Relatives mourn during the funeral for Emanuel and Miriam Riva in Tel Aviv, Israel / Getty Images
I spent my weekend glued to the television. Even if I’d tried, I couldn’t have taken my eyes off the images of Paris: that kosher supermarket and that video of a policeman on the ground getting shot in cold blood that played over and over again on all the Israeli channels.
Perhaps the reason why it deeply touched me is because I work in television news and I live through such events way more intensely than other people. Or perhaps it’s because France is the country I grew up in from age 11 to 18. It’s where I got my elementary and high school education, and it’s the place I called home up until five years ago.
Since I moved back to my real homeland, Israel, I admit that I have distanced myself from France. Not all my memories from there were good. But still, much of who I am today I owe to France and French people. Seeing their sorrow, their horror and their pain made me feel close again.
Israelis have always felt misunderstood by the French, as far as I can tell. After September 11, many said that countries like France would only begin to understand what Israelis go through on a daily basis after something like that happened to them.
Well, many are now describing the events of the past week as France’s own September 11. But today, no Israeli thinks for a second that gaining that understanding was worth the cost of 17 lives.
(Haaretz) — Just as you can sometimes identify Israeli tourists abroad by their loud voices, poor manners and gauche behavior, none of the hundreds of millions of people around the world who watched Sunday’s Paris rally on television had any problem locating Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: smack in the middle of world leaders at the front of the marchers.
The terms that constitute guiding principles for the French people – façon and finesse – suffered their own terror attack on Sunday. There was nothing further from Parisian manners, refinement and style than the behavior of Netanyahu. Or maybe as he should now be called, Grayshirt Bibi.
Such behavior as cutting in line, sneaking onto the bus by pushing and shoving, using elbows to get to the front at some event is so Israeli, so us, so Likud Party Central Committee, that I want to shout: Je suis Bibi!
Photo by Naomi Zeveloff
As a million people gathered in today’s Paris march, French Jewish immigrants stood in solidarity with their co-religionists abroad, first at a post-Sabbath rally outside the French Embassy in Tel Aviv and then on Sunday at Jerusalem’s City Hall.
Hundreds of French Jews gathered in a conference room for the Jerusalem event, which began with a somber reading of the names of those killed in the attacks over the past week. Audience members held “Je Suis Charlie” signs as well as placards in Hebrew that read “Israel is Charlie” and, most creatively, “Tzar li,” a play on the name Charlie that means “I’m hurting.” The pun was a perfect way for Israelis to express empathy for French Jews and the painful experience they have just lived through.
As Israeli leaders made their way to Paris today to march in solidarity with the victims of last week’s attacks, the Jewish Agency was doing double duty by recruiting French Jews to immigrate to Israel.
Hundreds of Jews attended a Paris “aliyah fair” that had been planned before the attacks. About 1% of France’s Jewish population of 500,000 has already immigrated to Israel. Last year, 7,000 French Jews made aliyah, double the number that had come the previous year. After the attacks, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to increase efforts to bring European Jews to Israel.
At the Jerusalem rally, French Jews in attendance felt mixed on the idea that French Jews should move to Israel for their own safety.
A Lubavitch Jew had passersby put on tefillin yards from the besieged kosher market / Twitter
(JTA) — Standing for hours behind that yellow police line Friday, many of us could feel our patience running out as we waited idly near the Porte de Vincennes metro station for news from the hostage situation that was going on just 100 yards away, at the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket.
The journalists among us were on the phone, setting up quality interviews for the next day about the drama we were prevented from approaching. An Islamist had taken more than 20 people hostage at a kosher supermarket, where five people died, including the assailant, before police secured the building.
The police officers preventing us from crossing were chatting among themselves, ignoring the crowd of curious passersby who paused to take pictures of the boulevard — normally a vibrant market which suddenly looked eerily empty because police had closed it to vehicular traffic.
Yet one of the people hanging around the barricade was having no downtime at all.
Holding his tefillin kit at the ready, a bearded follower of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement was soliciting Jews who passed by to put on the leathery straps and pray for the safety of the Jews who were being held hostage less than 100 yards away at the Hyper Cacher kosher store.
(JTA) — In the wake of Wednesday’s deadly attack on the offices of the Charlie Hebdo newspaper, the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie (“I Am Charlie”) swept the internet in solidarity with the victims. Then came #JeSuisAhmed, to honor Ahmed Merabet, the Muslim police officer murdered during the Charlie Hebdo attacks, and who has become a symbol of inclusion and respect for non-Islamist Muslims.
Now, after today’s attack on the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket in eastern Paris has come #JeSuisjJuif, to show solidarity with the beleaguered Jews of France. Here are a few examples
According to an analytics graph posted by hashtags.org, the tweet took off around 7 a.m. Eastern time, and peaked at around 9 a.m., with just under 4,000 tweets per hour. According to topsy.com, #JeSuisJuif has been tweeted more than 20,000 times.
Police arrive on the scene of the hostage crisis in eastern Paris.// Laurent-David Samama
It was mid-morning when I saw several police cars rushing into my street with their sirens on. Even glimpsed through my window, the situation looked unusual.
In light of the recent massacre at Charlie Hebdo, I was suspicious, and headed out in the direction of the noice: Porte de Vincennes, in the southeast of Paris, near the Place de la Nation — and only a few blocks from my house.
Even on foot, I arrived at the scene of the hostage-taking before most journalists.
Urgent : une trentaine de policiers lourdement armés et casqués prennent position devant les sorties du peripherique pic.twitter.com/HjoXwQuK9E— Laurent D. Samama (@ldsamama) January 9, 2015
On the road there were and still are dozens of police cars. Within a few minutes, fire department trucks rushed to Porte de Vincennes later joined by dozens of ambulances. Police stopped traffic. The metro, bus and tram were shut down.
I suddenly realized that today is Friday — Shabbat. It’s no coincidence that the hostages are being held in a kosher market. HyperCasher is a small supermarket located in the eastern part of Paris, close to the cities of Vincennes and Saint-Mande home to strong Jewish communities. Only a few meters away from HyperCasher, there are two other Jewish businesses.
A still from the new film ‘Selma’
Leida Snow’s review of the new film “Selma” takes director Ava DuVernay to task for a “glaring omission” — airbrushing out the contributions of white people in general, and Jews in particular, to the civil rights movement. But Snow makes this critique by drawing selectively from American Jewish history, and her triumphalist narrative is more deserving of her critique than the movie is.
Snow offers a well-tread recitation of a triumphalist version of black-Jewish relations presented in synagogues and summer camps, complete with mention of Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, Jewish involvement in the March on Washington, and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marching with Dr. Martin Luther King at Selma. This version animates social action in a multitude of Jewish spaces, including youth groups, Hillel-sponsored alternative spring breaks and missions to post-Katrina New Orleans. But it’s dangerous for several reasons.
First, it’s a version of history that ignores how the civil rights movement was — rightly — a black-led movement in which only a small proportion of Jews played significant roles. When Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were murdered alongside James Chaney in June 1964, the death of white Jews drew Jewish attention to a movement that had long since been underway. And it’s worth pausing to ask, as a community: Had Chaney been murdered without Goodman and Schwerner, would that moment have attracted the attention that it did in the Jewish community? And if not, why?
(JTA) — Before the HarperCollins Middle East atlas story is deleted from email inboxes, it pays to spend another moment ruminating on the damage caused by companies that ought to know better.
On its website, HarperCollins bills itself as “one of the world’s leading English-language publishers.” It has a storied brand and a list of top-notch authors going back some 200 years. It markets books in more than 150 countries on a wide range of subjects and boasts of having had 400 best-sellers in the past fiscal year.
Among its offerings in 2014 was the Collins Middle East Atlas, which was sold to schools in the Middle East. Atlases are usually reference works, not consulted for daily reading but good to have on the shelf when needed. This edition omitted Israel from maps in the Middle East. The West Bank and Gaza are noted, but not Israel.
Confronted with this omission, a HarperCollins spokesman said that maps marked with Israel’s location would have been “unacceptable” and the omission — clearly intentional — was a bow to “local preferences.”
Leaving Israel off the map in Middle East textbooks and atlases is nothing new. Arab countries, from 1948 on, have perfected the practice. Palestinian textbooks not only leave Israel off the map but put Palestinian place names instead of Israeli cities and towns.
A worker at Streit’s Matzo Factory on the Lower East Side / Getty Images
This week brought news of the closing of Streit’s Matzo Factory on the Lower East Side, a landmark that has been there since 1925.
For the past fifteen years, on the Sunday before Passover, on behalf of the Museum at Eldridge Street, I have led a walking tour of the Lower East Side with my colleague Hanna Griff-Sleven, a folklorist. Billed as a “journey into the kishkes of the old Jewish Lower East Side,” it is an annual ritual I love.
We visit sites established by the Jewish immigrant community of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, places like the Forward Newspaper Building on East Broadway, Jarmulowsky’s Bank, Loew’s Theatre and Seward Park Library. On our walk, we also stop at kosher eateries that were established by Jewish immigrants, their descendants and new entrepreneurs — places like The Pickle Guys and Kossar’s Bialys.
Streit’s, on Rivington and Suffolk, was our ultimate destination. There the group would sample the warm matzo fresh off the conveyor belt, and purchase kosher for Passover products, old favorites as well as recent innovations like muesli and garlic aioli with dill.
Every year, the tour gets harder and harder to lead. The buildings still stand but only a few serve their original function. The Forward Building, once a bastion of socialism with relief portraits of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels on its façade, today offers luxury housing. Jarmulowsky’s Bank, dressed in scaffolding, is being converted into a boutique hotel. The beautiful library and settlement houses still do a brisk business albeit for a different, predominantly Chinese, immigrant community.
People gather outside French embassy in Berlin to say #JeSuisCharlie / Twitter
Paris, my city, is under attack. All of France is shocked and shattered.
As of 11:00 this morning, French TV channels and radio stations have interrupted their regular programming to cover the story of the attack. On Twitter, the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie is now trending worldwide, unifying all those who reject terror of the kind we saw today.
Like all French citizens, my particular community — the Jewish community — is reeling from the news. Concerned as we have been for years about the spiraling communal tensions, the anti-Semitic attacks on Jews and the steadily mounting anti-Muslim sentiment, this hits an especially raw nerve.
By now, news of the massacre at the offices of the French newspaper Charlie Hebdo has reached the U.S. In perhaps the fullest account on this side of the Atlantic, the New York Times reports that the masked assailants—two according to a witness, three according to the police—burst into the lobby of the paper’s offices and began to fire their AK-47s, killing as many as a dozen people, including two police officers, before they fled the scene.
As the Times reporters also noted, Charlie Hebdo is a satirical weekly (“hebdo” is slang for “hebdomadaire,” or weekly) and this week’s cover features the French novelist Michel Houellebecq. More background on all of this, though, is helpful. Like its far older and more distinguished relative, Le Canard Enchaîné, Charle Hebdo publishes on Wednesdays, refuses commercial advertisers (to guarantee its editorial independence), insists on the primacy of print journalism (both websites are wonderfully primitive), is an equal opportunity lampooner of all religious and political movements, and gives pride of place to its cartoonists.
Take this week’s cover. The Times reported, correctly, that Houellebecq is portrayed as a wizard hawking his predictions at the start of the New Year. “In 2022, I will do Ramadan,” the bleary-eyed novelist slurs. But there’s another prediction, unremarked by the Times: “In 2015, I will lose my teeth.” Given Houellebecq’s history of drinking, chain-smoking—he’s trying to chip away at his current four packs a day—and general dissipation, the 2015 prediction is probably a better bet. And the cover also announces stories on the truth concerning the “baby Jesus” and on the hypocrisy of the Socialists when it comes to matters of money.
I’ve had a swirl of emotions in response to the attack on France’s satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, which has left 12 dead, including many of this generation’s greatest cartoonists. I’m raging at the brutality of the act and find myself utterly incapable of getting anywhere near an understanding of a worldview so insecure that it would prompt murder at the slightest sound of a giggle. But there’s another thought too: Would Charlie Hebdo have been so dangerous to these extremists if it had only existed online?
If you’ve worked as a journalist or editor at a print publication over the past few years, you understand a certain unavoidable feeling of irrelevance. One question — “But who’s reading it? — very often gets plunked down in newsrooms or over drinks after the paper has been put to bed (remember that expression?). It’s not just that analytics allows us to see, literally, who is reading us online, whereas print doesn’t afford the same precise insight. It’s also the sense that fewer and fewer people are actually sitting down with a newspaper or magazine in physical form.
I’m not engaging in simple nostalgia. There are wonderful reasons that I don’t need to enumerate here — online! — for why the new means of communicating news and opinion are an improvement. But when I think about what is lost by going online, it’s the sense of presence that print provides, of being right in front of your face with no chance at clicking elsewhere. Charlie Hebdo in its oversized format and its huge cartoon covers revels in print. In its aesthetics I can’t think of any American publication quite like it in the last twenty years — not since magazines like Life or Andy Warhol’s Interview ceased printing at such gargantuan dimensions.
Would its depictions of Mohammed have rankled so many in the Muslim world if they had been only online? I don’t really know. But it’s certainly true that the troubles for cartoonists over the last few years, beginning in 2005 with the printing of caricatures of Mohammed in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, seem to have begun when the cartoons appeared on paper. And Charlie Hebdo, as I remember the magazine from my days living in Paris almost two decades ago, is a sort of advertisement for itself, with the cover caricature so large that it’s unavoidable as you walk past any newsstand.
That quality of print, always a cousin to the book, in all its solidity and self-importance, in this case resulted in these horrific deaths. We should remember that power today. The medium still distinguishes itself from online journalism by not seeming ephemeral, by looking and feeling like something that was made to last, to shock, to be looked at and — as the French would say — digested. Sadly, it’s also a medium that, when upsetting the hair-trigger sensitivities of zealots, can lead to a massacre.
Illustration by Lior Zaltzman
One month ago, I returned from China, where I was the guest of the Guilford and Diane Glazer Center for Jewish and Israeli Studies at Nanjing University. The Glazers are not the only Jewish philanthropic connection — many American Jews have made commitments in support of China’s ten academic centers of Jewish study. Yes, you read that right — there are no less than ten centers for studying Judaism in China.
The Chinese have a fascination with Jews, you see. It’s partly because of mythologies related to perceived notions of “Jewish political influence” in America, but it’s also connected to the significance of Jews in Western history and culture. As the “other” great ancient civilization, Jews enjoy a level of respect and admiration among the Chinese.
My hosts at Nanjing made a conscious effort to expose me to scholars and students not only at that university but also at two other higher educational centers. Over a 12-day visit, I was invited to offer presentations on everything from the Israel-Diaspora partnership to the uniqueness of the American Jewish experience. My audiences included Jewish studies majors, academic officials and students from an array of disciplines, as well as ordinary Chinese citizens simply interested in the material.
So what did the Chinese want to learn about Jews in the United States? They were mostly focused on these questions: Why did such a community within the U.S. feel it important, even essential, to be politically engaged? Why did American Jews have a particular connection to Jews worldwide and especially to the State of Israel? What did Jewish peoplehood represent, and how did Jews maintain their connections across continents?
Jerusalem store owner Amir Schreiber has sold out of pepper spray multiple times / Naomi Zeveloff
Pepper spray has become a hot commodity in Jerusalem as the city’s Jewish citizens are arming themselves in the wake of recent Palestinian attacks — and some innocent Palestinians are getting sprayed.
On Jerusalem Facebook groups, people are asking and advertising for the product, and in the city’s brick and mortar stores, sales of the spray are up. In November, a “make your own pepper spray” cooking class was even advertised on Facebook.
Tal Yona, a 17-year-old Jerusalemite, began selling pepper spray with three friends after the Har Nof attack, when two Palestinians killed four Jewish worshippers at an Orthodox synagogue in the West Jerusalem neighborhood.
Yona knew a friend who was selling the spray, and he asked to get in on the business. “I figured it was a great idea, we would be making money and citizens would be able to protect themselves,” he said.
The Maharal of Prague brings the Golem to life / Tumblr
(JTA) — Stephen Hawking is much in the news these days. His personal story, the subject of the recently released film “The Theory of Everything,” is already spoken of as an Oscar contender. Diagnosed in 1963 with the dreaded Lou Gehrig’s disease and given two years to live, he went on to a brilliant career, became the author of international best-sellers, received dozens of honorary degrees and gained broad recognition as one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists since Einstein.
Hawking is clearly someone undaunted by personal fears. Yet in a recent BBC interview, Hawking confided that he was deeply concerned for the future of humanity. The cause of his concern is artificial intelligence, or AI, the creation of intelligent machines able to “outthink” their creators. What began with IBM’s Watson supercomputer, capable of handily beating chess grandmasters and the best players on “Jeopardy!,” may in the near future, Hawking warned, checkmate its designers to become the Earth’s ruler.
“The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race,” Hawking said.
Science fiction already has prepared us to contemplate such a scenario. Films like “The Terminator” and “The Matrix” pit puny humans against AI-driven enemies. The upcoming “Avengers” movie depicts superheroes forced to battle Ultron, an AI machine determined to destroy mankind.
There’s a world of difference between the ability to create and the power to control. As Google’s director of engineering, Ray Kurzweil, has put it, “It may be hard to write an algorithmic moral code strong enough to constrain and contain super-smart software.” The greatest danger of scientific progress is the possibility that what we bring into being realizes a life of its own and is no longer subservient to its maker nor human values.
That is what has been the subliminal message for centuries of the famous legend of the golem of Prague. In Jewish tradition, Judah Loew, the 16th century rabbi of Prague, used his knowledge of Jewish mysticism to magically animate a lifeless lump of clay and turn it into a super human defender of the Jewish people. On its forehead he wrote the Hebrew word for truth, “emet,” which mystically gave the creature its power.
In my many years of public service, the late New York Governor Mario Cuomo stands out as a powerful figure who made his mark with both his mind and his words.
A distinguished leader of the state for 12 years, Cuomo was a moving progressive thinker and a brilliant orator. His intelligent and compelling speeches defined and strengthened a liberal view of the world at a time when too few others held these positions and fewer still chose to advertise them widely.
Governor Cuomo took his Roman Catholic faith seriously and brought progressive faith-based values into the public square, speaking eloquently about the poor in our country at a time when such pronouncements were distinctly out of fashion.
He spoke pointedly about a “tale of two cities” as a metaphor about the rich and poor in America in a direct challenge to President Ronald Reagan’s claim that all Americans were prospering as if they were in a “city on a hill.” At that particular low point in American politics known as the Reagan era, it was exhilarating to listen to Governor Cuomo articulate the role that government should play in providing a greater degree of equity and a better quality of life for all.
Ever since publication of my Dec. 23 story on the decision by United Synagogue Youth to relax its rules barring teenage USY board members from dating non-Jews (“USY drops ban on interdating”), JTA has found itself at the center of a firestorm about coverage of the Conservative youth movement’s decision. Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, head of the movement’s Rabbinical Assembly: “We are dismayed by the mischaracterization of these policies in the press.”
Rabbi Steven Wernick, CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism: “We live in a society that shoots first and asks questions later… We’re talking about two sentences: You don’t teach people how to have a life of value in a constitutional document.”
Rabbi Michael Knopf of Temple Beth-El in Richmond, Va., writing in Haaretz: “What makes for good click-bait does not necessarily convey truth.”
Andrew Van Bochove, a Times of Israel blogger and middle school band director who works with USYers: “The same exact day the USYers were being socially active, the JTA published an article that rapidly spread with negativity. Such negativity can be construed As Lashon Hara (gossip) which is actually one of the items the USYers at discussion are trying to conquer.”
Here at JTA, we’ve watched the brouhaha with some degree of bewilderment. What, exactly, did we get wrong?
(JTA) — Imagine your ideal Passover getaway. What would it include? Sandy beaches? Emerald green fairways? Kosher haute cuisine? Sen. Ted Cruz?
If the Prime Hospitality Group is any judge, you’ll want all of those things. Especially the last one.
Politico is reporting that the Prime Group, which specializes in offering lavish getaways for religiously observant Jews, is billing the firebrand Texas senator as a prime attraction for its 2015 Passover packages. Prime lists Cruz as a featured speaker for vacationers at high-end destinations including Aspen, Colo.; Westlake Village and Monach Beach, Calif.; and Vieques Island, Puerto Rico, alongside prominent rabbis such as Jonathan Sacks and Marvin Hier, and top communal officials like Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations Executive Vice Chairman Malcolm Hoenlein.
A Cruz adviser told Politico that the senator would only be speaking once, at Monarch Beach, suggesting that “well-meaning program organizers overstated his participation.” But the fact that Prime Group is eager, or even over-eager, to tout Cruz to its well-heeled, kosher-observant clientele suggests that Cruz is successfully carving out a niche for himself in the Jewish world, and that, in turn could have major repercussions for the 2016 presidential race.
(Haaretz) — The Jewish Telegraphic Agency wire service ran an article about the United Synagogue Youth’s annual international convention, under the headline “USY drops ban on interdating.”
Unfortunately, this headline, which was widely circulated among Jewish news outlets, failed to capture the real issue that emerged from the confab. A more apt headline would have been “Jewish teens in 21st century Diaspora cast vote in favor of Shabbat observance.”
The Conservative youth movement’s teenage board members, who convened in Atlanta, Georgia, last week, used positive language to reframe the traditional requirements for those elected to the board.
They spoke about creating a welcoming and inclusive environment, and fostering healthy attitudes toward Jewish dating. They eliminated the harshly worded “lo taaseh” (“thou shalt not”) ban on interdating, replacing it with a call to “model healthy Jewish dating choices.”
However, if we in the Jewish community spend our time focusing on interdating reform, then we have missed the real issue in this story: the youth leaders’ decision to uphold the requirement that they observe Shabbat.
There has always been an expectation that USY leaders should publicly maintain Shabbat observance. In practical terms, this means not being “out on Friday night,” not going to school on Jewish holidays, synagogue involvement, and trying to make place for Shabbat and holidays within one’s home, regardless of your family’s level of observance.
As the end of the year approaches, I feel it’s time to disclose some of the sweet perks I enjoyed as the Forward’s video reporter. Just to confess and get clean for 2015.
The best thing about being a video reporter is that you can’t do your interviews over the phone. You have to go out into the world. That’s how I escape my sun-deprived office desk on a regular basis.
For “Cracow Crescendo” I traveled to Poland to capture the voices of a new choir at the local JCC. Listen closely. Between song lines, you can hear the cautious hope for a Jewish revival.
For “Nomadic Love” I walked the gritty streets of Berlin with artist Liad Hussein Kantorowicz, who told me how the German capital has become a magnet for soul-searchers from Israel.
And for “Scars in the Garden” I stepped deep into the mud of East Detroit to learn about a community farm where African-Americans and Jews come together to harvest a new era of trust.