June 26, 2019

Jewish Pride

Last week, joining thousands of others, my five year old daughter and I took part in Louisville’s annual Pride Parade. While it might lack the reputation of San Francisco, Louisville ranked eleventh (Los Angeles ranked eighth) of the 50 largest U.S. Metro Areas for people who identify as LGBT (Gallup survey 2015). The weather was gorgeous and the turnout (27,000) was the largest ever in the parade’s 32 year history.

When I told her we were going to be in a “rainbow parade,” my daughter insisted on wearing her Harry Potter costume from Purim. Rabbi Roxanne Schneider Shapiro of Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation suggested that I wear a shirt saying “Nobody Should Live in a Closet.” So I did. While unintentional, my daughter had brilliantly picked out a great costume. Who better than Harry Potter to remind us about standing up against obstacles and being your true self and a loyal friend?

Walking the roughly mile and a half through downtown Louisville as my daughter joyously handed out stickers and waved to the crowd, was me. Holding a rainbow flag with Magen David on it, I experienced my own kind of “pride.” I am not a member of the LGBT community and was very cautious of participating in this parade, lest I inadvertently commit a faux paus or engage in cultural appropriation. I am fully aware that this is not about me, but I was there to proudly show my daughter that joy and love takes on many forms. And, I was there as part of the Jewish community to show the LGBT community that we love and support you. Louisville’s own Rabbi David Ariel-Joel, a Jerusalem native, was the first rabbi in Israel to officiate at a same-sex wedding and remains instrumental in the continued success of his congregation’s Pride Shabbat and other activities (including participation in the parade) in June and year-round.

It is not lost on me that LGBT support remains controversial in the Jewish community, as it does in other religions. Someone I knew and recognized in the crowd later told me he was surprised that a religious organization would participate in Pride. Clearly, our presence caught him and others off-guard.

Deuteronomy 16:20 famously says “Justice, justice you shall pursue” and Genesis 1:27 says humans are all created in the Divine image. Both of these texts speak to the urgency of the Jewish community to embrace and love everyone, regardless of sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

Pursuing justice is more than just lip service. As Jews, we must continually ask ourselves what are we doing to pursue justice? How are we working to make the world a better place? What are we doing to show that we believe in the divine spark in everyone? There are so many ways to do so, but I believe participation in Pride is an important one.

Amidst all the negativity in this country right now, the timing could not be more urgent. So last Friday, just before Shabbat, we “prayed with our feet.” My daughter is too young to understand what the “rainbow parade” was all about. Someday, she will. In the meantime, she is excited about doing it again next year. And handing out stickers. She told her friends all about it and is ready for them to join us. Jewish or not. LGBT or not. We can all “take pride” in being who we are and celebrating it.

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

Jews in the West: An Embattled Community

Official unveiling ceremony of the statue to Nazi collaborator Garegin Nzhdeh in Yerevan, Armenia on May 28, 2016. Photo from President.am

Seventy four years after the Nazi death camps were liberated, Jews in the West are more embattled than they have been in decades. This is the shocking finding of a new report on anti-Semitic violence released in May by the Kantor Center at Tel Aviv University. Commenting on the report, the President of the European Jewish Congress, Moshe Kantor, said that among Jews in many European countries there is a  “sense of emergency,” with concerns about both personal safety and their place in society. According to the report, more Jews were killed in anti-Semitic violence in 2018 than during any other year in decades.


“Anti-Semitism has progressed to the point of calling into question the very continuation of Jewish life in Europe,” said Kantor. According to the European Union Fundamental Rights Agency, 38% of Jews in the EU have considered leaving Europe because they fear for their safety. Small wonder, when the French interior ministry states that “not one day passes without an anti-Semitic act” in France.  France is the home of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, as well as the recent killing of Jews in a kosher supermarket. Tombstones have been overturned, swastikas painted on businesses, and prominent Jewish intellectuals harassed. Nine out of ten Jewish students in France report having experienced anti-Semitism at least once during their studies.


France is not alone. In Germany, the government has warned Jews of risks of wearing a kippah in public. This month’s annual Quds Day march in Berlin included hundreds of participants calling for the killing of Israelis. The atmosphere that allows these things to happen even extends to the German court system, which ruled a 2014 attempt to set fire to a synagogue in Wuppertal was not anti-Semitic.


In Belgium, a café owner placed a sign on his business welcoming dogs but not Jews. When a man was convicted of hate speech for shouting about killing Jews, a lawyer for the Belgian organization to combat racism, UNIA, protested that the conviction distorted justice. Meanwhile, a jihadi gunman shot dead four people in May 2014 when he attacked the Jewish Museum of Belgium.


In Armenia, authorities have declared a Nazi collaborator, general Garegin Nzhdeh a national hero and erected a statue to him. In addition to the statue, a square and metro station in Armenia’s capital Yerevan are also named after Nzhdeh, and his “legacy” is taught to children in Armenian schools. Nzhdeh cooperated with the Nazis as one of the commanders of the infamous “Armenian League” of the Wehrmacht. This unit fought in Crimea, the Caucasus, and southern France, as the Nazis rounded up Jews and resistance fighters to be marched to the death camps. For his war crimes and collaboration with the Nazis, a Soviet court sentenced him to 25 years’ imprisonment. Nzhdeh’s political theories were as repugnant as his collaboration with the Nazis. He was the founder of a movement called Tseghakronism, which translates as “carrier of race.” It refers to those who supposedly represent and carry what is the spiritual and biological essence of the “classical” Armenian. Echoing the theories of Aryan supremacy of his Nazi colleagues, Nzhdeh divided people into true nationalist by blood, mixed races (Hitler referred to “mongrel races”), and the anti-nationalists whom he called ‘bastards’. According to the theory, it is the responsibility of the ‘master race’ to rule Armenia.


In England, a Jewish candidate for parliament from the Brexit Party had a 10 meter swastika painted on his company’s building in east London. The UK’s Equalities and Human Rights Commission has opened an investigation into whether the Labor Party unlawfully discriminated against, harassed or victimized people because they are Jewish.


The anti-Semitic acts are not limited to Europe. The United States has seen 11 Jews killed in Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue and a Passover shooting in Poway, California that left one dead and three wounded. Harking back to cartoons published in Nazi Germany, the international edition of the New York Times published a cartoon depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a dog wearing a Star of David collar, on a leash held by a kippah-wearing President Trump. In Australia, Jewish members of parliament are being spammed with anti-semitic emails.


There are many possible explanations for the rise in anti-Semitism, including an increase in immigration from the Middle East and the rise of far-right political parties. While these no doubt contribute to the problem, amnesia about the efforts of allied forces to end the anti-Semitism of Nazi Germany also contributes. According to a 2014 international poll by the Anti Discrimination League covering 100 countries, 35% of respondents had never heard of the Holocaust. More frighteningly, 32% who had heard of the Shoah believe it was a myth or was greatly exaggerated. Only 33% who heard of the Holocaust believed it was accurately described by history.


Shootings, monuments to mass murderers with political theories reminiscent of Hitler, threats and intimidation: these are not the hallmarks of civilized countries or people. The world must remember the madness of the Second World War and stop this descent into chaos. John Donne said, “No man is an island.” The Christian Bible says the same: “Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, that you do unto me.” We must protect the rights of Jews to live in peace, safety and dignity, free of hatred, racism and bigotry, because, in doing so, we protect the rights of all.

Equality Has Pros and Cons for Jews

A well-known joke describes a boy excitedly announcing Babe Ruth’s 60th home run to his grandfather, who responds: “Nu, is it good for the Jews?” Events continue to prompt that question in this century, among the most recent being the Supreme Court’s decision in the case involving Masterpiece Cakeshop. Jewish groups filed briefs for both sides, with progressive organizations favoring the same-sex couple, and traditional groups favoring the baker who declined to help them celebrate their wedding. 

Some of that contrast derives from the groups’ disparate opinions about same-sex relationships. But the debate goes deeper. It concerns which value — equality or liberty — best guarantees a future that is good for Jews in 21st-century America. 

Egalitarians point to history. They recall when employers and social clubs routinely excluded Jews from opportunities available to the Christian majority, and they fear the denial of equal access to public life. From this perspective, a victory for the couple helps everyone who might suffer exclusion from full participation in economic and social activity. 

Libertarians also point to history — a more remote one. They recall when Jewish practices such as Torah study or circumcision were criminal, even capital,  offenses, and they fear state prosecution of a religious minority’s nonconformity. From this perspective, a victory for the baker helps everyone whose different beliefs and conduct the political majority might otherwise outlaw. 

Anti-discrimination laws can protect religious groups — or suppress them. Great Britain’s House of Lords found that a Jewish school’s favoring the children of Jewish mothers in admissions violated the law against “racial discrimination.” The U.S. Supreme Court likewise upheld a University of California policy that forbade a student Christian Legal Society from requiring its officers to embrace Christian principles. Ensuring equal access for outsiders can erode the autonomy and integrity of religious organizations. 

Jewish schools, camps and for-profit businesses must face the question: When is it legitimate to consider the religious status of an applicant or customer? 

Judaism often requires consideration of religious status. So while Christian vendors tend to object most to same-sex ceremonies, Jews express more concern over interfaith weddings. Of course, the law protects clergy from having to perform weddings conflicting with their religious perspectives — but that is narrow protection. 

For example, Jewish law requires scribes sell Torah scrolls only to Jews, and prepare ketubot only for Jewish weddings. Should anti-discrimination law force a sofer to provide such writings to all customers without regard to religious status? 

“Anti-discrimination laws can protect religious groups — or suppress them.” 

The question resounds beyond ritual items. Must a calligrapher design an invitation for an intermarriage? Must a Jewish matchmaker or dating site facilitate interfaith relationships? In many ways, Jack Phillips, the baker who would sell plain cakes to same-sex couples but not ones “celebrating” their wedding, resembled a wedding singer who performs pop tunes at interfaith weddings but not the liturgical “Od Yishama.” 

The debate over the legal significance of religious status dates to the aftermath of the French Revolution. Comte de Clermont Tonnerre famously offered Jews everything “as individuals” but nothing “as a nation”; Jews could expect full equality in public institutions, but could not maintain private ones such as a Jewish court system to resolve disputes among Jews. Algerian Jews declined the offer of emancipation, seeking neither its “sting nor … honey.” Most other Sephardim as well as Eastern European Jews didn’t even get this choice. 

The United States has not enforced the bargain as rigidly as Western Europe. Unlike the French Revolution, a quest to reduce inequality, the American Revolution sought to foster self-determination. Egalitarian Europe has focused more on protecting citizens from indignities, whereas libertarian America seeks to protect private decision-making. 

“Ensuring equal access for outsiders can erode the autonomy, and integrity, of religious organizations.” 

These competing priorities produce stark differences. It is more difficult to criticize Judaism (or Islam) in Europe, which vigorously prosecutes “hate speech,” which often is defined to encompass criticism of religious practices. By contrast, the First Amendment permits denying the Holocaust and describing Judaism as a “gutter religion.” 

But Europe also makes it harder to practice disfavored customs. Several European nations have prohibited kosher and halal animal slaughter, forms of Islamic dress, and are considering bans on circumcision. These European prohibitions create more problems for Jewish survival than America’s laissez-faire model. 

Should a caterer be allowed to refuse to serve a b’rit milah because of ideological opposition to circumcision? It is tempting to oppose such refusals as discriminatory, and insist governments compel participation. But governments powerful enough to compel participation in such religious events also are powerful enough to forbid them. 

Judaism has long survived — even thrived — in environments where vendors refused to serve Jews. Surviving where the state bans and punishes basic religious practices may well prove more difficult.

Mitchell Keiter, a former law professor, is a certified appellate specialist at Keiter Appellate Law in Beverly Hills. He filed a successful amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court last year in NIFLA v. Beccera. 

Why Are Progressives Using an Anti-Semitic Slur Coined by the KKK?

After a video of New York University student Leen Dweik confronting Chelsea Clinton at the Christchurch, New Zealand, massacre vigil went viral in February, thousands of people dug through Dweik’s Twitter feed. What did they find? A bunch of slurs. Dweik quickly apologized for dropping the racist “N” word and homophobic “F” word. However, no apology came for publicly calling someone the white supremacist phrase “Zio.”

While it might seem like an innocent abbreviation of Zionist, “Zio” is a derogatory code word for Jews invented by white supremacists. Despite its right-wing extremist roots, the term has been re-popularized by anti-Israel activists, normalizing violent anti-Semitic vernacular among self-identified progressives.

In 2017, the Chicago Dyke March tweeted, “Zio tears replenish my electrolytes!” after it was criticized for removing participants who waved rainbow flags adorned with a Star of David. In 2016, a chairman of the Oxford University Labour Club resigned over the constant use of the term among his peers. Just type the word into Twitter advanced search and you’ll find it casually used by pro-Palestinian advocates and white supremacists alike.

A history of hate taints the term “Zio.”

“The primary user of the term tends to be someone on the far right, typically a white supremacist,” Aryeh Tuchman, associate director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, said. “David Duke is probably the best example. For him, it’s ‘Zio’ this and ‘Zio’ that.” Tuchman explained the term rose to prominence as a cover for right-wing anti-Semitism on social media.

“Zio” has been a way for even someone as openly hateful as Duke to avoid being de-platformed from social media. According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, by July 2017, the former KKK Grand Wizard had used “Zio” 359 times since January 2012 in episode radio descriptions. If you searched for the term on his website, you’d get 264 pages of results. He even said “Zios” caused the Sandy Hook shooting. Today, a Google search for the term yields approximately 20,100 results.

“‘Zio’ has been used by people who are hardened and overt anti-Semites as a way of attacking Jews while maintaining what they think is plausible deniability, and as a result, it has become a slur in some communities.” — Aryeh Tuchman, associate director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism

“For the people on the extreme right and to racists, ‘Zio’ is a way of making clear to the readers or listeners that they are talking about Jews, without having to go out and say they are talking about Jews,” Tuchman said.  “That can be particularly helpful when they are speaking in a forum such as Twitter or Facebook where overt anti-Jewish comments might get taken down.” 

But what does it mean when “Zio” is used by left-wing thinkers such as Dweik, who criticize Israel and paint the Jewish state or its supporters as white supremacists themselves?

“It doesn’t necessarily have the anti-Semitic connotation that it might have from someone on the extreme right who is using it, unless they are using it as a way of accomplishing what the extreme right also tries to do, which is to mask their anti-Semitism,” Tuchman explained, noting how if something is seen as objectively anti-Semitic on social media, the platform may ban it.

However, the term serves as a useful code word for tweeting attacks on Jews (that won’t get you suspended from Twitter) for any anti-Semite, regardless of the side of the aisle from which they hurl their hate. Nothing encapsulates the portion of the anti-Israel movement that is virulently anti-Jewish more than their use of the term “Zio,” which offers “plausible deniability” for anti-Zionists to say they are criticizing pro-Israel thinkers — even if they, like Duke, truly mean to demonize Jews.

No one can detect a person’s true intent, which has left many who see covert anti-Semitism in activist spaces unsure whether they need to combat the bigotry or educate well-meaning voices on it. Whether they are faced with the United Kingdom’s Labour Party or the Chicago Dyke March, Jews find themselves repeatedly asking: Are advocates using anti-Semitic tropes because they are malevolent or ignorant?

When an activist group uses the term “Zio,” it could demonstrate its leaders are not familiar with anti-Semitism enough to avoid borrowing the language of the KKK, highlighting a blind spot. This is what the Chicago Dyke March claimed when it took down its tweet and posted, “Sorry y’all! Definitely didn’t know the violent history of the term. We meant Zionist/white tears replenish our electrolytes.”

Even worse, the offender could know but not care. There is a possibility that progressives have adopted the extremist anti-Semitism of proud racists.

The rise of “Zio” among left-wing discussions could be a symptom of another ignorance: the Zionist movement itself.

According to Tuchman, “Zio” is “increasingly used by people on the left in the progressive world where Zionist is a pejorative and Zionism is being viewed as an evil, racist, genocidal ideology. So to call someone a ‘Zionist’ is becoming one of the worst things you can call someone if you’re a member of one of those movements.”

This is symptomatic of a movement to falsely malign Zionism as an “evil, racist and genocidal ideology.” Rather than having a one size fits all idea of what the state of Israel should look and act like, Zionists simply support the self-determination of the Jewish people in their indigenous homeland. They have a wide spectrum of ideas regarding Palestinian self-determination, Israeli politics and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, many anti-Semites find the concept of Jews having any power inherently sinister and threatening. It is this paranoia that drives conspiracy theories that Jews control the weather, banks, government and media, and the belief that we have supernatural abilities to hypnotize our victims. There is no bigger expression of Jewish power than Jews having their own state.

Those who hurl “Zio” around in conversations reduce a complex movement into a monolithic caricature.

“No one can detect a person’s true intent, which has left many who see covert anti-Semitism in activist spaces unsure whether they need to combat the bigotry or educate well-meaning voices on it.”

“You can talk about Zionism with more nuance or less nuance. Not even finishing the word is about as little nuance as you can possibly get,” Tuchman said.

Nuance aside, at the end of the day, intent doesn’t matter — consequences do. Even if someone typed out “Zio” rather than the full term “Zionist” out of pure laziness, that person is normalizing extremism.

“ ‘Zio’ has been used by people who are hardened and overt anti-Semites as a way of attacking Jews while maintaining what they think is plausible deniability, and as a result, it has become a slur in some communities,” Tuchman said. “The use of the term … may make the ground fertile for the dissemination of ideas from the extreme right into other populations and movements,” he added, noting that the popularity of the term in left-wing circles is creating shared nomenclature with the alt-right. “If I’m a progressive, and I become accustomed to using the term ‘Zio’ as prefix, perhaps I will be more inclined to read a tweet from David Duke with more sympathy, because he is speaking my language,” he said.

Just as we shamed Dweik for using the “N” word and “F” word — even in jest — the public must make “Zio” socially unacceptable. If we do not, progressives will be normalizing not just anti-Semitism, but white supremacy.

Ariel Sobel is a screenwriter, filmmaker and activist, and won the 2019 Bluecat Screenplay Competition. Find more of her work on her website.

Star Wars: David Strikes Back

Let’s be serious: No participant in a Dyke March feels “threatened” when a Star of David appears on a rainbow flag. Not unless he or she is told they are supposed to feel threatened. Not unless he or she is told to pretend that the star is the equivalent of a swastika or a Ku Klux Klan sign, a symbol of death and terror. 

Let’s get serious. We want to be serious. And yet, here we are again trying to make sense of the nonsense, trying to persuade the unpersuadable, trying to converse with those who have ears but hear not. At times it appears that controversies such as the D.C. Dyke March Star of David Pride flag controversy are no more than a cunning attempts to dumb down Jews by forcing them to counter ridiculous arguments and juvenile provocations. Let smart and savvy Jews waste time on explaining why marching with a Star of David Pride flag is a legitimate practice. If they have a good argument, we can always move to ban blue shirts or white blouses, or decorative fringes, lest anyone feel threatened by their suggestive meaning. 

Interestingly, Israelis this week also were faced with the legitimacy of gay symbols. In Israel’s case, the symbol is a man: Amir Ohana. Last week, Ohana became the first openly gay minister in Israel’s history. Ohana has a spouse and children and a political career. For at least a few short months, he will be the minister of justice. A cause for celebration? Eh … well. … There is this small issue of him being a member of the Likud party, and of a right-religious coalition. Ohana, some Israelis argue, is a pinkwashing machine. Behind him lurk the ugly policies of ultra-Orthodox bigots, of annexation supporters, of anti-gay activists. 

Some people will never be happy. Not even when a right-wing prime minister — Benjamin Netanyahu — appoints a gay minister to make a point. What was the point? Israel is a liberal country that won’t be subjected to rigid halachic rules. Thus, the appointment of Ohana came a day or two after an Orthodox contender for the job declared that his aim is to promote ancient Hebrew law as the law of the land. Netanyahu used Ohana as an effective response. More a pink paint-balling than a pink-washing.

Netanyahu made this move because of the challenge posed by his most threatening new nemesis, former minister Avigdor Lieberman. In case you missed the previous chapters: Lieberman was the man standing between Netanyahu and another term as prime minister. His explanation (some say reason, some say excuse) for doing this was straight forward: The Likud-led coalition caves to ultra-Orthodox demands and forgets about the majority of Israelis who aren’t religiously practicing. This was an effective attack because Lieberman had the power to sabotage one coalition, but also because it can be used to strengthen Lieberman and make it possible for him to sabotage another coalition. 

Ohana is Netanyahu’s “Exhibit A” that Likud won’t accept an ultra-Orthodox dictate. In the coming months, depending on what the polls say about the state of the campaign, we can expect more such exhibits. To win the next election, the prime minister needs a right-wing bloc of 61 plus seats without Lieberman. One poll, from last week’s Maariv Daily Newspaper, made it seem possible. Other polls are less definitive. If Lieberman gains more seats because of his position, say seven or nine, Netanyahu must compensate for these gains by having a bloc of 70 seats or so. This means that every vote counts. This means that small parties that cannot cross the threshold won’t do. 

Netanyahu is under no illusion that radical gays will suddenly vote Likud because of the appointment of Ohana. In Israel, many gay leaders and organizations also eye a gay political conservative with great suspicion. Ohana is gay but he supports robust security measures. He is gay but wants to curb the power of the supreme court. He is gay but doesn’t believe in a Palestinian state. He is a gay man who raises an Israeli flag, a Star of David, proudly, fearlessly, unapologetically. Maybe this is not just a message to Israelis about the possible compatibility of being gay and being hawkish. Maybe this is also a message to non-Israeli gays who pretend to feel “threatened” by a Star of David on a rainbow flag. The message is: Booo!

Editor’s note: A handful of marchers were allowed to carry Pride flags featuring the Star of David at the D.C. Dyke March on June 7.

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

‘Shtisel’ Cast Conquers Los Angeles

The cast of "Shtisel" night 2 at Sinai Temple, with Rabbi Wolpe. Photo by Shlomit Levy Bard. Photos courtesy of Gesher

When the cast of the Israeli television series “Shtisel” began shooting interiors in Tel Aviv and exteriors in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem back in 2013, they never thought it would become a hit. But the Charedi family drama resonated widely in Israel and beyond.

With two seasons under its belt and the show streaming on Netflix, there were suddenly “Shtisel”-hungry fans everywhere. Two Los Angeles events, organized by cross-communal connections organization Gesher and produced by Teev Entertainment Group, drew more than 1,500 fans to “behind-the-scenes” events panels with the cast on June 4 and 5, at the Saban Theatre and Sinai Temple respectively.

At the June 4 event, moderator Larry Tanz, vice president of International Original Series for Netflix, writer/creator Ori Elon and actors Dov (Dov’ale) Glickman (Shulem), Michael Aloni (Kive), Ayelet Zurer (Elisheva) and Neta Riskin (Giti) took the stage to wild applause.

“It was the best script I read in my entire life,” said Glickman, who plays Shtisel family patriarch Shulem. “[It was] so deep and so complicated in psychology and the language and what happens there, I couldn’t believe it. It seemed to me like something between ‘The Sopranos’ and (Swedish director Ingmar) Bergman …”

Riskin said when she heard that “Shtisel” was about an ultra-Orthodox family and would be shooting in summer in Jerusalem, she said, “Never mind, no thanks.” But then she read the script.

“It was so perfect,” Riskin said. “I don’t know why we have to shoot it; they should just print it as a book. I still think we should. It’s much better written.”

For Riskin, understanding her character, Giti — a mother of five whose husband abandons her for an extended period of time — presented a challenge.

“Sometimes you’re like Peter Pan with his shadow and you need to find out how to sew the shadow to your legs and let it become a part of you,” she said. But after studying what other characters say about Giti in the script, she began to understand.

 “I don’t know why you chose this series for Netflix. It doesn’t have any sex scenes, no action, no nothing. But [the heater scene is] like the sex scene of ‘Shtisel.’” — Michael Aloni

“When you have this huge gap between what other people think about you and what you think about yourself, you get the character and her persona, and you know what she wants to fight for,” Riskin said, adding that Giti is seen as the “spine of her family,” but that she’s “working hard to be ordinary.”  

More from night 2 at Sinai Temple. Photo by Shlomit Levy Bard.

Glickman also spoke about establishing a kinship with his character. “We got so friendly, me and Shulem Shtisel, you cannot imagine,” Glickman said. “Shulem Shtisel told me, ‘Dov, you are a Jew.’ And I really accepted it. All [Shulem’s] relationships are broken. The only relationship he has is with the dead — with his wife. It is something that doesn’t leave him.”

Playing Elisheva Rotstein — the twice widowed woman raising a young son — Zurer noted it’s why her character is called “a schnitzel warmed twice in an oven.  Elisheva has one foot in the community and one foot outside, one foot in life, one foot outside of life,” she said. “It’s really tragic … it’s about someone who is in love with death more than life.”

When it came to casting the role of Elisheva, Zurer was already a Hollywood star, starring in “Munich,” “Angels & Demons” and “Man of Steel.” The producers weren’t sure her schedule would permit her to play Elisheva, Aloni said. So they shot Aloni’s side of one scene — the moment where Elisheva comes to pick up an electric heater from Kive — using a line producer as a stand-in, hoping that they could shoot Zurer later.

“I don’t know why you chose this series for Netflix,” Aloni said to Tanz. “It doesn’t have any sex scenes, no action, no nothing. But [the heater scene is] like the sex scene of ‘Shtisel.’ ”

Glickman, improvising in character, then expressed regret that Shulem came between Kive and Elisheva. “It was a big mistake with Elisheva,” Glickman-as-Shulem said. “I thought, she’s just a widow, I didn’t know she was a star in Hollywood. You never told me. I’m really sorry. I would tell you, ‘Go with her.’ ”

“ ‘Shtisel’ is all about the experience of not what these people are … it’s about who they are,” said creator Elon, a sentiment echoed by Aloni. Elon said walking in the streets of Jerusalem, he’s now able to see himself in an ultra-Orthodox man or a Muslim woman, as “someone who has a home and a haimish belonging.”

After the discussion, Adynna Swarz, who attended the event at the Saban, told the Journal it felt like being with family. “I just loved how they brought that presence on stage,” she said. “They were warm, engaging, funny and just made you feel like you were stepping into their world again, but in real life.”

“ ‘Shtisel’s’ appeal lies in its deep focus on the human condition and the relatability of the characters,” Cantor Yonah Kliger, of Temple Judea in Tarzana told the Journal. “Certainly, the Charedi world is a unique setting that many of us have never seen before, but what really makes this show work is that these characters could be any of us or our family members. It’s similar to why ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ plays so well in Japan. These are all of our stories.”

After the event, Gesher CEO JJ Sussman told the Journal, “Gesher’s goals are to create a cohesive society and bring us closer to one people, to Jewish unity. If the right people write and act convincingly, we can break down barriers and stereotypes. We were overjoyed and overwhelmed in a positive way by the excitement that ‘Shtisel’ generated, both from an entertainment value perspective and as a peek into a society that other people don’t get a chance to see. While we’re all different, we can all be together.”

Letters to the Editor: A Call for Jewish Unity,  Outrage Over Lecture, Zaglembie Memorial

A Call for Jewish Unity
As a people, we Jews are not unified. Politically, we’re divided into two camps, with roughly 70% liberal and 30% conservative. In general, liberals detest President Donald Trump and conservatives admire him. These differences broadly follow along the lines of religious observance, with Reform or secular Jews more liberal and Orthodox Jews more conservative. Both sides have lost respect for each other and rarely engage in meaningful dialogue. This has led to a fractured Jewish community in which we are more like rivals than brothers and sisters. 

According to Torah, we are all one family, descendants of our forefather Jacob. We are to love and care for one another regardless of our differences. We know from history that HaShem (God) will leave our midst if we dismiss his commandments and show animosity toward our fellow Jews. This occurred before the Roman destruction of Jerusalem some 2,000 years ago. 

As HaShem’s Chosen People, we must set aside our differences, engage in civil discourse and demonstrate goodwill toward one another. The adage “united we stand, divided we fall” is as true today as ever before. Our love and respect for one another will usher in a time of blessing for all Jews and make us far less vulnerable to outside threats and intimidation. 

To quote Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, “… remember God chose us as a people and it is as a people that we come before God and before the world. The Sages said …, ‘Great is peace, because even if Israel is worshipping idols and there is peace among them, God will never allow harm to happen to them.’ Go think about that.” The time for Jewish unity is now.
Michael S. Ginsburg, via email

Outrage Over Lecture
What is wrong with the administration of UCLA that allows an anti-Semitic, anti-Israel professor from San Francisco State University, who is Arab and Muslim, rant in front of an anthropology class? (UCLA Guest Lecturer Calls Zionists White Supremacists,” May 24). Rabab Abdulhadi called Zionists and pro-Israel students and Jewish students “white supremacists.”

There is nothing wrong with offering a different viewpoint regarding the Israeli-Palestinian imbroglio. However, in a classroom in front of an anthropology class to viciously attack groups of people with virulent hatred is not educational.

UCLA should let this miscreant pay for her own bus ticket back to San Francisco.
Richard N. Friedman, via email

Zaglembie Memorial
Thank you for your article about the Zaglembie memorial (“Honoring the Zaglembie Memorial in Mevo Modi’im,” May 31). When my cousin Avraham Green founded the World Zaglembie Organization to memorialize the Zaglembie Jewish communities, he wisely determined to minimize the use of metal, wood and paper products at their sites. This will facilitate the rehabilitation of the memorial in Israel, even after the terrible fires.

The organization also erected stone memorials at the sites of all the ghettos and Jewish cemeteries in Zaglembie as well as other Jewish sites. They are in good condition, and their information is easily read. In other areas in Poland, such as at the Gliwice concentration camp, brass engravings used to mark such sites have been stolen and not replaced.
Norman H. Green, Los Angeles

Story Clarifications
I read in your story on Hershey Felder’s Claude Debussy show that the Nazi regime banned Debussy’s compositions from being performed (“Felder Channels Debussy in New One-Man Show,” May 24).

I was skeptical of this as Debussy is considered to be one of France’s greatest composers (along with Hector Berlioz). I checked the performance history of Debussy’s only opera, “Pelléas et Mélisande.” I saw that in 1942, under German occupation, there was a revival with a new production of “Pelléas et Mélisande” at the Opéra-Comique in Paris. Undoubtedly German soldiers and officials would have had the opportunity to attend performances of “Pelléas.” This revival was successful and “Pelléas et Mélisande” remains in the repertory. LA Opera will do it again next season in a new production.

On to another matter. I am an admirer of the late Herman Wouk, who was blessed to have a long and productive life. May the author of “This Is My God,” “The Caine Mutiny,” and “War and Remembrance” and others, rest in peace.

However, it was incorrect in the Journal’s obituary to state that Wouk was survived by two sons. One son is a transgender woman by the name of Iolanthe Woulff, who is a writer. She ought not to be cast in any kind of shadows, especially upon the death of her father.
Murray Aronson, West Hollywood

‘Self-Hating Jews’ and Anti-Semitism
A couple of months ago, I read an article in a Jewish publication by someone who complained that they really resented being labeled “a self-hating Jew” just because they had written articles critical of Israel and its treatment of Palestinians. I was drawn to the article because I, too, am critical of Jews who publicly criticize Israel and its issues with Palestinians.

To my surprise, I found the article and its author’s rationale to be quite compelling. Specifically, the writer disputed the “self-hating Jew” label by explaining, despite their public criticism of Israel, they observed the Sabbath, kept kosher, attended shul on a relatively regular basis, and sent their kids to Jewish day schools. I also agreed with the author that perhaps the “self-hating Jew” label was an inaccurate description of the writer and other Jews that publicly criticize Israel and its interactions with the Palestinians.

Yet, I was troubled because I still strongly felt that Jews who publicly deride Israel’s dealings with Palestinians do great damage to other Jews in their community and worldwide.  Intellectually, I needed another label for Jews who are not literally self-hating but contribute to others’ open disdain for Israel, Zionism and Jews in general.  And then it hit me. Those Jews who join with non-Jews in their public criticism of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians are perhaps, not “self-hating Jews” but, despite their good intentions, may actually be enablers of anti-Semitism.
Stu Bernstein, Santa Monica

A Poem for Our Times
This poem was written during a long discussion at a Temple Adat Elohim board of directors meeting in the Conejo Valley. I know that many congregations are dealing with the same issues.
Creating Safety
by Suzanne Gallant

A very long meeting
Lots of voices raised
Lots of worries expressed
Lots of concern on faces
Just because,
Because hate is reigning
Because our culture today
Encourages, aids and abets
Haters, anti-Semites, racists.
Have created a culture
That encourages acts of violence.
A culture that permits crazy
Haters to buy automatic weapons
And lots of ammunition
Which they turn into mass murder.
In our synagogue fear reigns.
This meeting to discuss security.
So much money is needed.
So much fear engendered
We must fortify ourselves
To make our congregants safe.
What has our world come to,
That makes us afraid?
What can we do,
To turn this around
And make everyone safe?
What can we do?
Each and every one of us,
To change this culture
To make our communities,
Our States and our Country
Live together in unity?

Now it’s your turn. Submit your letter to the editor. Letters should be no more than
200 words and must include a valid name and city. The Journal reserves the right to edit all letters. letters@jewishjournal.com.

Are You Sure You Want to Be Jewish?

I’m floating in the mikveh wearing a very heavy, soaked cotton robe. Standing over me are three bearded Orthodox men, including a rabbi, who are serving as my conversion beit din. So far, I’ve pledged to follow the commandments to the best of my ability, renounce all former religious beliefs and keep the Sabbath. 

I’ve waited five years to get to this place, and I’m extremely excited to finally be a Jew. 

Then the rabbi brings up anti-Semitism. “We have been persecuted for all time,” he says. “We have been kicked out of countries and hated for our beliefs. We face constant anti-Semitism. If someone were to come and demand that all the Jews had to evacuate or face death, what would you do?” 

Without pausing, I say, “I would go with my people.” 

And with that, and some blessings, I became a Jew. 

That was in 2015. During my conversion, I’d never experienced true anti-Semitism, except for some off-color, stereotypical comments about Jews. There were attacks in Israel and France, but they seemed so far away and not part of my reality. 

Throughout my conversion process, people asked me why I was converting if I was just going to be hated as a Jew. It especially puzzled Holocaust survivors. I always told them that it wasn’t my choice. I was born with a Jewish soul and I knew I had to become part of the Jewish people. Can you deny your true self?

“Throughout my conversion process, people asked me why I was converting if I was just going to be hated as a Jew. It especially puzzled Holocaust survivors.”

Fast forward to 2018. The Tree of Life shooting in Pittsburgh; two politicians who express anti-Semitic rhetoric were elected to Congress; the Chabad of Poway shooting; strikes from Gaza into Israel;. an anti-Semitic cartoon in international editions of The New York Times; white supremacists; Brooklyn Chasidim being tormented by their non-Jewish neighbors. And on and on and on. 

I finally experienced anti-Semitism in 2017, when my Uber driver told me that Jews put the blood of children into their matzo ball soup. And then I saw it again when a funny commentator I used to follow suddenly started posting anti-Semitic tropes, encouraging his followers to wake up and realize that Jews control the world. After Pittsburgh, my husband, Daniel, and I led an effort to get an armed guard at our synagogue, and we’ve since had to take additional security measures. 

I don’t have much hope that things are going to reverse any time soon. We are hated on the far left and the far right, and every day I see more stories about hate crimes against Jews. I don’t know if it’ll reach a point where we have to physically defend ourselves or leave for Israel. I pray that it never does. 

What I know for certain is that although I am now experiencing anti-Semitism, converting to Judaism was the best decision I ever made. People shouldn’t be afraid to convert if it’s what they’re meant to do, and Jews should still be proud of their Judaism no matter what.  

Practically, we need to safeguard our shuls, schools, community centers and homes, be alert, be there for one another, share news about anti-Semitism and petition our politicians to call out hate. Spiritually, we need to have faith that God has a plan for us. Things may seem dark now, but eventually, they will get better. 

The anti-Semites cannot tear us down. If time has proven anything, it’s that we — the Jewish people and not our adversaries — will survive. We need to stick together, because when we do that, we are stronger. 

In these trying times, I know that’s what I will do. I will be with my people, and wherever they go, I will go. That was my pledge, and I intend to follow through.

Kylie Ora Lobell is a Journal contributing writer.

Shavuot: The Middle Child of Jewish Festivals

Shavuot has middle-child syndrome in that it largely is invisible to most liberal American Jews. Although it is one of the three major festivals in the Jewish calendar, Passover takes top billing in American-Jewish culture. Sukkot, the other festival, is not nearly as well known as Passover, but there seems to be more awareness of this holiday in some liberal Jewish communities because of an increased interest in building a sukkah, the portable backyard structure symbolizing this festival.

But unlike Passover and Sukkot, Shavuot doesn’t have a home-based set of rituals that promotes a wider cultural recognition. Observance of Shavuot largely involves synagogue services, which can include an all-night study session on the first evening known as the tikkun leil Shavuot.

According to rabbinic tradition, Shavuot is when God gave Jews the Torah.  Although the Torah does not explicitly mention this as the basis for the holiday, the sages of the Talmud understood this explanation to be the festival’s primary meaning. However, this theological grounding does not enhance Shavuot’s appeal. 

People often ask me where faith in God fits into the picture of Jewish identity and transmission. This topic is complicated. It seems to be the case that among many Jews, including some who profess to be religious, faith and observance do not necessarily go hand in hand. In my experience, faith is not a subject many liberal Jews are comfortable openly discussing. In today’s highly secularized American society, many Jews prize autonomy and personalization. Liberal Jews do not respond well to being told what to do and how to believe.

In theory, Judaism demands loyalty to a monotheistic perspective, but in practice, the Jewish religion largely focuses on actions rather than belief. Many people believe actions influence emotions; therefore, Judaism largely focuses on what a person does rather than what he or she believes. Although studies show both faith and observance are stronger among the traditional end of the denominational spectrum, there is evidence of individual choice even among traditionally observant Jews.

People often ask me where faith in God fits into the picture of Jewish identity and transmission.

Many people don’t realize that freedom of choice regarding observance isn’t a novel concept with respect to Jewish tradition. In fact, the element of choice dates the Revelation at Mount Sinai. According to the Torah, when Moses told the people all of God’s commandments, the people answered with one voice, saying, “We will do.” It was their collective choice to obey.  Also, an ancient rabbinic source — Midrash Rabbah (Exodus 5:9) — tells us that even at the time of Revelation, God’s voice came “to each Israelite with a force proportioned to his individual strength.” This source underscores the importance of human individuality with respect to how humans received the Torah.  

On Shavuot, we read the Book of Ruth, a text furnishing one of the most renowned examples of the importance of choice. Ruth, a Moabite woman, married one of Naomi’s sons, who later died. Ruth refused to return to her own people and instead, uttered the famous pledge of loyalty: “For wherever you go, I will go … your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” 

This Biblical narrative concludes with Ruth marrying Boaz, a relative of Naomi’s deceased husband, and bearing a son named Obed, who was the grandfather of King David. The placement of this lineage at the end of the text is particularly significant because according to lore, the Messiah will be a descendant of King David and of Ruth, the woman who chose to be Jewish.

As a practical matter, we live in an era where cultural forces make it difficult to secure a balance between fluidity and choice versus preservation of tradition. Liberal Jews need to contemplate how they can accomplish successful transmission of Jewish tradition outside a framework based on obedience to divine command.

The festival of Shavuot, coming as it does after the frenzy of Passover but well before the High Holy Days, provides a well-placed opportunity to contemplate the choices we make on our Jewish journeys and how they will impact the next generation.

Roberta Rosenthal Kwall is a professor at DePaul Law School and the author of “The Myth of the Cultural Jew” (Oxford University Press, 2015) and “Remix Judaism” (forthcoming from Rowman & Littlefield).

Jewish Youth Are More Spiritual Than You Think

Working in Jewish media, I’ve learned that much of what constitutes Jewish thinking in the United States amounts to fretting about whether the next generation will be Jewish. 

It will be. 

Maybe not all, but a great deal of them will be Jewish. The question is: What kind of Jews will they be?

Most likely, they will be the type of Jews who spend a great deal of time fretting about whether the next generation will be Jewish. 

What do kids want? How can we make kids see Judaism as relevant? Can we offer yoga at synagogue? Can we, as was suggested in a recent Jewish Journal podcast, “remix” Judaism? Can we get people to just light candles on Shabbat? Can we get them to consider giving up pork?

We can’t force anyone; that’s a failing strategy. So perhaps, we should beg them. Perhaps we should seduce them. Perhaps — and this is a big one — we should trick them. We can slip Judaism into their lives like a heartworm pill into a glob of peanut butter and feed it to them.

But what if these strategies not only are losing ones but also insulting ones?

Speaking as a young, liberal, millennial Jew who is a practicing Jew, I believe this perspective on outreach is based on a series of myths, stereotypes and misconceptions about millennials and about Judaism.

Here are some of the big ones:

Myth One: Judaism Is Weird and Lame!
Traditional Judaism stinks. It’s boring. It’s hard. It’s irrelevant. And it’s full of bizarre and unmodern practices like putting a box on your head and reading about an ancient Temple where animal sacrifices were performed. Young, liberal Jews want a Judaism for today!


Young, liberal Jews want a Judaism that’s in line with their values. We want a Judaism that is welcoming to gay and trans worshippers, and treats women and men with equal dignity. We want a Judaism that won’t judge or scorn our observance level.

That said, we very well might appreciate a dose of the strange, the esoteric and the utterly Jewish elements of Judaism. As recently deceased Christian blogger Rachel Held Evans once wrote, millennials are looking for a religion that is inclusive — but not stripped of its ancient particularities.

“The trick isn’t to make church cool; it’s to keep worship weird,” Evans wrote. “You can get a cup of coffee with your friends anywhere, but church is the only place you can get ashes smudged on your forehead as a reminder of your mortality.”

Myth Two: Judaism Is Hard!
Young, liberal Jews want a Judaism that’s fast, easy and cool. They don’t like commitment. They like social functions and bright colors. You need a fun rabbi with Beto O’Rourke-style skateboarding and table-standing skills to really wow these youngsters!

Young, liberal Jews don’t want something easy. We want something real. When something is real, we can dedicate and commit. Millennials have not abandoned the pursuit of committed spiritual and ethical lives.

Think of millennials living zero-waste lifestyles; traveling the world and working on organic farms; going to yoga once a day; or traveling to monasteries to do silent Vipassana retreats. None of these things are easy, yet many young people are convinced they are worth the effort.

What young people don’t want is to be pandered to. As a gay, liberal millennial, the Reform movement seemed like a natural fit for me when I decided back in college to explore Judaism’s spiritual foundations.

What I found were temples so desperately trying to reach me that they barely allowed any space for me to reach Judaism. Each Shabbat had a “fun” theme: Jamaican Drum Shabbat, Buddhist Chanting Shabbat, Art Shabbat, Yoga Shabbat. 

At home, I would read books by Heschel, Buber and Kook. I was beginning to learn the religion I grew up with was full of deep mysteries, spiritual treasures and intellectual knots for me to explore and work out. Why were these temples and synagogues so convinced this wasn’t enough for me?

Myth Three: Judaism Doesn’t Do Anything!
Young, liberal Jews don’t care about Judaism. To get them to be Jewish, you must incentivize Jewish practice.

This point was stressed in the Jewish Journal podcast on “remixing” Judaism. Orthodox Jews, stated Roberta R. Kwall, practice religion because God said so, whereas liberal Jews need to be convinced religion will do something for them. Bring their families together, perhaps — or help them disconnect from busy work lives on Shabbat.

But what we do for an instrumental purpose always can be replaced by something that achieves that purpose better. Does lighting Shabbat candles bring your family together? Maybe. However, maybe playing Scrabble does the same thing. Maybe Scrabble is even more fun for the family than a Shabbat dinner. If the point of the thing isn’t the thing itself, then the point is the result, and the means can be replaced.

The only Judaism that will survive is a Judaism practiced for its own sake.

Myth Four: The Kids Must Be Jewish!
The Jews are going to disappear from the face of the earth! They will forget that they are Jews unless we impress this constant anxiety of assimilation onto them as it has been impressed onto us!

The yoga trend in America will die if people stop wanting to do yoga — if they find something else that’s better for their bodies, minds and souls. Like spinning or Pilates. But those who see intrinsic value in yoga — not just in its results but in the beauty of its gestures, language and message — will continue practicing. 

Isn’t this enough? How many yogis do we need? Is one yoga studio full of regularly practicing, dedicated, happy yogis worse than 20 studios? Would it be better to take that one yoga studio and start adding movie nights, tap dance classes and gospel singing to reach more people? 

I don’t think it would. So why are we doing this with our synagogues?

Demographics shift. There aren’t very many Jews in America and there may be fewer in the future.

We can assume those who remain Jewish will do so not because they have been begged, tricked or seduced, but because they fell in love with the beauty of Judaism’s gestures, language and message. 

Yes, Judaism is strange. Yes, Judaism takes effort. Yes, Judaism lacks incentives. 

And yes, these facts make Judaism a hard sell for some young people. For others, this is the appeal.

Why not focus on them for a change?

Matthew Schultz is a writer living and working in Tel Aviv.

Anti-Zionism Worse than Anti-Semitism

I always get suspicious when I hear someone flaunt their pro-Israel credentials by saying, “I firmly believe in Israel’s right to exist.” Gee, thanks. I firmly believe in your right to exist, too.

The real question is: How did Israel’s “right to exist” ever become an issue in the first place?

After all, we never hear about Syria’s right to exist or Libya’s right to exist or Sudan’s right to exist or Yemen’s right to exist. A country can commit genocide against its people and inflict the worst humanitarian disaster and no one will ever bring up its “right to exist.”

So, why is it OK to single out Israel?

Here’s my theory: If you hate Jews so much that you want to challenge their very presence, your best bet is to go after Israel. Jew haters know they can’t start a movement to eliminate the Jews, so they do the next best thing: They work to undermine, in sneaky ways, the world’s only Jewish state.

Anti-Semitism revolves around an emotion — hate. Anti-Zionism revolves around an action — destruction.

A stark example is the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, the leading global force against Israel. Its very name is misleading. Words like “boycott” “divestment” and “sanctions,” which are taken straight from the social justice manual, create a façade of genuine protest to hide a purely destructive agenda.

This charade shouldn’t shock anyone who’s been paying attention. In recent years, it has become more and more evident that the BDS agenda is not to criticize Israel but to crush it.

Even prominent BDS activists, like Ahmed Moor, have come clean: “OK, fine. So BDS does mean the end of the Jewish state.” Or university professor As’ad
AbuKhalil, another BDS activist: “The real aim of BDS is to bring down the State of Israel.”

Omar Barghouti, the founder of BDS himself, has said on the record: “Definitely most definitely we oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine.”

To undermine the 3,000-year Jewish connection to the land, Barghouti uses language like “acquired rights” and “indigenized.” His vision includes “de-Zionization” of Israel and the return of up to 5 million Palestinian “refugees” to flood the Jewish state.

Had BDS called itself the WIN movement — Wipeout Israel Now — no one would have taken them seriously. Instead, it uses the messaging of protest and intersectionality to attract well-meaning activists who don’t want to see Israel wiped out. This subterfuge is their strategy, and for the gullible crowd, it’s working.

BDS’s core success is sucking in much of the mainstream media and others who believe in “two states for two people” and assume that BDS is a way of pressuring Israel to get there.

It is far from that. The BDS mission originates straight from the founding mission of the PLO in 1964, before any Jewish settlements existed, which was to eliminate what is still seen as the unacceptable and humiliating sovereign Jewish-Zionist presence in Arab-Muslim lands.

Jew hatred may fuel the Israel hatred behind BDS and other anti-Israel forces, but after that, Israel-hatred wreaks havoc on its own. This is why, in my eyes, anti-Zionism is more lethal than anti-Semitism: It carries the virus of elimination.

As author Gil Troy writes in an email from Jerusalem, “Thousands have been killed and maimed by modern anti-Zionism, which requires the ideological and rhetorical inflammation to get people to blow themselves up and kill innocents. As a result, not only have we absorbed the notion that Israel’s existence should be up for grabs, but our outrage has been dulled –— we accept attacks on Israel as normal.”

Demonizing Israel and singling it out for special condemnation is immoral and discriminatory regardless of any claims of anti-Semitism.

Underlying the whole assault on Israel, he adds, “is the rejection of us as a people — we are just supposed to be a ‘nice’ religion confined to our synagogues and JCC’s, not a people taking up real space in the international arena.”

In sum, it is hardly enough to argue that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. In at least one crucial way it’s worse than that. Anti-Semitism revolves around an emotion — hate. Anti-Zionism revolves around an action — destruction.

Anti-Zionism must be fought on its own terms. Demonizing Israel and singling it out for special condemnation is immoral and discriminatory regardless of any claims of anti-Semitism.

Israel doesn’t just have a right to exist. Like any other imperfect state, it has a right to thrive, whether you hate Jews or not.

May 31, 2019


Also, check out our Summer Sneaks Arts and Entertainment Section!


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On Being Versus Becoming

It’s hard to thrive, or even function, if you don’t feel safe. Emotionally, if there is no love in your life, an inner emptiness gnaws at you wherever you go. If you don’t feel physically safe, a constant anxiety sticks to you. Insecurity, in whatever form, can be debilitating.

If this is true for grown-ups, imagine how true it is for children. A fragile baby is at the mercy of others for both physical and emotional sustenance. Not surprisingly, studies show that secure relationships in the early years are essential to helping children grow into healthy adults.

This was the main subject at a recent luncheon hosted by the Jewish Federation for The First 36 Project, a pilot program geared to “the first 36 months” of life developed by the Simms/Mann Institute, in partnership with Builders of Jewish Education (BJE) and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. 

The project’s mission, according to its brochure, is “to provide a select group of parent-and-me instructors with an exclusive professional development experience designed to amplify their ability to support parents as they build strong, meaningful bonds with their children.”

In short, the program uses the professional expertise of the Simms/Mann Institute to help babies thrive.

From testimonials and other sources, it’s apparent that the initiative has made a significant impact since it launched in 2013, spreading throughout our community and elsewhere. This is a classic case of the right groups partnering to fill an important community need.

But as much as I enjoyed hearing about the project, what I found unusually refreshing about the luncheon was that the keynote speaker, Rabbi Donniel Hartman, did not restrict himself to the theme of the day. This was a welcome break from events that focus too obsessively on only one agenda.

Hartman, who runs the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, engaged a group of local leaders with a verbal jazz session on the philosophy of being Jewish. He kicked off by wondering why Jews are so small in numbers.

Why, indeed, are we outnumbered by more than 100 to 1 by the two monotheistic faiths that came after us? 

One reason, according to Hartman, is that Judaism doesn’t provide easy answers.

“The way our tradition thinks,” he said, “is that when someone asks you is it A or is it B, more often than not, the Jewish tradition’s answer is ‘Yes.’ ”

To illustrate, he riffed on the “complicated dance” between the state of “being” and the state of “becoming.”

“Because of Abraham’s tests,” Hartman told us, “we are accepted and loved by God, before Torah, before we believed, before we did, before we kept kosher or Shabbat or anything.”

What gets most of the attention in a world that glorifies achievement is the state of becoming — the restlessness to always want to do more.

“I haven’t slept in over 15 years, truly, because I’m constantly worried about what I haven’t done,” he said. “I always felt that to be a Jew is to be the enemy of mediocrity. …To live a Jewish life is to recognize that who you are is not who you ought to be.”

And yet, in the Torah, the “covenant of becoming” comes long after the “covenant of being,” which is represented by the story of Abraham and occurs many centuries before the divine revelation at Sinai.

“Because of Abraham’s tests,” Hartman told us, “we are accepted and loved by God, before Torah, before we believed, before we did, before we kept kosher or Shabbat or anything.”

God chose to bless the Jews merely because they are the children of Abraham, merely because they’re part of the family. That is the covenant of being, a covenant of unconditional acceptance and eternal love.

“I imagined a dance where God’s unconditional love is the music that moves us to do more, to repair the world and ourselves, to reach higher levels of holiness.” 

“To be a Jew is to be challenged to become but to know that you’re loved unconditionally,” he said. The sequence is crucial: “You only come to the covenant of becoming if you have a strong foundation in the covenant of being.”

Among the many ideas Hartman shared, that dance between being and becoming stood out for me. I imagined a dance where God’s unconditional love is the music that moves us to do more, to repair the world and ourselves, to reach higher levels of holiness.  

This was Hartman’s way, perhaps, of connecting to the theme of the day. After all, a baby, as much as anyone, needs that strong foundation of unconditional love as it starts to “become.”

A good beginning, though, is no guarantee of success. Life has become too complicated. When we look at the growing ills in our community, it’s no wonder we have so many programs for the first 36 years of life and beyond — for grown-ups who have difficulty coping and finding meaning in a stressful and lonely world.

Hartman spoke to that group. God loves you no matter what, he told us. Now go and become.

Summer Is Coming: Three Comments

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; Photo by Heidi Levine/Reuters

1. In less than two weeks, Israel is slated to install its new government. Its policies aren’t yet known, its direction unclear, its exact contour under discussion. But one thing is known: The right-religious camp added another layer of arrogance when voters gave it another term.

Some of the parties have over-the-top financial demands. Some want to use their acquired power to pass hasty, radical legislation. During previous terms, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was usually the man reining in the bandits and preventing them from doing “stupid s—” (to borrow from former President Barack Obama’s term). 

But Netanyahu is currently more vulnerable to manipulation. He must have his allies at his side to overcome his legal trouble. The result could be a lot of stupidity — and all it involves (that is, the s—). 

2. President Donald Trump’s administration’s peace plan, slated to be made public soon (but not very soon), is more of an opportunity to focus the mind than a real opportunity for the advancement of peace. The Palestinians will reject the plan, the Arab world will meekly follow, and in Israel, some political factions might also voice reluctance toward parts of the plan (example: Jerusalem as a capital of both Israelis and Palestinians). The plan isn’t fully known. The reaction to it is less of a mystery. 

And yet, the Trump plan is likely to mark an official recognition of a historic departure: The orthodoxy of a two-state solution is badly shaken, possibly gone. That’s why all involved parties ought to use the Trump plan as an opportunity for rethinking their aims and strategies. For the Palestinians, it’s an opportunity to reconsider the maxim that time is on their side. For Arab states, an opportunity to reexamine their commitment to a Palestinian lost cause. For European agents, an opportunity to readjust to realities. 

It is also an opportunity for Israel and its supporters to recalculate their presumptions and aims. What do we want? What is the end game? When there’s no clear path forward, navigation becomes more difficult because there’s no road map. On the other hand, no clear path forward means that all options are still open. A new way can be carved. 

3Paying attention to Iran could be tedious. It’s far away, it’s complicated and there’s a lot of nuance involved, from sanctions, to threats, to diplomatic talks, to reinforcement of troops, to mystery sabotage. And yet, the most important news of the week concerns Iran. Possibly, the beginning of a showdown. Possibly, the beginning of renegotiation. Trump applies pressure; Iran is testing how serious he is. This means two things: Iran no longer believes that Trump will soon be leaving office; and/or Iran no longer has the ability to wait out Trump’s term.   

What we’re currently witnessing in the Persian Gulf is an exchange of messages. Iran signals that it is no longer willing to accept a deteriorating situation, hat in hand. From this, it can attempt one of three things: to scare away the United States by making threats or using power; to surrender and accept America’s terms; or to renegotiate. Trump already handed his phone number to the Swiss, in case Tehran wants to make the call. What happens if it makes the call? 

A lot depends on Trump. If his main interest is politics, all he has to do is slightly improve the botched nuclear agreement and claim victory. His point made: Trump is a better dealmaker than Obama. Israeli policymakers, while having a lot of confidence in Trump, still fear such a result. Mainly because unlike in Obama’s case, an Iran deal signed by Trump will be much harder to oppose.

But senior Israeli leaders believe that Trump’s interest is his policy. They believe that if there are negotiations, they will be much tougher, and might not produce a positive outcome. 

All this becomes dangerous because both parties, the U.S. and Iran, pretty much exhausted all their signaling options short of violent action. The U.S. is using all available sanctions. Iran announced that it will move to reproduce enriched uranium in a few weeks. It’s a game of chicken, with two players whose main apprehension is to be suspected of being chicken.

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

Get Serious About Holocaust Education

Photo from the National Museum of the USAF.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Perfidy of Evil

The railway track leading to the infamous “death gate” at the Auschwitz II Birkenau extermination camp in Oswiecim, Poland, on Nov. 13, 2014. Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

When I went to see the groundbreaking exhibition “Auschwitz: Not Long Ago. Not Far Away” at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York, Orthodox Jews were being attacked in Brooklyn on a near-daily basis; an imam who has repeatedly called for Israel’s destruction gave a Ramadan prayer in Congress; a church in Chicago invited Louis Farrakhan to speak about “Satanic Jews”; and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) asserted that the real victims of the Holocaust were Palestinian Arabs who lost their “dignity” in creating a “safe haven” for Jews. 

“Not Long Ago. Not Far Away” never seemed so apt.

But quite unexpectedly, the exhibition — as dark and intense as you could imagine — also offered a ray of hope. Showing more than 700 artifacts, it was conceived by Luis Ferreiro, a non-Jewish Spaniard, after reading “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl. Ferreiro, who runs the global producer of exhibitions Musealia, approached the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum with the idea of creating the first-ever traveling exhibition about the Holocaust. The result: a nearly two-year stay in Madrid, with two extensions, drawing 600,000 visitors, the largest in Europe last year.

A windowless boxcar greets you when you arrive at the museum in New York. During the Holocaust, roughly 150 people, mostly Jews, were crammed into one like it, taking them on an often four-day hellish trip to the death camp, where the sign “Work Sets You Free” welcomed them with the perfidy only evil can master. 

The exhibition focuses on Auschwitz because between 1942 and 1944 it became the largest Nazi death factory — the largest documented mass murder site in human history. “Auschwitz and the Shoah are not just another single, dramatic event in the linear history of humanity. It is a critical point in the history of Europe and perhaps the world,” said Dr. Piotr M.A. Cywinski, director of the Auschwitz museum.   

The exhibition does a magnificent job detailing the buildup to humanity’s darkest chapter. Facts are stated as facts, indisputable, unable to be twisted into precisely the type of propaganda that led to the murder of 1.1 million people at Auschwitz, 1 million of whom were Jews, including more than 200,000 children.

The “Auschwitz” exhibition does a magnificent job 

detailing the buildup to humanity’s 

darkest chapter.

The artifacts are wrenching: a whip used to beat prisoners; a section of barracks; concrete pillars entwined with barbed wire; a metal peephole to the gas chambers; a poker used to manage the fires in the crematoria, which burned 4,416 corpses per day. 

Quotes, either on the walls or in short films, are equally jarring: “Once the Zyklon B was poured in, it rose from the ground upwards. And in the terrible struggle that followed, the strongest people tried to climb higher. It was instinctive, a death struggle. Which is why children and weaker people, and the aged, always wound up at the bottom. … Because in the death struggle, a father didn’t realize that his son lay beneath him.”

An exhaustively researched and illustrated catalog by Abbeville Press accompanies the exhibition. With both anti-Semitic attacks and Holocaust denial/revisionism at an all-time high, when two-thirds of millennials don’t even know what the Holocaust is, the book deserves a place in every home. The exhibition is in New York till January and then will travel for seven years, though the cities have yet to be named. The New York museum plans to bring in 100,000 schoolchildren. Colleges would do the world a big favor by making trips to the exhibition mandatory.

The book makes a point of discussing assimilationist Jews — Jews who dealt with rising anti-Semitism by putting their status in German society above their Jewish identity. “To the Germans,” write the authors, “[their] dissociation from Judaism did not matter. The only thing that counted was their descent — and it would bring [them] to Auschwitz.”

Have we really come full circle? “The words of hatred create hatred. The words of dehumanization dehumanize. The words of menace increase the threat,” Cywinski writes.   

I took a deep breath, looked toward the Statue of Liberty less than 2 miles away, and walked into the brilliant sunshine hearing the words of the resistance fighter Róza Robota before her execution in 1945: “Hazak v’ematz.” Be strong and brave. We need to confront every lie; uproot hatred through education. Silence is simply not an option.

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

A Time for Mourning, Reflection, Celebration, and Gratitude

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unconditional Love: A Mother’s Day Story

Deborah Engel Kollin (seated, right) and her three children, Yoni (seated, left), Eliana (top row) and Gavi. Photo courtesy of Deborah Engel Kollin

Six years ago, Deborah Engel Kollin learned that her then-12-year-old son, Yoni, was gay. Four years later, Yoni came out as non-binary, identifying as neither male or female.  Engel Kollin was supportive even though she didn’t understand everything about her child’s journey. 

“I don’t find it a challenge. I find it an opportunity more than anything,” Engel Kollin said. “And to me, the love that I have for my children is unconditional and it doesn’t matter who they are, how they present, as long as they are ethical, good, moral people who care about human beings and are positive, productive members of society.” 

Engel Kollin and her husband, Dani, have four children, including a 16-year-old girl they’re fostering, and belong to Temple Beth Am Synagogue.

Yoni, 18, a Hamilton High School senior who goes by the gender pronoun, “they,” is an artist with a passion for poetry. Last month, JQ International, an organization serving LGBTQ Jews in Los Angeles, honored Kollin. They attended the luncheon with dyed hair, eye makeup and a floral top. In their acceptance speech, Yoni said that they only felt truly seen after their mother joined the board of JQ.

For Engel Kollin, now JQ International’s leadership engagement chair, upon learning that Yoni was gay, her greatest concern was not that Yoni wouldn’t give her grandkids but that their sexual identity would make them an outsider in the Jewish community. 

“I didn’t want Yoni to have to choose between being gay and being Jewish and when he first came out, he thought that was the choice he had to make,” Engel Kollin said. “And through [JQ’s] JQSA (Jewish Queer Straight Alliance), he saw he didn’t have to make that choice.”

While Engel Kollin and Yoni have always been close, she said their shared involvement with JQ strengthened their relationship. “It gave us another way to connect,” she said, “and we are both involved with JQ and we go to a lot of things together.”

Because Engel Kollin struggled with infertility and their 21-year-old daughter is adopted, “Maybe that’s why I never had an issue with Yoni being gay because you can become a parent in any way,” Engel Kollin said. “It was not like, ‘Oh I won’t have grandkids.’ They can adopt. There are so many ways to become a parent.”

Yoni hopes to attend Cal State Long Beach next year and study graphic design. For her part, Engel Kollin isn’t concerned about Yoni’s classmates targeting them for wearing jewelry and makeup; she is concerned about anti-Semitism on campus.

“If anything, I’m not scared about his being gay, although some people say I should be,” she said. “I am more concerned with the Jewish aspect.” 

Like any Jewish mother would be.

Marching for My Zayde at Auschwitz-Birkenau

A group of students learning about the Holocaust on the train tracks of Birkenau concentration camp. Photos by Erin Ben-Moche

Nothing can prepare you for a visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau. No amount of movies, books, journals or stories can accurately portray the horrors that changed the course of history forever. 

I learned about the Holocaust in Hebrew school and heard about it from my late zayde who was a survivor. But until you see it in person, you have no idea. 

During the two days I attended the 31st annual March of the Living on May 1 and 2, the three-kilometer (just under two-mile) march from Auschwitz to Birkenau in Kraków, Poland, my feelings ricocheted from sadness to fear to astonishment. Not only did more than 10,000 people participate this year, we marched on Yom HaShoah — Holocaust Memorial Day. 

Some on the trip said it would have been easier “if the weather was worse” —words travelers never say. The beaming sun shone in a blue sky dotted with perfectly white clouds, and the ground was covered in daisies and lilacs. Within the concentration camp, colorful flowers broke through the earth. How could a place filled with such beauty hold such sorrow?

This juxtaposition made the Holocaust feel all the more real to me. Six million Jews weren’t just prisoners on the cloudiest or snowiest of days. They worked, survived and died through the seasonal changes, including the beautiful days.

Many who attended the March of the Living had never been to Poland before, let alone a concentration camp. This year, the coordinators decided to incorporate a tour of the camps prior to the march so that it wouldn’t be so overwhelming. 

There are moments you know are coming and prepare yourself for — like entering the crematorium. Tour guides give you the option not to enter if you are uncomfortable. Knowing I had a choice while millions didn’t, I entered. 

Anxiety set in immediately as claustrophobia enveloped me in the dark containment room that once held nearly 2,000 people at a time. Trying to find light, I discovered walls scuffed with millions of old scratch marks from those who had tried desperately to escape the Nazi killing machine. 

Having the ability to walk out of a gas chamber after only a few minutes adds a perspective that can’t be taught in a classroom. You want to protect everyone so that nobody ever has to go in without having the choice to come out. 

There are moments you know are coming and prepare yourself for — like entering the crematorium. Tour guides give you the option not to enter if you are uncomfortable. Knowing I had a choice while millions didn’t, I entered.

But it was also the little things that stayed with me during the march. We passed the famous gates that read “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Sets you Free), while many dismissed the trees that stood tall next to it. A tour guide told me the first camp prisoners had planted the four trees immediately adjacent to the gates. So much of the evidence from more than a million people murdered was destroyed, but there were those trees with leaves and branches stretching toward the sky.

The four trees next to the gates of Auschwitz.

A great deal of evidence still remains, though. Two tons of hair behind a glass case cut from an estimated 30,000 people; documentation of direct orders to exterminate so many human lives; luggage and other personal belongings. 

One of the many posters left along the train tracks during the march.

Despite it all, several survivors still return to the March of the Living to educate young people. Birkenau survivor Hedy Bohm, 91, from Romania, shared her feelings attending the march for the sixth time. 

“As long as I come and see the young people … these thousands of eager and bright Jewish young faces, I’m happy to be with them,” Bohm said. “I’m happy to teach them whatever they need to be ready for life. For years, I think a lot of survivors have had the feeling that times remind us of the 1930s. Unfortunately, I feel the same way, too. … We are unable to learn. History repeats itself. We try to remember, we try to be smarter. We try, and that’s all we can do. Keep on trying.”

March of the Living founder and Co-Chair Dr. Shmuel Rosenman addressed thousands of families, survivors and students ahead of the march, saying, “Today, we proclaim to our enemies with a loud and clear voice: We shall not be defeated! We will return here year after year to raise our voices against anti-Semitism and, indeed, against all forms of racism and hatred. As a survivor of Auschwitz once said, ‘The only one thing worse than Auschwitz is if the world ever forgets that there was an Auschwitz.’ We promise to never allow that to happen.”

The march began with the blast of a shofar. At first, the only sounds were footsteps hitting the dirt floor. Then soft murmurs picked up as groups merged with others sharing stories of survival and family, the most common phrase overheard being, “I’m marching for …” or “I’m marching in honor of …” 


I couldn’t help but think I was marching in honor of my zayde.

Erin Ben-Moche was invited as a member of the press by the March of the Living organization to participate in the march. 

Attention White Supremacists

Your fears are correct:

We will replace you. We will absolutely, without a doubt, replace you.

We will replace every act of hate you commit with ten thousand acts of love.

We will flood every dark corner of bigotry and lies where you lurk with truth and reason that burns like the light of ten thousand suns.

We will drown your hatred with love.

A mixed, rainbow multitude of good, kind, decent people, Black and White, Jewish and Christian, Muslim and Hindu, Buddhist and Atheist, Gay and Straight, Left and Right, will stand up to you, again and again, and again and again, and we shall overcome you.


All of Us

Rabbi Ari Hart is the spiritual leader of Skokie Valley Agudath Jacob in Illinois.

Anti-Semitism Is Also the Internal War of the Jews

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What!? This is out of the question!

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

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

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



Emerging Leaders Learn to Fight Anti-Semitism at Poland Conference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Federal Authorities Foil L.A. Terror Attack

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Federal authorities foiled a terror plot Monday targeting numerous locations throughout the Los Angeles area.

According to a federal affidavit, Army veteran Mark Domingo, 26, was allegedly plotting the terror attack as retaliation for the New Zealand mosques shootings in March. Domingo had also posted on social media stating that there needed to be another massacre akin to the October 2017 Las Vegas shooting and expressed support for ISIS.

Per the affidavit, Domingo considered targeting “Jews, churches, and police officers” as well as military personnel. Among the locations he considered were the Santa Monica Pier and an LA freeway. Domingo eventually decided to detonate IEDs at an April 28 white nationalist rally in Long Beach. Domingo didn’t expect to survive the attack and told an FBI informant posing as Domingo’s co-conspirator that if he survived his first planned attack, he would then target the Port of Long Beach in an effort to harm the United States economy.

When Domingo purchased what he “thought were completed IEDs” from an undercover FBI agent, federal agents arrested him.

“Law enforcement was able to identify a man consumed with hate and bent on mass murder and stop him before he was able to carry out his attack,” United States Attorney Nicola Hanna said at a news conference Monday. “All of these plans were related to Mr. Domingo’s stated belief in violent jihad and that Americans should pay for attacks on Muslims around the world.”

The thwarted terror attack comes just two days after the shooting at the Chabad of Poway that killed Lori Gilbert-Kaye, 60, and injured three others. The incident has sparked discussions about the need for heightened security at places of worship.

Updates from San Diego: Community Gathers, Prays, Grieves

SAN DIEGO – Shaina, a 15-year-old girl, corralled her younger sister and six other kids and led them out a back exit of Chabad of Poway, saving lives, according to her mom Debra.

“She was so brave, she’s a hero,” Debra said from the driveway of a Poway Chabad junior rabbi’s house this morning. She declined to give her last name.

As the gunman sprayed bullets in the sanctuary, Shaina led the group of kids out the back, down some steps to the backyard of the junior rabbi’s house. They ended up in the street at the end of a cul de sac behind the Chabad house when a neighbor four houses down spotted them and took them in.
“My daughter didn’t sleep a wink last night,” Debra said. “She has been terrified.”
Fighting back tears, Shaina pointed out the path she took leading kids out of the sanctuary. Men escaping behind her, in such a panic, knocked over a fence on their way out the back and out onto the street.
The junior rabbi’s house has been a meeting point throughout the morning for congregation members. Grief counselors will be on hand from 12-4 today and for the next three days at the house available to those affected.

Locals have been leaving flowers, cards, candles and heart shaped posters at the corner of Summerfield and Espola across the street from the Chabad.

Four Jews huddled together chanting the Shema in front of Chabad. They lit two candles and left flowers.

NJ Mayor to Twitter User Complaining About Jews: ‘Call the Police’

Screenshot from Facebook.

John Ducey, the mayor of the Brick Township in Ocean County, N.J., is under fire for telling a Twitter user who was complaining about there being Jews at community parks and beaches to “call the police.”

The original tweet, which has been deleted, was from a Twitter user named “@sims10471,” who wrote to Ducey on April 23, “can we please do something about our parks and beaches. They are being invaded by hasidic [sic] and orthodox Jews and being ruined. Our tax paying residents are being forced out while politicians sit and do nothing.”

Ducey subsequently replied, “Our parks security has started already. Call the police and they will send them out.”

A backlash ensued against Ducey for not calling out the anti-Semitism @sims10471’s tweet. Ducey later tweeted, “I did not want 2 acknowledge the bigotry thereby giving the commenter the power he was seeking. Instead I chose 2 try and diffuse the situation by getting the commenter 2 focus his anger at me. I was successful in that but obviously failed in the big picture.”

Ducey apologized in an April 24 interview with Advanced NJ Media, stating, “The original tweet from the commenter was a disgusting, bigoted statement. My suggestions was what we would do with anyone if — if — there were any problems. People are misinterpreting it as me telling him to call park security. There was nothing to call about.”

Ducey has been the mayor of Brick Township since 2014.

Mimouna’s Popularity Has Spread

David Suissa just called. He is the editor of the Journal. He is deciding what will be on the cover of this edition. Well, what’s on the cover? Mimouna is an option, he says but so is the series of bombings in Sri Lanka; he’s deciding. Great, I think to myself (but don’t tell him). There is a lot I can write about Mimouna. I have data, I have a theory, I will make this an easy week of writing. Why not enjoy Pesach by having an easy week?

Mimouna is one of the examples I use in my recent study and book about the changing characteristics of Israeli Judaism (“#IsraeliJudaism: A Portrait of a Cultural Revolution,”  co-written with professor Camil Fuchs, under the auspices of the Jewish People Policy Institute). It serves to demonstrate how circumstances alter traditions. In the case of Mimouna, it is the circumstances of Jews from different backgrounds living side by side. Everyone sees everyone else, everyone learns from everyone else and everyone imitates everyone else. Sometimes by choice, sometimes subconsciously.

This process is evident in the waning of some “ethnic” traditions, such as the tradition of refraining from eating kitniyot during Passover (see graph, right). It’s also evident in the spread of “ethnic” traditions. While Ashkenazic Jews are losing the ethnic battle over kitniyot (probably for their own good), another group is winning the battle over another ethnic custom: Mimouna. This festival ceased being merely an “ethnic” custom long ago. It is a national holiday. So much so, that in 2016, then-Environment Minister Avi Gabbay decided to exempt Mimouna (like Independence Day) from the general ban on making noise after 11 p.m. Mimouna celebrations, which include late-night ululations, received an official stamp of approval. 

Mimouna is an end-of-Passover tradition that was imported to Israel by a minority. A “marginal, sectarian” festival that received the “status of a national holiday, partly religious, partly civil,” as Rachel Sharabi wrote in a book on the subject. Moroccan immigrants celebrated it in their homes until someone had the idea to take it public in the mid-1960s. Initially a few hundred came, then thousands, then tens and hundreds of thousands, and with them the politicians, who understood the electoral power represented by the revelers.

“Moroccan immigrants celebrated Mimouna in their homes until someone had the idea to take it public in the mid-1960s.”

At some point, the celebrations turned mainstream in a way that made some keepers of the ethnic traditions uncomfortable. These people — a minority — started complaining of too quick a switch “from the erasure of a culture to its appropriation.” They argued that at first Israel pushed the Moroccan immigrants and their culture to the margins, but then was seduced by the smell of mufletot — the traditional Mimouna pancakes — to appropriate this part of the culture.

Around half a million Moroccan immigrants, whether first- or second-generation, live in Israel today. This corresponds with our finding that one-tenth of Jews in Israel (9%) say they “host Mimouna at home.” Around half of the hosts also “wear traditional dress” on Mimouna (4%). These are the numbers that represent a traditional “ethnic” holiday. Mimouna, however, requires not only hosts but also guests. In Morocco, Jews used to invite their Muslim neighbors to Mimouna. In modern Israel, they invite their Jewish compatriots from other communities, who are not fortunate enough to have such a beautiful festival of their own. 

Therefore, almost 4 in 10 Israelis attend Mimouna (38%). More than one quarter of Ashkenazic Jews report that they attend Mimouna (27%). A similar proportion of Jews from the former Soviet Union report the same (28%). That’s not to mention Mizrahi Jews (48%) and Israelis from mixed families (43%). A simple calculation of hosts and guests reveals that almost half of Israel’s Jewish population celebrates Mimouna.

An “ethnic” holiday? Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his Mimouna hosts in 2017 that what had begun as a solely Moroccan tradition “has turned into a holiday for all the ethnic groups.” You can always trust a good politician to have a good sense of what is popular and no longer sectarian. So yes, Netanyahu was right: Mimouna is an Israeli-Jewish holiday. I am a Jew whose ancestors came from Poland, Galicia and Lithuania. And yet, Mimouna is mine.

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

Sheikh Works to Clarify Islam, Understand Judaism

Sheikh Mohammad Al-Issa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dispelling the Myth About Jews and Poverty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toxic Femininity

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

We belong to the light; we belong to the thunder.

My son, Alexander, and I recently discovered the “Pitch Perfect” trilogy. The films, which follow an a cappella group called the Bellas through college, are essentially an ode to female empowerment. Using music as their fuel, the Bellas find themselves and their strengths, both as individuals and as a group.

Aside from loving the signature non-conformity, the films reminded me of the importance of strong female role models. The fact is, women, just like blacks, Jews, Muslims and every other group, need to see strong, proud and effective representations of themselves — it is a key component of empowerment.

With this in mind, I continue to shake my head at the progressive embrace of women like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. I should say at the outset that the fact that she fully owns her style and sexuality is not the problem. In fact, it’s a vast improvement over the idea that women had to be neutered to be taken seriously. Feminism never intended for women to give up our femininity.

No, the problem is that we went from pantsuit nation to the glorification of ditziness.

The irony is that progressives, in order to continue to embrace AOC, are now fully reveling in sexism. A few weeks ago, I re-posted a video of AOC rambling. It was, as Alexander would put it, cringey.

But my progressive male friends took offense at my daring to call this out. Their comments could be summed up in this one: “She’s hot; leave her alone.”

“We all know that AOC would not be sitting in Congress right now if some men hadn’t found her attractive.”

Of course, they don’t love her just because they find her attractive. They love her because she tries to spout politics they agree with. But we all know that AOC would not be sitting in Congress right now if some men hadn’t found her attractive. 

The fact that AOC has rebooted a looks-based judgment of women is sadly the least of the problems. Far more dangerous is her glorification of emotional reasoning. Coined in the 1970s by Aaron Beck, the founder of cognitive therapy, emotional reasoning is the process of concluding that your emotional reaction proves something is true.

Emotional reasoning is actually a huge problem for many women, leading to serious issues, most notably depression. And yet Ocasio-Cortez gleefully employs it. “Congress is too old,” she felt compelled to tell Elite Daily. “They don’t have a stake in the game.”

One could argue that the entire “social justice” movement today is built on emotional reasoning: Facts are irrelevant, feelings = reality, words = violence. And the profound ignorance that has resulted from this — from unconscionable articles in The New Yorker that uncategorically defend Rep. Ilhan Omar to the recent UC Berkeley student government meeting, where lies about Jews and Israel showed a breathtaking normalization — seem to bother no one on the left, from editors to administrators. 

The most lasting damage of all of this, though, may be on women. Forget the strong, empowered women of “Pitch Perfect.” Today, young girls see that the women getting all the attention are weak and irresponsible (many in the #MeToo movement), cognitively challenged, prone to emotional outbursts, and totally cool about being reduced to their attractiveness.

It’s toxic femininity, potentially far more dangerous than toxic masculinity.

A recent parody of AOC by an 8-year-old was pitch perfect: “I also want to talk about socialism because socialism is so amazing. Like, socialism is actually short for social media. I do social media, so I’m a socialist.”  

There are many positive aspects of femininity that women can bring to public life. Nurturing, for example. I think one of the reasons Nikki Haley is appealing to people across the political spectrum is that she not only refuses to disown her femininity, but she often uses softness to make tough points. But one never feels as though she allows her emotions to run the show.

Quite the contrary. One gets the impression that all of her decisions stem from deep thought. It is my profound hope that she finds running for president a well-reasoned choice for herself. Because, of the many positives I believe she can offer, possibly the most positive is her ability to show the intent of real feminism: producing a well-educated, thoughtful, kind and respectful woman to lead this country.

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

If I Even Find a Crumb …

Photo courtesy of Mark Schiff

Five weeks before the holiday, my wife uttered those three words that frighten the heck out of me every year: “Pesach is coming!”

Those words could scare the goose bumps off a goose. It’s also the most expensive holiday of the year. Our rabbi recently told us that for Pesach, we should “give until it hurts and then give more and then give more than that” to make sure the poor have food. This is a serious holiday.

On March 27, 23 days before the start of Pesach, I was in Glatt Mart in Los Angeles when I heard woman screaming, “They’ve already taken my breadcrumbs. Somebody help me. I want my breadcrumbs.” Housekeepers move systematically from room to room like Marine sharpshooters looking for a piece of crust that might be lurking inside a sock or under a rug. A Cheerio found after the start of the holiday could cause the same panic as if the Ebola virus was discovered at a local school. Local car washes familiar with the holiday’s drill await the crazy rush of Jews and their cars. The real frumies will steam clean their engines in case a piece of pretzel got sucked into the air conditioner, while a Chassidic family with 16 kids might find one of their kids sleeping under a pile of Gemaras in the back seat. There is a run on toothbrushes at drug stores. Local restaurants prepare to close as if a monster storm was heading their way. 

Nothing like getting in touch with your slave roots at the Ritz Carlton in Naples, Fla.

For the past six months, people have been signing up for Pesach programs at some of the top resorts in and out of the country. Nothing like getting in touch with your slave roots at the Ritz Carlton in Naples, Fla. A big family could easily spend more than $100,000 to go away for the week — well worth it for not having to cook and clean the house. 

The hotels where these events are held don’t really understand what they’re in for. First, some of the hotel elevators must be turned into Shabbos elevators so people don’t have to push a button. 

Then the hotel needs to hire 200 extra people to open the rooms because Jews aren’t allowed to use magnetic key cards on the Yom Tov. Room service can’t figure out why no one from this group ever gets hungry and orders anything. And the gym staff is amazed that none of the 700 people goes near any sort of exercise equipment.

The night of the first seder, the wait staff can’t believe their eyes when they see hundreds of people filing into the dining rooms, bringing pillows and what looks like three months’ worth of books. The children already are wearing pajamas and carrying blankets. They look like they plan to be there a long, long time. For a group that supposedly doesn’t drink alcohol, the staff watches as each person polishes off copious amounts of wine while leaning to the left as if they’re about to fall off their chairs. People working the dining room are phoning loved ones to say that it looks like they might not be home for a few days.

“Remember, two prunes for every one matzo. Good Yom Tov.”

One of the themes of this holiday is that we don’t forget where we came from, so we repeat the entire routine on the second night, so we remember not to forget.

The holiday of Passover and the ritual of the seder remind us that the Exodus out of Egypt culminated with God’s revelation to us at Mount Sinai, where God gave us the Torah and revealed himself to every Jew, not only to our leader, Moshe.

And finally, like many Jewish holidays, it’s about spending time with family and friends and, most of all, teaching our children this story. When our kids were little, what a thrill it was for us to see them stand on a chair and listen to them sing “Ma Nishtana.” The only thing better than seeing your son or daughter stand on a chair for the first time and recite the four questions is when someone takes you and your family to one of these five-star resorts and picks up the bill. 

Remember, two prunes for every one matzo. Good Yom Tov.

Mark Schiff is a comedian, actor and writer.