Forward Thinking

From Shul to Shrimp in New Orleans

By Anne Cohen and Sigal Samuel

The French Quarter in New Orleans.

We spent the last night of our road trip through the Jewish South in New Orleans — not really part of the South at all. The Big Easy is more like the northern extension of the Caribbean. And its Jewish life reflects that.

The pattern we saw here differed from the patterns noted on our previous stops. The first Jews arrived earlier, when Louisiana was still a French colony. These were Sephardis, often crypto-Jews, escaping religious persecution in Europe and looking to do business in the New World. But even here, they didn’t advertise their religion: intermarriage and assimilation were the norm.

The first recognized synagogue in New Orleans, Shangarai Chasset (Gates of Mercy), was founded in 1827, after the Louisiana Purchase. As in the rest of the South, organized Jewish communal life developed towards the 1840s, with the arrival of German Jewish merchants. This meant fewer concessions to assimilated Jews as Ashkenazi rituals supplanted Sephardi customs; by 1841, intermarried men were barred from Shangarai Chasset membership.

As two Sephardis, we went on a quest to find the original home of Shangarai Chasset. We arrived at the corner of St. Louis and North Rampart Street. It was Friday evening, and had the shul still been there we would have been just in time for Shabbat services. Unfortunately, only a plaque now marks the spot. A Catholic church with voodoo ties looms across the street, as does New Orleans’ oldest cemetery, nicknamed the “City of the Dead.”

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Jews, Christians and Muslims Pray and Fast for Peace

By Nechama Liss-Levinson

Nechama Liss-Levinson

“Shalom!” – “Salaam!” – “Peace!”

So started the evening, “Fasting together, Praying for Peace” at Temple Sinai in Roslyn, New York, this past Tuesday evening. Jews, Muslims and Christian neighbors gathered together to talk, learn, pray and break the fast together. The Jewish minor fast day of the 17th of Tammuz coincided with the eighteenth day of the fast of Ramadan. The groups came together, under the auspices of the Long Island Board of Rabbis and the Islamic Center of Long Island, partnering with the Long Island Council of Churches, the Long Island Muslim Society, the Sid Jacobson JCC and the American Muslims and Jews in Dialogue. It was a long list of those who wanted contact and the beginnings of healing.

The idea of a day of fasting together, or in the language of civil protest, “a hunger strike for peace” was first proposed by Eliaz Cohen, an Israeli poet. Cohen wrote of his aspirations for the day.

For both traditions – this is a day designated for soul-searching, an opportunity for people to take responsibility, for self repair and for self and communal purification and for repentance. This is an attempt to direct the consciousness of both peoples to this day as a peak day in which each man and woman in their home and in their communities will be invited to take part, to fast in solidarity with the suffering, violence and pain of self and others, to ask how to end the cycle of bloodshed and draw a horizon of hope and vision. Afternoon gatherings and classes will be held between the two communities – sharing stories, studying and praying together, and by the appearance of the stars the people gathered will share an “iftar” – breaking the fast with a delicious meal.

When I arrived at the program with my husband, I only recognized one other individual. And although I felt alone in certain ways, I also felt part of something much larger. Both Jews and Muslims had responded to Cohen’s call and similar groups were meeting in Israel, in Philadelphia, in Oakland, California and in Palo Alto. People met in Texas and in London and in Kuwait.

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Graham Spanier Opens Up on Abuse — His Own

By Hody Nemes

Getty Images

Graham Spanier, the Jewish president of Penn State ousted during the school’s sexual abuse scandal, opened up about the abuse he suffered at the hands of his immigrant father in a new profile in the New York Times Magazine by Mike Sokolove.

Spanier, whose 16-year tenure at Penn State ended abruptly in November 2011, is awaiting trial on charges he covered up the crimes of Jerry Sandusky, the disgraced Penn State football coach convicted in 2012 of sexually abusing boys.

Spanier has denied any criminal wrongdoing and is fighting to have the charges dismissed.

In his interview with the Times, Spanier described in detail the childhood beatings administered by his father, a Jewish escapee of Nazi-era Germany.

Spanier said that his father sometimes hit him with his hands or fists, “but 90 percent of the time, it was what’s called a strapping. He would undo his belt, double it up and would strap you with it. You’d be cowering in the corner, and he would continue doing that until I assume he got tired. He just couldn’t do it anymore […] Back in the ‘50s, someone like my father would be described as a strict disciplinarian. Nowadays, you’d be in jail for what he did.”

Spanier’s childhood experience, the Times’ Sokolove wrote, “so weirdly evokes the troubles that have found him later in life. He is a victim of child abuse who is charged with tolerating and abetting the same.”

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Israel's 'Moral Army'?

By Michael Mitchell

Palestinians rush wounded boy to safety after Israeli mortar killed four boys playing soccer on a Gaza beach. Getty Images

(Haaretz) — You probably know Israel’s army as the Israel Defense Forces, but the IDF has a more controversial name for itself: the “moral army.” For those unused to this rhetoric, hearing it at a time when Israel is engaged in cross-border fighting can spark everything from confusion to outrage – especially in the midst of horrifying reports of civilian casualties in Gaza from Operation Protective Edge.

There are a number of reasons to be wary of the title of “moral army” (it normalizes violence and discourages accountability, for example), but the most important issue is whether the IDF’s conduct upholds its commitments.

The IDF claims that it aspires to respect secular and Jewish ethics in its operations, but especially when evaluated under the principle of “pikuakh nefesh” - the Biblical insistence that we prioritize the preservation of human life above all else - the IDF doesn’t seem to be meeting the Jewish ethical standard for a “moral army.”

In Gaza today, the ethical question the “moral army” must answer is this: When the IDF has good reason to believe there are civilians in a targeted area – or can even see them – should it strike anyway?

In the scope of this month’s fighting, the crux of how we evaluate the IDF’s claim to be a “moral army” lies in what its behavior reveals about its approach to this dilemma. From the information that’s publicly available, the verdict seems less horrifying than Israel’s staunchest opponents would have it, but far more damning than Israel’s rhetoric – or its ostensible moral aspirations – admits.

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Why Jews Everywhere Bear Brunt of Israel Actions

By John Lloyd

German demonstrators join Europe-wide round of protests against Israel’s attack on Gaza. Unlike other groups, Jews are blamed for the actions of Israel — and are coming under attack worldwide. Getty Images.

(Reuters) — As the death toll in Gaza rises, so does anger against Israel - and sometimes, by extension, Jews - in Europe and elsewhere.

We should mark how unique this is. There’s a very large, and often very rich, Russian community in London – and there are no attacks on Russians or their mansions, restaurants or churches because of the Russian seizure of Crimea and sponsorship of uprisings in eastern Ukraine.

People from Sri Lanka didn’t live in fear when their government was pounding the Tamil Tigers into submission, with thousands of deaths. Chinese visitors are undisturbed by reaction to their government’s suppression of dissent in Tibet and its jailing of dissidents. And quite right, too. Who knows what Russians, Sri Lankans or Chinese abroad think about their governments’ actions?

Jews, by contrast, are held responsible by large numbers of non-Jews in Western democratic countries for Israeli actions. That’s all Jews, whatever their views on the Israeli response to the rockets fired on Israel from Gaza. Sometimes, the reaction goes much further than disapproval.

Over this past weekend, a synagogue in Paris was firebombed, and there were a couple of small demonstrations featuring signs saying “Death to Jews.” The attack further inflamed tensions that were already running high since before the latest violence in Gaza. In May, four people died when a gunman opened fire in a Jewish museum in Brussels. Many of those interviewed said they were not surprised, given the rise in the level of verbal and some physical violence against Belgian Jews in the past decade.

France, home to half a million Jewish citizens, has seen rising rates of emigration to Israel, the United States and the United Kingdom. So pronounced has this become that two senior French ministers, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, authored an article contending that violence and incidents against Jews in France had been falling – and that, while recent incidents were wholly unacceptable, the fear that prompts the uprooting of families and businesses was unwarranted. Tensions, they wrote, especially emanating from immigrants and new citizens from North Africa, rose after the financial crisis of 2008 but were being actively combatted.

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I Remember Shock of First 'Price Tag' Attack

By Nathan Jeffay

The indictment today of three suspects for the revenge killing of the Palestinian teenager Muhammad Abu Khdeir has put this crime, knocked off the news agenda by the Hamas-Israel violence, back in people’s minds.

As I have watched the reaction over the last 12 days to the news that Khdeir does appear to have lost his life because of Jewish extremism, I am reminded again and again of the day I spent in the West Bank Palestinian village of Yasuf back in 2009.

I remember the charred smell inside the mosque, the signs if damage, the bewilderment of villagers. This was the first “price tag” attack on a place of worship. It shocked and mobilized Jewish Israelis, and the expressions of outrage - while nobody died of sustained injuries - have echoes in the expressions heard after the announcement last Sunday that the suspects in Khdeir ’s murder are Jewish.

There was never another Yasuf. There were attacks on places of worship, but the reaction the first time if happened was never replicated.

Perhaps the shock was a one-off feeling, and while the sadness each time is the same we are more ready to deal with it. But I can’t help thinking that we have become, to a degree, desensitised to attacks on places of worship.

The challenges facing Israelis at this difficult time are many. My hope is that, in the unfortunate but not unlikely event that a similar crime to the abduction-murder takes place, it will be met with the same straight of feeling that this one evoked.


From Crown Heights to Mississippi

By Anne Cohen and Sigal Samuel

Malkie Schwartz stands in front of the Institute of Southern Jewish Life in Jackson, Mississippi.

Turn off Highway I-55 N at Frontage Road in Jackson, Mississippi and you’ll come across a non-descript squat brown building. Inside is a trove of Jewish learning.

The Institute of Southern Jewish Life (ISJL) delivers rabbinic services, educational programs and cultural events to small Jewish communities spread across 13 states. Their community engagement director is Malkie Schwartz, whom New Yorkers know as the founder of Footsteps, a nonprofit organization that supports Jews seeking to transition from ultra-Orthodoxy into the mainstream. Schwartz left Crown Heights’ Chabad Lubavitch community in 2000. She moved down south five years ago.

Anne Cohen and Sigal Samuel caught up with Schwartz in Jackson, the latest stop on their road trip through the Jewish South.

Anne Cohen and Sigal Samuel: What made you decide to move to the South and work at ISJL?

Malkie Schwartz: [ISJL President and CEO] Macy Hart and I would meet frequently at events put on by mutual donors and Jewish organizations. When I said that Footsteps was getting a new executive director, Macy had this idea to help me transition — and it included coming here and helping to start the community engagement department, now five years old. The idea was that we would build a department that recognizes the Jewish legacy of social justice in the South.

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Why Killing Kids on Gaza Beach Is Bad Hasbara

By Ben Sales

Palestinians rush wounded boy to safety after Israeli mortar killed four boys playing soccer on a Gaza beach. Getty Images

(JTA) — Israel’s fight in the PR war just got that much harder.

Since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge last week, journalists and commentators — Jon Stewart included — have criticized Israel for the lopsided death count in the conflict.

And an errant airstrike today next to a journalists’ hotel has led to a fresh wave of criticism against Israel. This afternoon, Israel shelled a Gaza beach, killing four children who were playing soccer there. A second shell hit as survivors were running for help.

The Israel Defense Forces spokesperson said the shells were aimed at a Hamas operative.

But because the shells hit outside a hotel housing journalists covering the conflict, pictures, video and first-person accounts have flooded the Internet, showing smoke, the dead children and a scene of chaos.

“The attack — and its heartrending aftermath –- was witnessed by NBC News,” wrote NBC reporters Ayman Mohyeldin and Paul Ziad Nassar. “Moments earlier, the boys were playing soccer with journalists on the beach.”

Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense shield — along with early-warning sirens and ubiquitous bomb shelters — has kept its fatalities down to one. Palestinians in Gaza, however, have suffered more than 200 deaths, most of them civilians. Israel has blamed Hamas for these deaths, as it fires rockets from densely populated areas and stores weapons caches under civilian buildings.


May Gaza Victims' Memories Be a Blessing

By Emily L. Hauser

Courtesy of namesonwall.tumblr

We read names. We say names out loud, and hold their souls on our breath. We record names with ink and carve them into stone; we raise them in national squares and on city streets.

When lives are lost, those left behind do what they can to ensure that the names – at least the names – are not forgotten.

Someone in Israel has taken it upon themselves to perform this sacred duty for people very recently dead, not in stone or ink, but spray paint; the letters are Hebrew, but the names are not.

Dunya Mahdi Hamad, who was 16 when she was killed on Tuesday, July 8. Elsewhere her name has been spelled Dunia Mehdi Hamad, or Denil. There’s also Mohammed Ayman Ashour, aged 15. Mohammed Khalaf al-Nawasra, aged 4. Hana Malakiyeh, aged 27, and her son, Mohammed Malakiyeh, one and a half years old at the time of his death.

There are more names, and they are scrawled on the walls of the southern Israeli city of Beersheva, a place that has seen its own residents scurrying for bomb shelters, and picking through the remains of shattered homes. Beersheva is not safe from this war, and neither are Israel’s citizens. Dror Hanin was 37 years old when he was killed by flying shrapnel on Tuesday; his wife and children are left to mourn, just as surely as are the families of Gaza’s dead.

Yet whoever is roaming Beersheva’s streets with a can of black paint knows that even as Israel’s Jews will remember Hanin’s name, most will try never to know the names of the over 200 Palestinians killed so far in Israel’s most recent attack on the Gaza Strip. Just as we tried to never know their names in 2012. And 2008/2009. And 2006. And every other time in between.

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Jewish Tea Party Guy's Immigration 'Fear' Gaffe

By Anthony Weiss

(JTA) — Arizona congressional candidate Adam Kwasman has drawn some national attention as one of the Jewish Republicans hoping to take Eric Cantor’s place as GOP Jew on Capitol Hill. He’s now made national news again, but for very much the wrong reasons.

Kwasman, who is competing for the Republican nomination in the first district, was speaking to a local television reporter decrying U.S. border policy when he described seeing a busload of migrant children and observing “the fear on their faces.”

Only problem was, the buses weren’t carrying migrants heading for deportation. They were carrying local children headed to the local YMCA. Ouch. Kwasman apologized, but the damage was done.


Joseph Stalks Us in Memphis

By Sigal Samuel and Anne Cohen

Jews pop up in unexpected places in Memphis, Tennessee. Here are six things that surprised us in the Blues City.

1) Joseph Is Stalking Us


The biblical Joseph is stalking us in the South. We first came across him in Alabama, when we drove through Dothan, a town with a fledgling Jewish community. The town’s name comes from a verse in the Torah: When Joseph goes out to check on his shepherd brothers, he’s told that they’ve gone to Dothan. When he gets there, the brothers — jealous of him for being the family favorite — sell him into slavery. We have no idea why the early settlers of Alabama thought it would be a good idea to name their town after this obscure biblical hamlet — but the choice of name is painfully ironic: it references a story about slavery, and we all know what part Alabama played in that dark chapter of history.

Joseph showed up again in Memphis on our visit to the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968. A plaque marking the spot quotes that exact same Joseph story: “They said one to another, ‘Behold, here cometh the dreamer. Let us slay him and we shall see what will become of his dream.’”

2) A Talmudic Freedom Summer


The Lorraine Motel is now part of the National Civil Rights Museum, which traces the struggle of African Americans from slavery to civil rights. Jewish references are everywhere. Take the rabbi who visited Parchman Prison in Mississippi to counsel the Freedom Riders incarcerated there. When the warden warned him not to give the prisoners any information about what was happening in the outside world, he replied, “You mean, I can’t tell them that Roger Maris just hit his 62nd home run?” When the warden said no, the rabbi kept up the back-and-forth, listing more and more things that he couldn’t say — all within hearing distance of the prisoners. How Talmudic.

Walking into the Freedom Summer exhibit is like flipping through a Jewish summer camp photo album. Many of the white college kids who came down to Mississippi to help register black voters in 1964 were Northern Jews — and it shows. Three famous faces stand out: Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, two Jewish volunteers, were brutally lynched by the Ku Klux Klan along with James Chaney, a black activist from Mississippi.

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Did Danny Danon Go Too Far?

By Uriel Heilman

Getty Images

(JTA) — Apparently, Danny Danon went too far.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired Danon, a hawkish Likudnik who had been deputy defense minister, from his post after Danon slammed the Israeli Cabinet decision to endorse a proposed cease-fire with Hamas.

Danon had called the decision a “slap in the face to all the residents of Israel.”

Netanyahu issued this statement about Danon’s firing:

At a time when the Government of Israel and the IDF are in the midst of a military campaign against the terrorist organizations and is taking determined action to maintain the security of Israel’s citizens, it cannot be that the Deputy Defense Minister will sharply attack the leadership of the country regarding the campaign… In light of his remarks, which express a lack of confidence in the government and in the prime minister personally, it was expected that the Deputy Defense Minister would take responsibility for his actions and resign. Since he has not done so, I have decided… to dismiss him from his post.

There are two ways to interpret Danon’s dismissal (he remains a Knesset member from Likud, Netanyahu’s party). One is that Netanyahu had had enough of Danon’s right-wing agitation, considered him out of line with the values of the Israeli Cabinet and wanted to enforce the rule of maintaining unity during wartime.

The other is that Netanyahu views Danon as a threat on his right flank, and took advantage of this opportunity to oust him from the Cabinet.

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The Cheesiest Terror Push on Facebook

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Facebook

It’s no surprise that in 2014, the war between Hamas and Israel is being fought on the Internet and social media front, as well as from the air (and possibly soon on the ground, as well). Both sides of the conflict are trying to get the world to understand and support their case for being embroiled in these hostilities.

The two sides are also trying to speak to —or rather, intimidate — one another. What is going on here is no joke. But some attempts by Hamas to scare Israelis that have resulted in far more laughter than panic.

First, there is the Hebrew language website of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing. Somehow, I can’t imagine that many – if any—Hebrew-speaking Israelis are interested in propagandistic updates on happenings in what the terror organization refers to as “Occupied Palestine” (ie. the entire State of Israel, not just the West Bank).

Maybe if the very basic Hebrew-language site were as rich as the original Arabic site, Israelis would pay more attention. Israelis are too busy running to bomb shelters to bother clicking on links that don’t work.

Then, there is this propaganda video titled, “Shake Israel’s Security,” showing fatigue wearing, masked Hamas fighters building, transporting and shooting rockets at Israel. http://youtu.be/HiUWgWjL24U

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Being a Jew in 'Bombingham' Alabama

By Anne Cohen and Sigal Samuel

Investigators probe bombing at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama./FBI Photo

Holocaust analogies abound in Birmingham.

That became clear within minutes of meeting Sol Kimerling, the 84-year-old historian who embodies Southern charm — and who served as our tour guide for the day. Dressed in a blue checkered shirt, brown corduroys and dapper black shoes, he drove us to the famous 16th Street Baptist Church, where a bomb exploded in 1963, killing four African American girls.

That wasn’t the first racially motivated bombing in the area — not even close. Between the late 1940s and mid 1960s, Birmingham saw almost 50 unsolved bombings, earning it the nickname “Bomingham.” For Jews, two incidents stand out: the attempted bombing at Temple Beth-El, the Conservative synagogue we visited on Friday, and the bombing of Bethel Baptist Church, led by Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth. Because these two incidents happened within weeks of each other, they served as a “turning point” for Birmingham’s Jews, Sol said. He compared the incident to Nazi Germany’s Kristallnacht, when “alarm bells rang in every Jewish house.”

Anne Cohen
Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church

On a Sunday morning we watched Christians — dressed in their Sunday best — climb up the steps of the 16th Street Baptist Church. We followed — we love a good Baptist “Hallelujah!” The huge sanctuary was packed: old and young, black and white, all sat together. Participatory singing and clapping shook the pews. One woman just kept reaching for the heavens. The mood was so vibrantly joyous that it was hard to believe we were sitting in the spot where four little girls were killed for the “crime” of being black.

Right across the street from the church is Kelly Ingram Park, where Birmingham police and their attack dogs famously clashed with civil rights protestors. Today, the park is calm and beautifully manicured, but menacing dogs — in the form of sculptures — lie in wait, ready to pounce. Watching over everything is a statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. and a sculpture of two children who represent the hundreds of youths jailed for marching without a permit. Sol took it all in stride, happily pointing out the weld work that formed the dog’s joints.

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When Reb Zalman Hummed 'Home on the Range'

By James E. Ponet

I first met Zalman Schachter (not yet-Shalomi) in 1971 in Warwick, N.Y., at Kutz, a Reform Jewish camp where my wife, Elana, and I spent our first married summer as teachers and counselors. Our friend, newly ordained rabbi, Larry Kushner, had hired me along with a few other rabbinical students to work with him and his new colleague, mentor and senior rabbi in Chicago, Arnold Jacob Wolf, to staff a concluding arts program that lasted a week or two, and that culminated in a memorable visit with Zalman for the final Shabbat.

The last days of the program unfolded like this: preparation for Zalman, arrival of Zalman, being transformed by Zalman, processing Zalman. Forty-three years later, I am still processing.

His sheer physical presence, generous smile, radiating eyes, soothing melodious voice laughing, speaking, singing, his subtly accented speech that tended to voice ‘d,’ for ‘th’ reminding you that he had been uprooted and nearly killed by the Nazis, his vocabulary, hip, multilingual, contemporary, his beret, glasses, and cigarettes.

On Friday afternoon at the final pre-Shabbat workshop Zalman addressed 100 campers. He evoked God as a lonely audience of one, a lovesick atheist, awaiting our performance of lovesongs, and he told the tale of the Infinite who had reduced himself to an infinitesimal point in order to make space for Creation, and how Creation, the bride, had become estranged from her Lover. On Shabbat, he explained, they reunite. Session complete, I was stunned to see the hall full of teenagers quietly weeping. Then, at his request, I led Zalman to a phone (cell phones did not yet exist.) and stood there as this magician who seemed to speak with angels now smoked a cigarette and discussed an insurance claim with his agent. Startled by the unexpected juxtaposition of the celestial with the diurnal, I thought, for the first time consciously, one may live outside of the world and yet return to live within it.

And then Shabbat. Zalman dressed in full regalia, streimel, kapote, gartel looking strange sounding familiar, leading kiddush to the tune of “Home on the Range,” guiding us through a silent meal in which we fed each other.

At the Shabbat morning service, Zalman flows in his rainbow tallis, swooshing and swooping like a Swallow as he leads us in singing kadosh, kadosh, kadosh, holy, holy, holy.

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How To Save $163K on Jewish Day School Bill

By Uriel Heilman

Getty Images

(JTA) — When the parents of three school-age children sat down with their financial adviser to try to figure out how to minimize their anticipated private school tuition bill of $810,000 through high school, they came up with a plan that shrunk the bill by $163,000.

How’d they do it?

Well, mostly by pre-paying, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Here’s how they worked it: With tuition averaging $30,000 per year for each of their children, ages 11, 9 and 7, they figured their total bill would be $810,000 if they factored in average annual increases of 5 percent per year.

If they pre-paid, however, they’d lock in the $30,000 rate. Their adviser, Kevin Stophel, suggested they lock in only 11 years of tuition payments. For the remaining payments, they could set aside the money and out-pace the expected tuition increases with smart investments.

Stophel also had the parents establish a 2503(c) minor’s trust for each of the youngest children to allow that money to grow tax free inside those trusts.

This could be a model for day school tuition savings — for those parents who have hundreds of thousands of dollars of cash lying around to pre-pay tuition, of course.


Feeling ‘Chosen’ in Alabama

By Anne Cohen and Sigal Samuel

Anne and Sigal’s flight path. Next stop, Birmingham.

We landed in Birmingham and were hit by a wall of heat — and a Bible.

The taxi driver who ushered us from the airport to our hotel keeps a copy of the Holy Bible on his passenger seat. Welcome to Alabama.

That was tame compared to the next cab ride we took (don’t worry, this will turn into a road trip once we pick up our rental car), which was to Temple Beth-El, Birmingham’s largest Conservative synagogue. After a 40-minute wait for the Yellow Cab company, we climbed in. The conversation with our driver went something like this:

Driver: Which restaurant?
Anne and Sigal: We’re not going to a restaurant, it’s a synagogue.
So you’re Jewish?
Yes.
[long pause]
Well, I’ll say one thing about the Jewish people: You two are gorgeous!
[long pause]
Thank you!
What’s your name?
Sigal.
I knew it! I knew it was going to be a Jewish name!
It’s Hebrew for “chosen,” actually.
I was always raised like, “don’t say anything bad about the Jewish people, they’re God’s chosen people.” So I have the utmost respect.

The driver then went on to recount every encounter he has ever had with a Jew anywhere — including a stint in the Czech Republic, where he visited the concentration camp Thieresienstadt. He wants to go to Auschwitz next. After a few choice words about what he’d do to Hitler if ever the Nazi leader fell into his hands, our driver said, “Schindler’s List — that movie made me mad!”

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What Does 192-to-1 Death Toll Say About Gaza War?

By Uriel Heilman

(JTA) — The ratio of Palestinian deaths to Israeli deaths is one of the most important measurements of the Gaza war.

The toll clearly disproportionate — as of this writing, about 192:1. There are a few different ways to look at this rate.

Critics of Israel herald the lopsided figure as evidence of Israeli barbarism. But such a simplistic view misses several important points. One, the Israeli death toll is low because Iron Dome, Israel’s missile defense system, is successfully intercepting incoming rockets. The Palestinians have no defense against Israeli missiles.

Second, the ratio would be more lopsided if Israel were trying to kill Palestinian civilians. But by most accounts it’s trying not to do that. This is the most important element in interpreting the death toll: While Hamas measures its success by how many Israelis it is able to kill, Israel measures its success in part by how few Palestinian civilians it kills.

So how is Israel doing compared to previous Israel-Hamas battles? The Palestinian death toll is much lower than it was in 2008-’09, when a ground invasion preceded by an air campaign resulted in some 1,150 Palestinian deaths over three weeks. But the Palestinian casualty count now isn’t too different from November 2012, when an eight-day air campaign resulted in an estimated 158-177 Palestinian deaths.

The Israeli death rate, meanwhile, is down significantly — from 13 in 2008-’09 and six in 2012 to one so far in nine days of fighting.


Where's Jewish Fury Over Tariq Abu Khdeir Beating?

By Emily L. Hauser

Tariq Abu Khdeir is hugged by his mother following his beating in East Jerusalem / Getty Images

I have no idea what Tariq Khdeir was doing on the day he was savagely beaten.

I have no idea if — like the American high school student in my own home – Tariq woke up late and lazy, because that’s what vacation’s like. Maybe he slipped on headphones as he reached for his cell, checking his texts or the World Cup stats. Maybe he jumped straight out of bed. Maybe he lay quietly under the covers, trying desperately not to remember his cousin Muhammad’s voice, not to envision his grisly murder, not to hear the sobbing of his family.

Maybe Tariq Khdeir woke up filled with sorrow and helplessness. Maybe he woke up filled with rage. All those years in American schools, walking American streets, hearing about what life was like for his cousins in East Jerusalem, and then there he was, right in the house, with wailing family and shattered hearts. Maybe Tariq wanted to at least see Palestinians fighting back in his cousin’s name, just to see the rocks thrown, just to see the anger and maybe some fear on the other side.

Maybe Tariq Khdeir wrapped his head in a red-and-white checked keffiyeh because he’d been warned not to go out, and he didn’t want to get busted. Maybe he wrapped his head because he didn’t want to be recognized by police. Maybe he got out there and, like many angry young men before him, felt the power of rage surging through the streets and his own veins and picked up a rock. Maybe Tariq Khdeir threw some rocks — he says he didn’t, but for the sake of argument, let’s imagine he did. Grief and fury can muddle the minds of even straight-A students.

I don’t know what Tariq Khdeir did that day, or how he felt, or what he was thinking, but here’s what I do know: He went out to the streets. He was at a protest that had shaded into riot, and his head was wrapped in a keffiyeh. And two Israeli police officers, broad of chest and fully armed, grabbed him – a slight 15-year-old boy — and dragged him to where they believed they would not be seen, and they beat the ever-loving daylights out of him. They held him down. They kicked him. They hit him. They took turns. They broke his nose. They blackened and bloodied his eyes. They held him down and beat him.

Tariq didn’t have a weapon in his hand or on his person. He’d been separated from whoever he’d been with. Whatever he may or may not have done in the moments before the now infamous video of fists and feet raining down on his body, Tariq Khdeir was not any threat, of any kind, to those who pushed him to the ground and raised their boots.

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8 Best Jewish Road Trips

By Anne Cohen and Sigal Samuel

Editor’s Note: As part of the Forward’s Our Promised Lands project, which will cover 50 states in 50 weeks, Anne Cohen and Sigal Samuel are setting out on a Southern adventure. Over the next eight days, they will travel to Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana, so keep an eye on this blog to follow their shenanigans. To get you in the mood, here’s a brief history of Jewish road trips.

1) Joseph and Mary

He may not represent the tribe anymore, but Jesus hails from some pretty hardy Jewish road trippers. Mary and Joseph trekked the 80 miles (a 33-hour walk according to Google Maps) from Nazareth to Bethlehem with only a donkey to lighten their load. In case you’re wondering, that’s roughly the distance from New York to Philadelphia.


2) Benjamin of Tudela

Dubbed the “Jewish Marco Polo,” Tudela was a medieval Jewish traveler who visited Europe, Asia and Africa in the 12th century. In what began as a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Tudela traveled through France, Italy, Greece, Constantinople, Syria, Lebanon and what is now Israel before reaching Baghdad. After a stop in Persia, he cut through Egypt and North Africa to return to his homeland of Spain. The things you can get done when you don’t have to go through airport security!


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