Robert Ransdell’s campaign slogan on view in Kentucky / WLWT
“With Jews We Lose”? No, this isn’t a poster from Nazi Germany. It’s a campaign placard currently on view in Kentucky, where write-in candidate Robert Ransdell is running for U.S. Senate. His party, The White Guard, “seeks to show White people the facts regarding the Jewish role in America’s decline as well as highlight the destructive effects that multiculturalism, diversity, and political correctness have had on this country.” (He details his whole platform in this incredibly rambly video.)
We here at the “Jew Media,” as Ransdell calls it, had a few questions about his views. And so we emailed him. To our surprise, he answered back. Highlights of the interview, which has been edited for style and length, include: his belief that Christian Zionists should relocate to Israel, that no Jews are white, and that there’s only one group out there more arrogant than members of the tribe.
Ladies and gentlemen, Robert Ransdell in his own words:
I don’t share that view because Jews themselves don’t share that view, it is absurd and a fantasy that Jews in America do not make a distinction between Jews and Whites, I won’t even bother quoting the numerous statements made by Jews, past and present, that affirm this fact. Most Whites falsely see Jews as White because they are never given an in depth and accurate portrayal of Jewish solidarity, unity, and identity which would go to show, again through the actions and statements of Jews, through the prolific number of Jewish interests organizations, that Jews regard themselves as what they are, a separate group.
Well, this is weird.
Iraqi TV is rolling out a new satirical series, “Superstitious State,” that portrays the leader of ISIS as the spawn of Satan and — you guessed it — a Jewish woman.
In a promo for the soon-to-come anti-ISIS show, broadcast several times daily on Al-Iraqiyya, we meet a Jewess adorned with a big Star of David necklace. “I hope to get a ring on my finger by someone who will destroy the country,” she says, then points to the red-clad devil, who says, “We will name our child ISIS.” The subtext here is a conspiracy theory, currently circulating in Iraq and elsewhere, that suggests Jews and/or Zionists created ISIS with the intention of ruining Islam.
So, this Jewess is supposed to be the mother of ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi — but she doesn’t give birth to him the good old-fashioned way. Instead, “an egg hatched — and an ISIS-ling was born.” Why?
“Dad, I want to have a bar mitzvah! And — I’ll get a Hebrew name. I’m going to go with either Shlomo or Shmuel.”
So says young Andre Jr. — much to the dismay of Andre Sr. — in the trailer for ABC’s new family comedy, “Black-ish,” set to debut September 24.
This African American kid’s desire to have a bar mitzvah, even though he’s not at all Jewish, sets us up for his dad’s big concern: “Lately, I feel in order to make it, we’ve all dropped a little of our culture.” Worried about his family’s shifting racial and cultural identity, the father resists — “Jr., when you turn 13, I’m throwing you an African rites of passage ceremony” — at least at first.
The premise of the show is funny — but, for a Jewish viewer, it’s more than just that. In “Black-ish,” Jews represent the counterpoint to blackness. They are, in other words, the epitome of whiteness. They’re as white as white can be.
But Jews weren’t always perceived that way — far from it.
Young Jewish professionals have started taking action against The Jewish Press in response to their advertisement for JONAH International, the Jewish gay “conversion” therapy organization.
Yesterday, as the social media outrage towards the JONAH ad on The Jewish Press’ website continued, Chaim Levin, a former JONAH participant and witness in the infamous lawsuit against the organization, commented on Facebook that he had initially discovered JONAH from the long running Jewish Press ad in question.
In July 2010, Levin and another former participant of JONAH, Ben Unger, alleged in an interview that as part of JONAH counselor, Alan Downing’s therapy, he requested that his participants strip off their clothing in front of a mirror and touch their genitals in his presence.
Both Unger and Levin encouraged the current social action.
Since Levin issued his comments yesterday afternoon on Facebook, Sarah Gross, a board member of Bend the Arc, a Jewish social justice organization, publicized a Facebook group entitled “Jewish Press: Stop Enabling Abuse.”
Within hours of its launch, the page had 152 likes.
The Jewish Press has yet to issue a response.
People stand outside the ‘As du Fallafel’ shop in the Marais district in Paris / Getty Images
The news from France is bleak: anti-Semitic sentiment is on the rise, violent incidents are piling up, and Jews are packing up and leaving for Israel.
Recently, I learned that one of my cousins, tired of feeling marginalized, was planning such a move. That got me thinking.
I lived in Paris for a three-month period in the summer of 2013. Even then, I felt that being Jewish in France was a whole other ballgame than my experience as a Jew in Montreal or New York. French Jews were either French people who happened to practice Judaism, or Jews who happened to be French. I felt that there was no, or little, French cultural Judaism such as the Woody Allen/bagel-and-schmear combo we’re used to. At the same time, I felt more kinship with the Jews in France than I do with most New York Jews — because Jewish culture in France is Sephardic and, well, incredibly French.
There is certainly cause for alarm when stores close their doors for fear of attack; when shul-goers need to hide from an angry mob like the recent events on Rue de La Roquette; and when Jews like my family, who have been proud French citizens for decades, feel the need to leave their homes. But in all that panic, it’s easy (and dangerous) to forget what a strong impact Jews have had, and continue to have, on French culture. Here are a couple of examples:
Given the amount of street style snaps and runway shots invading my Facebook and Instagram feeds, fashion seems like a good place to start. French Jews have always been involved in fashion. In fact, the cult classic “La Verite Si Je Mens” revolves around a non-Jew trying to pass himself off as an Ashkenazi Jew in “Le Sentier,” Paris’ garment district — which is inherently funny because, duh, everyone there is Jewish (and Sephardi, but more on that later).
More recently, Jews have left the shmatte for high-end luxury. French brands like Sandro, Maje and Claudie Pierlot have fashionista followings from London to New York. You may not know, however, that all three brands are owned by Jews — sisters, in fact. Judith Milgrom and Evelyne Chetrit were born in Morocco, and moved to France with their parents when they were kids, mirroring the experience of many French Sephardic Jews, who now outnumber the older Ashkenazi community. Both are vocal about their Jewish heritage. In an interview with The Telegraph in 2012, Milgrom even talked about not working on Shabbat: “About 20 years ago, I started to observe the Jewish Sabbath really seriously. From dusk on Friday until dusk on Saturday, I don’t do any work, don’t shop or look at my email or phone. It’s unbelievably therapeutic.”
On the more kitschy side of things, let’s not forget Yiddish Mama. As Laurent David Samama over at the Daily Beast shows, young Parisian designer Camille Vizioz-Brami is doing for French Yiddish culture what Mile End did for the New York deli. Boasting slogans like “Power Yiddish Mamma,” “Super Mensch” or “Chepselleh,” her apparel makes quite a statement in a time where Jews may feel compelled to mask their identity for fear of anti-Semitic reprisals.
Jewish and Muslim demonstrators advocate peace at a rally in Paris / Getty Images
Is it the spike in anti-Semitic acts or rather their growing banality that drives Jews in Paris, Lyon and Marseille to seriously consider emigration?
Maybe both. Caught between the rise of far-right movements like the Front National and the tide of anti-Semitism preached by Islamists, French Jews today look like they are once again stuck in an age-old historical trap.
After WWII and the massive trauma of the Holocaust, my country — France — tried to build a society free of anti-Semitism. Over the years, various pieces of legislation have prohibited Holocaust denial and racist acts in general. Several associations (SOS Racisme, MRAP and LICRA) have worked hard to erase differences between French citizens. Now, for the French Republic, you are neither Black, nor Asian, nor or Caucasian. You’re not Catholic, Jewish or Muslim. You are French. I grew up with this wonderful principle along with the Republican motto “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.” But our society is not equal to these principles and, sadly, it has taken only four decades for anti-Semitism to return to my country.
The result? My family is a good example. My Tunisia-born grandparents came to France in the late 1950s and had two sons; my father then had three. One of them now lives in New York with no plans of coming back to Paris, the other one studies in Spain and Sweden, and the last one is writing down these lines. Within months, I silently bore witness as a large part of my entourage made aliyah — including some of my friends and all of my girlfriend’s family. It was quite a strange feeling. I wouldn’t say that I felt abandoned, but I was definitely disappointed by all those people choosing to live a different life abroad.
Can we talk?
Gay men have always loved our outsized female heroes, and Joan Rivers was right up there with the best of them. It’s no coincidence that a disproportionate number of these divas are Jewish (Rivers, Barbra Streisand) even though many (Judy Garland, Madonna) are not. In fact, gay men love strong women for very Jewish reasons.
First, gay icons (divas, glamour queens) and Jewish women both tend to be strong, outspoken, and assertive – models for drag queens like Bianca Del Rio and RuPaul. Once again, of course, Rivers was among the best. Her humor was almost always blunt, occasionally offensively so. (In a good way – people who get offended by humor are usually taking themselves too seriously.)
This strength of spirit is, itself, a rebuke to patriarchy – or, if that’s too lofty, to macho chauvinist jerks who subjugate women and persecute gays.
But Rivers was not merely a strong person; she was a strong woman. Here, again, gay men cheer on the sidelines as powerful women stand up to institutions of sexism and the individuals who uphold them.
Rivers, like Streisand, broke barriers – ethno-religious ones as well as gendered ones. The night-time talk show circuit was an old boys’ club until River broke that glass ceiling. And while Jews were omnipresent in the television world of the 1950s and 1960s, they often stayed behind the scenes as writers, or closeted their Jewishness, or were limited to comic relief. Rivers was brash, in your face, female but not ‘feminine,’ and also aggressively Jewish.
“The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood at first,” explained Chava Karen Knox, an African-American woman who converted to Judaism a couple of years ago.
Knox is referring to the Jewish volunteers who work on a weekly basis in Eden Gardens, a community-run urban farming project in East Detroit.
The project is a collaboration between the local African-American neighborhood association and the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue.
Jews journey from their homes in suburbs or more affluent parts of the city to weed rows of leafy collard greens and stake tomato plants. Some say they get far more back than they give in sweat.
“Working in the garden is a place where I often feel the most Jewish. Let my sweat pants be my tefillin,” said Noah Purcell who coordinates the volunteers on part of the synagogue.
Eden Gardens has two ambitious goals: The garden provides much needed nutrition to a low-income neighborhood, where healthy food options are absent. But the project also aims to build a bridge between two estranged communities: Jews who grew up in Michigan’s affluent suburbs after their families joined the ‘white flight’ in the 1950s and African-Americans who live in the city of Detroit, which has been struggling for decades with record numbers of unemployment and foreclosure.
The vegetables in Eden Gardens are soon ready to be harvested. But the trust between Jews and African-Americans is growing at a much slower pace.
“Trust is being built by us showing up every week,” Purcell said. “As we continue to show that we’re not here for a quick photo and a pat on the back. It will continue time to build trust.”
Jews for Racial and Economic Justice march in New York / JFREJ
Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality. My Shabbat was, as it was for many other Jews, a time of reflection and restoration, a time to remember (zakhor) and a time to observe (shamor).
I remembered the innocents whose lives were snatched away for the crime of being people of color in the United States. I remembered my obligation as a Jewish person to see myself as someone who came out of Egypt, who knows the suffering of someone made to feel a stranger in a strange land, and who lives by the creed that all people are made b’tzelem elohim, in the image of God.
I observed this Shabbat as a time of reflection, contemplation, and community. Rabbi Scott Perlo of the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue argued that social justice has a place in Shabbat, that “[Shabbat] is about seeing. It is about understanding. It is about contemplating. It is about generating compassion. It is about seeing our small place in the big picture. It is about recognizing how we fit, before we fix.”
As I marched, I listened to the people who are daily, directly affected by discriminatory and abusive policing. I dug down into myself for compassion and empathy and at the same time reflected on how radically different our situations are. I marched as part of a Jewish community who thinks this difference is fundamentally wrong, who abhors that people in this country are treated as criminals because of their identity rather than their actions.
Cultural Leadership program participants in Crown Heights, Brooklyn
(JTA) — On the evening of Aug. 12, after two consecutive nights of clashes between police and protesters in Ferguson, Mo., Mikal Smith rose to address a community meeting in the neighboring city of Florissant. In front of Governor Jay Nixon, Obama administration officials and community leaders, Smith spoke off the cuff about his own experiences as a young black man — the constant need to be aware of his surroundings, for example, and the indignity of being questioned by the police for no apparent reason. At the end of his speech, Smith, an incoming freshman at Saint Louis University, received a standing ovation.
Smith, 18, is a recent alumnus of Cultural Leadership, a St. Louis-area organization that educates high school students about discrimination and social injustice through an intensive, year-long study of Jewish and African-American history and culture.
The program, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month, teaches high school students how to work across racial and cultural boundaries to address social inequalities. With Ferguson now a flashpoint in the wake of the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, Cultural Leadership’s curriculum is being played out in the national headlines. Meanwhile its alumni are on the front lines in organizing a response.
“Our students are trained to be what we call ‘troublemakers of the very best kind,’” said Holly Ingraham, the executive director of Cultural Leadership. “They have been taking action, standing up and speaking out before, during and after Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson.”
Aaron Johnson, a Cultural Leadership alumnus from its class of 2010, is organizing a training on voter registration in St. Louis Aug. 23 and will then lead a registration drive in Ferguson. Mary Blair, a member of the incoming class of 32 students, organized a walk-out and silent protest at Metro High School in St. Louis that made the local news. Other alumni, who now number in the hundreds, have acted as runners for the community dialogue portion of the meeting in Florissant.
“I don’t think I would be the person I am today had I not experienced Cultural Leadership,” said Johnson, who is an organizer for Grassroots Organizing in Columbia, Mo., and who is working toward a Masters in Public Policy at the University of Missouri. “It was fundamental for becoming a social activist in this way.”
Cultural Leadership recruits many of its students through local houses of worship, as well as through schools and youth groups. The organization has close ties with St. Louis-area rabbis, ministers and school administrators, and those leaders often identify talented students and connect them with Cultural Leadership.
The program was founded by Karen Kalish, and was modeled after a similar initiative, Operation Understanding, in Philadelphia and Washington D.C.
Demonstrators protest the killing of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri / Getty Images
After weeks upon weeks of news reports that detail what seemed to be never-ending violence in Israel and Gaza, compounded by accounts of a rise in anti-Semitic attacks in Europe and Canada and even across the United States, it would have been so simple to sit back over this past week-and-a-half and breath a sigh of relief as the headlines began to broadcast violence outside of the Jewish community.
Though I live about six miles from the city of Ferguson, MO, I am not kept awake at night with dread of the violence that might reach my home. I do not live under a curfew or find my days and nights punctuated by the sound of sirens. Like so many others in the world, I saw the images of Ferguson police in riot gear and individuals looting stores and throwing Molotov cocktails through a television screen, not through my front windows. While those in the rest of the country demand dialogue around race relations in America, governmental responses to violence, and allegations of police misconduct, I could choose the luxury of continuing on in my day-to-day life with no adjustments made for the tensions and fears in my own backyard.
Silence is a luxury, but it is not an option.
(JTA) — After four weeks of a punishing Israel air and ground campaign that left nearly 2,000 dead and much of Gaza in ruins, Hamas has lived to see another day.
For Israel, that might not be the worst thing. That’s because for all of Hamas’ violent extremism, it also governs a territory, maintains a social service wing and controls smaller, more extremist factions. Through mediators, Hamas and Israel have reached agreements in 2011 and 2012, and are negotiating another one right now in Cairo.
But many of Hamas’ jihadi fellow travelers in Gaza don’t have the same interests. For most, their sole goal is to fight — not just against Israel, but to spread Islamist rule across the whole world. That’s why, in the thick of the conflict on July 28, outgoing U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency head Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn said ousting Hamas could bring on “something like ISIS,” the radical Islamist group now conquering swaths of Iraq and Syria.
“If Hamas were destroyed and gone, we would probably end up with something much worse,” Flynn said, according to Reuters. “The region would end up with something much worse.”
Who are these groups? Here’s a quick rundown of the other major organizations in Gaza that seek Israel’s destruction.
Palestinian Islamic Jihad – Sometimes known in Israel simply as Jihad, this is the second-biggest militant group in Gaza after Hamas. Founded in 1979 as a break-away from the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic Jihad resembles Hamas in many ways. It’s a Palestinian national movement, it receives funding from Iran and has a small social service wing that includes schools, hospitals and family mediation services, according to the New York Times. It is also party to the negotiations taking place in Cairo.
A 2011 Reuters article estimated the Islamic Jihad’s militia, the Al-Quds Brigade, at 8,000 fighters, compared to tens of thousands of Hamas fighters. Islamic Jihad executed a number of terror attacks during the second intifada a decade ago, including the 2001 abduction and murder of two 14-year-old boys in Gush Etzion. It has frequently fired rockets at Israel from Gaza, including during the three rounds of conflict between Israel and Hamas in recent years.
Popular Resistance Committees – The Popular Resistance Committees, or PRC, is a break-away from the Palestinian Fatah Party, which governs the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. The PRC was founded in 2000 and opposes Fatah’s peace process with Israel. Unlike many groups operating in Gaza, the PRC is not Islamist. In 2012, Yediot Aharonot estimated that it was the third-strongest militia in Gaza and that it receives much of its funding from the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which is also backed by Iran.
The PRC also executed terror attacks during the second intifada. In 2006, it collaborated with Hamas on the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier.
Jihadi groups — There are a number of jihadi groups reported to be active in Gaza and allied with, or supportive of, the ISIS and Al-Qaeda agenda of reestablishing an international Islamic caliphate. Among them, the Army of Islam, which participated in the Shalit kidnapping and kidnapped BBC reporter Alan Johnston in 2007.
Another group, Tawhid wal’Jihad, has shot a number of rockets at Israel and is most famous for the 2011 kidnapping and murder of Vittorio Arrigoni, an Italian activist with International Solidarity Movement. Another, Jund Ansar Allah, attempted to attack Israel on horseback in 2009 and declared Gaza an Islamic emirate later that year, leading to a gunfight with Hamas forces.
Confused about Gaza? You’re not alone.
Le Monde has created an animated map to help people who can’t tell Gaza from the West Bank navigate the facts.
Say what you will about supposed French bias against Israel, the map is fairly informative, easy to follow and essentially lays out the bare bones of a very long and complex conflict — a good tool for someone who hasn’t been following the situation too closely.
Watch for yourself:
Khaled Meshal, head of the political wing of Hamas / Getty Images
“Apart from fringe elements such as the Jewish Voice for Peace, which abandoned the last shred of its dignity when its rabbinic co-chair presented Hamas as a force for reason, American Jews of all persuasions back Israel’s position.”
So says Rabbi Eric Yoffie, former president of the Union for Reform Judaism. He declares a rival Jewish organization as having “abandoned the last shred of its dignity” because Rabbi Brant Rosen, co-chair of Jewish Voice for Peace’s Rabbinical Council, argued that Israel should have considered negotiating with Hamas, and that Israel should have recognized the joint Hamas-Fatah unity government while given the opportunity.
Dignity is a strong word to use when attempting to criticize the strategic analyses of other Jews, and so I need to ask: Is it really that unreasonable to suggest that Israel negotiate with Hamas?
(JTA) — Georgia’s U.S. Senate race has just experienced a shakeup with the leaking of an eight-month old draft strategy memo — first reported by National Review — written for the campaign of Democratic candidate Michelle Nunn.
The memo provides an unvarnished look at how a modern Senate campaign is actually run, and among those interesting, unvarnished tidbits is the following on Jewish campaign contributions:
Jewish Community: Opportunity: Michelle’s position on Israel will largely determine the level of support here. There is tremendous financial opportunity, but the level of support will be contingent on her position. This applies not only to PACs, but individual donors as well. Message: TBD Potential Anchors: Sheri and Steve Labovitz, Elaine Alexander, Jewish Democratic Women Projected Goal: $250,000
This is, of course, flagrantly transactional, and it’s a good look at how campaign professionals actually think about these things behind closed doors. It is also, as Vox’s Matthew Yglesias notes, how Jewish power translates into real-world terms, and the kind of dynamic that keeps Congress so overwhelmingly pro-Israel – candidates need campaign cash, Jews are big givers and Jews (particularly big Jewish donors) care about Israel.
It’s also worth noting that, elsewhere, the memo refers to the Jewish community as “Primary Targets” for volunteers as well as fundraisers. This is, of course, another aspect of Jewish political power — Jews get involved, and therefore matter to campaigns, even though they only constitute about 1 percent of the state’s population.
Also keep in mind that the memo was written by hired consultants, not Nunn herself, so while the “Message: TBD” looks terrible, it’s probably actually a good sign that Nunn’s campaign finance consultant wasn’t also drafting her Israel policy.
One thing that Yglesias leaves out is that this is how it works on both sides of the aisle. Remember when the biggest names in Republican politics showed up for the Republican Jewish Coalition conference in Las Vegas and waxed poetic about Israel, Holocaust memorials and menorah lighting? Remember how Chris Christie personally apologized to Sheldon Adelson for referencing the “occupied territories?” That’s because Adelson and other attendees, like Mel Sembler and Sam Fox, present, as Nunn’s consultants might put it, “tremendous financial opportunity,” and “the level of support will be contingent upon … position.”
This dynamic also explains why another part of the campaign memo is potentially troublesome for Nunn. Under the section on “Candidate Research,” the memo refers to “Grants to problematic entities” by Points of Light, the charity that Nunn ran before her Senate campaign. The National Review identified on such “problematic entity” — Islamic Relief USA, the U.S. affiliate of an international group of entities that all operate under the umbrella of World Islamic Relief. Why is it problematic? Because Israel has banned World Islamic Relief from operating there on the grounds that WIR gives money to Hamas.
Nunn’s campaign has pushed back hard — Points of Light did not actually make any grants to Islamic Relief USA, merely acted as a validator encouraging others to give donations.
Furthermore, Islamic Relief USA is fully independent of World Islamic Relief. As Slate’s Dave Weigel argues convincingly, it’s a fairly tenuous connection to get from Nunn to Hamas.
But, as the campaign memo makes clear, the important connection between Nunn and Hamas lies not through organizational entities but between the synapses of Jewish donors’ brains. If they do make that connection, then they may consider Nunn a “problematic entity,” and direct their cash accordingly.
It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune.
I guess on the whole Israel thing, I used to be kind of pareve. Not so much on the country’s scenic landscape or its culture, which I loved and deeply appreciated: its vibrancy and sheer chutzpah; its gorgeous men who looked nothing like the pimply boys in my hometown of Flatbush, whether they were in uniform or not; its falafel. But on the whole ardent Zionist devotion to the Jewish homeland that characterized the majority of my Israeli relatives, both sabras and American olim, I hesitated to commit similarly.
I admit that this was largely due to my rebellious nature, which had me instinctively buck any familial trend. I relished my role as the token liberal in an almost-uniformly Republican family. I liked looking beyond my immediate circle and empathizing with people who weren’t necessarily Jewish, white, or upper-middle class. And when I made friends at age 16 with a left-leaning socialist who saw clearly the persecution of the Palestinian people by the state of Israel, I only grew more daring in my critiques of the Jewish state. The discussions with my father grew more heated.
“Tova, one of these days you’re going to grow up and realize that Israel is all the Jews have,” he said to me, banging the table for emphasis. I sneered at his naiveté. This was America, for God’s sake. It was 2004. Being a Jew was more than acceptable: It was cool. And I continued to routinely call Israel’s policies into question, because I was a good little liberal.
But, alarmingly, my father seems to have been right. Everywhere I look, there’s news of anti-Israel demonstrations that regularly devolve into openly anti-Jewish sentiment, weakening the position — which I once held — that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are separate entities. The line between the two is growing blurrier, and fast. When angry protesters shout “Death to the Jews!” at “anti-Israel” rallies in Antwerp, Berlin and London, and Jews are trapped in a Paris synagogue and firebombed by an angry mob, how can you honestly posit that anti-Zionism has nothing to do with anti-Semitism?
After a year on the job, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, 43, has enjoyed mostly positive reviews from Angelenos and from observers of City Hall, who have credited his low-key governance style with helping reform the daily operations of the city’s government as well as with moving his “back to basics” initiatives forward in sectors such as job creation, traffic and public safety.
Though critics say that Garcetti has not been bold enough in creating and pursuing his agenda, the mayor can point to victories in securing lowered salaries and benefits for union workers of the Department of Water and Power, as well as to gaining the support of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for his ambitious $1 billion proposal to redevelop the L.A. River and its surrounding areas.
The city’s first elected Jewish mayor, Garcetti has also been actively involved with creating more cooperation between L.A. and Israel, most recently in the form of the Los Angeles/Eilat Innovation and Cooperation Task Force, which aims to help Israeli and Southern California-based businesses, universities and not-for-profits work together to solve issues related to water resources, solar energy and other environmental technologies.
In an interview held at his office in Downtown Los Angeles Garcetti and the Forward’s Noah Smith discussed issues related to the Jewish and Israeli communities.
Noah Smith: In light of recent proposals to boycott and/or divest from Israel, on University of California campuses and throughout the country, what are some of the specific ways in which the City of Los Angeles benefits from its cooperation with the State of Israel and its businesses and universities?
Eric Garcetti: Because we have similar land and similar challenges of drought, of energy independence, of economic development, I think we feel a real natural affinity with Israel. With the coast line and mountains, you go to Israel and you feel like you’re in California and vice versa, which I think is why so many Israelis probably settle here so comfortably and there are such close ties. This is not only an important Jewish city, it has now become an important Israeli-American city, I think one of the great cities of Israeli expats in the world.
The French Quarter in New Orleans.
We spent the last night of our road trip through the Jewish South in New Orleans — not really part of the South at all. The Big Easy is more like the northern extension of the Caribbean. And its Jewish life reflects that.
The pattern we saw here differed from the patterns noted on our previous stops. The first Jews arrived earlier, when Louisiana was still a French colony. These were Sephardis, often crypto-Jews, escaping religious persecution in Europe and looking to do business in the New World. But even here, they didn’t advertise their religion: intermarriage and assimilation were the norm.
The first recognized synagogue in New Orleans, Shangarai Chasset (Gates of Mercy), was founded in 1827, after the Louisiana Purchase. As in the rest of the South, organized Jewish communal life developed towards the 1840s, with the arrival of German Jewish merchants. This meant fewer concessions to assimilated Jews as Ashkenazi rituals supplanted Sephardi customs; by 1841, intermarried men were barred from Shangarai Chasset membership.
As two Sephardis, we went on a quest to find the original home of Shangarai Chasset. We arrived at the corner of St. Louis and North Rampart Street. It was Friday evening, and had the shul still been there we would have been just in time for Shabbat services. Unfortunately, only a plaque now marks the spot. A Catholic church with voodoo ties looms across the street, as does New Orleans’ oldest cemetery, nicknamed the “City of the Dead.”
Jews pop up in unexpected places in Memphis, Tennessee. Here are six things that surprised us in the Blues City.
The biblical Joseph is stalking us in the South. We first came across him in Alabama, when we drove through Dothan, a town with a fledgling Jewish community. The town’s name comes from a verse in the Torah: When Joseph goes out to check on his shepherd brothers, he’s told that they’ve gone to Dothan. When he gets there, the brothers — jealous of him for being the family favorite — sell him into slavery. We have no idea why the early settlers of Alabama thought it would be a good idea to name their town after this obscure biblical hamlet — but the choice of name is painfully ironic: it references a story about slavery, and we all know what part Alabama played in that dark chapter of history.
Joseph showed up again in Memphis on our visit to the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968. A plaque marking the spot quotes that exact same Joseph story: “They said one to another, ‘Behold, here cometh the dreamer. Let us slay him and we shall see what will become of his dream.’”
The Lorraine Motel is now part of the National Civil Rights Museum, which traces the struggle of African Americans from slavery to civil rights. Jewish references are everywhere. Take the rabbi who visited Parchman Prison in Mississippi to counsel the Freedom Riders incarcerated there. When the warden warned him not to give the prisoners any information about what was happening in the outside world, he replied, “You mean, I can’t tell them that Roger Maris just hit his 62nd home run?” When the warden said no, the rabbi kept up the back-and-forth, listing more and more things that he couldn’t say — all within hearing distance of the prisoners. How Talmudic.
Walking into the Freedom Summer exhibit is like flipping through a Jewish summer camp photo album. Many of the white college kids who came down to Mississippi to help register black voters in 1964 were Northern Jews — and it shows. Three famous faces stand out: Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, two Jewish volunteers, were brutally lynched by the Ku Klux Klan along with James Chaney, a black activist from Mississippi.
Investigators probe bombing at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama./FBI Photo
Holocaust analogies abound in Birmingham.
That became clear within minutes of meeting Sol Kimerling, the 84-year-old historian who embodies Southern charm — and who served as our tour guide for the day. Dressed in a blue checkered shirt, brown corduroys and dapper black shoes, he drove us to the famous 16th Street Baptist Church, where a bomb exploded in 1963, killing four African American girls.
That wasn’t the first racially motivated bombing in the area — not even close. Between the late 1940s and mid 1960s, Birmingham saw almost 50 unsolved bombings, earning it the nickname “Bomingham.” For Jews, two incidents stand out: the attempted bombing at Temple Beth-El, the Conservative synagogue we visited on Friday, and the bombing of Bethel Baptist Church, led by Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth. Because these two incidents happened within weeks of each other, they served as a “turning point” for Birmingham’s Jews, Sol said. He compared the incident to Nazi Germany’s Kristallnacht, when “alarm bells rang in every Jewish house.”
On a Sunday morning we watched Christians — dressed in their Sunday best — climb up the steps of the 16th Street Baptist Church. We followed — we love a good Baptist “Hallelujah!” The huge sanctuary was packed: old and young, black and white, all sat together. Participatory singing and clapping shook the pews. One woman just kept reaching for the heavens. The mood was so vibrantly joyous that it was hard to believe we were sitting in the spot where four little girls were killed for the “crime” of being black.
Right across the street from the church is Kelly Ingram Park, where Birmingham police and their attack dogs famously clashed with civil rights protestors. Today, the park is calm and beautifully manicured, but menacing dogs — in the form of sculptures — lie in wait, ready to pounce. Watching over everything is a statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. and a sculpture of two children who represent the hundreds of youths jailed for marching without a permit. Sol took it all in stride, happily pointing out the weld work that formed the dog’s joints.