Forward Thinking

Farming the Jewish Way

By Tanya Tolchin

tanya tolchin

I recently joined more than 150 people at the Pearlstone Center near Baltimore for the 5th annual Beit Midrash to learn about the Jewish calendar and how it connects to sustainability and farming. The Beit Midrash has become an annual ritual for my family and we have watched it grow from an informal gathering of friends with potluck meals to a mature and multifaceted conference. The gathering now offers a rare glimpse of a Jewish community where people from so many varied backgrounds learn together. The eclectic group of participants included rabbis and rabbinical students, farmers and future farmers, babies and grandparents, Chabadniks, reconstructionists and post-denominational Jews of all kinds.

As a Jewish farmer living in a rural area of Maryland far from the nearest synagogue, this conference offers a respite from our day to day isolation from Jewish community. We return because it is one of the few places outside of Israel where our Jewish life and farming life join together so seamlessly. My husband and I run a small organic farm about 20 miles outside of Washington, D.C. where we grow vegetables, strawberries, herbs, and flowers that we sell through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) project. We also run a small business called Israeli Harvest that sells products from organic farms in Israel to the Jewish community in the U.S.

Like most American Jews, we did not grow up farming and are part of a larger movement of new farmers working to build alternatives to conventional agriculture. At times, farming and Jewish life can feel like the perfect combination. At Passover, we gather our own parsley for the seder and our sukkah is always placed on the edge of our fields during harvest. But on the flip side, we miss being closer to Jewish community.

While it is easy to joke that being a Jewish farmer is an oxymoron, in fact Judaism is firmly rooted in agriculture. There is a strong history of Jewish farming in the U.S., Israel and around the world. The Pearlstone Center, which features an onsite farm complete with goats, chickens, vineyards and vegetable gardens, has become a national center for people interested in the intersection between farming and Jewish life. It is also part of a growing movement of organizations including Hazon, Adamah and the Jewish Farm School that are creating new Jewish farming programs.

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A Possible Pope Goes to Shul

By Jerome Chanes

Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, went to shul Shabbat yesterday. Not for the usual davening.

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Timothy Cardinal Dolan

Cardinal Dolan, who is considered papabile (a candidate, albeit a very dark-horse candidate, for the papal throne recently vacated by Pope Benedict XVI), immediately captured the standing-room-only crowd in the Manhattan’s Lincoln Square Synagogue by greeting the congregation with an open-armed, joyous, blazon: “How papal is that!”

A moment later, the cardinal, in a consummate display of theater, interrupted his talk in mid-sentence, left his lectern, walked across the synagogue bimah, and exchanged his zucchetto (the red yarlmulke-like cap) with the kippah of the bar-mitzvah boy.

In his prepared remarks, Dolan offered no surprises. Identifying two core practices Catholics and Jews have in common — the Sabbath and the tradition of “good works ”— the cardinal noted that each has been a model not only for the two faith-communities, “but for the entire world.”

Cardinal Dolan’s agenda was clearly that of bridge-building with the Orthodox community (“Six hundred thirteen commandments? I have trouble with The Ten!”). He noted the “historical leadership role” of Lincoln Square in New York’s Orthodox arena.

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Oscars Message to Israel

By Mairav Zonszein

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What Message? If Guy Davidi and Emad Burnat win the Oscar for best documentary, it will be a wake-up call to Israel from the world.

“The Gatekeepers” and “5 Broken Cameras” have already succeeded in breaking one of Israel’s biggest taboos: airing out its dirty laundry on the big screen, for the whole world to see. Now the two films are both heading to the biggest stage of all: the Academy Awards.

If either one of the films from Israel/Palestine wins in the Best Documentary category, it will be a symbolic achievement for all those who believe Israeli government policies and the occupation are untenable and want to see it held accountable for the violent cycle Israelis and Palestinians continue to be in.

But there are salient and important differences between the films. Most obviously, “The Gatekeepers” provides the perspective of the privileged and powerful occupier, while “5 Broken Cameras” speaks for the powerless and debilitated occupied. While each film exposes Israel’s systematically unethical treatment of Palestinians, if one is chosen by the Academy as the winner, it will mean very different things.

“The Gatekeepers,” directed by Israeli filmmaker Dror Moreh, who previously made a movie about Ariel Sharon and his decision to withdraw from Gaza in 2005, brings together six former Shin Bet agents to expose the moral and tactical failures in the country’s secret internal security infrastructure. “5 Broken Cameras” is a documentary jointly directed by Palestinian Emad Burnat and Israeli Guy Davidi, chronicling the West Bank village Bil’in’s response to Israel’s construction of the separation wall and routine Israeli Defense Force harassment and raids.

To make the $1.5 million-film, Moreh had to gain access to some of Israel’s most elite and authoritative figures on national security. It was filmed in a polished studio, providing the six interviewees with impeccable make-up and lighting and includes highly sophisticated digitally recreated archive footage.

To make the $250,000 “5 Broken Cameras,” Burnat pretty much just had to get hold of a camera and turn it on. It shows rough and at times jumbled footage shot by Burnat with his five different cameras, all of which are an objective testament to the damage inflicted by IDF methods over the course of years of weekly protests in Bil’in.

While both films reflect a different piece of the harsh reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they exist in entirely separate political discourses. “The Gatekeepers” takes place within Israel’s national ethos, from a conscious place of privilege and power. Palestinians are not really present in “The Gatekeepers,” except as the legitimate enemy as well as the victimized “other.”

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Poll: New Vote Would Net Lapid 30 Seats, Bibi 22

By J.J. Goldberg

A new opinion poll shows that if Israel were to hold new elections today, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party would win with 30 seats in the 120-member Knesset, up from its current 19, putting the former television personality in line to be prime minister, while Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud-Beiteinu would drop from 31 seats to 22. Naftali Bennett’s pro-settler Jewish Home party would gain three seats for a total of 15, while the Labor Party would drop two seats to 13. The poll of 510 respondents, released Thursday, was conducted by Panels Ltd. for the Knesset Channel.

A second poll, conducted by Maagar Mochot for Maariv and published Friday, gave Lapid 24 seats and Netanyahu 28. Bennett would rise to 13 and Shas to 12, while Labor would drop to 11 and Kadima would disappear.

Israelis could be forced to return to the ballot box this spring if Netanyahu fails to assemble a coalition by mid-March. President Shimon Peres could forestall new elections by tapping another candidate to try and form a coalition within two weeks after Netanyahu’s deadline runs out, but at present no such coalition seems likely.

At present, new elections are looking more likely than any other option. Since the January 22 elections Netanyahu has managed to sign one coalition deal, with the dovish Tzipi Livni and her six-seat Hatnuah party, promising Livni the Justice Ministry and control of negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. To win a 61-seat majority he now needs to sign two of the next four largest parties—either Yesh Atid (with 19 seats), Labor (15), Jewish Home (12) or Shas (11). But under current conditions, any such combination is impossible, because no two parties have indicated any willingness to sit together. Here’s how the breakdown breaks down:

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Battling Climate Change, the Jewish Way

By David Seidenberg

The rally in Washington D.C. last Sunday on climate change, organized by the Sierra Club, 350.org, and hundreds of other groups, was the largest of its kind in U.S. history, attended by up to 50,000 people, from all over the country. Buses came from all over, some traveling for several days to bring people to Washington DC from places like Montana.

Nili Simhai of the Teva Learning Alliance, which teaches nature programs to Jewish day school children called it “an historic moment.”

“it’s important for us to be here,” Simhai said. “Sustainable climate policies are at the core of what Teva has been teaching for years.”

A few thousand people were there to represent religious groups, like Quakers, Lutherans and Catholics, and of course there were thousands of Jews at the climate rally, but just a few Jewish organizations. The Shalom Center and the Green Zionist Alliance were there, as was my own organization, neohasid.org. And of course, the First Nations people from Canada, whose land is being destroyed by the tar sands development, brought all of their passion and vision to the rally.

One of the chants I heard most often was, “We are unstoppable! Another world is possible!” Another was, “Hey, Obama, we don’t want no climate drama!”

Speakers praised President Obama for finally finding his voice on climate change, but plenty of people in the march were skeptical about whether Obama would match words with deeds. All are closely watching whether he acts to stop the Keystone Pipeline.

But is climate change a Jewish issue? We all thought so, and the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life has been making the case in print. The students from the Central Reform Synagogue in St. Louis who were there with their rabbi and Hebrew school teacher think so too, but what the Jewish community thinks is still up in the air.

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Our Search for America's Most Inspiring Rabbis

By Abigail Jones

Union for Reform Judaism
How has a rabbi inspired you or your community?

Two weeks ago, when the Forward launched its special editorial project America’s Most Inspiring Rabbis, we had no idea what to expect. We asked people of all ages, denominations and backgrounds to nominate a rabbi who has inspired them or who had a profound effect on their lives or in their communities. But would readers respond? Would they take the time to write 200 words about a rabbi? Would we receive stories from a cross-section of American Jews — and would those stories move us? The answer to all of these questions is a resounding YES!

America’s Most Inspiring Rabbis marks the first phase of our year-long investigation into the challenges and changing roles of the American rabbinate. Editor-in-Chief Jane Eisner launched this initiative in a recent editorial, in which she addressed the effect our stalled economy has had on job opportunities for both young and old rabbis, as well as the difficulties women face breaking into the all-male Orthodox world — and the difficulties the Reform movement faces attracting men to its synagogues. As she concluded, “defining and sustaining the role of the modern rabbi is one of the most vital challenges before the American Jewish community today.”

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The Next Pope and His Name

By David Gutterman

Far be it from me, a Jew and a rabbi yet, to get involved in the internal decision making of the College of Cardinals as they ponder this most weighty decision of the election of a pope. But I do want to make a comment about the poignancy and power of names as well as make a prediction as to what the name of the 267th pontiff will be.

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Pope John XXIII

“What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” Juliet opines. Let’s put this proposition to the Biblical test, shall we?

According to our Hebrew Bible, which is essentially accepted by 3.5 billion people on the planet as the nonpareil inspired, sacred text for humanity, the first conscious activity of created man was the assigning of names.

Think about it. The first creative gesture of humanity as represented by First Man, adam harishon, was the act of naming. With the truism and axiom that suggests: ‘you’ve got one shot to make a first impression,’ it would seem that our Tradition is making a rather searing and profound one!

Not yet convinced? Consider. When Moses had his fateful encounter at the burning bush with the Eternal One, he was told that his people, the Jewish people, would be redeemed.

Here, the context adds depth and dimension which cannot be ignored. After 210 years of languishing in Egypt, after 210 years of suffering the spiritual ignominies of subjugation and the moral debasement of slavery, after 210 years of bearing the excruciating physical pain of bondage, the Jewish people were to be liberated.

But rather than blindly accept this longed for hope, our preeminent Biblical leader Moses asks a question of the Divine. When I go back to my people and share the news of imminent redemption, he says, they will ask me but one question. “Ma Sh’mo? What is His name?”

A name is just a name, you think? I think not.

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What Is Tzipi Livni Thinking?

By Nathan Jeffay

Given that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is hardly famed for his enthusiasm on the peace process, it’s interesting that his first signing for his new coalition is the party that ran the campaign with the strongest make-peace-with-the-Palestinians emphasis

Today, Netanyahu recruited the six-seat Tzipi Livni Party, and announced that the party’s leader Tzipi Livni, will become a “senior partner” in the government on this issue. She is widely expected to lead negotiations, and will also serve as Justice Minister.

One wonders what was going through Livni’s mind as she made the agreement. She spoke of her “strategic and moral imperative” to “become a part of any government that commits to bringing peace.”

Now, when did she come to that conclusion? This statement showed a huge change in her thinking since the 2009 election. She won that poll, returning her then-party Kadima to Knesset as the largest party, but flatly refused to form a unity government or any other kind of alliance with Netanyahu. Then, going in with Likud would have made her Prime Minister; now, it will make her a “senior partner” on the Palestinian issue and Justice Minister.

Why was sitting with Likud inconceivable in 2009, but an imperative now? Has her political philosophy changed? If so, how?

It’s worth wondering where Israel would be is she had come to this conclusion back in 2009 and served as Prime Minister, either alone or in some type of rotation with Netanyahu. Would she have continued the progress of her predecessor Ehud Olmert towards peace — maybe even closed a deal? Would Kadima still be a large party instead of the shriveled two-seat entity it is today? And could Livni possibly be, right now, starting her second term as Prime Minister?


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Lapid to Haredim: 'You Won'

By Gal Beckerman

A fascinating speech that Yair Lapid delivered last year has emerged. It offers a glimpse into his views on religion and secularity in Israel, and specifically on the role the Haredim play and will continue to play in Israeli society.

For anyone interested in understanding what philosophy Lapid will be bringing to his role in either government or opposition to it, this is worth a look.


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Obama's Israel Trip: The Logo

By Renee Ghert-Zand

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In marketing, they say that branding is everything. And apparently there isn’t anything these days that can’t be branded — including a presidential trip to Israel.

Believe it or not, President Barack Obama’s upcoming trip to Israel already has a name, and an official logo to go with it is in the works. “Unshakeable Alliance” (*brit amim *, or alliance of nations, in Hebrew) is not just some security operation’s code name. It’s the Israeli government’s first-ever attempt at all-out branding of a visit by a foreign head of state.

With Obama’s past comments about the United States’ “unshakeable commitment to Israel,” and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s remarks about an “unshakeable bond” between the two countries, it wasn’t that much of a stretch to come up with “Unshakeable Alliance.” However, deciding on the official logo seems to be a bit more complicated.

In a savvy public relations move, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is calling on Israelis active on Facebook to vote for their favorite of three logos commissioned from different graphic artists by the PMO’s National Information Directorate.

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From Zimbabwe, With Faith

By Dave Goldiner

Modreck Maeresera

Modreck Zvakavapano Maeresera comes from the southern African nation of Zimbabwe with a message of shared faith.

A leader of the Lemba group that claims ancient Jewish ancestry, Maeresera is on a monthlong tour of the U.S., meeting with Jewish communal leaders and giving lectures about his community.

“We are all joined together by our faith,” said Maeresera, 38, a married father of two. “That is what joins us together.”

He is hoping to build awareness about the 100,000-strong community and raise funds for a synagogue in Zimbabwe’s rural district of Mberengwa.

After appearances in New York (at the 92nd Street Y), Chicago and Texas, he will speak on Wednesday, February 20 along with Florida International University professor Tudor Parfitt at the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU in Miami Beach.

The tour was organized with help from Kulanu, a group that supports isolated Jewish communities worldwide.

“We are told of our history by our oral tradition, which is handed down from generation to generation,” Maeresera said.

Scattered across six separate districts in Zimbabwe’s vast rural hinterland, the Lemba maintains kashrut dietary rules and celebrates Shabbat. They were forced to abandon newborn circumcision and instead circumcise boys at age 8, a symbolic nod to the eight-day rule that Jews worldwide observe.

Others in Zimbabwe — an overwhelmingly Christian nation of 14 million — are keenly aware of their faith and mostly respect it.

“They call us maJuda, which means the Jews,” he said.

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Don't Let Budget Cuts Hurt Disabled

By Willam Daroff

Anne Cohen

In the coming weeks and months, Congress will enact sweeping reductions in federal spending, finalize the 2013 federal budget and raise the debt ceiling. The cuts that will come with these decisions are not merely numbers on a ledger; they will decimate programs that directly impact the lives of the most vulnerable among us and the ability of social service agencies to serve them.

For individuals with disabilities who are aspiring for healthy, independent lives, this is a particularly critical time. The unemployment rates we associate with the slow recovery from the Great Recession pale in comparison to the persistent lack of employment opportunities that have ever been available to the disability community. The disincentive to work inherent in our social safety net, and the inability for those relying on it to build assets, makes upward mobility even more difficult.

The growing challenge for non-profit agencies to provide home- and community-based care makes independent living for many individuals with disabilities an impossibility.

This is why dozens of advocates representing a broad range of Jewish communities, religious streams, social service providers and public policy organizations traveled to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to promote the Community First Choice (CFC) option in Medicaid and the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, both of which further the goals of ensuring individuals with disabilities can lead healthy, independent lives.

During the month of February, Jewish communities across North America observe Jewish Disability Awareness Month. It is an opportunity to raise awareness of the needs, strengths, opportunities and challenges of individuals with disabilities in our communities and to ensure we are building more inclusive communities that celebrate everyone among us. It is also an opportunity for us to engage with lawmakers and express support for public policy initiatives that lead to better outcomes for the disability community.

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Third Time Lucky for Bibi?

By Nathan Jeffay

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Any hopes that Avigdor Liberman had for a quick trial in time to become part of Israel’s new government were dashed today, when his trial opened in Jerusalem and looked set to become a slow affair.

Yisrael Beytenu party head Liberman, who was Foreign Minister until he resigned to face his charges shortly before the election, is accused of fraud and breach of trust. He allegedly promoted an Israeli diplomat in gratitude for information in to a police investigation against him.

He pleaded not guilty and denied all charges against him. But Liberman will pay a heavy price for the trial whatever its outcome, as the timescale under discussion is lengthy, to May and beyond — long after the new government is in place. This means that there’s no way he’s going to be cleared and ready to take up his old job in the Foreign Ministry by the time the new government takes office later this month or next month.

For Liberman this is the ultimate frustration. His party was at an historic juncture — it ran the election on a joint ticket with the ruling Likud party bringing it closer than ever to the real power it has longed for since he set it up in 1999. He had taken Beytenu from a niche Russian speakers’ party to a mainstream party of the right, and this was his big break. Plus, ironically the investigation that had dogged him for years — the one about which the diplomat allegedly gave him information — has been dropped.

As if things can’t get worse for Liberman, his former right hand man in the party and the Foreign Ministry Danny Ayalon is expected to be one of the key witnesses and seems to have lots to say even before he appears in court. The Jerusalem Post reports that he has said that Liberman shouldn’t go back to the Foreign Ministry even if cleared, that the “world treated him like a leper,” and that while the diplomatic appointment in question was appropriate, he “put pressure [on the selection committee] to appoint certain people to the Foreign Service, which I succeeded in blocking, because I convinced him that they were not worthy.”

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Jewish Week Publishes Orthodox E-Rate Investigation

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

An investigation out today from the Jewish Week sheds more light on apparent Orthodox abuse of the E-Rate subsidy program, which the Forward first reported on last week.

E-Rate, a federally mandated subsidy program, funds internet and telephone connectivity for schools and libraries. The Forward investigation revealed that Orthodox institutions that didn’t actually qualify as libraries were nonetheless receiving large E-Rate subsidies.

The Forward’s story also showed that these Orthodox libraries had received far more in subsidies than the average library in New York, and that experts questioned the size of the allocations.

The Jewish Week story focuses on Orthodox schools’ use of E-Rate. The newspaper reports that 22% of all New York State E-Rate allocations in 2011 went to Jewish schools, which constitute just 4% of the schools in the state.

That amounts to $30 million in E-Rate subsidies in 2011. Much of that money went to ultra-Orthodox schools that don’t allow Internet use in the classroom, according to the Jewish Week. The story demonstrates that a handful of large Jewish schools received disproportionately high amounts of E-Rate subsidy.

The investigation is the first in a three-part series, according to the paper.


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Naftali Bennett Says 'No' to Bibi (Or Not Yet)

By Nathan Jeffay

The new star of the Israeli right may be heading for the opposition benches. Israeli media are reporting that Naftali Bennett and his religious-Zionist Jewish Home party have rejected an offer that would have made it part of the government with control of the Education Ministry and other prominent positions.

To Bennett’s irritation Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, head of the Likud-Beytenu alliance and convener of the new government, informed them of the offer via the media, so he rejected it via the media.

In addition to the education portfolio the Likud offer would have reportedly given the staunchly pro-settlement Jewish Home a socioeconomic portfolio and a deputy defense minister who would deal with settlements.

This is undoubtedly part of a bargaining game by Netanyahu and Bennett, along with a working through of bad blood that has existed been them since Bennett’s stint as his Chief of Staff, a position he left in 2008.

But it does appear that beneath all the negotiating talk, Bennett truly is unhappy with the offer, which is interesting. In years gone by the National Religious Party, the faction which rebranded to become Jewish Home, was excited at talk of holding the Education Ministry. One of its key priorities was impacting Jewish identity in the state, and it saw the educational realm as an important route for doing this.

The difference is that the NRP was focused on its religious-Zionist ideology and putting it in to action, and wanted the ministries that would best help it to do that. The Bennett Revolution in Jewish Home keeps largest of the ideology, but it’s all about making the party a contender to become the biggest mainstream right-wing faction in the country — he hopes bigger than Likud. Which is why, unlike most of his predecessors he sniffs at the Education Ministry and is desperate for a post where he feels that he can prove his ability to lead the nation. Can he bargain his way to what he considers real power? Well, let’s just say that nobody really believed that the leader of the formerly-niche immigrant party Yisrael Beytenu, Avigdor Liberman, could become Foreign Minister, and he held the position for the last Knesset session.


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BDS Is Not the Answer

By Liam Hoare

As it transpired, the brouhaha surrounding Brooklyn College’s BDS event was a good deal of hullabaloo over not a lot. Roughly 300 people turned up to listen to Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti speak about the need to boycott and divest from Israel, while outside the hall 150 protested either in favour of or against the event and the movement. In the end, those proposing that the event be shut down were made to look rather foolish.

Far better, perhaps, that Alan Dershowitz and others sought to negate their right to speak redirect their efforts and energies into cautioning against BDS’ even tacit acceptance by those liberal Zionists who earnestly wish to see the end of the occupation of the West Bank and the coming about of two states for two peoples. BDS, it has become apparent, has no interest in this – indeed, as a movement and an idea, it is fundamentally incompatible with Zionism.

That much is evident from its manifesto. For, in addition to advocating an end to the occupation, the dismantling of the Security Barrier, and the recognition of full rights for Arab Israelis, BDS demands “the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.” At present, there are five million Palestinians – one third residing in villages and camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and surrounding states – who are refugees according to the UNWRA standard.

Setting aside the impracticality of the proposition — would the Israeli authorities evict Jewish families from their homes in Haifa and Yafo? — permitting the influx of that many Palestinian exiles would only serve to undo and end the Zionist project. Instead of there being one Jewish and one Arab state between the river and the sea, there would instead be two Arab-majority states, and with time, one state. As such, and as Yair Rosenberg has argued, the right of return and BDS is “antithetical to the two-state solution, the only solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict accepted by majorities on both sides and the international community.”

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Dedicating SOTU Moment to Slain Dad

By Beth Kissileff

In Dad’s Name: Sami Rahamim with his late father, Reuven Rahamim, who was killed in a workplace shooting in Minnesota on the day after Yom Kippur.

As far as Sami Rahamim knows, the seating at the State of the Union address is random. He told the Forward that there “were couples invited who were separated.” His seat, as the guest of his congressman, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), was “up in the gallery, facing the President on the left side.”

The man he was seated next to was Ruben Reyes, a district director for the Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the congressman from the district bordering that of former representative Gabby Giffords. While waiting for the president’s entrance, Rahamim chatted with his seatmate and found that they were “aligned” on many issues and spoke about being an immigrant and “what it takes to make it in this country.” Another coincidence is that Reyes shares a first name and the same initials as Sami’s late father Reuven, who was fatally shot at his workplace, Accent Signage in Minneapolis, the day after Yom Kippur, September 27, 2012.

Sami was at the State of the Union along with 120 other survivors of gun violence sponsored by the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns They are spending the day after the address in small groups, “visiting our members of Congress, particularly the swing votes, to show what we really mean in this fight,” he said.

He had met many of the other survivors at a press conference sponsored by Mayor Michael Bloomberg on December 17 in New York, and says of the others that even though they have only met a few times “we are a close community, and share something extremely powerful.” In a dvar Torah he gave at his synagogue, Beth El in St Louis Park, Minn., on January 5, he wrote of how being with other survivors, there was a “profound lump sum of grief” and “yet, there was an immense feeling of strength and unity among us” because “we were all there to stand for something together.”

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Jonah Lehrer's $20K Mea Culpa

By Anne Cohen

Knight Foundation
Jonah Lehrer

‘I’m sorry’ never felt so good — nor paid so handsomely.

Jonah Lehrer, the disgraced New Yorker writer who quit his job in July after it was discovered he was recycling his own work, for blog posts, acknowledged his plagiarism and fabrications at a February 12 talk in Miami.

It wasn’t just any talk. It came during the Knight Foundation’s prestigious annual Media Learning Seminar, and was accompanied by all the trappings of a big-name performance on the lecture circuit.

And it paid a cool $20,000, Poynter reported.

Lehrer opened his speech by candidly describing himself.

“For those who do not know who I am, let me give you a brief summary: I’m the author of a book on creativity that contained several fabricated Bob Dylan quotes. I committed plagiarism on my blog, taking without credit or citation an entire paragraph from the blog of Christian Jarrett. I plagiarized from myself. I lied to a journalist named Michael Moynihan to cover up the Dylan fabrications,” he said.

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SOTU: Big Government, Small Footprint

By Jane Eisner

Five thoughts on President Obama’s State of the Union address:

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• Obama called for “smarter government” but, as many noted, he also called for a bigger government – or, more precisely, a federal government with bigger ambitions to educate, protect and defend. (More on this in a moment.) But that expansive vision did not translate to the world outside our shores. Foreign affairs, especially concerning the Middle East, wasn’t merely put in the back seat of this address — it was locked away in the trunk.

Obama didn’t mention Iran until just a few minutes before 10 pm (EST). He promised to stand by a safe and secure Israel, a promise delivered in one sentence. He never even mentioned the Palestinians. And his description of the brutal civil war going on in Syria, which threatens the stability of the entire region, was dramatically downplayed.

The president is probably right in reading the public. His pledge to pull out of Afghanistan next year drew huge applause. Clearly, America’s global footprint is going to shrink. Which is good if that makes way for a major upgrade at home…

• Honestly, I couldn’t keep track of all the new federal programs he proposed. Promoting clean energy. Building high-tech manufacturing hubs. Something about fixing bridges and reducing housing payments. Reforming high schools. And the really big deal — extending pre-school opportunities to all young Americans.

As long as there is a way to responsibly pay for these programs (and I realize that is a gigantic if) I found it refreshing to hear a president dream big, especially when his goals are not to build more weapon systems but better schools and new factories.

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Jewiest Dog in Show

By Abigail Jones

Westminster Dog Show
The Canaan dog is the only native dog of Israel.

I have spent my entire life avoiding dogs. They make me sneeze, wheeze and itch, and please, don’t start with the hypoallergenic dog argument; I’m indiscriminately allergic to all of them. Also, when I was five years old, the dog next door — a gigantic, snarling, barking, brown fuzzy beast — chased me halfway around our yard, leaving me with an intense, irrational fear of all canines that took me longer to get over than I’d like to admit. And so it was against my better judgment that I decided to tune into the 137th Westminster Kennel Club Annual All-Breed Dog Show. Suddenly. Everything. Changed.

Last night, the Westminster Dog Show kicked off its two-day competition a mere 2.5 miles from my couch in Madison Square Garden in New York City. Over 2,700 dogs in 187 breeds are set to compete for best in show, and OM-FREAKING-G have you ever seen anything cuter than a Chow Chow? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not into dogs that look more put together than I do (ahem, little Maltese and little Lhasa Apso) but I would happily fill my entire home with ten of these faces. (Assuming they don’t shed. DO THEY?)

Amidst the perfectly pathetic Basset Hound and the ridiculously manicured Standard Poodle, I almost missed a somewhat unremarkable, medium-sized, square-bodied, white and brown pooch strutting across the stage during the Herding group competition — until the announcer introduced him as the Canaan Dog, Israel’s only native dog.

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