Forward Thinking

Kidnapped Students Could've Been Us

By Phil Getz

Phil Getz, center, relaxes with fellow yeshiva students in Gush Etzion several years ago

Like many students and graduates of Israeli yeshiva, I have been refreshing my computer browser non-stop since Friday morning looking for any sign of hope for the three Israeli teenage boys who were kidnapped on Thursday evening.

For those of us who studied at any of the yeshivas or seminaries in Gush Etzion, the news has particular resonance. According to Haaretz, the teens “disappeared late Thursday night between Kfar Etzion and the settlement Alon Shvut” apparently while hitchhiking near the Gush Etzion junction.

I must have hitchhiked from that very spot several hundred times, not infrequently on Thursday nights, which is a popular night to travel. And so has every other yeshiva student in the area.

We all knew, as I’m sure these teens did, which cars to enter and which to avoid as they approached on the hilly road. Sometimes there were Israeli security forces in the area, sometimes not.

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WATCH: Project X, Or Eternal Sunshine of the Palestinian Mind

By Sigal Samuel

Samer Bisharat, star of Oscar-nominated “Omar,” in Project X / YouTube

If you’ve ever seen the movie “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” you’ll immediately be reminded of it after watching the newly released short film “Project X.” The basic plot is the same. Except instead of Jim Carrey trying to erase Kate Winslet from his memory, you get an 18-year-old Palestinian who’s having the memory of his girlfriend forcefully taken from him — by a team of Israeli doctors.

Why are the docs trying to rid the Palestinian protagonist of this girl? Because the memory of her keeps him from doing what they so desperately want him to do: enlist in the Israeli army.

The teen is approached earlier on by an Israeli army recruiter (trying really, really hard to sound like a native Arabic speaker — and failing), who tries to sell him on military service by promising it’ll “open a million doors.” In return for his service, he’ll get “a backbone that no one will mess with.” Also: “Land — land that you’ll own.” Imagine!

Still, the Palestinian resists. And because he resists, he ends up on an operating table, where Israeli doctors who specialize in “brain programming” are tasked with making him more amenable to the state’s demands. They succeed: Stripped of the memory of his girlfriend, who was always telling him that “this is not the way for us,” he ends up a soldier in uniform — with his own people’s blood on his hands.

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Awkwardness Is Reuven Rivlin’s Gift to the Left

By Sigal Samuel

Newly elected Israeli President Reuven Rivlin with Benjamin Netanyahu / Getty Images

Is Reuven Rivlin’s ascendancy to the post of president good news for left-wing Israelis?

Yes, but not for the reasons most left-wing commentators are suggesting.

Progressives should cheer Rivlin’s election not because he supports equal rights for Israeli Arabs or because he wants to give Palestinians the vote in an Israeli-annexed West Bank, but because his new position in the limelight will help to clarify what should already be abundantly clear: that official Israel’s support for a two-state solution is a farce, and has been for a long time.

It’s true that as president of Israel Rivlin will hold a mostly ceremonial, symbolic position. But figureheads are important in their own way. They telegraph to the world what a country (putatively) stands for — its most cherished values and ideals. When Shimon Peres held the top spot, he made clear the value of the two-state solution. Rivlin, by contrast, will signal the exact opposite message: an undivided Greater Israel is, to him, the supreme and ultimate value.

Immediately upon being elected president, Rivlin swore he’d represent all Israelis — not just the right-wing annexationist Jew crew of which he is a part. But that kind of assurance is completely beside the point. Everyone knows what Rivlin really stands for: a State of Israel in which Palestinians get the right to vote, but give up on the dream of national self-determination in the form of a sovereign Palestinian state.

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Why Israeli Left Should Cheer Reuven Rivlin

By Anna Momigliano

Israel’s newly elected president Reuven Rivlin / Getty Images

For some reason, whenever a Palestinian (or an Arab American, for that matter) expresses one-state views, he’s accused of threatening Israel’s existence. When an Israeli voices the exact same view, he’s labeled a hawk, a Zionist hard-liner. That’s precisely what happened when Reuven Rivlin, the former speaker of the Knesset and a seasoned Likudnik politician, was elected on Tuesday as the new president of Israel.

Liberal Zionists and progressive commentators were quick to describe his election as bad news, a threat to the peace process and to Israeli-Palestinian relations. But if we take a closer look at Israeli politics and Rivlin’s personal views, we get a different picture.

Rivlin is definitely a vocal opponent of the Oslo accords. He rejects the very idea of giving the occupied territories away. But, on the other hand, he also proposed giving Palestinians Israeli citizenship, full civil rights and the right to vote in a much-discussed Haaretz interview back in 2010.

Just like Netanyahu, Rivlin would like Israel to keep the West Bank. But unlike Netanyahu — whose agenda works to maintain the status quo, making the occupation permanent — Rivlin suggests making the West Bank into part of Israel and its inhabitants into full Israeli citizens. That’s not a minor deviation.

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Israel Gets Gender-Segregated Elevator — Finally!

By Sigal Samuel

Gender-segregated elevator in Jerusalem / Walla

Apparently, gender-segregated classrooms, playgrounds, buses, sidewalks and healthcare centers aren’t enough. Now Israel has gender-segregated elevators.

Yosef Cohen, the owner of Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox event venue Armonot Chen, has started divvying up elevator space using a nylon mechitza, with stickers inside and outside the elevator directing men to one side and women to the other.

“There are people who want to guard their eyes on the wedding day,” Cohen explained in an interview with Walla news. “If four men and four women enter the elevator, how will they behave? This way there is a mechitza and this solves the problem.”

Phew! Finally, we can rest easy knowing that Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox couples aren’t going to be canoodling — in groups of eight, no less — on their way up to their friends’ wedding ceremonies! I was really worried about that one for a while, you guys.

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44% of Jewish Israelis Say They Don't Need U.S. Cash

By Nathan Jeffay

An Israeli observes the Iron Dome system in action / Getty Images

Almost one in two Jewish Israelis think that their country could withstand a substantial decrease in American support.

In a new poll by the nonpartisan Israel Democracy Institute, conducted in the light of U.S.-Israel tensions over the end of the peace process, 44% of Jewish respondents took this view. This is remarkable in itself, given the massive funding that the U.S. provides, and the fact that the most admired defense innovation of recent years, the Iron Dome missile defense system, was made possible by the United States. But it’s particularly remarkable given the domestic political tensions.

The defense establishment is facing large budget cuts, and claiming that this will impact on its ability to perform. And so, the confidence of such a large proportion of the Israeli population at this time that loss of U.S. funding could be sustained is highly odd.

What’s more, if you look only at Israeli Jews who define themselves as right wing, this belief that Israel could dispense with U.S. funding is very dominant. Some 70% of those rightists think Israel could withstand a substantial diminution of American funding.

Yet it’s always the political right that is most emphatic that defense spending can’t decrease — and it’s no different with the current budget cuts. Unfortunately, the poll didn’t ask respondents for names and addresses of those who they reckon will fill the gaping hole that a U.S. funding cut would leave.

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How Many Gay Haredim Are Married to Women?

By Emily L. Hauser

An Israeli lesbian dressed up as an ultra-Orthodox Jew at the annual Gay Pride event / Getty Images

What do you do if you’re ultra-Orthodox and gay? You almost certainly hide.

On Thursday, Israeli daily Yediot reported new figures released by religious-gay support group Hod indicating that “two-thirds of ultra-Orthodox homosexuals [in Israel] have chosen to marry women despite their sexual inclination”; almost all of the more than 1,100 men included in Hod’s report admitted to having sex with other men at least once a month.

According to Hod founder Ron Yosef, an Orthodox rabbi and gay activist:

The situation of homosexuals in the Haredi society is much more difficult because of the social isolation they live in. A gay Haredi man cannot share his situation with his friends in the community or the yeshiva, his family members or rabbis, and “coming out of the closet” is definitely inconceivable.

It should be noted that Hod’s statistics are based on information received from gay ultra-Orthodox men who turned to the organization for help — which is to say: They reflect a self-selecting population, men who have heard of the group and reached a level of stress, or degree of openness, that would allow them to reach out. It’s hard to know how much the two-thirds figure actually tells us about the lived reality of gay Haredi men, but then, that’s a community about which it would be particularly hard to produce solid polling results.

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Is This Palestinian Show 'Art' — or Propaganda?

By Mira Sucharov

An image from the “Invisible” exhibit in Ottawa, Canada / Mira Sucharov

An art exhibit in a quiet gallery inside Ottawa’s City Hall has caused an international stir. Accusing the exhibit of “glorifying terror,” the Israeli ambassador to Canada met with the mayor to express his concerns. And dubbing it a “monument to terror” and a “travesty,” the Jewish Federation of Ottawa called on the City — unsuccessfully — to remove it.

Titled “Invisible,” the exhibit, by Canadian-based and Palestinian-born artist Rehab Nazzal, is comprised of a series of multi-media experiences. One is a series of colors accompanied by audio from protestors being teargassed in the weekly demonstrations at the West Bank village of Bil’in; another is audio feed from an IDF training exercise-turned-fatal in a Negev prison, with a series of abstract-looking stills on a nearby wall. Most controversial, though, is a digital slideshow called “Target.” In it, a series of names, dates and sepia portraits flash by, each encased in a circle of light. These individuals are Palestinian activists who were assassinated by Israel.

On the day I saw the exhibit, the room was empty, before one or two others wandered in. I flipped through the comments book. The ping-pong nature of the discourse wasn’t surprising. Some thanked the City for bringing the Palestinian experience to light. Others complained of “taxpayer money” funding what surely isn’t “art.” Some pointed to the omission of the fact that those assassinated by Israel were themselves responsible for many murders, and others invoked the “glorification of terrorism” accusation. To that, some responded that surely Israel and its supporters would have no problem featuring Ariel Sharon and Yitzhak Shamir in a similar exhibit.

At least three questions strike me from all this. Those who find themselves offended by the political message inherent in the artwork are demanding context, balance and objectivity. They seem to want to insert footnotes, to proclaim that there is another side to the story. But art isn’t meant to serve the same purpose as a newspaper article, a history textbook or an encyclopedia entry. By its nature, art flows from the experience of the artist. It is necessarily and inherently incomplete, a fragment of expression.

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Why Bother Playing Gaza Rocket Blame Game?

By Nathan Jeffay

Man walks by rocket shelter in Israeli town of Sderot / Getty Images

Responding to the new Palestinian unity government yesterday, Israel decided that it will start holding the Palestinian Authority responsible for rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip.

The security cabinet resolved unanimously to “hold the Palestinian Authority responsible for all actions that harm the security of Israel which originate in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip.” In other words, all terror from the West Bank and Gaza will be blamed on the Palestinian Authority.

Jerusalem’s perspective is that this is a logical position now that there’s a Hamas-backed government in the Palestinian Authority. Until now, it blamed Hamas for all terror emanating from Gaza, even if it didn’t launch the rockets.

This Israeli position sounds dramatic, but it is unclear where its real significance lies. Is this just a declarative position, meaning that Israel will point its finger at Ramallah each time a rocket lands near Sderot? Currently, Israel’s response to rockets is standard — it hits terror infrastructure in Gaza with air strikes. It is hardly going to start striking sites in the West Bank in response, and is hardly going to remove the deterrent of strikes in Gaza. The bottom line is that Israel’s reaction to rocket attacks will be exactly the same.

But perhaps the security cabinet declaration constitutes a veiled morsel of optimism from Israel regarding the unity deal — that perhaps the formation of the unity government could actually lead to restraint in the Gaza Strip and could lead to the quieting of rocket launchers. This is against every ideological inclination of the Israeli government, but could represent its practical thinking.

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Israeli Rabbinate Should Learn From Shavuot Heroine

By Pesach Sommer

Russian immigrants to Israel / Courtesy of Alona Sibuk

Her story is well known. She came from a foreign land where she lived like a princess. Despite a very questionable connection to Judaism, she chose to follow her mother-in-law to Israel. There, she lived in abject poverty, getting by only by taking charity. Even when she found a kind stranger to help her, there were those who continued to doubt whether she belonged in Israel, and tried to prevent her from getting married.

Her name is Irina, Svetlana or Marissa, and you don’t have to read the Book of Ruth — as Jews around the world will do this week for Shavuot — to know her story and feel for her, her family, and the literally hundreds of thousands of other Russians of Jewish descent who are living in limbo in Israel.

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Why Is Avigdor Mad at Bibi?

By Nathan Jeffay

Getty Images

Since Israel’s last general election a year and a half ago, the country’s two most powerful party leaders have exhibited surprisingly good relations.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman united their parties, Likud and Yisrael Beytenu, before the election and have surprised observers by keeping them together and getting along relatively well. Netanyahu loyally kept the Foreign Minister post open for him until his legal troubles ended in November.

But all is no longer rosy in paradise. Netanyahu has angered Liberman by backing Likud’s Reuven Rivlin for president. Netanyahu made the move reluctantly, after failing to recruit a candidate he deemed more suitable. His coolness towards Rivlin even prompted him to take the highly unusual step of trying to bring a president from New York, namely Elie Wiesel.

While Rivlin is a staunch rightist, both Netanyahu and Liberman dislike him for various reasons, including his refusal to back certain measures aimed against Israel’s Arab minority. But Netanyahu gave in to pressures from within is party, while Liberman remains opposed — and is left angry at Netanyahu for breaking what he said was an agreement not to back Rivlin.

Under the surface of the Netanyahu-Liberman relationship, they are two men jostling for prominence and fighting for the title of king of the Israeli right. And if Liberman can get ahead by generating a crisis based on Netanyahu’s presidential choices, capitalizing on an accusation that he acted in bad faith, Israel may be in for some political turbulence.

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I'm No One's 'Heretic'

By Emily L. Hauser

Rabbi Yaakov Perlow speaks at the Agudath Isael annual gala / YouTube

On Wednesday we learned that, while speaking at a fundraising gala for the ultra-Orthodox Agudath Israel of America, Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, head of that organization, slandered virtually every Jew on the planet, down to and including a bunch of plain-old-Orthodox folks. We were told that attendees of the event were “stunned.”

“The Torah must be guarded from the secular forces that seek to corrupt its values and the lives of [Jews], from intruders who sometimes in the name of Judaism completely subvert and destroy the eternal values of our people,” Perlow said. And also: “[The Reform and Conservative Movements] have disintegrated themselves, become oblivious, fallen into an abyss of intermarriage and assimilation. They have no future, they almost have no present.” And furthermore, the Open Orthodoxy movement is “steeped in apikorsos [heresy].”

It was quite the little speech. But stunned? Really? Attendees were stunned? Do they not get out much?

Perlow heads an organization that is, by definition, extremist. They believe themselves to be upholding the strictest, and thus most correct, interpretation of God’s own Divine law; they believe that the existence of the Jewish people, the coming of Messiah, and quite possibly the world itself depends on the painstaking observance of that interpretation — which is not, in their understanding, an interpretation at all, but simply Jewish law, halakhah.

Of course he thinks you’re a bad Jew — no, I’m sorry, not a “bad Jew.” He thinks that you’re a literal danger to Judaism itself. You have come — yes, you! — to “subvert and destroy the eternal values” of the Jewish people. You! (Unless you happen to be Haredi, and Perlow’s kind of Haredi at that, in which case, welcome to Forward Thinking, we try to be a very welcoming blog).

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‘Go to Hell, Leftist’ and Other Jerusalem Day Slogans

By Leanne Gale

The crowd enters Jerusalem’s Old City singing racist chants / A. Daniel Roth Photography

As I made my way out of the Muslim Quarter, the dark alleyways suddenly seemed too quiet. Just moments before, crowds of ultranationalist Jewish celebrants had marched through this same space shouting “Death to Arabs.” Children had banged against shuttered Palestinian homes with wooden sticks and Israeli police had stood by as teenagers chanted “Muhammad is dead.” Now, all that remained were eerie remnants of their presence: “Kahane Tzadak” (Kahane was right) stickers plastered over closed Palestinian shops and the ground littered with anti-Muslim flyers. As Israeli police and soldiers began to unblock closures, Palestinian residents of the Muslim Quarter cautiously ventured outside. This is the only time I cried.

Jerusalem Day marks the anniversary of the Israeli conquest of East Jerusalem in 1967. The March of Flags has become an annual tradition in which thousands of ultranationalist Jewish celebrants parade through the city waving Israeli flags. It culminates in a dramatic march through the Muslim Quarter, generally accompanied by racist slogans and incitement to violence. Israeli police arrive in the area earlier in the day, sealing off entry to Palestinian residents “for their own safety.” Those Palestinians who live in the Muslim Quarter are encouraged to close their shops and stay indoors, while any Palestinian counter-protest is quickly dispersed.

Growing up at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Long Island, I have fond memories of Jerusalem Day. We celebrated every year with school-wide assemblies and dances, singing “Sisu et Yerushalayim” (Rejoice in Jerusalem) and “Jerusalem of Gold” with pride. Even in high school, I never knew the political significance of the day or imagined that my joy might be at someone else’s expense. Today, I know better.

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Trying To Prove a Palestinian Died? Good Luck.

By Jordan Kutzik

Paul Hansen’s 2013 World Press Photo winning picture “Gaza Burial”

In college I had a Palestinian friend who, due to her ethnically ambiguous appearance, was often asked about her heritage. She would sometimes answer the invasive question by stating “I’m 95% Palestinian and I think about 5% squirrel or perhaps raccoon.” After hearing that line three or four times I decided to ask her why she kept using it. She responded: “Because, being Palestinian, I know that many people will never consider me fully human.”

I thought her line, albeit clever and poetic, was pure hyperbole. I didn’t fully grasp the extent to which Palestinians, not just as a people but as individual human beings, have been dehumanized by much of the Jewish community — until this past week when I began looking into the “Pallywood” meme.

“Pallywood,” a portmanteau of “Palestine” and “Hollywood,” is the belief among some Israelis and their American Jewish supporters that most footage of Palestinian suffering at the hands of Israelis is faked. The meme came back to the forefront last week when many questioned the veracity of security-cam footage of the May 15 deaths of Palestinian teenagers Nadim Nawarah and Muhammad Salameh during a demonstration in the West Bank town of Bitunya. In a previous post, I examined the claim of Rabbi Kenneth L. Cohen, the director of the religious pro-peace organization, the Vine and Fig Tree Project, that the way the boys fell on camera was “inconsistent” with their having been shot. Explaining that from my own experience watching films of wartime executions I know this claim to be false, I concluded that such statements are an attempt to control the narrative surrounding controversial events before a proper investigation can be conducted.

Since then, the Pallywood meme has continued in both social media and on one of America’s most prestigious TV news networks. Rabbi Kenneth L. Cohen on May 27 tweeted an article alleging that Paul Hansen’s 2013 World Press Photo winning picture “Gaza Burial,” which captures the funeral procession of two Palestinian brothers killed in a 2012 Israeli airstrike, was faked. As you can see in Rabbi Cohen’s tweet itself, this allegation was swiftly debunked by the very media outlets that initially reported it.

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Brandeis Shouldn’t Cut Ties to Palestinian University

By Michael Ratner

Sari Nusseibeh in his office at Al-Quds university / Haaretz

Open Letter to Brandeis President

Dear President Lawrence:

By this letter I am resigning from the advisory board of the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life at Brandeis. While I appreciate that you were willing to reappoint me for another term, I do not feel my service on that board is compatible with your suspension of Dr. Sari Nusseibeh, the President of Al-Quds University, from that board. In addition, in light of your suspension of Dr. Nusseibeh and of Brandeis’ relationship with Al-Quds, I will not be making further donations to Brandeis. My reasons, which I am making public, are set forth below.

On November 18, 2013, at your direction, Brandeis suspended its longtime partnership (since 2003) with Al-Quds, a Palestinian university located in Jerusalem, Palestine. At the same time, you suspended the President of Al-Quds, Sari Nusseibeh, from the advisory board of the Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life at Brandeis, a board on which I also serve. I profoundly disagree with both of these actions. I believe that you have seriously harmed important exchanges that offered at least some hope for better understanding among the Brandeis and Al-Quds communities. As a result of your precipitous action, you have also besmirched the reputation of President Nusseibeh, a well-known scholar who has spent his life working for a peaceful solution between Palestine and Israel.

While I feel that your decision requires me to take these actions, I do so with some reluctance, because of my long association with Brandeis. As you are aware, I was an alumnus of Brandeis from the 1960’s and attended during the time of the civil rights movement and the beginning of the Vietnam War protests. The school began to open my eyes to liberal and progressive politics. It was a place of intense discussion and debate with professors like Herbert Marcuse and speakers such as Malcolm X, Allen Ginsberg and Paul Goodman. As I said when Brandeis gave me the 2006 Alumni Achievement Award, “Those years really changed my life. It’s clear that Brandeis is where I became an activist.” In 2006, I was also appointed to the advisory board of the Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life which is involved with the Al-Quds relationship.

My understanding of the background to your actions is informed by a report requested by you and issued by three Brandeis faculty who visited Al-Quds a few days after the November 5, 2013 rally which ultimately precipitated the chain of events that led to the suspension of the relationship with Al-Quds and of President Nusseibeh from the board. I note that you suspended President Nusseibeh before you even received the report.

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Why Jerusalem Day Is One Big Lie

By Emily L. Hauser

(Haaretz) — Jerusalem Day, we’re told, celebrates the reunification of Israel’s eternal capital, symbolizing “the continued historical connection of the Jewish people to Jerusalem.” It’s a moment to remember that, as Prime Minister Netanyahu once said, “Israel without Jerusalem is like a body without a heart.”

So we’re told, and so the vast majority of Jews in Israel and abroad believe. Jerusalem is our heart, our soul – a small, holy spot on the map around which everything else revolves. So we’re told.

Except that it’s a lie. “Jerusalem” – as currently constituted, featured on maps, and represented by Israel’s government – is not eternal. It is not undivided. And it is certainly not holy.

The geographic location to which Jewish hearts have turned for millennia is small, corresponding roughly to today’s Old City; the holy part – the area on which the Israelites were commanded to establish a resting place for the Divine Presence – is more modest still, consisting of the Temple Mount. When we stand before the Western Wall, or orient ourselves toward it in worship, we’re weaving our prayers and longings with those of all Jews, reaching across miles and years and touching the core of that which holds us in community.

Zionism stems from that faith experience, but is not identical to it. Zionism is a modern idea, a nationalist movement which, like all nationalist movements, centers on a shared language, culture, and land. That’s why Uganda was nixed as an alternative – because the Jewish people’s shared land is anchored by our holy city.

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Arab Israelis Increasingly Recognize Jewish State

By Nathan Jeffay

Israeli Jewish youths fix a menorah in Jerusalem’s Muslim quarter / Getty Images

There’s a received wisdom that in Israel, everyone is polarizing, and that with a right-wing government and stalled peace process, Arab citizens are feeling increasingly antagonistic towards the state. But a new survey suggests that this isn’t the case.

There has been a rise in the percentage of Arabs who recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. In 2012, 47% of Arab citizens accepted this, but in 2013 — the figure just released — this rose to 53%.

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Reuven Rivlin Called Reform Judaism 'Idol Worship'

By Ben Sales

(JTA) — If Likud Knesset member Reuven Rivlin gets elected next month to succeed President Shimon Peres as Israel’s next president, don’t blame Reform Jewry for withholding its applause. While Rivlin is thought of as an elder statesman and voice of reason within the Likud party, he hasn’t had the kindest words for America’s largest Jewish denomination.

In 1989, Rivlin accompanied Israeli Reform Rabbi Uri Regev, then CEO of the Israeli Religious Action Center, to a Shabbat service at Temple Emanu-El in Westfield, N.J. Regev told JTA that Rivlin “was most friendly” during the visit.

But speaking to the press, Rivlin lambasted the synagogue, and Reform Judaism, in an interview that appeared in Yediot Aharonot, a leading Israeli paper, and then subsequently in “Erev Shabbat,” an Israeli haredi paper, on April 19, 1989.

Here’s what Rivlin had to say about his Shabbat experience at Temple Emanu-El, along with a visit to another Reform synagogue:

As a Jew who does not observe 613 commandments and perhaps not even 13 commandments, I was deeply shocked without any limit. I discovered what kind of worshiping group was in front of me, such that any connection between it and Judaism didn’t even approach reality. I felt as if I were in a church.

I was completely stunned. This is idol worship and not Judaism. Until now I thought Reform was a stream of Judaism, but after visiting two of their synagogues I am convinced that this is a completely new religion without any connection to Judaism. Total assimilation. Their prayer is like a completely Protestant ceremony.

In Haaretz today, former Union for Reform Judaism President Eric Yoffie recalled the incident, as well as a 2007 meeting he had with Rivlin in which Rivlin would not commit to calling Yoffie “rabbi.”

Regev, now CEO of Hiddush, an organization that advocates for religious pluralism in Israel, says Rivlin still has work to do when it comes to respecting non-Orthodox Jews.

“In terms of religious pluralism, he has not demonstrated empathy or understanding of world Jewry,” Regev told JTA.

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March of the Living Exploits — Like 9/11 Museum

By Adam Chanes

March of the Living participants visit Auschwitz in 2009 / Yossi Selliger

This year, I made the difficult decision not to join my high school classmates on March of the Living, an organized trip that takes students to Poland’s death camps and then on to Israel. But it wasn’t until I read Meg Bloom Glasser’s opinion piece, which laments the new 9/11 Museum’s approach to memorializing, that I fully understood why.

The word Bloom Glasser uses is “spectacle.”

“I have been reduced to a spectator in the cheap seats,” she said, convinced that the new Manhattan museum has filched from her any and all control over the memory of her husband, who died in the attacks.

“Spectacle” is just the right word for March of the Living. The most recognizable features in a March of the Living photo are the locked arms, the bright matching caps and shirts, and, most prominently, the Israeli flags — all decked out, right on the train tracks into Auschwitz.

The in-your-face, Israeli-flag-waving flashiness at the camps is disquieting because it represents Israel — in a seemingly innocent way — as a beacon of perfection in the Jewish world, and as something that is in need of everyone’s protection at all times. The hidebound nationalism is a bit much.

But Bloom Glasser captures my disillusionment through a sharper lens. “[9/11] may have been a public loss” — the Holocaust, too, is one of the most mourned public losses — “but… rather than honoring the lives lost, the museum just seems to exploit those deaths to tell a bigger story.”

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Coma Case Could Mean Leap Forward for Agunot

By Nathan Jeffay

A woman gestures at a Jerusalem demonstration to help agunot / Haaretz

We’re familiar with the stories of recalcitrant husbands who refuse to give their wives a get, a religious writ of divorce, effectively preventing them from remarrying. But less discussed is the heart-wrenching experience of women whose husbands are alive, but unable to interact with them in any way.

The Israeli city of Safed is known for its religious conservatism, but it has just come up with a massive innovation in Jewish law. While a husband’s consent is generally needed to approve a divorce, the Safed Rabbinical Court has just made an exception.

A man who has been in a coma for seven years following a motorbike accident has just been divorced from his wife, a 34-year-old mother of one, Haaretz reports. She believed that he will never regain consciousness, and wanted the opportunity to remarry.

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