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.
Bernie Madoff / Eli Valley
In an interview from prison last week, Bernie Madoff insisted, “I don’t feel that I betrayed the Jews, I betrayed people.”
I’m no psychologist, and it’s possible he was just trying to salvage any scrap of social and cultural connection as he languishes alone. But taking his words at face value, I agree with Madoff.
He didn’t betray “the Jews,” he betrayed human beings of all religious and ethnic backgrounds. Although his scheme disproportionately swindled from Jewish individuals and charities, they were targets not because they were Jews but because they were the most easy to access. They existed in his vicinity – in synagogues, country clubs and other social circles – and they were willing to give him money.
“Betrayal” insists that Madoff targeted his victims because they were Jews, and/or that he owed them more because they were Jews. It touches on an uneasy balancing act between peoplehood and chauvinism that comes to the fore whenever there’s a Jew in the news (i.e., always). While there can be something charming about ethnic responsibility and group fealty, it can quickly cross uncomfortable lines – lines the Jewish community never tolerates when others talk ominously of Jewish preference. It’s a line that makes some Jews mourn more deeply when a Jew is identified among scores of victims, or gloat when a Jew escapes tragedy by observing Shabbat, or even machinate to keep non-Jewish communities out of affordable housing. “Betrayal” implies crimes against Jews are worse than those against others, and Jewish lives more sacred.
Benjamin Netanyahu / Getty Images
Last week we learned that Israel’s government is advancing plans for another 2,269 settler homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem; 144 are planned for the Jerusalem settlement neighborhood of Har Homa.
Discussion surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict tends to focus on minutiae, or the broad sweep of an entire century; our frames of reference rarely allow us to discern patterns within the broader picture. In geopolitics, however, the patterns found in any nation’s behavior are often determinative – such as, for instance, the pattern we find expressed in Har Homa.
Har Homa is located in what is inaccurately called (by everyone, including me) “East Jerusalem.” The inaccuracy becomes clear as soon as you look at a map: Har Homa is actually south of the Green Line that demarcates internationally recognized Israel from the West Bank; it’s southwest of the Old City. Much of the Palestinian land that Israel has annexed in its decades-long push to turn what was once tiny Jewish Jerusalem into a behemoth of land and resources is east of the historically Jewish part of the city, but much of it is not. Another well-known settlement neighborhood, Pisgat Ze’ev, is to the north, as is French Hill. A more accurate term would be “Palestinian Jerusalem” or, in the case of Har Homa (which was never any part of anyone’s Jerusalem) “the West Bank.”
Every settlement is a political statement – “here we sit, we will not be moved” – but Har Homa’s is particularly blunt: Established in 1997, four years after the Oslo Accords were signed, Israel’s then-Prime Minister was very clear about Har Homa’s purpose: “The battle for Jerusalem has begun. We are now in the thick of it, and I do not intend to lose.” Who was that Prime Minister? Benjamin Netanyahu.
Last summer, I hit upon a way to measure Jewish institutional power: Using data from the IRS, I would gather financial information on every single Jewish organization that files a tax return.
My first story based on that project is printed in this issue of the Forward. This addendum, which is only for readers with a high tolerance for boring data stuff, describes how I built my database.
I started with two files, posted online by the IRS last spring, that contained data from all tax returns filed by tax-exempt groups in the 2012 calendar year. The IRS posted one set of data extracted from Form 990s, which are filed by larger tax-exempt groups, and another from Form 990-EZs, which are filed by smaller groups. I chose not to include a third dataset extracted from Form 990-PFs, which are filed by private foundations, as those groups are generally harder to classify as Jewish or not-Jewish.
The Form 990s and Form 990-EZs ask different questions, and the datasets provided by the IRS were structured differently. I mapped the two datasets onto each other so that they could be considered together. Then, using another dataset from the IRS — the Exempt Organizations Business Master File Extract, which includes information like names and addresses on all tax-exempt groups registered with the IRS — I searched for Jewish organizations.
Left: Ophir Ben-Shetreet on Israel’s ‘The Voice.’ Right: Sister Cristina on Italy’s ‘The Voice.’
I’m not usually the type of person who goes in for reality TV shows. Especially not when they revolve around singing competitions, and especially not when one of their singers’ performances becomes an overnight Internet sensation, to be endlessly posted and reposted on social media.
So why did I feel compelled to watch a Sicilian nun singing a song by Alicia Keys on Italy’s ‘The Voice’ about a dozen times over the course of this weekend?
After giving it some thought, I realized it wasn’t the TV lover or even the music lover in me that drove my obsessive replaying of this video. It was the Jew — or, more specifically, the formerly Orthodox Jewish woman — that couldn’t resist its charm.
Strange as it may sound, watching 25-year-old Sister Cristina Scuccia belt it out on stage while a cluster of habit-clad nuns cheered her on from the sidelines, I couldn’t help but do a simple thought experiment: What if this were an ultra-Orthodox Jewish woman instead? Would she dare to sing like that in front of a mixed audience of men and women, knowing that her performance — her intimate voice — would be broadcast to millions more around the world? And would her ultra-Orthodox female friends stand there, cheering her on?
No way, I thought. Not in a million years. The reason why can be explained in two words: Kol Isha.
Harvard students pose at Yasser Arafat’s grave. / Twitter
Last Monday, the Harvard College Israel Trek went to the Muqata’a, the offices of the Palestinian government, in Ramallah. While they were there, the group took a picture with Yasser Arafat’s grave, which was inevitably Tweeted by the group’s tour guide. The photo was picked up by two far-right blogs — one Jewish, one not — and then nailed down by the Jewish Press, which ran the provocative headline “Jewish Donors Funded Harvard Students’ Trip to Arafat’s Grave.”
The headline, of course, is ridiculous: The family foundations and Boston’s Combined Jewish Philanthropies funded a wide-ranging ten-day trip all over Israel for 50 of Harvard’s best and brightest, during which they spent half a day in Ramallah and 30 seconds for a photo shoot at Arafat’s grave.
But that’s not the point. The point is that allowing students to engage in conversation on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with Palestinians themselves is still taboo among the American Jewish establishment. And it’s high time that changed.
Anne Heyman walks with Rwanda President Paul Kagame at a graduation ceremony at Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village. / Courtesy of Agahozo-Shalom
More than a month after the untimely death of Anne Heyman, friends and supporters say they are dedicated to ensuring the success of her unique Rwanda youth village.
“We’re all tremendously saddened but there is a rededication and a recommitment,” William Recant of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, a personal friend of Heyman’s and a supporter of her work, told the Forward.
Heyman established the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village in 2008 for children who lost their parents during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide. The village was modeled on the techniques Israel’s kibbutzim used to deal with Holocaust orphans.
When Heyman died in a horse riding accident January 31, tributes poured in from Jewish leaders across the country. Students at the Rwandan school that she had founded mourned her death.
Recant said that Heyman’s death, which came a year after Agahozo-Shalom lost its first director, saddened everyone involved with the project, but that supporters are determined to keep their vision alive.
“I personally am committed to giving more than I have in the past, because we can’t financially rely on Anne to be the one to make it happen,” Recant said. “A lot of us feel that way.”
Immigrants from the former Soviet Union arrive in Israel. / Getty Images
Did you hear about the latest coup for the Reform and Conservative movements in the Knesset? A new piece of legislation that passed the Law Committee today and is ready for voting in a few weeks will apparently bring closer a day when non-Orthodox movements can carry out state-recognized conversions in Israel.
Orthodox lawmaker Orit Struck of the religious-Zionist Jewish Home party is furious. The proponent of the bill is “is trying to appease all kinds of Reform and Conservative groups that are trying to give us conversions that are not according to Jewish law,” she said.
Struck continued with her statement of alarm at the imminent non-Orthodox gains, saying: “There is no way we can do anything to aid in widening the opening for the Reform with regard to anything that touches on what they call conversion. We can’t defraud people who want to embrace Judaism. We are selling them a bill of goods instead of conversion.”
IDF soldiers order Shadi Sidr to remove his Palestinian flag in Hebron. / YouTube
Last week I wrote about that wacky video of a Hebron settler climbing onto a Palestinian’s roof to steal his flag, getting stuck, and calmly telling the Palestinian that the roof, house, and everything within shouting distance actually belonged to the settler – that is: Israel. I posited that had the situation been reversed – had the Palestinian climbed onto the settler’s roof instead – the Palestinian would now be dead.
Rather than, say, arrest the settler for trespassing, though, soldiers responded to this absurd series of events by attempting to browbeat Shadi Sidr, the Palestinian in question, into handing over his flag. At various points, various soldiers insisted that flying the Palestinian flag was forbidden and that Sidr would be taken into custody if he didn’t take his down, but when he refused, at least one of them had the good sense to understand that continuing the farce in front of cameras was not a good idea. Later it transpired that the Israeli military in fact has no anti-flag regulation.
And that, you would think, was that.
Or, at any rate, you might think that was that if you had no experience with Israel and the occupation. Because of course that was not that. That was not even remotely that.
John Kerry / Getty Images
As Jerusalem and Ramallah wait anxiously to see the framework peace agreement that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is drafting, large numbers of Israelis are ready to take matters into their own hands if they don’t like what they see.
A survey by the Israel Democracy Institute just asked Israeli citizens whether, if a framework deal goes against their political position but gets approval from the government and passes a referendum, “will you then accept the framework or will you act to prevent it from being implemented?”
Some 24.8% of respondents said that they would act to prevent its implementation. Of course, this doesn’t mean that a quarter of Israelis say they would work against any peace deal, but rather a quarter of Israelis would work against a deal if they object to its terms. But it is still a high figure that points to a defiant spirit in relation to the peace process.
Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg
On those very rare occasions when I start to get anxious or freak out or dive down the rabbit hole of “What if this bad thing happens and then this and then this?” I hear the lilting voice of Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg in my head, telling me to breathe and compassionately bring my attention back to my breath.
My first experiences with meditation were with Weinberg at the Jewish retreat center Elat Chayyim when it was in Accord, N.Y. I had come for a 36-hour introduction to Jewish meditation, and simply getting to the center had been an ordeal of inefficiency, with buses that arrived late and cabs that never appeared.
A new plea for Israelis to push toward an agreement with the Palestinians has been launched in the form of a Purim video sponsored by the Israeli group Peace Now. Called “It’s fun to be a rightist” and set to the song “Got my mind set on you,” the video is an unsubtle sendup of the settlers and their Knesset backers.
With the Israeli peace group already marginalized in mainstream Israeli affairs, deciding to openly mock their opposition is a risky strategy. Looking closer, though, it’s a message that may serve to skewer the whole nature of domestic ideological clashes in a conflict zone.
The video opens with Yossi Belin — now visibly older than he appeared during the height of his peace process involvement in the early 1990s — getting dressed up as a West Bank settler for a television spot. With an army-issue parka, wearing socks and sandals and a knitted kippah, Beilin-as-settler exclaims, “Isn’t it fun for me that there’s no partner, and that the Arabs understand only force and bombs! Because otherwise, what would I have to scare you with? Monsters?”
“It’s fun, convenient and comfortable to be racist and destructive. It’s fun to be a rightist. So what if it’s inflammatory and beyond the realm of reason?” the jingle continues.
The “rightists” are spoofed with phrases such as, “You built our new highways, and gave up on an apartment so I can sit here [in my balcony in the West Bank]. Nice, isn’t it?” And “if you dare speak of peace, we will legislate against free thought.”
A member of Students for Justice in Palestine protests in Washington, D.C. / Getty Images
Debate about Israel and Palestine on college campuses is coming to a head this week, with over 200 activists expected to rally in solidarity with Northeastern University’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) on Tuesday.
Northeastern formally suspended SJP last week after the chapter distributed 600 “mock eviction notices” to campus dorms. These notices, similar to those distributed by SJPs across the country and clearly marked as fake, provided facts about Israel’s demolition of Palestinian homes.
Northeastern SJP has been subject to an opposition campaign from right-wing pro-Israel groups for months. In November 2013, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP) claimed students and faculty reported “virulent and intimidating anti-Israelism, or even anti-Semitism” at Northeastern. But the ADL and CJP’s own words indicate these anti-Semitism allegations are not so cut and dry.
Everyone has the right to criticize a foreign government when it breaks international law, even if others have deep emotional ties to it. Students do not have the right to incite violence against others based on religion or nationality. This raises the question: do SJP’s actions actually threaten harm to Jewish students and faculty? In other words, is SJP anti-Semitic?
Free kidneys, chocolate falafel and Golda Meir? That was either a weird week we just had, or Manischewitz is making-80 proof Concord Grape. Or both.
It isn’t every day that I find myself truly inspired by an Orthodox rabbi; it isn’t often that Forward readers hear me espouse such sentiments. But when the Forward put out a call to readers to nominate a rabbi that inspired or touched them in some way, I felt it my duty to nominate the rabbi who unwittingly impacted my life two years ago.
Fortuitously enough, I had sent a long message the day before to this rabbi’s son – who happens to also be an inspiring Orthodox rabbi, if a bit of a different flavor – explaining how profoundly his father impacted my life.
Sometime late in the summer of 2011, my husband and I walked into the office of Rabbi Aaron Fink, Dean of Ateres Bais Yaakov in Monsey, N.Y., armed with the emotional wherewithal to counter what we thought would be inevitable rejection. We came to try to enroll our four-year-old daughter, Ruchy, in his school – an unconventional Bais Yaakov for girls – a school where love, acceptance and empowerment take precedence over other teachings.
This was approximately three years after we moved out of Kiryas Joel – three years of countless rejections by rabbis of various Hasidic and Orthodox schools.
Before we came to Rabbi Fink, we were told that no one wants former Satmar members in their schools, that our leaving the community indicates a desire to abandon Orthodoxy, that parents are afraid to send their children to school with those whose parents are Hasidic deviants, and that accepting us would negatively affect the school’s reputation. When we came to Rabbi Fink’s door, we were ready to give up on finding an Orthodox school to provide a Jewish education for our kids.
In an imagined juxtaposition, the Hebron settler meets Fiddler on the Roof. / Richard Goldwasser
If you’re online and follow news out of Israel, you’ve probably already seen or at least heard of that wild-and-crazy video of a Hebron settler try to steal a Palestinian flag off a Palestinian roof.
The guy gets caught on some barbed wire and then — even as his compatriots shout abuse (“you son of a whore!”) at Shadi Sidr, the man who lives in the house, and even as Sidr tries to help free the settler from his predicament (while also attempting to reassure onlookers: “It’s okay, don’t worry!”) — the settler explains, with almost otherworldly calm, that in fact “This roof, this is my roof. This is all mine. The whole country is mine. The whole state is mine.” Soon after, soldiers show up and threaten not the settler but the homeowner with arrest, demanding that he take down his flag. Crazy, right? Wild!
Here’s what nobody seems to have noticed though: If the shoe had been on the other foot — that is to say: If one of Hebron’s 170,000 Palestinians had tried to steal one of the many, many Israeli flags belonging to any of the 500-some-odd settlers whose presence dictates every single detail of Hebronian life — that Palestinian would have been shot. That Palestinian would be dead.
In a rerun of a scandal-ridden poll in the fall, Beit Shemesh has reelected its ultra-Orthodox mayor. Rarely has a political campaign pitted Haredim and others against each other to the extent seen in this Israeli city.
The original election in October was fought as a battle between two rival visions for the city. Beit Shemesh has become heavily Haredi, and the Haredi agenda is manifest across the public domain. When I visited for this article in January, I even witnessed signs by religious institutions asking women to cross over to the sidewalk on the other side of the street to avoid disturbing men. Individuals put them up, but the municipality had failed to take them down.
Moshe Abutbul of the Haredi Shas party won the election then, but the poll was marred by illegal activity, violence and even voter fraud, and the court ordered a rerun. The rerun this week resulted in another Abutbul victory.
When Rabbi Noach Muroff needed a desk, he looked to Craigslist for a good deal. He got way more than he bargained for.
The desk, purchased for $150 dollars, turned out to be hiding $98,000 stuffed in a ShopRite plastic bag, that had fallen behind the file cabinet.
And Muroff gave it all back.
Muroff bought the desk last September, right before Rosh Hashanah. When it wouldn’t fit through the door, he and his wife had to disassemble it. That’s when they spotted a shopping bag full of a cash inheritance that the previous owner assumed had been lost somewhere in her home.
The ninth grade teacher at the Yeshiva New Haven Shul looked at his wife and, despite the fact that it was nearly midnight, dialed the original owner’s number. The money was returned the next day. According to Muroff, he didn’t sleep that night knowing that sum was in the house.
“Our jaws kind of just hit the floor. We were in total shock and disbelief. This kind of thing only happens in the movies,” Muroff said, laughing when telling me the story.
William “Jerry” Boykin / Getty Images
William “Jerry” Boykin, a retired general and Christian conservative, has come under fire after telling an Israeli reporter that Jews are “the cause of all the problems in the world,” in what was seemingly an awkward attempt at humor. Boykin, executive vice president of the right-wing Family Research Council, who is widely known for his anti-Muslim advocacy, also told a reporter that Obama secretly sides with Al-Qaeda and sent “subliminal messages” of support to Muslims during his well-publicized appearance in Egypt in 2009.
The “hot mic” remarks were made following a speech at the National Security Action Summit, held just a few blocks from the Conservative Political Action Conference this past weekend. Boykin spoke at a panel entitled “Benghazigate: The Ugly Truth and the Cover-up.” The video feed for the live webcast went dark but its audio continued running and the off-air remarks are now available on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s website, which first covered the story.
Boykin can be heard accusing Obama of secretly sending messages of support to Egyptians during his famed 2009 speech in Cairo. “If you understand anything about Islam,” he said, “there are subliminal messages.” He asserted that Muslim extremist groups have taken advantage of the supposed unbending support of the American president, confident that he is “unwilling to go against them.”
After Boykin’s remarks about Obama’s supposed unrelenting support for Muslims, a reporter from Israel’s right-wing news site IsraelNationalNews.com approached him and requested a brief interview. Jokingly, Boykin accused Jews of causing all of the world’s problems. The reporter responded, “I know, I know, that’s why we’re trying to fix everything.”