Forward Thinking

Do Jewish Actions Ever Cause Anti-Semitism?

By Raphael Magarik

Jewish graves daubed with anti-Semitic slogans in a German cemetery / Getty Images

Is anti-Semitism ever a response to things that Jews do?

Jeffrey Goldberg thinks saying “Jews… Jewish organizations, or the Jewish state” ever cause anti-Semitism amounts to blaming the victim. Thus he attacked Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, for tweeting, “Germans rally against anti-Semitism that flared in Europe in response to Israel’s conduct in Gaza war.”

Goldberg is right to highlight and condemn anti-Semitic violence in Europe, which is horrible and scary. But he’s wrong about Roth, because he’s thinking fuzzily about anti-Semitism.

First off, denying that Israel’s behavior has any causal role in anti-Semitism is deeply counter-intuitive. This summer, Israel fought a war and anti-Semitism surged in Europe — are those two facts supposed to be a coincidence?

Social scientists like to say that you cannot explain a variable with a constant. That is, there’s plenty of “irrational hatred” of Jews in Europe, but there always is. To explain changes in anti-Semitism, we need to discuss things that change — current events. And that’s why, as Brooklyn College political scientist Corey Robin noted, in 2002, the esteemed Jewish sociologist Nathan Glazer not only attributed contemporary anti-Semitism to a reaction to Israel, but further claimed, “hostility can be reduced and moderated by [Israel’s] policies.” When you approach anti-Semitism as a detached observer, rather than a polemicist who has a beef with Human Rights Watch, this is obvious.

Goldberg gets mixed up because he conflates two very different questions. Glazer and Roth are just describing, totally without moral judgment, what causes what. Goldberg, who excoriates Roth for “accept[ing] these [anti-Semites’] pathetic excuses as legitimate,” confuses causality with moral responsibility. As an example: Surely when the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s motorcade ran over a black child, that was one of the causes of the Crown Heights riots, but that does not in the least justify the subsequent rioting. Israel bombing Gaza may cause upticks in anti-Semitism, without detracting one bit from the moral culpability of the anti-Semites in question. German neo-fascists and Jew-haters are contemptible. There should be no argument about that. But their strength and virulence vary over time, and Israel’s actions can help explain those changes. Explaining isn’t justifying.

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How Brooklyn Book Festival Can Avoid Boycotting Israeli Artists

By Lisa Goldman

Courtesy of Assaf Gavron and Brooklyn Book Festival

The Brooklyn Book Festival is a highlight of New York City’s early autumn cultural lineup: a bibliophile carnival with back-to-back panel discussions featuring prominent authors from the United States and around the world.

This year Assaf Gavron, a critically acclaimed author who grew up in a moshav near Jerusalem, participated in a panel called “A Sense of Place: Writing from Within and Without.” This particular panel caught my attention because the four participating authors were all male. But the controversy that ensued, as reported by Uri Blau for Haaretz, was not over the panel’s gender imbalance. Instead, it was over Israel: Apparently rather more people reading the description of the event noticed the provenance of its sponsorship — the Israeli foreign ministry.

In response to the program note that the panel was made possible “…with the support of Israel’s Office of Cultural Affairs in New York,” Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign to Boycott Israel, published an open letter on its website, calling it “deeply regrettable” that the organizers accepted funding from the Israeli government just weeks after Operation Protective Edge. They note that Israel’s latest assault on Gaza “involved numerous potential war crimes.” Among the hundreds of signatories are Junot Diaz, the Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, and Anand Gopal, the Wall Street Journal correspondent whose book on U.S policy in Afghanistan has won wide critical acclaim.

Also in the Adalah-NY letter is this important bit: “This is not, we emphasize, a call to isolate or boycott individual Israelis, but an effort to renounce business as usual with a state that routinely violates international law and basic human rights with impunity.”

I do believe that Adalah-NY is absolutely sincere in its insistence that it is not calling for a boycott of individual Israelis. I also believe that boycott is a legitimate means of non-violent protest. The problem is not the intention, but the potential repercussions. A ban on accepting Israeli government sponsorship would mean, de facto, that Israeli authors, dancers, filmmakers, artists and even academics would be unable to participate in international cultural and academic events.

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Gay Party Organizers Use ISIS Imagery in Ads

By Sigal Samuel

Drek’s ISIS-inspired party poster / Facebook

Advertising is a tough business. People are busy. Getting them to come out to your event can be hard. But does that justify using ISIS imagery to gain publicity for your party?

Tel Aviv’s popular gay party organizers, Drek, apparently think so. In recent advertising, they used imagery from the gruesome ISIS beheadings — an executioner swathed in black hovering over a kneeling victim in an orange jump suit — to draw crowds to their Haoman 17 Club last Friday.

Wow. Just wow.

Someone actually woke up one day, went to work, and decided it would be a good idea to borrow infamous execution imagery — even as ISIS is going around grabbing chunks of Syria, and even as the group’s victims are being mourned by their families. Including one Jewish family — that of slain journalist Steven Sotloff.

You’d think the organizers would have been a little more sensitive, considering that this victim is one of their own.

But they weren’t — and they still aren’t. Amiri Kalman, one of the Drek’s founders, stands behind the design choice: “We are trying to react to current events. We have been doing it for a number of years. But we reject violence in any form and that includes the (execution) videos intended to scare the world.

“Therefore we also refuse to participate with this fear and refuse to become hysterical. This is satire, and our way of showing our contempt of them and their videos,” he told Ynet.

Kalman also pointed out that the party itself did not feature any ISIS-inspired imagery or props.

Oh good. Everyone feels better now. Right?

Wrong. Oh so very wrong. On social media, Israelis are furious.


Oh, and by the way, “Drek” means “s***” in Yiddish. Pretty perfect, huh?

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Meet the 'Good Kids' Who Refuse To Spy for Israel

By Elisheva Goldberg

Thinkstock

The refusal of 43 men and women to continue their reserve duty in Israel’s elite 8200 intelligence-gathering unit has taken Israel by storm. The group published a letter on Friday, and it made its way quickly into the Israeli, American, and international headlines. The letter stated that these soldiers and officers are no longer willing to serve in their capacities as occupiers. In their words: “We refuse to take part in actions against Palestinians and refuse to serve as tools in deepening the military control over the Occupied Territories… We cannot continue to serve this system in good conscience, denying the rights of millions of people.”

The response in Israel has been deafening. Members of Knesset who are also former members of the 8200 unit have spoken out. Likud MK and Coalition Leader Yariv Levin announced that “those who refuse to help defend our country cross the line between supporting the Israeli democracy and the freedom it represents to supporting Palestinian terror…” Labor MK and Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog rebuked the letter-writers and emphasized that there were other ways to generate discussion. Not long after it was published, 150 members of Unit 8200 wrote a response letter, calling the move a “cynical use of politics in their legal and moral duty to serve in the reserve unit.”

The question everyone is asking now is — is it? Is this explosive letter a mere political stunt designed to aim more antagonism at a 47-year occupation? Or is it, as the signatories claim, something deeper — an attempt to take responsibility for the unnecessary invasion of privacy of a people who have no civil or legal recourse. It’s hard to tell, and, as with most sticky moral issues, likely a bit of both.

When I sat down with three of the original 43 signatories — a philosophy student, a technology and communications employee, and a computer science doctoral candidate — my first impression was one of earnestness: these were the “good kids.” As an Israeli 18-year-old, you don’t get into Unit 8200 by being a slacker. You get in by doing well in school and by showing flexible thinking, confidence and the ability to work well with others. The hope is that these qualities, plus training, will give these young people enough dexterity and thoughtfulness that they can be trusted with the secrets of Israel’s deep state. Unit 8200 graduates go on to found and power Israel’s innovative start-ups, and these three were likely to be no exception.

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Israeli Criticism of 43 Refuseniks Couldn't Be More Natural

By Brent Sasley

Getty Images

Forty-three reservists of an elite IDF corps have signed and released a letter setting out their refusal to serve Israeli “military control over the Occupied Territories” anymore. The members of Unit 8200, an intelligence unit often seen as an incubator of Israeli high tech as its soldiers move into civilian life, directly criticized Israeli occupation and settlement activity. Not surprisingly, most of the Israeli political class has criticized the letter as, at a minimum, politicizing what is supposed to be an apolitical military or, at a maximum, directly undermining the security of Israel.

I do not take issue with either the reservists’ questioning of government policy, or with the government’s reaction. Most leaders of most states would react similarly. After all, as the group with the greatest capacity to threaten or even overthrow the government, the military’s voice counts for a lot in the realm of Israeli politics.

Natan Sachs is right that the letter’s short-term impact isn’t likely to be significant: As he implies, we are still looking at relatively small numbers here.

What I do think is important is recognition of the army’s place in Israeli society. As Israelis begin to question the government’s foreign and domestic policies more and more, the emergence of similar processes in an institution considered so representative of the Israeli ethos is significant. It also underlines the point that some Israelis are pushing back against what they view as problematic, illiberal and dangerous policies.

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VIDEO: Israel Is the Answer to Your Love Handles

By Sigal Samuel

A still from the Israeli Ministry of Absorption’s new aliyah ad / YouTube

Dear young American Jews: Israel is the answer to the s***ty life you see before you.

That’s the takeaway from the Israeli Ministry of Absorption’s new aliyah ad, a ridiculously kitschy video that urges U.S. Jews to trade in their boring American lives — “love handles and socks with sandals” — for adventure-filled Israeli lives full of camel rides, sunny beaches, macho chest hair and “a free degree on Uncle Shmuel’s tab.”

The video doesn’t just trot out every Israel cliché imaginable — it also tries to make Israel look good by making American Jewish life look stale, meaningless, lame. The U.S. is oh-so-played, while Israel is “a place where the script is still unwritten.”

Not pictured in the video are all of the great aspects of American Jewish life — from bagels to Sarah Silverman’s glorious pottymouth to the ability to marry without a rabbi.

Also not pictured? The not-so-pleasant aspects of Israeli life — like the 50-day war the entire country just lived through this summer.

But never mind that: CAMELS!


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Yeshiva Retracts 'Mazel Tov' to Gay Newlyweds

By Sigal Samuel

A Jewish gay couple takes part in the annual pride parade in Jerusalem / Getty Images

“Mazel tov on your engagement! Oops — actually, strike that. No mazel tov for you.”

That’s essentially the message Israeli yeshiva Ma’ale Gilboa conveyed to one of its former students and his partner this week, upon realizing that the couple consisted of two gay men.

On the public notices section of its website, the national-religious yeshiva posted: “Congratulations to Uri Erman on his engagement to Daniel Jonas.” But it soon retracted the statement, chalking it up to an error on the part of the website’s student editor. “This is a mistake; we thought [Daniel] was a woman rather than a man.”

Ouch.

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For Vogue, Palestinian Is the New Israeli

By Sigal Samuel

Palestinian Gigi Hadid eyes Israeli Michaela Bercu on Vogue’s 1988 November issue / Vogue

When Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour was preparing the cover shoot for her very first issue back in 1988, she chose an Israeli model — Michaela Bercu — to grace the front of the glossy magazine. This summer, as Wintour prepared for the relaunch of the magazine’s website, she chose a Palestinian-American model — Gigi Hadid — to recreate the iconic cover.

Coincidence?

Over at Haaretz, Shahar Atwan says it’s “interesting to wonder how much thought Wintour and Co. gave to Hadid’s family background when they mulled placing her in Bercu’s shoes,” but concludes that it “wouldn’t be fair on Hadid” if she was selected because of her Palestinian roots. Besides, Atwan says, Wintour had “more than enough reason to choose Hadid regardless of the political connotations.”

Atwan seems eager to toss off the possibility that Hadid’s Palestinian background helped her land this photoshoot — but from where I’m sitting, that possibility looks more than likely. In fact, I’d be surprised if the model’s background did not play a significant role in her selection. And I don’t think that’s “unfair” — to Hadid, or anyone else — at all. Just the opposite.

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Why Did We Obsess Over Israel's War in Gaza? Capitalism.

By Elisheva Goldberg

A journalist films as rescue workers remove the body of a Palestinian man from the rubble of his home in Gaza / Getty Images

The American media covers Israel more than almost any other pressing geopolitical concern. The disproportionate coverage was continually pointed out (as it had been in the past) as reporters crawled in and out of Gaza, writing far more lines on the subject than nearly any other. Some have claimed that the coverage of the most recent conflict was too pro-Palestinian, some that it’s too pro-Israel. Explanations for the newsroom’s Israel-Palestine obsession have been given by both sides, ranging from the practical to the vaguely conspiratorial.

Still, to my mind, the primary reason for the enthusiastic coverage, is, as is so often the case, explained by capitalism. Americans see Israel-Palestine and the conflict that rages therein as a place of religious fantasy, racial tensions, and the repository of American time, money and resources. In other words, Israel sells.

A few months ago I was traveling back to Israel from the United States, and around three o’clock in the morning I found myself in a minivan to Jerusalem seated next to a CNN producer for Wolf Blitzer. Somewhere between a demonstration of her Tinder profile and stories about the Queen of Jordan, she explained to me that being a producer involves making the news appealing and digestible for a mass audience. The aim is single-minded: to take home the top ratings, ultimately winning more money for owners, stockholders and advertisers. Thus, American news broadcasters, especially when it comes to cable news, are out to make a buck. This is a longstanding problem, and it has massive implications for how international conflicts are covered. So why does Israel get covered more? It’s a sure-fire moneymaker.

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Israeli Band Shmemel Urges Aliyah — to Berlin

By Emily L. Hauser

Still shows Israeli woman with a sign that reads “We left for Berlin.” / Shmemel

“Berlin” is a very catchy tune, half-way between pop and hip-hop, performed by Israeli band Shmemel — and anyone who sees Israel as the Jewish homeland and/or can hum “Jerusalem of Gold” should probably give it a good hard listen.

The video features Israeli after Israeli in various international locales singing and dancing with signs in their hands:

“I left for Amsterdam.”
“I left for New York.”
“I left for Tokyo.”
“I left for Berlin.”

The full, annotated translation below is meant to hep English speakers appreciate all the nationalistic references being subverted in the lyrics. I went more for accuracy than for poetry — it sounds better, of course, in Hebrew.

Full disclosure: My Jerusalemite husband and I left for Chicago in 1998.

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Did Hamas Get Bibi to Freeze Settlements?

By Lara Friedman

Getty Images

Settlements haven’t been in the news of late — and not simply because war pushed them off the media’s radar. They haven’t been in the news because since the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli yeshiva students back in June, there hasn’t been much settlement news to report.

True, already-approved settlement construction continued unabated (and there’s plenty of it). And settlers established several new illegal outposts. And tenders were awarded for new construction in the East Jerusalem settlement of Gilo. So clearly we’re not in the midst of a full-fledged settlement freeze. However, with respect to both the West Bank and East Jerusalem, there is undoubtedly a semi-freeze: no major new settlement plans promoted through planning committees, very few new approvals granted and then for only a tiny number of units, and no new tenders issued.

This is nothing like the 10-month “moratorium” Netanyahu grudgingly negotiated with then-U.S. envoy George Mitchell, during which all sorts of new settlement planning and approvals continued apace, and previously-approved construction went ahead without restraint. And it’s nothing like the settlement “restraint” that Netanyahu disingenuously promised Secretary of State John Kerry in the context of the last U.S.-backed peace effort, which translated to a huge spike in settlement approvals and announcements.

To be clear, a lull in new settlement approvals and announcements under Netanyahu isn’t unprecedented. However, coming on the heels of the collapse of even the pretense of peace talks and Israel’s condemnation of Abbas for forming a reconciliation government approved by Hamas, one would have expected Netanyahu to open the floodgates. Instead, he adopted a policy that, if adopted months earlier, could have given peace talks a chance to survive and even succeed. Why? The most likely explanation is that Netanyahu calculated that at a time when he wanted the world to see the Israel-Palestinian conflict in the most black-and-white terms possible — a peace-seeking democratic nation fighting an irredeemably evil terrorist enemy — he was better off keeping settlements out of the news. And so he did.

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How I Know Israel Won the Gaza War

By Brent Sasley

Getty Images

In his press conference yesterday on the Gaza operation, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was open and honest about at least one thing: the outcome. He noted that it was “too early” to tell if long-term quiet had been achieved. This was inevitable, given the vague nature of “quiet” as a goal for a military campaign. Indeed, it is too early to tell for sure what long-term effects the war will have on Israel, on Hamas, on the Palestinian Authority, and on the prospects for peace talks.

But four things stand out for the immediate future. First, it is clear that Israel has won the war. Much of Hamas’s military capabilities have been degraded or used up, its regional allies are few and far between (and themselves bereft of much regional influence), and none of its efforts to achieve a tactical victory over Israel succeeded. In addition, the United States and many European governments are now talking about demilitarizing Gaza (essentially, disarming Hamas and the smaller jihadist groups) as part of a longer-term process to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. All of these tilt the balance of power in Israel’s favor.

Second, there is no military solution to the “Hamas problem” or, for that matter, to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict more broadly. But there will be a return to the status quo ante if a political framework is not established as part of the talks that follow from the ceasefire. In this sense, the seeds for Hamas’s rejuvenation have been planted alongside the seeds of its taming. If Israel can work constructively with the Palestinian Authority and the international community, it can bring the PA/Fatah to Gaza to improve the lives of Palestinians there while also tying Hamas down by not letting it rebuild its military capacity or its authority. However, for this work, Israel will have to accept that Hamas isn’t only here to stay, but must be accepted as a political actor — one that has a role to play in the political process.

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Don't Return Your 'Righteous Gentile' Medal

By Rivkah Ben-Pazi

Henk Zanoli is second from right in this 1942 family photo / Yad Vashem

It was at the insistence of Rivka Ben-Pazi that Henk Zanoli was deemed a “righteous gentile” by Yad Vashem, Israel’s state Holocaust museum. Ben-Pazi wrote a book about the Jewish boy that Zanoli saved, Elchanan Hameiri, and eventually got the museum to honor the Dutchman for hiding 11-year-old Hameiri from the Nazis.

Ben-Pazi, Hameiri’s niece, said she strongly disagrees with Zanoli’s decision to return the medal after six members of Zanoli’s extended family, the Ziadahs, were killed in Gaza last month. Now, she has written a letter to Zanoli explaining why she thinks he was wrong. She shared it with the Forward:

Open Letter to Henk Zanoli

Dear Mr. Henk Zanoli,

It was with great sorrow that I heard about the tragedy that befell your relatives in Gaza. I would like to express my sincere condolences to you and your family.

You, your mother, and your brothers saved my uncle, Elchanan Pinto, from the hands of the Nazis. You hid him in your home at a risk to your own lives and cared for him with devotion and love. My family and I are forever grateful to you and your entire family. The Zanoli family is a symbol and an example of charitable, moral people who are guided by their faith without fear, despite danger to themselves.

I was informed that as a result of the tragedy that befell your family in Gaza, you have chosen to return the Righteous Among the Nations medal that you received from Yad Vashem in 2011 in recognition of the courageous and humane actions of your mother, your brothers and yourself during the Holocaust.

I can understand the anguish you must be feeling which led you to reject the award that you received from the State of Israel, yet I would like to tell you our story, the story of the Jewish nation living in the State of Israel, as it has unfolded over the past several weeks.

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How To Sell Americans on Israel's Wars

By Nathan Guttman

Thinkstock

Americans have endured endless hours of Gaza media coverage in the past month, from CNN’s Wolf Blitzer crawling through Hamas tunnels to live reports of rocket launches and airstrikes.

In between, spokespersons for both sides flooded the airways, each trying to formulate an argument able of convincing American viewers, already overwhelmed by news from the Middle East, to support his or her side.

But what message really works with the American audience?

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi and Meagan Buren, both experts in public opinion and formerly with The Israel Project, set out to find a real-time answer to this question.

As war raged in Gaza, they gathered focus groups representing different swaths of the American public. The participants, gathered in a conference room on a weekday evening, went through several hours of hearing almost every possible message about the conflict. Then, in discussions and by using a tiny dial that collected their responses, members of the focus groups rated the level of empathy they felt toward messages conveyed by Israeli, Palestinian and American officials in TV interviews. Taken together, the input from these handheld dials produced a graph depicting exactly which message worked well and which fell flat. When the line climbed beyond the halfway marker, it was a sign that the message was working well; when it dipped below, it was clearly time to abandon this line of argument.

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8-Point Guide to Criticizing Israel Productively

By Abraham Gutman

Thinkstock

As an Israeli who lives in New York, I know that I can sometimes be unfair. On the one hand, I often get defensive when people criticize Israel. On the other, I can also get upset when people seem to blindly support Israel. Criticizing Israel is allowed, and even important for Israel’s wellbeing, but there are productive and unproductive ways to do it. In that spirit, here are eight ground rules that I believe can help improve the Israel debate.

1) Everyone has the right to exist.

Many conversations about Israel deteriorate into fights over whether or not the country even has the right to exist. This is not a productive question. Everyone has the right to exist all over the world, and that should never be doubted. The real question is whether Israel has the right to continue pursuing some of its policies.

2) Israel has a diversity of opinions.

The Israeli government is a coalition that is expected in some way to represent at least a majority of Israelis. That does not mean that all Israelis agree with the actions of Israel’s government. And just as there is a diversity of opinions in Israel, we should also expect and accept that Jews in the Diaspora will have a diversity of opinions.

3) Criticizing Israel doesn’t make you anti-Semitic.

Conversations about Israel tend to drag out when you’re simultaneously trying to prove your loyalty to, and criticize, Israel. Save yourself the trouble. Supporting Israel’s government is not the only way to show you’re a good Jew or patriotic Israeli. Criticizing can also be a form of caring.

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How Should U.S. Teachers Talk to Kids About War in Gaza?

By Jack Wertheimer

Getty Images

(JTA) — With the new school year nearly upon us, Jewish educational leaders are scrambling to prepare their teachers to discuss this summer’s Gaza War. The most pressing challenge is to design age-appropriate conversations: At which grade level might classroom discussions include potentially frightening topics, such as the wounding of non-combatants, kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets? And how should teachers address the tough issues of civilian casualties in Gaza and the flagrant hostility toward Jews and Israel that has erupted in many parts of the world?

These questions are difficult enough, but are especially freighted with anxiety because they hold the potential to revive stereotypes of Israel that North American Jewish schools have been trying to counter. When Israel was forced to wage three major wars during its first quarter century, its image as an embattled enclave overshadowed everything else about its existence.

In recent decades, though, Jewish schools have endeavored to present a more rounded picture of Israeli life. Without denying the existential challenges facing the Jewish state, teachers have drawn attention to the rich tapestry of Israeli culture — its diverse inhabitants, culinary treats and eclectic music, for example — and, of course, its technological wizardry. School trips to Israel have highlighted the country’s natural beauty and its enjoyable recreational scene, even while exploring the strong connections between the land and the Jewish religion. Educators are understandably loath to resurrect the earlier imagery that simplistically portrayed Israel as a country permanently on war footing.

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Israeli Soldier David Menachem Gordon in His Own Words

By Sigal Samuel and Anne Cohen

David Menachem Gordon / Facebook

David Menachem Gordon, the IDF soldier from Ohio who was found dead on Tuesday, left a record explaining his journey from budding American journalist to Israeli army recruit.

The 21-year-old’s personal blog, “Shields of David,” together with his writings available elsewhere online, offers a glimpse of an articulate young man who identified his worst fears and decided to fight them head-on rather than be paralyzed by them.

This was a boy who wrote publicly about “the scattered scars that sexual abuse left on his Soul” for the Huffington Post, and encouraged other survivors to come forward. “Those eight years of secrecy were horrific,” Gordon wrote. “If you are a victim of any type of abuse, wherever you are, I beg you for your own sake: Reach out! Secrets don’t get better with age so don’t keep them boiling inside any longer.”

This was a boy who unabashedly posted John Mayer songs to his personal Facebook page, along with messages like:

This was a boy who wept when, on a student trip to Poland, a group of locals outside his tour bus raised their arms in a Hitler salute.

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How Israelis and Palestinians Cope — With Two Different Wars

By Naomi Zeveloff

Getty Images

The first thing I noticed when my shared taxi dropped me off in Jerusalem earlier this month were the flags. In the Beit Hakerem neighborhood where I was staying — a mostly secular Jewish area in southwest Jerusalem — balconies were strung with large Israeli flags and rows of miniature ones. Car antennas were adorned with pennants and ribbons. Even the neighborhood light rail station was donning blue and white, with flags flapping from the lampposts. This latter show of patriotism on public property was new, my host told me, since Operation Protective Edge began.

Jewish Israelis have supported the war with Gaza in overwhelming numbers. A much-cited Israeli Democracy Institute poll from late July said that more than 90% of them believed that the war is “just.” (Since the poll, truce talks have begun, and there was a major pro-peace rally in Tel Aviv a few days ago.)

The wall-to-wall blue and white stood in sharp contrast to colorful New York City, from which I had just arrived. There, the Gaza war was hotly disputed in the streets and in the press. The American Jewish community had largely rallied around Israel, saying the country has a right to defend itself against rocket fire from Hamas. But a small and vocal minority of Jews staged high-profile events to protest Israel’s campaign and the large civilian death toll. My Facebook and Twitter feeds were roiling with the debate. The images of death and wreckage from Gaza were inescapable.

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The Rocket Shelter Comedy Tour Goes to Israel

By Benji Lovitt

Courtesy of Benji Lovitt

The “we laugh to keep from crying” line sometimes feels a bit of a cliché but when you live in Israel, you experience it daily. At least during the last 40-plus days of Operation Protective Edge, which still hasn’t officially ended during the current ceasefire talks.

In the eight years I’ve lived in Israel, we’ve been through these before: Lebanon 2, Cast Lead, and Pillar of Defense; this one, however, was different. The number of casualties is higher than the last two and the discovery of the tunnel network from Gaza put sheer fright into us, sending the entire country into a month-long period of stress, anger, and depression. Not exactly how you want to spend your summer.

Fortunately the Jewish people have a long history of turning lemons into lemonade (thousands of years of persecution can do that). About a week into the operation, I got a message from fellow comedian Ari Teman. He wasn’t satisfied watching the events unfold from the U.S. and decided he wanted to do something to help. Incredibly, within just a couple of weeks, Ari had organized a comedy tour in Israel to raise money for a good cause and to boost the morale of people who really, really needed a laugh. Ari brought with him fellow New York comedian Danny Cohen and, voila, the “Rocket Shelter Comedy” tour was born.

Stand-up comedy is a weird enough profession on its own. Add the element of crowds who are following horribly depressing headlines on a minute-by-minute basis and you have a big challenge on your hands. At least when you’re the first comic of the evening. As the MC of the shows, my job was to break the ice, warm the audience up, and start the evening with big laughs. How do you begin a show when everyone in the crowd is thinking the exact same thing, and it’s not “boy, we sure are in a good mood”?

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Board Member Quits LGBT Synagogue Over Gaza

By Michael Kaminer

Congregation Beth Simchat Torah’s Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum / WN

Claiming “Hamas propaganda” has infected the pulpit, a director of the nation’s largest LGBT synagogue resigned in an angry e-mail this week, igniting a firestorm on social media.

But the rabbi of New York’s Congregation Beth Simchat Torah is calling the resignation letter “a twisted perversion of the facts.”

In his e-mail, Bryan Bridges claimed that CBST and Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum had been more sympathetic to the plight of Palestinians than to the risks facing Jews in Israel.

“Recent events have demonstrated that CBST is far more committed to a progressive political agenda than to the Jewish people,” Bridges wrote. “This raises a question for members: Why belong to this synagogue instead of a different religious group such as the Unitarian church or an activist organization such as Queers Against Israeli Apartheid?”

Bridges claimed his ire grew after he “heard that Rabbi [Sharon] Kleinbaum had read the names of Gazan casualties on the same day that Hamas violated the sixth humanitarian ceasefire by kidnapping a soldier,” and that Kleinbaum had “invited a group advocating BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) against Israel to host an event at the synagogue.”

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