November 21, 2018

Moving & Shaking: Focus on Women’s Health; Bialik at UCLA

From left: Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles Board Chair Julie Platt, L.A. City Councilmember Mike Bonin and L.A. Federation CEO Jay Sanderson attend the Federation’s community leaders’ Passover seder in Venice. Photo courtesy of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles held its annual community leaders’ Passover seder on March 28 at the Israel Levin Center in Venice, bringing together elected and civic representatives from multiple faiths and backgrounds to celebrate the holiday.

Elected officials in attendance included Los Angeles City Council members Mike Bonin, Paul Koretz and David Ryu; L.A. City Controller Ron Galperin; state Treasurer John Chiang; state Sen. Ben Allen; and Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg.

From left: Cedars-Sinai Medical Center Dr. C. Noel Bairey Merz​; ​Friends of Sheba Medical Center (FSMC) supporter ​Myrtle Sitowitz; ​Sheba Medical Center ​Dr. Romana Herscovici; FSMC Senior Vice President ​Ruth Steinberger; FSMC President Parham Zar; and FSMC Executive Director David Levy attend “Women’s Heart Health,” a salon-style discussion in Beverly Hills. Photo courtesy of Friends of Sheba Medical Center.

Friends of Sheba Medical Center (FSMC) held its “Women’s Heart Health” salon on March 21 to discuss preventive measures against women’s cardiovascular disease, the world’s leading cause of death in women.

Nearly 100 people attended the sold-out gathering that featured Sheba Medical Center’s Dr. Romana Herscovici and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s Dr. C. Noel Bairey Merz speaking about heart health for women. The event was held at the Beverly Hills home of longtime FSMC supporter Myrtle Sitowitz.

Herscovici is spending two years as a research fellow at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, working under Bairey Merz’s mentorship in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit and the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center. Upon her return to Israel later this year, Herscovici will continue her work focusing on women’s heart health at Sheba Medical Center, which is the largest, most comprehensive medical center in Israel and the Middle East. Herscovici’s fellowship at Cedars-Sinai is an example of one of Sheba’s many global partnerships working to advance medicine worldwide.

“It was exciting to participate in such an important and informative conversation that affects all women and our families,” said Barbara Lazaroff, vice president of the FSMC board. “I am very proud of the partnership between Sheba Medical Center and Cedars-Sinai, knowing it will make a significant difference in women’s heart health across the globe.”

Esther D. Kustanowitz, Contributing Writer

Mayim Bialik, who has been selected to deliver the commencement address at UCLA in June. Photo courtesy of UCLA.

UCLA has selected actress Mayim Bialik of “The Big Bang Theory” as its distinguished alumna speaker for the UCLA College commencement on June 15. Bialik holds a bachelor’s degree and a doctorate in neuroscience from UCLA.

“Dr. Bialik embodies the values of a Bruin,” UCLA College Senior Dean Patricia Turner said in a statement. “Throughout her career, she has shown how hard work, determination and civic duty can lead to success. I know that our graduates will be inspired by her story as they set out to make their own mark in the world.”

Bialik will address both commencement ceremonies, scheduled for 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., in Pauley Pavilion.

Since 2010, she has appeared on the popular CBS sitcom “The Big Bang Theory,” playing Amy Farrah Fowler, a neurobiologist who is the fiancée of Sheldon Cooper, played by Jim Parsons.

Among her several acting roles as a youth, Bialik portrayed the title character in the 1990s sitcom “Blossom.” After that show ended its run, Bialik left acting and earned her bachelor’s degree in neuroscience from UCLA in 2000, with a minor in Hebrew and Jewish studies. She earned her doctorate in neuroscience in 2007. Her thesis examined the role of the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin in obsessive-compulsive disorder in adolescents with Prader-Willi syndrome.

While at UCLA, Bialik was a student leader in UCLA Hillel, founding a women’s Rosh Chodesh group, chanting and blowing shofar for High Holy Days services, and conducting and writing music for UCLA’s Jewish a capella group.

Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg and actress Mayim Bialik attend the Sixth Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism. Photo courtesy of the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles.

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Sixth Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism, held at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem from March 19–21, drew foreign ministers, politicians and community leaders from around the world.

Actress Mayim Bialik, Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg and Sharon Nazarian, senior vice president of international affairs at the Anti-Defamation League, were among the attendees from Los Angeles.

Bialik delivered the keynote address, about her personal experiences dealing with anti-Semitism and her love for the State of Israel and its people.

“It was a privilege to take part in the Sixth Global Forum with leaders from around the world,” Grundwerg said. “It is critical to focus on the importance of fostering tolerance and the need to continue to fight anti-Semitism on every front. Having the opportunity to bring Mayim Bialik, a leading and courageous voice of moral clarity in the community, is one of the true highlights of my posting. Her passion, love of the Jewish people and strong message of support for Israel resonated deeply with all who were present, including myself.”

Panels at the event addressed, among other topics, anti-Semitism in European far-right movements, anti-Semitism in the intersectionality of the far-left, and cyberhate.

Former U.S. President George W. Bush and Jewish Federation of North Americas Board Chair Richard Sandler appeared in conversation before major Federation donors. Photo courtesy of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Former President George W. Bush and Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) Board of Trustees Chair Richard V. Sandler appeared in conversation on March 21 at the Conrad Hotel in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., before 150 members of the JFNA Prime Minister’s Council.

Sandler, of Santa Monica, is the former board chair of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

In the conversation, Bush discussed the challenges of presidential decision-making, fatherhood, the 9/11 attacks, the need to help free people from tyranny and his decision to pursue painting after leaving the White House.

The JFNA Prime Minister’s Council is a group of families that have contributed more than $100,000 each to their local Federation annually or have made an endowment commitment to their Federation of $2 million.

From left: JNF Los Angeles Board President Alyse Golden Berkley, Judy Levin, Alon Ben-Gurion, Victoria Davis and JNFuture Chair Jordan Freedman attend a JNF breakfast in the San Fernando Valley. Photo courtesy of Jewish National Fund.

More than 400 people who attended the Jewish National Fund (JNF) Breakfast for Israel at the Woodland Hills Marriott on March 28 heard Alon Ben-Gurion recount stories about his grandfather — Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion.

“The historical, touching and humorous anecdotes were a wonderful way to celebrate Israel’s 70th anniversary,” said JNF spokeswoman Marina Brodetsky.

Alon Ben-Gurion, who served as a paratrooper during the Yom Kippur War, is a hospitality consultant who previously was a general manager for the Hilton hotel chain, including at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York from 1997-2004. In recent years, he has been focused on development issues in the Negev desert in Israel.

Attendees at the breakfast included JNF Los Angeles Board President Alyse Golden Berkley, JNF CEO Russell Robinson, breakfast co-chairs Judy Levin and Victoria Davis, JNFuture Chair Jordan Freedman, JNF supporters Marilyn and Allen Golden, and children from the MATI Israeli Community Center in Tarzana.

The nonprofit JNF, according to its website, is committed to ensuring a “strong, secure and prosperous Israel for the Jewish people everywhere.” Its programs include agricultural research farms in the Galilee, developing housing projects for young families in the Negev, and making Israel more inclusive for people with disabilities and special needs.

A victory in fight to preserve Ammunition Hill

A 3-D model of Jerusalem was made possible by Larry and Sunny Russ. Photos courtesy of Jewish National Fund

One of the most sacred military sites in Israel’s history, left crumbling for years, is a now a gleaming attraction that helps tell the dramatic story of what happened there during Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War, thanks in part to the family of Larry Russ, a Los Angeles philanthropist with deep ties to Israel and its past.

Ammunition Hill’s significance goes back to June 6, 1967, when, in the dead of night, roughly 350 Israeli soldiers accomplished something many thought was impossible — they captured the heavily fortified military base in Jordanian-occupied East Jerusalem.

The Jordanians, who had seized control of the British-built bunkers and trenches on the hill during the 1948 war — cutting off Mount Scopus and the Hadassah Medical Center — were fierce fighters, but the Israelis, who were literally fighting for their country’s survival, prevailed within several hours. 

Thirty-six Israeli soldiers and 71 Jordanians were killed in the battle, one of the fiercest of the Six-Day War. Ammunition Hill became a national memorial site in 1987.

Over the years, the number of visitors to the site did not increase, reaching a point in 2005 where the Israeli government decided to shutter it for a day because of a lack of funds. The Ammunition Hill-National Heritage & Memorial Site organization urgently reached out to the Jewish National Fund (JNF) for help.

That’s when Rami Ganor, JNF’s former Ammunition Hill liaison, approached Russ, a lawyer, L.A.-based JNF board member and philanthropist, to support this process.

“JNF knew it had to act,” said Yoel Rosby, the current liaison. “Ammunition Hill is a pearl in Jerusalem’s history. Closing it would be like closing Gettysburg.”

Russ was intrigued.

“Rami knew I was a child of Holocaust survivors and had a big family in Israel,” he said in an interview. “There are more Russes in Israel than the U.S.” 

Further impetus came from Shimon “Katcha” Cahaner, who was the deputy battalion commander in one of the two brigades that captured Ammunition Hill. After his commander was wounded, Cahaner brought his troops into the Old City. Cahaner joined up with the JNF to save the site.

“Katcha came to Los Angeles to raise funds to improve Ammunition Hill,” Russ recalled. “He said he wanted to build a geographic table that showed the dividing line between what was then Israel and Jordan. That sounded doable, and I made a commitment. Then he said, ‘Maybe there should be a cover over it because it gets hot in the summer.’ ”

At the request of Cahaner and JNF, Russ and his wife, Sunny, visited Jerusalem, where they met with historians, an architect and soldiers who had fought at Ammunition Hill and their families.

“We were crying, it was so emotional,” Russ recalled. “We said, ‘How can we not do this?’ ”

Today Ammunition Hill is a sprawling complex with a state-of-the art visitors center, a museum as well as the original bunkers. It is especially popular with school children, who can climb on a tank or explore the trenches.

The Russes supported the creation of a theater and a sophisticated 3-D map “City Line” table that shows how Jerusalem was divided, East from West, and lights up at different points to indicate landmarks and battle sites. They also sponsored the creation of a film that includes rare footage obtained from the Israeli air force of the battle for Ammunition Hill as well as Israeli troops hanging a flag from a section of the Temple Mount after they captured it. Soldiers who fought in the battle retrace their steps along with their children and grandchildren.

Russ noted that the site already offered a film but that it was a half-hour long — too long for most visiting schoolchildren to sit through, and less than ideal when more than one group was visiting the site.

An original armored vehicle and tank used in the 1967 battle for Ammunition Hill are on display.

An original armored vehicle and tank used in the 1967 battle for Ammunition Hill are on display.

More recently, the JNF asked the couple if they would finance renovations of the bunkers and crumbling trenches as well as new lighting.

At Ammunition Hill, Rosby noted that the site’s 40 bunkers and nearly 1,000 feet of trenches, were built a century ago to protect the munitions cache of the British Mandate.

“They were falling apart and had to be strengthened from the bottom up, to be able to remain standing for another 100 years to ensure that millions of visitors can experience and learn from the heroic battle for Ammunition Hill.”

Now that pathway lighting has been installed, visitors can visit the site at night and get a feel for the challenges Israel’s soldiers faced in the near pitch darkness in 1967.

Also thanks to the Russes, the sprawling field has what Rosby calls “field classrooms” — places for group members to sit and listen during a tour.

Rosby, Russ and Phillip Yankofsky, another Jewish community leader from L.A. and a Six-Day War veteran, appeared as panelists in March at JNF’s inaugural San Fernando Valley Breakfast for Israel, which focused on the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem.

Russ, who is recognized as a member of JNF’s World Chairman’s Council — meaning that he’s made a lifetime contribution of $1 million or more — said the American branch of the family feels a sense of duty to contribute to Ammunition Hill.

“My family in Israel fought in every war. I wanted to create something that would last and be something our children and grandchildren look at and realize we are a part of,” he said. “I also wanted to recognize the people of Israel and the families who have sacrificed so much. And finally, I wanted to honor our family who perished in the Holocaust.”

Mission accomplished: In 2005, the number of visitors to Ammunition Hill had fallen to 74,000. Last year, there were 354,000.

Russ said it has given his family “joy” to learn of the huge uptick in visitors, especially schoolchildren and soldiers, who visit Ammunition Hill on a daily basis, making it now a must-see venue on any trip to Israel.

Moving & Shaking: Tom Hanks reads ‘Night,’ San Fernando Valley Breakfast for Israel and more

Actor Tom Hanks with Auschwitz survivors Mary Bauer, left, and Betty Cohen, at Wilshire Boulevard Temple on April 23. Photo by Danielle Berrin

About 1,000 people attended a reading of “Night,” Elie Wiesel’s memoir of his experience during the Holocaust. The April 23 event at Wilshire Boulevard Temple (WBT) was held in observance of Yom HaShoah, the first since Wiesel’s death in July.

“This afternoon’s reading is a wakeup call … a call to activism, to compassion, to understanding,” WBT Rabbi Susan Nanus, one of the event’s organizers, said during her introductory remarks.

Steven Z. Leder, WBT’s senior rabbi, was the first to read from the memoir. He was followed by readers who, among others, included actor Tom Hanks; talk show host Tavis Smiley; Rabbis David Wolpe, Karen Fox, Daniel Bouskila and Laura Geller; philanthropist Sharon Nazarian; Jewish Journal senior writer and columnist Danielle Berrin; and the consuls general of Germany and Israel in Los Angeles, Hans Jorg Neumann and Sam Grundwerg, respectively.

After the conclusion of the reading, which lasted about three hours, the audience in the synagogue’s Byzantine-revival sanctuary stood and observed a moment of silence and then recited the Mourner’s Kaddish for the 6 million Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

A video of the reading can be watched at

On the same day at Congregation Kol Ami, a West Hollywood Reform synagogue, Danny Maseng, chazzan and spiritual leader of Makom LA, recited prayers and lit memorial candles during a ceremony in commemoration of Yom HaShoah.

“Human spirit is the light of God,” Maseng said.

Attendees included David Straus, a board member of Jewish World Watch, and Rev. Keith Cox, spiritual leader at the Center for Spiritual Living Los Angeles.

—Eitan Arom, Staff Writer


From left: Doug Williams, Jewish National Fund Los Angeles board member; Sarita and Sam Grundwerg, Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles; and Shlomi Vayzer, a Jewish National Fund Israeli emissary in L.A. Photo courtesy of Jewish National Fund

The inaugural San Fernando Valley Breakfast for Israel by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) was held March 30 and included a panel discussion on the 50th anniversary of Jerusalem’s 1967 reunification.

The annual breakfast, which the JNF holds most years at a location in the Los Angeles Basin, this time was moved to the Warner Center Marriott Woodland Hills to connect with the large Israeli community in the San Fernando Valley.

Film and television producer Howard Rosenman moderated the discussion, which featured panelists Yoel Rosby, JNF’s Ammunition Hill Liaison; Larry Russ, a lawyer and supporter of the Ammunition Hill Memorial Site; and Phillip Yankofsky, an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) veteran of the Six-Day War.

Ammunition Hill holds great significance in the formation of the modern Jewish state. In the 1930s, the British built a police academy in North Jerusalem and stored ammunition on the adjacent hill, which came to be known as Ammunition Hill. In the 1948 War of Independence, Jordanians captured the site and Jewish Jerusalem was split in two. The hill sat at a crossroads and was the centerpiece of defense. Heavily fortified with dozens of trenches terraced into the hill, it was an intimidating obstacle to overcome. It became the historic site of the battle for the reunification of Jerusalem.

Early on the morning of June 6, 1967, about 150 Israeli paratroopers attacked the hill believing, based on erroneous intelligence, that they outnumbered the Jordanians 3 to 1. In fact, the Jordanian forces also had about 150 soldiers. Fierce hand-to-hand combat ensued. By 8 a.m., the Israeli forces had taken the hill, but not without sustaining losses — 36 were killed and 90 were wounded. Seventy-one Jordanians died in the battle. On June 7, 1967, IDF commander Motta Gur announced, “Har HaBayit beyadeinu!” (“The Temple Mount is in our hands!”), the realization of a 2,000-year-old dream for Israelis.

Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg discussed how JNF is cultivating the land of Israel and enriching the lives of its people. He also provided an overview of the region and the changing realities in the Middle East, from the latest security threats to the newest security innovations.

— Ayala Or-El, Contributing Writer


From left: Jeff Goldstein, general manager at Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary; Professor Laurie Levenson; retired judge Burt Pines; UC Irvine School of Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky and Rabbi Gary Ezra Oren. Photo courtesy of AJU Whizin Center for Continuing Education

Nearly 500 people filled Gindi Auditorium at American Jewish University (AJU) in Los Angeles on March 26 to take part in AJU’s 14th annual biblical trial, “The Book of Jonah: The People v. The Sailors for Attempted Murder.”

Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino started the event by introducing the biblical text and the case for attempted murder against the sailors who threw Jonah overboard.

Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, prosecuted the sailors. Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the UC Irvine School of Law, acted as the sailors’ defense attorney. Levenson and Chemerinsky had participated as opposing counsel in the event’s previous years. Past cases included “The People v. Abraham,” “The People v. King David” and “The People v. Moses.”

Burt Pines, a retired Los Angeles County Superior Court judge, presided over the mock trial, which included opening arguments, rebuttals and closing arguments.

“Where else will you find almost 500 Jews from all over Los Angeles gathered together on a Sunday morning to learn about our ancient texts?” said Rabbi Gary Oren, vice president and dean of AJU’s Whizin Center for Continuing Education.

After the two-hour program, a vote by the audience serving as the jury found the sailors not guilty. It was a familiar verdict, as defendants have been acquitted in all 14 of the biblical trials.

Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary sponsored the event.

— Oren Peleg, Contributing Writer


From left: Samara Hutman, executive director of Remember Us; child survivors Henry Slucki, Eva Brettler and Marie Kaufman; and novelist Mona Simpson at Diesel, A Book Store in Brentwood. Photo by Deeana Goodman

Holocaust survivors and their families, friends and guests gathered on April 19 at Diesel, A Bookstore in Brentwood to celebrate the release of the second edition of “How We Survived: 52 Personal Stories by Child Survivors of the Holocaust,” a self-published book by the group Child Survivors of the Holocaust, Los Angeles.

As evening fell, some two dozen participants gathered in the bookstore’s courtyard, surrounded by the illuminated windows of neighboring boutiques. Child survivors Eva Brettler, Henry Slucki and Marie Kaufman, the book’s lead editor, read passages from their accounts in “How We Survived.”

The new edition includes a foreword from Samara Hutman, executive director of Remember Us: The Holocaust Bnai Mitzvah Project. Hutman, who helped organize the event, joined the survivors on a panel moderated by novelist Mona Simpson.

Slucki said that as the ranks of Holocaust survivors began to thin in the first decade of the 21st century, “it became an urgent matter for us to get this published before we couldn’t tell our stories any longer. No two stories are alike.”

A committee worked on the book for five years before its 2011 publication.

Kaufman said the book would impress on her descendants and those of other child survivors that they owe their lives to the kindness of strangers who protected Jews during the Holocaust.

“I want them to know why they are in this world — because of people who cared,” Kaufman said.

Brettler echoed that sentiment.

“The only way that 8-year-old could survive,” she said, referring to herself, “was through the compassion of strangers. And I am fortunate to have grandchildren who keep that compassion alive.”

— Eitan Arom, Staff Writer


Tess Cutler. Photo by Lynn Pelkey.

Tess Cutler has joined the editorial staff of the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles as a video producer.

Cutler will head the Journal’s efforts to produce original videos and will work with writers to add video content to their stories. Her position is made possible by a grant from the Jewish Venture Philanthropy Fund.

“Tess has been a longtime Jewish Journal contributing writer while she has been studying and working in video production,” Jewish Journal Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman said in a statement. “We are excited to have her on board full-time in her new role.”

Cutler interned at Tablet magazine in New York and attended Santa Fe University of Art and Design in New Mexico, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in creative writing/English literature.

“I’m ecstatic to flourish and grow with the Jewish Journal family,” Cutler said. “I think that’s what I’m most excited about, to turn my lens on or use my lens to capture the great community that we have.”

Moving & Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email

A vision for an oasis in the desert: Timna Park

Three decades ago, a man from Milwaukee looked out at a lonely stretch of the Negev desert in southern Israel and decided to create something seemingly impossible: a tourism draw.

Avrum Chudnow, a developer and active member of the Jewish National Fund (JNF), knew the beautiful yet isolated region — once a center for copper mining — could benefit from an economic boost. He was also fascinated with the idea of using advances in technology to bring water into the desert. Working with Moshe Rivlin, then the chairman of Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-JNF in Israel, he devised a plan to do just that.

“He said, ‘How can we draw people to this remote, kind of desolate area? It’s beautiful, but it’s not exactly Jerusalem or Tel Aviv,’ ” said David Chudnow, the late Avrum Chudnow’s son and an attorney in West Los Angeles. “So the first thing they decided to do was put in a lake, in the middle of the desert.”

More than 30 years later, that isolated patch of desert is now the 15,000-acre Timna Park ( At its heart is a 4-acre artificial lake, the outcome of Avrum Chudnow’s vision, achieved by pumping leftover water from abandoned modern mines. Visitors to the park can also experience historic copper mines that date back to the time of King Solomon, see ancient Egyptian rock drawings, marvel at spectacular rock formations and striated rock, go hiking and camping, ride mountain bikes, engage in rock climbing, rent boats, and see wild animals such as antelope and ibex. 

“It’s one of those rare, special jewels of the world, and when you go, the history comes alive, the beauty comes alive, and the best of what Mother Nature can create comes alive,” said Russell Robinson, chief executive officer of JNF, which continues to sponsor development of the park along with the Chudnow family and others. 

When people visit Israel, “there’s always those must-go places to see,” Robinson said. “Timna national park is one of those you’ve got to put on that list with everything else.”

Today the park, located about 17 miles north of Eliat, attracts about 125,000 visitors a year. That number is expected to grow as Israel constructs a new international airport next to the park, Robinson said. Visitors can come for the day, camp next to the lake or stay at nearby kibbutzim, David Chudnow said.

Continuing Avrum Chudnow’s legacy, David and other family members have poured millions of dollars into the park’s development. In March, the park dedicated the new Chudnow Visitor Center, which provides visitors with interactive exhibits about the park and the historic copper mines; it also serves as an event hall. Numerous events are held in the park throughout the year, including concerts, weddings, bar mitzvahs, chariot races and even a hot-air balloon festival.

Robinson said the Chudnow family’s monetary contributions to the park have been extremely important to its development, but the biggest impact — Avrum Chudnow’s vision — is what made the park possible.

“He dreamed big,” said Robinson. “Where other people would have seen just a vast unknown, he dreamed a big dream and said this is something that was created by something greater than us. We’ve got to bring the public to see it and enjoy it and to experience it.” 

David Chudnow, who attends Temple Beth Am and is a 30-year board member of the Jewish National Fund in the Los Angeles Region, said watching the park evolve since those early days when his father first took an interest in it has been like watching a child grow.

“I think my father would be happy with it,” he concluded.

Interested in visiting Timna Park? Check out these highlights: 

The lake: Here you’ll find shaded seating areas, a playground, restaurant and souvenir shop. Rent pedal boats or make bottles filled with colored sand. You can also visit a reconstructed Tabernacle. A lakeside campground offers large tents with mats and mattresses, or you can pitch your own tent. There are also hot showers, toilets, lighting and water. (Overnight camping requires reservations.) 

Mines: Ancient copper mines, mining shafts and smelting furnaces are located throughout the park. The mines have been linked to Egyptians living in the 13th century B.C.E., but recent radio carbon dating by researchers from Tel Aviv University suggests the mines operated during the time of King Solomon in the 10th century B.C.E.

Rock formations and carvings: Scenic wonders inside Timna Park include Solomon’s Pillars (giant sandstone columns that jut out from a rock face) and the Mushroom (a large boulder on top of a sandstone column). You can also see what are thought to be ancient Egyptian rock carvings of figures in chariots.

Hiking and adventure sports: Numerous hiking trails in the park cater to all experience levels. Mountain biking is another popular option for seeing Timna, and there are six cycling routes in the park. Other adventure activities include rappelling and a small zipline. 

Moving and shaking: Honoring Max Steinberg, The Concern Foundation and more

Marking the second anniversary of lone soldier Max Steinberg’s July 20, 2014 death while serving in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), Steinberg’s parents, locals Stuart and Evie Steinberg, and Jewish National Fund (JNF) Ammunition Hill Liaison Yoel Rosby visited the Wall of Honor at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem on July 20.

Thanks to an anonymous donor, the Wall of Honor features a plaque bearing Max Steinberg’s name. He served in the IDF from 2012 to 2014 and died in battle in Gaza. The Woodland Hills native was 24.Erected by the JNF, the Wall of Honor is a tribute to Jews who “served or serve in the military in any country,” according to the JNF website.

Ammunition Hill, a site where the British stored ammunition during the 1930s, was the scene of a deadly battle between Israel and Jordan during the Six-Day War in 1967.

Lone soldiers are IDF soldiers whose immediate families live outside of Israel.

A year after launching her fashion line that promotes modesty and is aimed at Orthodox women, local designer Rachelle Yadegar joined an eight-day trip to Israel’s fashion and tourism sites led by the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project (JWRP).

Local designer Rachelle Yadegar. Photo courtesy of Not Without My Heels

The trip brought together 35 Jewish designers and industry professionals from across the U.S., as well as Greece, South Africa and Panama to visit bread-and-butter itinerary stops such as the Dead Sea and Jerusalem’s Old City, but also fashion destinations such as Shenkin Street boutiques in Tel Aviv.

JWRP is a Maryland-based nonprofit that seeks to empower Jewish women by connecting them with their heritage. It frequently conducts trips to Israel, but the fashionista trip, which came to a close Aug. 3, is the first of its kind.

A year ago, Yadegar, 23, started a fashion line with her cousin Judith Iloulian called RaJu. The pair introduced their brand because they saw a need for “a high-end, modest clothing line” — a way for Orthodox women to look elegant but still “cover knees and elbows,” Yadegar said. 

“HaShem wants us to feel beautiful,” she said in an interview.

Yadegar also runs a fashion blog, Not Without My Heels, where she frequently posts pictures of her newest designs.

“Modesty can be trendy and fun and sexy,” she said. “You can be modest but still look hot.”

Eitan Arom, Staff Writer

On July 13, Rabbi Noam Raucher joined Pasadena Jewish Temple & Center’s (PJTC) clergy. Raucher succeeds Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater, who had served as the congregation’s rabbi since 2003. 

New Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center Rabbi Noam Raucher. Photo courtesy of Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center

Raucher was born and raised in Hamden, Conn. After receiving his bachelor’s degree from Hofstra University, Raucher worked as a counselor at Yale Psychiatric Hospital. In 2011, he received his master’s degree in education from American Jewish University’s (AJU) Fingerhut School of Education and was ordained at AJU’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, both in Los Angeles. Before his position at PJTC, Raucher was associate rabbi and religious school education director at Temple Israel in Charlotte, N.C. He and his wife, Tamar, have two boys, Judah and Eli.

PJTC is a Conservative synagogue, and at 94 years old is one of the oldest Jewish synagogues in the San Gabriel Valley. The temple’s executive director, Beryl Strauss, believes Raucher will “be able to embrace [the community’s] multigenerational families … and [its] young” new members. “His style, his friendliness, his openness [make him] a good match for our organization,” she added.

Kayla Cohen, Contributing Writer

On July 9, Concern Foundation held its 42nd annual Block Party on the backlot of Paramount Studios. This year’s event, “Field of Dreams for a Cancer-Free World,” was attended by approximately 4,000 people and raised more than $1.7 million for cancer and immunology research. 

Dr. Peter and Rebecca Grossman were honored as “Humanitarians and Community Leaders” for their innovative treatment of and charitable efforts toward burn victims.

Former Beverly Hills Mayor Barry Brucker and his wife, Sue, were honored with the inaugural Beth  Hersh Goldsmith Conquer Cancer Now Heroes Award, commemorating friend and former Concern Foundation Executive Director Beth Goldsmith, who died of cancer last November.

Barry and Sue Brucker hold the first-ever Beth Hersh Goldsmith Conquer Cancer Now Heroes Award. Photo by Jackson Prince

“We are touched that this award ties Beth, her family and us together,” Brucker said. “Beth was a giant of a person and an inspiration.”

Concern Foundation President Derek Alpert said that honoring Goldsmith this year was “bittersweet” for him, as “her fingerprints will be all over Concern forever.”

Alpert hopes to “continue to build Concern’s family of supporters.”

“We know that our friends, family members, loved ones or even each of us will be personally touched by cancer in our lifetime,” he said. “We are in the business to someday be out of business, but that dream is still today just a dream.”

Jackson Prince, Contributing Writer

Four days after her July 13 birthday, Dorothy Steinberg celebrated turning 100 at Just Dance Los Angeles on July 17. Steinberg is a member of Temple Beth Ohr in La Mirada and works with ORT America, an educational and training organization that prepares members of impoverished communities for competitive jobs. 

From left: Sue Nevens, Dorothy Steinberg and Lonnie Wagman celebrate Steinberg’s 100th birthday. Wagman and Nevens are Steinberg’s daughters. Photo by Rebecca Bernstein

— Kayla Cohen, Contributing Writer

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email

JNF reveals finances for first time, holds $2 billion in land

The Jewish National Fund, releasing its finances for the first time, revealed that it owned $2 billion of land as of last year.

The JNF report comes amid recent criticism of the group’s quasigovernmental status that allows it to avoid state comptroller audits and official oversight, Haaretz reported. Yair Lapid, a Knesset member and former finance member, called JNF a corrupt organization in February.

The report shows that the JNF, which does not receive support from the Israeli government but enjoys tax-exempt status, generated $567 million in revenue last year, including $35 million in donations. About $20.2 million of the donations came from North America, the J reported.

“The publication of the JNF financial report is a major step toward revealing the fund’s activities to the wider public and provides a final answer to the false and disingenuous claims about a lack of transparency,” the JNF said in a statement quoted by Haaretz.

The JNF, which was founded in 1901 to develop land in prestate Israel, controls about 13 percent of the land in Israel. It has kept its finances under wraps for years despite attempts to redefine its status as a public-benefit corporation that would be forced to reveal its records. A Knesset bill aimed at making the organization more transparent was rejected last week, the Times of Israel reported.

Haaretz noted that the average salary for JNF’s 950 employees worldwide was nearly $80,000. The organization, also known as Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael, allotted $21.3 million for educational purposes and donated $15.1 million to the World Zionist Organization.

JNF Canada cancels Huckabee speech amid LGBTQ objections

The Jewish National Fund of Canada has canceled a scheduled speech by U.S. presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee

Huckabee, who is vying for the Republican bid in 2016, had his Oct. 15 speaking engagement in Ottawa canceled on June 10 following objections from the Canadian LGBTQ community, the Canadian Jewish News reported.

An online petition at calling for Huckabee to be pulled from speaking at the JNF Negev Dinner noted that comments from the former Arkansas governor “spread degrading hatefulness towards and about transgender people.”

“This is a segment of our community that needs your support, not the appearance of yet further rejection and abuse, as clearly promoted by your announced speaker, Mr. Huckabee,” the petition said.

The petition also noted that Huckabee publicly supported Josh Duggar, a member of the family featured in the TLC reality show “19 Kids and Counting” who allegedly molested some of his underage sisters and a family friend.

Josh Cooper, JNF Canada’s CEO, told the Canadian Jewish News that the petition, which had 31 signatories as of Monday, “had absolutely no impact whatsoever” on the decision to cancel Huckabee’s speech at the dinner, which this year will support autism research in Israel.

In an email to the weekly newspaper, Cooper said that Huckabee was initially selected because “he is a staunch supporter of the State of Israel” and “has never wavered from this position,” but was disinvited because “the media spotlight has recently focused on Mr. Huckabee’s comments about issues that bear no relevance to JNF or autism.”

Huckabee gave a speech last month at the National Religious Broadcasters’ convention in which he referred to transgenderism as a “social experiment” and joked he would have pretended to be trans in high school if he’d known it would allow him to shower with girls during gym, the Canadian Jewish News reported.

Interview with Avigdor Lieberman: ‘About our PR, I completely agree, it is very, very bad’

The meteoric rise of Israel’s Russian-speaking, Moldova-born immigrant and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman may be proof, as he told an admiring Jewish National Fund (JNF) crowd in Los Angeles on Sept. 15, that Israel is more like America than even America.

Not quite a pristine Cinderella story, though, at 56, Lieberman is as notable for his political successes as for the political and media controversies that surround him.

When Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly offered Lieberman the option of switching to either the minister of defense or finance in 2012, Tzipi Livni, who used to hold Lieberman’s current post in the Foreign Ministry, was quoted by the Jerusalem Post as saying that his becoming Defense Minister would be “an existential threat to the State of Israel.”

Lieberman, 56, signed on for a second term as Foreign Minister in the coalition government led by Netanyahu’s Likud and his own Yisrael Beiteinu party. And to Livni’s chagrin, Lieberman’s political fortunes may be headed north, perhaps one day as far north as Prime Minister—at least if he can continue to emerge unscathed from the occasional scandals that involve his name (see: his off-the-record trip to Vienna last weekend to meet with businessman Martin Schlaff, as reported by Haaretz.)

The so-called “Lieberman Plan” that he proposed in 2004 would have redrawn Israeli and Palestinian borders so that many Israeli-Arabs would be included in an eventual Palestinian state—and likely lose their Israeli citizenship. In March, an internal Foreign Ministry legal brief argued that such a move would be legal if the Israeli-Arabs consented and if they did not become stateless.

In 2006, he likened Arab-Israeli Knesset members who met with Hamas to Nazi collaborators who were executed for their crimes. The Arab-Israeli collaborators, Lieberman said at the time, should meet the same fate.

Willing to speak his mind, Lieberman — as he told the Journal in an interview shortly after his address to JNF — prefers to be honest, even if it means damaging his (and thus the Israeli government’s) reputation in international media. As he admitted to the JNF crowd, somewhat surprisingly, Israel is lacking in the media relations department: “First of all, about our hasbara, about our PR, I completely agree — it is very, very bad.”

How much that has to do with his insistence on speaking his mind, well, that’s a question he addressed in the interview.

In fact, during his address, there were two points where he appeared to have fun with the monstrous role that he, and often Israel, are assigned in world opinion. Nine minutes into his 30-minute speech, when he was discussing the importance of religious education for Jewish children in the United States, three young female protestors from the left-wing group CODEPINK stood up and shouted, “What about the children in the schools in Gaza!” Security — and the crowd’s boos — quickly put an end to their interruption.

Smiling, Lieberman joked that he “was surprised that this provocation took so much time.” Perhaps he is used to anti-Israel protestors hijacking his speeches before the nine-minute mark.

Later in the address, the Foreign Minister played devil’s advocate, suggesting that even if he really were the bad guy that he is painted as, and even if politicians such as him are roadblocks to peaceful coexistence with the Palestinians, then why haven’t “nice guys” like Ehud Olmert, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Barak been able to reach peace? The answer, as Lieberman implied, is that Palestinian leaders, from Yasser Arafat to Mahmoud Abbas, aren’t interested.

In the interview, Lieberman was careful to not overly criticize Netanyahu and played down Netanyahu’s frosty relationship with the Obama Administration. When asked about Israel’s poor PR, he indicated—in a quite unsatisfactory response — that Israel has too many other budgetary concerns to allocate what’s needed for effective marketing, but countered that he feels the government did a sufficient job of justifying its Gaza operation.

An edited version of the interview follows:

Jewish Journal: Looking back on the war in Gaza, what would you like to have been done differently?

Avigdor Lieberman: They [Hamas] survived, they are in power and they continue to run the Gaza Strip. It was the third operation in the last five-and-a-half years and as long as Hamas remains in power it’s only a matter of time until we will launch the next operation because Hamas will impose on us the next operation.

JJ: Would it be different if the Palestinian Authority ran Gaza?

Lieberman: Israel never interferes in the domestic issues of any other country. It’s not our matter, it’s not our policy. Hamas fired rockets on Israel; Hamas kidnapped our teenage boys and it’s impossible to accept the reality when you have rockets on Tel Aviv or on Jerusalem or in the south of Israel. You cannot imagine rockets on L.A. or on New York. I don’t know any other country [that] would accept this reality. It’s not [a matter of] who’s in power in Gaza but [what matters is that there are] no military capabilities; no missiles; no tunnels.

JJ: If Hamas were toppled, then what?

Lieberman: It’s their choice, the choice of the people of Gaza to create the real peace or at least to create conditions of coexistence. Every country, every government — our first obligation is to provide security and safety for our citizens.

JJ: You said in your address to JNF that Israel’s PR is not good. What do you think is the reason?

Lieberman: I think it’s impossible for our budget. Because today it’s also first of all a matter of money. We devote very small money because we are facing too many challenges around the whole region — Libya, Tunisia, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Hezbollah, Hamas, [Islamic] Jihad, ISIS. Everything is burning, we are in the midst of an ocean of bloodshed and violence. We have priorities but still despite … I think that we have succeeded to explain our position. Everybody knows the reason for the last operation; everything started with the kidnapping of the three boys and their execution. Hamas started with rockets on Israel; they used the civilian population as human shields.

JJ: Does it bother you that much of the international media view you as extreme right-wing and people like you as the cause of the conflict?

Lieberman: It’s impossible to handle all the prejudiced views with people that have their vision without any background. Even if I agree [with my critics] that I am a bad guy and radical and a settler and everything, why since the Oslo agreement [has peace not been achieved with] so many “good guys” in power? Shimon Peres and Ariel Sharon and Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert … Ehud Barak was ready to divide Jerusalem and to evacuate all settlers. Sharon undertook the same process called disengagement; evacuated 21 settlements and we transferred more than 10,000 Jews — and what is the bottom line?

JJ: Do you not care that the sound bytes that you say to the media are then used around the world to basically hurt Israel’s image?

Lieberman: I don’t think so. I think that the best policy is to say the truth.

JJ: Are you concerned about the American-Israeli relationship? It has appeared to be very cold of late. Will it continue?

Lieberman: I think it’s a misunderstanding. It’s very stable. Our relations [have been] based since the first day on many, many factors. First of all we are sharing the same values and second, of course, it’s the ties between the Jewish community in Israel and [in America]; it’s strategic interest and military cooperation between the United States and Israel. At the end of the day Americans know that the ones they really can trust in all the Middle East, it’s only Israel.

JJ: Is there comfort within the Israeli government over the cooperation with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan?

Lieberman: [This is] the first time that the moderate Arab countries and leaders understand that the real threat for them is not Israel, is not Zionism and is not Jews — it’s the radical Islamic wing … What we’ve seen over the last meetings and discussions within [the] Arab League and between Arab leaders and the Western world — there are three issues. First of all it’s the Iranian threat, it’s [the] Muslim Brotherhood and [it’s] the spillover from the Syrian crisis.

JJ: Follwing Gaza do you have faith in the Prime Minister’s ability to lead the country?

Lieberman: First of all, he’s the leader and I supported him during the last election and during the coalition negotiations. I think I have a right to my opinion and of course he has a right to his opinion. He has a majority in cabinet and I respect the democratic decision. It’s impossible always to be with the majority in coalition government, especially when it’s a very complicated coalition.

Court upholds conviction of Irvine protesters

A California state appeals court has upheld the conviction of 10 students at the University of California, Irvine, who disrupted a 2010 speech by then-Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren.

During the speech, the protesters interrupted Oren repeatedly, calling him a “mass murderer” and a “war criminal.” The heckling caused him to pause his speech amid calls for order, and he curtailed his hourlong speech to 12 minutes.

In 2011, the students were charged and subsequently convicted of violating a state law prohibiting the disruption or breaking up of a lawful assembly. The appeals court upheld the conviction. The defendants face up to a year in prison.

General Counsel Marc Stern of the American Jewish Committee, which filed an amicus brief on behalf of the prosecution along with the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the Jewish National Fund, said his group was “pleased that the appellate division concurred with our view that the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech may not be invoked to protect those who intentionally disrupt a lawful meeting.


Stop Prawer-Begin plan for Bedouin resettlement

The Negev Bedouin village of Umm el-Hiran is where I first learned about what it means to be rooted, to be devoted to something with steadfastness. It is here that I learned the true impact of Jewish National Fund (JNF) afforestation on the Bedouin, which is far from JNF’s whitewashed and spit-shined-glossy version. Rayid Abu Alkeean, an Israeli Bedouin, partnered with Bustan, an environmental justice organization that I founded, to host delegations on dozens of our Negev Unplugged Tours in his village, where we learned about Bedouin traditional life unplugged from the nation’s electricity grid, and from Israel’s democracy. 

Imagine serving in the Israel Defense Forces and having your home demolished by the government in front of your children. Next, imagine being billed for the demolition. Imagine watching religious Jews building a barbed wire fence to stake a claim to the hilltop just above your home. Hiran and Kasif, two Jewish-only religious towns slated to be built on the lands of Rayid’s village, were just approved. 

Fortunately, the Knesset vote on the controversial Prawer-Begin Plan to resettle the Negev Bedouin has been postponed for the next one to two months. We must urge Israeli officials to take this discriminatory plan off the table and encourage them to adopt the Alternative Master Plan (AMP) developed by Bedouin leadership and Jewish planners of the human rights non-governmental organization Bimkom. The AMP will delimit territorial boundaries on historical village lands. It will enable formal village planning and access to the full basket of rights and services afforded Jewish villages and towns — housing, clinics, roads, waste removal and schools. We must make every effort to advance this alternative plan and promote sustainable economic development for all residents of the Negev.  

[UPDATE: How to begin after Prawer-Begin]

Here’s why it is in the best interest of every Jew in the Negev and the Diaspora to stop the Prawer Plan. 

• Because it is morally unconscionable to uproot this Negev Arab minority from their homes and against their will.

• Because token symbolic gestures aimed at recognition, such as granting formal ownership over less than 2 percent of historic Bedouin lands to some while denying the rest to the vast majority of others, simply won’t work. The Prawer Plan will dispossess some 40,000 Bedouin, requiring entire villages to be demolished wholesale. 

• Because squeezing the remaining lands that have not yet been confiscated from the Bedouin population and urging them to live as neighbors with Jewish homesteaders and families that replace them will deepen already existing social cleavages. 

• Because it will lead to violence. Today the youth in Bedouin villages act on behalf of a civilian population of 200,000 Negev Arabs that has been marginalized, criminalized and pauperized for decades. “Days of Rage” protests and vigils are surging to increasingly high levels of tension in what is now front and center stage of Israel’s ongoing land conflict. By declaring a civilian population a national security threat, the government further alienates and even catalyzes an already enraged and disenfranchised minority into the streets. Many believe that despite the intentions of community elders to organize nonviolently, there is no further incentive to do so. 

• Because living off the grid is hard, but the unrecognized Bedouin prefer that to losing their lands. Most “unrecognized villagers” have consistently resisted running water and electricity to power their computers and washing machines, preferring to stay on their lands rather than be holed up in cities with different and sometimes clashing familial clans, and pushed into wage labor —– when it is even available — at the expense of their traditional cultural pursuits. Unrecognized Bedouin have organized however haphazardly and have used nonviolent but futile tactics to have their land rights recognized by the Israeli courts. More than 100,000 Bedouin continue to resist being transferred into impoverished townships that are drug-riddled pits of crime. They fight to keep their lands because even in recognized towns, Bedouin are denied building permits, basic infrastructure and services. 

• Because we’ve learned from villages like Al-Arakib and Umm el-Hiran, among others, that coercion is not sustainable. To try to rip Negev Arabs from their lands will only make them, and more of us, more resolute. 

• Because the northern Negev is already a toxic tinderbox. Most Negev Arabs and Bedouin have been relocated into a triangle of territory in the northern Negev between Beer-Sheva, Arad and Dimona that has been zoned to encircle them  to prevent further construction. 

The conflict between Bedouin and the State of Israel is about land, resources and control. Investment in developing Jewish towns and demolishing Arab villages happens most aggressively in Arab areas of the Negev and the Galilee, battlefields of Israel’s demographic war to create a Jewish majority in every region of Israel.  One tactic is to break apart contiguous Bedouin villages and to concentrate the maximum number of Bedouin onto the minimum amount of territory. 

Like Rayid, head of the village council of al-Sira, Khalil el Amor resists the Prawer Plan. His entire village is slated for demolition. I spoke with Khalil yesterday. He said, “I am a teacher, and finishing school to become a lawyer. As a child, I would return home from school to tend our flock and help my mother milk the animals until dark. I would light a lantern and start my homework. I want my granddaughter Siraj (meaning “lantern”) to have the choice to tend a flock. If I stay on my village lands, I dream of inviting tourists to learn about our traditions and our changing Bedouin culture.” Rather than give up the land, and give up the lantern, Khalil holds steadfast. 

The AMP is a viable way for Negev Arabs like Khalil and Rayid to showcase their village culture to tourists and to earn livable incomes rather than masquerading as traditional Bedouin for Jewish-owned tourist companies that romanticize their culture if they’ll pretend to be shepherds for a photo-op on a camel. If Prawer passes, that is all our children will know about Bedouin culture.

Israeli UN ambassador sees opportunities

For Ron Prosor, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, the Iranian nuclear threat is real, the hostility coming from the United Nations is enduring, and Palestinian calls for two states are disingenuous.

Yet, he said at a Dec. 11 breakfast hosted by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, the turmoil playing out in the Middle East, particularly in Syria, presents Israel with “amazing opportunities” and potential new alliances.

Beyond the fears that Israel and Saudi Arabia share about a nuclear Iran, Prosor said that the Shiite-Sunni divide that is playing itself out in the Syrian civil war “allows us to do things which are a bit different.” Yet on matters of Israeli security, Prosor added, “I cannot go into that.”

Prosor was enthusiastically welcomed by a crowd of about1,300 at the event, which JNF opened to the public. Upon entering to a raucous applause, he joked, “It sounds much better than the [U.N.] General Assembly,” referring to the hostile stance that many members of the U.N. take towards Israel.

He began his remarks by outlining Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s concerns about the recent six-month interim deal reached between Iran and the Western powers, known as the P5+1, which requires Iran to limit enrichment and freeze most of its centrifuges for six months, while at the same time being allowed to keep all of its existing nuclear infrastructure intact.

In return, Western powers have agreed to roll back what is expected to be about $7 billion in economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

Prosor said he fears that while nuclear inspectors and Western governments are focused on Iran’s enrichment capabilities over the next six months, Iran will focus on the weaponization and delivery aspects of its nuclear program.

“They are amazing negotiators,” Prosor said of the Iranians. “Internally, nothing has changed in the quest for a nuclear program.”

But, he added, from his vantage point in the United Nations he sees fissures developing among Muslim nations, some caused by Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons.

Referring to allegations that in 2011 Iran plotted to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, Adel al-Jubeir, in a Washington, D.C., restaurant, Prosor said he saw the current Saudi ambassador to the U.N. accuse Iran of the assassination attempt on the floor of the General Assembly.

Then, Prosor went on, “The Iranian ambassador stands up and trashes the Saudi ambassador.”

Finally, Prosor said, the Syrian ambassador stood up, addressing the Saudi ambassador, and said, “You cut the throats of people with swords—who are you to talk?”

Smiling, Prosor said that he welcomes the current enmity among Muslim nations that more typically focus their animosity on Israel.

“I say, ‘Continue, gentlemen.’”

Hunting for the perfect (JNF) Christmas tree—in Israel

Winding up and down the rows of Arizona brush trees, Jason Heeney sees slim pickings for Christmas.

“This tree would be hard to put the star on,” Heeney says. “It’s totally flat, like a smushed nose.”

The Michigan native and his friend, native Parisian Emie Genty, have driven an hour from their homes in Tel Aviv for what has become an annual tradition: the Christmas tree hunt at a Jewish National Fund forest. For about $20 apiece, they and anyone else can buy a subsidized tree this week, courtesy of JNF. The buyers include Christian Arabs, Russians, tourists and curious Israeli Jews.

The trees resemble the conifers traditionally used as Christmas trees in America, though they are a bit sparser, paler and shorter at an average of 6 feet high.

JNF’s director of VIP ceremonies and protocol, Andy Michelson, estimates that individuals, embassies and Israeli churches will buy nearly 1,000 trees this year — a 20 percent increase over last year because of a new Internet advertising campaign. The program has existed for almost 20 years, and the forest here has about 3,000 trees. JNF maintains a similar forest in northern Israel.

Approximately 150,000 Christians – four-fifths of them Arabs – live in Israel.

Though the tree distribution program costs thousands of dollars, Michelson said American Jewish supporters of JNF should not be upset that their money is going for something that benefits Christians in Israel.

“Our projects are for all people living in Israel, so when we build a park, we build it for everyone, regardless of whether they’re Jewish, Christian or Muslim,” he said, adding that many of JNF’s donors are non-Jews from Europe.

“They see Israel doing this, and it creates a good feeling and peace between people,” said Maor Malka, a JNF tour guide and firefighter who has staffed the distribution for two years. “We also increase awareness of JNF.”

JNF is best known for planting trees, not chopping them down. Michelson said the four-inch stumps left from the Christmas trees regenerate quickly, in as little as two years.

That was disappointing for Heeney, who was looking for a bigger tree — maybe eight feet high. Examining tree after tree — “No, no, no, no, no” — he lamented that “the branches are really flimsy, not like a Christmas tree” in the United States. It’s harder to hang decorations on these, he says.

Heeney, who is married to a native Israeli, grew up on a farm and as a child his family would visit the nearby forest and chop down a tree as Dec. 25 approached. Since moving to Tel Aviv 2 1/2 years ago, he has maintained American Christmas traditions. He hosts a family dinner with his in-laws on Christmas Eve and a party for friends the next day with gifts and carols.

“It’s strange celebrating Christmas in Israel,” he says. “In the U.S. it’s a national cultural event. There’s a change in the way people interact with each other, the generosity of spirit, plus the lights. It’s pretty. I miss the snow.”

Not all of the customers in Givat Yeshayahu — in central Israel, just south of Jerusalem’s suburbs — had Christmas on their minds. Miriam, originally from Moscow, was helping a friend buy a tree for New Year’s, a Russian tradition. She had bought plastic trees in years past, but found the JNF offer on the Internet this year.

“It’s not connected to religion; we like to decorate the tree,” she said. “We don’t do it on a holiday and we don’t sing Merry Christmas.”

Miriam found a tree she liked, as did Heeney and Genty, who squeezed three of them into their sedan following a 45-minute search. But not all the customers were happy with the selection. One man walked back to his car after looking for only a few minutes.

“I have something like this in my yard,” he said.

Opinion: JNF should plant trees, not uproot families

As a child, I proudly brought my spare change to Hebrew school to drop in the little blue boxes. With this money, my teachers told me, the Jewish National Fund would plant trees in Israel. I never imagined that these nickels and dimes would also help to evict Palestinians from their homes.

Last week, Rabbis for Human Rights-North America called on the Jewish National Fund and its partner organizations to issue a public statement that they will no longer evict Palestinians from their homes in eastern Jerusalem.

In November, RHR-NA mobilized American Jews to write nearly 1,500 letters to Russell Robinson, CEO of the Jewish National Fund of America, asking him to stop a JNF subsidiary from evicting the Sumarin family from their home in Silwan, a neighborhood of eastern Jerusalem. The eviction would have allowed the home to be transferred to Elad, a settler organization that aims to Judaize eastern Jerusalem. The Absentee Property Law, which was the legal basis for this eviction, allows the State of Israel to take possession of eastern Jerusalem properties whose owners were not physically present when Israel first took control of the area in 1967. In the case of the Sumarin family, the children of the original owner were declared absentees even though other members of the family were living in the home at the time.

Though JNF responded to the uproar among American Jews and halted the eviction of the Sumarins, the organization and its subsidiaries are currently pursuing other evictions.

It’s time for JNF once and for all to end its policy of evicting families.

This is not ultimately a story about whether a few families can stay in their homes. What happens in Silwan may determine whether a peaceful solution remains possible. What happens in Silwan speaks to the the moral and democratic soul of Israel. And the crisis in Silwan opens our eyes to the role that American money plays in perpetuating the conflict.

By moving into Silwan and other eastern Jerusalem neighborhoods, ideological settlers are putting facts on the ground that make peace more difficult. Visiting Silwan last November, I saw the homes of recent Jewish settlers standing next to the homes of longtime Palestinian residents. These Jewish homes sported Israeli flags, guard booths, barbed wire and sky-high fences. The settlers walk through the streets carrying rifles. The juxtaposition between these fortified houses and the more modest ones of their neighbors serves as an answer to those who ask why Jews can’t live anywhere in Jerusalem. This is not an attempt at peaceful coexistence; it is an armed takeover that threatens the very possibility of peace. 

I’m deeply concerned as well about the moral and democratic soul of Israel. I believe strongly that Israel has the potential to live up to the very best of Jewish values, and to be the “light unto the nations” to which its founders aspired. Jewish history teaches us the pain of being expelled from one’s home. And Jewish law sets up strong protections against seizing property without cause and without incontrovertible evidence. I am proud that Israel’s Declaration of Independence commits to “ensur[ing] complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.” I pray that we will realize this vision soon.

Settler organizations argue that the Absentee Property Law simply allows for the return to Jewish hands of property owned by Jews before 1948, but the argument fails the test of fairness and democracy. First, the properties are not being returned to the families who left after the partition of Jerusalem but rather into the hands of settlers with an ideological desire to Judaize the area and transfer Palestinians out. Second, there is, of course, no parallel law allowing Palestinians to reclaim ownership of homes that their families owned before 1948. Such a law would mean the end of many western Jerusalem neighborhoods that are now Jewish, and even of Israel as we know it.

Finally, the situation in Silwan has opened many of our eyes to the role of American Jewish money. It makes the news when mega-donors like Sheldon Adelson, Irving Moskowitz or Ira Rennert invest millions of dollars into building new settlements or financing Jewish enclaves in Palestinian neighborhoods. But those of us who give money to “neutral” organizations, such as JNF, may believe that we are only helping to plant trees, contribute to economic development or even support Jewish-Arab cooperation projects. Our donations to JNF do support such praiseworthy activities. At the same time, these contributions support the uprooting of Palestinian families, the development of settlements, the forced displacement of Bedouin Israeli citizens and other activities that violate human rights.

In the world of Israel politics, very little is neutral. Adelson and other right-wing billionaires invest in projects that reflect their vision of Israel. Those of us who believe in building a country that reflects the best of Jewish and democratic values must similarly invest in work that reflects our vision of what Israel should be.

I hope that JNF will retain the trust of American Jews who support peace and justice. I therefore call on JNF to end policies that set up roadblocks to peace.

(Rabbi Jill Jacobs is the executive director of Rabbis for Human Rights-North America.)

Deadly Israeli wildfire draws U.S., Los Angeles support

The ” title=”Friends of Israel Firefighters (FIF)” target=”_blank”>Friends of Israel Firefighters (FIF), are leading efforts to raise funds to supply Israel’s beleaguered and aging firefighting force with the equipment it needs to battle the out-of-control


” title=”” target=”_blank”>Friends of Israel Firefighters

” title=”” target=”_blank”>Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

” title=”Orthodox Union” target=”_blank”>Israeli Leadership Council

” title=”Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles” target=”_blank”>Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles is also currently gathering information and raising funds to send directly to Israel.


Briefs: Olmert vows to solve conversion crisis, Israel names first female U.N. envoy

Ehud Olmert pledged to solve an Israeli conversion crisis prompted by a rabbinical dispute. The prime minister on Monday gave the government four months to address a recent decision by Israel’s Rabbinical High Court to fire Rabbi Haim Druckman as head of a state-sponsored conversion committee.

In dismissing Druckman, who was considered relatively lenient by Orthodox conversion standards, the court said it would annul thousands of conversions of immigrants from the former Soviet Union that he had approved. Israel Radio quoted Olmert as saying in a statement that such immigrants “include the best of our soldiers, the cream of our academia, and so the issue of conversion in Israel tops the national agenda.”

Egyptians Kill Sudanese Man Trying to Enter Israel

Egyptian police killed a Sudanese migrant who tried to cross illegally into Israel. The would-be border jumper was fatally shot Sunday near Egypt’s Sinai’s frontier with Israel. He was the 17th African known to have been killed by Egyptian forces en route to hoped-for jobs or sanctuary in the Jewish state.

Facing a deluge of undocumented refugees from Darfur or other illegal African immigrants, Israel last year asked Egypt to crack down on the foot traffic in the Sinai. Thousands of Africans attempt the dangerous trip each year, according to Amnesty International.

Israel Names First Female U.N. Envoy

Israel appointed its first female ambassador to the United Nations. Gabriela Shalev, rector of the Ono Academic College in Tel Aviv, was approved Sunday by the Cabinet. She was chosen by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to succeed Dan Gillerman.

“It was important to me to appoint a woman to represent Israel in such an important place,” Livni told the Cabinet. “In addition, her extraordinary talents will enable her to deal with the challenges facing Israel. Professor Shalev is internationally respected; she has fulfilled many public positions in Israel, and the appointment committee determined that her impressive reputation and background, as well as her personality, make her a fitting candidate for the position of ambassador to the U.N.”

Shalev has served as chairman of the Israel Broadcasting Authority, a member of the Jewish Agency’s Board of Trustees and a member of the committee for formulating ethics of Cabinet members.

Israel’s Military Chief Visiting U.S.

The chief of Israel’s armed forces is visiting the United States. This is Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi’s first working visit to Washington, D.C. During his weeklong stay, Ashkenazi will meet his U.S. counterpart, Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and visit the headquarters of the various U.S. armed forces branches. Ashkenazi will also hold talks with Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

Ashkenazi’s visit comes at a time of heightened international speculation that Israel and the United States are closing ranks ahead of a possible military attack on Iran’s nuclear sites. However, Israeli military officials said the visit had long been in the works and was previously postponed.

Olmert Lawyer Accuses Witness of Lying

A lawyer for Ehud Olmert said the testimony of a key witness in the corruption probe of the Israeli prime minister is a lie. The attorney, Eli Zohar, made the remarks last week during a cross-examination of the witness, U.S. businessman Morris Talansky, the Jerusalem Post reported.

Talansky, who is undergoing several days of questioning by the prime minister’s lawyers, has testified that Olmert took approximately $150,000 in cash donations from him over the course of nearly a decade and a half. Olmert has denied wrongdoing and promised to resign if indicted.

JNF Building Jerusalem-Tel Aviv Bike Trail

The Jewish National Fund is building a bicycle trail that will connect Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. The 75-mile trail, running from south of the capital to Tel Aviv’s northern port and taking in several forests and historical sites en route, is expected to be completed within six months. It is part of a JNF project in celebration of Israel’s 60th anniversary. The estimated construction cost is $400,000.

“This trail will be an international tourist attraction for cyclists,” Effi Stenzler, JNF chairman, told Yediot Achronot Tuesday. According to the newspaper, the ride from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv will take approximately five hours and will be mostly downhill. Ascending in the other direction will take much longer, but cyclists will be able to avail themselves of rest stops along the way.

Briefs courtesy of Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Israeli Arabs prove to be part of the problem, not part of the solution

Like the rest of my circle of Israelis, who have seen war as kids and soldiers and then, as undergraduates, attended peace rallies before establishing families and joining the middle
class, I also assumed that Israel’s Arabs were part of the solution.

We met them on campus, in classes and dorms, and they seemed like reasonable people, eager like the rest of us to graduate and make the most of themselves. A day will come, we thought listening to their fluent Hebrew, when they will serve as a bridge between us and the rest of the Middle East. For as Toufiq Toubi, the longtime Knesset member from Nazareth once said of himself, theirs was the tragedy of those whose people were at war with their country. We were sure that to them, it was not we the Jews who were the anathema but the conflict itself — a dispute that had to be resolved rather than won.

Until September 2000.

That month, in my case a mere several weeks after I gullibly and publicly called for a compromise even on Jerusalem, an Israeli Arab mob stoned passing cars and torched cars, trucks, bus stops, banks, post offices and traffic lights across the Galilee. Not only was all that carnage accompanied by the most virulently anti-Israeli rhetoric, it happened as Palestinians in the territories were launching an uprising that would later climax in half a decade of suicide bombings not seen since the thick of pre-1967 Israel. It was at least reminiscent of Israel’s worst strategic nightmare: war from within and without.

Israel’s response to that Israeli Arab violence was harsh — excessively harsh, according to a government commission of inquiry. Yet that’s exactly where the debate concerning Israel’s Arab minority becomes so frustrating, because this is where Israel’s detractors conveniently change the subject from “why” to “how,” from the Israeli Arab plot against the Jewish state to its consequent treatment by Israel.

The crux of the debate is what Israel’s Arabs make of the very idea of a Jewish state in the ancestral land of the Jews. And our conclusion since the fall of 2000 has been — as the famously dovish TV journalist Amnon Abramowitz put it at the time — that while we pro-Oslo Israelis were devising two states for two peoples, our Arab counterparts, on both sides of the Green Line, were contemplating two states for one people: the Palestinians.

Down in the field, a small but increasing number of Israeli Arabs have participated in terror attacks, including driving suicide bombers to their destinations and, in some cases, performing the bombings themselves. At the same time, the Israeli Arab community’s elected leaders are attempting to hammer away at the idea of a Jewish state: They demand the abolition of the Law of Return, seek the alteration of the national anthem and hide behind a seemingly innocent apron, like the quest for a country of all its citizens.

The tactics deployed in this well-crafted assault are as simple as they are cunning: diversion and deceit. The diversion is in the systematic changing of the subject from the real aim, which is Israel’s extinction, to issues that Jews care deeply about, like freedom of expression, right of ownership or equality before the law. The deceit is in the fact that all this crusading energy disappears once one leaves Israel’s borders. They fail to demand rights and freedoms for those living under Arab rule throughout the Middle East.

In other words, Israeli Arab leaders hail Western values only when it helps undermine the Jewish state but otherwise do not believe in them.

This is the context in which the attack on the Jewish National Fund (JNF) comes.

Established in 1901 as the Zionist organization’s arm for purchasing real estate in the Promised Land, the JNF epitomized Zionism’s unique blending of vision, pragmatism and diligence. The respect with which it treated even a toddler’s penny has unified Jews, the enthusiasm with which it embraced even the most forlorn acre of wasteland impressed Arabs and the resourcefulness with which it forested barren mountains and irrigated parched deserts has inspired environmentalists worldwide.

Portraying the JNF as part of the problem is so absurd that this portrayal itself indeed is part of the problem. Never mind that the JNF doesn’t focus on land distribution — it focuses on development — while the Israel Land Authority deals with leasing. Yet the JNF is a voluntary organization whose raison d’etre is indeed to make the land of Israel available for Jews. As long as Israel’s right to be Jewish is threatened the way it is by the Israeli Arab community’s current leadership, the JNF’s mission statement remains morally valid and strategically vital.

There was a time when Israelis like me honestly believed in the imminent emergence of a new Middle East, one where people, goods, capital and ideas would transcend borders as naturally as they do in North America and Western Europe. We have since been disillusioned — by Middle Eastern despotism, Palestinian violence and Israeli Arab deceit.

The day when we Israeli Jews can roam the Middle East as freely as Italians roam Europe and purchase real estate in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia or Syria as freely as New Yorkers do in Ontario, Canada, has yet to arrive. Worse, the effort to deprive us of what land we have has yet to abate.

Now one can say, “But Israeli Arabs are Israeli citizens,” and I so much want to say, “Gosh, that’s so true.” But the truth is that Israeli Arab leaders are for now identifying with and actively assisting Israel’s enemies, and we Jews have yet to consolidate our grip on the country our parents have built, so that in the future, no Jew will be landless.

Amotz Asa-El is a lecturer at the Shalem Center’s Institute for Philosophy, Politics and Religion. He is the author of the “Diaspora and the Lost Tribes of Israel” and former executive editor of the Jerusalem Post.

Jewish Getaways


Looking for a getaway with a Jewish twist? With Passover approaching and summer down the road, there are many opportunities for such travel. Here are a few options:

Seders Far and Near

When it comes to celebrating Passover, you can truly be a wandering Jew, thanks to an abundance of tour packages:

Spend Passover in Hollywood — Florida that is — or in one of six other Sunshine State resorts, including the Ritz Carlton, Naples.

Lasko Family Kosher Tours’ Passover packages include daily services and Torah lectures, glatt kosher gourmet meals, entertainment, private or group seders and activities for adults and children. Phoenix, Arizona and Westchester, N.Y., programs also available.

For information, call (800) 532-9119 or go to

Ciao bella! It’s off to Italy’s Venice Lido, where you can spend Passover gazing at the Mediterranean from your beachfront resort. With 47 years in the business, Leisure Time Tours is also offering glatt kosher Passover packages in Arizona, Florida or New York’s Catskill Mountains.

(800) 223-2624;

Tequila anyone? Le Voyage Travel offers packages at Club Med Ixtapa and the Hilton Los Cabos. Glatt kosher buffets, entertainment, children’s programs and, of course, seders are included in these waterfront excursions.

(877) 452-8744;

Sun, sand and seders await at Club Kosher’s “Passover in Paradise” at the Hilton Cancun Beach and Golf Resort. Glatt kosher meals, including a special children’s menu; family and communal seders; daily Torah lectures; evening entertainment; and children’s programs are included.

(866) 567-4372;

You won’t have to jump into the Red Sea, but you can do a 135-foot bungee jump. Israeli tour operator Tal Tour is offering Pesach in Acapulco. It boasts sky-diving, water-skiing and speed-boating among its many activities. The package includes glatt kosher cuisine, youth programs and entertainment, as well as an onsite synagogue and mikvah.

(800) 825-9399;

It’s all in the details. Global Tours will help you make your travel arrangements for Passover and year-round. Check out its airfare specials.

(800) 881-9230;

Sometimes paradise is as close as your own backyard. World Wide Kosher Tours offers packages at three Southern California luxury resorts: The Lodge at Rancho Mirage, Hilton San Diego Del Mar Resort Hotel, and Loews Coronado Bay Resort. Packages include a choice of group, private or even adult-only seders; lectures and shiurim, children’s programs, outdoor activities and Glatt Kosher meals. (323) 525-0015

Chant and Plant

Jewish National Fund’s (JNF) Travel & Tours has developed a bar and bat mitzvah in Israel program that will start this summer. The tour includes a group ceremony at the southern Wall excavations and group dinner reception celebration.

“In the past, we’ve done private bar and bat mitzvah tours. And now, with the situation having calmed down in Israel, more families want to celebrate their simcha in Israel,” said Michelle Blacher, JNF director of Travel & Tours. “It’s more affordable for families if they join a tour, and it also gives them more activities for the children.”

The packed itinerary includes visits to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Safed, Masada and the Dead Sea. Participants will also explore tunnels beneath the Western Wall, take part in an archeological dig, kayak on the Jordan River and, of course, plant trees in a JNF forest. A three-day optional extension in Eilat is also available.

The first summer excursion departs June 5, and a December trip is also scheduled. (877) 359-4262;

North to Alaska

Admire scenic fjords and vast glaciers while kibitzing with new friends during an eight-day Alaska cruise organized by Jewish tour operator Amazing Journeys and the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh.

The cruise, which departs Aug. 12, is open to singles, couples and families. Packages include accommodations, shipboard meals and entertainment, customized and discounted group tours and Shabbat services. Kosher meals can be arranged upon request.

Participants can extend their trip with an optional precruise land tour in Vancouver or a post-cruise visit to Alaska’s interior and Denali National Park.

Amazing Journeys associate Michele Fakiro promises that on every trip the company organizes “even if you don’t know anyone on the first day, we can guarantee that you will make new friends for life.”