An Egyptian policeman in front of the Shaar Hashamayim Synagogue in Cairo, Egypt. / Haaretz
In early April 2012, two friends and I visited the Shaar Hashamayim Synagogue in downtown Cairo to observe the first night of Passover in Egypt. The irony was too obvious to point out, and so we didn’t.
When we arrived, we joined a line that had formed in front of the building, which was guarded by roughly 20 police officers. I glanced around to see if anyone was paying attention, assuming that the sight of people entering a synagogue would cause a stir. Anti-Israel sentiment is widespread in Egypt, and opinions about the government’s relationship with Israel are often suffused with anti-Semitic rhetoric. Two years earlier, a bomb had been thrown at the building. But no one seemed to notice us.
After about ten minutes, we arrived at the front of the line, where a police officer entered our names onto a list. I didn’t like the idea of being on that list, but was pretty sure I wasn’t getting in otherwise. We walked down a corridor that opened into a massive central courtyard, adjoining a high temple wall adorned with Hebrew writing. But we weren’t going in there. Instead, we were ushered into a brightly lit room at the far end of the courtyard.
Seated around the long table in the center of the room were about 15 foreigners, most of whom were likely Jewish; representatives from the U.S. Embassy; Muslim Egyptians; a Moroccan Jewish rabbi who’d flown in from France; and Carmen Weinstein, the head of Egypt’s Jewish community. As far as I could tell, no Israelis were present.
No one welcomed us. We eventually found seats at the end of the long center table, and I waited uncomfortably for the service to begin. I supposed that at this point, in the room filled with Passover celebrants in a Cairo synagogue, I’d finally feel the gravity of the moment. But I mostly felt hungry.
Breaking the Silence
Despite the concept of the occupation being an oddly contested one in some American political circles of late, there is much to decry about Israel’s military rule over the Palestinians in the West Bank. And while some security-minded observers focus on the need for an IDF military presence to widen Israel’s narrow territorial waistline, and others see the settlement blocs as a likely eventual permanent addition to Israel anyway, many would agree that there is one place where the crimes of the occupation are particularly egregious. Many would cite Hebron, the city which, in these pages, Letty Cottin Pogrebin called a straight-out example of apartheid, as being the eye of the militarized-settler-colonial tiger.
I, too, had been looking forward, in a way that righteously indignant liberal Zionists are wont to do, to a trip to Hebron with the anti-occupation Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence a few summers ago, until our plans were stymied. The military didn’t grant us the required travel permit.
So it was with some anticipation that I arranged to speak to three American rabbinical students who attended the Breaking the Silence tour to Hebron last week under the auspices of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights. Each one drew an alarming picture of the hardships Palestinians in Hebron face living among Israeli settlers and under IDF rule. “Stark. Shocking. Ghost town. Cages around the (Palestinians’) windows,” were the words they used. Their tour wasn’t whitewashed. Their first stop was the grave of Baruch Goldstein, the notorious murderer of 29 Muslim worshippers 20 years ago.
Yet all three surprised me with the politically nuanced conclusions they drew.
As the debate over whether to pardon convicted spy Jonathan Pollard continues, the most vocal support for his release is coming from the conservative side: AIPAC, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and, most recently, families of Israeli terror victims. Meanwhile, outlets like the Forward are arguing against the release, unwilling to send the message that espionage should be punished more leniently when performed by an ally.
But the Free Pollard campaign shouldn’t be left to conservatives alone. There are several good reasons why a liberal — a liberal Zionist, a liberal Jew, or just a liberal human being — should want to see Pollard pardoned. Here are the top five.
1. It would be a basic humanitarian act.
Jonathan Pollard has already spent nearly 30 years behind bars. His health is so poor that his ex-wife fears this is the last chance to have him freed. This alone should be enough to make the case for his release on humanitarian grounds.
It has been argued that pardoning him is not the same thing as releasing him on humanitarian grounds, and that it would send the message that he did no wrong and is excused. It should be noted, however, that the act of pardon, albeit different from prison release for health reasons, does not in any way imply the prisoner’s innocence. It is an act of clemency toward an individual who is guilty. And an act of clemency is exactly what Pollard deserves.
2. Pollard shouldn’t keep paying the price for Israel’s decisions.
Pollard was not some crazy guy sneaking out NCIS classified material for the sake of it. He passed such material on to Israeli intelligence. In other words, he was part of an Israeli intelligence scheme. This is no justification whatsoever, of course. But the fact is that Pollard is now the only individual paying for a crime that involved many others, including Israeli officials.
After the scheme was revealed, there was a period of tension between the U.S. and Israel, with Washington even threatening to cut economic aid. Since then, however, the relationship between the two allies has been mended. So, if the U.S. has de facto “pardoned” Israel, why shouldn’t it pardon Pollard?
On Monday, citizens of Quebec will go to the polls to vote for a new provincial government.
Two main players are facing off in this year’s elections: the Parti Quebecois (PQ), Quebec’s nationalist party currently ruling as a minority government and led by Premier Pauline Marois, against Quebec’s Liberal Party, ousted from power in 2012 after a wave of student protests fighting proposed tuition hikes, with newly-elected leader Philippe Couillard at its head.
1,057,706 people, or 17.8% of voters, already cast their ballots during the advance voting sessions held on March 30-31, and the most recent polls put the Liberals in the lead, with the potential for a majority win.
So, why should you care?
Earlier this year, the PQ released its proposal for a Charter of Values, portrayed as a means of promoting a religiously neutral state, as well as gender equality.
Under the Charter, presented to the National Assembly as Bill 60 and spearheaded by Premier Pauline Marois and Bernard Drainville, public servants would be forbidden to wear so-called “ostentatious” religious symbols such as kippahs, hijabs, turbans or large, and prominent crosses. Smaller and less “conspicuous” objects such as earings bearing religious symbols would still be tolerated.
The Charter has been met with vocal opposition by religious and ethnic minorities who see this push for secularization as discriminatory in a province where religion has long been a touchy subject. The Jewish community in particular has been quick to denounce what it sees as a “bad solution to a non-existent problem.”
Here are a few things to keep in mind as Election Day approaches.
1. This is what will happen if the Parti Quebecois wins a majority.
The Charter of Values is the third item on the party’s electoral strategy sheet, directly below Quebec sovereignty (the issue which is essentially its primary reason for being). So, it’s fair to say that it’s a major priority.
If the Charter becomes law, Jewish doctors, lawyers, teachers, judges, police officers, government officials (need I go on?) will be forbidden to wear visible symbols that openly flaunt their religious beliefs.
But the law goes even further. Organizations that receive public funding from the Quebec government will also have to comply. Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital, for example, could no longer serve kosher food, nor could its doctors wear yarmulkes while treating patients. One PQ candidate even proposed to do away with the “Jewish” in the hospital’s name.
2. Who will this law affect?
The Jewish General Hospital in Montreal // Wikimedia Commons.
According to the latest National Household Survey (2011) there are currently 85,100 Jews living in Quebec, the majority of whom live in the Montreal area. Jews are the fifth-largest religious group in the province; Catholics are first, followed by Protestants, Muslims and Christian Orthodox.
The older and more established Jewish community in Quebec is Ashkenazi and Anglophone — meaning their first language is English. Like their American counterparts, most arrived in Canada in the late 19th century or in the aftermath of the Second World War. The growing Sephardic community, largely French-speaking, immigrated to Quebec from North Africa (in large part because of language) in the 1960s and 1970s.
Why the emphasis on language? Welcome to Quebec. Language groups retain singular importance in a region where political and social affiliation depends largely on which language you were brought up speaking. The one thing that most Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews can agree on, however, is that they hate the Charter.
Opposition to the Charter makes for unlikely allies. Ethnic and religious minorities who might not otherwise agree — Jews and Muslims among them — have joined together in the face of a common perceived threat to their fundamental religious rights.
3. Many people say they will disobey.
Muslim women protest the Charter of Values in Montreal // Claude Robillard / Flickr.
Many Jewish groups have openly declared that they will flout the Charter of Values if it becomes law. The Jewish General Hospital in Montreal released a statement in November declaring it would publically defy the law, which its staff views as “patently discriminatory.” Others have found more creative ways to protest the dreaded kippah ban: one rabbi stamped his head covering with the blue-and-white Fleur-de-lys — the province’s flag and symbol of nationalism. “I thought this would be a great way to make a positive statement,” Rabbi Yisroel Bernath told the Forward in December. “They want to ban the kippah? Let’s put a kippah on our heads!”
Protesters call for the release of Jonathan Pollard / Getty Images
So I check the homepage of the New York Times on Thursday afternoon, as I regularly do several times a day, to see a prominent story proclaiming that all the talk of freeing convicted spy Jonathan J. Pollard is dividing American Jews. “More and more American Jews say Jonathan J. Pollard should be freed, but they are unsure whether he should be used as a chit in a diplomatic transaction with Israel,” said the tout on Mark Landler’s story.
Gee, I think, maybe my editorial on this subject — which was pointed and, to some degree, contrarian — might be mentioned.
Wrong. Evidently, in the Times and in so many other venues, only men get to speak for “American Jews.”
It was my first shiva call, and it shocked me out of my wits.
Sarah, one of the residents in the Jewish retirement community where I’d been conducting seminars on world news, had passed away. A cheerful lady in her 90s, she had always brought an international aspect to our weekly discussions. I loved her. She was the kind of grandmother I always wished I’d had.
On the day of her funeral, I wore my kippah and stood with the mourners during the service at her son’s home. Afterwards, I spoke to the family members. I talked about my experiences with Sarah and about how proud she had been of her three grandsons and their achievements as musicians, writers and filmmakers.
I had met two of them before, and was impressed by their dedication to their art and their love for their grandmother, who had lived in various countries before coming to the U.S. So, after many conversations about Sarah, and after eating some traditional foods, I wanted to talk to the three sons. I asked their mother whether it would be all right if I went to join them in the basement.
“No problem,” she said, and down I went into one of the finest rec rooms I had seen, dominated by an oversized, cream-colored couch, with the lights dimmed down. The three sons — all in their 20s and early 30s — and their girlfriends, were idling on the plush family sofa. None of them got up when I walked in. They just waved, and one of the sons said, “Come and join us!”
I thought they might be watching a documentary in honor of their grandmother, or a film about Israel.
To my disgust, they were watching porn.
The Tamar drilling natural gas production platform near Israel / Getty Images
It’s now a week since the scheduled start of one of the most important energy deals in Israeli history. But the signing was called off, hasn’t been rescheduled since, and now, uncertainty hangs over the future of the deal.
Australia-based Woodside Petroleum was due to sign in Jerusalem on a 25% stake in Israel’s Leviathan natural gas field, for $2.7 billion. But Woodside clashed with the Israeli government over money, and the signing didn’t take place.
The dispute between Woodside and Israel centers around the complicated formula that will determine how much the company pays in taxes, and how quickly it will start to profit from its investment. There are further elements to the dispute, including guarantees and infrastructure.
The Israeli legal system just got its teeth back.
Much has been written about the conviction this week of Israel’s Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in a bribery trial. The reverberations of the ruling are felt far and wide.
In the political sphere, this seems to be the end of the dream which continued to linger among some Israelis that Olmert would make a political comeback soon and complete the peace deal with the Palestinians, which some say was tantalizingly close when scandal forced him from office.
But one of the most important ramifications is in the legal, not political, realm. Israel’s state prosecution was humiliated at the end of last year, when it lost its much-anticipated corruption case against politician Avigdor Lieberman.
The Jerusalem Post’s latest editorial wades into the Israel-U.S. debate over travel visas — and comes to some absurd conclusions.
The government of Israel has been trying for a while to reach an agreement with the American authorities allowing Israeli tourists to visit the U.S. for a short time without a visa. The U.S. has always refused to grant Israel such an agreement, despite the fact that most Western nations, including European countries, Australia and New Zealand, already enjoy it as participants in the Visa Waiver Program.
The American government recently explained why Israel’s request was denied: “The Department of Homeland Security and State remain concerned with the unequal treatment that Palestinian Americans and other Americans of Middle Eastern origin experience at Israel’s border and checkpoints, and reciprocity is the most basic condition of the Visa Waiver Program,” State Department spokesman Jen Psaki said March 21.
Protestors call for Jonathan Pollard to be released from prison. / Getty Images
Jonathan Pollard — the man who stole huge amounts of intelligence and gave it to Israel and has been sitting in an American prison for 30 years — has become a chip to be traded in order keep Israeli-Palestinian talks going.
Pollard is a very divisive figure: he has staunch supporters who believe that, for humanitarian reasons and because he helped beleaguered Israel, the three decades he’s spent in jail is enough. Others believe that because he was traitor who, allegedly, also tried selling intelligence to other states, he isn’t even an Israeli patriot; he was simply greedy.
Pollard has taken on a larger role in the drama of Israeli-Palestinian talks. In return for extending negotiations, according to reports, the U.S. will release Pollard and Israel will release 400 Palestinian prisoners and quietly freeze (some?) settlement building (excluding in Jerusalem). There is, rightly, a lot of disbelief about this plan. Jeffrey Goldberg thinks it means the talks are close to collapse and won’t do much in the end, anyway. Michael Cohen thinks releasing Pollard to extend talks is just stupid. I share their skepticism, but wonder if there is something more going on here. Perhaps it’s not a sign of the breakdown in talks, but a sign of their seriousness.
Don’t get me wrong — it’s not at all clear things are going well. The reported deal extends talks into 2015 — another nine months from now. Who knows what new international crisis might develop in that time to distract the Obama Administration from the Israeli-Palestinian arena. John Kerry might simply be too exhausted to keep up the pace. Spoilers in Israel or in Palestine could undermine popular support and political will. Meanwhile, the American rush to placate Benjamin Netanyahu on every issue has led to such an imbalance in talks that it wouldn’t be a surprise if the whole edifice fell over by then.
How should Jewish donor dollars get spent?
Today, the largest share of Jewish donor dollars goes to Israel-related charities, as the Forward reported last week in the first part of our series on Jewish charity finances. (Part two of the series, published today, is here.)
Are we spending too much on Israel? Or maybe too little? Should we be allocating more to other causes, like education or health?
Below, in our interactive infographic, you can indicate where you think Jewish contributions should go. Once you have adjusted the sliders to a breakdown that looks right to you, click “submit” to let us know what you think. The Forward will publish the results of this unscientific survey sometime in the next few weeks.
Once you have submitted your breakdown, click the Facebook and Twitter buttons to show your friends how you think charitable dollars should be spent.
The breakdowns below reflect contributions reported by groups in the Forward’s database of financial data on Jewish charities. We’ve left out contributions to federations and foundations, as that money is meant to be granted to other organizations. We’ve also left out contributions to groups that didn’t fit cleanly into any category and to religious groups, as most religious groups don’t file with the IRS and as such were not included in our database.
We’ve all felt it. That ever-present desire — compulsion, really — to check and then recheck our email. Just one more hit of the refresh button. Just one more scroll. Just one more reply-all. Just one more delete. We love it. And we hate it.
Most of the year, we bemoan but ultimately accept the fact that our work lives require us to be shackled to our smartphones. But as Passover approaches, that reality becomes even more problematic. How can we celebrate our liberation from slavery when we still feel — mentally, if not physically — enslaved? How can we rid our houses of chametz — the leavened food that Hasidic masters taught symbolizes everything unessential and overcomplicated in our lives — while holding fast to something that complicates our lives more than any breadcrumb ever could?
Romemu, a progressive synagogue on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, today announced its quirky solution to this contemporary problem. In a notification sent out to the entire congregation (via, yes, email), Rabbi David Ingber and Executive Director Ilene Sameth wrote that over the holiday they will be getting rid of “The Ultimate Chametz: Email.”
From Monday evening, April 14th until sundown on Tuesday, April 22nd, Romemu will not send any community emails and the staff will not send or respond to any individual emails.
And since any chametz that is owned during Pesach should not be eaten after Pesach (this is known as chametz she’avar alav ha’Pesach), any emails that come in while we are out will not be read. Everyone will get an auto-response asking that the email be resent after Pesach.
After reassuring congregants that staff will still be reachable by phone voicemail in case of a death or other emergency, the Romemu leaders signed off with an invitation to “De-email…and taste freedom.”
Most of the Jewish and general world is fuming over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s takeover of Crimea. But some ultra-Orthodox Jews are positively delighted by it.
This week, Grand Rabbi Moshe Shternbuch, the vice president of Israel’s Rabbinical Court and a descendant of the revered rabbi known as the Vilna Gaon (aka “Genius of Vilnius”), announced to his disciples that Putin’s actions are a sure sign that the Messiah is on his way.
Apparently, Shternbuch heard this secret prediction from Rabbi Yitzchak Chever, who heard it from Rabbi Chaim of Volozhyn, who heard it from the Vilna Gaon himself, who said shortly before his death:
When you hear that the Russians have captured the city of Crimea, you should know that the times of the Messiah have started, that his steps are being heard. And when you hear that the Russians have reached the city of Constantinople (today’s Istanbul), you should put on your Shabbat clothes and don’t take them off, because it means that the Messiah is about to come any minute.
Shternbuch’s pronouncement, which was reported this weekend in the ultra-Orthodox press in Israel, has some Haredi Jews working themselves into a messianic frenzy. A few, like this rabbi, are even going so far as to say that “we owe a note of thanks” to Putin for hastening the coming of the Messiah.
The Messianic Jewish movement’s new marketing tool / Hody Nemes
If you went searching for a mainstream Jewish organization that welcomed the findings of the Pew study of American Jews, which showed declining levels of Jewish affiliation and high levels of intermarriage, you’d be hard pressed to find one.
But so-called Jews for Jesus found news to celebrate: 34% of American Jews reported that a person can accept Jesus as the messiah and still be Jewish.
Now this perplexing finding of the Pew study has made its way into a storefront display in midtown Manhattan.
I’ve walked by this particular building on 31st Street several times without noticing it. But yesterday, I stopped in my tracks when I caught a glimpse of the photo in its window: a group of Hasids are seen walking in front of the Western Wall, and one of them is wearing a Photoshopped red t-shirt that reads “Jews for Jesus.”
But that’s not all.
The text printed beside the photo reads: “34% of Jewish people surveyed say you can be Jewish and believe in Jesus. What do you think about Jewish people believing in Jesus?” A phone number is provided – to which you can, apparently, text your answer.
Tania Ward and Nicola Pettit / Courtesy of Nicola Pettit
(Haaretz) — Tania Ward and Nicola Pettit will make history this Saturday when they become one of the first same-sex couples to legally marry in Britain.
More than that, their marriage will be among the first to receive a Jewish blessing, as Liberal and Reform streams prepare for a flurry of simchas to follow the change of law.
Since 2005, the United Kingdom has allowed civil partnerships which give the same rights and responsibilities as traditional marriage.
Campaigners, however, continued to lobby for full equality, facing opposition from conservative politicians and religious communities despite broad public backing. The new law comes into effect on Saturday March 29.
The couple, who live in southern England’s seaside Brighton resort, one of the country’s most bohemian centers of LGBT life, met when a mutual friend set them up on a blind date six-and-a-half years ago. “And that was that, really,” says 27-year-old Nicola.
Supporters listen to Austrian Freedom Party head Heinz-Christian Strache in 2013. / Getty Images
Last Friday, a German magazine article quoted Andreas Moelzer, a member of the European Parliament for the far-right Freedom Party of Austria, saying that the Third Reich had fewer rules, regulations and bans than the European Union, and probably looked informal and liberal in comparison.
The fact that controversial Moelzer — the co-publisher of the controversial German national newspaper “Zur Zeit,” in which an author once praised Adolf Hitler as a “great social revolutionary” — made these statements is hardly surprising. The public outcry that followed was to be expected as well: Politicians from other parties as well as Oskar Deutsch, the president of the Jewish community of Vienna, demanded Moelzer’s withdrawal as a candidate for the upcoming EU parliamentary elections, while news outlets lamented the frequency of Nazi comparisons uttered by Freedom Party leaders.
The statement is outrageous, no question. It is offensive and plain wrong. Austria joined the European Union in 1995 and, growing up there, I never had the impression that I was growing up in a dictatorship. After all, I can work and travel freely in 28 countries, while my grandmother was denied the chance to attend school at the age of 12 and forcibly deported to a concentration camp.
Nevertheless, public outrage over Nazi comparisons is a double-edged sword. While it is necessary, there is little point in doing so unless we face a vital, underlying question: Why isn’t the Freedom Party’s voter base more upset about this? The answer isn’t as obvious as it seems.
Yemeni Jews get instruction at a center for immigrants in Israel. / Getty Images
As the Israeli-Palestinian peace process grinds on, and the issue of Palestinian refugees continues to be a sticking point, some Jewish groups are arguing that these aren’t the only refugees we should be considering as the parties move forward in negotiations.
They’re calling on Western governments to recognize the more than 850,000 Jews pushed out of Arab countries in 1948 and the years that followed — and claiming that the Arab Jewish refugee issue should be tied to the fate of Palestinian refugees.
“Palestinians document every tent, well and thicket they had here but we left behind property worth billions of shekels,” Meir Kahlon, representing Libyan Jews, recently told the Israeli press. He argued that stolen property should be compensated for as a part of the ongoing U.S.-led negotiations.
And just a few weeks ago, six years after a similar resolution passed in the United States, activists pushing for recognition of Arab Jewish refugees enjoyed a big win in Canada, when pro-Israel Prime Minister Stephen Harper decided to back a government committee recommendation to “recognize the experience” of Jewish refugees.
(JTA) — There is a town in Spain called Castrillo Matajudios, and in Colombia “Matajudios” is a common surname.
The problem is, in Spanish one meaning of the name is “Kills Jews.” Which has led a Colombian emigre cashier in Argentina to attract the ire of a Jewish organization there.
It all started when Adrian Marguiles, a customer at the Expoalimentos supermarket in Argentina’s San Isidro district, discovered, upon reviewing his receipt, that his cashier went by the name Ivan Matajudios.
Thinking the cashier had chosen Matajudios as a nickname, in order to incite violence against Jews, Margulies complained to DAIA, a Jewish group that, just four days earlier, had signed an agreement with the district’s mayor to work together on educational activities promoting coexistence and tolerance.
When DAIA leaders met with the supermarket owner, they discovered that Ivan Dario Matajudios Galindo was the cashier’s actual name.
DAIA Vice President Waldo Wolff told JTA that the supermarket owners asked if they should fire the worker.
“We told them that this is not necessary at all,” he said. “But we want the cashier to appear in the receipts with his other surname, as Ivan Galindo.”
DAIA plans to request a meeting with Argentina’s interior ministry to request that immigrants with names that appear to promote anti-Semitism be required to choose a different moniker while in Argentina.
Perhaps Amajudios, or “Loves Jews,” would be a good option.
Right-wing activist Baruch Marzel wipes his eyes at the grave of Baruch Goldstein. / Getty Images
These days, you can order almost anything by phone. Books. Movies. Food. Sex. Salvation?
Sure, why not. Salvation. And not just any old kind, but the kind you can only get by virtue of an appeal to one of Israel’s most notorious killers: Baruch Goldstein.
Goldstein murdered 29 Palestinians in Hebron’s Cave of the Patriarchs 20 years ago, and to this day right-wing Jews still flock to his grave in nearby Kiryat Arba. They go there to pray, hoping that proximity to this “holy man” will help get their prayers through the pearly gates.
But since not everyone can afford to make that pilgrimage, Baruch Marzel — a right-wing activist and Goldstein devotee — has organized a telephone service allowing Jews to outsource their prayers, according to a Walla report cited today in Yeshiva World News.
Call Marzel’s service and you’ll be invited to “Push 1 for a Yeshua,” a salvation. That salvation, which will come by way of a prayer to be said on your behalf at Goldstein’s grave, includes everything from financial and romantic success to improved health and victory in court cases.
From Jewish porn stars to bacon-flavored Kosher treats to Martin Scorsese’s new, “Jewish” movie, the world is becoming a very eclectic place. Or at least this quiz is.