Forward Thinking

Tall (Reform) Rabbi in Sea of Black Hats

By Eliyahu Federman

More than 5,000 Chabad rabbis and supporters gathered on Sunday for the 30th annual conference of international Shluchim, or messengers of the Hasidic movement. Former U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman addressed the crowd as the first keynote speaker.

Rabbi Dov Greenberg, Chabad rabbi at Stanford University, told the crowd that you are more likely to find an atheist, secular, or humanist Jew at a Chabad house than you were to find an Orthodox Jew.

And one lanky man in the sprawling crowd of black-hatted men summed up what he meant.

Among the guests was Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, the congregational arm of the Reform Jewish Movement in North America.

Chabad strictly follows Orthodox Judaism’s central belief that the Torah was given directly from God to Moses and applies in all times and places. Reform Judaism, on the other hand, maintains that Judaism and Jewish traditions are not divine and can be modernized, changed, to reflect surrounding culture.

Chabad’s invitation to Jacobs reflects the movement’s philosophy to embrace everyone on the human level, without regard to creed or denominational differences.

Jacobs returned the sentiment, telling Lubavitch.com that it was “inspiring to be with a group of Jewish leaders who feel so passionately about bringing the love of yiddishkeit [Judaism] and the life of commitment to the widest possible circle.”

If the Reform president and Chabad Shluchim can sit at the same table to connect as one people, who knows: Maybe there’s hope for other denominations of Judaism to sit together notwithstanding their deep theological differences.


The (Chabad) Rebbe's Army

By Ben Harris

(JTA) — So far as I know, there are two major roll calls each year in the Jewish world. One takes place each spring at the annual AIPAC convention in Washington, in which the names of hundreds of members of Congress are read aloud from the rostrum. The other took place last night, at the annual gathering of Chabad emissaries, or shluchim, in Brooklyn.

The former is a display of political power, showcasing AIPAC’s ability to get more than half the members of the world’s most powerful legislative body to show up and demonstrate their pro-Israel bona fides. The second is a show of another kind of power, the spiritual strength of a group of rabbis who sacrifice much in terms of comfort and convenience to connect thousands of far-flung Jews to their heritage.

At a time of angst in the Jewish world over the falloff in Jewish affiliation, the ranks of Chabad shluchim continue to swell. There are currently more than 4,500 around the world (twice that number if one counts, as one should, the rabbis’ wives). More than half of those have been dispatched in the nearly two decades since the death of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, whose eyes peered down on the gathering from a massive portrait above a rotating speakers’s podium.

The bulk of those shluchim assembled Sunday night in a marine terminal along the Brooklyn waterfront for their annual banquet, the capstone of a days-long conference, or kinus. Emissaries traveled from such remote locales as the Cayman Islands, Laos, San Martin, South Korea and Martinique, arriving at the cavernous warehouse by bus, taxi, subway and limousine. (So far as I could tell, I was the only attendee who arrived by bicycle.) And their strength was evident not only by the sea of bearded men in black suits and hats, but by the presence of their benefactors — billionaire Israeli diamond magnate Lev Leviev and the financier George Rohr foremost among them — political figures like Joe Lieberman and the former CIA director James Woosley, and representatives of other major Jewish streams, including the Union for Reform Judaism’s president, Rabbi Rick Jacobs.

The convention theme was zarach b’choshech or, a phrase from the Psalms meaning “radiate light into darkness,” and the speeches and videos were replete with metaphors of luminescence — sparks of yiddishkheit ignited, torches lit, Jewish souls set aflame. Rare in the Jewish world is a group as fired up and self-assured as this one.

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U.N. Rights Council's Israel Embarassment

By Aaron Magid

The goals of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) are laudatory: a non-partisan forum designed to promote the highest levels of human rights adherence by nations around the world. Unfortunately, the current council fails to perform its mission as it has descended into concerning itself more with local politics and decades old ideological conflicts. Due to the council’s disproportionate condemnation of Israeli policies, the body loses legitimacy to honestly judge human rights performance and weakens the stature of the United Nations around the world.

After an 18-month boycott, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ended his country’s boycott of the council by participating in the country’s annual review earlier this week. Haaretz reported that German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle sent a harsh letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanding Israel appear before the UNHRC or face “severe diplomatic damage.” The New York Times harshly criticized Israel for previously refusing to appear before the tribunal in an editorial saying, “it (Israel) unwisely set itself further apart with a decision to withhold cooperation from a United Nations Human Rights Council Review of its human rights practice.”

It is true that Israel has from an ideal human rights record. Netanyahu’s insistence on continuing to build settlements on the West Bank plays a destructive role to the peace process. Furthermore, Israel’s occupation of the West Bank must end and allow for the creation of an independent Palestinian state. Nonetheless, the council’s obsessive focus on Israel and the hypocrisy of its member states makes the legitimate criticism of Israel sound unwarranted.

In Iran’s vicious attack on Israel’s record, its U.N. representative called Israel the “regime” and refused to acknowledge the name Israel even when interrupted by the Israeli official asking him which regime he was discussing. If Iran is not willing to recognize another UN member state’s right to exist for political purposes, it should not sit on the UNHRC and judge Israel’s performance as Iran is clearly biased. The representative from the non-democratically elected Omani regime called for all Palestinian prisoners be released from Israeli jails. This is despite many of the Palestinian prisoners are incarcerated for engaging in brutal terror attacks killing Holocaust survivors, women, and children in cafés and buses.

No other country would ever be asked to release all of its prisoners, especially those who have committed such horrible atrocities. Possibly, the most absurd rebuke came from Syria who called for all “Syrian citizens” living in the Israeli Golan Heights to be permitted to visit their families in Syria. The hypocrisy of a nation whose leader has murdered tens of thousands of his own people and used chemical weapons on innocent civilians is unspeakable. Only at the U.N. would such a spectacle of such repressive regimes criticizing Israel be tolerated.

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From Gaza Battles to the New York Marathon

By Peter Hellman

Aharon Karov barely survived his time as an Israeli soldier in the 2009 Gaza operation Cast Lead. When he was transferred from hospital to rehab and first tried to walk, he took just one step and fainted. This Sunday, he took his place among the 47,000 runners in the ING New York Marathon and finished the 26.2 mile course in four hours and 14 minutes.

Jackson ran along side Yitzchaka Jackson, the wife of the neurosurgeon whose 11 hour surgery had saved Karov’s life. Yitzchaka Jackson has been Karov’s coach and running partner for the last six months, during which he lost over 50 pounds.

At the 23rd mile mark, Karov did stop — but not because he couldn’t go on. “I just want to dedicate the distance so far to your husband who saved me,” Karov said. “The rest of the race is dedicated to you.” Jackson, who had planned to shepherd Karov right to the finish, now found herself thinking that her charge was ready to be independent of her. “You have my blessing to run ahead,” she told him. And he was on his way.


Vote Titi Aynaw (for Miss Universe)!

By Renee Ghert-Zand

The Forward is a non-profit news organization and as such is barred from telling you whom to vote for. There’s also this little thing called journalistic integrity. But we have decided to toss both policies out the window — just this once.

Vote for Titi! There, we said it. Let the IRS do what it may.

Israel’s reigning beauty queen, Ethiopian-born Titi Aynaw needs your support.

Aynaw, 22, is in Moscow to compete for the 2013 Miss Universe title. If she gets the most votes in an online public poll, she will automatically have a guaranteed place in the semi-final level of the competition.

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Editor's Choice: 6 Million Recalled With Stamps

By Forward Staff

Melissa Gerr
Special education teacher Janna Freishtat (left) and English teacher Cyndie Fagan have been instrumental in moving the Six Million Stamps Project forward.

The Forward is partnering with other Jewish newspapers to offer our readers a peek at some of the best stories from around the country, as selected by the editors at those papers. We will offer a selection of unedited links with brief introductions from the editors of the papers.

Stamping Out Intolerance

By Melissa Gerr

Students at Mount Hebron High School are working to collect six million stamps in commemoration of the six million Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust. Said teacher Cyndie Fagan, “Each of those postage stamps tells a story, just like each person who died had a story.”

Read the full story at the Baltimore Jewish Times.


Is Jewish Home Overplaying Hand?

By Nathan Jeffay

In Israel over the last few months, the religious-Zionist right wing has been buoyant.

Its political party, Jewish Home, reached an all time low in the 2009 general election, winning just 3 of the Knesset’s 120 seats, but then in this year’s election won a remarkable 12 seats. It had finally managed to galvanize the support of the non-Orthodox right wing.

Since the election, as the other big election winner, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, has very quickly ended its honeymoon and seen its support drop, Jewish Home has only got stronger. In recent weeks its strength in the polls peaked at 15 seats. But it seems that the party may have pushed its luck over the last few day

It hoped to be the political star this week. It bitterly criticized the release of Palestinian prisoners yesterday, expressing fury over the move and making disparaging comments about Israel’s chief negotiator Tzipi Livni, who also serves as Justice Minister. It was very strong stuff given that Jewish Home actually sits in the government that is freeing the prisoners.

And there lies the conundrum of Jewish Home. It sits in the government that is negotiating with the Palestinians even though it objects to everything involved in doing so — giving status to the Palestinian Authority, talking about evacuating settlements, and considering establishing a Palestinian state. Its awkward decision is to participate fully in the coalition, but distance itself from hard decisions related to the Palestinians.

This strategy seemed to be working. The party tried to present itself, during discussions about the prisoner release, as the only faction with the courage to speak out. But it seems that the public didn’t see it like this.

A new poll puts its support at 13-seats, which may be more than its 12 seats in Knesset, but is real dip from previous polling in September. Instead of boosting its support, the attempt to show indignation while remaining in the government has chipped away at its support. This shows the weakness in its balancing act and raises the question: at what point may its obligations to the coalition and to its supporters cause a crisis for the party?


Confessions of a Jewish Halloween Grinch

By Laura Hodes

At this time of year I feel like a Jewish Halloween Grinch. My children, 4, 8 and 10, are old enough to know that their mother takes no joy in Halloween.

My four year old asked me, upon walking up to someoneʼs house in town, why our house isnʼt decorated for Halloween. I explain, again, for the umpteenth time, that Halloween is not an important holiday, itʼs not a Jewish holiday. And unlike Thanksgiving, a national holiday with meaning, Halloween has no meaning, itʼs a pagan holiday. Of course, her next question for me: “Whatʼs ‘pagan’”?

I know many feel that Halloween has been secularized enough that itʼs moved beyond its pagan roots, and yes, I can sound like a sour woman with no sense of fun. But the older I get, or the older my children get and the more conscious I am of trying to ensure that we celebrate all the Jewish holidays meaningfully, including every Shabbat, the more Halloween rubs me the wrong way.

When my children were toddlers the holiday didnʼt bother me as much. They attended Jewish preschool and the preschool made a point of not mentioning Halloween, which was fine by me. I sometimes took them to the town trick or treat where they could dress up and get some treats. Now my older two attend public school and every year it seems that Halloween is the one holiday that the whole school gets behind. The children are encouraged to dress up or bring their costumes; thereʼs a parade parents can attend and a class party. In the afternoon and evenings the children dress up and go trick or treating.

Iʼm all for children having fun. But why does Halloween have to be the biggest of all the holidays? Iʼd much prefer if the neighborhood and the schools made a big fuss about Thanksgiving. Surely thatʼs a holiday that is more meaningful, and encourages the values of being grateful for what we have, and coming together as a community that would be good to inculcate in our children and celebrate.

What does Halloween celebrate? The chance to beg our neighbors for candy — and to display a preoccupation with the undead. Itʼs not as if we let our children then revel in all the candy and sugar that on all other days we consciously limit their intake of. Wisely, in our community the schools accept leftover Halloween candy donations. This year in our town they are going to use the candy to include in gift bags for a charity that fights leukemia. I think thatʼs great. But it goes to show the meaningless of the act of running around ringing doorbells and begging for candy that you wonʼt get to eat.

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When Lou Reed Partied at My Place

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

getty images
Lou Reed

(JTA) — Lou Reed’s death on Sunday has made me think not just of his music but of his life, and specifically about when his life and mine briefly intersected, back when my brother Frank and I entertained him at our parents’ Philadelphia home, unbeknownst to mom and dad.

It was 1969 and Frank, then in high school, was covering rock music for a local underground paper, The Distant Drummer, a paper that I, too, used to write for. The Velvet Underground used to play fairly regularly — every six weeks or so, Frank says — at a club called the Second Fret. Frank was friendly with the house band and its manager and got to know Lou Reed and the rest of the Velvets.

So much so that twice Frank brought Reed over to our parents’ Center City brownstone after their gig to party. I don’t recall anything raucous on either occasion. In fact, the first time our parents slept through the whole thing.

It was the end of the summer and I had just returned to Philadelphia after a cross-country drive. Some friends I had traveled with were staying at our house before moving on. I’m not even sure that I went to the Velvets’ gig that night, but Frank was there. Afterward he turned up at home with Lou Reed and (I think) Doug Yule, another member of the band. Frank still can’t figure out why they came.

“I have no idea how that even happened,” he told me. “Why go over to this high school kid’s place were there was no dope and not much to do?“

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Welcome to Tzedakah Club, Sandy Grandson

By Nechama Liss-Levinson

Our youngest grandson will turn one year old this month. He was born last October as Hurricane Sandy swept up the East Coast.

He arrived in the world during a time of uncertainty, when the limits of human ingenuity were starkly visible. As his birthday approaches, I think back over the year. Despite the fact that his development mirrors that of millions of others who have come before him, it is still awe-inspiring to ponder his growth, from tiny newborn to delightful toddler, now able to walk and laugh and create his own havoc.
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I have always loved birthdays, and look forward to celebrating Jordan Micah’s first year. Surprisingly, in the Torah, the only birthday recounted is that of the Pharoah, the Egyptian monarch. In fact, birthdays aren’t particularly ritualized events in our Jewish tradition.

Instead, we are encouraged to commemorate the yahrzeit, the date of death of an individual, rather than their date of birth. We are taught to respect and aspire to what a person has done with their life, the sum and substance of what they accomplished over the course of their years here on earth.

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News Quiz: Lou Reed, Leonard Bernstein and Billy Crystal

By Lenore Skenazy

Lou Reed, exposed! Leonard Bernstein, less so! And Hitler? He’s hiding in plain sight in this week’s Jewish news quiz, which also touches upon twerking and Billy Crystal. (But not Billy Crystal twerking.)

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Debate Occupation? No Thanks, We're Jewish.

By Larry Cohler-Esses

getty images

During a recent visit to the Forward’s newsroom, Jerry Silverman, president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America, was brimming with enthusiasm for the upcoming annual gathering of local Jewish charity federations nationwide, known as the General Assembly, which will take place this year not in the United States, but in Jerusalem.

The GA’s 2013 program, he stressed, will emphasize the group’s openness to “dialogue” and “questions,” particularly from young Jews, with no holds barred.

“We need new thinking, new minds around the table,” emphasized Silverman, a former senior executive with the Stride Rite Corp. and Levi Strauss & Co.

But asked if the confab — one of the most important on the Jewish calendar — would include any discussion of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Silverman vigorously shook his head. His body language told a story of its own as he held his hands out in front of him as if pushing something away.

“I don’t use the word ‘occupation,’” he said. “We as an organization don’t get into the political arena.”

Yet on its website devoted exclusively to the GA, JFNA boasts that the gathering “tackles the most critical issues of the day” and brings together Jews “from North America and Israelis from across the political spectrum to discuss issues facing Israel.”

One such session advertised on the GA website promises to address one of Israel’s most sensitive political issues: the question, as JFNA puts it, of the Israeli rabbinate’s “absolute control over marriage and divorce in Israel.”

The JFNA summary of the session asks: “Should the Orthodox establishment continue to have exclusive authority over marriage and divorce in the Jewish State?” and details a panel consisting of feminists, civil libertarians, business people and a representative of the Reform Judaism movement — but no representative of Israel’s Orthodox establishment.

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6 Ways Michael Bloomberg Can Spend $1M Prize

By Forward Staff

getty images
Michael Bloomberg

Earlier this week, a few Russian billionaires gave billionaire New York’s outgoing mayor Michael Bloomberg a $1 million dollar Jewish prize.

We have some bright ideas about what he should do with all that cash.

The million bucks, chump change for the richest man in New York City, came along with the Genesis Prize, bestowed by a committee dominated by right-leaning Israeli political figures. Bloomberg said he would spend the money on an as-yet-to-be-determined cause in the Middle East.

Below, six causes that we think might pique his interest.

STOP AND FRISK, SABRA-STYLE
Bloomberg is all for New York police’s stop-and-frisk policies aimed at rooting out crime. Support the ultimate stop-and-friskers — guys who make the NYPD look like the assistant principal for community outreach at a Montessori pre-school.

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Editor's Choice: A Victim's Story, Jacob Pressman at 94

By Forward Staff

Courtesy of the Jewish Journal
Marjorie and Rabbi Jacob Pressman

The Forward is partnering with other Jewish newspapers to offer our readers a peek at some of the best stories from around the country, as selected by the editors at those papers. We will offer a selection of unedited links with brief introductions from the editors of the papers.

Between Victim And Perpetrator
By Maayan Jaffe

Some 23 years after Rebecca Pastor was raped in her Baltimore apartment, she has named her alleged rapist and turned to the police. What many people don’t realize is there is no statute of limitation for rape in Maryland.

Read the full story at the Jewish Times

Rabbi Jacob Pressman Turns 94: A Community Treasure
By Michael Berenbaum

For decades now, as Rabbi Jacob (Jack) Pressman celebrated a milestone birthday, there was a gala show and dinner starring Rabbi Jack and his myriad show-biz friends to manifest and celebrate the many talents and achievements of this extraordinary man. Five years ago, Temple Beth Am celebrated his 90th birthday when he turned 89, just in case.

“At my age you don’t buy green bananas,” the rabbi said, quoting his mentor, the late Rabbi Simon Greenberg. But the celebration week will be a quiet one, as Rabbi Jack and Marjorie Pressman’s son, Joel, is gravely ill,as all who read the Jewish Journal this past month learned — gravely, but bravely, ill, still celebrating the glories of life, family and friendship, students and colleagues, the majesty of nature, the joy of song, the gift of love.

Read the full story in the Jewish Journal


Separate in Beit Shemesh?

By Nathan Jeffay

getty images

One of the most bitterly fought cities in Israel’s local elections held on Tuesday was Beit Shemesh, the flashpoint town near Jerusalem. Now, the government is apparently mulling a plan to prevent passions getting so high in the future.

Beit Shemesh is famous for its deep tensions between Haredi and non-Haredi residents. In fact, since the world’s media focused two years ago on an eight-year-old girl who was spat on by religious zealots on her way to school, the name has become synonymous with sectarian rivalry to most Israelis. And during the election campaign, they surged again.

Supporters of the incumbent mayor Moshe Abutbul, who belongs to the Haredi Shas party, used Holocaust imagery to underscore the supposed dangers of challenger Eli Cohen, and presented him as an enemy of the Jewish religion. The campaign grated on the sensitivities of non-Haredi voters — who were left devastated when Abutbul won.

Israeli television has today been buzzing with reports that following all of this the government wants to slice Beit Shemesh in two, making the newer Haredi-dominated neighborhoods into one city and the older neighborhoods, where there are fewer Haredim, a separate city. According to the plan, which is being pushed by non-Haredi Beit Shemesh residents, there would be two mayors and two city councils. So in short, come the next election in five years, there wouldn’t be a battle along religious lines, because the two camps would have largely been separated with a city border between them.

On one level, the initiative is understandable, as the division in the city runs so deep and the agendas of the different populations are so different. But on another level, isn’t the challenge of democracy to mediate this, and find a way of allocating resources and managing the public space that takes the needs of the different populations in to account?

Is there some unspoken rule that democracy can no longer be used to manage differences when Haredim are involved? Does this unspoken rule make gerrymandering, normally viewed with concern, desirable if it seeks to limit the power of Haredim?

And what is the slippery slope that this could lead to — cities where there are tensions between Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews splitting? Carving out Jews of Ethiopian origins from cities if they become powerful and want different things from the rest of the local population?


Thanksgivukkah's Shared Dirty Secret

By Eliyahu Federman

wikipedia
Shared Burden: Although both the Maccabees and the Pilgrims fought religious persecution, they also both committed grave crimes that history must not overlook.

Hanukkah and Thanksgiving occur at the same time this year. This won’t happen again for another 79,043 years, according to calculations by Jonathan Mizrahi, a quantum physicist at the Sandia National Laboratories.

Many are asking what the connection is between these two holidays. Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert even did a spoof on it. On a superficial level both holidays include food. Thanksgiving has turkey and Hanukkah has latkes (hash browns) and sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts). But there is a much deeper connection when examining the historical contexts of these holidays.

Both the Pilgrims and Maccabees valiantly fought for religious independence, but they also had something less valiant in common. The Pilgrims successors eventually forced assimilation on the indigenous people around them, as did the Maccabees. They both engaged in religious zealotry to destroy cultural differences.

While the Maccabees fought against oppressive laws that outlawed traditional Jewish practices like circumcision and observing the Sabbath, once in power under the Hasmonean dynasty, they forced conversions on and even killed modern Jews known as Hellenists.

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Nir Barkat Win Boosts Secular Jerusalem

By Nathan Jeffay

getty images

Jerusalem’s mayor Nir Barkat, widely credited with shoring up Jerusalem’s secular credentials, has won another five-year term in the local election.

Like other cities across Israel, Jerusalem held local elections yesterday. But while in most other locales the races were mostly about schooling and clean streets, in Jerusalem the race became about deeper issues of identity and religion.

In the last elections, five years ago, the ultra-Orthodox mayor Uri Lupolianski lost power. Haredim felt that they had lost their ability to shape the public space in Jerusalem. In this race, Barkat’s main challenger Moshe Lion was expected to return some of this influence to Haredim if elected.

For example, it was predicted that he would to give the all-important planning portfolio on the council to the Haredi Shas party, which would have meant a spike in provision for synagogues, yeshivot and housing for the Haredi sector.

Barkat won with 51.1% of the vote, while Lion got 45.3%. The Jerusalem result, in part, points to a process of secular and other non-Haredi Jerusalemites reclaiming their city. They see changes that Barkat has made, such as the establishment of a recreation venue that is open on Shabbat, and like his approach. However, there is also another factor that contributed to Barkat’s win.

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Jewrotica's Unsexy List of the Hottest Rabbis

By Rafi Samuels-Schwartz

wikicommons

When it comes to looking for sexy Rabbis, the editors of Jewrotica.com could stand to take their cues from the Talmud. Deep within in the book of Bava Metzia, Rabbi Yochanan, Rabbi Yishmael bar’Rebbi Yosi, and Rav Papa — taking a break, presumably, from their usual halachic debates over usury and property ownership — are said to have compared the relative sizes of one another’s genitals. The text is graphic (if not slightly hyperbolic) in its description of each Rabbi: Rav Papa’s “limb” is described as being “like a wicker work basket”. One can’t help but picture a frat-house scene in which each rabbi “lays it out” for the amusement of his colleagues.

That the Talmud is as frank as it is in its depiction of rabbinic endowment only serves to render Jewrotica’s search for the “Hottest Rabbis of 2013” all the more impotent. The site, which, as its name suggests, explores Judaism’s sensual side, is currently taking submissions for “studs and babes” to be judged based on a rabbi’s “smarts,” ability to “get some action,” and “badass factor.”

Sounds scandalous? It’s not.

In 2000’s “Keeping The Faith,” the image of Ben Stiller’s “sexy rabbi” strutting around Manhattan in a leather jacket was plenty novel. Now, thirteen years after its release, pushing hot Rabbis as something edgy seems decidedly forced, and stale.

And, as it turns out, the search for the “Hottest Rabbis of 2013” (retitled from its original “Sexiest Rabbis of 2013”) doesn’t actually have much to do with Jewrotica’s usual fare of sex, eroticism, or sensuality at all. “Get Some Action” refers to a nominee’s “Jewish outreach or social justice activism,” while “Badass Factor” is described as a broad mishmash of qualities, ranging from “riding a motorcycle” to “leading meditation retreats” and being “irresistibly sexy”, without actually qualifying what that means. Highlighting outstanding Rabbinic work is absolutely valuable, but no matter how edgily Jewrotica presents it, it’s certainly nothing new.

There was, in fact, a seeming indifference on the part of Jewrotica’s editors towards describing the nominees as “sexy” in the first place. After several days spent responding to questions about the sexiness of their search they themselves seemed to recognize the cliché. Writes site founder/editor Ayo Oppenheimer, in an update explaining the switch to “Hottest”:

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Qatar's Growing Role in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

By Yermi Brenner

Qatar’s two-faced policy towards Israel was on display this week, as Doha hosted a competition of FINA, the international governing body of swimming and other water sports.

Members of Israel’s national team were granted visas to the Gulf monarchy where Israeli passports are normally rejected, and there were no boycotts of competitions against Israelis. But the Qatari television that broadcasted the event worldwide, did not present Israel’s flag on screen, instead opting for a white rectangle every time Israeli swimmers competed. Israeli news website Ynet’s showed a screen shot of the bizarre political statement.

The incident reflects Qatar’s policy towards Middle East politics, which is best characterized as an ongoing balancing act, especially when it comes to the delicate region between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

In 1996, Qatar became one of the first Arab countries to establish trade relations with Israel, but the alliance ended when as a response to the 2008-09 Gaza war – in which Israel’s military killed over 1200 Palestinians — the Qataris shut down the Israeli trade office in Doha and expelled all Israeli representatives. Recently, Qatar suggested a renewal of diplomatic ties, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government rejected the offer.

Meanwhile, Qatar’s on-and-off ties with Israel have not stopped it from being a friend and a financial supporter of Hezbollah and of Hamas — whose head, Khaled Meshaal, is currently based in Doha. Further emphasizing its contradictory alliances, Qatar is home to the largest American military base in the Middle East but also provides safe haven to hardline Islamists from all over the Arab world.

So why should we even care about the foreign policies of a peninsula half the size of New Jersey, that is located over a 1000 miles away from Israel and seems to be eager to please all sides?

Because the carbon-rich Qatar, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, has been using its money to do much more than just build shiny skyscrapers in the middle of the desert. By cultivating broad relations with all main Middle East stakeholders, Qatar — a country with a population of less than two million people – has become an influential regional player.

Secretary of State John Kerry, just spent an entire press conference yesterday praising Qatari Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiyah for being one of the main forces behind the Arab Peace Initiative. Kerry also thanked Qatar for its decision to provide $150 million in much-needed debt relief to the Palestinian Authority.

It is not the Qataris seemingly endless money flow that makes them important. It is their stance as a major player that is on nobody’s side. Last year, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the Qatari Emir, was the first head of state to visit Gaza since 1999, meeting Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and launching a humanitarian reconstruction project valued at $250 million. As the Kerry-led peace talks continue, Qatar could play the critical role of bridging between Hamas and Fatah, an essential step on the path to a sustainable long-term solution between Palestine and Israel.

Find Yermi Brenner on Twitter: @yermibrenner


News Quiz: Bloomberg's Prize, Jewish Strippers and More!

By Lenore Skenazy

Impressionists, Islamists and Jewish strippers — you KNOW there’s only one place to find them all: your weekly Jewish news quiz. Also making appearances this week: Mayor Bloomberg, disco and Eggnog. Yup. Eggnog.
Getty Images
Michael Bloomberg won what prize this week?

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