(JTA) — Pope Francis is bringing along not one but two Argentinean rabbis on his trip to the Holy Land.
The pope’s close friendship with Rabbi Abraham Skorka is well known. Skorka even wrote a book with the then archbishop of Buenos Aires.
Skorka told JTA that he would be with the pope “all the time except, of course, at the private meetings he will hold with the different dignitaries.”
But he will be joining the trip a bit late.
“Since the departure of the Pope from Rome will be close to Shabbat, I will only meet with him on his arrival to Bet Lehem,” Skorka wrote to JTA in an email.
But the other Argentinean rabbi traveling with the pope — Rabbi Alejandro Avruj — will accompany the entire trip, starting in Jordan and then going to areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority and to Israel, though he won’t be as close a papal traveling companion as Skorka.
Avruj will be making the journey with a Catholic priest, Jose Maria “Pepe” di Paola, with whom he has worked closely since the 2001 Argentinean economic crisis. The rabbi and the priest together manage the Shalom charity project, which brings daily meals to hungry children in Buenos Aires.
“I met Jorge Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, at a shantytown in Buenos Aires. Bergoglio was the boss of my teammate Pepe and he came with us to bring food and recreational activities to the kids,” Avruj told JTA.
Like Skorka, Avruj developed a friendship with Bergoglio. The future pope participated in a 2012 Kristallnacht commemoration ceremony with Avruj, who later invited him to help light the Hannukah candles at the synagogue where he served.
(Haaretz) — It is too early to jump to conclusions over the identity of the shooter in Satruday’s terror attack at the Jewish Museum in Brussels.
And still, it’s hard to avoid the initial impression that the pattern fits other anti-Jewish attacks, locally organized and without the backing of a terror group. Most likely carried out by local Muslims - like the attack carried out by Mohammed Merah, a young French-Algerian, in March 2012, where four Jews were killed outside the Otzar HaTorah school in Toulouse (and two French soldiers in separate attacks). Merah, aside from his brother, acted on his own without collaborators.
In recent years there have been multiple intelligence reports of Hezbollah cells planning attacks in Europe against Israeli and Jewish targets - such as the attack on a bus in Burgas, attributed to Hezbollah, where six were killed. While it’s too early to rule out the Lebanese organization, shooting-attacks are not Hezbollah’s MO, they prefer to use bombs. In addition, Belgium, particularly Brussels, with its European Union headquarters, is thought to have a relatively high level of security, certainly relative to Bulgaria.
The fact that the target was the museum, the only building affiliated with the Jewish community in Brussels which does not have regular security, indicates a certain level of advance planning. Two hundred meters away is a synagogue where in 1982, a Palestinian gunman opened fire on Jews leaving Rosh Hashana prayers, wounding four. On the other hand, before we know the identity of those killed and wounded, the fact the attack occured on Shabbat, when less Jewish visitors could have been expected at the museum could indicate a lack of sophistication on the attackers part.
Planning a black tie event can be time consuming. I mean, what wine does one serve with pulverized human remains?
I really feel for Mike Bloomberg and his staff. First off, it took 12 years to clean up the crime scene. And now that the space was somewhat presentable, a group of September 11 family stragglers threatened to get in the way of set up.
Fortunately for Mike’s staff, the 9/11 families backed down as victims of hideous crimes often do. They left somewhat peacefully and, once the riff-raff were no longer in sight, Mike’s event planners were able to decorate the 9/11 museum for their elaborate event.
Now make no mistake, these bigwigs are do-gooders. These selfless patrons are the reason we rabble were allowed a free pass on opening night. It is the others, the paying crowd, they got screwed. And these party animals were going to party like it is was 2000.
The only elephants in the room were the shadows of the beautiful men and women who died so Mike and his Conde Nast pals could have their gala affair. Knowing that they could be standing in the same footprint as one of the 11 murdered pregnant women did not put a damper on their festive evening.
Watching horrifying tapes of Nazi executions can tell us a lot about the authenticity of a video depicting the killings of two Palestinian teens in the West Bank
While studying Yiddish in Lithuania during the summer of 2008 my fellow students and I visited Ponar, the site where 100,000 people, including nearly an entire branch of my family, were murdered in mass shootings.
Visiting the scene of such an incomprehensible crime committed on an industrial scale I became aware of the physical details of how the killings were carried out. After reading (and translating) accounts from survivors I found that I still could not visualize what had occurred so I sought out videos of similar massacres committed by Einsatzgruppen, mobile SS killing units. During the following fall I saw nearly every such film that is available, as well as films of war-time atrocities in El Salvador. At the time I was considering studying forensics in order to work with criminal investigations of war-crimes. I soon realized, however, that I wasn’t psychologically cut out for such work.
My experience with viewing films of shootings did, however, leave me with a well-trained, albeit non-expert eye that I use to critically evaluate films of disputed incidents. One thing I’ve learned watching films of such material is that the human body reacts to the trauma of a gunshot wound in a wide variety of ways. The Hollywood stereotype of a person being shot and keeling over like a felled tree is just that, a stereotype. It does happen. But people also sometimes run and suddenly collapse after being shot. People sometimes twitch involuntarily after being shot. And in a few instances I’ve even seen a person be shot, fall, catch himself with some apparent coordination and then lie still shortly thereafter.
Since the filmed deaths of Palestinian teenagers Nadim Nawarah and Muhammad Salameh, on May 15 during a demonstration in the West Bank town of Bitunya were released to the public many people have commented on social media that the films must have been faked because such a display of coordination is not possible. Among them is Rabbi Kenneth L. Cohen, the founder and director of the Vine and Fig Tree Project, a religious pro-peace organization.
(JTA) — Evil twins make frequent appearances in the cheesier sorts of movies and television shows, yet tend to be less common in state politics. But not according New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
Silver has never lacked for chutzpah, but he appears to have taken it to Olympian heights with his most recent dodge. In March, the New York Times published a long article documenting the decades-long efforts by Silver and his now-disgraced former ally William Rapfogel, through a group called the United Jewish Council, to keep slum-cleared blocks of the Lower East Side empty for decades, rather than have them be rebuilt and repopulated by non-Jews who might dilute the political strength of Silver’s Jewish base. It didn’t paint a pretty picture of Silver, who came across as scheming, duplicitous and self-interested.
But wait! said Silver’s office. It was all just a misunderstanding. According Silver and his allies, the United Jewish Council was represented by another Sheldon Silver, and it was he who took all of these dastardly actions that just happened to prop up the power base of this Sheldon Silver.
And, in fact, there was another Sheldon Silver — Sheldon E. Silver — and he did work as an attorney for the UJC. It was the evil twin! (Perhaps the E stands for evil!)
Only Sheldon E. Silver — a transplant from Minneapolis who eventually joined Chabad, moved out to Brooklyn and passed away in 2001 — only worked for UJC for a few months. And reporter Russ Buettner dug back through the documents, made a few phone calls, and found that Sheldon E. Silver directed precisely none of the many actions taken by the UJC to block the redevelopment of the Lower East Side. Those were taken by, you know, the other Sheldon Silver. The Speaker of the Assembly. The guy who was lying.
Anyway, read the whole thing.
Unless…it was the other other Shelly Silver! Stay tuned…
Judaism — it’s a big religion; America — it’s an even bigger place.
But one man — one brave, self-sacrificing man — has taken upon himself the weight and burden of serving both constituencies, of being just the Jew that this country needs, of being: America’s Rabbi.
I’m sorry, did I say “one man”? I meant “five men.”
There are five American men (and yes of course they’re men) currently laying claim to the title of “America’s Rabbi.” Five, can you believe it? Why, that’s as many books as we have in the Torah! We’re going to have to add a chapter to our Holy Scriptures, or at the very least create a field guide, to sort them all out.
So allow me to present to you: A Field Guide to “Rabbis, America’s”
A woman gestures at a Jerusalem demonstration to help agunot / Haaretz
We’re familiar with the stories of recalcitrant husbands who refuse to give their wives a get, a religious writ of divorce, effectively preventing them from remarrying. But less discussed is the heart-wrenching experience of women whose husbands are alive, but unable to interact with them in any way.
The Israeli city of Safed is known for its religious conservatism, but it has just come up with a massive innovation in Jewish law. While a husband’s consent is generally needed to approve a divorce, the Safed Rabbinical Court has just made an exception.
A man who has been in a coma for seven years following a motorbike accident has just been divorced from his wife, a 34-year-old mother of one, Haaretz reports. She believed that he will never regain consciousness, and wanted the opportunity to remarry.
Pennsylvania’s Tom Wolf is a JCC macher, but is not Jewish / Flicker: WolfForPa Campaign
(JTA) — In his coverage of last night’s primary elections, Slate political reporter Dave Weigel mentioned an odd fact: Tom Wolf, Pennsylvania’s newly crowned gubernatorial nominee, has given so much to his local Jewish community center in York, Pa., that many reporters assumed he was Jewish. Only he isn’t.
So why is a non-Jewish businessman one of the biggest donors to his local JCC — so big that, in the midst of a gubernatorial campaign, he’s also co-chairing the JCC’s new capital campaign?
There are a couple parts to this answer. One is that Wolf and his family have deep roots in the York community — in fact, one of the York’s boroughs, Mount Wolf, is named for Tom Wolf’s great-great-grandfather — and he’s been a generous donor of time and money to local civic life.
The second part is that the York JCC is one of a number of JCCs around the country where the membership is majority gentile. (I wrote about this a few years ago for the Forward.) In these communities, the Jewish population is too small to support a decent JCC on its own, so the local leaders have decided to actively recruit members from outside the Jewish community. The Jews get a nice big JCC (and I can attest that the York JCC is very nice, even before its newly planned expansion) with lots of Jewish programming, and the non-Jews get a nice gym and another good local preschool.
So, in that light, Tom Wolf’s JCC donations make sense — he’s just supporting another York civic institution, the way his family always does.
There’s one more twist to the story, though: Tom Wolf, the man so many people believed was Jewish, just beat out Allyson Schwartz — a woman who is, in fact, Jewish — in the Democratic primary race for governor.
Still from a video produced by anti-miscegenation group Yad L’Achim
Imagine this: You’re a young guy in Israel. Scrolling through Facebook, you see the profile of an attractive Jewish girl. She seems interested in finding a date, so you send her a message. She writes back! The two of you make plans to meet up in person next week. When the big day arrives, you show up at the appointed spot, excited and nervous. You hear a sound behind you and turn around, expecting to see the beautiful girl. Instead, a bunch of guys pounce on you and punch your lights out.
The reason? You’re an Arab, not a Jewish, Israeli.
Welcome to Jews Against Miscegenation, a far-right group of male teens and 20-somethings who pose as Jewish women on Facebook to bait and lure Arab “predators” into the open and then beat them up.
These young men made headlines in the Israeli press today after they were indicted at the Jerusalem District Court. Police were able to identify and catch them, thanks to a security camera mounted at the site of one of their attacks.
It’s a relief to see these youths finally taken into custody — not just because their actions are racist (mere Arabness is enough to get you targeted) and sexist (women clearly can’t be trusted to choose for themselves), but because reports over the past few years have suggested that Israel’s police and municipal governments were actually supporting and funding these bigots.
We often think of historians as dry academics walled off in their ivory towers.
But the level of concern about the health of historian Jonathan Sarna, who is hospitalized in critical condition after collapsing, shows that Sarna is something special.
Sarna, a professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University, is not just a deeply knowledgeable and engaging historian. He connects with people — students, historians, laypeople and, dare I say it, journalists.
As my colleague Josh Nathan-Kazis pointed out in a conversation this afternoon: “He’s a historian who steps out of the bounds of the academy and makes himself accessible to answer questions and engages in the world. Professors who do that are rare and valuable.”
I learned firsthand of Sarna’s value during my first months at the Forward, in 2011, when I started investigating a story about George Washington’s lost 1790 letter to the Jews of Newport, Rhode Island.
Sarna was the inspiration for that story after I heard him mention the letter’s importance — and the fact that it appeared to be lost — at a Limmud conference in Britain. Sarna was also my guide throughout the story’s reporting, directing me to source materials and to other important documents of the day.
Since then, whenever I have had occasion to delve into American Jewish history, Sarna has become the first person that I turn to for sources, citations, guidance and inspiration.
Sarna is more than a walking encyclopedia of the American Jewish experience. He is a part of what makes American Jewish history vibrant and vital.
That’s why so many people wish him well right now.
The controversial new bus ad.
Pamela Geller is at it again. Her new set of black and white posters on Metro buses in Washington, D.C. declare: “Islamic Jew-Hatred: It’s In the Quran. Two Thirds of All U.S. Aid Goes to Islamic Countries. Stop Racism. End All Aid to Islamic Countries.” An accompanying photo shows Adolph Hitler meeting with Haj Amin al-Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem during the Mandate period.
Geller is known for her inflammatory ads. But I admit that this one makes me think.
Last week, Foreign Policy CEO David Rothkopf and former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren published a frank exchange about Israel’s past and future. But this was no ordinary discussion. It was between friends: Rothkopf and Oren have known each other since college.
The pair’s long letters, edited and published, were revelatory. Rothkopf’s disenchantment with Israel produced the liveliest reactions from commentators. But less remarked upon was Oren’s unflinching devotion to Israel — a devotion so stirring that Oren, a former historian, has forsaken the historian’s craft in favor of the diplomat’s. That is, his missives to Rothkopf made a case for Israel directed at American Jews. But making a case can involve glossing over facts, sometimes even distorting them.
When Oren started speaking about the relationship between American Jews and Israel, it was clear this was going to be a guilt trip. “As so many American Jews of our generation,” Oren wrote to his old college buddy, “you have this idealized image of pre-1967 Israel. But we’re adults now and adults inhabiting an illusion-less world.”
Oren noted that Rothkopf “once felt a part of” the Israeli story. The rupture, Oren wrote, didn’t happen because Israel changed (it improved!), but because Rothkopf did: “[M]uch of American Jewry has also changed — you, in terms of your Jewish identity, have changed — and acknowledging that is a prerequisite for forming your opinions about the Jewish state.” Maybe Oren’s privy to something we aren’t, but it seems to me he’s conflated Rothkopf’s “Jewish identity” with his support for Israel. There are enough worms to fish the Atlantic Ocean clean in that can.
The more shocking stretch of this guilt trip, however, arose from his defiance of American criticisms of Israel, especially from American Jews.
Forward contributing editor Jay Michaelson has won the 2014 Deadline Club award for opinion writing.
The columnist edged out Forward editor-in-chief Jane Eisner and Fortune magazine’s Allan Sloan to grab the prestigious annual award handed out by the New York City chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists.
“I am so proud of Jay Michaelson for this award, recognizing his brave, insightful and engaging writing,” Eisner said. “Congratulations to him, to his editor Gal Beckerman, and to all the Forward finalists this year.We are in great company!”
The awards, which were announced last night at a dinner in Manhattan, represent excellence in journalism from print newspapers, magazines, television, radio and the Internet.
The Forward had a record six nominations included pieces in news, arts and opinion.
“Zionism has been taken, kidnapped even, by the far right.”
So says Pulitzer-winning Holocaust historian Saul Friedlander in a Haaretz interview published over the weekend. Explaining that he was “a normal Zionist until 1968,” the professor says that nowadays he can no longer call himself a Zionist — thanks to the movement’s right-wing “kidnappers.”
Friedlander’s sense that Zionism has been stolen and besotted over the past three or four decades is one that will resonate with a lot of Jews — especially young Jews, who eye Israel’s rightward ideological shift, uptick in settlement building and price tag attacks, and occupation writ large with increasing dismay.
I share that profound dismay, but I actually think that Friedlander’s “kidnapping” statement misses the mark. It implies that Zionism started out as a perfectly sound concept but was, unfortunately, hijacked and problematized by right-wingers later on. But Zionism’s problems started long before the late sixties; they go back, I would argue, to the very beginning.
In fact, I agree that Zionism was “kidnapped,” but only if we’re talking in the Talmudic sense — that is, if we look at the movement through the lens of the Jewish legal category known as tinok shenishba — literally, a captured or kidnapped infant.
A Jewish settler boy sticks his tongue out at peace activists protesting in Hebron / Getty Images
This weekend, renowned Holocaust scholar Shaul Friedlander gave sharp expression to a feeling shared broadly by many Jews, in Israel and the Diaspora. “Zionism has been taken, kidnapped even, by the far right,” Friedlander said in an interview with Haaretz. And all around the world, these Jews shook their heads, and sighed. Yes, they thought, it has been.
I have enormous respect for Prof. Friedlander, but I’m afraid I have to disagree. Zionism wasn’t kidnapped, or even merely “taken,” by the far right. It was handed over, with barely a peep, by the vast middle.
Our Ze’ev Jabotinskys, Geula Cohens, and Meir Kahanes have always had a central role in Jewish nationalist thought, but the 21st century has seen their like rise to new prominence. Centrists, hard-core peaceniks, and leftists have watched grimly as Israel has drifted ever rightward since the second intifada. Every step toward peace seemed doomed from the outset, and Israel’s leadership took care to tell us that there just wasn’t anyone to talk to. More and more settlements were built, but again, Israel’s leadership always kindly clarified that these don’t stand in the way of peace, and really, what’s another road, another red roof?
From farfel to Foxman, salami to Streisand, hummus to Howard Stern, we’ve got a lot going on in this week’s News Quiz.
Palestinian students perform in a play against Israel’s separation barrier at the Arab American University in the West Bank.
What’s all the fuss about? Secretary of State John Kerry has spoken the truth. He did so, first, in warning about apartheid. It does not exist at present: Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is a tyranny, and that’s serious — but there is none of the planned institutionalized racism, which is what “apartheid” means. However, if the occupation continues, or if Israel annexes areas of the West Bank, and if Palestinians remain as “second-class citizens” (as Kerry rightly puts it), then the apartheid label will be relevant.
In responding to the criticisms flung against him, Kerry said that Israel today is not apartheid. Again, he is correct. Within Israel proper, inside the Green Line, Arab citizens enjoy full citizenship rights; they do suffer discrimination — but it is nothing remotely like South African apartheid. Anyone who claims otherwise is either ignorant or dishonest.
If Kerry speaks such truth, why is he so condemned and told to apologize to Israel, and even to resign? Some of it no doubt comes from those who fear that his peace initiative might actually, against the odds, result in the creation of an independent Palestinian state, and they are desperate to cut him down. Other detractors are in denial: They cannot face the fact that Israel could slide into apartheid; they deceive themselves into believing that settlement expansion and the oppression of Palestinians can go on forever without any price to pay. The danger of Israel becoming an apartheid state is real and must be confronted. Instead of abusing Kerry, better to thank him for caring and for sounding the alarm.
Benjamin Pogrund is a South African-born journalist who lives in Jerusalem. His latest book, “Drawing Fire: Investigating the Accusations of Apartheid in Israel,” is being published by Rowman & Littlefield in July.
As a child growing up in apartheid South Africa, I clearly remember the myriad daily humiliation and discrimination imposed upon black South Africans. I went to a privileged white school where no black pupils were allowed. Instead, black children were forced to attend atrocious township schools, where they received an inferior education. I visited sick friends and family in the Johannesburg General Hospital, where “whites only” were treated with affordable and excellent medical care. No black patients were allowed. Instead, they were sent to overcrowded hospitals with low-level facilities and given low-level care. I remember clearly park benches and public toilets reserved for white people, and traveling to university on white-only buses. Black people had to carry passes to enter so-called white areas. The discrimination was institutionalized, pervasive in every part of our daily lives. Transgressors were penalized and often jailed.
How different is the situation in Israel? During my frequent visits to that country, I have visited my sister-in-law in Hadassah Hospital in a ward with Jewish and Arab women. I have fetched friends’ children from school and seen the diverse make-up, with Jewish and Arab children laughing together as they left the building. I have seen integrated buses, parks, universities, restaurants and workplaces, and engaged with senior Arab leaders in the political arena and in civil administration.
It is difficult for me to understand how a comparison can be made between a model of discrimination manifesting in every facet of South African life under apartheid and a country with entrenched equality — politically, legally and in every sphere of life. Discrimination, mandatory in South Africa, is illegal in Israel.
Yes, Israel has its problems and challenges, but to label it as an apartheid state shows a lack of understanding of — and indeed has the effect of belittling — the true evil of apartheid that we remember too well in South Africa.
Wendy Kahn is the national director of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies.
“A nice girl came to me and expressed interest in renting my apartment. She also informed me that she was in a relationship with a woman. Given her relationship status, is there a Jewish law preventing me from renting the apartment to her?”
When this question was recently posted to one of Israel’s popular religious internet forums, Ramat Gan’s chief municipal rabbi Yaakov Ariel had this to say:
“If the two women want to rent the apartment together, don’t rent it to them. If just one of them wants to rent it, you can let her — but only if you have no better option.”
There you have it: proof that housing discrimination is alive and well in Israel, the country that likes to bill itself as a haven for the LGBT community.
It’s an incredibly disappointing response, of course. Disappointing to think that prominent rabbis are going around saying, as Rabbi Ariel did in a follow-up interview, that lesbian relationships are “unnatural” and that property owners don’t need to make themselves party to such “strange things.”
Disappointing to think they’re inculcating in Jews the belief that “Jewish law doesn’t look kindly on couples like that,” without bothering to add any sort of nuance, like the fact that lesbian relationships don’t really become an issue in Judaism until Maimonides gets around to them in the 12th century.
Disappointing to think that if my girlfriend and I were to try and rent an apartment in Israel, daring to be as honest and forthcoming as the would-be tenant mentioned above apparently was, we could easily be discriminated against.
Disappointing — but not at all surprising. Because this rabbi’s don’t-rent-to-lesbians policy is just the latest in a series of similar rabbinic responses coming out of Israel over the past few years. Remember the don’t-rent-to-Arabs policy? Or how about the don’t-rent-to-Ethiopians policy?
Chabad Lubavitchers bring religious Jewish life to Laos in 2008.
If you saw the Anti-Defamation League’s scary new report on global anti-Semitism, you might have been intrigued to learn that the least anti-Semitic country in the word is…Laos.
Laos? Yes, Laos.
But why Laos, you ask? Good question. Maybe the landlocked Southeast Asian country has an amazingly tolerant and morally evolved population? Perhaps it’s been impressed by the wit of the Talmud, the humor of Seinfeld, the literary prowess of the Jewish Nobel winners, the breakthrough research of Israeli scientists? Do they just really like knishes over there?
Probably not. A more likely answer can be found in the Wikipedia page devoted to “History of the Jews in Laos” — yes, there is such a page, and here it is in its entirety:
Laos has no established Jewish presence, but as this communist country gradually opens up to foreign tourism, Chabad has secured permission to establish a permanent presence in Luang Prabang in 2006, where the young Rabbi Avraham Leitner provides meals and shelter to Jewish travelers. In all, there are only four permanent Jewish residents in the country, who serve the Israeli backpackers, tourists, and diplomats visiting Laos.
Wait a minute. Four Jewish residents?
Has the ADL considered that the low incidence of anti-Semitism in Laos may be due to nothing more than the tiny size of its Semitic community?
And why is the community so tiny?
It should be said that if there’s a lack of Jewish life in Laos, it’s not for lack of effort. Chabad Jews have been very keen to bring Yiddishkeit to the country — which, being communist, doesn’t look too kindly on religious activity. That hasn’t stopped this guy from trying.
Apparently, there was some drama in Laos back in 2008, when local police expelled Chabadniks from the country after they organized a Rosh Hashana celebration for 200 backpacking Israelis. The Chabadniks were arrested and interrogated, then put on a plane (along with their Torah scroll) to Bangkok, where they landed just one hour before the start of Yom Kippur.
So, establishing Jewish life is a tricky endeavor in Laos; there’s almost no permanent Jewish presence there; there’s also almost no anti-Semitism there. Should we be scoring that in the victory column?
At first sight, the ADL’s stats seem to tell a clear story. But they leave us with some murky questions. Laos is one of them.