Forward Thinking

Praying for Kidnapped Teens — and Israel's Sanity

By Chemi Shalev

Getty Images

(Haaretz) — Like (almost) everyone else, I hope against hope for the safe return of the three kidnapped yeshiva students. One can only imagine their nightmarish ordeal as well as the agony and anguish of the father or mother whose child has disappeared under such bone-chilling circumstances.

But it is not only the immediate families that I am concerned about. In fact, the dignified and even inspiring public appearances of the worried parents leads one to pray that they will be able to cope with the worst, if it should come to that, God forbid. But Israel - or at least large parts of Israeli society - may not be so resilient: the killing of the three boys could push us closer to the edge that we’ve been long approaching.

I am not talking security here, though that too could deteriorate in the wake of what seems to be Israel’s strategy of achieving long held objectives under the guise of searching for the missing students. And I don’t think there is much cause for concern at this point about Israel’s international image, as the world’s attention is on the World Cup in Brazil and the disintegration of Iraq and, if there’s anything left, on the ongoing turbulence in the Ukraine.

I am less focused on the tangible and more on the emotional and psychological toll of the kidnapping on the Israeli psyche. No one can deny that Israeli society has grown more insular and less tolerant, especially over the last decade: prone to bouts of self-righteousness, blind to its own transgressions, allergic to dissenting points of view. The despicable crime committed by the terrorists who carried out the kidnapping could hasten this dangerous and ongoing process.

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Twisting a Palestinian's Three-Finger Salute

By A. Daniel Roth

Arab Idol winner Mohammed Assaf, left; Palestinian student Mohammad AlQadi, right

Since the kidnapping of three Israeli teens last Thursday, the Israeli media has been engaged in a full court press to fill in the blanks and tell a compelling story — whether or not it’s true.

Today, I came across a Facebook post from Mohammad AlQadi, a Palestinian student and activist living in Lyon, France. His picture had been posted (without permission) to an article in Walla, a major online news source for Israelis. The article reports on a campaign to support the kidnappers by holding up three fingers as if to gloat that three Israelis have been abducted.

According to AlQadi, the photo of him with three fingers up was taken last year. The three fingers that he was holding up were related to last year’s Arab Idol winner Mohammed Assaf, a Palestinian singer born in Gaza. The three-finger salute in that context refers to the campaign to vote for Assaf on the show by choosing option 3.

AlQadi had been trying to get the picture taken down, which seemed to me like a normal reaction to the situation. A colleague and I also contacted Walla to tell them about the error. The photo was taken down soon after. But the problem remains.

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Who Says Hasidim Have 'Dead Eyes'?

By Shulem Deen

Hasidim walk through Williamsburg / All photos courtesy of Mo Gelber

Pro tip for anyone considering a tour of Hasidic Williamsburg: It’s not that big a deal. You do not need to wear a hat, broad-brimmed or otherwise. You may visit during the week, and you may visit on weekends. You may bring along with you whatever food you like — nobody cares. And rest assured, there is no group of Hasidic thugs waiting to attack you at the slightest sign of disrespect.

Here, on the other hand, is one thing not to do — especially if you are a gray-haired gentleman of late-middle-age: attempt to engage with eight-year-old Hasidic girls on the street without their parents’ consent, and then throw a hissy fit when the girls seem suspicious of you and your motives.

Other things not to do: gawk, objectify, belittle, and otherwise bring your prejudices and misconceptions with you. Leave those at the edge of the Williamsburg bridge, if you must, and you might choose not to pick them up on your way out.

You would think these guidelines are common sense. To some, however, they are not.

Last month, Dr. Marty Klein, a nationally renowned psychologist and sexuality expert, took a 90-minute walk around the Hasidic part of Williamsburg. After his tour, which he wrote about on his blog, he declared the most notable thing about Williamsburg: the women “have no eyes” and the children are “creepy.”

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My Life Revolves Around Kidnapped Boys

By Marcy Oster

Prayer vigil for the three missing Israeli teens / Getty Images

(JTA) — Four days into the search for three kidnapped Israeli teens, I attended a group prayer session dedicated to their safe return.

Dozens of women gathered together to read responsively psalms seeking God’s mercy and intervention before the start of our morning Jewish studies classes. Our voices broke as we prayed for the boys’ safe return, though most of us do not know the families personally.

I returned home to find my teenage daughter, who is about the same age as two of the boys and should be studying for finals, preparing to perform special mitzvot to help bring them home. My teenage son returned home from school and immediately ran off to participate with the community’s youth in special prayers on behalf of the captives.

It is amazing how quickly the rhythm of our lives and our daily schedules has begun to revolve around the three teens, including one dual Israeli-American citizen, who were kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists while trying to get rides home from a junction in Gush Etzion, a bloc of settlements located south of Jerusalem.

Since the abduction of Gilad Shaar, Eyal Yifrach and Naftali Frenkel, we are all checking news sources from the Web earlier and more often on our computers at work or on our phones. Even my younger children have been coming home from school and turning on the television news instead of their usual Nickelodeon. Not that some SpongeBob wouldn’t do us all some good.

I have not slept well since the boys were discovered kidnapped, and it is clear to me that none of my neighbors and friends here in Israel have either, if the times stamped on their Facebook posts are any indication. We ask each other for updates at the supermarket, at exercise class, at school pickup. We talk about our fears for the boys around the Shabbat table and at the “makolet,” or corner store. We curse their kidnappers as we pick up the kids from the pool and at the library.

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Working Toward a Transgender Vocabulary

By Dan Friedman

Elliot Kukla, first out transgender rabbi ordained by the Reform movement / Nic Coury

Reactions to the Forward’s transgender and Jewish series varied from “after a decade of acceptance, this is news?” to “the synagogues are being overrun by sex maniacs” to an attitude of open curiosity, perhaps best espoused by Sheila Rubin in Naomi Zeveloff’s piece about transgender converts:

“Look, I don’t want to embarrass you, but I need to know if you need me to call you by another name or another pronoun. I don’t want to call you by your old name if that is going to hurt you.”

It is in answer to her question that I suggested we provide a glossary to our new Ebook (also available in print edition) “Transgender and Jewish”. After all, we try to explain Jewish terms like Torah (the Five Books of Moses or, metonymically, the word of God or, more broadly, wisdom), bimah (central dais or stage from which synagogue services are led) or aliyah (literally “ascent” it means taking up Israeli citizenship and going to live in Israel or being called up to the bimah to read the Torah).

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Why #BringBackOurBoys Is the Perfect Hashtag

By Mordechai Lightstone

A picture tweeted from Matisyahu’s Twitter feed

In writing about the decision to adapt #BringBackOurBoys as the virtual call to action for the three kidnapped Israeli students — Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaer and Naftali Frankel — Sigal Samuel expresses her regret that the hashtag appropriates the call to action for the 200 Nigerian school girls captured by Boko Haram.

While I do not know Samuel personally, her presence online has struck me as one of a person with at least her fair share of Internet savvy.

When searching for a hashtag, those activists looking to raise awareness for the three captured teens must have found the current hashtag had a lot to offer: It has instant recall in the mind of the public, playing off of a rallying call we are already familiar with, and is helped with an extra dose of alliteration to boot.

What’s more, to those creating the hashtag at least, the comparison of kidnapping students by a terrorist group seemed to be a common theme between the two hashtags.

One must ask Samuel, aren’t cross-appropriation and meta-reference the lifeblood of any meme?

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Maharat Graduation Surprised Me — Twice

By Jerome A. Chanes

Last year’s Maharat graduation ceremony / Robert Kalfus

Two dramatic moments punctuated yesterday’s graduation ceremony of the New York-based Yeshivat Maharat, the rabbinical academy for Orthodox women, which ordained its second class of women who will serve Orthodox communities as poskot — halakhic decisors and advisors. They were granted the title “Maharat,” and acronym for Manhiga Hilkhatit Rukhanit Toranit, “one who is teacher of Jewish law and spirituality.”

The first moment was that of Maharat founder and former dean Rabbi Avi Weiss, who, in the course of his remarks to the graduates, twice invoked the word “semikha,” the normative ordination granted to those who have completed the prescribed course of study in mainstream yeshivot or with respected rabbinic authorities. “Semikha,” in the context of Maharat and like academies, is a hot-button word to the Jewish religious establishment, especially to the institutional structures of the Modern Orthodox communities — and especially to the Rabbinical Council of American (RCA) — which do not accept the ordination of women in the Orthodox communities.

The use of the word “semikha” is a sensitive matter. The RCA and other Orthodox rabbinic bodies view with dread the idea of granting the semikha ordination to women. (Forget about women; the RCA will not permit male musmachim (ordinees) of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, Avi Weiss’s Open Orthodoxy yeshiva, to join the organization, thereby depriving YCT graduates of the “union-card” necessary to assume pulpits in many Orthodox communities.)

The Maharat curriculum, however, is modeled on those of mainstream yeshivot, and would seem to pass muster, at least educationally, in the Modern Orthodox world. Included in Maharat is intense study of the first section of Yoreh De`ah, the volume of authoritative halakhic text that addresses the intricate questions of the manifold aspects of kashrut — standard fare for semikha in yeshivot. In the words of YCT faculty member Rabbi Ysoscher Katz, “You could superimpose Chaim Berlin on Maharat without rough edges.”

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News Quiz: The One with Mila Kunis and the Mock Katz's Deli

By Lenore Skenazy

Getty Images

This week brings us Mila Kunis, Katz’s Deli and, yes, a schmaltz joke. Always with the schmaltz jokes.

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Presbyterians: Choose Impact Investing Over BDS

By Julie Hammerman

Members of the Presbyterian Church in Ohio attend a service in 2012 / Getty Images

Since the Presbyterian Church’s General Assembly convened in Detroit on June 14, attendees have been preparing to vote on a resolution to divest from Israel-related investments. If we can assume the goal of the Presbyterian Church is to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians, attendees should consider a better alternative: Rather than divesting from Israel, they should invest in ways that can improve the situation.

Historically, divestment has been used by socially responsible investors, but it is not effective in promoting compromise between two parties. Instead, a popular new approach called “impact investing” holds much more promise. Impact investors see a challenge in the world, such as climate change or poverty, and proactively pursue investments that attempt to remedy the problem — for example, clean energy or microfinance.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an enormous challenge, but so far investors have had very little positive impact on efforts to reach a peaceful solution. The divestment resolutions sponsored by the BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) campaign damage any real prospects for peace. This one-sided approach targets Israel alone, despite the fact that both sides play a role in the prolonged conflict. BDS does nothing but exacerbate tensions, and creates a new avenue for non-military warfare between the parties instead of creating new avenues for cooperation.

Many BDS proponents are not peace activists seeking a negotiated agreement, but rather anti-Israel activists seeking the elimination of the Jewish homeland. Unfortunately some investors who genuinely want peace have become beguiled by the BDS campaign’s rhetoric.

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I'm a Rabbi and I Support Presbyterians' Partial Israel Divestment

By Margaret Holub

Jewish divestment advocates at the Presbyterian Church’s General Assembly in 2012 / JVP

A few years ago I was walking in the woods with a friend, a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church in Cape Town, South Africa. The Dutch Reformed Church was the leading promulgator of apartheid in South Africa, and they upheld the odious doctrine both politically and religiously almost to its end. I asked my friend what, with two decades’ hindsight, he wished his church had done differently during the apartheid years.

He replied sorrowfully, with a shake of his head: He wished his church had been willing to heed the words of rebuke of other religious communities around the world. But, he said regretfully, it was so very difficult to listen to these messages of chastisement when they felt so alone in the world.

As a rabbi who has studied in Israel and spent extended time in Israel and the West Bank over the past thirty years, witnessing first-hand some of the cruel details of Israel’s occupation, I was powerfully challenged by my friend’s words.

This week the Presbyterian Church-USA will be voting on an “overture” — their term — which is really a culmination of ten years of corporate engagement calling out three multinational corporations that manufacture equipment making it possible for the government of Israel to subjugate the people of Palestine: Hewlett-Packard, Motorola Solutions and Caterpillar.

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I'm Making Aliyah Days After Israelis' Kidnapping

By Dasee Berkowitz

The three kidnapped Israelis / Twitter

The kidnapping of three Israeli teens from the Gush Etzion area is especially poignant for us now as it (and please God, their safe return) is the lead story in the weeks leading up to my family’s aliyah in 12 days.

My obsession over the past six months — since we announced to our congregation that we are moving to Israel — has been quotidian: shrinking our possessions to fit into a Jerusalem apartment, finding schools and camps for our three kids, transitioning the work that we have done in Sag Harbor to the new rabbinical team and deciding which of my children’s artistic creations from nursery and kindergarten should be framed.

The existential reasons for moving — “being a part of the most important Jewish project of the 21st century,” the fact that in Israel “Jewish holidays are just the holidays” and that my children will be fluent in Hebrew after months — are part of the greater narrative of our decision to make aliyah that we tell our congregants and ourselves. That Israel is a dangerous place to live and raise a family is the darker underside of the story, which we barely mention.

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Why Israel's #BringBackOurBoys Is Offensive

By Sigal Samuel

Natan Sharansky holds up a #BringBackOurBoys sign on behalf of the Jewish Agency / Twitter

What’s in a hashtag?

Soon after news broke about the three kidnapped Israeli teens who went missing in the West Bank on Thursday night, Israel supporters began using #BringBackOurBoys to signal their desire to see the students safely returned to their homes. That hashtag made the Internet rounds with amazing speed. It filled first my Twitter feed, then my Facebook feed, and finally my email inbox.

I wish it hadn’t.

Not because #BringBackOurBoys was quickly appropriated by pro-Palestinian activists who used it to highlight the plight of Palestinian boys detained or killed by Israel — that was predictable enough — but because the Israeli use of the hashtag was itself an appropriation.

I’m talking, of course, about the #BringBackOurGirls campaign launched to help find Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by radical terrorist group Boko Haram in April.

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On Father’s Day, Let's End Violence Against Women

By Menachem Creditor

Jodie Rivas, 23, shows scars caused by stab wounds in Nicaragua / Getty Images

What does it mean to be a man in the world? This question looms large in public life, especially on the heels of Twitter’s recent #YesAllWomen campaign — a social media initiative that drew attention to the prevalence of violence, harassment and discrimination against women around the globe. On Father’s Day, it weighs heavily on my mind. This day should serve as a powerful moment for us to ask ourselves and each other, as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel did in the title of his Stanford University lecture series, “What is a Man?”

I am a father of two daughters and a son. Tragically, the likelihood that my daughters will encounter violence in their lifetimes is extremely high, and it fills me with anger and fear, concern and worry.

A few sobering facts: According to a 2013 global review of available data, 35% of women worldwide have experienced intimate-partner violence or non-partner sexual violence; national violence studies show that up to 70% of women have at some point experienced violence from an intimate partner; and more than 64 million girls worldwide are child brides.

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Kidnapped Students Could've Been Us

By Phil Getz

Phil Getz, center, relaxes with fellow yeshiva students in Gush Etzion several years ago

Like many students and graduates of Israeli yeshiva, I have been refreshing my computer browser non-stop since Friday morning looking for any sign of hope for the three Israeli teenage boys who were kidnapped on Thursday evening.

For those of us who studied at any of the yeshivas or seminaries in Gush Etzion, the news has particular resonance. According to Haaretz, the teens “disappeared late Thursday night between Kfar Etzion and the settlement Alon Shvut” apparently while hitchhiking near the Gush Etzion junction.

I must have hitchhiked from that very spot several hundred times, not infrequently on Thursday nights, which is a popular night to travel. And so has every other yeshiva student in the area.

We all knew, as I’m sure these teens did, which cars to enter and which to avoid as they approached on the hilly road. Sometimes there were Israeli security forces in the area, sometimes not.

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Remembering the Rebbe, 20 Years Later

By Julie Wiener

WIkipedia

(JTA) — It has been two decades since the death of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the rebbe whose influence was felt far beyond the Chabad-Lubavitch hasidic sect he led.

Within hours after the long-ailing Schneerson, more commonly known as “the rebbe,” died at age 92, JTA reporters visited Crown Heights, the Brooklyn neighborhood where Chabad is based, to report on the scene there:

All along Eastern Parkway, Crown Heights’ main drag and the site of Chabad headquarters, “the sound of tambourines and chants of ‘Melech ha-Moshiach” — the Chasidic movement’s call for the biblically prophesied Messiah — could be heard.”

Meanwhile, in Israel:

Crowds of Lubavitcher Chasidim mobbed Ben-Gurion International Airport, offering to pay cash for any ticket that might get them to the funeral. El Al Israel Airlines scheduled an extra flight on a jumbo jet for some 450 of the rebbe’s followers. But neither El Al nor any of the foreign airlines that serve Israel had other craft they could divert for the thousands who thronged into the departure area.

While attendance at the burial, in a Queens cemetery, was restricted, JTA described the “emotional scene earlier in Crown Heights” as an estimated 35,000 people gathered “under overcast skies” outside Lubavitch headquarters in hopes of catching a glimpse of the rebbe’s coffin:

When the plain pine coffin appeared, the scene became one of emotional mayhem, with women wailing and men pressing forward to touch it. The 350 police who were on the scene could barely contain the surging crowds, and the pallbearers had difficulty getting the coffin into a waiting hearse. Despite the sudden rush to the coffin from the sea of black-hatted mourners, no injuries were reported. The crowds walked behind the slowly moving vehicle, which led them on a processional through the Crown Heights neighborhood. Some 50 buses were waiting to take some of the rebbe’s followers to the cemetery after the procession was over. Among the dignitaries present at Lubavitch headquarters were New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani; Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of Israel’s opposition Likud bloc; Gad Yaacobi, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations; Colette Avital, Israeli consul general in New York; and Lester Pollack and Malcolm Hoenlein, the chairman and executive vice chairman respectively of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

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No, LGBT Inclusion Isn't Just Window-Dressing

By Idit Klein

Transgender Jews celebrate Shabbat at a California synagogue

My friend and colleague Jay Michaelson’s op-ed “Include Me Out of This Jewish Community” calls into question the value and utility of “LGBT inclusion” in the mainstream Jewish community. I agree with some of Michaelson’s overarching points that being included in the mainstream without participating in fundamental change lacks meaning. But my experiences working for full equality and inclusion for LGBT Jews for the past 14 years as Executive Director of Keshet have led me to a radically different conclusion than Michaelson’s.

I do not believe that inclusion of LGBT people simply translates to the status quo with queer window-dressing. When LGBT Jews get a seat at the table, we have the chance to change not just the seating order, but the very structure of the table itself.

When a transgender rabbinical student is brought on as the rabbinic intern at a traditional Conservative shul, the look, feel and structure of the institution starts to shift.

When a Jewish film festival turns to a transmasculine Keshet leader who grew up poor to speak on a panel about Israeli women’s films, I see rigid conceptions of gender start to soften.

When a federation hosts a Keshet program and our staff explain why we are putting “All-Gender” bathroom signs up, the Jewish establishment begins to look different.

This month, I will be speaking at several Pride Shabbat services around the country and will challenge the congregations I meet to think critically about who is absent from their community and why; who is seen and who remains invisible. When people remain engaged in these conversations, the gulf between the margins and the mainstream begins to close. I believe LGBT Jews can change the Jewish community from the inside out. It is happening already.

Idit Klein is the Executive Director of Keshet.


Israel Loves Gay Cash — Just Not Gay Marriage

By Emily L. Hauser

Israelis take part in Jerusalem’s annual gay pride parade in 2011 / Getty Images

What do you reckon is the busiest time of year for Tel Aviv’s hotels — maybe the High Holidays? Perhaps Christmas/New Year’s, when America’s families are on vacation? How about Gay Pride Week?

Bingo!

With the annual Gay Pride parade scheduled for this Friday, Tel Aviv’s hotels are doing booming business, and anyone who didn’t book a room in advance is probably out of luck.

The Marker, Haaretz’s daily business section, reported on Wednesday that

Tel Aviv’s Gay Pride parade… is expected to bring 5,000-7,000 gay and lesbian tourists to the city…. Hotel occupancy rates are high, with prices rising accordingly.

… “[Gay tourists] live well and they eat well, in particular they eat healthier,” says Omer Miller, co-owner of [two Tel Aviv restaurants] that fly the pride flag every year. “Gay tourists also leave really big tips. Not every tourist in Israel comes to celebrate; [Pride Week visitors] really come for a week of partying.”

… According to a hotel manager in the city, “It’s the busiest time of the year…. There are guests who made reservations six months ago. I’ve known for three months that I’m completely full.”

City Hall has gotten in on the act, cooperating with local hotels to promote Tel Aviv as a gay travel destination, not least because — unlike visitors who come on pilgrimage — Pride tourists tend to stay in boutique hotels, rent cars and go shopping. Moreover, life on the Mediterranean presents an opportunity for year-round event planning that’s impossible in Europe. If Tel Aviv plays its cards right, folks who visit in June might very well come back in January.

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WATCH: Project X, Or Eternal Sunshine of the Palestinian Mind

By Sigal Samuel

Samer Bisharat, star of Oscar-nominated “Omar,” in Project X / YouTube

If you’ve ever seen the movie “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” you’ll immediately be reminded of it after watching the newly released short film “Project X.” The basic plot is the same. Except instead of Jim Carrey trying to erase Kate Winslet from his memory, you get an 18-year-old Palestinian who’s having the memory of his girlfriend forcefully taken from him — by a team of Israeli doctors.

Why are the docs trying to rid the Palestinian protagonist of this girl? Because the memory of her keeps him from doing what they so desperately want him to do: enlist in the Israeli army.

The teen is approached earlier on by an Israeli army recruiter (trying really, really hard to sound like a native Arabic speaker — and failing), who tries to sell him on military service by promising it’ll “open a million doors.” In return for his service, he’ll get “a backbone that no one will mess with.” Also: “Land — land that you’ll own.” Imagine!

Still, the Palestinian resists. And because he resists, he ends up on an operating table, where Israeli doctors who specialize in “brain programming” are tasked with making him more amenable to the state’s demands. They succeed: Stripped of the memory of his girlfriend, who was always telling him that “this is not the way for us,” he ends up a soldier in uniform — with his own people’s blood on his hands.

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In Cantor vs. Cantor Feud, a Liberal Kvells

By Hody Nemes

Dan Cantor, right, isn’t exactly broken up over the political demise of the man who shares his last name.

Not all Cantors are mourning over House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s stunning fall from political power.

Dan Cantor, the national director of the progressive Working Families Party, shamelessly celebrated the downfall of the man who shares his last name (and little else).

The GOP Jew’s loss “should not be seen as a referendum on Cantors everywhere — only on right-wing ones,” Dan Cantor said in a statement.

“Progressive Cantors are seeing more success than ever,” the politically liberal Cantor continued. “Eric, this means you’re bringing the barbecue grill to the next family picnic.”

The Cantor nemeses are not related, but both are Jewish. All the more reason to celebrate, according to the WFP leader.

“He’s the only Jewish Republican in congress,” Cantor told the Forward. “Now there are zero – which is better for us all.”

The Republican Congressman lost his seat in a June 10 primary upset by Tea Party favorite Dave Brat.

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Eric Cantor Killed By Monster He Helped Create

By Jay Michaelson

Jewish Republican Eric Cantor campaigning in 2012 / Nathan Guttman

Nineteen months ago, on the eve of the 2012 elections, I asked the following question in these pages about Tea Party Conservatives and neo-conservatives like Eric Cantor: “Who’s using whom?”

That question may never be answered. But like Dr. Frankenstein, Rep. Cantor has just been killed by the monster he helped create.

The monster, of course, is the Tea Party. For years, Cantor — a conservative, but not an extremist — has been feeding this beast a regular diet of anti-Obama, anti-immigrant, and anti-gun-control rhetoric…when it suits him to do so. Many of Cantor’s Jewish supporters have basically tried to assure us that he doesn’t really mean this stuff, and is only saying it to get elected.

Unfortunately for Cantor, that’s exactly what many Virginia Republicans came to believe as well.

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