realized that there’s ignorance combined with pre-existing animosity and I never heard such things from students before,” Aranoff said. “There has also been a big drop in the number of Orthodox Jews on the faculty.”

Although she emphasized that she loves her students and teaching, Aranoff said, “Now I feel uncomfortable as a religious Jew. And I can’t put my finger on why.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that When Lax filed a complaint at Kingsborough about earlier anti-Semitic harassment of other faculty members, it was Stuart Suss who told him to “let it go.” 

Update: An earlier version of this article stated that Alessandrini had removed his essay comparing Jewish whiteness to white supremacy. He did not. The link to the essay is now in this story.

This article was updated on March 5 to include a statement from Brooke Goldstein of the Lawfare Project.


Debra Nussbaum Cohen is the Jewish giving maven at Inside Philanthropy and is a freelance journalist in New York City. She is the author of Celebrating Your New Jewish Daughter: Creating Jewish Ways to Welcome Baby Girls into the Covenant.

The Power of Community

It had all the makings of a joke. My husband and I—two Jews—participating in an interfaith Thanksgiving dinner in the social hall of Temple Shalom in Louisville. Seated at a table with a Catholic chaplain, a Hindu college professor, an Imam, and the Mayor of Louisville was us. We were talking about our plans for the upcoming holiday, sharing jokes and pictures on our phones, and doing what friends do when they get together to break bread. It was a moment of ordinary dinner and conversation that to an outsider, might have seemed unusual. To the interfaith community of Louisville, it was just participating in an annual event of goodwill.

Matt and I relocated to Louisville from Baltimore for him to take on the position of Director of Jewish Communal Relations Council (JCRC). As a Jewish professional in my own right, I understood what JCRC work was, but it was events such as this where I got to take a front row seat to the extremely important, but often misunderstood and overlooked work that Matt and his counterparts do every day. Much like doctors and clergy, JCRC directors are never “off the clock.” At any time, there could be a crisis in Israel. An act of anti-Semitism. A provocative statement that warrants a timely response. I have stood by and watched as phone calls and texts have gone answered at all hours. It is what JCRC directors do. For better or worse, they are here for their communities. And the relationships being built are incredibly important.

It was shortly after dinner in September 2015 when the phone call came. It was the week between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I could tell by the look on my husband’s face that the news was bad. And it was. A mosque about ten minutes away from us (for you LA readers, yes, everything in Louisville usually is about ten minutes away—sorry!) had been horribly vandalized. The congregants had arrived for their evening prayers to find their sacred space violated. The man who had called to tell him about it was Dr. Muhammad Babar, a Pakistani-American physician and communal leader who had become a friend to us both. Without a second thought, I said, “Let’s go.” And we did. Taking Rachel, our then nineteen-month-old daughter to the mosque. A small group of people awaited us. The media was on its way. But, we were the first non-Muslim members of the community to show up. When we got there, we were disgusted by what we saw. We offered our hugs and prayers for solidarity. The graffiti had sought to divide Jews and Muslims. It failed miserably.

While I chased our restless daughter around the parking lot, Matt embraced “Babar” and that evening the two stood arm in arm on the local news, a Muslim and a Jew, showing everyone, especially the vandals that their act had failed. A couple of days later, thousands from Louisville’s interfaith community came out to paint over the graffiti, thus further showing those that seek to divide us that they will not win. A letter from Muhammad Ali, Louisville’s most famous son, was read, a compassion bench was dedicated, and I was in tears. It made national news. What started out as something so hateful had turned into an act of love like nothing else.

These interfaith ties have only grown stronger over the years. Dr. Babar has become a true friend to us personally. If our interfaith dinner at a synagogue had the makings of a joke, what do you make of a Muslim physician driving to visit his snowbound Jewish friend with the flu? Just another day in our world.

On Sunday, October 28, 2018, barely 24 hours after the horrible massacre at Tree of Life in Pittsburgh, Temple Shalom was full yet again. This time, with a standing room only vigil to show solidarity with the Jewish community. This site was chosen for two reasons—the rabbi’s husband has family ties to Tree of Life and the synagogue itself sits just a mile from the Kroger where just a few days prior, two African American shoppers had been murdered in broad daylight by a white supremacist.

I had barely seen Matt over the past two days as this vigil was hastily put together and the turnout was massive. Seated across the aisle from me was Dr. Babar and his family. He gave me a hug as I cried. He mentioned that he had just come from another vigil at the Kroger. It is no mistake that Louisville is called “compassionate city.” It truly is. And the work that Matt and all of the interfaith leaders in this community is just one example.

JCRC work is the backbone of any Jewish community, often taken for granted, but very much necessary for survival. Their umbrella organization, Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. It is an incredible organization that does so much in 125+ communities all over the country. As there remains a lot of uncertainty in the world, one thing is for sure. JCRC is our voice for what matters most in our communities. And they need our support.

A while back, someone jokingly referred to me as the “First Lady” of the JCRC. At the time, I did not fully understand the implication. But, like any spouse of someone whose work is so valuable, I am proud. I am a professional in my own right, but I am immensely proud to be a part of a community where interfaith work is so important.

For more information about the incredible work of the JCPA and the JCRC in your area, please visit the website


Lisa Rothstein Goldberg is a social worker and Jewish educator, currently working at Ivy Tech Community College in Sellersburg, Indiana. She and her husband, Matt, JCRC Director in Louisville, live in Louisville with their two young daughters.

 

Actress Flips the Script in ‘Too Much Sun’

Diane Cary and Autumn Reeser play mother and daughter in Nicky Silver’s “Too Much Sun.” Photo by Adam Bucci

“I knew from the time I could speak that I wanted to have a career in the theater,” playwright Nicky Silver told the Journal via phone from his home in London. “I didn’t think of myself as a writer for a very long time after I was one. I thought of myself as someone who makes theater.”

Now, one of his plays, “Too Much Sun,” makes its West Coast debut at the Odyssey Theatre in West Los Angeles on March 1. The play, which originally ran off-Broadway in 2014, is about family, romance and connection, Silver said. 

In the play, actress Audrey Langham (Diane Cary) reaches her breaking point during a rehearsal. She walks out of the production and into the Cape Cod summer house of her married daughter. This sets off a chain of events, including a romance between Audrey and Winston, the widower next door. The mix of characters includes Audrey’s son-in-law, Winston’s son and Audrey’s agent’s assistant, Gil, who wanted to be a rabbi. 

Silver, 59, wrote the play following a request from actress Linda Lavin, who had performed in his 2012 production of “The Lyons.” Lavin asked Silver to write a role for her, so he created Audrey (which Lavin played in the New York production). 

“In  ‘The Lyons,’ one of the things that happens to [Lavin’s] character is her husband dies and she leaves her children to go off and have a new adventure in life,” Silver said. “[‘The Lyons’] is about the idea that if you cannot find a meaningful connection in your family, you ought to look for it somewhere else.”

“[In ‘Too Much Sun’], people who have been estranged for such a very long time find some way to come together.”
— Nicky Silver

Sitting down to write “Too Much Sun,” Silver said he wanted “to show the flip side. Here, people who have been estranged for such a very long time find some way to come together.”

As in many of Silver’s plays, some of his characters in “Too Much Sun” are Jewish, others are not. “Linda Lavin is Jewish, so I think of [Audrey] as Jewish,” Silver said. “However, the man who played her paramour from next door was so Waspy.”

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Silver described an upbringing that helped foster his writing skills. 

“My parents were both extremely funny in what is generally referred to as a Jewish sense of humor, but also in different ways,” he said. “My father was much more ironic and my mother was much more on-the-nose.

“I do think the cultural attachment Jews have to education and thus to language plays a part in why I became a writer,” he added. “My father particularly spoke very well and had a huge vocabulary. My mother had a definite Philadelphia accent, my father didn’t. My father was Ivy League-educated, my mother was not.”

Silver skipped his final year of high school and attended New York University at 17. He lived in New York for 40 years before moving to London last spring.

Of his move across the pond, Silver said, “I’d come to London for vacation once a year for many years and always loved it. A few years ago, I remember thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if life was always like this?’ Then I realized I have the power to make it so.”

As for his work, Silver said, “Theater is about language and pictures, so I think that is a combination of each of their strong suits. When I write a play, I have a very strong sense of the visual.” 

And when it comes to “Too Much Sun,” Silver said, despite some dark elements, the play is “gentle, forgiving and loving” with an ending that’s “fun and life-affirming.”


“Too Much Sun” runs through April 21 at the Odyssey Theatre. Visit odysseytheatre.com or call (310) 477-2055, ext. 2 for more information.

Bibi’s Disgraceful Act Tarnishes All Jews

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opens the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Gali Tibbon/Pool/File Photo

I have a tip for Israeli prime ministers: When not even the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the American Jewish Committee (AJC) can stomach your shtus, you have gone well off the rails.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, facing the possibility of political loss, has gambled — much like President Donald Trump — on currying the favor of the worst of his compatriots to help pull him through to victory. Netanyahu orchestrated the merger of a coalition partner, the pro-settlement Jewish Home party, with Otzma Yehudit, the racist, annexationist party of the Kahanist movement.

Netanyahu’s move to legitimize Otzma Yehudit was too much for AIPAC and the AJC, who tweeted their objections to the potential presence of what they called a “racist” and “reprehensible” party in the next Israeli government. This is an extraordinary development. Netanyahu has managed what J Street and other pro-peace groups could not do. He has extracted from AIPAC an unequivocal denunciation of an Israeli leader’s policies with regard to internal Israeli affairs and the government’s relationship with the Palestinian people.

Otzma Yehudit was formed in 2012 but has never won enough votes for a seat in the Knesset.  The party has been called Kahanist, due to its members’ adherence to the ideology of the late U.S.-born Rabbi Meir Kahane, who founded the Jewish Defense League in the U.S. in 1971 and served in the Israeli Knesset before being banned in 1988 on the grounds that he was a “racist” and “undemocratic.” Kahane was linked to violent attacks on Israeli Arabs and Palestinians before he was assassinated in a Manhattan hotel in 1990.

Otzma Yehudit leader Itamir Ben Gvir displays in his home a picture of Baruch Goldstein, the perpetrator of a mass murder of Palestinians at prayer in 1994; and his party advocates ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from Israel, which they consider to encompass not only the occupied territories of the West Bank but also the entire biblical territory from the Euphrates River (in Iraq and Syria) to the Mediterranean Sea. Their platform also calls for the denial of reproductive rights to women and, interestingly, “Jewish capitalism.”

By bringing a party that celebrates murder and ethnic cleansing into the political mainstream, Netanyahu has committed a disgrace. The state of Israel is linked with the Jewish people, so we have all been tarnished. Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5 teaches a crucial meaning to be found in the story of God’s creation of the first human in the Divine image: “For peace among the created ones [human beings] so that a person will never say to their companion, “My father is greater than your father.” In other words, racism is not a Jewish value.

Surely, this development will finally exhaust the idea that American Jews may not criticize Israel for fear of accusations of internalized anti-Semitism. We don’t criticize President Trump because we hate the U.S. but because we love our country and object to its degradation. Why shouldn’t the same view apply to Israel? At this point, we have no choice, because failure to object to current events is to collude in an insult to the entire Jewish people.

Finally, it is long past time for American Jews to quit conflating their Jewish identity with the State of Israel and parking it overseas. Judaism is not an “identity,” it is a way of life that each of us needs to embody in ourselves, in community and in relationship with other Jews, HaShem and with all of creation. Perhaps this shanda, this outrage, will provoke a sense of insult in American Jews whose relationship with Judaism has been on the casual side. Perhaps this will impel more of us to find out more about this heritage that we have been assuming will take care of itself, to learn about our ethic of mutual interhuman obligation and take up our part in it.


Rabbi Robin Podolsky teaches at Cal State Long Beach, writes for Shondaland and blogs .

Intersectionality: The New Caste System

Photo from Pexels

Making sense of today’s oddities might be easier if one could put them in the context of 19th-century romantic novels, which depict that era’s social mores of class and caste, and the tragedies that befall those who take them all too seriously.

The rigid social classes of the 1800s have been replaced with an equally rigid system of “intersectionality,” whereby a person’s power and privilege are determined by the amount of melanin in their skin. Those on the lower rungs of the new caste system must adhere to intersectional ideology in order to compensate for being born with the “wrong” skin color. Strict adherence results in high-society acceptance and a scar-free reputation. A person with high melanin tones is encouraged to opine about any subject — unless their views fall outside accepted dogma.

Jussie Smollett, the “Empire” actor, is accused of taking these new rules too seriously by falsely reporting himself as the victim of a racially motivated attack. Apparently, no one told him there are still lines that can’t be crossed. And really, why would he think there would be? He only took intersectionality to its logical conclusion.

Meanwhile, this new era’s tragicomedies are hitting Jews who are desperate to fit in. Despite the melanin in our skin, we are constantly being told that we are white, white, WHITE! As such, we must take our place in the back of the room, at a separate table, in constant repentance. We are told we have no say in anything, even — especially! — if the subject is anti-Semitism. We are encouraged to malign one another as viciously as possible. Malign a fellow Jew, gain a status point. 

“The whole point of suddenly making Jews white, white, WHITE is that we are then incapable of being targets of racism.”

It’s not surprising that such attitudes have contributed to soaring increases in reports of anti-Semitism. Yes, it is illegal in the intersectional guidebook to make a connection between the new caste system and anti-Semitism. After all, the whole point of suddenly making Jews white, white, WHITE is that we are then incapable of being targets of racism.

I know I will be duly punished for this column, both by my fellow Jews (eager to score a week’s worth of status points) and non-Jews (eager to be, well, anti-Semites). But it’s hard to look at the anti-Semitic incidents in New York City alone — reaching almost 50 in less than two months — and not come to this conclusion. 

Perhaps the saddest part of this intersectional nightmare is how it threatens to take us back to a less-perfect time. My son and his friends are living Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream. They gather at school or in Central Park, unaffected by one another’s skin color or ethnicity. The other day, as I watched them playing football with two boys from Mexico, I kept thinking of the film “The Perfect Game,” about a group of Mexican boys in the 1950s who struggled against racism when they came to the United States to play baseball. 

We have come so far since the ’50s, and yet intersectionalists are desperate to take us back. Why? I can only guess. But perhaps they need to revisit what real racism was so they can understand the horrific damage they’re doing right now.

Regardless, as Jews — because we’re Jews — we need to end this intersectional farce. As New York Times columnist Bari Weiss said during a recent speaking engagement at a Manhattan synagogue, Jews on the left no longer have the luxury of staying silent. Just as important, we need to regain pride in our heritage and our values that have brought so much light into the world. “We are used to being powerless,” Weiss said. “We now need to learn how to use our power — to create a Judaism of affirmation. This will light a fire in every Jewish soul.”

And if it doesn’t, Weiss warned with a reference to anti-Semite Jeremy Corbyn, who has been gaining power as the leader of Britain’s Labor Party: “A slow, insidious Corbynism is coming to America.”


Karen Lehrman Bloch is an author and cultural critic living in New York City.

The Trick of Anti-Semitism

Rep. Ilhan Omar. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

The State of Israel has done a few successful things since its establishment, but in one mission it certainly has failed. If the leaders of Zionism hoped that a Jewish state would eliminate anti-Semitism, they were wrong.

Of course, this was a mistake in good faith. These leaders assumed that anti-Semitism was closely linked to the situation of the Jews and found it hard to understand that anti-Semitism was more closely related to the situation of anti-Semites. When anti-Semites are angry, confused or seeking answers to complex questions, the Jews are a convenient explanation.

The State of Israel strongly rejects anti-Semitism, as do all Jews, but has never formulated a clear strategy for dealing with it. Perhaps this is because after the Holocaust and the establishment of the State, a relatively comfortable period of calm began in the anti-Semitic discourse — at least in Western countries. Perhaps it is for other reasons. Either way, it might be the right time to reformulate a response to anti-Semitism. And doing it in a way that Israel’s Jews and America’s Jews would accept won’t be easy.

Why do it now? Because there is an awakening of anti-Semitic discourse around the world, which has become difficult to ignore. We see it on the right and on the left, in Britain, Poland, the United States and France. And no — there is no reason to panic. Jews are not being persecuted. They still have a lot of support and firm protection from most governments. And yet, things that until recently could only have been whispered are now out in the open, uttered by a candidate for prime minister (United Kingdom), or a member of Congress (United States). Suddenly, Jews are having a silly debate about the exact rules a person has to follow if he or she wants to be a non-anti-Semitic critic of the Jews. 

You are familiar with many features of this debate: In what words can Israel be criticized without the criticism becoming anti-Semitism? Is it necessarily anti-Semitic to suggest that support for Israel in Congress is bought with Jewish money? Should the Jews conduct a civil dialogue with public figures who seem to toy with anti-Semitic tendencies? Should the Jews consider forming certain specific alliances with anti-Semites if this serves the greater purpose of securing the Jews? 

Obviously, different circumstances beget different answers to these questions from different Jews. Some American Jews complain when Israel becomes cozy with Hungary’s Victor Orban — but still want to have fruitful relations with Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). Some Israelis are puzzled by the tendency of Americans to forgive Omar — but are ready to suppress what they know about Orban. American Jews feel that Israel is throwing them under the bus by forging close ties with President Donald Trump’s administration. Israeli Jews feel that American Jews are ready to throw Israel under the bus, as long as the hateful critics of Jewishness agree to keep their criticism focused on the bad Jews of Israel and spare the good Jews of America.

What can Israel offer in such context? Its main offer is a safe haven against anti-Semitism. This is a generous offer that should not be taken lightly. And yet it does not go beyond the familiar pattern of Zionism: If we distance the Jews from the rest of humanity and gather them together, anti-Semitism will become redundant. Of course, there is a problem with this offer, because it’s already clear that anti-Semitism does not follow this script. In other words, even if all Jews live in Israel, it is doubtful that anti-Semitism will come to an end. 

“Anti-Semitism is a serious matter. Many generations of Jews can testify to this. So whatever we do, we should not fall into the end-of-history trap.

Israel’s Zionism is not naïve. So, the country responds to concerns about anti-Semitism with contemporary realism. True, there will be anti-Semitism but Jews will be protected. The Israel Defense Forces will protect them. That is, if they all gather here. And of course, that may be true. They will be protected as long as Israel is strong enough to withstand attacks. 

Is there a way for Israel and the Jews to go beyond safe haven (Israel) and condemnation (American Jews)? There is no easy answer to such a question, except that maybe the time has come to reconsider the options. We can assume that anti-Semitism is also our fault, and take the appropriate steps; we can prepare mobile homes for Jewish refugees who would soon be fleeing to Israel; we can form groups of assassins and kill anyone suspected of anti-Semitism (without being caught); we can provide economic assistance to organizations working against anti-Semitism in key countries; we can launch a campaign to change the image of the Jews. And still, it is not clear that any of these options, or a combination of them all, will be of much help. So, we also have the option of doing nothing for now. But even doing nothing is better as a conscious decision, and not as one born out of laziness.

Anti-Semitism is a serious matter. Many generations of Jews can testify to this. So whatever we do, we should not fall into the end-of-history trap. We shouldn’t assume that the establishment of the State of Israel, or the great Jewish renaissance in America, nullified the relevance of anti-Semitism. We should remember that this is a dangerous and cunning enemy. And one of its nastiest tricks is to turn the Jews against one another.  


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

Why I’m Angry About Trump’s Speech

President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 5, 2019. REUTERS/Jim Young

The president of the United States laced this year’s State of the Union with references to anti-Semitism. He invited a Holocaust survivor of Dachau and an American World War II veteran who liberated the camp to the address. He acknowledged last year’s horrific massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue, honoring a survivor and a first responder who was injured terribly in the attack. Good, right? Then why are so many Jews so very, very angry?

Because, in the context of this speech, to think about the Holocaust is to think about the St. Louis, the ship transporting hundreds of Jewish refugees in 1939, turned away from the United States and sent back to Europe, where many passengers eventually died in the Holocaust. It is to remember that Jewish refugees were slandered as invaders and cultural polluters by the politicians whose slogan was “America First.”

So when President Donald Trump pairs invocations of the Holocaust with calls to militarize our southern border against refugees who are fleeing horrendous violence in their own countries — the social breakdown of which is attributable directly to the lingering effects of American intervention on behalf of brutal dictatorships — Jews get angry. Because the same calumnies that Trump is aiming at immigrants of color were aimed at us.

Because, to honor the courage of Judah Samet, who survived the Holocaust and the Tree of Life massacre is to remember why that massacre was perpetrated. The suspected killer of 11 Jews in Pittsburgh made it clear in writing that he was especially incensed at HIAS, the Jewish agency that assists them, writing, “It’s the filthy EVIL Jews. Bringing the (sic) Filthy EVIL Muslims into the country!! Stop the kikes then Worry About the Muslims!” Yes, this killer was angry at Trump for not being racist enough — but woven throughout his rants are tropes derived from Trump.

As Pittsburgh’s Bend the Arc Moral Minyan put it, “We will not let you use the Holocaust, our most painful history, to distract us from the real dangers at hand — the dangers you yourself have nurtured with your racism and xenophobia …. There are refugees seeking safety in America today, just as our Jewish parents and grandparents did during the Holocaust, yet once again America is calling them dangerous .… There are internment camps at our southern border and thousands of children separated from their parents by your administration.”

Trump’s pre-emptive deployment of outrages visited on the Jewish people only served, for many of us, to bring into sharp focus the great danger that his movement represents. We have seen what happens when demagogues whose actual policies favor corporate wealth and lead to an ever-greater gap between rich and poor evoke the “working class” in order to divert the anger of struggling workers away from the wealthiest and aim it at the most vulnerable: at a racial and religious other.

As Stacey Abrams observed genuinely working class-friendly policies not only address such issues as health care, student loan debt and wages that don’t rise with the cost of living (not a mention in the president’s speech), they also speak to the different histories and cultures within the working class. They address embedded and systemic racial and gendered and religious inequality. They certainly do not seek to pit one group of workers against another.

In response to the SOTU, Abrams addressed the precariousness of all working people’s lives in the United States today and managed to do that while honoring the particular struggles of people who have to persevere against additional obstacles because of who they are. The contrast between those speeches and Trump’s performance demonstrates why “populism” is such a useless descriptor.

Trump has indulged in a coy flirtation with neo-fascism throughout his presidency. This is the person who was able to discern “fine people on both sides” of a clash between neo-Nazis and their opponents; who did not use the State of the Union address to issue a firm denunciation of white nationalism. Bend the Arc is right. Keep our people out of your mouth.


Rabbi Robin Podolsky teaches at Cal State Long Beach, writes for Shondaland. She serves as a Jewish Community Engagement Fellow at J Street. 

Lara Kollab and the Disease of Anti-Semitism

Lara Kollab, reportedly has made references on social media to “Jewish dogs,” has written in Arabic, “Allah will take the Jews,” and tweeted, “ill (sic) purposely give all the yahood the wrong meds …” Photo from Facebook.

Canary Mission, a website that highlights hateful remarks by anti-Israel students and professors, recently exposed anti-Semitic statements by Lara Kollab, who was, until September, a first-year resident at Cleveland Clinic until the hospital fired her.

A woman in her 20s, Kollab reportedly has made references on social media to “Jewish dogs,” has written in Arabic, “Allah will take the Jews,” and tweeted, “ill (sic) purposely give all the yahood the wrong meds …”

Kollab perfectly represents the difference between intelligence and wisdom. Clearly, she was smart enough to have graduated from medical school, but she is woefully unwise on many levels — least of all for overlooking (or not caring) that anyone — Jew or Arab — could Google the word “yahood” and discover what it means. This young woman may give new meaning to the word “putz.”

As a Jew, I’m also offended by her fantastic hypocrisy, given that she graduated from Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine, whose schools around the country were founded on Jewish principles. Many of Kollab’s professors at the campus in upstate New York are Jews. Even Touro’s mission statement is “to educate, perpetuate and enrich the historic Jewish tradition of tolerance and dignity.” 

Tolerance and dignity. Yeah, sure. Exactly the two principles that Kollab stands for. 

In the unlikely event that she gains admittance to another internship program, I wonder how she would make amends and win the trust of Jewish patients. Personally, I visit physicians who never would try to poison me. Not knowingly, at least, although I’m sure some of them have entertained the thought after having met me. 

Kollab recently issued an apology for the “offensive and hurtful language contained in those posts,” adding that as an adolescent, she annually visited “Israel and the Palestine Territories” and “became incensed at the suffering of the Palestinians under the Israeli occupation.” 

What a short-sighted and half-hearted apology — one which I unequivocally reject. Her post never mentions the term “anti-Semitism,” nor does it even espouse one statement that would humanize Jews, given that she previously referred to Jews as “dogs.” In fact, her apology doesn’t include a single positive word about Jews. It does, however, put our mind to ease over Kollab’s moral clarity on Israel: “The injustice and brutality of the occupation continues to concern me, and I believe every champion of human rights owes it to humanity to work toward a just and peaceful resolution of this crisis,” Kollab writes.
When all other explanations fail, you can always count on an anti-Semite to extol that he or she is simply a concerned anti-Zionist.
Perhaps Kollab would also like to explain why her concern over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict prompted her to downplay the Holocaust on social media. 

What will Kollab do now? If she’s interested, I can refer her to a few hospitals in lovely, spacious Tehran. She shouldn’t have too many Jewish patients there, given that only 5,000 of them remain in the country, compared with 100,000 Jews who lived there before the revolution just 40 years ago. 

But she must promise that she won’t work at Dr. Sapir Hospital and Charity Center in Tehran, which was founded by Jews and is completely unbiased regarding religion and ethnicity when treating its patients’ injuries and ailments. The hospital wouldn’t take her kind, although she could certainly learn a thing or two from its mission. In fact, she could have learned a thing or two from Touro’s mission.

As for me, I’ll occasionally check my physicians’ social media activity from now on, although most of my doctors are local Persian Jews, and the majority of controversies surrounding them are botched rhinoplasties.

And when my time does come, I’ll go as God intended, having succumbed to the world’s first recorded case of vitamin C overdose after using the internet to misdiagnose my routine sinus infection as the Black Plague. 

As Kollab now knows, the internet has a way of lending you a hand in destroying yourself.


Tabby Refael is a Los Angeles-based writer.

Why Can’t Some Jews Say Thank You?

President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 5, 2019. REUTERS/Jim Young

You would think that a Jewish group would be happy to hear the leader of the free world stand up during his State of the Union address and say things like:

“We must never ignore the vile poison of anti-Semitism, or those who spread its venomous creed. With one voice, we must confront this hatred anywhere and everywhere it occurs.”

And remind the world that just months ago, “11 Jewish-Americans were viciously murdered in an anti-Semitic attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh,” and welcome Pittsburgh survivor Judah Samet, who “arrived at the synagogue as the massacre began.”

“But not only did Judah narrowly escape death last fall,” the president added, “more than seven decades ago, he narrowly survived the Nazi concentration camps.”

The president went from anti-Semitism to the Pittsburgh tragedy to the Holocaust:

“Judah says he can still remember the exact moment, nearly 75 years ago, after 10 months in a concentration camp, when he and his family were put on a train, and told they were going to another camp. Suddenly the train screeched to a halt. A soldier appeared. Judah’s family braced for the worst. Then, his father cried out with joy, ‘it’s the Americans.’”

The president wasn’t done with the Jews:

“A second Holocaust survivor who is here tonight, Joshua Kaufman, was a prisoner at Dachau. He remembers watching through a hole in the wall of a cattle car as American soldiers rolled in with tanks. ‘To me,’ Joshua recalls, ‘the American soldiers were proof that God exists, and they came down from the sky. They came down from heaven.’”

As I was hearing the president go on about the Jews, I was almost embarrassed at all the attention. Will others be resentful or envious? But the president still wasn’t done:

“I began this evening by honoring three soldiers who fought on D-Day in the Second World War. One of them was Herman Zeitchik. But there is more to Herman’s story. A year after he stormed the beaches of Normandy, Herman was one of those American soldiers who helped liberate Dachau.

“He was one of the Americans who helped rescue Joshua from that hell on Earth. Almost 75 years later, Herman and Joshua are both together in the gallery tonight — seated side-by-side, here in the home of American freedom. Herman and Joshua, your presence this evening is very much appreciated. Thank you very much.”

So, why am I quoting so extensively from the Jewish section of the speech? Because right after the speech, I received this statement from the Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA) in response to the State of the Union Address:

“At a time when our country is in need of unity and leadership, President Trump delivered a divisive message characterized by fear and empty words.

Tonight was a missed opportunity for the president to lead and unify the country after a painful period of obstruction and a 35-day government shutdown. There is no onslaught of immigrants or security crisis on our southern border, and the U.S. military must not be used for political purposes. We reject the president’s ongoing obfuscation of the truth.

Trump’s continued insistence on an unnecessary border wall demonstrates that he is out of step with a bipartisan consensus in Congress, the will of the American people, and our core national security interests. Actions speak louder than words, and President Trump’s actions have been completely inconsistent with the best interests of our country and our values.

 In response to the president’s call for unity, we are unified in support of political change that will restore moral leadership and credibility to the White House, and our mission is more important now than ever before.”

Fair enough. Let’s grant, for the sake of discussion, that everything in this statement is true and justified. But why not one word of recognition of the president’s passionate mention of Jewish suffering and the need to fight the disease of Jew hatred? I understand Trump hatred. I’m as aware as anyone about his many flaws.

But does that mean a Jewish group cannot even show a tiny little bissel of gratitude when the president says things that are good for the Jews?

Has extreme partisanship gone that extreme?

L.A. Holocaust Survivor Acknowledged at SOTU

Joshua Kaufman, a Holocaust survivor living in Los Angeles, was among the guests at the State of the Union on Feb. 5.

During the Tuesday evening address, President Donald Trump singled out Kaufman for honorable mention.

In a 2016 story in the Journal, reporter Orit Arfa, who went to local Orthodox school, YULA, with Kaufman’s daughters, writes about spending Shabbat with Kaufman, who was born in Hungary. She remembered him from ninth grade when they ran into each other in Berlin. 

“He’s hard to forget – a tall, quiet yet imposing, strong presence,” Arfa writes. “Some [L.A.] locals may have seen his well-known plumbing truck cruising the streets of LA. At 88, he still works.”

At that time, Kaufman was traveling to Berlin to testify against a Nazi war criminal, though he was ultimately denied the opportunity to do so.

Kaufman is a regular presence in the Jewish community in Los Angeles, whether at the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day event at Pan Pacific Park, or even at shul. Last year, Kaufman attended High Holy Day services at Pico Shul, an Orthodox congregation in Pico-Robertson led by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein and his wife, Rebbetzin Rachel Bookstein. He spoke about his reluctance to attend services and his ambivalent relationship with God, due to his experiences in the Shoah. He said, however, he was heartened to see Jews coming together to pray on the High Holy Days.

The spotlighting of Holocaust survivor Kaufman was one of several key moments pertaining to the Jewish community during Trump’s speech at the House of Representatives chamber at the Capitol Building.

Another guest of the evening was Judah Samet, a member of the Pittsburgh-based Tree of Life synagogue that was targeted in a deadly shooting last October. The speech coincided with Samet’s 81st birthday, and after Trump announced that it was Samet’s birthday, the crowd sang “Happy Birthday” to Samet, who is also a Holocaust survivor.

Trump explained that 75 years ago, Samet spent 10 months in a concentration camp; an American soldier rescued Samet and his family from the Holocaust.

Regarding to the deadly shooting at Tree of Life, another guest of the President at the address was Pittsburgh police officer Timothy Matson, who was one of a number of police officers wounded during the synagogue attack while trying to take down the shooter, Robert Bowers.

Speaking about foreign policy, Trump reiterated his commitment to the U.S.-relationship with Israel by highlighting his relocation of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

He also spoke about his commitment to pushing back against Iran, which he described as a genocidal regime committed to targeting the Jewish people.

Ocasio-Cortez Pledges to Examine MP Corbyn’s Anti-Semitic Allegations

Freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)

Freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) ensured her constituents Feb. 3 that she will get to the bottom of British MP Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-Semitic allegations after speaking with him on the phone.

Both Ocasio-Cortez and Corbyn shared that a conversation took place via Twitter.

“Great to speak to @AOC on the phone this evening and hear first hand how she’s challenging the status quo,” Corbyn wrote Feb. 3. “Let’s build a movement across borders to take on the billionaires, polluters and migrant baiters, and support a happier, freer and cleaner planet.”

Ocasio-Cortez responded saying it was an “honor to share such a lovely and wide-reaching conversation with you, @jeremycorbyn!”

Many members of the Jewish community replied to the tweet.

Tablet Magazine senior writer Yair Rosenberg shared several tweets regarding Corbyn’s anti-Semitic statements.

@aoc might want to have her staff screen her calls more carefully,” he wrote.

Christina Sommers, author of “War Against Boys” also warned Ocasio-Cortez about the call and what it means for the Democratic party.

“Dear Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, Mr. Corbyn is anti-Semitic.  You do not want to do to the Democratic Party what @lsarsour & @TamikaDMallory did to the #WomensMarch.”

Brooklyn based writer, Elad Nehorai, replied to Ocasio-Cortez’ tweet also in defense of the Jews.

“I’m a huge huge fan of yours. I hope you’ll take a look at the amount of Jews trying to call attention to Corbyn’s long, documented history of anti-Semitism. The left’s blind spot in this regard can still be fixed. But we need leaders like yourself to listen.”

The Bronx and Queens congresswoman thanked Nehorai and said, “We cannot + will not move forward without deep fellowship and leadership with the Jewish community.”

She also told him she’d have her team reach out.

“Dialogue, people. It’s possible,” Nehorai wrote in a follow-up.

In the past, Ocasio-Cortez came under fire for using the Pittsburgh shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in a Get Out the Vote campaign, and telling PBS’ Margaret Hoover that she was “not an expert on Palestine.”  

Finding Jewish, Bedouin Values in the Same Camp

On the road from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea, the traveler can glimpse an evocative sight in a wadi that runs down from the Judean hills — flocks of sheep and herds of goats, the men and women who tend them, and the black tents where they shelter from the desert sun. These are the Bedouins, citizens of modern Israel who carry cellphones in their back pockets but whose existence appears fixed in biblical antiquity, a sight that would have been familiar to the patriarchs and matriarchs.

And, in fact, we are not wrong to think so, according to Clinton Bailey, author of “Bedouin Culture in the Bible” (Yale University Press), a wholly fascinating account of how the folkways of the Bedouin illuminate and explain what we find in the Bible and what we regard as the traditions and practices of the Jewish people.

“Although I am not a professional Biblicist, but rather a curious Bible reader who hoped to find … similarities between Bedouin life and events in what is called the Hebrew Bible, I used the forty-five years (1967-2012) that I had spent often living among Bedouin in the Sinai and Negev deserts — studying, witnessing, and taking part in their lives — to suggest new insights that might elucidate our traditional understanding of much in the biblical text,” explains Bailey, whose stated aspiration is to prove that the nomadic ideal that we find in the Bible does not consist merely of “mere fabrications constructed anciently by the Bible’s authors, as several modern Biblicists maintain,” but reflects “a culture that existed at the time the biblical texts were composed.”

Bailey not only is a scholar of Bedouin history and culture, but is also an advocate for the civil rights Bedouins enjoy under Israeli law. For his work, he was honored with the Emil Grunzweig Human Rights Award, named after a Jewish activist in the Peace Now movement who was martyred when a hand grenade was thrown into a 1983 peace rally in Jerusalem. Born in Buffalo, N.Y., Bailey made aliyah, settled in Sde Boker (where he was befriended by David Ben Gurion), and later served as an officer in the Israel Defense Forces and as an adviser to the Israeli Defense Ministry on Arab affairs.

Bailey is careful to distinguish between the Bedouins of the here and now, and the earlier generations who were still living what he calls a “pre-modern” life as late as the mid-20th century. “I first met them in the mid-1960s when camels and donkeys were still their only means of mobility, bread and milk products were their main daily diet, body-length gowns were the type of garment worn by both men and women, and their few, simple household accessories were regularly made at home,” he writes. “Hence, their culture, deriving mainly from their natural environment rather than from the cultures of others, appeared to me as an urtext of many references I found in the Bible.”

“Perhaps the most familiar custom of the Bedouin is the practice of hospitality toward the stranger. …The same iron rule of hospitality can be found repeatedly in the Bible, where it is elevated to a theological proposition.”

The highest values in Bedouin culture, as Bailey shows us, are simple and primal — water and pasturage above all, or “the trough and the grassy valley,” according to their turn of phrase.  So, too, does the Torah celebrate, again and again, the miraculous discovery of water: “God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water,” as Genesis says of Hagar. And when Jacob’s sons encounter Pharaoh, they identify themselves as “people of livestock from youth to the present, we and our fathers.”  

Even the butchering practices of the Bedouin help us to understand the stories we find in the Bible.  Their flocks and herds are primarily female animals, which can continue to provide new offspring, and male animals are slaughtered young to provide meat.  The same practice is written between the lines in the Bible: “When angels in the guise of guests visited Abraham at Hebron to announce that Sarah, his wife, would bear a son, he slaughtered a male — a calf — for their lunch,” Bailey points out. And the same practice is reflected in one of the lines of scripture from which the laws of kashrut are derived: “[T]he injunction against eating milk with meat, expressed through the example of ‘boiling a kid in the milk of its mother,’ refers to the butchered kid as a male, literally present in the masculine as ‘his mother.’ ”

The similarities start with the mundane details of daily life and ascend to the realm of religious practice. The unleavened bread the Israelites make on their way out of Egypt, for example, strongly resembles the flat bread of the Bedouin called raquiq. Both the Bedouins and the Israelites as depicted in the Bible strongly favor the practice of living in tents, and not only because nomads must be able to move their shelters from place to place as they search for water and pasturage in the wilderness. The Feast of Unleavened Bread, Bailey proposes, “stems from the abiding nomadic attitude toward bread as a cultural determinant” — and that attitude is preserved in the Bedouin culture, which views “the privations that their desert way of life entailed” as a “badge of honor” and “a symbol of the difference from, and superiority over, settled people, whom they have traditionally despised.”

Even the use of flint as a cutting tool, which features prominently in the first recorded circumcision as we find it in the Bible, persisted into the 20th century among the Bedouin. Bailey tells the story of a Bedouin woman who gave birth alone when she went into labor while heading for encampment. “I asked her how she had cut the umbilical cord,” Bailey recalls, “to which she replied matter-of-factly, ‘I saw a piece of flint stone, picked it up, and cut the cord.’ ” And he points out that Zipporah is depicted in the Book of Exodus as performing an emergency circumcision using exactly the same instrument.

Perhaps the most familiar custom of the Bedouin is the practice of hospitality toward the stranger. For the Bedouin, it is “essential to survival … in the desert,” because desert travelers — “on their way to a market, on a camel raid, on a distant visit, in search of camels pillaged or gone astray, in flight from revenge or enemies, or in search of fresh pasture” — are guaranteed “unconditional access to the tents of others.”  The same iron rule of hospitality can be found repeatedly in the Bible, where it is elevated to a theological proposition. Only because Abraham knows and honors the Bedouin principle of hospitality, for example, does he welcome the three mysterious strangers who, as it turns out, are emissaries of God. 

The reader is invited to conclude that Jewish history, theology and religious observance owe a debt of honor to the Bedouins, and surely Bailey hopes that we will.


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

Does the Media Have a Problem With Religion?

As a religious Jew, I constantly feel attacked by the media. All too often, their stories come across as anti-religion, choosing the side of the nonreligious and attempting to make believers in God look like idiots and bigots.

Take, for example, the appallingly unfair perception of the Covington (Ky.) Catholic High School boys who were filmed wearing Make America Great Again caps at the March for Life rally on Jan. 18 in Washington, D.C. Because many of the kids appeared to be Catholic (and white, and anti-abortion, and Trump supporters, and male), the media jumped on their backs, portraying them as privileged racists. A few days later, it surfaced that the video had been heavily edited, that a group of African-Americans identifying itself as Hebrew Israelites had provoked the boys, and that the boys, predominantly a boy identified in media reports as Nick Sandmann, weren’t mocking or trying to intimidate a Native American and Vietnam War-era veteran identified as Nathan Phillips, who appears in the video beating a small drum. (The anti-abortion rally coincided with an Indigenous Peoples March at the Lincoln Memorial.)

A few days earlier, the media were in an uproar over the news that Vice President Mike Pence’s wife was going to work at an “anti-gay school.” This school is Christian. By that logic, every religious school that follows biblical principles should be labeled as “anti-gay.” 

I have been scorned because I am religious. I wrote an article about my conversion to Judaism for a now-defunct website geared toward women called xoJane. I got hundreds of comments from seemingly secular people who told me I’d converted just to be with my husband, that my outfit in the photo was ugly and that I was brainwashed. 

“Whether someone believes in God or not shouldn’t be an invitation to attack them.”

My husband was approached by a major literary agent who heard him on the radio program “This American Life” but promptly dropped him after she assumed he would write about being pro-God. I often submit pro-God essays to publications, but only the religious Jewish media outlets want to publish them. I know that I’m a talented writer and my husband is an amazing comedian. But we don’t speak up because people might dismiss us as being bitter and not talented enough to “make it.” 

Movies and books about individuals who left Judaism often are released and receive worldwide attention and acclaim. It doesn’t matter that many of these people came from abusive homes or that they’re mentally ill. The media seem to eat up any anti-Jewish news. 

The attacks on believers in God are contrary to how pro-God our country is. U.S. demographics reveal more than 70 percent of Americans consider themselves Christians; 80 percent believe in God.  

I was a devoted atheist for 10 years, and I willingly became an Orthodox Jew. It was not because I was in love with a Jewish man or was forced into it. It’s because I believed the Torah was the ultimate truth and it could enhance my life in ways I never could have imagined. Today, when I think about the path my life could have taken, I’m thankful to God that I found him and Judaism. It has made me a better person, one who welcomes others into her home, gives to charity, volunteers her time, loves her husband, cares for her animals, eats ethically and does not judge others for their beliefs. Most of the religious people I know are the same. They’re some of the kindest, most wonderful people I’ve met, and they will go out of their way to do good. Why are the media portraying us differently?  

I hope there comes a day when religious people can feel free to join whatever party they choose and read the mainstream media without feeling disdained or mocked, at best, and attacked, at worst. We are living in radicalized times, when people are increasingly polarized. Whether someone believes in God or not shouldn’t be an invitation to attack them. 

All human beings have value, no matter what their beliefs (or lack of beliefs) are, and shouldn’t be despised for attempting to live their lives in the best way possible and to pursue happiness. It’s not the American way.

Sarsour Faces Criticism for Not Mentioning Jews in Holocaust Statement

Activist Linda Sarsour speaks during a Women For Syria gathering at Union Square in New York City on April 13. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Women’s March co-leader Linda Sarsour has been criticized for not mentioning Jews in her Holocaust Remembrance statement.

Myriad Twitter users have pointed out that in 2017, Sarsour criticized the Trump administration for not mentioning Jews in their Holocaust statement at the time.

“How do you have a Remembrance Day for the holocaust and not mention Jews?!” Sarsour tweeted. “Absolutely outrageous. Definition of anti-semitism.”

On Sunday, Sarsour wrote on Facebook, “May the memories of those who perished inspire us to love and protect one another. May we never forget history so that we may never repeat it. May their stories instill a sense of commitment and determination in our movements and communities to never leave anyone behind. May they rest in an eternal peace knowing that we will fight for each other no matter the consequences. #HolocaustRemembranceDay”

Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said in a statement sent to the Journal, “Linda Sarsour’s omission of Jews in her statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, where one third of world Jewry was murdered, is an ever greater omission than for a speaker not to mention women at the Women’s March.”

Sarsour and the other national Women’s March leaders have been plagued by accusations of anti-Semitism due to their warmth toward Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Sarsour issued a statement addressing anti-Semitism in November, although it was heavily criticized for failing to explicitly condemn anti-Semitism.

H/T: Washington Free Beacon

Holocaust Survivor, Tefillin Reunited

Al Kleiner, shown with his wife, Regina, wears the long-lost tefillin set.

It’s not uncommon to hear miraculous reunion stories involving Holocaust survivors. They usually revolve around finding long-lost family members or friends. However, the story of 91-year-old Polish Holocaust survivor Al Kleiner being reunited with the tefillin set he had in his youth is just as miraculous. 

After the war, the then 16-year-old Kleiner and his parents spent almost five years in a displaced persons camp in Germany. His father passed away in 1948; the next year, Kleiner and his mother made their way to Los Angeles. However, Kleiner’s tefillin set took a longer and more circuitous route, via Budzanow, Poland, and then to Tel Aviv, before finally making its way to Los Angeles and to Kleiner himself last year.

The tefillin set was discovered in May 2018 in a cupboard in the Tel Aviv home of Kleiner’s first cousin, Gershon Leisner, by Leisner’s 62-year-old daughter, Uvi. “They pulled out this burgundy-colored, small velvet pouch, eaten over the years with small insect holes, showing its fragility and its age,” Kleiner’s daughter Janet Rosenblatt told the Journal via phone from her home in Los Angeles. “Inside was a child’s tefillin set, a child’s tzitzit, and a small Torah.”

Uvi thought the items belonged to her late father and kept them. But when she showed the bag to her younger sister, her sister immediately noticed the case was hand-embroidered with the word “Zion” in Hebrew on one side and the initials “BK” on the other. She realized the initials on the tefillin bag were those of Al Kleiner’s older brother, Benuman. 

“Finding this personal artifact while my father is still alive is just a miracle.” — Janet Rosenblatt

“The question was,” Rosenblatt said, “how did the case from Budzanow end up in Israel?” Rosenblatt knew that Kleiner and his parents survived the Holocaust hidden by their righteous Christian neighbors, the Witomskis. While Kleiner’s older brothers Benuman and Meyer were killed at the beginning of the war, Kleiner and his parents managed to survive by living in a hole in their neighbors’ field from the end of July 1943 until March 1944, when Poland was liberated by the Soviets. 

“I remember that my grandmother said that [her parents] gave everything that was left to this Christian family,” Rosenblatt said. In 1942, the Kleiners were sent to a camp but managed to escape in 1943. They were hidden by two non-Jewish families. However, fearing reprisals, both families forced the Kleiners to leave, and the Kleiners then approached the Witomskis. The Witomskis asked a priest what to do. He told them to dig a hole in a field and bring the family food every few days. 

At some point after the war, the Leisners returned to Poland to see if anything was left of their home. Rosenblatt believes that’s when they recovered the tefillin bag. When Rosenblatt’s daughter and son-in-law visited Israel last June, they were finally able to bring the bag back to Los Angeles.  

“We looked at it with tears in our eyes and saw all this bag had gone through, how it survived and [was] returned to my father,” Rosenblatt said. “My father unfortunately has Alzheimer’s disease, so he did not really recognize it.”

However, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur last year, Rosenblatt invited the family rabbi, Rabbi Chaim Mentz of Chabad of Bel Air, to come to the house, along with the rest of her family, to see the long-lost treasure. “The miracle is, when Rabbi Mentz wrapped the tefillin around my father, my father continued to wrap it himself, like his memory came back,” Rosenblatt said.

Rosenblatt plans to donate the bag to either the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. or the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust after her three grandsons’ bar mitzvahs. 

“Finding this personal artifact while my father is still alive is just a miracle to me,” Rosenblatt said. “It survived the terror of the Holocaust. That it made its way from Budzanow, Poland, in its harshest times to our great holy land of Israel, and was then returned to my father’s hands in Los Angeles, can only be a miracle.” n

This Jewish Female-Owned Brand Inspires Freedom of Expression in Unique Way

May Katz has made it her mission to spread the gospel of love and positivity one T-shirt at a time.

As a graphic designer, she worked relentlessly on functional design for client logos, brochures and websites. But, she wanted to create something that would uplift, unify, and inspire.

She envisioned a life creating emotional design that would enable people to fully express their authentically pure and vulnerable selves by shining a light on the plethora of layers that make each of us uniquely special.

And so, WearBU was born to offer graphic T-shirts that help people speak their truth, show how they feel, and say who they are in an enriching way.  

I interviewed Katz (CEO of WearBU) to get the scoop on her journey through creating the graphic T-shirt brand.  

Jewish Journal: What compelled you to create WearBU?

May Katz: I was motivated to create design that has the power to inspire and touch people to their deepest core. Specifically, I gravitated towards design that captures emotion and will allow people to express themselves openly. What better way to do that than to design the clothes we wear?

I decided to start with graphic T-shirts but more will be added shortly, including bags, accessories, etc. I wanted to help people use their most valuable advertisement space, which is the clothes they wear, and to express their beliefs (no matter what they are as long as they are not offensive), their emotions, their relationships, and themselves in a valuable and positive way. There is so much negativity going on in this world nowadays so if designs with phrases like “let all that you do be done in love, “walk in love,” and “love never fails” help people spread the love, then I will feel like we succeeded.

JJ:  Explain the meaning and inspiration behind the name WearBU?

Katz: BU stands for Be Unique. One of our followers wrote to us on Instagram a few days ago and she really captured the true inspiration behind the brand. The follower said, “They are a company that stands for being unique. Being yourself. That’s why they are called Wear BU. Each one of you should own who you are because you are different and that’s what makes you beautiful! It would be awfully boring if we were all the same. Let people see the real, imperfect, flawed, quirky, weird, beautiful, and magical person that you are.”

Every shirt is a vivid journey, a captured experience of self-love and self-expression bottled and preserved in a cotton tee with designs separated into two main categories – Faith and Inspiration. The Bible inspires many of my designs. As a Jewish woman living in the center of the Bible Belt (Dallas, TX), I’m inspired by the Old and New Testament alike. I use a lot of Hebrew in many of my designs as a form of expression. All I want is to give people the opportunity to be proud by wearing their statement and sharing it with the world around them.

JJ: Describe your experience as the CEO of WearBU.  

Katz: I never really considered myself to be a CEO of a company. I guess I am in a way. Owning and managing a business as a woman, a mother, and a wife is not an easy task to say the least. WearBU is there. So are my husband and my girls. WearBU is actually another child for me. I view it as my baby, always waking me up at nights. No matter the time, I constantly feel like I have to go check up on it and see how it’s doing. It is more than a business to me. It is a huge piece of me. I was working in several businesses in the past. It was work nothing more and nothing less. With WearBU I’m blushing with every like on Facebook. Seeing a person that I do not know wearing my design on the street is like winning a Noble Prize for me. It means significantly more than any job I worked at and any degree I’ve earned.

I was born in Israel and lived there for many years. Israel is part of who I am even after living in the United States for many years. The challenges of living in such a small and multicultural country stays with me. The religious and cultural dilemmas are part of my identity. WearBU was established to spread a message. A message of love and co-existence. If my designs can make a tiny difference in this world, it will be worth it.

JJ: What role does your family play in launching WearBU?

Katz: My family is the center of my life. I have a loving husband and two adorable girls. I believe that family is the most important thing in life and should be cherished and expressed. My designs focus exactly on that our relationship with each other, with God, and with the world in a positive way. The goal is to show how powerful our love, sense of belonging, and relationships can be in spreading a joyful and optimistic future.

JJ: What makes WearBU different from other faith based T-shirt lines?

Katz: That’s actually a good question. At our core, we’re not a faith based t-shirt company. I’m trying to focus on self- expression. Showcasing our beliefs and sharing them in a positive way is an important layer of that as faith is a component to expressing who we are and what we believe in. We embrace it all (Jewish, Christian, Muslim, atheist..) and emphasize acceptance in the name of positivity.  For example, I’m Jewish and proud of it. I express it everyday even though I live in a very Christian society. At the same time, I also love learning about my neighbors’ beliefs. Diversity is fascinating to me. So, WearBU designs work towards helping people express themselves no matter who they are with faith as one of the many building blocks.

JJ: What role has Judaism played in your journey through creating WearBU?

Katz: I practice Judaism, even though I do not consider myself to be religious. I speak Hebrew and English at home and so do my kids. I am enchanted by the holiness attributed with the Hebrew language. It is such a beautiful and unique language. The Bible is the most beautiful love book of all times. The Song of Songs was relevant 2,000 years ago as it is relevant today. In my designs, I try to combine my Jewish roots and my Christian surroundings using Hebrew and English scriptures as one of the many forms of self-expression.

JJ: What’s your goal with WearBU?

Katz: I’m not looking to become a big brand. I am more interested in giving people the tools to articulate exactly who they are in a positive way. One of my most popular t-shirts is the Semite t-shirt.  Many of my buyers wrote to me that the word Semite is so deeply associated with the word anti-Semitism that that they felt that wearing the shirt gave them the opportunity to proudly express the fact that they are Jewish, that they are Semite, and that they are PROUD of it. I hope I’m not sounding like a Miss Universe competitor, but if I can contribute just a little bit to this world so that people would look at each other based on who they are and not based on what they are, I would be a very happy person.


BereniceFamili is the CEO and founder of the Jewish emoji app Shalomoji and a Los Angeles based writer who covers lifestyle, health, and entrepreneurship. 

Mallory Can’t Condemn Jew-Hatred, So She Promotes It

Screenshot from Twitter.

Imagine hearing this fictitious interview on a German radio show in 1931:

Radio Host: Frau Muller, you purport to be a feminist and human rights activist, but you recently praised Adolf Hitler as the greatest leader of all time. Given Hitler’s hateful rhetoric against Jews and gays, don’t you think that you should retract that statement and condemn Hitler?”

Frau Muller: I didn’t call Hitler the greatest leader of all time because of his rhetoric against Jews and gays. I called him that because of what he has done for the German people.

Host: But Hitler has compared Jews to rats and cockroaches and said they are the enemy of the German people.

Muller: I have never made those statements.

Host: But you are publicly associating with Hitler. You go to Nazi rallies. You are complimenting and supporting someone who is promoting vicious hate against Jews and others.

Muller: What I will say to you is that I don’t agree with many of Herr Hitler’s statements.

Host: Specifically about Jewish people? 

Muller: As I said, I don’t agree with many of Herr Hitler’s statements. 

Host: Will you condemn his statements?

Muller: I don’t agree with Herr Hitler’s statements.

Host: You won’t condemn them?

Muller: To be clear, it’s not my language. It’s not the way I speak. It is not how I organize. I think it’s very clear over the 20 years of my own personal activism who I am, and that I should never be judged through the lens of a man.

Of course, any moral person looking back on such an interview would recognize that it would have been morally repugnant for Frau Muller to try to disassociate or distance her support and promotion of Hitler and the Nazis from the Nazis’ hate-filled ideology, while at the same time emphasizing the “good” the Nazis may have done in restoring German pride after World War I.

Every person with a working moral compass would intrinsically know that whatever positive things the Nazis did or said in connection with German pride and righting perceived historic wrongs, they would be completely undermined and eviscerated by the towering immorality of Hitler and the Nazis’ message as well as by the damage their raw hatred had done to the very soul of the German people.

But this type of nauseating rationalization for the inexcusable was precisely what Tamika Mallory, a co-president of the national Women’s March, offered this past week when she appeared on “The View” television show with its hosts Whoopi Goldberg, Sunny Hostin and Meghan McCain.

Sunny Hostin: Tamika, you came under some fire for your relationship with Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam. He’s known for being anti-Semitic, for being homophobic, but you do attend his events and you posted … a photo calling him the G.O.A.T., which means the greatest of all time. You are running an organization that says it fights bigotry. Do you understand why your association with him is quite problematic?

Tamika Mallory: I think it’s important to put my attendance, my presence at Savior’s Day, which is the highest holy day for the Nation of Islam, in proper context. I didn’t call him [the greatest of all time] because of his rhetoric…[but] because of what he’s done in black communities.

Meghan McCain: I would never be comfortable supporting someone who [said], “I am not an anti-Semite, I am an anti-termite. It is the wicked Jews, the false Jews promoting lesbianism, homosexuality….

After Mallory said that Women’s March leaders themselves hadn’t made those remarks, McCain responded: “But you’re associating with a man who does, publicly.”

The interview continued:

Mallory: What I will say to you is that I don’t agree with many of Minister Farrakhan’s statements.

McCain: Specifically about Jewish people?

Mallory: As I said, I don’t agree with many of Minister Farrakhan’s statements.

McCain: You won’t condemn it?

Mallory: To be clear, it’s not my language. It’s not the way that I speak. It is not how I organize. I think it’s very clear over the 20 years of my own personal activism, my own personal track record, who I am; and that I should never be judged through the lens of a man.

Mallory’s excuses, dissembling and rationalizations for her support and promotion of Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam (NOI) — even without all of her ahistorical and counterfactual attacks on Israel and her strong association with anti-Semite Linda Sarsour — is as morally repugnant as the excuses and rationalizations offered by the imaginary Frau Muller.

To be clear, just as no person — German or otherwise — with an ounce of morality and compassion for humanity or for their people should be supporting, promoting or praising Hitler, no person — African-American or otherwise — should be supporting, promoting or praising Farrakhan.

It is reminiscent of the many morally obtuse American newspapers and magazines that found reasons to note Hitler’s and the Nazis’ positive impact on Germany before World War II. Some journalists deflected attention from the Nazis’ vile ideology while citing the punctuality of Germany’s trains, the sharpness of its police officers’ uniforms, the country’s tidy and orderly streets, as well as the restoration of German pride.

In 1933, Frederick Birchall, Berlin bureau chief for the perennially morally broken New York Times, described Hitler as “a vegetarian [who] neither drinks nor smokes,” and as a man who “has taken upon himself the hardest job that ever a man could undertake.” Birchall’s colleague, Anne O’Hare McCormick, took it a step further. An article she wrote, based on her interview with Hitler, was published in the Times on July 10, 1933, with the headline, “Hitler Seeks Jobs for All Germans.” It was a grossly fawning piece that accepted all of Hitler’s domestic policies as simply being about the best ways to reduce Germany’s unemployment, improve its roads and promote national unity.

Watching Mallory on “The View” as she rationalized her support for Farrakhan and the NOI — and the applause generated by her comment about what Farrakhan has “done in black communities” — was sad and frightening.

Virulent, irrational, ahistorical and all-encompassing Jew-hatred is a central and foundational principle for Farrakhan and the NOI in the same way it was for Hitler and the Nazis. One of the Nazi party’s main methods for restoring German pride was to focus the German people’s hate and vitriol on the Jewish bogeyman. Since its founding in 1930 and under Farrakhan’s demagogic leadership, the NOI has likewise made Jew-hatred part of its raison d’etre.

As far back as 1984, Farrakhan was embracing comparisons to Hitler, given his equally obsessive, wretched and pernicious Jew-hatred. Farrakhan’s participation in Rev. Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaign attracted a lot of attention, mostly concerning his overt anti-Semitism. “The Jews don’t like Farrakhan, so they call me Hitler,” Farrakhan said at the time. “Well, that’s a good name. Hitler was a very great man .…” In that same speech, Farrakhan said he considered Hitler a great man, essentially for the same reason Mallory defended calling Farrakhan the “G.O.A.T.” — because Hitler “lifted Germany from the ashes” and did so much “for his people, the German people.”

Farrakhan and the NOI have been unabashed, loud and proud with their extreme Jew-hatred throughout Mallory’s life. And while Mallory thinks the “context” of her calling Farrakhan the greatest of all time during Savior’s Day in 2017 matters — because “Savior’s Day is the highest holy day for the Nation of Islam” — the context of Savior’s Day only serves to underscore how reprehensible it is for anyone, let alone someone who purports to be a human rights’ activist, to be at any Savior’s Day event.

During his 2014 Savior’s Day sermon, Farrakhan praised Henry Ford for his anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and compared himself favorably to Ford. Reminiscent of his earlier comparison of himself to Hitler, Farrakhan called Ford “a great man who was called an anti-Semite,” and added, “I feel like I’m in good company.” After lauding Ford’s Jew-hatred, Farrakhan asserted that Jews nefariously manipulate the media and publishing industry in order to destroy the reputations of African-Americans. In the weeks leading up to the 2014 Savior’s Day, Farrakhan’s sermons regularly featured claims that Jews were the “Synagogue of Satan”; and during his 2014 Savior’s Day sermon, Farrakhan spoke of how “Satan is in control of Hollywood. Satan is in control of television. Satan is in control of media. Satan is in control of money.”

As part of its “Jews are Satanic” theme, the NOI — throughout the four-day 2014 Savior’s Day convention in Detroit — hawked copies of an anti-Semitic book, “The Synagogue of Satan,” written by Ashahed Muhammad, assistant editor of the NOI’s newspaper, The Final Call. The primary message of the book is that the world is being controlled and manipulated by an elite group of Satanic Jews. The NOI has been hawking this replica “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” trash since 2005.

In his 2015 Savior’s Day sermon, Farrakhan alleged that Jews were responsible for 9/11 and slavery, and that they controlled the “manipulation of money” and the United States government. In his 2016 Savior’s Day sermon, Farrakhan praised Donald Trump as “the only man … that stood in front of some members of the Jewish community and told them, ‘I don’t want your money.’ … Any time a man can say to those who control the politics of America, ‘I don’t want your money,’ that means, ‘If I don’t take your money, you can’t control me. And they [the Jews] cannot afford to give up control of the presidents of the United States.”

During his 2017 Savior’s Day address, Farrakhan continued with the NOI’s Satanic Jews theme. Farrakhan said Jews were “not really Jews but are in fact Satan.” He described Jews as “great and master deceivers,” and encouraged his followers to consider Jews “the enemy of God and the enemy of the righteous.” It was after this hate-filled sermon Mallory saw fit to pose in an incredibly chummy picture with Farrakhan and express to all of her many social media followers that the most virulent and prolific Jew-hater in America is the “G.O.A.T.”

Not remotely deterred by the media attention sparked by her attendance and praise of Farrakhan after the 2017 Savior’s Day, Mallory attended the 2018 Savior’s Day event and was the recipient of a front-row seat to Farrakhan’s sermon, in which he continued with his anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Among his many mendacious and vile comments, Farrakhan asserted that “the powerful Jews are my enemy”; that “the Jews have control over agencies of those agencies of government”; that Jews are “the mother and father of apartheid”; and that Jews are responsible for “degenerate behavior in Hollywood, turning men into women and women into men.”

Jew-hatred, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and scapegoating Jews for causing other people’s problems is as endemic and fundamental to Farrakhan and the NOI as it was for Hitler and the Nazis. Yet, despite this history, Mallory keeps going to Savior’s Day gatherings (which should be enough to place her outside of polite society) and can’t bring herself to condemn Farrakhan and his hatred. Instead, she deflects and dissembles by claiming that her fawning, laudatory comments about Farrakhan were recognizing “what he has done in black communities.”

Sure. And Hitler made the trains run on time and just wanted to get every German a job.

The bottom line is that the hate and crazy anti-Semitic conspiracy theories promoted by Hitler and the Nazis destroyed the soul of Germany, sanctioned the murders of millions and drove the country to ruin. It is this same hate, at a time when violent anti-Semitic hate crimes against Jews are rising dramatically, that Mallory cannot bring herself to condemn Farrakhan and the NOI. It is this hate and gross conspiracy theorizing about Jews — which Mallory herself has been soaking in at numerous Savior’s Day and other NOI events — that likely makes it impossible for her to even concede that Israel and Israelis have a right to exist.

While Mallory supports and praises Farrakhan’s and the NOI’s work with the African-American community, she ignores the damage such hatred causes. Mallory’s inability to condemn Farrakhan and the NOI needs to be condemned — vociferously and completely. Not only because history has taught us how dangerous such hatred is for Jews, but because of how dangerous it is for everyone.


Micha Danzig is a practicing attorney in San Diego and an advisory board member and local chairperson for StandWithUs.

Why Am I Excluded From the Women’s March?

Screenshot from Youtube.

On the Jan. 14 episode of ABC’s “The View,” co-host Meghan McCain said that politically conservative women like herself who are anti-abortion are being excluded from the Women’s March. Tamika Mallory and Bob Bland, two of Women’s March Inc.’s co-presidents appeared on the show in an apparent attempt to quell some of the controversy swirling around the massive rally. They told McCain that all women are welcome and that “there are no prerequisites.”

Yet if you’re a white, cisgender Jewish woman who loves Israel, there are.

The Women’s March Inc. leadership announced Jan. 14 that more than two dozen women have been added to its steering committee. Three are Jews: Abby Stein, Yavilah McCoy and April Baskin. Stein is a transgender Jewish woman and activist. McCoy and Baskin are Jews of color.

Why are there no cisgender, white Jewish women on the steering committee? After all, the overwhelming majority of American-Jewish women are white and straight. If the Women’s March Inc. leadership is trying to be inclusive, then it has made (yet another) mistake by not including someone who looks like most American-Jewish women. And it leaves me feeling unrepresented.

It’s a strange thing to feel purposely excluded. Is this how black Jews like Baskin and McCoy, and trans Jews like Stein, usually feel? Is that the point the Women’s March Inc. leadership is trying to make? Or are these the only Jews willing to be publicly aligned with a woman who loves and admires a man who has referred to my people as termites? Alternatively, is the message meant to be that only cisgender, white Jews are termites who need to be exterminated?

Either way, I do not feel comfortable allying myself with the Women’s March Inc. even though rabbis are now urging us to. On Jan. 15, a group of rabbis I admire, including Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, and Rabbi Joshua Stanton of East End Temple, both in Manhattan, issued a statement urging Jews to participate in the national Women’s Marches in Washington, D.C., and New York.

“Why are there no cisgender, white Jewish women on the steering committee?” 

They have been “in dialogue” with Mallory and co-president Linda Sarsour, “who listened carefully and respectfully to our hurt and concern. We have not resolved our differences but we agree to continue meeting, talking and working together long after the 2019 Women’s March is over,” they write. “Tamika and Linda have also heard the concerns of other Jewish leaders and have acknowledged earlier mistakes. They have denounced anti-Semitism and have taken meaningful steps to welcome more Jewish women onto the Steering Committee of the Women’s March and engage Jewish organizations at the highest levels of collaboration.”

Yet on “The View,” when McCain pressed Mallory to denounce Farrakhan’s anti-Semitic, homophobic statements, she did not. Instead, she said she doesn’t agree with everything he says.

The rabbis mentioned above also wrote in their statement, “All of our communities are internally complex and diverse and involve webs of connection that are misunderstood by people outside those communities. No individual can speak for an entire group of people.”

That last statement is a cop-out, for not just obliquely blaming Jews for “misunderstanding” a web of connection between Farrakhan and the black community, but also for giving a hechsher to Mallory’s refusal to outright condemn his reprehensible, influential rhetoric.

What is no longer a question is that, sadly, anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic alliances among some leaders of the Women’s March have made this more divisive among liberal American Jews than anything else I can recall. It is sad that the spirit of unity that pervaded the first Women’s March, just after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, is now dead and gone.

Looking at the paucity of Jewish leaders willing to sign onto the rabbis’ new statement, it’s no question that most of the mainstream Jewish community is no longer interested in aligning with the Women’s March leadership — even if it now includes three Jews.


Debra Nussbaum Cohen is a journalist in New York and author of “Celebrating Your New Jewish Daughter: Creating Jewish Ways to Welcome Baby Girls Into the Covenant.”

The March of Hate

People gather for the Women's March in Washington. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Let’s be very clear: If you decide to participate in the national Women’s March, you are enabling and abetting hatred of the Jewish people. If you are writing sanctimonious apologetics for the organizers, you are sanitizing and normalizing anti-Semitism.
It was amazingly useful for Tablet magazine, in a recent report, to confirm that three of the four leaders of the Women’s March are proud anti-Semites — that even at their first meeting they berated a Jewish organizer for what they alleged was her unresolved “white supremacy,” and ultimately pushed her out.

Many of us didn’t need this confirmation. The fact that Linda Sarsour was involved in the group was enough. And it didn’t take long before Sarsour was celebrating Palestinian terrorist Rasmea Odeh, who was convicted and held in an Israeli prison for 10 years for her role in a 1969 Jerusalem supermarket bombing that killed two Hebrew University students. And then we discovered that the organizers had a thing for Louis Farrakhan.
(Even without those disturbing issues, I would never participate in anything called a Women’s March because it is, by definition, anti-feminist. To call something a Women’s March assumes that all women think alike. It is the very foundation of sexism — precisely what early 20th century feminists fought against.)

Tablet’s extensive reporting uncovered the primary motivations behind the Women’s March as created by its top national organizers: To be a front for the most insidious identity politics, where Farrakhan and terrorists are lionized, and Jews and Israel are ideologically lynched. As such, its organization and signature annual event — now scheduled for its third year on Jan. 19 in numerous cities across the country — can be called only one thing: the March of Hate.

Have Jewish apologists for the Women’s March not considered why Jews are being asked to go along with people who hate us? To overlook the march organizers’ “flaws”? Can you imagine any other minority in 2019 being asked to do the same?
How are Jews supposed to be a light unto nations if we are on our knees groveling behind people who continue to spit in our faces?

That is not the kind of Jew I was raised to be, and it is certainly not the kind of Jew my 9-year-old son is being raised to be. I proudly teach him the history of civil rights — and the enormous role Jews have played in establishing and protecting them. But we have never done so at the expense of our self-respect, and no amount of “intersectional” gobbledygook should change that.

Indeed, through the storm of the Women’s March, we now see very clearly that “intersectionality” is propagating a very dangerous theory on the left: the notion of the “privileged white supremacist Jew.” They have created a poisonous stereotype they claim is responsible for all of the world’s problems and which is unable to face racism.
As Seth Frantzman wrote in The Jerusalem Post, “How can this be, only 70 years after the Holocaust, that people genocided for being non-white and non-European are now called white supremacists? It is part of a carefully managed agenda in the United States to not permit Jews to be part of discussions about ‘people of color’ or racism. … Jews are even told that any discussion of Jews being victims of racism is a way for Jews to ‘dwell’ or ‘center’ on themselves.”

Identity politics and the March of Hate swept into Congress such triumphs as Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), who already has replaced Israel with “Palestine” on her map, accused Jews of dual loyalty, and can be seen in a photo with a Hezbollah supporter; Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), another supporter of the boycott, sanctions and divestment movement whose known links to the Muslim Brotherhood are growing by the hour; and my personal favorite, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), whose lack of qualifications make her very existence in Congress an affront to feminism.

Jews are being gaslighted — psychologically manipulated to the point of questioning our own sanity and reality — by Farrakhan, Sarsour, Tamika Mallory and the leftist Jews who reflexively defend them. I suppose the only good thing that one can say about actual white supremacists is that they don’t lie about their true intentions.


Karen Lehrman Bloch is an author and cultural critic living in New York City.

Jewish Journal City Guide 2019

Need to know what’s happening around the Greater Los Angeles Jewish community? Fear not, The Journal has compiled everything you need to know right here (just click the magnifying glass).

 

 

Table of Contents:

Community

 

 

Summer Camp

 

 

Education

 

 

Religious Life

 

 

Goods & Services

 

Anna Shternshis: A Grammy Nomination for ‘Yiddish Glory’

Photo courtesy of Roman Boldyrev

Included in this year’s Grammy Award nominations for World Music is “Yiddish Glory: The Lost Songs of WWII” (Six Degrees Records). It’s a collection of songs that haven’t been heard since 1947. By turns mournful, angry, defiant, brutal, tender, lovelorn and mocking, all the songs are written and sung in Yiddish with an unvarnished directness and honesty. 

The Journal caught up with Anna Shternshis, the Al and Malka Green Associate Professor in Yiddish Language and Literature and the Director of the Anne Tanenbaum Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Toronto, who discovered the songs and, with musician Psoy Korolenko and producer Dan Rosenberg, compiled and created the album. 

Jewish Journal: How did the album come about? 

Anna Shternshis: It started as an academic project. I was working, and [am] still working, on a book on Yiddish culture in the Soviet Union during the Holocaust and [World War II], and I came across this document about a collection that ethnomusicologist Moisei Beregovski put together during the war of songs by refugees, soldiers and Soviet Jewish evacuees singing in Yiddish about the war, during the war. 

None of the songs were actually known in the world of Jewish music. We didn’t know that Soviet Jews and Polish Jews in the Soviet Union at the time sang in Yiddish. It was very different from what we associate from Holocaust music. For example, they’re very pro-Stalin and very graphically anti-Hitler. They’re also amateur; just everyday people singing these kinds of songs. I thought it would be really interesting to bring a musician in to help me with at least presenting this material in an academic context. I invited Psoy Korolenko, who is Russian-born and performs in Russian and Yiddish and who I knew was familiar with Soviet culture of the time. With the help of Dan Rosenberg, the producer, we got together a band. It was meant to be an educational tool but it grew into an album. 

JJ: Before you came across them, did you have any idea the songs existed?

AS: Beregovski was an important ethnomusicologist. When he was arrested by Stalin in 1950, they confiscated this archive and when Beregovski came out of jail in 1956, it did not come back to him. The consensus was this: During the war, these songs were collected. After the war, they were destroyed when they arrested Beregovski. 

In the late ’90s, a librarian in the Ukrainian national library started looking through material that was uncatalogued. In the ’40s, a lot of people were arrested by Stalin’s government, a lot of documents were confiscated. They had to put them somewhere. We think now they first put them in a secret police archive or secret police basement and then there was not enough space, so they quietly moved them to the Ukrainian national library in the ’70s.  At the end of the ’90s, the librarians were allowed to open them. I only came across them because I was looking for stuff in Kiev. 

JJ: What surprised you most as you went through them?

AS: That I didn’t recognize a single one. I kept thinking, “How come I don’t know any of them?” I expected them to be either just Yiddish versions of Soviet songs or songs lamenting Jewish life. These songs were talking about politics. There’s one song that talks about how Hitler wants to invade the Soviet Union because he wants to get his hands on the resources of Ukraine — on coal and oil. I did not expect that. And the crazy thing is, the area they’re singing about? It’s still in the news today. And, ironically, similar sides are fighting. 

Another thing I didn’t expect was how much humor was in this music. It was very crude, very physical — toilet humor about Hitler. A lot of songs compared Hitler to Haman. There’s one song called “Purim Gifts For Hitler.” For people more familiar with Holocaust music of the ghettos, that’s not a big deal. But Soviet Jews were quite divorced from their Jewish traditions and Purim was not celebrated in the Soviet Union since the ’20s, so why would it come back? Finally, there were a lot of songs written by children. It’s so rare that we get to hear the genuine voices of people living through a war. We rely on journalists or historians or advocates to tell their stories, but here it’s from 10-year-olds or 5-year-olds. That was very moving.

JJ: I think many people will be surprised at the defiance heard in these songs. 

AS: The songs are very adamant about not being led like sheep to slaughter. They even used that language. 

JJ: What do the songs have to say to modern audiences?

AS: Unfortunately, wars and violence and genocide continue today. The most vulnerable are young kids and the elderly. What people can learn from this project is children, who are not educated, or women, who are not educated, how they make sense of suffering, how they suffer so deeply, and how they use music in order to tell us a story they hope we’ll remember. 

These songs did not end up in memory. People say, ‘During the war, there was no Yiddish. We didn’t sing in Yiddish.’ This material is a miracle that survived that did not end up in memory. History and memory tell different stories. 

JJ: Why didn’t people remember?

AS: You go through this war. Then, 1945 comes. Stalin’s policy says if a Jew survived the war and the German occupation it was because they collaborated with the German army so they’re traitors and they need to go to jail. These poor survivors, they’re worried about jail. So what do they do? They lied. Then comes Stalinist anti-Semitism. [Nikita] Khrushchev was not a friend of the Jews, exactly. Then comes [Leonid] Brezhnev and all the tsuris there. So they start to think about what you want to share, what you want to talk about. The Yiddish songs you sang in the war are not going to be very high on your list. We all make choices.  

JJ: What can we learn from these songs?

AS: I’m a university professor. My goal is always to educate. This is my way of telling the story of what happened to Soviet Jews during WWII. When people listen to this album, I want them to want learn more about what happened to Jews during the Holocaust. I want them to think more about what happens to people during a war. I also want them to enjoy this beautiful music.