January 19, 2019

Why Am I Excluded From the Women’s March?

Screenshot from Youtube.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The March of Hate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Jewish Journal City Guide 2019

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

 

 

Table of Contents:

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Summer Camp

 

 

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Anna Shternshis: A Grammy Nomination for ‘Yiddish Glory’

Photo courtesy of Roman Boldyrev

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

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

Jewish Journal: How did the album come about? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JJ: Why didn’t people remember?

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

JJ: What can we learn from these songs?

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

Wording of Survey’s Questions Matters

new survey by Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland shows that an increasing number of Americans support a one-state solution for Israel and the Palestinian territories. “When one considers that many Israelis and Palestinians, as well as many Middle East experts, already believe that a two-state solution is no longer possible, especially given the large expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank,” Telhami writes, “it’s not hard to see why more people would be drawn to a one-state solution.”

Is this new finding important? It is and it isn’t.

It’s important because it shows that Israel fails to communicate its position to American audiences, especially Democratic voters and younger voters (of which 42 percent support a one-state solution).

It’s not important because the one-state solution is still not a viable option, and thus not an option.

Telhami conducts his poll every year, and almost every time, I write critically about it. This is because his polls, conducted under the pretense of being impartial, in fact raise the suspicion that they are an act of advocacy for certain positions.

Take the question of the one-state solution. What it offers is a mirage. “A one-state solution: A single democratic state in which both Jews and Arabs are full and equal citizens, covering all of what is now Israel and the Palestinian Territories.”

Sounds good? It does. In fact, I see no reason why Americans wouldn’t support such solution to a nagging problem. But what would happen if the survey question were reworded to reflect a more plausible outcome: “A one-state solution: An attempt to establish a single state that is likely to result in Jews and Arabs constantly fighting for control and spilling even more blood than today.” Would Americans still support it?

Another choice offered to Americans is this: “Do you favor the Jewishness of Israel more than its democracy” or “Israel’s democracy more than its Jewishness”?

Presented with this false dichotomy, most Americans give the answer you’d expect. They favor democracy (one wonders: should non-Jewish Americans even worry about Israel’s Jewishness?)

Telhami argues (in the publication Foreign Policy) that “What many read as a rising anti-Israeli sentiment among Democrats is mischaracterized; it reflects anger toward Israeli policies and … the values projected by the current Israeli government.”

The semantics Telhami uses here (and he is not alone) are simple: Place the bar for being anti-Israel so high that it becomes almost impossible to reach. That’s convenient, especially for anti-Israel activists.

I know that in left-wing circles it’s becoming popular to argue that being anti-Israel is not akin to being anti-Semitic. But read this question and see if it makes you feel somewhat uneasy: “How much influence do you believe the Israeli government has on American politics and policies?”

The answer, of course, is that the Jews (and by this, we mean the Jews of Israel — not the good Jews of America) might have too much influence. Fifty-five percent of Democrats think they do; 44 percent of young Americans think they do. Would they also say that the governments of Russia, Saudi Arabia, Great Britain or China have too much influence on American politics? I bet many of them would — but Telhami didn’t ask.

Americans want fairness, and hence many of them expect their government to “lean toward neither side” when “mediating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

But how does one measure “leaning?” Here is an example: If the U.S. government says, “We would not tolerate Palestinian suicide bombers killing innocent people in Tel Aviv,” does this count as “leaning” toward Israel, because it’s critical of something that only Palestinians do? Another example: If the U.S. government says, “We believe that Palestinian insistence on a right of return imperils any prospect for a successful peace process,” does this count as “leaning” toward Israel, because an impartial position would be to say, “Let’s compromise on a right of return for half the people”?

In other words, what if the U.S. government doesn’t “lean” toward the Israeli position but rather toward a more reasonable position that tends to be the Israeli position? Would Americans want their government to lean toward an unreasonable position for the sake of being impartial?

An Open Letter to the Pope 

Pope Francis in Genoa, Italy, on May 27. Photo by Giorgio Perottino/Reuters

Dear Pope Francis, Bishop of Rome, and Servant of the Servants of God,

Forgive me for raising some concerns that I suspect reflect the hearts and minds of a broad cross section of Americans.

I have admired your humility and compassion to the common folk. Your recent public policy positions, however, are causing a sharp philosophical divide, which I lament.

First, your handling of the global church priest sex scandal disappoints. Many American Catholics are in pain over decadeslong serial abuse and prolific cover-ups, corruption and lying by pastors and officials in Rome, the United States, South America, Europe and Africa. When U.S. bishops met recently to vote on serious reform and accountability measures, the Vatican shut down their voices.

The present pontificate has been criticized for ignoring the thousands of victims of episcopal misconduct. Clerical sexual abuse of children has damaged the credibility of the Catholic Church.  And yet you have not risen to lead, heal and repair. You have asked, “Where are the victims?” They are everywhere, and they have written to you and spoken to you and prayed to you.

Leading American Catholic thinker George Weigel has objected to an “anti-American” attitude in Rome, which has dismayed many leaders and laity. A recent headline read: Francis Has Mobilized the Papacy’s Absolute Monarchy Against Justice.

Second, I’m troubled by your statements regarding jihadi terrorism. You stated, for example, “Muslim terrorism does not exist.”

Your voice has been one of weakness, not strength, one of religious harmony, not moral clarity.

You are silent regarding an epidemic of radical Islamism, which is the declared enemy of peaceful Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists and nonbelievers alike. As ISIS seeks to install a caliphate, and many other nonstate actors commit beheadings, mass rape attacks, the sacking of churches and unending assaults against innocents, you have failed to lead against evil.

The Catholic News Service quotes you as saying “the lives of 19 religious men and women martyred during the Algerian civil war are a testament to God’s plan of love and peaceful coexistence between Christians and Muslims.”

Catholics are among millions of religious faithful desperate for you to lead a campaign against religious fanaticism and brutality, including state-sponsored female genital mutilation and honor killings of Muslims.

Your voice has been one of weakness, not strength, one of religious harmony, not moral clarity, and one of idealized humanity, not sympathy for human suffering. Christians today are being systematically and actively persecuted throughout the Arab/Muslim world. You have not been their servant.

Third, your campaign against capital punishment reveals a lack of interest in the Old Testament. The death penalty is the only law in all five books of the Torah. Genesis 9:6 establishes that “whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.”

Rabbinic literature argues for witnesses and modern DNA science assists our legal society to advance justice to protect the innocent. But your moral claim is not to protect the innocent but rather to keep alive the admitted and adjudged guilty.

Executing terrorists or rapist-torturers of children is the state-sanctioned legal path anticipated by the wise American founders. Would you keep alive every evil dictator in the world who commits genocide, and every convict who might murder innocent prison guards or court witnesses? Our moral compasses point in opposite directions.

Finally, your campaign against capitalism is hostile to the American way of life. Regulated market capitalism liberates human creativity and incentivizes honest work, uplifting the morality of individuals and serving communities and families. The U.S. is the most prosperous and the most generous nation because of capitalism.

The United States was built on the Protestant work ethic, rooted in Hebrew teachings that humans serve God, society and themselves through honorable effort.

Jewish industriousness has benefited humanity with Nobel laureate scholarship and cancer-curing technologies produced by profit-making enterprises. The debate against socialism is long won, except in dictatorships in Cuba and Venezuela, and in some academic ivory towers.

Capitalism builds hospitals, museums and climate-improving technology. May it continue to fund the good works of the Roman Catholic Church.

I welcome your kind reply, and with every good wish to Your Excellency this Christmas season.


Larry Greenfield is a fellow at the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy.

These Jews Have Too Much Influence! 6 Comments on a New Survey

 

1.

A new survey by Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland shows that an increasing number of Americans support a one-state solution for Israel and Palestine. “When one considers that many Israelis and Palestinians, as well as many Middle East experts, already believe that a two-state solution is no longer possible, especially given the large expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank”, writes Telhami, “it’s not hard to see why more people would be drawn to a one-state solution”.

Is this new finding important? It is and it isn’t.

It’s important because it shows that Israel fails to communicate its position to American audiences, especially Democratic voters and younger voters (of which 42% support a one-state solution).

It’s not important because the one-state solution is still not a viable option, and thus not an option.

 

2.

Telhami conducts his poll every year, and almost each time I write critically about it. This is because his polls, while pretending to be impartial, in fact raise the suspicion that they are an act of advocacy for certain positions.

Take the question of the one-state solution. What it offers is a mirage. “A one-state solution: A single democratic state in which both Jews and Arabs are full and equal citizens, covering all of what is now Israel and the Palestinian Territories.”

Sounds good? It does. In fact, I see no reason why Americans would not support such solution to a nagging problem. But what would happen had we told them the truth: “A one-state solution: An attempt to establish a single state that is likely to result in Jews and Arabs constantly fighting for control and spilling even more blood than today.” Would Americans still support it?

 

3.

Another choice offered to Americans is this: Do you favor the Jewishness of Israel more than its democracy” or “Israel’s democracy more than its Jewishness.”

Are you surprised to learn that, when presented with this false dichotomy, most Americans favor Israel’s democracy?

 

4.

Telhami argues (in Foreign Policy) that “What many read as a rising anti-Israeli sentiment among Democrats is mischaracterized; it reflects anger toward Israeli policies – and increasingly, with the values projected by the current Israeli government.”

I am not sure what this means. I am not sure what the difference is between “anti-Israel sentiment” and “anger towards… the values…” If someone is against the political choices of most Israelis, and against the values that most Israelis believe in, and against the policies most Israelis want – does it still not make him or her anti-Israel?

The trick Telhami uses here (and he is not alone in doing this), is placing the bar for being anti-Israel so high, that it becomes almost impossible to reach. In his book, only a person that calls for the elimination of Israel, or the destruction of it, is worthy of this title. That’s very convenient for people who want to vehemently oppose Israel without being tagged anti-Israel.

 

 

5.

I know that it’s becoming popular to argue, in left-wing circles, that being anti-Israel is not akin to being anti-Semitic.

But look at this question, and tell me if it doesn’t make you feel somewhat uneasy: “How much influence do you believe the Israeli government has on American politics and policies?”

The answer, of course, is that the Jews (and by this we mean the Jews of Israel – not the good Jews of America) might have too much influence. 55% of Democrats think they do. 44% of young Americans think they do. Would they also say that countries such as Russia, Saudi Arabia, Britain, or China have too much influence on American politics? I bet many of them would – but Telhami didn’t ask.

 

6.

Americans want fairness, and hence many of them expect their government to “lean toward neither side” when “mediating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

But how does one measure a “leaning?” Here is example: If the US government says “we would not tolerate Palestinian suicide bombers killing innocent people in Tel Aviv” – does this count as “leaning” towards Israel, because it’s critical of something that only Palestinians do? Another example: If the US government says, “we believe that Palestinian insistence on a right of return imperils any prospect for a successful peace process” – does this count as “leaning” towards Israel, because an impartial position would be to say “let’s compromise on a right of return for half the people”?

In other words: what if the US government does not “lean” towards the Israeli position but rather towards to more reasonable position that tends to be the Israeli position? Would Americans want their government to lean towards an unreasonable position for the sake of being impartial?

So What If They Are Not Anti-Semitic?

Democratic U.S. congressional candidate Rashida Tlaib canvasses a neighborhood before Election Day in Detroit, Michigan, U.S. November 5, 2018. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook/File Photo

Is anti-Zionism akin to anti-Semitism? The debate is tired, but continues full force nonetheless. “Certainly, some criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, but it’s entirely possible to oppose Jewish ethno-nationalism without being a bigot,” wrote Michelle Goldberg in The New York Times. She then mastered all available arguments in support of her position, but neglected to mention the most powerful argument against it: Even if such a possibility exists — even if, theoretically speaking, there is indeed a way to “oppose Jewish ethno-nationalism without being a bigot” — in reality, such a posture is very rare. In reality, opposition to “Jewish ethno-nationalism” is just another manifestation of irrational bigotry against Jews.

The discussion about the proper boundaries of criticizing Israel has become a periodic practice for American Jews. It recently re-emerged because of the election of several pro-boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) politicians to Congress, and because of an anti-BDS bill initiative, and because of the comments made by Marc Lamont Hill on CNN in support of “a free Palestine from the river to the sea.”

What Hill said is more idiotic than enraging. He should have been fired for being uneducated about an issue on which he opined as if he is an expert (and also for calling for our collective elimination). CNN later said it severed ties with the commentator. 

“If someone is after my country, he or she will not get a pass just because they can prove that they are not also anti-Semitic. “

What does Hill’s plan for a “free Palestine” even mean? Does he mean as free as the Palestinians in Gaza, where Hamas keeps them as hostages? Or maybe his model is the Palestinian Authority, where the last free election took place a very long time ago (in 2005, if you insist to have a date)? Or maybe free from Jews? No — not “Jews” Jews, just Israeli Jews. The Jews against whom it is permissible to rant.

Goldberg, in her defense of Rashida Tlaib, a congresswoman-elect from Michigan who is supportive of  BDS, is using her considerable wit in defense of her supposedly not anti-Semitic, anti-Israel-activism. Like her, many pundits, activists and politicians are putting a lot of effort into proving that one can dislike Israel without disliking Jews. Or that one can be in favor of dismantling Israel without this being an instance of anti-Jewish sentiment. Of course, the case of these people is dubious to begin with — as Natan Sharansky’s 3-D test of anti-Semitism established a long time ago (Google it). But even those willing to accept it must ask: What are these people up to? What is the ultimate aim of their intellectual investment?

The answer is simple: helping people be against Israel without feeling bad about it (or pay a political price for it). 

The premise underlying this trend of argumentation is not hard to follow: Disliking Jews is bad. If disliking Israel is parallel to disliking Jews, then disliking Israel is also bad. However, if disliking Israel isn’t parallel to disliking Jews, then disliking Israel isn’t necessarily bad. We can dislike Israel without feeling guilty. 

Let’s call this bluff. Let’s forget about anti-Semitism. 

Disliking Israel is bigotry in and of itself. 

Forget the Jews and their sensitivities. Israelis — yes, most of whom are Jews — have their own sensitivities. They want respect, consideration and understanding. They deserve fair treatment. They deserve not to be singled out for criticism that other, much worse communities in much worse countries don’t have to deal with. They deserve to get a hearing when they insist that what distant pundits and congresswomen propose as a policy for their country is unworkable and dangerous. Israelis have a right to be safe, and have a right to protect their culture. They have all the reasons in the world to say without apology: If someone is after my country, he or she will not get a pass just because they can prove that they are not also anti-Semitic.

Religion and The Poetry of Order

The evening before I watched the new film “Islam and the Future of Tolerance” — a dialogue between religion critics Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz — our Yemenite neighbor, Saya, came to our apartment to light our seventh-night Hanukkah candles. I told her how the menorah had been in our family for more than 100 years and that the Hebraic script on it spelled out “Israel.” My 9-year-old son, Alexander, taught her how to use the shamash. “Everything has an order,” he told her rabbinically.

Having lived through a strict Muslim upbringing that included two arranged marriages, Saya now calls herself an atheist — as does Harris, who was born to a Jewish mother. In many ways I feel closer to Nawaz, who calls himself a liberal Muslim and sees no contradiction between maintaining a tough, rational mind and having a love for the poetry of religion.

At its core, that’s what the film, based on Harris and Nawaz’s 2015 book of the same name, is about: How to move forward so that both Muslims and non-Muslims can see that there doesn’t have to be a contradiction between the two. Saya rejected much of what she was taught as a child, including a fierce hatred of Jews, and therefore can come to our home to light our candles with an open mind and heart. Nawaz got to his place of understanding via a stint as an Islamist and his near-execution in an Egyptian jail. 

But instead of rejecting Islam flat-out, he seeks to reform it. How? First, by distinguishing between Muslims and Islam (conflation leads to bigotry); second, by distinguishing between the four types of Muslims: jihadis, who seek to create an Islamic caliphate through violence; Islamists, who seek to impose a caliphate through nonviolence; strict religious Muslims, who believe in following the Quran but don’t want to impose Sharia law on others; and secular Muslims. Most of the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, Nawaz says, fall into the third group.

It is when the conversation turns to scripture that things get dicey. “Words are not infinitely elastic,” Harris says. You cannot simply ignore or reinterpret the more barbaric parts of the texts. “There will always be a temptation toward literalism, as well as a link between belief and behavior.”

“Dialogue is the only remedy. Without conversation we become more and more entrenched in our views.”

— Maajid Nawaz

Nawaz, who started the group Quilliam in 2008 to help make Islam compatible with liberal democracy, counters that Islamic texts should not be read literally: “I don’t accept that there’s a ‘correct’ reading of scripture; it’s open to myriad interpretations.” In some ways, Nawaz is trying to do for the Quran what the Talmud did for the Torah: show, for example, that some passages are metaphorical, not to be followed literally. 

“Nawaz is borrowing the very ancient (and very Jewish) tradition of interpretation,” said Rabbi Eli Fink, adding that Talmudic interpretation did not begin in earnest until 200 BCE and continues today. Still, though I am rooting for Nawaz wholeheartedly, he clearly faces an uphill battle.

Sadly, the battle is not just from Islamists and jihadis. “I was expecting pushback from Islamists,” Nawaz says. “But most disappointing is the opposition from those who call themselves liberal.” Nawaz coined the term “regressive leftist” to describe liberals who are so mired in identity politics that they end up losing all sense of morality, let alone rationality. 

Nawaz talks about how Islamists, when he was among them, would purposefully exploit the multiculturalism of the left. They once put up a poster on a campus in the UK that read: “Women of the West: Cover Up or Shut Up.” They snuffed out all opposition to the poster by calling university administrators “racist.” The poster stayed up — and spurred a murder. 

That tale alone makes this documentary worthwhile, although neither Nawaz nor Harris is under any illusion that it will solve every problem. But it provides a much-needed beginning. Their hope is to inspire nuanced dialogue.

“Dialogue is the only remedy,” Nawaz says. “Without conversation we become more and more entrenched in our views. And we need to give people permission to talk across ‘identity’ lines — you don’t need to be Muslim to challenge Islamist theocracy. That alone will lead to a less identity-driven — a more rational — conversation.”


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

Birthright Students and Israel: The Story the L.A. Times Missed

Screenshot from Facebook.

In the last year, 40,000 students from around the world, 80 percent from North America, participated in Birthright Israel trips. Last summer, 12 of them, members of the group If Not Now, staged a walkout on two Birthright trips. It was planned in advance. They signed up with the agenda of walking out, sharing the story on social media and creating controversy. Now, some five months later, the Los Angeles Times took the bait. In a front-page story, “Young American Jews spark Birthright Debate” (Dec. 5), they played up what they called a small movement among American Jews to protest Israeli policies by leaving Birthright. The Times did not tell the reader that this was far from a small movement. Rather it’s a sliver; some 12 students out of 40,000, just .0003 percent.

Yes, this group does have a few supporters, but this is not news. Ever since Israel was established 70 years ago, there has been an element of the Jewish community on the far-left opposed to its policies. In the 1970s, Breira and the New Jewish Agenda emerged, criticizing Israel’s policies when PLO terror was at its height. They were followed by Peace Now and others. If Not Now is just the latest incarnation of this political philosophy. It is carrying on the same ideas that have been championed by its ideological predecessors for decades. It’s old news.

Instead of turning to campus rabbis, leaders and professionals on the ground to give the Times more perspective, the writer seeks the viewpoints of community rabbis with little campus involvement. The Times highlights the views of Rabbi Sharon Brous, known for her criticism of Israel. The reporter also doesn’t explore the other criticisms of Birthright that I and others have, namely its refusal to give balance to the program by visiting Jewish settlements beyond the Green Line. Clearly, this seems more like agenda journalism than real reporting.

With a little gumshoe, the reporter could have discovered the biggest challenge facing Jewish students today. One of the leading campus professionals in the United States, Rebbetzin Rivkah Slonim, of Rohr Chabad Center for Jewish Student Life in Binghamton, N.Y.,  recently described the real threat of BDS: Jewish students who are “Bored, Disinterested and Satisfied.” Growing up with little Jewish education and weakening ties to Jewish community, feeling little motivation from outside threats of anti-Semitism or causes like the plight of Soviet Jewry to rally around, today’s students are increasingly disengaging from Jewish life. According to Slonim, the actual challenge is reconnecting these students to Judaism.

Campus rabbis and Birthright organizers say that there is a marked change among students today from those of 10 years ago. Then, they had a modicum of Jewish knowledge and were active in the community. Today’s students, says Rabbi Hirschy Zarchi at Harvard Chabad, come knowing almost nothing. Some feel sympathy for what they perceive are the victims, in this case, the “weak” Palestinians versus the “powerful” Israelis, but that percentage is not large. The real issue is that Israel and Judaism is not important to many Jewish students. One of the great successes of Birthright is that it has, in many cases, ignited that bond.

Assigning a reporter known for her excellent coverage of local news on such a complicated and nuanced story, the connection of American Jews to Israel, is clearly a major mistake. Inexperienced and lacking a depth on the real issue, the reporter and the Times has done all of us a major disservice. It’s absurd to claim that 12 students out of 40,000 walking out over a trip to Israel is sparking a major debate or signals a shift in the attitudes of American Jews toward Israel. There have always been students critical of Israel—that is not news. The real news is the disengagement of Jews from Judaism and Israel because of the lack of Jewish education and the strategies like Birthright that are changing that trend. Which the Times never even tried to discover.


Rabbi David Eliezrie, a former campus rabbi, is the president of the Rabbinical Council of Orange County. His email is rabbi@ocjewish.com.

 

Moishe House Explores ‘Little Shtetls’ of Jewish Learning

Participants in Moishe House’s Jewish Education Summit. Photo courtesy of Moishe House

Moishe House, a program for Jewish young adults that has been growing steadily throughout the United States and internationally since its inception nearly 13 years ago, is now grappling with a key question: How far should it go in providing concrete definitions and setting requirements for the content of its peer-led Jewish learning programs while still empowering its young leaders, in their 20s and early 30s, to be bold and creative in how they engage with that content? 

At a “Jewish Education Summit” held Nov. 6-8 at its headquarters in The Hive at Leichtag Commons in Encinitas in northern San Diego County, Moishe House invited Jewish academics and educators to explore the extent to which its learning activities should incorporate Judaism’s core texts or ideas in order to be considered a proper Jewish education.

“We’re all asking the same question: For young adults in 2018, what does it mean to live a Jewish life? What does it mean to craft Jewish learning and own your own Jewish experience?” said Rabbi Brad Greenstein, senior director of Jewish learning at Moishe House.

Since January 2006, when it started opening Moishe Houses that support Jewish young adults who live together and host Jewish programming for their friends and community, the nonprofit organization has grown to more than 110 houses in 27 countries (including six in Los Angeles, one in Orange County and two in San Diego County), according to its website. It also provides support for leaders of peer-led retreats and a program called Moishe House Without Walls. Last  May, Moishe House said that during the previous year more than 50,000 young adult Jews were active participants in its programs, which drew a total annual attendance of more than 200,000.

“Moishe House is interesting because they are committed to democratizing Jewish education by bringing it to people’s living rooms,” said Miriam Heller Stern, national director of the School of Education and associate professor at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. “Anyone can teach, sit with the text and make sense of it. It’s a reflection of the American zeitgeist but comes into tension with traditional beliefs about how much one needs to know to access those texts.” 

Summit participants included representatives of educational organizations such as The Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, the Shalom Hartman Institute and Mechon Hadar; the community-service organization Repair the World; and Moishe House funders such as the Jim Joseph Foundation and the William Davidson Foundation. (In addition to reporting on the event for the Journal, I was invited to participate in the discussions.)

“We have to rethink that assumption of what education has to look like. … a formal structure to teach what used to be learned through living.” — Miriam Heller Stern

The sessions reflected diverse perspectives on Jewish education.

“Seeing spiritual homelessness and social isolation, you solve for ‘belonging,’ ” said speaker Casper ter Kuile, executive director and director of possibility for the Impact Lab at The On Being Project, and co-host of the Harry Potter and the Sacred Text podcast. Ter Kuile, who is not Jewish, brings together leaders in the emerging field of secular and sacred community innovation. He talked about unbundling and remixing traditional religious practice through several lenses. For instance, the Catholic Church used to be a full-service institution helping people to be “hatched, matched and dispatched,” he quipped, but is now experiencing a loss of popularity as people find other communities to serve their religious needs.

On the summit’s second day, Orly Michaeli, founder of the women’s spirituality retreat Wominyan, asked how Jewish educators should define “Jewish text.” Michaeli, who grew up in Guatemala, said that text is a measure of Jewish content for Judaism in the U.S., whereas in Latin America, Jewish content is derived from a sense of peoplehood centered on community and tradition. 

Stern, in her address, noted that for the last 150 years “school was synonymous with Jewish education.” Before that, she said, Jewish life was learned by living in the shtetl, where people had no choice but to live Jewishly. 

“We have to rethink that assumption of what education has to look like and be structured,” Stern said. “How do we teach the next generation to be Jewish if we don’t live in the enclave and learn by doing because everyone else was? [We need] a formal structure to teach what used to be learned through living.”

Moishe House, Stern said, was “creating little modern shtetls” that to an extent were duplicating this way of learning.

While much of the summit was involved in discussions of text and theory, Aaron Henne, founder of the Jewish theater company Theatre Dybbuk, led a session that encouraged participants’ physical movement. Groups read textual accounts of the Lilith story and then used their bodies to create “snapshots” representing the story’s narrative ideas. 

A conversation led by Yehudah Webster, director of B’nai Mitzvah Campaign, an innovative bar/bat mitzvah tutoring company in New York City, focused on where bias meets Jewish education. 

“We’re oriented in a particular norm which doesn’t allow for multiplicity of experiences,” Webster said. Educators should acknowledge that others’ Jewish experiences may be very different from their own, he added, and he challenged those present to raise the visibility of untold narratives — stories coming from Sephardic Jews, Jews of color, LGBTQ Jews, etc. — in a largely “Ashkenormative” Jewish conversation. 

Meanwhile, Greenstein said he was strategizing with Moishe House’s Resident Support team about “what it could look like for residents to create their own holistic Jewish learning plan from the very beginning of their Moishe House experience.” 

“The question I kept coming up with was ‘For what, to what end [are these learning experiences intended]?’ ” Greenstein said. “[At Moishe House] we put a lot of power and decision-making into the educators’ own hands. … The question remains, though: Is text necessary for Jewish education? Do you need a specific anchor that comes from a canonical part of the tradition to be counted as Jewish education? We learned that the realm of Torah is so expansive, but as it continues to expand we’re drawn back to that initial anchor, back to the traditional canonical texts. The question is, how do we make them come alive?”

After the summit concluded, Greenstein summed up the experience.

“We are all engaged in similar work,” he said. “We want Judaism to thrive. If Moishe House can be a catalyst for a Jewish life that’s dynamic and alive, then we’ve done our job.” 

Mayor of Frankfurt Leads German Pro-Israel Activism

Uwe Becker

Uwe Becker’s Facebook page might confuse followers into thinking he’s the mayor of an Israeli city. Almost every other post includes references to Israel. One features a screenshot of “red alerts” signaling attacks on southern Israel. One profile picture reads, “Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.” After the attack at a Pittsburgh synagogue, it was changed to: “#TogetherAgainstAntisemitism.” 

Of course, he’s not the mayor of an Israeli city but of Frankfurt, Germany’s financial capital. He’s also one of Germany’s most pro-Israel politicians, having taken up Israel’s cause with steadfastness, out of personal conviction and an understanding of Frankfurt’s Jewish roots. 

At his office at the Town Hall in the historic city center, he pointed through the window to the Paulskirche (House Church), where German Jews led the first National Assembly in 1848 to establish constitutional democracy in Germany, a movement that was eventually quelled by the ruling, aristocratic elite. The Rothschild banking family hails from Frankfurt. Evidence of Jewish life in Frankfurt dates to the 12th century, but it is believed to have begun under the Roman legions. They lived largely as merchants, traders and moneylenders in this imperial free city.

“It’s the most Israel-friendly and the most Jewish city in Germany,” Becker said proudly, surrounded by Israeli and Jewish memorabilia.

Leaving his office without a security detail, he took a reporter on a brief city tour, starting with the restored Old Town. The first Jewish ghetto in Europe was set up in the Judengasse (Jewish Alley) in 1462. In the seminal book on the history of German Jewry, “The Pity of It All,” 19th-century German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is cited as describing the overcrowded, heavily regulated ghetto as follows: “The confinement, the dirt, the swarm of people … made a disagreeable impression, even from only outside the gate. … And yet they were also human beings, energetic, agreeable. Their obstinacy in sticking to their own customs, one could not deny to respect it. Moreover, the girls were pretty.”

While Becker trumpets Frankfurt as a “Jewish city,” Jews were not spared persecution throughout the ages, including the Holocaust, to Becker’s deep pain. Today, the Jewish cemetery constitutes the city’s Holocaust Memorial, and the Jewish Museum is situated in the former Judengasse.

Fast forward to the early 1980s, and Tel Aviv and Frankfurt are declared sister cities, a natural match considering both are the only cities in their respective countries with a true metropolitan skyline. A tram goes through the city parading pictures of Tel Aviv and the Hebrew word for “friendship.”

“I would call it one of our most vivid partnerships,” Becker said. “With Tel Aviv, there is a very deep connection between bilateral visits and youth exchange.”

Thanks to Becker’s lobbying, the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement has been declared anti-Semitic by his party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). Frankfurt bans BDS activities from its municipal spaces and doesn’t do business with banks that engage BDS and BDS-affiliated groups.

“I saw [BDS] was gaining support, and I was afraid that when they brand Israel like the worse ‘apartheid’ state, it would be really difficult to change. I said to myself, ‘We can’t wait to let them march on the ground.’ ”

Becker’s public pro-Israel line isn’t always in sync with the reigning policies of his own political party, which as of late is has been accused of having grown tepid in its support for Israel. Lame-duck Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government criticized President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Becker publicly praised the president’s decision. 

Similarly, in reaction to Trump’s defunding of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the German government pledged to fill in the gaps — to Becker’s dismay. He also opposes dealings with an Iran that pledges Israel’s destruction while the German government (part of the P5+1 coalition that signed the agreement) seeks to salvage the Iran deal. 

He thinks the German position to cater to Palestinians and Iran comes from a desire to be evenhanded and humanitarian. 

“Historically, Germany has always tried to moderate conflict, to be in the role where two possible partners accept Germany as a moderating partner,” he said.

He shares his government’s support of a two-state solution, but as the best option in the face of no other viable alternatives. However, support for the Palestinian Authority must cease until it ends terror attacks and its pay-for-slay schemes, he said. 

“As long as Gaza uses money for terror tunnels, we must freeze our aid,” he said.

On the controversial refugee policy, Becker recognized a need to assist asylum seekers but he favors rapid integration and the combatting of anti-Semitism in their midst, which includes not only visits to concentration camps but education on Israel. He thinks as an international city, which accepted some 7,000 refugees, Frankfurt is poised to lead the change. Today, about 7,000 Jews live in Frankfurt.

As the Catholic grandnephew of a local mayor who belonged to the Nazi-resistant SPD party, Becker’s support for Israel doesn’t necessarily come from the “historic responsibility” many Germans feel because of the Shoah, but from the personal connection he developed upon his first visit to Israel in 2004. 

“To make it short, I fell in love with the country. … When you get back to Germany and Europe and you see how the media is reporting on Israel in a way that’s different from the situation, it really got my internal motivation to say that someone has to tell the real story about the country.”


Orit Arfa is a journalist and author based in Berlin. 

L.A.’s Latino Evangelical Christians & Jews Celebrate a Night To Honor Israel

Blasting their shofars, waving their flags and joyfully singing Israeli songs, close to 400 local Hispanic Evangelical Christians and Jews gathered at a downtown L.A. church on November 29th to celebrate a bilingual Night To Honor Israel. The event held at the Hispanic “Igelsia Evangelica Latina” church was hosted by the “Christians United For Israel” (CUFI), a national pro-Israel non-profit group, for their first Southern California event to rally support for Israel among their Latino members. (And yes, L.A. area Iranian Jews were also in attendance at the event). “Without a doubt, this event will go down in history as one that lifted up Israel and the Jewish community for years and decades to come,” said Peter De Jesus, CUFI’s National Hispanic Outreach Coordinator.

In addition to CUFI leaders Randal Neal, Ricardo Escobedo and Erick Stackelbeck addressing the crowd, local Jewish community speakers included; Daniel Gold, the L.A. Jewish Federation’s V.P. for Education and Advocacy, Sinai Temple’s Rabbi David Wolpe and L.A.’s Israeli Consulate Deputy Chief of Mission, Eitan Weiss who praised CUFI members in attendance for their steadfast support for Israel. “Tonight is also special because it is the 71st anniversary of the UN General Assembly voting for a resolution to create the modern state of Israel,” said Weiss. “We know that a large part of our survival all of these years would not have been possible without the help of you in the Christian community and on behalf of the State of Israel I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your support”.

The majority of those attending were Christians who not only prayed for Israel but also vocally pledged support for L.A.’s Jewish community in the last month has encountered various anti-Semitic attacks. “It was essential for us as Christians to stand shoulder to shoulder with our Jewish brothers and sisters here in Los Angeles at a time now when they are facing an increase in anti-Semitic attacks and let them know they are not alone,” said Dumisani Washington, CUFI’s National Diversity Coordinator.

I have lived in Los Angeles for nearly my entire life and never have I witnessed such an outpouring of genuine love, support and friendship from the Latino Christian community in this city for Israel and the Jewish community as I did the night I attended this event. For many of us Jews who have witnessed anti-Semitism in various forms and from various different people, it is always a pleasant surprise to encounter non-Jews who genuinely stand with us and Israel. In a time when we have such few friends in the world, I am grateful for the members and leaders of CUFI for their friendship towards our Jewish community.

The following is my brief English language interview with CUFI’s Pastor De Jesus about why Latino Evangelical Christians stand with Israel…

 

 

 

The following is my Spanish language interview with CUFI’s Pastor De Jesus about why Latino Evangelical Christians stand with Israel…

 

Here are some short videos of the passionate celebration that evening…

 

 

Here are some snapshots of the event’s festivities….truly an amazing Night To Honor Israel!

 

 

 

 

(left to right; CUFI’s Peter De Jesus and Pastor Dumisani Washington, photo by Karmel Melamed)

 

 

(left to right; CUFI’s Pastor Peter De Jesus and Israeli Deputy Consul Eitan Weiss, photo by Karmel Melamed)

 

(left to right; CUFI’s Peter De Jesus and Sinai Temple’s Rabbi David Wolpe, photo by Karmel Melamed)

 

(left to right; CUFI’s Peter De Jesus and CUFI’s television host Erick Stakelbeck, photo by Karmel Melamed)

 

(left to right; CUFI’s national diversity Coordinator Pastor Dumisani Washington shaking hands with CUFI’s television host Erick Stakelbeck, photo by Karmel Melamed)

 

 

(CUFI’s Night To Honor Israel leadership)

 

(Evangelical Latino Christians blasting their shofars during the evening’s celebrations for Israel)

 

 

Hanukkah Is Not Christmas. This Year, Let’s Embrace That

It’s that time of year again when American Jews bask in the wintertime flavor of Christmas — when we teach our children that the Jewish version of Christmas is called Hanukkah, that the equivalent of the Christmas tree is the menorah, that while Christians have a big gift-giving blowout, we have eight crazy nights (in Adam Sandler’s iteration). The prominence of Christmas in America means that American Jews often attempt to ride the Christmas coattails, to get into the “holiday spirit” — or, more cynically, to compete with Christmas in order to prevent our children from falling for the romance of Christmas. 

To that end, we elevate Hanukkah as a holiday, treating it as more sacred than actual sacred days. A 2010 study published in The Economic Journal by Ran Abramitzky, Liran Einav and Oren Rigby found that while 38 percent of Jewish Tel Aviv University economics undergraduate students ranked Hanukkah among the three most important Jewish holidays, 68 percent of Jewish economics undergrads at Stanford University did so. Orthodox Jews celebrated Hanukkah whether they had young children in the home, but Reform Jews tended to celebrate the holiday only if they had young children in the home as a counterbalance to Christmas. As the study stated, “Jewish individuals may be more responsive to Christmas if their children are at a higher ‘risk’ of intermarriage, conversion, or feeling envy and left out during Christmas.”

This is a problem.

Hanukkah ought to be celebrated in its own right. And failure to see Hanukkah for what it truly it means that our children will be far more likely to abandon Judaism than to embrace it, no matter how many Lego sets we buy them to outdo Santa Claus.

The message of Hanukkah is precisely the opposite of what more secularized Jews believe it is. Hanukkah isn’t just a wintertime festival rife with consumerism and kitschy lights. It’s about the requirement for a fulsome Jewish lifestyle that infuses our entire being, that motivates us all year, that gives us something to live and die for. Hanukkah reminds us that Judaism cannot survive by outcompeting other religions, but by focusing inward — by creating a profound sense of Jewish identity. 

Hanukkah, after all, is about a war: a war against Hellenism, the attempt by Greek forces to force a pagan vision upon the Jews. Hellenism offered a rich philosophic and aesthetic culture, a vision of the universe free of the burdens of the Torah. The Jews rebelled against that vision, refusing to allow our Temple to be defiled. Jews even fought other Jews who wished to join in the Hellenization, refusing to allow the land to be governed by the rule of foreign gods. In the vision of the Maccabees, Judaism was a lifelong commitment worth defending and protecting. The miracle was a result of that commitment.

This authentic view of Hanukkah enables Jews to see Christmas in a different light: not as a competing holiday, but as a ritual complete with aesthetic beauty but lacking any Jewish spiritual relevance. Thank God that America welcomes Jewishness; Christmas isn’t a threat. We can enjoy Irving Berlin songs and smile at Santa with children on his knee confident that our spiritual heritage isn’t threatened by the “fun” of the season. After all, we offer more than fun to our children. We offer a light we shine before the world proudly, unwaveringly and with a spirit of confidence, rather than in a spirit of nervous competition. If we fail to commit to Judaism more broadly but think that a few presents and some over-oiled hash browns will keep our kids Jewish, we’ve missed the message of Hanukkah entirely.


Ben Shapiro is editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire, host of the podcast “The Ben Shapiro Show” and author of The New York Times best-seller “Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear Silences Americans.

When Jews Are Seen as Goliath, Not David

David and Goliath by Guillaime Courtois. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

When the American Jewish community looks in the mirror, we see David carrying his sling. But to everybody else, we look a lot like Goliath. 

The 12 tribes of Israel have thousands of years of underdog status that should give us the hard-earned credibility to stand with other subjugated peoples. Which makes it especially frustrating when those whose travails are of more recent vintage see us as oppressors rather than the oppressed.

It becomes even more aggravating when groups of Palestinian provocateurs set up shop on our children’s college campuses, deliberately baiting us into a series of high-profile confrontations for which there is no clear path to success. If Jews and other pro-Israel voices push back against the lies and hatred directed at our community and our homeland, we provide our antagonists with an even more visible platform. Even more damaging is that a public altercation reinforces that David and Goliath narrative — in precisely the wrong direction — as the presence of well-meaning political and community leaders standing on Israel’s behalf elicits predictable bleating from the conspiracy-minded about the influence of the “Jewish lobby.” 

The alternative is even worse, as failing to push back allows the worst of the anti-Zionists and anti-Semites a free pass to peddle slurs and slanders to a young and impressionable audience.

This brings us to the curiously named faction known as Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). With the possible exception of the two prepositions, there are absolutely no truthful words in the group’s title. Most of their member “students” are very occasional and heavily subsidized attendees of graduate classes. There is no evidence of the organization’s existence in or adjacent to the biblical boundaries of Palestine. (The group was founded in Berkeley, just over the border with Oakland.) And the term “justice” suggests a concern for fairness, respect and peace that is altogether absent from its public pronouncements.

But the SJP-ers are persistent, and they understand that most college campuses are petri dishes in which support for the suppressed is carefully tended, but whose residents have not been on the planet long enough to remember when those terms applied to the children of Israel. So, a familiar scenario played out on the weekend of Nov. 16-18 at UCLA, where the pro-Palestinian antagonists planted their flag for a membership gathering. 

Leading politicians denounced the assemblage, stirring the student government to denounce the collusion of “outside powerful forces.” The pro-Israel and Jewish communities turned out in peaceful but virulent protest, and by the time the conference ended nothing had dramatically changed. The haters had hated. The protesters had protested. But the protracted erosion of pro-Israel sentiment among our nation’s next generation of leaders had incrementally advanced, creating an even greater long-term challenge for our community and our future.

“It’s hard out there for Goliath, especially in a pro-David crowd. And it’s even more challenging when that crowd believes that we are simply Goliath pretending to be David.”

The result is that brave Jewish and pro-Israel students of UCLA and other universities throughout the state will continue to spend their days on campuses where young progressives develop growing levels of antipathy toward Israel and corresponding levels of empathy for its detractors. 

It’s hard out there for Goliath, especially in a pro-David crowd. And it’s even more challenging when that crowd believes that we are simply Goliath pretending to be David. Overcoming this credibility gap won’t be easy. But the first step for a Jewish community that still thinks of ourselves as the underdog is to be willing to see ourselves as our potential progressive allies currently see us.


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

My Day with Conservative Ideas

Roger Hertog, chair of the Tikvah Fund speaking at the conference.

What if many Jews’ reflexive leftism stems from assimilationist insecurity? What if the only way to reground Jewish identity — and thus tackle a significant part of today’s anti-Semitism — is through more aggressive Jewish education, starting in the synagogue? What if a rekindled pride in the role our Jewish heritage played in the creation of the United States can help solve many of our country’s philosophical problems?

These are the types of questions that came to mind at the second annual Jewish Leadership Conference (JLC) on “Jews and Conservatism” held recently in New York City.

Let’s first put the labels aside so we can focus on these important questions. I’ve never called myself a conservative. Twenty-five years ago, conservatives were obsessed with taking away our liberties, not grounding them. I’ve always called myself a liberal, despite the fact that most people today who use the word don’t know what it means. Today, it’s illiberal leftists who are obsessed with taking away our liberties. 

The goal of this conference was to finally say: Enough. And to say it without violence, rage or incivility. Rather, to say with ancestral dignity, We the Jews — the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob — are no longer going to stay silent while our enemies and assimilationist Jews try to define us. We are here to define ourselves and serve as beacons of light and morality for this country, which, cut off from its biblical roots, has lost its sense of purpose.

“Our story has already changed the world,” said Rabbi Meir Soloveichik. Biblical Israel shaped American character and American exceptionalism, he added, “But we need to fight for freedom — against totalitarianism — in every generation.” 

“We have a great story to tell,” said Roger Hertog, chair of the Tikvah Fund. “Our goal is to inspire the next generation with our heroic Jewish story, with the power of ideas.”

“The moral and political teachings of the Hebrew Bible stand at the center of Western and American civilization,” one of the JLC’s core principles states unequivocally. “Modern Jews, both religious and secular, should see themselves as the carriers of this great civilization and accept the responsibility of perpetuating Jewish ideas, Jewish culture, and Jewish life from this generation to the next.”

Most of what panelists discussed was based on classical liberal principles. Today, the line between classical liberalism and conservatism appears negligible.

Melanie Phillips put it bluntly: “Anti-Semitism is part of a larger struggle — two views of the world: What it means to be moral; What it means to be human. Because Judaism represents the foundations of Western culture — the belief in the innate dignity of every human being is rooted in the Hebrew Bible — Jews are always the primary targets when a society begins to turn on itself.”

Caroline Glick was even more direct: “Unlike other forms of racism, anti-Semitism’s goal is the annihilation of the Jewish people.”

What was suggested was that today’s prevailing ideology is antithetical to not just Israel but to traditional Jewish values and, by extension, Western values. One idea that came through in the conference is that Jews don’t follow trends — they set them.

So, Hertog and others want us to step up to take a leadership role in reviving our country’s roots in its Hebraic values. Do we need to call ourselves conservatives to do so? I don’t think so, but in this label-obsessed country, I see why we may have to. 

The other day, as I was watching a Harry Potter movie, I finally understood why author J.K. Rowling so staunchly defends Israel. The epic series is rooted in the Jewish Bible: good vs. evil; right vs. wrong. And Harry, like all biblical heroes, is brave and kind and finds strength when he needs it most.

I don’t need to call myself a conservative to teach my son those values. But if it’s going to take a new movement to change the leftist world order, then yes, I’m proudly part of that movement. I may sit on the iconoclastic wing, but I’m in.


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

Is America a Racist Country?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Hanukkah. 

Defining the Root of Anti-Semitism

Editor’s note: The following is a transcription of Yossi Klein Halevi’s response to a student’s question at DePaul University on Nov. 14 in Chicago. According to an online post by Halevi, the student asked whether “humanizing” Zionists was comparable to asking African Americans to “humanize members of the KKK.” Halevi was on a speaking tour with Walid Issa, executive director of the American Palestinian Hope Project.


My understanding of anti-Semitism is the following: Anti-Semitism is not simply hating the other — the Jew as other. Anti-Semitism works a little bit differently. What anti-Semitism does is turn the Jews — “the Jew” — into the symbol of whatever it is that a given civilization defines as its most loathsome qualities. And so, under Christianity, — before the Holocaust and Vatican II — the Jew was the Christ-killer (“His blood be upon our heads and upon our children” [Matthew 27:25] ). That’s forever. Under Communism, the Jew was the capitalist. Under Nazism, the Jew was the race polluter, the ultimate race polluter.

Now we live in a different civilization, where the most loathsome qualities are racism, colonialism, apartheid. And lo and behold, the greatest offender in the world today, with all the beautiful countries of the world, is the Jewish state. The Jewish state is the symbol of the genocidal, racist, apartheid state. That’s Israel. That’s the Jewish state. An Israeli political philosopher named Yakov Talmon once put it this way: “The state of the Jews has become the Jew of the states.” What that means to me is, criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitism. Criticism of Israel’s existence — denying Israel the right to exist, calling Israel the Zionist entity — that is anti-Semitism. That is a classical continuity of thousands of years of symbolizing the Jew. So, using that kind of language places you in very uncomfortable company. That kind of language can come today from the far left. It can come from white supremacists. It can come from Islamist extremists. It can come from many sources, but all of those groups converge on one idea: The Jew remains humanity’s great problem.


Yossi Klein Halevi is an American-born Israeli author and journalist. His most recent book is “Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor.”

‘You Don’t Understand’

“Some American Jews look at Israel with horror. Israel — and Israelis — don’t seem to understand a simple truth: President Donald Trump is “sowing hatred and divisiveness in this country that will allow the kind of people who supported Hitler to also take action,” as one such Jew, Henry Siegman, president emeritus of the U.S./Middle East Project, told Naftali Bennett, Israel’s Minister of Diaspora Affairs. 

Some Israeli Jews look at American Jews with horror. American Jews don’t seem to understand a simple truth: Donald Trump is “a true friend of the State of Israel and to the Jewish people,” as Bennett said. Israel, said Ambassador Ron Dermer, is “not aware of a single non-Israeli leader” other than Trump “that has made such a strong statement in condemning anti-Semitism.”

Jews in the United States have had political differences with Jews in Israel concerning many issues for a long time. In the past two years, Jews in both nations added Trump to the long list of disagreements; Israeli Jews appreciate his support, American Jews reject his manners and policies. But the massacre of Jews in Pittsburgh made these differences more acute, and the conversation about them more bitter. American Jews feel that Israel is willing to throw them under the bus of anti-Semitism in exchange for the temporary political support of a bigoted president. Israeli Jews feel that American Jews are utilizing a tragedy for political purposes and thus alienating Israel’s strongest supporters in the United States.

“You don’t understand” is the phrase Americans use. A few days ago, a respected scholar sent me an email. “Anyone who tries to separate the tragedy and its wake of bitter grief from ‘politics’ does not experience on a daily level the corrosive tragedy eroding America today,” she wrote. Indeed — most Israelis don’t experience such “corrosive tragedy.”

“You don’t understand” is a phrase Israelis also use, when American Jews attempt to lecture them on this or that. You don’t have to spend nights in shelters around Gaza; you won’t pay the price if a peace process blows up; you are too naïve and too distant to appreciate the dangers of a Middle East. You don’t understand.

The inability of Jews to understand the circumstances of other Jews is a given. When a Jew lives among gentiles, there are certain antennas he or she must develop to survive. When someone says, “George Soros, the Jewish billionaire,” these antennas interpret it as a signal, one to which Israelis are tone deaf (What’s the problem? Isn’t he Jewish? Isn’t he a billionaire? Isn’t he justifiably disliked?).

 “In the past two years, Jews in both nations added President Donald Trump to the long list of disagreements.”

The same is true for signals that Israeli antennas detect, and many Americans don’t. Consider former President Barack Obama. American Jews saw a president whose views reflect their own values and priorities. Israel’s antennas screamed that something was missing, that something wasn’t right.

Israelis and Americans often make a similar mistake. They believe that the other side — their Jewish kin — doesn’t much care about them. 

In recent days, many Jews in the U.S. (and some in Israel) blamed the Israeli government of grave sins of indifference. Israeli Jews aren’t immune to jump to similar conclusions when talking about American Jews. There is some truth to both arguments. Israel, naturally, is more focused on keeping Israel safe and thus less sensitive to anti-Semitic undertones of supportive political leaders. American Jews, naturally, are more sensitive to their own problems, and want Israel to forgo its realpolitik calculations whenever a Jew feels in danger. 

Still, there’s a better explanation for the differing interpretations of the situation — better than assuming neglect or apathy. Israelis are tone deaf to the sensitivities of American Jews, and thus cannot comprehend their position. American Jews are tone deaf to the sensitivities of Israeli Jews, and thus cannot comprehend Israel’s policies. There is no remedy for this situation, other than having faith. Israelis must believe that the American Jews — annoying complaints and useless advice aside — want Israel to thrive and survive. American Jews must believe that the Israeli Jews — annoying ignorance and insulting disregard aside — want the American Jewish community to thrive and survive. 

The tragedy of Pittsburgh could be a moment that separates Jews from one another. But it is not too late to hope that it can be a moment that instills in us the missing faith.


Read More from Rosner’s Domain: Oy, Wow, and Other Comments on the Midterms, the Jews and Israel

The Kippah Deal

Within two weeks of the Oct. 27 Pittsburgh massacre, the following incidents were reported in New York City:

• Six teens hurled a pole through a Brooklyn synagogue window during evening prayers.

• A 26-year-old progressive activist was arrested on charges that he scrawled anti-Semitic graffiti in another Brooklyn synagogue and set fires at seven Williamsburg synagogues and yeshivas.

• Swastikas appeared on homes in Brooklyn Heights and on the Upper West Side.

• Three teens threatened to stab a Jewish man and “kill all Jews” in Crown Heights.

 • A rabbi was verbally harassed on the subway by supporters of Louis Farrakhan. 

And before Pittsburgh, on the Upper East Side where I live, “Free Gaza” was recently spray-painted all over a Chabad sukkah.

There have been more such incidents than usual, to be sure. But New Yorkers have come to expect stuff like this in recent years, as well as the fact that none of the perpetrators appears to have been a white supremacist.

Even The New York Times had to admit: “During the past 22 months, not one person caught or identified as the aggressor in an anti-Semitic hate crime has been associated with a far right-wing group.”

This is not to say that white supremacists don’t exist in the area. In fact, the first time I realized that my 9-year-old son, Alexander, was growing up in a very different era was four years ago when a boy — who looked as though he could pass Hitler’s Aryan test just fine — said to him matter-of-factly: “I don’t like Jews.” 

I told Alexander about the Pittsburgh massacre and the incidents that followed. If our synagogue didn’t have top-notch security, I may have been more hesitant. But he knows he’s safe. I make sure he thanks the NYPD officers who have stood outside of our synagogue since 9/11.

Still, what was scrawled on the Brooklyn synagogue — “Die Jew rats we are here” — made him especially angry.

It’s a fine line — we need to make our kids aware but not scare them. At the same time, I wanted him to commemorate Pittsburgh somehow. 

An idea came to me when he forgot to take off his kippah after Hebrew school the Monday after the massacre. That day, I had already decided that I needed to address his increasing addiction to video games. Like most parents today, I have wanted to throw his iPad into the East River about a dozen times. 

To keep it, Alexander has made all sorts of deals. That Monday, I offered up a new one: He would get to keep his iPad if he wore his kippah for an hour in the apartment. He said “Deal!” so fast I was sorry I hadn’t required more.

Alexander woke me up extra early the next morning to show me that he was wearing his kippah. I immediately forgave the former for the beauty of the latter. As he went back to his room, I said, “Remember, this is also about commemorating the victims of Pittsburgh.” “I know,” came a voice already lost to a video game.

That week turned out to be a difficult one for him in dealing with some of his friends. A couple of days he came home despondent. I placed the kippah on his head. “You know,” I said, “wearing a kippah is like wearing a blessing; it’s like wearing love.” He didn’t respond but I know he heard me.

The next day his despair had turned to anger. He had been asked to overlook another boy’s flaws — to be the bigger person. I placed the kippah on his head. He shot me a look of “Whatever you’re going to say, I’m not buying it,” so I didn’t say anything. Later, though, I talked with him about how hard it is to be the bigger person. 

“You’re growing up in a time, though, that in some ways makes these types of problems easier,” I said. “You and your Jewish friends may be facing far bigger issues, possibly in high school, most certainly in college. You guys are going to need the tight bond you already have. All of this competitive energy will need to be harnessed. You will learn when to be brave and when to walk away.”

He didn’t say anything, but he touched his kippah.

He will learn how to gain Maccabean strength from Judaism. I write these words praying he won’t have to.


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

How Good Is America for the Jews?

As I write this, I have no idea who won what in the midterms. But I do know that much of the commentary since the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh has focused on a rise in anti-Semitism in America. “It’s Trump’s fault” has been a popular meme on the left; while “Don’t forget Jew-haters on the left” has been the obligatory retort from the right.

Independent of where it comes from, though, the central claim is that things are getting worse for the Jews.

Before Pittsburgh, graffiti of a swastika on a synagogue wall was cause for serious alarm in the Jewish world. Then, suddenly, Pittsburgh happened. Instead of a spray can, a Jew-hater picked up an AR-15 and murdered 11 Jews.

From a swastika on a wall to the murder of 11 Shabbat worshippers is a communal earthquake.

To give you a sense of the magnitude, the last synagogue shooting in America happened in Detroit in 1966, and it was by a deranged congregant who shot the rabbi. In other words, Pittsburgh is the first synagogue shooting by an anti-Semite in U.S. history — and by far the deadliest.

“Let’s not overlook the enormous outpouring of love and concern for the Jews that has come from across the nation.” 

In the face of such horror, it’s hard to focus on such things as how amazing America has been for the Jews; and how we have thrived in this oasis of freedom after feeling the sting of persecution for centuries.

Indeed, the golden age of American Jewry kicked off in the 1950s. In Jonathan Sarna’s “American Judaism: A History,” he quotes Anti-Defamation League director Benjamin R. Epstein, who described the two decades following World War II as a “period of tremendous progress” for the Jews.

During those years, Epstein recalled, American Jews “achieved a greater degree of economic and political security, and a broader social acceptance than had ever been known by any Jewish community since the [ancient] Dispersion.”

It’d be foolish to say that anti-Semitism went away. It never did; it never will, in America or elsewhere. As Sarna writes: “Anti-Semitism by no means disappeared, of course, any more than nativism, anti-Catholicism, or racism did.”

But it’s fair to say that America did not make it easy or popular to be an anti-Semite.

Anti-Semites “found themselves placed on the defensive as Judaism’s status rose,” Sarna writes. “Forced to justify their anti-Jewish prejudice in the face of America’s increasingly tolerant norms, they beat a hasty retreat.”

This broad acceptance of the Jews is what most of us grew up with and got used to. Our contributions to American society have been so pervasive and substantial that some commentators speak of Judaism and Americanism in the same breath. We have embraced American freedom and opportunity with a full heart, and, in deep gratitude, have given back all we could.

It’s not a coincidence that according to a 2017 Pew survey, more Americans — 67 percent— feel warmly toward Jews than toward any other faith group.

So, when we get spooked by a disaster like Pittsburgh, it’s not just because we’re terrified but because we recognize its abnormality. Something about Pittsburgh felt so un-American, so foreign.

‘When we get spooked by a disaster like Pittsburgh, it’s not just because we’re terrified but because we recognize its abnormality. Something about Pittsburgh felt so un-American, so foreign.”

It’s easy to forget all this while our ears are ringing with cries of an alarming rise in anti-Semitism and while our community argues over whether it’s worse from the left or the right.

Anti-Semitism will never go away; it’s the nature of the disease. The rise of the Internet and proliferation of social media has further magnified swastika sightings and anti-Semitic incidents from both the left and the right, including on college campuses.

But as we stay vigilant against these troublesome signs, let’s not overlook the enormous outpouring of love and concern for the Jews that has come from across the nation. It’s hard to imagine a country, outside of Israel, where a mainstream newspaper would actually feature large Hebrew letters on its front page — as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette did last week when it honored the victims of Tree of Life by putting the beginning of the Mourner’s Kaddish on its front page.

Those Hebrew letters, which have gone viral, are a quirky reminder of how fully integrated we have become in American society; and how anti-Semites will never win popularity contests in this country.

For American Jewry, America has become like family. We give a lot and expect a lot. We’re no longer on foreign land. This is our country.

Pittsburgh has been a shock to our system not because America is bad for the Jews — but precisely because it has been so good. 

Oy, Wow, and Other Comments on the Midterms, the Jews and Israel

President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a campaign rally, Sunday, Nov. 4, 2018, in Macon, Ga. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

1. A historical perspective might interfere with election hype, damaging the ratings. A historical perspective is the enemy of headline-hunters, champions of drama. Still, it is worth remembering that in the first midterm elections of Barack Obama, the Democratic Party lost 63 seats in the House. In the first midterm elections of Bill Clinton, 54. Ronald Reagan’s Republican Party lost 26. Carter 15. Ford 48. Nixon 12. Johnson 47. Eisenhower 18. Truman 54. Almost every party of every president loses seats in the midterm elections. Exceptions occur amid events such as 9/11, or a colossal economic meltdown, or the end of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The mid-term failures of Truman and Reagan did not prevent them from becoming two of the most important presidents in American history. Clinton and Obama survived the bitter midterm defeats, and were elected to a second term. Yes, Trump was on the ballot in this cycle. Yes, the public voted against him. In 1946 the public voted against Harry Truman in much greater numbers. It was hardly the final verdict on his presidency.

2. Winners and losers? You don’t need me for that. You see it, you feel it: A Democratic victory is not convincing enough to feel like real victory.

3. Twelve years ago, when a new record of Jewish congressional representation was set, I wrote an article under the headline: “First Thought on Most Jewish Congress Ever: Wow. Second Thought: Oy.” The argument was as follows: “Isn’t it too much? Just 2 percent of the population and 13 senators out of 100? Two percent of the population and 30 congressmen? Aren’t they going to draw the attention of all the anti-Semites, conspiracy theorists, Walt and Mersheimers of the world? Maybe a lower profile would have been preferable?”

Maybe what we need today is an article with the reverse headline: “First Thought on Most Jewish Congress Ever: Oy. Second Thought: Wow.”

4. I’ll explain, but first 2 needed caveats:

  1. There is no new record of representatives this time (this was expected).
  2. Generally speaking, more Democrats in Congress means more Jews in Congress. So we should not get overexcited about the increase in Jewish presence on Capitol Hill.

5. Now explanation.

We begin with an Oy, because of all the talk, some valid, some hysterical, about anti-Semitic undertones in these past election. Remember the days when Joe Lieberman was running for vice president, and everybody was talking about how much this is a non-issue? These days – Oy indeed! – are over. Whether because of non-Jews using anti-Semitic images to smear their opponents – or because of Jews making anti-Semitism a political tool with which to sway the voters in their direction.

In short, anti-Semitism is no longer a non-issue.

6. Still, my proposed reverse headline ends with a Wow. Because of a record number of Jewish candidates that were running this time. Democratic and Republican, female and male, highly engaged Jewishly, barely engaged Jewishly, radical and centrist, pleasers and provocateurs, gays and straight, businessman and Navy commanders, Jews and half Jews, and spouses of Jews who raise Jewish children.

As Ben Sales reports, five Jewish Democrats are “set to chair key House committees.””. Jerrold Nadler, the Judiciary Committee; Eliot Engel, Foreign Affairs; and Nita Lowey, Appropriations. Adam Schiff of California will head the Intelligence Committee and John Yarmuth of Kentucky will lead the Budget Committee.

How can we say Oy when Jews feel secured enough, liked enough, involved enough, to run and win in elections?

7. Israelis are as self centered as everybody else and hence consider only one question: Will the next Congress be supportive of Israel? will it be supportive of President  Trump’s support for Israel? And if such questions annoy most American Jews, well, that’s an old story. A story whose beginning can be traced as back as the story of the U.S.-Israel relations.

Asking the question this way essentially gives an answer to what Israel wanted. It wanted a Congress supportive of what it sees as Trump’s support for Israel. Only one party could guarantee such an outcome — and it’s not the Democratic Party. So yes, Israel lost tonight. But since the wave is not a big wave – Israel’s is not a big loss.

8. Israel also gained an opportunity to re-engage with the party whose voters – and some of its leaders – presents it with a complicated challenge. Simply put, it is this challenge: Can Israel have the support of both political camps in this era of partisanship?

To answer this question, consider all other issues on the American agenda: China, Climate Change, Immigration, Taxes, Health Care, Tariffs, Supreme Court, Media, Transgender Rights, Religion and State. Consider these, and all other issues and then repose the question: Can anyone or anything have the support of both political camps in this era of partisanship? And what are the needed steps to gain such unique and out-of-fashion status?

9. The Jewish vote: Nothing new (CNN Exit poll: 79% voted for House Democrats). So there is no need for over-interpretation (yes, if anyone had doubts, they do not vote for the House based on Netanyhau’s priorities).

GOP Congressional Candidate: No Peace in Middle East Until Jews, Muslims Convert to Christianity

Screenshot from Twitter.

Mark Harris, a Republican congressional candidate in North Carolina, reportedly said in 2011 that there would never be peace in the Middle East unless Jews and Muslims converted to Christianity.

Harris, who was a pastor until his congressional run, reportedly said in a 2011 sermon after he visited Israel, “There will never be peace in Jerusalem until the day comes that every knee shall bow, every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”

Harris added, “Jesus, when he went into Jerusalem, said, ‘I am the vine. I am the true vine,’ and until those that are called in Islam realize that and until those that are called in Judaism realize that, for that matter, until those that are caught in the religion of Christianity and are missing the personal relationship with Jesus Christ, realize that, there’ll never be peace in their soul or peace in their city.”

Harris’ campaign did not respond to the Journal’s request for comment at publication time.

Harris is running in North Carolina’s 9th congressional district, which includes Charlotte, where President Trump is popular and the current representative for that area is Republican Robert Pittenger. However, myriad election forecasts have projected the race as a toss-up between Harris and his Democratic opponent, Dan McCready.

Pittsburgh Community Comes Together in the Wake of Synagogue Shooting

Pittsburgh Remembers the Victims

Pittsburgh Remembers the Victims

Posted by Jewish Journal on Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Eitz chayim hi lamachazikim bahIt is a tree of life for those who cling to it.

On the night of Sunday, Oct. 28, less than 36 hours after a gunman rampaged through the Tree of Life Congregation synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill, mowing down 11 Jewish souls, close to 3,000 people braved driving rain, howling winds and 40-degree temperatures to take part in an interfaith vigil honoring the dead.

They converged en masse at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall — an imperious brick structure squatting high above the University of Pittsburgh in the city’s Oakland neighborhood. They packed the hall to its rafters, lined its hallways, and even stood outside in the darkness, huddled under umbrellas, listening to loudspeakers of the rousing speeches inside.

When Tree of Life’s Rabbi Jeffrey Myers stepped to the microphone, the crowd fell silent, clinging to his words.

You probably recognize Myers by now from his cable news appearances, your social media feeds, his powerful speech at the vigil, and the iconic photograph of him escaping from the synagogue on that Shabbat morning, wrapped in his tallit, accompanied by police.

Thirty minutes after the vigil, on the Memorial Hall’s cold, dark steps, when most attendees had left, Myers stood cloaked in his long, dark coat, his black kippah —bearing the gold letter ‘P’ of the Pittsburgh Pirates — clipped tightly to his shock of white hair. He stood seemingly strong and tall — a tree of life for those who cling to it. 

Here was a soft-spoken man — upon closer look with red-rimmed eyes — somehow upholding the Squirrel Hill community in the glare of international television crews; a man who had no time to grieve, to process, to mourn, to even begin to deal with the immense trauma he was suffering.

And yet, he remained gracious and thoughtful, his roots in the Squirrel Hill community giving strength to his words, his compassion, his resilience — in spite of the chilling knowledge that, according to the anti-Defamation League, he and his community had suffered the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in American history. 

The beauty, strength and resilience of Pittsburgh is palpable in the leafy Squirrel Hill neighborhood, with its brick and wood two-story homes and their welcoming front porches set back along wide streets surrounded by verdant parkways. 

“The Squirrel Hill Jewish community is an unusual community in that it has been based here for a very long time. There are three day schools. The synagogues here range from Reform to Lubavitch, within walking distance, all within the eruv.” — Lynn Berman

You could see and feel it at the intersection of Wilkins and Murray avenues, down the hill from Tree of Life, where a perimeter was set up early Monday morning by police who expected the crime scene investigation to continue for at least a week. 

Realizing they could no longer drive up a hill to the synagogue entrance, where 11 makeshift Star of David memorial tributes stood, people quickly set up a second, makeshift memorial of flowers, candles and heartfelt prayers, including a sign in Hebrew that read “mitpalel” (praying). There was a bouquet of flowers with a rosary wrapped around it, a sign reading “Hate has no home here” in half a dozen languages, and expressions of love and support were written into the sidewalk, thanks to someone who thoughtfully left a box of chalk.

Jen and Mark Montinola, a young, Catholic couple, drove here from their home 30 minutes away to lay a delicately wrapped bouquet of red roses and read a prayer they had written themselves. 

“It was such a huge tragedy for our entire city,” Jen said. “That it could happen here gave us such a helpless feeling. We wanted to do something to show our support.” 

“We’re Catholic,” Mark added, “but we have friends of many different faiths and we wanted to come and say a prayer.” 

It was here where a woman in her 60s placed her own bouquet. She then turned, walked up to me, and without a word hugged me. Wrapped in her warm embrace against the buffeting winds, I whispered, “I don’t live here, I’m just a journalist here to write a story.” 

“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “We all need a hug right now.”

It was here that Nikki Malzi came with her 18-month-old Goldendoodle, Tucker, to pay her respects. She spoke of how she and her husband went to donate blood after a call went out on Saturday, but the centers were overwhelmed with donors. “We went back on Sunday to donate,” she said. “They told us that on Saturday, when they usually close at 2:30 p.m., they stayed till 9 p.m.” to accommodate everyone who had shown up.

It was here where Mandi Babkis, who grew up in Squirrel Hill and now lives just 10 minutes away, said, “Even though I didn’t personally know those who died, even though it wasn’t my synagogue, I just felt, intuitively, empathically, I needed to stop here today.” 

The ripples of community support widened as I trudged toward the synagogue’s entrance. The locals kindly offered directions. A compassionate police officer, stationed in his car to block passage up one of the side streets, took pity: “Sure,” he said, “you can take the shortcut. Stay on the right-hand side of the street and tell the police officer at the top that I let you pass.”

Dental assistant Lisa Jawula who works at a Jewish dentist’s office on Murray Avenue. She made the t-shirt herself over the weekend. Photo by Kelly Hartog

With willingness, grace and humility, Squirrel Hill’s residents let the mass of news media representatives into their lives, when nobody would blame them for wanting to shut us out. Nowhere was this willingness more palpable than on the long stretch of Murray Avenue lined with Jewish stores and restaurants. 

There, I ran into a woman smoking a cigarette, dressed in black scrubs and a black T-shirt emblazoned with “Pittsburgh Strong” in bold, white letters — and a white, hand-drawn Star of David. She said her name was Lisa Jawula, a dental assistant to a local Jewish dentist. On Sunday she went to a Michael’s craft store to buy the supplies to make the shirt. 

“I felt I wanted to do something,” she said, adding that she knew the two brothers who were killed, David and Cecil Rosenthal. “They were a part of the community. Our hearts are very heavy right now,” she said. “We’re trying to get through the day as usual, but it’s hard.”

Everyone here is traumatized. Everyone has a story to tell, and everyone is standing tall and praising the beauty and love of their community – a community where everybody either knew one or more people who were killed or knew of them. 

“The Squirrel Hill Jewish community is an unusual community in that it has been based here for a very long time,” said Lynn Berman. “There are three day schools. The synagogues here range from Reform to Lubavitch, within walking distance, all within the eruv.”

“We all know each other,” she said. “I could walk into any synagogue on a Shabbat morning and I would know people. Even though there are three congregations in the [Tree of Life] building, it is literally my community. Close friends had a bat mitzvah there last week.”

The four-person team of psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and EMTs flew to Pittsburgh from Israel on the same night of the shooting.

Suzi Neft lives in Swisshelm Park but grew up in Squirrel Hill. She said in a phone interview, “The Jewish community is so close. Rabbis from extreme Orthodox to Reconstructionist all get along and everybody pulls for everybody else. We care about each other and we welcome new people all the time.” 

Like many in the Orthodox community who are Sabbath observant, Berman wasn’t really aware of what was going on initially. “I live five blocks from the synagogue,” she said, “and the number of ambulances that went by our house was really quite terrifying. Then we saw the bomb squad and ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms personnel). My husband and I were speechless. This isn’t the kind of place where you expect this to happen.”

The Bermans only found out what was going on because they have a code with their children — if the phone rings twice in quick succession on Shabbat, they know it’s an emergency and they should pick up. Those two back-to-back calls came from the Bermans’ son who lives in Cleveland, who told them when they answered the phone that their daughter, who lives in Tel Aviv, had called him to let him know what had happened.

Jamie Beth Schindler and her family drove four hours from Lancaster, Pa., to attend the funerals of her distant cousins, the Rosenthal brothers. Schindler grew up in nearby Stanton Heights, but her grandmother was the assistant to the rabbi at Tree of Life until she retired in the 1980s. 

Schindler’s aunt, 68-year-old Jo Ellen Smith, still lives in Squirrel Hill and survived the 1970 Kent State shootings where four unarmed students were killed by the Ohio National Guard.

“Squirrel Hill is a very special place, but my sense is also that Squirrel Hill has become a very dangerous place,” Schindler said, adding, “I’m horrified but not surprised” by the shooting.

Smith described in a phone interview how stunned she was by the shooting. “I live two blocks from the synagogue. My mother was the secretary to the rabbi and my daughter went to religious school and had her bat mitzvah at Tree of Life.”

But for Smith, a psychologist, the helicopters overhead in the aftermath of the shooting were the hardest thing for her to bear, prompting reminders of her experiences at Kent State. She found comfort in turning on her police scanner on the computer as the attack was unfolding.

“There were some very difficult things to hear,” she said, “but it was also comforting to know how finely tuned and how highly trained and how dedicated these first responders are. They’re not just SWAT teams — there are medical SWAT people that go in with them. That made me feel even more safe.” 

Former Tree of Life Rabbi Chuck Diamond. Photo by Kelly Hartog,

Richard Greenberg, known to all as the Squirrel Hills Kilt Man (because, yes, he wears a kilt, sports Elton John glasses, walks with a cane and smokes a cigar), was outside Tree of Life on the Monday morning after the shooting, paying his respects. He sounded incredulous as he said, “I can’t believe this happened in my own town.” He spoke of the Rosenthals — Cecil, 59, and David, 54 — both developmentally disabled. Cecil greeted everyone. David took the Torah out of the ark every week. He pointed to a marker placed for another victim, Joyce Feinberg. “After we davened Shacharis, she’d put out the breakfast. She had a heart of gold.” He also fondly remembered Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, known for his colorful bow-ties and his work with people with HIV/AIDS in the early days of the epidemic. “I was just with him on Thursday for Shacharis,” he said, shaking his head. 

As the day wore on, gray, overcast and drizzling, the phalanx of media trucks continued to swell, FBI teams walked the synagogue’s perimeter, and people kept coming to place flowers and notes and pay their respects. Elderly men and women in walkers, a small child — one hand clutching a bouquet of flowers, the other holding firmly to a parent. Adults openly sobbed.

Weaving his way through it all while simultaneously juggling media interviews was former Tree of Life Rabbi Chuck Diamond. Tall, with a head of white curls poking out from his Pirates baseball cap, he walked up to every single person — even those he didn’t know — and thanked them for coming out. He hugged two women who were openly weeping.

“We just hope to be able to give everybody the ability to come out of this OK.” — Miriam Ballin, United Hatzalah Israel

Asked what would come next after the media have moved on to the next tragedy, Diamond sighed. “The next part is the funerals,” he said. “We’re involved in the mourning and the grieving and the comforting of the community over the shiva period.

“I think it becomes especially difficult for the families after the shiva period,” he continued. “How do we go on with our lives with this heaviness? All the [victims]were wonderful people, great souls who wouldn’t hurt a fly, who just wanted to come and pray and study.”

It’s that notion of how to grieve, for both the families and the entire community, that has brought United Hatzalah Israel to Squirrel Hill. 

Cari Immerman, regional director of United Hatzalah Israel, jumped into action to bring out the world’s first psycho-trauma unit. “We disperse people around the world to get on the scene and deal with psychological first aid and emotional wounds,” she said.

The four-person team of psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and EMTs flew to Pittsburgh from Israel on the same night of the shooting. “Unfortunately, we know this drill too well in Israel, so we basically brought our expertise and said ‘use us,’” Immerman said.

Leading the team is Miriam Ballin. “We have a unique skill set that we developed in Israel based on psychological first-aid from the World Health Organization, as well as psychological first-aid developed in Israel as a result of the constant trauma that we experience. And we’ve brought those tools to the community here,” she said.

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, Ballin said, “The surprise factor here was something that definitely caught people off guard, and it’s making the traumatic experience even all the more difficult to deal with. We just hope to be able to give everybody the ability to come out of this OK.”

United Hatazlah’s Cari Immerman (left) and Miriam Ballin. Photo by Kelly Hartog

Also undertaking extraordinarily difficult work were the local Chevra Kadisha volunteers who sat with the bodies of the victims until the authorities allowed them to be released for burial. Once the FBI allowed the bodies out of the synagogue, they were taken to the medical examiner’s offices, where the volunteers stayed with the bodies.

One of those volunteers was Nina Butler. She has worked as a “shomeret” before, but said this was different because “the whole community is raw. Being a shomeret was something that filled my heart. I felt this was something constructive I could do.”

She also had nothing but praise for the police who “bent over backwards to accommodate our religious rights and customs.” 

It was easy to become traumatized just standing all day outside the Tree of Life synagogue, listening to people’s stories, so I headed back to Murray Avenue and made my way to the Milky Way, a kosher, vegetarian restaurant. However, I was  waylaid by Michael Milch, sitting outside the Murray Avenue Kosher supermarket drinking a cup of coffee and schmoozing with the locals. An Orthodox man, he said he only heard what was going on from what people were saying in the streets that Shabbat morning until he visited the house of a friend who had the television on.

Michael Milch outside Murray Avenue Kosher supermarket. He went to a non-Orthodox friend’s house to watch the tragedy unfold on TV. Photo by Kelly Hartog

He interrupted his own story to point out a man walking down the street. “That’s our city councilman, Corey O’Connor,” Milch said. “You should talk to him.” Milch then proceeded to introduce me and said, “[O’Connor’s] dad was the mayor and lived in Squirrel Hill, and I’m sure he’s looking down on us today because he loved the Jewish community.”

Flowers and a sign simply saying “praying” left at the makeshift memorial at Tree of Life synagogue. Photo by Kelly Hartog

O’Connor smiled and joked, “Michael’s my press secretary.”  He went on to say, “It’s been remarkable how many people have come out in support of their neighborhood and their loved ones that we lost. There has been overwhelming support for the community from all of Pittsburgh. Squirrel Hill is a close-knit community and we’re going to be there for everybody. If somebody needs a helping hand, they know who to call and that’s what we’re here for. That’s why I’ve been in the district the last two days just walking the streets.”

And there it was again. That term, “close-knit,” the talk of community pulling together, of Orthodox Jews heading to the houses of not-so-frum Jews to watch a collective tragedy unfold on TV.

Nowhere was this sense of all branches of the Jewish community coming together more visible than in the Milky Way restaurant. 

A middle-aged woman dressed in jeans and a pastel-striped sweater comes in to collect three heavy trays of food. Her face is taut, her skin pale. Suddenly, an Orthodox woman in a long, black skirt gets up from her lunch table, walks over to the woman and wraps her arms around her. The two of them just stand there, locked in an embrace that is so intimate, so deeply felt, I feel like an intruder as I watch. No words are spoken. When they finally pull apart, tears are in both their eyes.

Harry Ash, a 70-year-old psychologist who has lived in Squirrel Hill his whole life, is also eating his lunch of vegetarian chicken nuggets and fries at the Milky Way. He’s trying to find a way of balancing how “normal” life seems. “I went to the dentist this morning,” he said, “and here I am eating lunch. Life goes on. But [the shooting] was quite shocking. I’m still in shock.”

While Ash is Orthodox and attends Poale Zedek, where he said the rabbi informed them during services there was an active shooter at Tree of Life, he said, “I have driven by that synagogue countless times.”

Richard Greenberg, Squirrel Hills’ “Kilt Man” pays his respects. “I can’t believe this happened in my own town.” Photo by Kelly Hartog

Ash said the whole incident has made him think about possibly getting a gun. But after talking about how several police officers were still shot when they had guns and years of training, he said the idea, “is just in the thinking stages.”

He also spoke of what a “beautiful community” Squirrel Hill is and how the tragedy “pushes us to appreciate what’s important in life,” adding he was surprised that several of his current and former patients — who aren’t Jewish — called to check up on him after the shooting. “I was really touched by that,” he said.

While many residents said they have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love of the Jewish community from around the country and the world, they also went out of their way to talk about the support being provided by people of so many different faiths.

One of the most powerful speeches at the Sunday night vigil at the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall came from Wasi Mohamed, executive director of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, where his community had already raised $70,000 to help pay funeral and medical expenses for the victims. A couple of days later, that amount had jumped to almost $150,000. 

Realizing they could no longer drive up a hill to the synagogue entrance, where 11 makeshift Star of David memorial tributes stood, people quickly set up a second, makeshift memorial of flowers, candles and heartfelt prayers.

Mohamed said the Muslim community would offer whatever help was needed and “if it’s people outside your next service protecting you, let us know. We’ll be there.”

Modern Orthodox Jewish community member Barb Feige, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, has worked with the Muslim community and Mohamed. She posted a thank you to him on her Facebook page that went viral.

“It’s had over 20,000 shares,” she said in a phone interview. “The ACLU did a lot of work providing safeguards to the Muslim community post 9/11when the FBI was calling people in for interviews,” she said. “Once I saw [Mohamed] was going to be at the vigil, I knew it was going to be something heartfelt. The offers of protection struck me and everybody. [I thought], ‘Oh my God, 10 minutes ago you were the ones needing protecting.’ ”

Once again, her words spoke to the bonds in this community. “I think it goes to people wanting to see good and wanting to hear good,” Feige said. “And from two groups where the rest of the world thinks we’re at each other’s throats all the time, yet here we are together.”

Berman, who also attended the vigil, spoke of seeing “Sikhs, Muslims, people wearing crosses and Catholic collars. It felt warm and supportive.”

Feige concurred. “It was healing to be together. It was that sense of needing to hear some words that we were thinking but having somebody else saying them out loud. To know that other people were going through the same thing.” 

The vigil on that Sunday night, and another impromptu vigil held the night before, helped carve out a path to move the community forward. On the following Tuesday, the funerals began.

The Rosenthal brothers’ funerals were held at Rodef Shalom in Squirrel Hill, the only synagogue large enough to hold the almost 1,000 people who turned out — and even then it was standing-room only. There were audible sobs as members of the local fire department walked by the brothers’ side-by-side coffins to salute them.

One of David and Cecil’s sister’s, Diane Rosenthal, spoke of them being men but “as most people here in the audience know, we referred to them as ‘the boys’ — maybe because they were innocent, like boys.” 

She went on to say that “Even if you didn’t know them, you’ve heard stories about them on TV or in the newspapers, which” — she said to raucous laughter —  “as many of you know, Cecil would have loved.”

Indeed, Diane’s husband, Michael  Hirt, went to pains to talk about the differences between the two. David was the ladies man who would ask every woman if they were married, followed by “Wanna go to Hawaii?”

“If David hadn’t been handicapped, I think he would have been a movie star or a celebrity who maintained a fine balance between public and private life,” Hirt said.

He spoke of Cecil being a consummate politician, planner, organizer and socialite. He knew everyone in town and everyone’s business. “If you wanted local news gossip, Cecil was your source,” Hirt said. “If Cecil had not been handicapped, he would have been the mayor of Squirrel Hill.”

Rodef Shalom synagogue was filled to capacity at the funerals for Cecil and David Rosenthal. Photo by Kelly Hartog

Outside, as congregants poured into their cars to follow a police escort to the cemetery, Mayor Bill Peduto, who has been in the news speaking about not wishing to meet President Donald Trump who arrived in town on Tuesday, took time to talk to some of the mourners.

“We’ll get through this,” he said. “We’ll take care of the families and make sure that the pain that they have is minimized as much as it can be.”

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto talks to mourners following the Rosenthal funerals. Photo by Kelly Hartog

While politics has swirled around this latest tragedy, many in this community want to keep that discussion at bay — at least for now. The focus is on healing, and the community is a portrait in resilience.

Mohamed said the Muslim community would offer whatever help was needed and ‘if it’s people outside your next service protecting you, let us know. We’ll be there.’

Rabbi Diamond said that while the loss of all 11 people would be felt, “when I speak of them, sometimes I smile because this is a celebration of their lives. We will be inspired by them as we move into the future, in how they would have reacted to something like this — being there for other people. We have to be there for each other, support each other and take it a step at a time.”

“Overall, we will remain united,” Berman said. “There is no place in our community for hate.”

Hate has no home here. Photo by Kelly Hartog

Feige said, “We don’t know yet what change this will bring. What happens with the Tree of Life building? How do you go back in there? Change will come but we don’t yet know how or what that is. 

“But whatever comes next,” she added, “in Squirrel Hill in particular, the Jewish community is very close-knit. We get along because we’re on top of each other and we’re on top of each other because we get along.” 

Hashiveinu adonai elecha v’nashuva, chadesh yamenu kekedem… Return us to you, God, so that we shall return, renew our days as of old.


READ MORE ON PITTSBURGH SHOOTING:  Community Reactions to Pittsburgh Shooting; Tree of Life Victims: Devout, Respected, Loved; 
Los Angeles Holds Vigil for Pittsburgh

My Name Is Jew, and I Want My Name Back

Mourners react during a memorial service at the Sailors and Soldiers Memorial Hall of the University of Pittsburgh, a day after 11 worshippers were shot dead at a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

My name is “Jew.” My name is smoothed by centuries of storms, polished by the rolling river of time. My name is a diamond, born of friction and pressure, thrust to the surface by fiery lava, precious, multi-faceted. My name is “Jew” and my name is the philosopher’s stone, turning base metals into gold, turning all that is mundane in this world and infusing it with meaning, turning it into the shining substance of the sacred.

My name is “Jew” and my name turns the animal of man, his brutality, his beastliness, into beauty and righteousness, elevating him above his dust and his dross.

“Jew” is the stamp on the greatest love-letter ever written, from Creator to created, the love-letter in which we are given the Ten Commandments, the ethical guideposts of civilizations, the love-letter that proclaimed that every person is made in the Image of God, b’Tzelem Elohim, that every living vessel, whether broken or whole, is infused worthiness, casting down cast systems, a love-letter that told the story of all humanity descending from one couple, that we are one family, no one superior to another, a love-letter that illustrated the redemption of a slave people into a nation of priests, a people whose babies had been drowned in the river, a people beaten and in rags, restored to dignity, a thread of royal blue tied to the corner of their garments, a reminder of each individual’s inherent nobility.

Dear humankind, Here is Shabbat, the world’s greatest religious gift, a day upon which the flower and the gardener stand as equals to one another, day of peace, of rest, of family, of vision of a future world. Enjoy. Sincerely, Jews.

Dear humankind, I have put My rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between [God] and the world. Sincerely, Jews.

Dear humankind, Love your neighbor as yourself. Sincerely, Jews.

Dear humankind, Welcome the stranger in your midst. Sincerely, Jews.

Dear humankind, Let my people go. Sincerely, Jews.

Dear humankind, Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me. Sincerely, Jews.

Dear humankind, Proclaim liberty throughout all the land and unto all the inhabitants thereof. Love, Jews.

I want my name back.

Jew means “championing what is arguably the single most revolutionary concept in human civilization, monotheism.” One God. A universal moral code of conduct.

Jew means having partnership with the Divine for the repair of our broken world. Tikkun Olam.

Jew means helping the other is my responsibility during my lifetime. Jew means confessing my shortcomings and striving to better myself.

I want my name back. My name is “Jew.”


Rabbi Zoë Klein Miles is the senior rabbi at Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles.

Pittsburgh Massacre an Attack on Humanity

Words fail in the aftermath of the horrifying tragedy in Pittsburgh.

Eleven synagogue worshipers were brutally murdered while in the midst of their prayers. Six others, including police officers, were wounded. The FBI special agent in charge of the Pittsburgh office, Bob Jones, said that it was the most “horrific crime scene” he’s witnessed in his 22 year career with the Bureau.

The shooter, Robert Bowers, shouted “all Jews must die” while he carried out his massacre. Commentators are already calling this the deadliest attack on Jews in American history.

The name of the congregation in which the attack took place is “The Tree of Life”. But on this day it became identified with death.

What makes this all the more tragic is the event which was taking place at the time. The synagogue was in the midst of rejoicing with a family celebrating a brit milah and baby naming, affirming a child’s identification with the Jewish people.

A celebration of life turned into a bloodbath. And we can only ask, will it never end?

We mourn with broken hearts. But it would be a mistake if we merely perceived this as an attack on Jews, as but another in the lengthy list of anti-Semitic atrocities of history.

When Jews are murdered in a house of God it is an affront to every person who believes that all of humankind was created “in the image of God.” It represents the ultimate rejection of civilized society.

Sadly, what happened in Pittsburgh is not an isolated incident. It is an echo of a kind of evil which we have come to witness in recent times. And it is an evil which, either on a conscious or subconscious level, has a powerful motivation.

Terrorist attacks are heinous crimes no matter where they occur. Carried out in places of worship, their malevolence is not only magnified multiple times but their rationale also takes on a different meaning. That is unfortunately what we have seen with ever greater frequency.

In July 2008, Jim David Adkisson began his shooting spree at the Tennessee Valley Universalist church in Knoxville Tennessee. He killed two people and wounded seven others. He justified his actions by citing the historically progressive policies of the Unitarian church. Four years later a white supremacist, Wade Michael Page, attacked a Sikh temple, or gurdwaras, in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, killing six people and wounding four more before committing suicide. In June 2015, Dylann Roof, a white supremacist who frequently posted publicly about his desire to kill nonwhites, murdered nine members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston South Carolina. And just last year 26 people were killed in the deadliest church shooting in American history at the First Baptist Church in Sutherlands Springs, Texas.

What explains this striking parallelism? Why have churches and synagogues and houses of worship become appealing targets of hatred?

It is almost certain that the perpetrators of these crimes know that they can commit the maximum emotional devastation when they strike at the very heart of the spiritual fabric of the community. Houses of God are sources of inspiration for good. They are the foundations of civility, of respect, of the dissemination of values which make possible human survival.

And that is what makes them such appealing places upon which to express their prejudices, their bigotry and – in the most profound psychological truth – their inner self-hatred.

Simon Wiesenthal warned us years ago that “the combination of hatred and technology is the greatest danger threatening mankind.” We have long been concentrating on the dangers of technology and its awful potential for human destruction. We need to put equal effort into combating the hatred which knows no limits and finds its most satisfying outlet against those very places which bring the world the beauty of God and of love.


This story was originally posted on aish.com

Cry, Don’t Politicize. 9 Comments on the Pittsburgh Massacre

People mourn the loss of life as they hold a vigil for the victims of Pittsburgh synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 27, 2018. REUTERS/John Altdorfer



I have nine comments on the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on Oct. 27:

1.
It is heartbreaking. Full stop. Have a moment of silence, light a candle, remember that when Jews are killed for being Jews you bleed, all Jews bleed. Thus, treat this butchery of hate not as an opportunity to advance a political agenda. Make it personal. Make it about love. Mourn it.

2.

Yes, it is the worst ever massacre of Jews in America. Don’t over interpret this fact – as it is mostly a coincidence. Some killers are less successful, some more. No one goes on a murderous rampage thinking oh, I will just kill three or five Jews. A butcher on a rampage kills as many Jews as possible. In this case, it was more than all previous such cases.

3.

America did not change yesterday, not for Jews, nor for other Americans. In America mass killings of this type are a horrific recurrence. It can be a school or university, a gay club or a rock concert, it can be a synagogue. America is armed to its teeth, and has its fair share of radicals, lunatics and delusional haters. This is a deadly combination. From time to time, Jews will be the victims.

“Making Jews feel even more exposed, even more a target of hate, could be the result of wrong, politically driven policies.”

4.

The question of security, of guards, of locked gates, is not very interesting. It is a technical question, one of risk assessment, of cost-benefit assessment. The leaders of institutions must consult with professionals and decide how best to secure the gathering places of Jews. President Trump, speaking yesterday about the attack, made a comment about the need for guards that some observers were quick to interpret as a “blame-the-victim” tactic. It was not. It was just Trump being Trump, and making a statement that was not well crafted. As for security: he may have a point. Or not. Let professionals decide.

5.

Trump was also the target of many other observations following the massacre. Some went as far as blaming him for it. This is both unfair and foolish. Mass killings occurred before Trump. Hatred of Jews did not start at his watch. True – the US is tenser, more violent, more on edge in the Trump era. Is he the cause of it, or just the result? Probably both. And yet, there is no doubt that the President is not a Jew hater, does not encourage or condone hate of Jews, does not aim to hurt Jews.

6.

Yes, and blaming him is a fool’s errand. Trump has many followers. Most of them bear no ill will against Jews. Yet if the Jews make the president their prime target of criticism – if they portray him and his supporters as anti-Semitic haters – alienation will follow, and anger.

7.

The counter argument has power. The Jews are not tourists in America, they are not guests. If they see a wolf, they must cry. If they see injustice, they must wage a battle. Under such circumstances, restraint is the remedy. Wage a battle – wisely. Wage a battle – cautiously. Wage a battle – to win. Waging it to lose could be admirable, and very dangerous.

8.

A few Israeli spectators also politicized the murder. On Israeli Radio a senior commentator made it about Conservative Judaism – the Pittsburgh synagogue is Conservative – not being recognized by the state. Again – unfair and unwise. And for similar reasons. No Jew wants other Jews to get killed – because of disagreements over theology. No Jew should be made to feel guilty about the murder, just because he or she do not agree with Conservative Judaism.

9.

Jews tend to respond to such instances of violence in two ways: Those of them who feel a part of the community raise their level of involvement and awareness – those of them who have doubts lower their level of communal participation, to stay safe.

This is not an easy test for the Jewish community. And its implications are not immediately known. Making Jews feel safe as they identify Jewishly and engage Jewishly ought to be the main task ahead. Making Jews feel even more exposed, making Jews even more a target of hate, could be the result of wrong, politically driven, policies.

Conservative Rabbis Can Now Attend Interfaith Marriages

Conservative rabbis are now allowed to attend interfaith weddings according to the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards.

Though many have found ways to celebrate interfaith simchas since the rule wasn’t strictly enforced, the new rule allows rabbis to attend ceremonies without facing penalties.

The decision was made last Friday, Oct. 19 in a vote of the Rabbinical Assembly’s Committee on JLS, which determines Conservative Jewish legal rulings.

According to a statement provided by the Rabbinical Assembly, the committee’s ruling states “Attendance as a guest at a wedding where only one party is Jewish is not included in this Standard of Religious Practice.”

The decision reverses more than four decades of rumors that the movement’s rabbis would lose their position if they even attended an interfaith wedding.

According to a 2013 Pew Research poll, as of 2005-2013, 58 percent of Jewish marriages have been interfaith marriages. Before 1970 it was 18 percent.

“Reform Judaism continues to be the largest Jewish denominational movement in the United States,” according to the poll. “One-third (35%) of all U.S. Jews identify with the Reform movement, while 18% identify with Conservative Judaism.”

The decision to lift the ban shows American Jews that the Conservative movement is slowing changing the way they look at interfaith marriages in order to make the Jewish community more inclusive.

This important standard [officiating Jewish couples], however, does not preclude our welcoming and reaching out to intermarried couples and families, as we believe it is also important to create positive rabbinic relationships with both the Jewish and non-Jewish member of such a couple,” the RA said.

To read the full Conservative Movement code of conduct click here.  

Jews, Blinded by Trump

The midterms are coming, and I’m worried about the state of mind of American Jews. 

Not because most of them are going to vote for Democratic candidates, as a survey from last week revealed. That’s to be expected. 

Not because most will vote for Democrats even though Israelis would prefer Republicans to retain control of Congress. There is nothing new in this divide of preferences. 

It’s also not a surprise — and doesn’t much worry me — that most disapprove of President Donald Trump. 

And it’s not a surprise that although pro-Israel, many are critical of some (35 percent) or many (24 percent) of its policies. Join the club: Israelis, too, are critical of some of many of Israel’s policies, while still voting for the same government for quite some time (as to why, read David Suissa’s column “Why Are Israeli Voters So Stubborn?” (Oct. 5). 

No, I’m worried about one question in the survey that was published by the Mellman Group. It is a tricky question to analyze, as it refers to two separate issues: Trump is No. 1, Jerusalem is No. 2. 

“Large Majorities Disapprove of Trump’s Handling of Nearly Every Issue,” declares the summary of the findings. Indeed, the only issue that a majority of American Jews are satisfied with is the handling of U.S.-Israel relations. That’s important because it indicates at least some American Jews retain a grain of common sense even in these highly charged days of partisan politics. How many is “some”? A little more than a half approve of Trump’s handling of the relations: 51 percent. What does the other (almost) half want him to do? What must Trump do to satisfy the discontented half? 

“There is no shame in being honest about your preferences. Israel wants a supportive U.S. president; Trump, thus far, has provided it with one.”

Whatever the answer, the other question I have clearly shows that common sense is out of fashion. It’s the question about Trump’s handling of relocating the American Embassy to Jerusalem. A clear majority of American Jews disapprove of this decision. Does the majority disapprove because it generally disapproves of everything Trump does (except by a scant majority, his handling of U.S.-Israel relations)? Does it disapprove of it because of how Trump made this move specifically? Had he made it in some other fashion, would the majority have approved? Does the majority disapprove of it because it has no desire to see an American Embassy in Jerusalem — or maybe only if and when the Palestinians would agree to such a move (which might be never)?

There are two basic possibilities: Either American Jews don’t understand the significance of the American Embassy’s move to Jerusalem or they are so disenchanted by Trump that even the embassy’s relocation wouldn’t make them squeeze out a compliment about him. Either way, I’m worried. It’s not good for the Jewish people if Jews no longer wish for the main empire of the era to have its embassy in the capital of the Jewish people. It’s also not good for the Jewish people if Jews can no longer see beyond partisan politics. 

In all seriousness, such a response to a simple question about a no-brainer issue is certain to puzzle a vast majority of Jewish Israelis. Among them, more than two-thirds supported the embassy’s move. All its political parties supported it, except for the Arab Party and the small party of the (small) left, Meretz. Their appreciation is shown by the polls proving that Israel is one of few countries to have a positive view of Trump.

Ha, you’d say: Israelis have a positive view of Trump. Shame on them. But no. There is no shame in being honest about your preferences. Israel wants a supportive U.S. president; Trump, thus far, has provided it with one. There is no shame in showing gratitude to a benefactor. 

There is a little shame in blind partisanship, and a little shame in blind disregard for positive action, and a little shame in opposing what Jews have dreamed of for so long. There is shame —  and thus, there’s worry.  

With Special-Needs Education, One Menu Doesn’t Fit All

Photo by CHLOE.

I recently saw an advertisement for The Lemon Tree Kids and Family Restaurant in Koreatown. Intrigued, I Googled it, to see if “family friendly” meant a play space, pizza and sugar, and indeed it didbut with a twist. The main menu consists of authentic Korean food; the pizzas and paninis are alternatives.

Ever the education-analogy-geek, I wondered about this as a model of inclusion. If you’re in Koreatown for Korean food and you have kids, and/or pizza loving friends, or if you’re looking for a place to have a quiet meal while your kids empty the contents of the ball pit, this is for you. People with differing taste buds can dine together, having their mozzarella or spicy noodles and eating them too.

This, the food court model of different classes for different needs, does not  – yet – exist in Jewish day schools in Los Angeles. Instead, we aspire to include students with needs in our mainstream set-up. Sure, they may be pulled out for resource, but there is no “special day class.”  Ideally, as Dr. Bruce Powell suggested in a recent interview with the Jewish Journal, we should include everyone, and not just accommodate, but “replace the word ‘accommodate’ with ‘embrace’:

‘If you’re coming to my home and you tell me you’re a vegetarian, I accommodate you,” he said by way of explanation. “You’re the other, [but] if I’m going to really embrace you, I’m going plan a meal that looks the same. And nobody [will know] which one is meat and which one is vegetarian.’”

“What if you have 20 students in a classroom and five of them need accommodations, or in Powell’s terms, embracings? Is it possible?”

Rather than be embarrassed with an obviously special meal, you can blend into the gathering. This may be manageable with guests in the home, but what if you have 20 students in a classroom and five of them need accommodations, or in Powell’s terms, embracings? Is it possible?

You might stay up all night adding secret ingredients to make a lesson palatable for Sam, Molly, Jacob and Annabelle, but you’ll be exhausted – maybe resentful – when it comes to serving it up. And believe me, the kids you’re struggling to embrace will pick up on your mood. Children with special needs sometimes have the cognitive and/ or sensory equivalent of allergies that give them rashes, or that exclude them from activities in which they long to participate. This can cause them to hide under tables, hit, scream, or run from the room. How can a teacher simultaneously embrace students with “big feelings” and students with their, or their parents’, big academic dreams?

When you’re at a restaurant in Los Angeles, you often hear customers ask for adaptations to a dish. Maybe you do it yourself. Sometimes it’s because you just have a preference for a mixture of two different dishes. That’s child-centered education. Sometimes it’s because you have a health condition that makes a dish with nuts or butter a no-no. That’s a series of meetings and carefully drafted goals for a child with special needs, otherwise known as an IEP (Individualized Education Program).

No matter how much you try to make your accommodations, or embracings, subtle and well-meaning, the mainstream is the mainstream, with its focus on language skills. We Jews prioritize language. Not just because of the way education is designed, but because of the very underpinnings of the Jewish tradition. We talk; we question; we opine. And it’s divine. After all, didn’t God create the world with words? Didn’t the commentators have at their fingertips every verse of Torah? What does that mean for a child with a language disorder?

The Lemon Tree is unusual. Usually, if you walk into an Italian restaurant wanting Korean food, you’ll be sent away. If you’re lucky, you’ll be pointed in the direction of a really good Korean place right around the corner.

Most of us wouldn’t think of going into a Korean restaurant and demanding fish and chips. If we own an Italian restaurant, we wouldn’t think twice about gently sending away a customer asking for spicy noodles. So why do we do this in education? Why do we seat, and keep seated, students we cannot feed, because even if we embrace them in our hearts we don’t have the resources to provide a dish that will nourish them? If they want a different menu and it’s elsewhere, let’s direct them with compassion to the appropriate establishment. And let’s become familiar with, and talk to, the establishments in our extended community, so that we know where to send the students we just cannot keep.

As Jewish institutions, we might worry that by denying our children kosher sustenance, we’re sending them into the abyss of an un-hechshered establishment. This is why the model to which we should aspire is perhaps a hechshered Lemon Tree. If you can handle the main menu, that’s great. If you want an alternative, something that’s familiar to you, it’s here— with chefs on staff who know how to prepare it. And when it comes to the jungle gym at the heart of the restaurant, we can all hang together.


Orley Garber is the founder of Builder Bees.