Forward Thinking

A Hasidic Rabbi With a Latin Heart

By Mariana Cristancho-Ahn

Courtesy of Mendy Weitman

Five years ago, Rabbi Mendy Weitman could have moved anywhere in the world to pursue his dream of building a Jewish community as a Chabad Lubavitch emissary. But instead he chose to stay in New York, where he spotted a greater group in need of a community: Jewish immigrants from Latin America.

In 2009, Weitman and his wife, Frumie Weitman, started the Jewish Latin Center, a meeting place for Latin American Jews in New York and the metropolitan area. Today the center has nearly 1,500 members, who commonly describe it as “a home away from home.”

During its five years of existence, the Jewish Latin Center has organized and hosted an array of religious, cultural and social events — from hundreds of Sabbath dinners and the dedication of the community’s own Torah scroll in 2011, to a talk titled “The Sexual and the Secret. Is God in the Bedroom?” to presentations of such personalities as Mosab Hassan Yousef, the son of a founder of Hamas and star of the 2014 documentary “The Green Prince,” detailing his time as an Israeli spy.

Weitman, 30, has officiated at the weddings of about 20 couples within the community and actively uses his matchmaking skills to bring together Latin Jews.

Besides English, Hebrew and Yiddish, Weitman is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese, languages that come in handy when communicating with the members of his community.

The Forward’s Mariana Cristancho-Ahn spoke to Weitman about the differences between Latin and American Jews and the future of the Latin Jewish Center.

Mariana Cristancho-Ahn: Tell me about your Jewish upbringing.

Mendy Weitman: I was born and raised in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where my parents were sent as Chabad Lubavitch emissaries. My father is the rabbi of the Congregation Beit Yaacov, in Sao Paulo. I studied at yeshiva in different places — Israel, France, New York and Argentina — and after six years of studies, I graduated from the Rabbinical College of America, in New Jersey.

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Why I, an Israeli Jew, Will Vote for the Arab Party

By Gilad Halpern

Arab politician Ahmed Tibi addresses the press / Getty Images

The general mood in Israel, ahead of the second general election in just two years, is that little to nothing is going to change. Whether you’re an admirer of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or his sworn enemy, everybody agrees that his chances of a third reelection are good, and that his new government will be similarly composed of several medium-size parties with differing agendas. Another safe assumption is that it will fail to address people’s substantial concerns, chief among them the soaring cost of living.

Barring those on the left who are encouraged by the prospects of a Labor-led government recently moving from nonexistent to slim, most people see the 2015 elections as the most inconsequential in Israel’s recent history. For me, however, they are momentous. In these elections, I’m going to part with the party that has been my political home throughout my adult life.

The March 17 polling day will be the first that I won’t vote for Meretz, the decidedly left-wing, progressive, pro-human rights and anticlerical party. And it’s not because my views have changed or because they’ve done a poor job — on the contrary, especially since Zahava Galon took the leadership in 2011, they’ve been a steadfast and courageous mouthpiece for Israel’s beleaguered peace camp. In spite of all this, in these coming elections I have decided to cross the line, as it were, and, as an Israeli Jew, vote for the newly founded joint Arab list.

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Why Was Alan Gross Anyone's Guest of Honor?

By John Stoehr

Alan Gross basks in applause at the State of the Union address./Getty Images

If you didn’t know anything about Alan Gross other than what you saw on television, you probably thought it was right for him to sit next to first lady Michelle Obama as guest of honor at this year’s State of the Union address. His presence marked the dramatic shifts taking place in U.S.-Cuba relations, shifts that Fidel Castro said Tuesday were good for both countries.

“We will always defend cooperation and friendship with all the people of the world, including with our political adversaries,” he wrote in a letter to a student group in Cuba.

In December, television news reporting told the story of Gross as a humanitarian unjustly jailed in 2009 by a repressive Communist regime for the crime of bringing Internet access to Cuba’s small Jewish community. His release from prison in December was part of President Obama’s plan to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba after half a century of regime-change policy in the United States.

This TV news narrative had bipartisan support. In announcing his administration’s shift in Cuba policy, Obama said Gross “was arrested by Cuban authorities for simply helping ordinary Cubans.” Marco Rubio, the anti-communist Republican senator from Florida, said Gross was innocent of all charges against him and that he’d been “taken hostage” for “helping the Jewish community in Cuba have access to the internet.”

Neither was the case. He wasn’t “simply” helping ordinary Cubans. He wasn’t “taken hostage” and he wasn’t “innocent” of breaking Cuban law. I don’t mean to falsely equate Obama’s and Rubio’s statements. One points to the failed policies of the past while the other points to a more pragmatic, hopeful and unknowable future. But the facts behind Gross’s escapades have been largely known since at least 2012 thanks to the dogged reporting of the Associated Press’s Desmond Butler. At the time of his release, any cub reporter could have searched newspaper archives to learn more about Gross. That his presence at the State of the Union address did not raise an eyebrow in Washington, that he was recognized as a kind of hero in the fight for democracy and justice around the world, speaks volumes to the impotence of our national media and the lengths to which Obama is willing to go to end the still-lingering absurdities of the Cold War.

In 2009, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) paid Gross, through a third party, almost $600,000 to go to the island nation to install military-grade Internet equipment in Jewish synagogues that could not be detected by the government in Havana. Gross’s company specialized in installing computer electronics in remote areas and had worked in developing countries in Central Asia and Eastern Europe.

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The Nazi Commandments for Pure Aryan Society

By Ofer Aderet (Haaretz)

Blind German schoolgirls learn about heredity. Photo by Courtesy

“The Ten Commandments For Choosing a Spouse,” was written by the public health committee of the Reich and published in Germany in 1935. Beginning Tuesday, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, it will be on display in Hebrew translation as part of the “Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race” exhibition at the Ghetto Fighters’ House (Beit Lohamei Hagetaot) Museum.

The exhibition, which originated at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., trains a spotlight on the twisted principles and methods that the Nazis tried to bequeath to the German people, as part of the regime’s efforts to maintain what was called “racial purity.”

The first of the above-mentioned commandments, which were aimed at women, was: Remember that you are a German woman, and that everything you are is thanks to your people. The document explains that while the “genetically healthy” German woman will pass from the world, everything she transfers to her offspring – whom will be plentiful, it is hoped – will remain behind, and thus “Your nation will live forever!”

The other commandments urge German women to choose their spouse carefully: that is, “only from the same Aryan blood or from Nordic blood.” Mixing races that do not suit one another often leads to racial degeneration, the document explains – and to the downfall of people and nations alike. German women were, moreover, ordered to keep their distance from members of foreign races who are not of European origin, and to keep their bodies pure because “momentary pleasure” is liable to destroy one’s health and genetic makeup forever – “a curse that will affect you, your children and your grandchildren.”

German women were told to ask their potential partner about his “ancestors.” Never marry a good man from a bad family, it is written, for no medical substance can change tainted “genetic material”; it was recommended that the potential spouse should even undergo medical tests. Additional advice on the list: “Seek a companion, not a playmate. The purpose of marriage is to bring children into the world and to raise offspring. This final purpose will be achieved only among people who are racially, physically and emotionally homogeneous … If you are hereditarily fit, you must not remain single.”

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Which Rabbis Inspire You, America?

By Jane Eisner

Rabbi on the Beach from Jewish Daily Forward on Vimeo.

Eliyahu Fink is the spiritual leader of Pacific Jewish Center along the Venice boardwalk in California, an Orthodox rabbi who so inspires his eclectic congregation that he was named one of the Forward’s Most Inspiring Rabbis of 2014.

When Martyna Starosta, our digital media producer, was on assignment in Los Angeles, she stopped by to see Rabbi Fink and his unusual form of Jewish outreach. “Why not an Orthodox Shul on the beach?” Martyna told me. “Hollywood is just around the corner, so it feels like another film set where prayers and surfers inhabit the same floating daydream.”

She was struck by the unconventional way Fink approached the challenge of blending his traditional core congregation with the more transient Jews who journey through Venice beach. He’s extremely active on the Internet, with his own blog “Fink or Swim” where he comments on current events. He participated in National Geographic’s reality TV show “Church Hoppers.” Most importantly, he is open to meeting fellow Jews wherever they feel most comfortable — whether it’s at someone’s house or at a coffee shop.

“I don’t view myself as just a rabbi with a shul. I view myself as a rabbi who has a shul and has a responsibility to the people who live in the area,” Fink told her. “I don’t want my relationship to depend on whether they were going to become more orthodox. I wanted it to be genuinely about them and what they could do as Jews the way they are and to maximize their experience as the people that they are right now.”

It’s time now to find the new Rabbi Fink, or his many equivalents — rabbis on the pulpit or in the classroom, in Hillel or hospice, who touch the lives of other Jews in profound ways. We count on you, our readers, to find these stories and share them with us.

Fill out our online form below with your nomination and we’ll publish the most compelling stories before Passover. The deadline is February 16. The possibilities are as endless as the ocean that serves as the backdrop to Rabbi Fink’s inspirational work.

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The Crosses of Auschwitz

By Yoni Wilkenfeld

Survivors and families make their way to lay candles at the Birkenau Memorial during the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz./Getty Images

Oswiecim, the site of Auschwitz-Birkenau and of the commemoration of the 1945 liberation of the camps, is typical of Polish cities in at least one respect: many Jews once lived there, and now they do not.

A majority-Jewish town before the Holocaust, Oswiecim has had an overwhelmingly Catholic population for decades. And while for much of the world the Jewish trauma of the Holocaust is front and center in its remembrances, many in Poland have long focused on the non-Jewish victims of the war.

During the 70th anniversary commemoration, over 150 people gathered at Oswiecim’s Center for Dialogue and Prayer for a mass service led by Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, the Archbishop of Krakow. Dozens of non-Jewish survivors of Auschwitz sat for prayer and liturgical music in the company of Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski, who also spoke at the anniversary event.

Some, though, are not content to place Jewish and non-Jewish victims alongside each other, resenting the focus on Jewish suffering as an overemphasis.

On the day of the ceremony, an elderly man from the far-right group Telewizja Narodowe had erected with a 2-story tall wooden cross near a makeshift encampment on the roadside. Sitting beside a wood-burning stove under a blue canopy, he wordlessly declined an interview. But his point was made, not least because his cross sat directly opposite the so-called Auschwitz Cross, long a symbol of Catholic-Jewish tensions over the site.

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What Jewish Law Says About 'Deflate-Gate'

By Hillel Kuttler

Getty Images

(JTA) — “Deflategate,” the controversy surrounding the New England Patriots that has made national news, made its way to a Houston business conference led by a rabbi.

Rabbi Yossi Grossman, dean of the Jewish Ethics Institute, on Monday transformed the football prattle into a high-minded look at ethics on the playing field in his bimonthly talk before some city businesspeople. To make his points, he cited the Exodus story, Talmud, the rabbinic authority Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, the Code of Jewish Law and prohibitions against theft of money and of mind.

Theft of mind means presenting one’s credentials misleadingly, to the presenter’s benefit, Grossman said.

“The question is, who was actually committing fraud here? Was it the quarterback, the coach, the owner?” Grossman asked.

Discussions of right and wrong in sports typically tend toward on-field strategies: a baseball manager yanking a starter or a football coach opting for a field goal rather than a first down.

Rarely do ethical dilemmas enter the discourse, at least to the degree of “Deflategate” – allegations that the Patriots had deflated footballs to gain a competitive advantage during their Jan. 18 victory over the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC championship game. Their 45-7 victory earned the Patriots a trip to the Super Bowl on Sunday against the defending NFL champion Seattle Seahawks.

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Talmudic Rabbis Were Totally Badass in Blizzards

By Sigal Samuel

An Orthodox Jewish man covered with snow walks in Jerusalem / Getty Images

New York’s got nothing on ancient Jerusalem, and Governor Andrew Cuomo’s got nothing on Rabbi Hillel the Elder.

While we were all rushing home to take shelter from the impending Blizzard Juno, with its promised “historic” downfall of 30 inches of snow, and while our fearless leader Cuomo was busy shutting down the entire New York City subway system, an unprecedented reaction that many believed was just for show, I couldn’t help thinking of one of my favorite Talmud stories.

This story proves that the ancient rabbis were totally badass when it came to coping with snow. At least, Hillel the Elder was. A promised 30 inches? That’s nothing! Hillel willingly stayed out in 54 inches of snow! His motivation? Well, see for yourself:

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Meretz Is a Lost Child on the Internet

By Lior Zaltzman

Still from Yotam Perel
Say what you will about Naftali Bennett’s “I’m Not Sorry” viral ad campaign — we certainly did. But one thing you can’t deny is that it was smartly done. Bennett’s ad was internet-savvy and in touch with its target audience.

The same cannot be said for Meretz’s latest ad campaign. I wish I could tell you exactly what goes on in it, but all I can do is use my finest army intelligence training to try and surmise. The gang from Meretz appear to be crashing (not very convincingly) a wedding party and breaking out into dance to the balkan beat of Meretz’s new jingle (you guys, balkan beats are so 2011). No one is looking at the camera and everyone seems embarrassed to be there. It feels like my cousin’s bar-mitzvah.

The head of the party, Zehava Galon, is a bar-mitzvah aunt, jumping from side to side with eyes glazed, awkwardly mumbling along with the lyrics. Galon can’t even handle her vodka shots. So how can she handle another four years as a political party head?

The music is as embarrassing as the visuals, with tacky lyrics like “I’ll just have good times, not bad times, everything is possible, it’s just a matter of choice” and “Let’s stop the hate and choose love.” And the balkan beat is a conscious PC choice, so as not to make the ad feel too Ashkenazi or too Sephardic. The result is this lackluster, dated song.

Meretz, after all, is filled with good intentions. They’re staying away from inflammatory and derogatory ads. Everyone from the Likud to the Zionist Block have been up to the usual pre-election mud-slinging and Meretz wants to set itself apart. “Suckers” is what Hipster Naftali Bennett would say, along with a bunch of Israelis. And suckers is a very nice name when compared to some of the name-calling directed at the Israeli left recently, especially in the wake of the recent Gaza war.

I understand that Meretz wants to be good. It just has to be better at being good. Meretz is all that’s left in the Israeli left.

And Meretz does have accomplishments to tout. You don’t have to look too hard to see that they are the most pro-gay party there is. They are constantly rated the number one party for workers’ rights. They are very strong when it comes to human rights as well. Galon is a great politician and she gets things done. So why does every Meretz video feel so awkward and ill-fitting?

Bottom line: Meretz needs to fire whoever is in charge of their PR, pronto. And I’ve got a suggestion for a new hire: animator Yotam Perel, the guy who made the following spoof of the Meretz campaign video. In less than 20 seconds, his animation managed to be more evocative — definitely more weirdly mesmerizing — than anything Zehava has managed to put forth so far. Here, see for yourself:


Hebro Presents First-Ever Gay Jewish Auschwitz Tour

By Michael Kaminer

Hebro Travel ad

The image is a little jarring. On the left, a bearded, shirtless guy in sunglasses stands on a beach, the Israeli flag reflected in his mirrored aviators. On the right, a pink Star of David hovers over an ancient building in Prague.

But for Jayson Littman, the pictures make perfect sense. As the founder of Hebro Travel, a new tour company serving “gay Jews and those who love us,” he’s serving up trips that blend historical exploration, cultural discovery — and some serious partying.

The travel venture is an outgrowth of Hebro, Littman’s hugely successful party promotion and social-networking outfit, which hosts events with names like High Homodays, Jewbilee, and Sederlicious. “A lot of organizations exist to help gay people feel comfortable in Jewish spaces,” he told the Forward. “I exist to help Jews feel comfortable in gay spaces.”

An Israel trip timed for Tel Aviv Pride in June will take travelers to a famously gay-friendly environment. But it’s Littman’s latest tour offering that’s generating attention — and raising eyebrows.

The history-making Poland & Prague Pride Trip, August 8-16, includes a Jewish heritage tour of the Kazimierz District and Schindler’s List route; visits to historic synagogues; and stops at Auschwitz and Theresienstadt. It ends with parties and a parade — Prague’s Gay Pride festivities take place the final Saturday of the trip.

“Some people did say, ‘How can you go from touring concentration camps to celebrating Pride?’” he said. “I look at it the same way as Jewish trips that go from the camps to Israel to celebrate continuity.”

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Why I Fled Argentina After Alberto Nisman Scoop

By Damian Pachter (Haaretz)

Argentine journalist Damian Pachter after arriving in Tel Aviv on January 25 / Haaretz

So here they are, the craziest 48 hours of my life.

When my source gave me the scoop on Alberto Nisman’s death, I was writing a piece on the special prosecutor’s accusations against President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, her (Jewish) Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman, two pro-Iran “social activists” and parliamentarian Andrés Larroque. I learned that Nisman had been shot dead in his home.

The vetting process wasn’t too tough because of my source’s incredible attention to detail. His name will never be revealed.

Two things stood in my mind: my source’s safety and people’s right to know what happened that day, though not necessarily in that order.

Of course, for both speed and the contagion effect, Twitter was the way to go. The information was so solid I never doubted my source, despite my one or two colleagues who doubted me because I only had 420 Twitter followers — a number now eclipsing 10,000.

As the night went on, journalists contacted me in order to get the news from me even more directly. The first to do so was Gabriel Bracesco.

Once I tweeted that Nisman had died, hundreds of people quickly retweeted the news and started following me. That was my first of many sleepless days.

“You just broke the best story in decades,” lots of people said. “You’re crazy,” was another take. Either way, nobody questioned that the situation was very grave.

The following days were marked by a government trying to create an official story. First, the head of state suggested a “suicide hypothesis,” then a mysterious murder. They of course were not to blame. In anything.


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Don't Believe Hype of 'Anti-Semitic' France

By Richard H. Weisberg

A woman holds a sign reading “I am Jewish from France” / Getty Images

(JTA) — Three weeks ago, my wife and I were shopping in a Parisian kosher butcher store several miles west of the supermarket where four Jews were murdered on Jan. 9. The shop in our neighborhood was well patronized, with lines stretching out to the sidewalk before Shabbat.

We were staying in an apartment in Paris’ 12th district while I promoted a new book about the treatment of Jews in France during World War II. During our stay, we spoke with dozens of our Parisian friends, including some who are Jewish, about whether the year 2015 evokes for them at least some of that dark anti-Semitic history. It was a time when a French government that became known as Vichy promulgated 200 anti-Semitic laws — with little German pressure — that eventually sent some 75,000 Jews “to the East” and almost certain death in the concentration camps.

In those weeks of what we now know was the “calm before the storm,” our friends confessed to some fears about a combined resurgence of both old and new forms of anti-Semitism in France. The far-right National Front party under Marine Le Pen barely hid its old-style anti-Semitism under the ugly mask of anti-Arab xenophobia. And the party was gaining strength in the polls.

Meanwhile, individual Jews were sporadically attacked, frequently by disaffected French Muslims. In some areas of Paris, one friend said, it might be unwise to wear a yarmulke outdoors. But in their own neighborhood, in the 15th district, they said they would have no such fears and did not counsel their nephew, an observant Jew in his 20s, against wearing a kippah.

In fact, a cross-section of my Parisian friends agreed that American talk of France having become anti-Semitic was grossly exaggerated. So in polite conversations back in the States, my wife (a French teacher in Manhattan) and I had already noted what we felt were overstatements, given our own experiences and observations during frequent visits in various parts of France. We chalked up some of the feverish American talk to the persistent Francophobia that too often marks political commentary about France in the United States. The French, after all, have long been targeted for American criticism.

We tried to curb this talk of French anti-Semitism, the supposed droves who were leaving for Israel — some 7,000 French Jews in a population of approximately 500,000 made the move last year, though some have since returned for economic and other reasons — and what we knew were exaggerated American images of French Jews living in constant fear. We did this, recognizing that Europe is perennially at some risk of returning to its traditional anti-Semitism — a risk I consider more fundamental even than Muslim extremism fueled by events in the Middle East.

My attitude about France has not changed even since the latest spate of deadly violence. There is nowhere in the world that is safe. But in many ways it is as safe for Jews in Paris as it is in Tel Aviv or Brooklyn, or Budapest.

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4 Theories for Alberto Nisman's Death

By Kamilia Lahrichi

Demonstrators protest outside the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires


Theories abound about the suspicious death of Alberto Nisman, the Argentina anti-terror prosecutor who was found dead in his Buenos Aires apartment on January 18.

Nisman, who was Jewish, was set to testify the day after his death about the 1994 terrorist attack at the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA), in which a suicide bomber drove a van full of explosives into the Jewish center.

The attack killed 85 people and wounded about 300, making it the deadliest single attack on Jews outside Israel since World War II.

Since Sunday, there has been an outpouring of outrage in the streets in Argentina. The case also raised the concerns of the local Jewish community who protested on January 21, in front of the AMIA in Buenos Aires, calling for “justicia.”

But who might have wanted Nisman dead — and why? Here are four possible answers.

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Want To Stop Terror Attacks? Cover Up!

By Sigal Samuel

Illustration by Lior Zaltzman

“Short clothing = shortened life.”

That’s a message currently winding its way through Jerusalem’s streets, thanks to a new ultra-Orthodox modesty campaign.

The ad, plastered across 20 Egged buses, has been sparking social media protests among secular Israelis who resent being told how to dress. They’re saying that it’s hypocritical of the bus company to agree to run such an ad, while often refusing to run ads by liberal groups that include photos or drawings of women.

But the Haredi advertiser claims there’s nothing for secular Israelis to be upset about. After all, the goal of the ad is “the transcendence of the soul of the Har Nof righteous” — the Orthodox Jews murdered at a Jerusalem synagogue back in November.

What do short hemlines have to do with a terror attack, you might ask? Well, here’s the advertiser’s logic:

“It’s clear that those who were murdered did not receive a punishment they deserved. They were righteous people. They woke up to pray at 6 am. They are public victims, and it happened to them because of us, because of our acts.”

In other words, terror attacks happen because Israeli women flounce around in racy dresses. Sure. Okay. Clearly.

The Jerusalem bus ad reads: Short clothing = shortened life

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#JeSuisCouteau Trending After Tel Aviv Attack

By Sigal Samuel

This might just be the world’s worst hashtag — ever.

Hours after a Palestinian terrorist stabbed 12 people on board a Tel Aviv bus, extremists took to social media to praise his actions with #JeSuisCouteau, which is French for “I am the knife.”

The hashtag, a clear play on the #JeSuisCharlie hashtag used around the world to express support for the people of Paris after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, has the opposite effect: Instead of supporting the victims of violence, it supports the perpetrator.

“Palestine more damaged than Charlie,” one image states, linking together two separate issues and drawing a comparison that trivializes the deadly assault on Paris’s satirical newspaper. This profoundly misguided response is perhaps not surprising when we consider the cues given by people like Hamas spokesman Izzat al-Risheq, who praised today’s attack, saying, “The heroic stabbing incident against the Zionist in Tel Aviv is a daring and heroic act. It comes as a natural response to the terrorist occupation crimes against our people.”

Some tweets even seem to draw a visual connection between the Charlie Hebdo killing and the Tel Aviv attack. This cartoon, for example, says “10 stabs for those who don’t pray for the prophet.” Notice the bus in the background bearing the Star of David and that #40 — the bus line targeted by the terrorist, identified as 23-year-old Hamza Mohammed Hasan Matrouk, earlier today.

Still other tweets try to highlight a discrepancy between Western reactions to Israeli violence against Palestinians (see the cavalier response in panel #1) and Palestinian violence against Israelis (see the outraged response in panel #2).

The #JeSuisCouteau hashtag has been shared on social media almost 4000 times in the past few hours alone, according to the social media measuring site Topsy.

Probably lost on most of those social media users is the hashtag’s (unwitting?) allusion to French author Charles Baudelaire, who used the phrase “I am the knife” in his famous work, Fleurs du Mal: “Je suis la plaie,” he wrote, “et le couteau!”


4 Ways SOTU Was Good for the Jews

By Lior Zaltzman

Getty Images

Yesterday’s State of the Union address was a success for Obama. From ending the war in Afghanistan and helping to revive the economy, the president touted his accomplishments. The same accomplishments his fellow party members were reluctant to use to their advantage in the last elections.

So many stood up and applauded as he mentioned the most controversial topics and spoke frankly about them. Global warming — it’s real. Women — they’re not second-class citizens. Racism and discrimination — not in our home. Biden was beaming behind him like a guardian angel and John Boehner looked like his face was about to melt off in a giant frown.

There were a lot of good things for Jews to fist-pump over in last night’s address. Overwhelmingly, we care about women, care about the environment and care about education. But here are four things that made it especially good for us:

1) Obama speaks against anti-Semitism

Even France was reluctant to say the recent attacks targeted Jews. And in a world where some are reluctant to use the “A” word, Obama said it loud and clear: “As Americans, we respect human dignity, even when we’re threatened… It’s why we speak out against the deplorable anti-Semitism that has resurfaced in certain parts of the world.”

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Orthodox Jews Aren't Trying To Kidnap Your Kids

By Avi Shafran

Getty Images

Reading the article was wrenching.

It was a first-person offering, on the website Kveller, by the non-Orthodox mother of a young woman who had adopted Jewish observance and in the process (at least in her mother’s telling) had jettisoned all respect for — apparently, all feeling for — her parents.

The mother described how her daughter had been all but kidnapped and brainwashed by a “fundamentalist ultra-Orthodox sect,” and that she only begrudgingly allowed her parents to attend her wedding. Her daughter’s Judaism, the writer contends, was “deeply intolerant,” demanding not only that the younger woman “follow an infinite number of rules, but also disassociate from all who were different. Even from her own parents.”

Those parents, in the mother’s testimony, bent over backward to accommodate their daughter’s new life. They bought her special kitchenware and offered her an oven and dishwasher to facilitate her observance of kashrut. They drove her to the homes of others for Shabbat and even, the mother writes, made donations to their daughter’s rabbi. “We even invited him to our home to hold weekly classes for us and a group of our friends,” she recounts. Although the mother was “not always pleased” with her daughter’s path, “We wanted to learn about what had so inspired” her. Still, her daughter acted, the mother asserts, in obnoxious ways toward her parents.

“What kind of people,” the mother wondered, “teach that in order to have a meaningful life, you must shun those who love you most?” After some research, she discovered that the “fundamentalist” group was part of an “enterprise, known as kiruv, or ‘bringing close’.”

Kiruv, of course, is a multifaceted effort to, yes, bring Jews closer to their religious heritage. But it is educational and nurturing, not malevolent and destructive. No kiruv group teaches any newly observant Jew to reject his or her family, and no responsible “kiruv professional” would ever gratuitously counsel a Jew to shun his or her family.

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Bibi's Challengers Spoof Cartoonish Election Ad

By Ben Sales

(JTA) — Remember that Hillary Clinton ad from 2008, the one where it’s 3 a.m. and the White House phone is ringing? The spot, an attempt to highlight Clinton’s superior experience compared to then Sen. Obama’s ostensible naivete, didn’t do much to save the Clinton campaign, which lost the Democratic primary that year.

But that hasn’t stopped Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and two of his challengers from copying it.

Netanyahu is facing a strong challenge from the center-left alliance of Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni. In response, he’s telling voters that he’ll be dependable no matter what happens. But with two leaders at the helm, who knows?

One of his latest ads shows Herzog and Livni both avoiding a call from President Obama. Even if you don’t understand the Hebrew, the message is clear.


Herzog and Livni hit back with an ad telling Netanyahu, “The question isn’t who will answer the phone. The question is: Who’s going to call you?” A voiceover then mocks the prime minister for damaging relations with Europe and the United States and says, “Bibi no one in the world wants to talk to you anymore.”


But wait, there’s more!

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'Pope's Rabbi' Wants New Argentina Terror Probe

By Ron Kampeas

Rabbi Abraham Skorka chats with Pope Francis during their visit to Holy Land last year. /Getty Images

(JTA) — Rabbi Abraham Skorka traveled from Buenos Aires to Washington to wax lyrical about his passion – interfaith dialogue – and intimate about his well-known pal, Pope Francis. Also to plug his movement, the Masorti movement, and its strides in Latin America.

Timing dictated that he also issue a plea to his government: Press ahead with the AMIA case in the wake of the suspicious death of its prosecutor.

Skorka’s appearance at the Argentinean embassy in Washington came Tuesday just hours after the news of the death by gunshot of Alberto Nisman, the lead prosecutor collecting evidence of culpability in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 people.

News of Nisman’s death came just hours before he was to present evidence to Argentina’s congress that he said implicated his country’s president and foreign minister in a nefarious cover-up scheme.

“This is a moment of great sorrow, of great pain and consternation for all Argentineans, for all the people living in Argentina,” Skorka said, when I asked him to expand on comments he had made earlier, addressing diplomats and Conservative movement luminaries.

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Men Pushing Baby Strollers? Only Goys Do That!

By Shulem Deen

Now that Hasidic men are barred from pushing strollers, will they turn to other modes of baby transportation? / Illustration by Anya Ulinich

Baseball. Men’s briefs. Dogs. Hipster eyeglasses. Motorcycles. Neckties. English. Math. Men’s shoes any color besides black. Button-down shirts that flap left-over-right. Fixing your own car. Modern Hebrew.

That’s a partial list of “goyish” things Satmar Jews have successfully banned within their flock.

Pretty impressive, right? And yet, challenges remain. The Satmars have so far been unsuccessful at banning such blatantly goyish things as: Lexus cars, Bugaboo strollers, hipster neighbors, Jacadi stores, sex, pants, ghoulash, Brooklyn and Sol a Kokosh Mar. And they’ve only had partial success with bike lanes and Lipa Schmeltzer.

But there’s one particularly vile scourge the Satmars have yet to unscourge, and that is — men pushing baby strollers.

Unable to withstand such goyishness a second longer, they published the following notice in a recent issue of the Satmar advertising circular, D’var Yom B’Yomo:

With regard to the new custom among some men to push the baby carriage when walking on the street: The great Rabbi Nosson Yosef Meisels said in 1968, during a speech to grooms in the name of our holy rebbe [R. Joel Teitelbaum, the rebbe of Satmar], that one must not perform this practice, as it originates among the goyim.

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