Forward Thinking

My Sephardic Guilt on Kristallnacht

By Rachel Delia Benaim

Postcard of Madeira

While other Jewish families suffered unimaginable brutality in the Holocaust, my family lived like royalty in the Portuguese paradise known for its wine, Madeira.

I know: I sound like an entitled, unsympathetic brat. And what I’m trying to say is, I feel guilty about this. I always have.

Every time a Holocaust remembrance day rolls around — like today, Kristallnacht — I feel guilty. Guilty that my family survived, that I can’t relate to the Holocaust on a personal level at all, that Holocaust history is the core of Jewish identity in modern America — and yet I have no part in it.

My family is from Gibraltar (like the straits you learned about in history class), a British territory on the tip of the Iberian Peninsula. In 1940, the civilian population of Gibraltar was evacuated because it was being used as a base for the British Royal Air Force’s, Military’s and Navy’s war efforts. The evacuation moved the entire peninsula’s population well out of harm’s way — and well out of the Holocaust’s scope — to Madeira, where my family went, and Jamaica, another tropical paradise.

My point in highlighting this history is not to brag — just the opposite. I thank God that my family wasn’t subjected to Hitler’s evils, but I feel like the fact that we were so far removed from the horrors carried out by Nazi Germany somehow isolates me from the modern Jewish community and makes my identity less, well, Jewish.

Read more


Adelson and Saban Try To Out-Hawk Each Other

By Nathan Guttman

Haim Saban and Sheldon Adelson / Getty Images

What do you get when you put two of the largest pro-Israel donors — Sheldon Adelson and Haim Saban — on one stage?

For participants at the Israeli American Council’s inaugural conference, this meeting of Jewish finance titans produced several historical insights about the roots of the Palestinian people (Adelson: they have none); a bit of advice on how to deal with Iran (Saban: “bomb the sons of bitches”); and some media criticism (Adelson: “I don’t like journalism” — especially not the Forward.)

Adelson and Saban, one a mega donor to the Republican Party, the other a top backer of the Clintons, may have their differences when it comes to U.S. politics. But on Israel, both engaged in one-upmanship, trying to outdo each other’s hawkishness.

When discussing a possible nuclear deal with Iran, which is now being negotiated between Iran and several international powers, both expressed skepticism. Adelson said that if the deal does not satisfy Israel, then putting himself in the shoes of Israel’s prime minister, he “would not just talk. I would take action.”

But Saban went further. “A stick and a carrot, yes — but I think that we showed too many carrots and a very small stick,” he said of the Obama administration negotiators.

And what would he do if he were Benjamin Netanyahu facing an unsatisfactory deal? “I would act,” the Los Angeles-based media magnate said. “I would bomb the daylight out of these sons of bitches.”

Read more


A New Kristallnacht for Today's European Jews?

By Abraham Foxman

Protesters took to the streets of Paris this summer to demonstrate against Israel / Getty Images

(JTA) — Each year on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, we recall the opening salvo of the violent assault on Jews that foreshadowed the Holocaust and ask ourselves what should have been done at that moment.

In thinking about Kristallnacht, we should also consider the outpouring of violence against Jewish communities in Europe this summer and draw the right lessons for today.

It is rightly said that the Holocaust began not with gas chambers but with words. The significance of Kristallnacht in the history of the Holocaust is the passage from anti-Jewish legislation and anti-Semitic rhetoric to violence against Jews. And therein lies the lesson for today.

To be clear, in today’s democratic Europe, there is no risk of a new Holocaust. Invoking such a possibility obscures rather than illuminates the serious situation of European Jewry. Comparisons to Kristallnacht, however, are apt.

This summer we saw in France, Germany and elsewhere in Europe, anti-Semitic rhetoric followed by assaults on Jews and attacks on synagogues, Jewish-owned shops and other Jewish institutions. The differences with Kristallnacht are stark and significant, but the similarities cannot be ignored. Not on this anniversary — not at a time of great insecurity among Jewish communities in Europe.

Read more


Why the Nazis Are Still Winning Kristallnacht

By Dan Friedman

Wikimedia Commons
Broken and Burning: The main synagogue in Frankfurt-am-Main burns in the November pogrom, 1938.

The word Kristallnacht is poetic, alluring: A night of crystal — perhaps in today’s context we might think of Cristal champagne. The name the Nazis gave the violence of November 9 and 10, 1938, is redolent of European sophistication and yet it connotes barbarity. For that reason Raul Hilberg, and a number of other prominent historians, especially German ones, refuse the name, preferring to use variations on the phrase “November pogrom.”

And yet the Nazi name endures in the public imagination.

It’s only when we get to the English “night of broken glass” that we understand that something has been destroyed. And it’s only in the commemoration that we really understand the gap between the Nazi-issued signifier and the violent signified that was perpetrated by the S.A. (Sturmabteilung, storm troops) and the S.S. (Schutzstaffel, special police), with the participation of many ordinary Germans.

Read more


Settler Yeshiva Battles IDF Over...Treadmills?

By Naomi Zeveloff

Thinkstock

Score one for the settlers.

In the ongoing battle between the most extreme West Bank settlement and the Israeli Defense Forces, the settlers of Yizhar have now announced a modest, if bizarre win.

Following the threat of legal action, the IDF has agreed to move treadmills it had set up in Yizhar’s religious study hall to the dining room.

The Israeli army seized Yizhar’s Ode Yosef Chai yeshiva in April after settlers from the West Bank hilltop community attacked the IDF.

The military turned the yeshiva into an army base and surrounded it with barbed wire. But apparently the people of Yizhar were keeping a close eye on the comings and goings at the site. In September, a group of settlers entered the compound and videotaped the study hall, where the IDF had set up exercise equipment.

The situation reached a fever pitch around the High Holidays when Adi Kedar, an attorney with Honenu, a Zionist legal organization that defends settlers, sent a letter to the IDF:

Read more


Using Ex-Nazis as Spies? I Saw It Happen.

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Hubertus Strughold worked for Hitler’s Luftwaffe throughout World War II — and was later recruited by the U.S. / U.S. Air Force

I got an email the other day from a Jewish man who saw something in Germany 60 years ago that he can’t forget. The man reached out to me after reading my story on Eric Lichtblau’s new book about the U.S. government’s coverup of its use of former Nazis as spies.

The man has asked that I not use his name, in consideration of promises he made in the 1950s to keep quiet on pain of court martial. Today he is a retired attorney. We’ll call him Robert.

Robert was inducted into the U.S. Army in the summer of 1954. Already a law school graduate and a member of the bar, he turned down a commission as an officer and enlisted as a private.

In January of 1955, after completing basic training, Robert boarded a troop ship in Staten Island bound for Germany, where the Army maintained a massive postwar presence. He landed in Bremerhaven and was sent on to a replacement depot to be assigned to a unit.

Robert’s assignment was unusual. Of all of the soldiers on his ship, he was the only one sent to a group called the 7807 USAREUR Liaison Detachment.

The name was a cover.

“It was really run by the CIA,” Robert said. “I reported to a civilian. A CIA civilian… He never said he was CIA, but he obviously was.”

Read more


Jewish Defense League Meets Pastrami

By Menachem Freedman

The register at Ben and Izzy’s Deli in Toronto / Courtesy of Menachem Freedman

When the news hit my Facebook feed that Ben and Izzy’s, a restaurant in Toronto, had been named “North America’s Top Kosher Deli,” I immediately packed my bags. Under the guise of visiting family, I began a pilgrimage to what shalomlife.org called “one of the best delis around.” I have to say — the pastrami was perfect, the chicken soup was superb, though the lack of celery soda seemed a bit blasphemous. But what was less appetizing was yet another reminder that the Jewish community is beautiful, vibrant, caring — but also tainted by racism and Islamophobia. It’s about time we speak out.

This sad reminder came to me at the end of my meal. Next to the register, by the charity boxes for orphanages and social programs, I saw a black box with a raised yellow fist. I nearly lost my brisket. The Jewish Defense League (JDL) is soliciting in the #1 kosher deli in North America.

The JDL is a Kahanist organization that has been banned in Israel and the United States as a terrorist group. Its Canadian branch has been implicated in a long line of vigilante violence and fear-mongering. The fact that such a piece of dreck can solicit in a respectable Jewish establishment should make us sick to our collective stomachs.

Read more


Learning to Undo 'Ashkenormativity'

By Jonathan Katz

Maimonides, one of the most famous Sephardic Jews, as portrayed on an Israeli banknote

Like most Jews with ties to South Africa, my heritage is extremely Ashkenazi. In fact, both sides of my family largely originate from the same region of what is now northeastern Lithuania and northern Belarus. Growing up in New York, most of what I was exposed to as “Jewish culture” was really “Ashkenazi, specifically Lithuanian practice”: savory gefilte fish, Yiddishisms, and my grandmother’s frown at the mere mention of the word Chabad. (As almost every Litvak family does, we claim — perhaps incorrectly — that we are descended from the Vilna Ga’on, whose archenemy was the Hasidic movement.) Suffice to say that, in a country whose Jewish community equates “Jewish” and “Eastern European,” my Jewish upbringing was extremely Ashke-normative.

Some of this changed in college. I learned about Sephardi and Mizrahi customs and traditions — from the additions in the Kaddish to the foods consumed on various holidays. I learned particularly about the discrimination Mizrahi migrants faced in the early days of Israel, and about continued struggles in that regard today. However, my engagement with non-Ashkenazi custom by and large remained somewhat curtailed, and our Hillel was certainly very Ashkenazi-centric — despite the staff’s best efforts at inclusion.

And then I crossed the Atlantic.

Read more


Fear and (Jew) Loathing in Venezuela

By Michael Kaminer

A “Hello, Hitler” shirt for sale in Venezuela

It started with the Hello, Hitler t-shirt.

Just after arriving for a month in Caracas, I saw a teenage girl on the subway wearing a snug red tee whose logo warped the familiar “Hello, Kitty” character into a cute parody of… Der Fuhrer. A giant swastika dominated the shirt, whose tagline was an obvious take on “Heil, Hitler.”

A few days later, by coincidence, I spotted the t-shirt in A Uno, a Venezuelan fashion magazine. The monthly ran an effusive spread on “super-cool” designs of Fuera de la Caja, the company behind the tee. A Uno drew no distinction between the Hello, Hitler shirt and the company’s other hip designs (Fuera de la Caja didn’t respond to e-mailed requests for comment).

The shirt unnerved me. While Caracas is hardly welcoming to Jews — we’re still seen as somewhat alien here, despite a long-standing and established Jewish presence — I haven’t experienced overt anti-Semitism on any of my visits here. Even the anti-Jewish rhetoric that colored Venezuela’s 2013 presidential elections seemed far removed from the bustling streets of the capital.

But something feels different on this trip; I’m sensing casual anti-Semitism and seeing overt anti-Israel sentiment. And for the first time, I’ve felt uneasy as a Jew.

Read more


Our 'Car Talk' Rebbe in God's Auto Repair Shop

By Jeffrey Salkin

“Car Talk” hosts Tom and Ray Magliozzi

It’s a stereotype, but Jewish men have an ancient and mostly well-earned reputation for not being able to fix things. (There have been many notable exceptions to this, including my father, who could fix anything).

I have done my best to uphold this proud tradition of our people. Several years ago, I was riding my bicycle and the chain popped off the sprocket. Heartbroken, I proceeded to drag my bike back home. I would have to drive it to the local bike shop where it would be repaired by someone who — you guessed it — never went to Hebrew school.

Except that morning I had heard a brief news item — yes, on National Public Radio. An Israeli Orthodox rabbi had declared that Reform Jews were not really Jews. This was great. I celebrated my sudden loss of Jewish identity. I turned the bike over, put the chain back on the sprocket (and yes, got my hands dirty) and continued on my merry way.

That might have been the last time that I ever fixed anything. For that reason, and many more, I loved NPR’s “Car Talk” show. Tom and Ray Magliozzi (Click and Clack) had more than four million listeners a week, and I was one of them. That is why I will sorely miss Tom, who died this week of complications of Alzheimers’ disease at the age of 77.

“Car Talk” had more listeners than any other program on NPR. What was it about that show that we loved (and continue to love) so much?

It was because the Magliozzi brothers were the real deal — the realest of deals. There was no sham in their show, no pretentions. These were self-made men, in the style of our parents. They grew up working class in East Cambridge, and never shed their working class vowel-less Boston accents — even and especially after they attended MIT. They worked with their hands.

But there was another thing. “Car Talk” had deep Torah in it.

Read more


7 Best Jewish Comebacks to Catcalling

By Lilit Marcus

I’m sure you’ve seen it by now. A video made by the anti-street harassment group Hollaback shows a woman, the Jewish actress Shoshana Roberts, walking around in New York City getting unwanted attention from men.

The video struck me because, when I moved to New York ten years ago, two things happened: street harassment became more and more prevalent in my life, and I became more and more bold about speaking out about it. I read Rebecca Solnit’s wonderful book Wanderlust: A History of Walking, which examines the seemingly simple concept of walking from different historical perspectives. The takeaway was that as a woman living in a 21st-century metropolis it is still revolutionary that I can walk, alone, from Point to Point B.

But just because it wasn’t illegal for me to walk around alone didn’t mean that I could do so without being harassed. That came to a head in 2012, when I was living in a predominantly Satmar Hasidic neighborhood in south Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Frustrated by the fact that street harassment was not only taking place but coming from people within my own community, I began using specifically Jewish responses to the whistles, catcalls and questions about whether I wanted to get in their van. (Spoiler alert: I didn’t. Ever.)

The weeks that followed were so interesting, and the men’s reactions such a mix of damning and hilarious, that I documented the project for an article in Heeb magazine. The piece got reactions all over the spectrum — some women saying they admired my nerve, a lot of men saying that I wasn’t hot enough to get hit on and that the real problem in the world was prejudice against men. There were also charges of anti-Semitism.

After the piece ran, I started getting emails from people suggesting new comebacks and responses I could use the next time a Hasidic man said something inappropriate to me or another woman. Since I ended up moving out of the neighborhood, I didn’t get a chance to use too many of them. But since Jewish street harassment is a real and ongoing thing, I present them here for you to use and enjoy.

Read more


It's Time for Yeshivas To Fight Rape Culture

By Jonathan Ziring

When studying Talmud, it’s easy to be desensitized to the real-life implications of even the most sensitive issues — rape, for example.

So, as we at Yeshivat Har Etzion study the third chapter of the Talmudic tractate Ketubot, a chapter devoted to the crimes of rape and seduction, it’s easy to forget (especially when using the Hebrew terms) that “ones u-mefateh” are not just legal categories, but traumatic events that affect real people.

To combat that, my yeshiva arranged two presentations this week to ensure that I and the other students fully grasp what’s at stake in discussions of rape and sexual assault.

The first, as our teacher Rabbi Shmuel Shimoni noted, was meant to highlight the human dimensions, and therefore avoided both Jewish legal and secular legal issues. The yeshiva invited Yonina Fallenberg, Director of the Rape Crisis Center for Religious Women in Tel Aviv, to speak at this presentation. She was moved by the invitation, noting that she normally speaks to communities who have been shocked by sexual abuse. To speak to our group without any such prompting highlighted for her (and for us) that the yeshiva understood that “the greatest Torah is that which is connected to reality.”

Read more


That Time Yehuda Glick Was My Tour Guide

By Rachel Delia Benaim

Rabbi Yehuda Glick / Tumblr

The first time I met Rabbi Yehuda Glick, I thought he seemed completely normal. I never would have thought to call him a right-wing extremist, as many reports are doing nowadays. And I certainly never would have dreamed that a few years later he would be the target of an assassination attempt as a result of his efforts to win Jews access to the Temple Mount.

I was a teenager visiting the Temple Institute in Israel for the first time. Since I had just learned about the Institute in my Modern Orthodox day school in South Florida, I suggested to my family that we go visit it. On that chilly Jerusalem morning I remember feeling the tension between being interested in the subject matter and simultaneously having to act “cool” — for whom I’m still not sure. Though my appearance during the tour was perhaps aloof and disinterested, on the inside I was plotzing.

At that point, I didn’t know about the controversy surrounding the Temple Mount. I did not know, for example, that even calling it the Temple Mount and not Haram al-Sharif was politically charged. I did not know that there would one day be a member of the Israeli Knesset, Moshe Feiglin, advocating for Israel to “expel the Moslem wakf from the Temple Mount.” I just wanted to see the actual Temple vessels that I had learned about in my Bible class.

Read more


Make Fort Kent, Maine, Famous? It Takes Ebola.

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Our man in Maine has some words of wisdom for the reporters who are covering the story of the nurse who was quarantined over fears of Ebola. Go to Doris’s Cafe and grab the $1.90 French toast breakfast./Josh Nathan-Kazis

Kaci Hickox, the nurse quarantined over fears she contracted Ebola, has done the impossible: She’s made tiny Fort Kent, Maine, famous.

Fort Kent is a Maine town of 4,000 people in the middle of nowhere. I got blank stares back in May when I told friends I was heading there for a story about my great-grandfather, who grew potatoes and sold cars in town. Today, Fort Kent is Ebola-famous.

Used to be if you searched for “Fort Kent” on Twitter, you got a few University of Maine students and a guy who tweeted his jogging routes. Now, it’s a million AP headlines and pictures of Hickox on her mountain bike.

Hickox, who was detained in Newark after returning from a Doctors Without Borders stint treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, has defied her quarantine since returning to the home she shares with her boyfriend in Fort Kent. “I’m not willing to stand here and let my civil rights be violated when it’s not science-based,” she told reporters last night.

Read more


News Quiz: What is Neil Diamond's Next Hit?

By Lenore Skenazy

Something for everyone! Neil Diamond meets Bette Midler meets a 3-D printer and even pork in this week’s new quiz. Getty Images

Read more


Young Israelis Say No to Separate Buses

By Sigal Samuel

An Israeli soldier walks past a bus on which suspected Jewish vandals painted graffiti reading ‘Gentiles in the land are enemies’ / Getty Images

Young Israelis don’t want separate bus lines for Palestinians — and they’re asking American Jews to ensure segregation never becomes a reality.

That’s the nutshelled version of a letter sent today by Young Israeli Labor, the official youth branch of the Labor Party, to the leaders of major American Jewish organizations including Abe Foxman (Anti-Defamation League), Malcolm Hoenlein (Conference of Presidents), Jeremy Ben-Ami (J Street), Eric Fingerhut (Hillel International) and Rabbi Rick Jacobs (Union for Reform Judaism).

The striking thing about this is not just the willingness of Israeli youth to speak out against segregated buses, but the fact that they’re turning to American Jewish leaders to appeal, on their behalf, to Israeli leaders — specifically, Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ya’alon. The subtext seems to be that they don’t feel they can make themselves heard (or heard successfully) in their own country without a powerful intermediary. We can chalk this up partly to their perception that “Ya’alon is caving in to a well-organized campaign of the extreme right, who hold powerful positions inside the Likud party.” Here’s the rest of their letter:

This unfortunate decision is a disastrous one in any respect. Apart from being a severely miserable decision in every moral aspect, it also adds a very powerful weapon to the arsenal of those seeking to undermine Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

Side by side with you, we, the Young Israeli Labor, the official young branch of the Labor Party, lead an uncompromising struggle on Israel’s international standing. Exactly because of our love for Israel, we must at present do whatever it takes to stop this poor decision from realization.

I call upon you to turn to Israel’s Prime Minister, MK Netanyahu, and demand that he interferes in this matter and prevents Defense Minister Ya’alon from surrendering to the extremist right-wing in Israel, which is jeopardizing our continuing existence as a Jewish and democratic state.

Read more


How To Say 'Chickenshit' in Hebrew

By Ben Sales

Thinkstock / Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confronted quite a challenge when the Atlantic’s Jeff Goldberg quoted Obama administration officials calling him a “chickenshit.”

Israeli reporters, in turn, faced their own challenge: How to translate “chickenshit” into Hebrew.

Modern Hebrew is rich with phrases alluding to the Bible and rabbinic literature. Swear words, not so much. A 2004 song by Israeli hip-hop group Hadag Nachash says “Here, everyone speaks Hebrew/And curses in Russian, English and Arabic.”

So Israeli papers, reporting the anonymous comments Wednesday morning, had to settle on something less evocative than “chickenshit.” The consensus translation that emerged among major news sources was “pachdan,” or coward. Haaretz did a little better, using “pachdan aluv,” or “lowly coward.”

As any poultry farmer can attest, none of these are chickenshit. “Coward” lacks the crude, sandlot insult quality that “chickenshit” conveys. “Coward” is what you’d call someone before a duel. “Chickenshit” is what you’d call someone before a bar fight.

To compensate, Israeli news articles put the word, in English, in their articles, such that “chickenshit” is clearly visible in the opening paragraph, running counter to the Hebrew text.

A friend of mine suggested that Israeli reporters could have avoided all this by translating the phrase to Hebrew literally: “Hara shel tarnegolim.” Of course, that’s also not quite Hebrew: “Hara” is a swear word in Arabic.


Separate Buses? That's How Occupation Rolls.

By Mira Sucharov

Getty Images

As of next month, Israel will operate separate buses for Palestinian residents of the West Bank returning from jobs as day laborers in Israel, thanks to political pressure from West Bank settlers who donʼt want to ride on the same buses as “Arabs.” The question is: Should we care?

Settler leaders claim that the move was due to aggressive and uncouth behavior by Palestinian passengers, coupled with an overall concern for Jewish passengersʼ security. According to a report in Haaretz, one settler told a meeting of a Subcommittee on Judea and Samaria, convened by MK Motti Yogev of the Jewish Home party, about having been sexually assaulted by a Palestinian rider. Another complained that his pregnant wife was not given a seat by Arab passengers. Others were worried that Palestinians on buses could lead to hijackings, or worse. But IDF officials insisted they did not see the Palestinian presence on board these buses as a security threat.

In a democracy, of course, an official report of sexual assault should result in an investigation and possibly individual charges being laid. An informal report — as this one was — might lead a municipality to intensify its safety and surveillance measures. But to collectively deny an entire ethnic group the right to travel on some buses would be collective punishment, rightly considered prejudicial.

Israelʼs rule in the West Bank, however, is far from democratic. Palestinian residents of the West Bank arenʼt Israeli citizens, which means that the normal democratic channels arenʼt open to them from the get-go.

Read more


What's New at the Metropolitan Opera?

By Lenore Skenazy

Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Rudy Giuliani, Benjamin Netanyahu and Moses. One of these men is not like the other, and yet here they all get equal time. So does a Top Chef contestant. And so does Bubbie.

Read more


No, AIPAC Isn't Anti-Israel

By Ori Nir

Getty Images

Jay Michaelson has it wrong. AIPAC is not, as he argues, anti-Israel.

Most of what the lobby does is focused on strengthening the bond between the United States and Israel — various aspects of this relationship, including the U.S.-Israel security cooperation — which is undisputedly pro-Israel.

But not only AIPAC. All American Jewish organizations that focus on Israel, including the ones on the extreme right, are pro-Israel. They support Israel, and they do so wholeheartedly. They care deeply about Israel, and they are deeply concerned about its future.

The deep disagreement between such groups and organizations such as ours (Americans for Peace Now) is not over who is more pro-Israel, who loves it more or who cares more about its future. The dispute — a deep and thorough dispute — is about Israel’s future. It is about the kind of Israel that we want to see. It is about what kind of Israel we are “pro.” Or, more precisely, what vision for Israel we support.

Read more


Would you like to receive updates about new stories?






















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.