Forward Thinking

Haredi Editorial Unifies Israel on Memorial Day

By Nathan Jeffay

Ultra-Orthodox Israelis stand for the Yom Hazikaron siren / Vimeo

Israeli unity made a big leap forward today, on the national memorial day for fallen soldiers.

Normally, Yom Hazikaron, one of the most emotionally-charged days in the calendar, gives rise to anger from the general population towards the ultra-Orthodox community, which is considered disrespectful toward the day.

A siren sounds nationally twice on memorial day, and activities grind to a halt. However, each year Haredim are spotted and caught on camera ignoring the siren, believing that as their community doesn’t serve in the army they don’t need to observe it.

Normally, the media is dominated today by images of Haredim disrespecting the siren. But not this year. The national Haredi newspaper Hamodia, which has a panel of influential rabbis determining policy, ran an editorial urging readers to observe the siren. The piece (not available online) urged Haredim to “honor and perpetuate” the memory of the fallen.

It addressed the perennial comeback: Yes to commemoration, but observing a siren is a “gentile way” and therefore against Jewish law. Hamodia didn’t buy in to this argument, but did say that those who do should stay at home while ignoring it, so they don’t cause offense to others.

And so Yom Hazikaron was a less divisive day this year than normal. The images that made the rounds weren’t the usual ones of Haredim ignoring the siren, but rather images like the one above, of them respecting it.


7 Things Missing from Israel’s Facebook Movie

By Sigal Samuel

If Israel had a Facebook account, what would it look like?

The answer can be found in a Facebook “look back” movie promoted ahead of Israeli Independence Day and made by Todd Zeff of Jerusalem U, an institution that uses film to strengthen young Jews’ connection to Israel.

Or, I should say, an answer. If only that answer weren’t so incomplete.

In the video, we see Israel “join” Facebook in 1948, followed by “first moments” that anachronistically include young pioneers farming the land (1938) and a Hagana Ship bringing immigrants to British Mandatory Palestine (1942).

We’re then treated to Israel’s “most liked posts,” ranging from Herzl’s “If you will it, it is no dream” to David Ben-Gurion’s “We extend the hand of peace and good-neighborliness to all the states around us.”

Israel’s photos include a lot of grainy black-and-white nostalgia shots. Then, in color, we see an Ethiopian kid with Israeli flags and a family of smiling white Jewish immigrants fresh off an El-Al plane.

But what don’t we see in this video?

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Why Ruth Messinger's Granddaughter Is Also Her Roommate

By Ruth Messinger and Francesca Sternfeld

Francesca Sternfeld and Ruth Messinger / Courtesy of the authors

So, imagine sharing a large apartment with someone else who loves life, enjoys good food, cooks well, reads intensively and extensively [but not always the same material] and is not always but often willing to hear about your day or your life and offer wise advice. Those of us who throw ourselves into our work and our studies as we do need just such a person to share with, to collapse with and to consult at the end of what are often very long days.

Well, here we are, eight months in and planning on an ongoing shared living relationship over the next year or two. We each cherish the benefits and find few challenges and no obstacles. The fact that we are grand-daughter and grandmother is an added plus, but a very big one; it brings us together at a point in our lives when we might otherwise not be so connected — something which happens all too often and is a sad consequence of our modern lives.

New York, of course, is the key. Ruth has lived here almost all of her life, adores the West Side, travels a lot for work, but relishes coming home. And Francesca grew up elsewhere [Salt Lake City and Miami], had a few college years near the City, knew what it offered in terms of people, culture and food and decided on a visit a year ago that this was where her body and soul needed to be. And it is a city that a 28 year old student can live in with only part time work but to be sure not easily, and not on the West Side absent a large slew of roommates.

Ruth: I have a crazy travel and work schedule, and a husband who works in Connecticut during the week. I love, love, love having a smart, thoughtful, passionate, caring housemate — the fact that she is my granddaughter is the icing on the cake. I love knowing something about her life and sharing good food, wise discussion, the New York Times and shopping suggestions. I am glad she puts up with my penchant for old movies and bad TV [better than my husband I might add]. I love having a restaurant, movie, theater companion who nudges me to neighborhoods and experiences I might otherwise miss. I love being reminded what a serious exercise regimen looks like, understanding that Francesca benefits from meditation which I still need to learn to do, seeing her build a spectacular wardrobe out of the best of two local thrift shops and learning from her about parts of the world she knows intimately that I do not — including Egypt and Italy. Together we make the world’s best granola.

And I consider it a special privilege of this particular granddaughter and our relationship that I know some things I might otherwise never know [but also not too much] about her love life. And I adore her friends who often stop by for an evening, an exercise class she teaches, a week in New York City which would otherwise not be available to them. I treasure her spectacular “listening ear” [she will make a great social worker], her capacity to draw others out, her wonderful witticisms and sense of humor and the way she has been there for me over a few tough issues.

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Now Even Winnipeg Disinvites Speakers Over Israel Politics

By Brent Sasley

Getty Images

The struggle over Israel in the Jewish community is heating up in Winnipeg, Canada. David Barnard, the President of the University of Manitoba — the city’s largest university — has been publicly un-invited to speak at one of the larger shuls in the city, Shaarey Zedek. The president was to have spoken at an interfaith service during Yom HaShoah.

He was uninvited, according to Ian Staniloff, the synagogue’s executive director, because he had allowed Israel Apartheid Week (IAW) to go ahead on the university campus. “Our board and congregation and community leaders felt it completely inappropriate that he take part,” said Staniloff, “because it’s visceral and personal and such a solemn occasion for us. We were more concerned in the perception that by having him here we’re basically endorsing him as an individual who would be representative of the community in speaking about this.” What an extremely disappointing decision.

As is often the case with these things, politics and legal maneuverings preceded IAW. It appears that the Student Union removed an organization promoting IAW, Students Against Israeli Apartheid, from official university status. Barnard did not override that decision, but he allowed an outside group to host IAW events on campus because, we are told, a legal opinion noted that preventing IAW from taking place would violate Manitoba’s human rights code.

I grew up in Winnipeg, and I watched it shift rightward in the aftermath of the Second Intifada. The image of a Palestinian rioter holding up his hands covered in the blood of two Israeli reserve soldiers whose bodies were horrifically mutilated was burned in our individual minds and our collective memory. Our community became angry, afraid, frustrated — and intolerant.

But if I thought that intolerance had diminished in the intervening years, I was wrong. To be fair, IAW is a difficult period for many. Its purpose is to demonstrate that Israel practices apartheid against Palestinians under its control, and to promote the BDS movement as a way to end these policies. As I’ve argued before, inherent to the BDS movement is the goal of ending Israel as an independent, Jewish-majority state. IAW, on this account, contributes to the delegitimization of Israel — a fully accepted member of the international system — and promotes an uncomfortable atmosphere for Jewish and non-Jewish students on campus. This is especially so at a time when anti-Semitic attacks have risen in parts of the world.

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Israeli Neighbors Fundraise for Fureidis After Attack

By Michael Kaplan

A separate but similar price tag attack in Beit Hanina in June 2013. / Haaretz

Right-wing Jewish Israelis raided Fureidis, an Arab village located just tens of miles south of Haifa, a few days ago. Under cover of night, they slashed the tires of some 20 cars and spray painted the village’s mosque with a Star of David and graffiti reading “Close mosques, not yeshivot!”

It was the second price tag attack in the area in weeks, and a sign that settler violence is increasingly spreading from the West Bank to Israel proper these days. Like so many senseless acts of violence in the region, this one is cause for deep dismay and concern.

But it also carries with it reason to feel hopeful. There’s another side to the escalation of violence, as Jews and Arabs alike push back.

A group of residents from the nearby Israeli town of Zichron Yaakov has begun to raise money for needy Arab families in response to the attack on Fureidis.

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Hawaii's Lone(ly) Jewish Republican Sam Slom

By Anthony Weiss

(JTA) — Jewish voters have long tended to skew Democratic. Which is why it’s a little surprising to note that in Hawaii’s State Senate, the Republican caucus is entirely Jewish.

In fact, there’s a lot more unanimity than that, as the LA Times noted in its highly entertaining profile of the legislative body’s minority leader, Sam Slom (pronounced to rhyme with “home”), who also happens to be its lone GOP member:

The room was filled with a dozen staffers as well as the minority leader, the GOP floor leader and the top-ranking Republican on each of 16 committees, yet in 2 ½ hours there wasn’t a whisper of dissent as Slom firmly made up his mind.

That’s because Slom holds every one of those leadership positions.

Slom’s dominance of the caucus is not the result of a reign of terror — he’s just the only Republican in the overwhelmingly Democratic state’s 25-member Senate.

(Interesting side note: When Hawaii and Alaska were admitted as states in 1959, Alaska was expected to vote Democratic, while Hawaii was thought to be solidly Republican. Times have changed.)

Jews, in fact, play a surprisingly prominent role in Hawaii politics, despite constituting less than 1% of the state’s population. One of Hawaii’s U.S. senators, Democrat Brian Schatz, is Jewish, as is a former Republican governor, Linda Lingle (who lost in her own bid for the U.S. Senate in 2012), along with three of the past five state attorney generals.

Slom leads a lonely and hectic political existence as the entirety of the Senate minority — he serves on every single one of the Senate’s committees (generally one of 5 to 7 members), and when committees meet simultaneously, Slom’s staff keeps him updated as he rushes from one meeting to another.

Slom’s colleagues sound respectful and affectionate toward him. Slom says he does get the occasional angry, drunken or even anti-Semitic phone call, but this is in large part because he publicizes his cell phone number on his Senate website.

In all, he seems to be a happy, if beleaguered, warrior. He proudly claims to hold “every indoor and outdoor NCAA record for voting no,” and when his sole Republican Senate colleague retired in 2010 and was replaced by a Democrat, Slom embraced the nickname of “The Lone Ranger,” giving a floor speech in a black cowboy hat and holding a wooden pony.

Chai Ho Silver!


Why Is Sarah Palin's Dog Named Hadassah?

By Julie Wiener

(JTA) — Is it good or bad news for Hadassah that the women’s Zionist organization, now shares a name with former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s dog?

With its Jerusalem hospital in financial crisis and its membership aging, the venerable Jewish women’s group could use any positive publicity (er PUPlicity?) it can get.

On the other hand, Palin, who Kveller reports has named her new black lab Hadassa, is not exactly a popular figure among American Jewish women — a demographic even more loyally Democratic than the American Jewish population as a whole. And, while many people adore their pets, comparing someone to a dog — especially a female one — can be insulting.

Then there’s the issue of Sarah, despite the final “h” in her own name, dropping the final “h” in christening her pup.

Let’s just say, it’s probably not going to give Hadassah the same boost the group got 14 years ago when Hadassah Lieberman, wife of another unsuccessful vice presidential candidate, came onto the public stage.


Presidents Conference Rejected J Street — and Me

By Rachel Cohen

The author, center, addresses the J Street conference in Washington in 2013 / Rachel Cohen

I’ve watched as millions and millions of dollars have been poured into youth leadership programs, summer camps, Taglit-Birthright trips and other “big initiatives” to foster identity amongst young Jews. And I’ve grown up listening to my parents’ and grandparents’ generations worrying that the Jewish community will collapse when my generation comes of age.

Well, when my friends and I, many of us products of such communal initiatives, watched as the Conference of Presidents voted to exclude J Street from their membership, we heard a loud and unambiguous message: the voices of thousands of young Jews are unwanted. It’s not very complicated: The fastest way to get Jews to disengage is through votes like this.

The Conference of Presidents vote was not a referendum on J Street representing thousands of American Jews. It was, however, a referendum on whether the Conference of Presidents wishes to be a relevant and representative body to American Jews.

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The IDF's First Digital Rebellion

By Gili Cohen and Amos Harel

Israeli soldiers support a comrade punished for pointing a gun at a Palestinian teen / Facebook

(Haaretz) — The almost routine clip of a violent clash between a soldier and Palestinians in Hebron that took the Internet by storm recently reveals much about the IDF’s procedure in the West Bank in the era of social networks.

On the one hand, a considerable number of incidents of the kind that weren’t documented in the past are now photographed and published. On the other, the soldiers − who hadn’t taken any part in the debate in the past − now express their opinion blatantly on the net, siding with the soldier who got into trouble.

The Jewish settlement in the heart of Hebron is the most documented place in the territories. A few years ago B’Tselem, The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, as well as other human right and leftist organizations, distributed video cameras to Palestinian residents for documenting the soldiers’ and settlers’ violent acts. Beit Hadassah’s close, bad neighborhood with Tel Rumeida provides fertile ground for incidents worth filming − from brutal acts of violence to futile arguments over raising a Palestinian flag.

The army carefully prepares every battalion posted in the city for similar events. Soldiers are trained in simulated events, with soldiers playing Palestinians and settlers. They are even warned of the damage a hand blocking a camera lens can do to the army’s image. Yet every battalion falls into the same media pitfalls.

In this case, a Nahal Brigade soldier was video-taped fighting with a number of young Palestinians. One of the youngsters provoked the soldier and put his hand on him. The soldier told him: “You’d better not do that again.” A clash evolved and when another Palestinian approached, the soldier cocked his gun, pointed it at them and tried to kick one of them. Then he turned to the Palestinian photographer, swore at him and threatened him: “Turn off the camera, I’ll stick a bullet in your head you son of a bitch.”

In the background other Palestinians and settlers are seen, including a girl who tried to stop the camera’s action.

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How Young Is Too Young for Shoah Education?

By Nathan Jeffay

Getty Images

Israel’s Education Ministry has left Israeli parents asking how young is too young when it comes to Holocaust education.

Yesterday, on the Israeli Holocaust memorial day, Yom Hashoah, kindergartens began following a new government directive to teach the Holocaust. But is this really the right decision?

First, it’s not just that every parent has different ideas on the right age for Shoah education, but every child is different and ready for this kind of highly emotive issue at a different age. A government directive sets the start-age for Shoah education, to be conducted collectively, and sets it very young. But surely it would be better to leave it to parents to judge the right time for their child, raise it when they see fit, and then let the education system take over at an older age.

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Can 'New Israel' in Texas Solve Mideast Crisis?

By Anthony Weiss

Cowboy boots with Star of David / Congressional candidate Allan Levene

(JTA) — With the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations floundering, it may, perhaps, be time to consider an entirely different kind of two-state solution. One that involves the State of Texas.

Congressional candidate Allan Levene is proposing to cut the Gordian Knot of Middle East peace by creating a second State of Israel on the eastern coast of Texas, which he would call New Israel. The idea, briefly, is to take (through eminent domain) roughly 8,000 square miles of sparsely populated land bordering the Gulf of Mexico and give it to Israel as a second, non-contiguous part of the State of Israel. Israel would get the land only if it agrees to withdraw to its pre-1967 borders.

Israel wins because it would gain a new, peaceful territory far from the strife of the Middle East, in a place where, as Levene suggests, “the climate is similar,” and Israel could “have access to the Gulf of Mexico for international trade.” The U.S. wins because it would no longer need to send Israel billions of dollars a year in foreign aid. Texas wins because of all the construction jobs from building an entirely new state within its borders. The Palestinians win because they get the West Bank, and because now Israel, too, gets to see just how fun it is to have a non-contiguous state. Everybody wins!

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News Quiz: Seth Meyers and Franz Kafka in One Quiz

By Lenore Skenazy

Seth Meyers, Alicia Silverstone and Franz Kafka all in one bizarre, confounding quiz? It’s like something out of…oh, never mind.

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Ugly Truth Behind Donald Sterling's Racist Rant

By Eliyahu Fink

L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling watches team play in NBA game / Haaretz

(Haaretz) — I am doubly embarrassed by Donald Sterling’s contemptible, racist comments that surfaced this week. Once as an Angeleno and a second time as a Jew. Indeed, the world’s most racist basketball franchise owner is one of our own. Worse, in the course of his rantings, Sterling attempts to justify his racism by invoking his people and our homeland.

DS: It’s the world! You go to Israel, the blacks are just treated like dogs.

V: So do you have to treat them like that too?

DS: The white Jews, there’s white Jews and black Jews, do you understand?

V: And are the black Jews less than the white Jews?

DS: A hundred percent, fifty, a hundred percent.

V: And is that right?

DS: It isn’t a question - we don’t evaluate what’s right and wrong, we live in a society. We live in a culture. We have to live within that culture.

My initial reaction was outrage and disgust. How dare this despicable human being lie about his fellow Jews and Israeli culture to hoodwink his girlfriend into believing that it is acceptable to mistreat black people? I was outraged. After all, black Jews are obviously not treated like dogs. White Jews do not really think that black Jews are less than white Jews. Preposterous! The nerve of that man!

Then I realized that, while Sterling’s choice of words was inelegant and imprecise, he wasn’t lying. Too often, white Jews do treat black Jews poorly. We do have a bit of a race problem in our communities.

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We Still Don't Know How To Teach the Holocaust

By Leah Bieler

A Jewish boy wears a yellow star like those forced on Jews during the Holocaust / Getty Images

“So, children, tell me how you came to Theresienstadt.”

Thus began my seventh grade intro to Shoah education. Not that we hadn’t been learning about the Holocaust for most of our day school careers. There was the yearly replica of Yad Vashem, where each grade was responsible for a booth, countless Holocaust-themed books and reports, and the rite of passage that we liked to call, “create a board game based on the book Night by Elie Wiesel.”

All this was by way of introduction to a week-long role play where the teacher had us pretend to be children in the famous Czech camp. The chain link fence around the tennis court was a visual approximation of barbed wire. Those years of investigation into all things Nazi had given us ample material for creating our “in the camps” personas. Every one of us had spent hours pondering how we would have fared had we been in Germany during Kristallnacht, or Warsaw in the ghetto. Or Auschwitz. We had imagined how we would react if our fathers disappeared. We wondered if we would have been brave enough to fight with the partisans. If our instinct for self-preservation would have allowed us to look out for ourselves at the expense of others.

Our fantasies had a color – black and white like the newsreels we saw, little bits of brown from flashes of the mini-series Holocaust, which aired when we were six or seven, and still our parents let us watch. And so it was that when the teacher announced we would be pretending to be in Terezin for the next few days, it was startlingly easy to make the shift. Even the classroom and our colorful early eighties outfits seemed to fade to a dull gray. Our ever-present nightmares were becoming reality, and it was almost a relief, at last, to know it was finally happening.

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5 Reasons Israel Was Smart — Not Right — To Kill Peace Talks

By Sigal Samuel

Getty Images

For Benjamin Netanyahu, timing is a beautiful thing.

When Mahmoud Abbas announced the formation of a Fatah-Hamas unity government on Wednesday, Bibi knew he had it made. He pulled out of the peace talks on Thursday, doing the smartest possible thing at the smartest possible moment. Not the wise thing, not the morally right thing — but, strategically speaking, the smart thing. Here’s why.

1. Abbas gave Israel the perfect out, at the perfect moment

The deadline for U.S.-brokered peace talks — April 29 — was looming, and it really looked as if John Kerry’s endeavor was going to come to an end with a whimper. If that were to happen, Israel would come out looking pretty bad, what with the ongoing settlement building and merciless mocking of Kerry that have characterized its participation in the process.

But then, all of a sudden, Abbas announced something nobody was expecting: a unity accord with — Hamas! Hamas, the internationally recognized terrorist group! What could be easier to condemn? Could anyone have imagined a better excuse to call it quits? It was almost too good to be true.

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Obama's Peace 'Pause' Spells Victory for Bibi

By Emily L. Hauser

Getty Images

There’s a lot of talk about what Barack Obama and John Kerry should, or can, or might, or won’t do in support of the two-state Israeli-Palestinian peace that has been a stated American policy goal for many, many years, following the collapse of talks. On Friday morning, we learned that Obama has suggested a “pause” in negotiations, to give the parties a chance to consider their futures without an agreement.

If history is any guide, though, we know exactly what the U.S. will do at this juncture: Nothing.

Or, more precisely, if history is any guide, the U.S. will continue to do more of the same. The U.S. will more than likely continue to put more pressure on the Palestinians (who have less to give and less autonomy with which to give it) and almost none on Israel (which is the side with a state-of-the-art military and a whole lot of bulldozers). If history is any guide, the U.S. will continue to allow Israel to undermine American interests in the region with its continued rejectionist policies and actions, and while it’s true that the U.S. may make noises that get Israel’s political class wound up, bottom line, history tells us that there will be no consequences for Israel’s building on Palestinian land or killing of Palestinian civilians. None.

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Is Israel Playing Into Hands of Hamas?

By Nathan Jeffay

Palestinians celebrate new Fatah-Hamas unity // Getty Images.

A few days ago, Israel was engaged in a bitter blame game with the Palestinians, with each side accusing the other of being responsible for sabotaging peace talks. Now, Israel is competing for recognition as the party that brought the flagging talks to an end.

The Palestinians aren’t prepared to extend talks beyond their deadline on Tuesday unless Israel fulfils certain criteria which the right-wing government is Jerusalem is set against, including a release of the Palestinian prisoners who were scheduled to be freed in late March and a building freeze.

But Jerusalem is apparently not content that the talks would come to an end because of Palestinian refusal to renew them, and announced yesterday that it is walking away. Israel declared that it is suspending talks, due to its fury about the reconciliation accord which the Palestinian Authority and its rival, Hamas, have just signed.

The declaration is strange. Israel is taking a principled stance not to take part in peace talks that aren’t happening. And on the grounds that rival Palestinian factions have signed a reconciliation pact, which they have done before only to fail to implement it.

And of the reconciliation does pan out, would silence not have served Israel better? By taking peace talks off the table in a scenario of real Palestinian unity, Israel has lifted from Hamas any real pressure to make tough decisions if it does make it in to a coalition within the Palestinian Authority. Is won’t need to respond to pressure from moderate Palestinians to be prepared to talk, because Israel will have closed the venue of talks.

Israel’s hardball response to Palestinian unity may play straight in to Hamas’ hands.


News Quiz: The Happiest American and a New Israeli Game Show

By Lenore Skenazy

Game shows, Hawaiians and the IDF’s new “Guardia. Is this really a Jewish news quiz? Answer the questions and find out!

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My Advice for Birthright? More Palestinians

By Michael Kaplan

Taglit-Birthright Israel

Birthright’s worried. Registrations are dwindling and young Jews are growing disinterested in the free 10-day trip to Israel.

Over a period of three years, applications have dropped more than 17%. To compensate for the downturn, the group has started to ease its “Jewish” definition and dig into its years-old wait lists. It’s also hired a marketing firm to help with outreach.

As one of those former Jewish day school students who opted against taking the trip, I can probably help Birthright save a lot of money by offering a little friendly advice — no marketing firm needed.

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Israel Hires Psychic Uri Geller To Fight Rockets

By Emily L. Hauser

Israeli psychic Uri Geller poses with a spoon that he bent in 2008 / Haaretz

Really, can you blame them? Faced with ongoing rocket fire on the citizens it’s meant to protect, Israel’s military has done the only truly reasonable thing it could do: It hired a spoon-bending mentalist named Uri Geller.

More than two decades after the first time the PLO agreed to recognize Israel in exchange for peace; a decade and a half since the PLO reaffirmed that decision three times in the space of a few months; 11 years since Israel and the PLO signed on to the U.S.-backed Roadmap to Peace; nine years since Israel pulled up stakes in Gaza and locked the door; eight years since the mini-war on Gaza (launched in a failed attempt to free Gilad Shalit) that no one remembers; five and a half years since Operation Cast Lead, launched to end rocket attacks; a year and a half since Operation Pillar of Defense, launched toward the same end — Israel has neither achieved peace nor pounded the Palestinians of Gaza into submission.

And so the rockets continue. And, of course, the Israeli military remains charged with protecting the civilian population, a thing that is genuinely very hard in the face of this particular threat, because the rockets fall sporadically, are ill-aimed, and arrive within seconds of being fired. All the military can really do, via its Home Front Command, is try to educate people how best to protect themselves.

Cue Uri Geller.

Celebrity psychic Uri Geller is the beaming new face of Israeli disaster-readiness, starring in army-sponsored TV and Internet advertisements on how to take shelter from missile attacks or earthquakes.

…[The campaign] aims to keep Israelis vigilant, though public fears of any imminent war with Iran, Syria or Lebanese and Palestinian guerrillas have receded.

…In the ads, Israelis are invited to submit their location at the military’s Home Front Command website, where pre-recordings of Geller will “telepathically” inform them where and how quickly to seek cover if air-raid sirens sound.

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