Forward Thinking

A Hebron Land Grab, Just in Time for Passover

By Nathan Jeffay

Getty Images

For the settlement movement, there is poignancy in the fact that the Hebron Jewish community has branched out into a previously Palestinian neighborhood just before Passover. It was Passover 1968 when settlers first got their foothold in Hebron, after renting out a hotel and refusing to leave.

For critics of the settlement movement, the echo of 1968 is also relevant. When the Israeli government decided yesterday that settlers could move into a building surrounded by Palestinians, it was a reminder of just how much Hebron settlers have increased their holdings over the years.

In ’68 they left the hotel in exchange for the promise of a settlement next to Hebron. Today, they have this adjacent settlement as well as four (or, as of yesterday, five) enclaves in Hebron itself.

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Why Is This Israeli Land Grab Different?

By Nathan Jeffay

The big story in Israel is no normal decision to build a few extra settlement homes; it is a highly unusual development for the occupied West Bank.

According to an as-yet unconfirmed report, the state is setting the wheels in motion for an appropriation of nearly 250 acres of territory in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc near Jerusalem.

Israeli settlement announcements in recent years have generally focused on building within the existing borders of settlements. In fact, one of the defenses of settlement announcements in government circles has been that building isn’t even settlement expansion, because it’s just a matter of increasing the housing density within settlements. The argument has often been that given the footprint of settlements isn’t growing, Palestinians should stop worrying about settlements.

However, if today’s report is correct, the government will actually be increasing the settlement footprint. An outpost which is currently illegal in state eyes will be legalized, in a sense creating a new settlement, and the rest of the land to be appropriated would be available for zoning for brand new settlements.

As well as the appropriation report, today has been party day in the Jewish community of Hebron, which received go-ahead from the Ministry of Defense to move in to a new enclave in the city.

In early 2007 some Jewish Hebron families lived in the four-storey building where the ceremony took place. However, after 18 months the Israeli government ordered them to leave. While they claimed that they were entitled to live there, because one of their supporters in America, Morris Abraham, purchased the property, the original Palestinian owners claimed the purchase was fabricated.

Last month, an Israeli court ruled that Abraham does own the building, and now the Ministry of Defense has said that the Jewish community can move back in.

If the peace process doesn’t get back on track, today may well be remembered as the day when Israel threw caution to the wind and backed settlements with a whole new gusto.

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Should I Die for Passover?

By Nathan Jeffay

Photo credit: Getty Images

This week is prime time for Passover shopping and cleaning. But in Jerusalem, hundreds of people will be engaged in a very different type of preparation for the festival — witnessing the slaughter of a lamb, just like in the olden days.

The Seder has its origins in ancient times, when the Israelites slaughtered, roasted and ate lambs — Paschal lambs.

According to the Torah, the Children of Israel were commanded “in perpetuity” to sacrifice a young lamb or goat on the anniversary of the Exodus. But this sacrifice was to be conducted in the Temple, and was therefore suspended after the Temple’s destruction nearly two millennia ago. With some innovation from rabbis the Seder morphed in to the more domestic affair we know today.

Contemporary Seders, with their many commemorations of the sacrifice, such as the shank bone on the Seder plate, are largely a tribute to the offering. But some Israelis want to go a step further.

In a few hours, in a yeshiva in the neighborhood of Kiryat Moshe, a religious non-profit will give a demonstration of the original Paschal service. Their slaughterer will kill a lamb as a choir sings of praise, and as a state veterinary inspector looks on. He will then sprinkle the blood as-per Biblical instruction. The lamb will be roasted and, as-per the Biblical procedure, everyone in attendance — men and women — will get a portion. The diners will include rabbis from a broad ideological spectrum within Orthodoxy.

“Passover is not about matzo ball soup; it’s about the Passover offering,” Chaim Richman, International Director of the Temple Institute which is running the event, commented to Forward Thinking.

Referring to the reams of rabbinic texts written on the Paschal sacrifice he said that is important, educationally, to give a more vivid insight in to what it looked like. “The logistics is a Jewish art discussed and clarified throughout the generations,” he said.

He said that the slaughter is poignant, as lambs were considered sacred in the ancient world when the sacrifice was instituted. The ceremony is “literally to slaughter all of the idolatry in the entire world and stand up for what we believe in, namely one God,” said Richman.

While the Temple Institute has been known to stray from religious education to politics, in its quest to increase Jewish rights on Temple Mount, it didn’t attempt to hold this even on or near Temple Mount, where it may have increased Jewish-Arab tensions. However, as the Forward has reported,, in previous years right-wing activist has tried to organize a sacrifice there, but was stopped by Israeli authorities.

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What The Forward's Jewish Charity Poll Teaches

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Jewish charity goes largely to Israel-related groups. Our readers think that’s a bad idea.

Last week, as part of our ongoing investigation into Jewish charity finances, we asked you how you thought Jewish charitable dollars should be spent.

The results, embedded below, suggest that Forward respondents think that education-related Jewish charities should get the largest share of contributions, followed by health care and social service-related charities. Israel-related charities rank fourth.

These poll results are far from scientific. Still, they shed light on the opinions of Forward readers, as Jane Eisner wrote in her editorial this week.

Close readers confused by the disparity between the “How They Spend It” figures reported below and the numbers reported in our story on this two weeks ago, take note: We excluded two categories from the poll for the sake of clarity, which resulted in tweaked figures.

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Annexation Was Always Naftali Bennett's Plan A

By Emily L. Hauser

Israel’s Naftali Bennett / Getty Images

On Wednesday, the multi-portfolioed Naftali Bennett – Israel’s Minister of the Economy, Minister of Religious Services, and Minister of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs – sent a letter to his Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

In that letter, according to Israeli Army Radio, Bennett called for a cabinet meeting “to begin the process of imposing Israeli sovereignty on the areas of [the West Bank] that are under Israeli control.” This he called “Plan B,” saying Plan B is necessary because negotiations with the Palestinians have failed – because “the Palestinians have broken new records of extortion and rejectionism.”

Now. It must be acknowledged that this is some phenomenally well-honed and impressively brazen Orwellian doublespeak. Truly.

Because imposing Israeli sovereignty on huge chunks of the West Bank has never been Bennett’s “Plan B.” Unlike Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (who – whatever else his faults – has publicly advocated a two-state solution since 1977), Bennett has never aspired to a two-state peace. Ever. Indeed, one might say that Bennett’s entire political career has been one of rejectionism and extortion. How do I come to this conclusion? By reading his words.

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Can Brooklyn Jews Talk Civilly About Israel?

By Elisheva Goldberg

Young Jews discuss Israel at a ‘Resetting the Table’ event in Brooklyn. / Ezra Weinberg

This past Sunday, in the high-beamed, chilly Brooklyn Lyceum, a group of 20- and 30-somethings tried to talk about Israel — no small feat.

The program, called “Resetting the Table,” was designed to allow young people to get together and go really deep, really fast. Guided through the rough waters of this conversation by Eyal Rabinovitch and a team of Facilitation Fellows trained by him and Daniel Silberbusch, the 50 or so young people who showed up were held to communication guidelines that asked, among other things, that they honor confidentiality, listen with resilience, speak with respect and avoid generalizations. Essentially, it asked them to be civil.

And it’s no wonder: this iteration of “Resetting the Table” was funded by the UJA Federation of New York, and is generally part of a broader initiative at the Jewish Council on Public Affairs (JCPA)’s “Civility Initiative.” The model includes two organizing cadres: a group of “Facilitation Fellows” and a group of “conveners.” The Facilitation Fellows, who facilitated Sunday’s conversations, are trained over a period of months to hold these kinds of sessions. The “conveners” are the organizers on the ground, and, coached over many months, are meant to gather their associates at various institutions (from Yeshiva University to Hazon) with the goal of holding facilitated conversation on Israel internally.

The event unfolded unhurriedly: folks trickled in, picked at the marvelous display food from Brooklyn’s new kosher eatery Mason & Mug, heard an introduction from Rabinovitch, participated in an icebreaker, and only then chose their discussion topics, which ranged from “What is the responsibility of American Jews towards Israel?” to “Should there be red lines around who speaks in Hillel, JCCs, and other Jewish institutions?” Then they sat down in sectioned-off corners of the room for facilitated conversation that would last an hour and a half.

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New Generation of Rabbis Sees and Speaks Israel

By Mira Sucharov

Breaking the Silence

Despite the concept of the occupation being an oddly contested one in some American political circles of late, there is much to decry about Israel’s military rule over the Palestinians in the West Bank. And while some security-minded observers focus on the need for an IDF military presence to widen Israel’s narrow territorial waistline, and others see the settlement blocs as a likely eventual permanent addition to Israel anyway, many would agree that there is one place where the crimes of the occupation are particularly egregious. Many would cite Hebron, the city which, in these pages, Letty Cottin Pogrebin called a straight-out example of apartheid, as being the eye of the militarized-settler-colonial tiger.

I, too, had been looking forward, in a way that righteously indignant liberal Zionists are wont to do, to a trip to Hebron with the anti-occupation Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence a few summers ago, until our plans were stymied. The military didn’t grant us the required travel permit.

So it was with some anticipation that I arranged to speak to three American rabbinical students who attended the Breaking the Silence tour to Hebron last week under the auspices of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights. Each one drew an alarming picture of the hardships Palestinians in Hebron face living among Israeli settlers and under IDF rule. “Stark. Shocking. Ghost town. Cages around the (Palestinians’) windows,” were the words they used. Their tour wasn’t whitewashed. Their first stop was the grave of Baruch Goldstein, the notorious murderer of 29 Muslim worshippers 20 years ago.

Yet all three surprised me with the politically nuanced conclusions they drew.

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Free Pollard. It's the Left-Wing Thing To Do.

By Anna Momigliano

Getty Images

As the debate over whether to pardon convicted spy Jonathan Pollard continues, the most vocal support for his release is coming from the conservative side: AIPAC, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and, most recently, families of Israeli terror victims. Meanwhile, outlets like the Forward are arguing against the release, unwilling to send the message that espionage should be punished more leniently when performed by an ally.

But the Free Pollard campaign shouldn’t be left to conservatives alone. There are several good reasons why a liberal — a liberal Zionist, a liberal Jew, or just a liberal human being — should want to see Pollard pardoned. Here are the top five.

1. It would be a basic humanitarian act.

Jonathan Pollard has already spent nearly 30 years behind bars. His health is so poor that his ex-wife fears this is the last chance to have him freed. This alone should be enough to make the case for his release on humanitarian grounds.

It has been argued that pardoning him is not the same thing as releasing him on humanitarian grounds, and that it would send the message that he did no wrong and is excused. It should be noted, however, that the act of pardon, albeit different from prison release for health reasons, does not in any way imply the prisoner’s innocence. It is an act of clemency toward an individual who is guilty. And an act of clemency is exactly what Pollard deserves.

2. Pollard shouldn’t keep paying the price for Israel’s decisions.

Pollard was not some crazy guy sneaking out NCIS classified material for the sake of it. He passed such material on to Israeli intelligence. In other words, he was part of an Israeli intelligence scheme. This is no justification whatsoever, of course. But the fact is that Pollard is now the only individual paying for a crime that involved many others, including Israeli officials.

After the scheme was revealed, there was a period of tension between the U.S. and Israel, with Washington even threatening to cut economic aid. Since then, however, the relationship between the two allies has been mended. So, if the U.S. has de facto “pardoned” Israel, why shouldn’t it pardon Pollard?

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Memo to New York Times: Women Are Jews, Too

By Jane Eisner

Protesters call for the release of Jonathan Pollard / Getty Images

So I check the homepage of the New York Times on Thursday afternoon, as I regularly do several times a day, to see a prominent story proclaiming that all the talk of freeing convicted spy Jonathan J. Pollard is dividing American Jews. “More and more American Jews say Jonathan J. Pollard should be freed, but they are unsure whether he should be used as a chit in a diplomatic transaction with Israel,” said the tout on Mark Landler’s story.

Gee, I think, maybe my editorial on this subject — which was pointed and, to some degree, contrarian — might be mentioned.

Wrong. Evidently, in the Times and in so many other venues, only men get to speak for “American Jews.”

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Israel's Missed Energy Opportunity

By Nathan Jeffay

The Tamar drilling natural gas production platform near Israel / Getty Images

It’s now a week since the scheduled start of one of the most important energy deals in Israeli history. But the signing was called off, hasn’t been rescheduled since, and now, uncertainty hangs over the future of the deal.

Australia-based Woodside Petroleum was due to sign in Jerusalem on a 25% stake in Israel’s Leviathan natural gas field, for $2.7 billion. But Woodside clashed with the Israeli government over money, and the signing didn’t take place.

The dispute between Woodside and Israel centers around the complicated formula that will determine how much the company pays in taxes, and how quickly it will start to profit from its investment. There are further elements to the dispute, including guarantees and infrastructure.

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What Olmert's Conviction Means for Peace

By Nathan Jeffay

Getty Images

The Israeli legal system just got its teeth back.

Much has been written about the conviction this week of Israel’s Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in a bribery trial. The reverberations of the ruling are felt far and wide.

In the political sphere, this seems to be the end of the dream which continued to linger among some Israelis that Olmert would make a political comeback soon and complete the peace deal with the Palestinians, which some say was tantalizingly close when scandal forced him from office.

But one of the most important ramifications is in the legal, not political, realm. Israel’s state prosecution was humiliated at the end of last year, when it lost its much-anticipated corruption case against politician Avigdor Lieberman.

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Jerusalem Post’s Absurd Visa Waiver Plea

By Anna Momigliano

Getty Images

The Jerusalem Post’s latest editorial wades into the Israel-U.S. debate over travel visas — and comes to some absurd conclusions.

The government of Israel has been trying for a while to reach an agreement with the American authorities allowing Israeli tourists to visit the U.S. for a short time without a visa. The U.S. has always refused to grant Israel such an agreement, despite the fact that most Western nations, including European countries, Australia and New Zealand, already enjoy it as participants in the Visa Waiver Program.

The American government recently explained why Israel’s request was denied: “The Department of Homeland Security and State remain concerned with the unequal treatment that Palestinian Americans and other Americans of Middle Eastern origin experience at Israel’s border and checkpoints, and reciprocity is the most basic condition of the Visa Waiver Program,” State Department spokesman Jen Psaki said March 21.

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Pollard Chatter Means Peace Talks Are Serious

By Brent E. Sasley

Protestors call for Jonathan Pollard to be released from prison. / Getty Images

Jonathan Pollard — the man who stole huge amounts of intelligence and gave it to Israel and has been sitting in an American prison for 30 years — has become a chip to be traded in order keep Israeli-Palestinian talks going.

Pollard is a very divisive figure: he has staunch supporters who believe that, for humanitarian reasons and because he helped beleaguered Israel, the three decades he’s spent in jail is enough. Others believe that because he was traitor who, allegedly, also tried selling intelligence to other states, he isn’t even an Israeli patriot; he was simply greedy.

Pollard has taken on a larger role in the drama of Israeli-Palestinian talks. In return for extending negotiations, according to reports, the U.S. will release Pollard and Israel will release 400 Palestinian prisoners and quietly freeze (some?) settlement building (excluding in Jerusalem). There is, rightly, a lot of disbelief about this plan. Jeffrey Goldberg thinks it means the talks are close to collapse and won’t do much in the end, anyway. Michael Cohen thinks releasing Pollard to extend talks is just stupid. I share their skepticism, but wonder if there is something more going on here. Perhaps it’s not a sign of the breakdown in talks, but a sign of their seriousness.

Don’t get me wrong — it’s not at all clear things are going well. The reported deal extends talks into 2015 — another nine months from now. Who knows what new international crisis might develop in that time to distract the Obama Administration from the Israeli-Palestinian arena. John Kerry might simply be too exhausted to keep up the pace. Spoilers in Israel or in Palestine could undermine popular support and political will. Meanwhile, the American rush to placate Benjamin Netanyahu on every issue has led to such an imbalance in talks that it wouldn’t be a surprise if the whole edifice fell over by then.

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POLL: How Would You Spend Jewish Billions?

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

How should Jewish donor dollars get spent?

Today, the largest share of Jewish donor dollars goes to Israel-related charities, as the Forward reported last week in the first part of our series on Jewish charity finances. (Part two of the series, published today, is here.)

Are we spending too much on Israel? Or maybe too little? Should we be allocating more to other causes, like education or health?

Below, in our interactive infographic, you can indicate where you think Jewish contributions should go. Once you have adjusted the sliders to a breakdown that looks right to you, click “submit” to let us know what you think. The Forward will publish the results of this unscientific survey sometime in the next few weeks.

Once you have submitted your breakdown, click the Facebook and Twitter buttons to show your friends how you think charitable dollars should be spent.

The breakdowns below reflect contributions reported by groups in the Forward’s database of financial data on Jewish charities. We’ve left out contributions to federations and foundations, as that money is meant to be granted to other organizations. We’ve also left out contributions to groups that didn’t fit cleanly into any category and to religious groups, as most religious groups don’t file with the IRS and as such were not included in our database.

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Stop Comparing Jewish and Palestinian Refugees

By Michael Kaplan

Yemeni Jews get instruction at a center for immigrants in Israel. / Getty Images

As the Israeli-Palestinian peace process grinds on, and the issue of Palestinian refugees continues to be a sticking point, some Jewish groups are arguing that these aren’t the only refugees we should be considering as the parties move forward in negotiations.

They’re calling on Western governments to recognize the more than 850,000 Jews pushed out of Arab countries in 1948 and the years that followed — and claiming that the Arab Jewish refugee issue should be tied to the fate of Palestinian refugees.

“Palestinians document every tent, well and thicket they had here but we left behind property worth billions of shekels,” Meir Kahlon, representing Libyan Jews, recently told the Israeli press. He argued that stolen property should be compensated for as a part of the ongoing U.S.-led negotiations.

And just a few weeks ago, six years after a similar resolution passed in the United States, activists pushing for recognition of Arab Jewish refugees enjoyed a big win in Canada, when pro-Israel Prime Minister Stephen Harper decided to back a government committee recommendation to “recognize the experience” of Jewish refugees.

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Seeking Salvation? Dial 1 for Baruch Goldstein

By Sigal Samuel

Right-wing activist Baruch Marzel wipes his eyes at the grave of Baruch Goldstein. / Getty Images

These days, you can order almost anything by phone. Books. Movies. Food. Sex. Salvation?

Sure, why not. Salvation. And not just any old kind, but the kind you can only get by virtue of an appeal to one of Israel’s most notorious killers: Baruch Goldstein.

Goldstein murdered 29 Palestinians in Hebron’s Cave of the Patriarchs 20 years ago, and to this day right-wing Jews still flock to his grave in nearby Kiryat Arba. They go there to pray, hoping that proximity to this “holy man” will help get their prayers through the pearly gates.

But since not everyone can afford to make that pilgrimage, Baruch Marzel — a right-wing activist and Goldstein devotee — has organized a telephone service allowing Jews to outsource their prayers, according to a Walla report cited today in Yeshiva World News.

Call Marzel’s service and you’ll be invited to “Push 1 for a Yeshua,” a salvation. That salvation, which will come by way of a prayer to be said on your behalf at Goldstein’s grave, includes everything from financial and romantic success to improved health and victory in court cases.

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Netanyahu's Fake Jerusalem Stalls Peace

By Emily L. Hauser

Benjamin Netanyahu / Getty Images

Last week we learned that Israel’s government is advancing plans for another 2,269 settler homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem; 144 are planned for the Jerusalem settlement neighborhood of Har Homa.

Discussion surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict tends to focus on minutiae, or the broad sweep of an entire century; our frames of reference rarely allow us to discern patterns within the broader picture. In geopolitics, however, the patterns found in any nation’s behavior are often determinative – such as, for instance, the pattern we find expressed in Har Homa.

Har Homa is located in what is inaccurately called (by everyone, including me) “East Jerusalem.” The inaccuracy becomes clear as soon as you look at a map: Har Homa is actually south of the Green Line that demarcates internationally recognized Israel from the West Bank; it’s southwest of the Old City. Much of the Palestinian land that Israel has annexed in its decades-long push to turn what was once tiny Jewish Jerusalem into a behemoth of land and resources is east of the historically Jewish part of the city, but much of it is not. Another well-known settlement neighborhood, Pisgat Ze’ev, is to the north, as is French Hill. A more accurate term would be “Palestinian Jerusalem” or, in the case of Har Homa (which was never any part of anyone’s Jerusalem) “the West Bank.”

Every settlement is a political statement – “here we sit, we will not be moved” – but Har Homa’s is particularly blunt: Established in 1997, four years after the Oslo Accords were signed, Israel’s then-Prime Minister was very clear about Har Homa’s purpose: “The battle for Jerusalem has begun. We are now in the thick of it, and I do not intend to lose.” Who was that Prime Minister? Benjamin Netanyahu.

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How I Built My Jewish Charity Database

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Kurt Hoffman

Last summer, I hit upon a way to measure Jewish institutional power: Using data from the IRS, I would gather financial information on every single Jewish organization that files a tax return.

My first story based on that project is printed in this issue of the Forward. This addendum, which is only for readers with a high tolerance for boring data stuff, describes how I built my database.

I started with two files, posted online by the IRS last spring, that contained data from all tax returns filed by tax-exempt groups in the 2012 calendar year. The IRS posted one set of data extracted from Form 990s, which are filed by larger tax-exempt groups, and another from Form 990-EZs, which are filed by smaller groups. I chose not to include a third dataset extracted from Form 990-PFs, which are filed by private foundations, as those groups are generally harder to classify as Jewish or not-Jewish.

The Form 990s and Form 990-EZs ask different questions, and the datasets provided by the IRS were structured differently. I mapped the two datasets onto each other so that they could be considered together. Then, using another dataset from the IRS — the Exempt Organizations Business Master File Extract, which includes information like names and addresses on all tax-exempt groups registered with the IRS — I searched for Jewish organizations.

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Why a Sicilian Nun’s Song Moved Me as a Jew

By Sigal Samuel

Left: Ophir Ben-Shetreet on Israel’s ‘The Voice.’ Right: Sister Cristina on Italy’s ‘The Voice.’

I’m not usually the type of person who goes in for reality TV shows. Especially not when they revolve around singing competitions, and especially not when one of their singers’ performances becomes an overnight Internet sensation, to be endlessly posted and reposted on social media.

So why did I feel compelled to watch a Sicilian nun singing a song by Alicia Keys on Italy’s ‘The Voice’ about a dozen times over the course of this weekend?

After giving it some thought, I realized it wasn’t the TV lover or even the music lover in me that drove my obsessive replaying of this video. It was the Jew — or, more specifically, the formerly Orthodox Jewish woman — that couldn’t resist its charm.

Strange as it may sound, watching 25-year-old Sister Cristina Scuccia belt it out on stage while a cluster of habit-clad nuns cheered her on from the sidelines, I couldn’t help but do a simple thought experiment: What if this were an ultra-Orthodox Jewish woman instead? Would she dare to sing like that in front of a mixed audience of men and women, knowing that her performance — her intimate voice — would be broadcast to millions more around the world? And would her ultra-Orthodox female friends stand there, cheering her on?

No way, I thought. Not in a million years. The reason why can be explained in two words: Kol Isha.

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Harvard Group Was Right To Visit Arafat's Grave

By Elisheva Goldberg

Harvard students pose at Yasser Arafat’s grave. / Twitter

Last Monday, the Harvard College Israel Trek went to the Muqata’a, the offices of the Palestinian government, in Ramallah. While they were there, the group took a picture with Yasser Arafat’s grave, which was inevitably Tweeted by the group’s tour guide. The photo was picked up by two far-right blogs — one Jewish, one not — and then nailed down by the Jewish Press, which ran the provocative headline “Jewish Donors Funded Harvard Students’ Trip to Arafat’s Grave.”

The headline, of course, is ridiculous: The family foundations and Boston’s Combined Jewish Philanthropies funded a wide-ranging ten-day trip all over Israel for 50 of Harvard’s best and brightest, during which they spent half a day in Ramallah and 30 seconds for a photo shoot at Arafat’s grave.

But that’s not the point. The point is that allowing students to engage in conversation on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with Palestinians themselves is still taboo among the American Jewish establishment. And it’s high time that changed.

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