Monday, December 31, 2012

Israel celebrates education gains, but challenges remain

Israeli middle-schoolers, shown studying in a classroom in 2007, have scored better on international tests since that year.  (Maya Levin / Flash90 )
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Israeli middle-schoolers, shown studying in a classroom in 2007, have scored better on international tests since that year. (Maya Levin / Flash90 )
HOLON, Israel (JTA) -- Just before 1 o'clock on a sunny afternoon, students streamed out of the Amirim Public School and headed for home. But for their teachers, the workday was far from over.
Some would stay late to attend faculty meetings and prepare upcoming lessons. Others would help small groups of students in subjects like math and science, Hebrew and English.
The extended hours are but one aspect of sweeping changes instituted by the Israeli Ministry of Education in 2009 after the country's students posted disappointing results in several international achievement tests in 2006 and 2007. Israeli fourth-graders had ranked 24th among some 60 countries in math, while eighth-graders came in 25th in science and 31st in reading comprehension. 
In an effort to improve performance, the Education Ministry urged teachers to focus their classes on the international tests and develop precise lesson plans and curriculums. The education budget was upped by hundreds of millions of dollars -- $100 million more was allocated in 2012 alone -- and teachers were compensated for lesson planning time and teaching small-group enrichment classes. 
"I'm happy that we have these resources," said Orly Bahat, Amirim's principal. “We never had a situation where, when the kids went home, we could stay here and they would pay us. The kids got this new help." 
The results have been significant, both across Israel and at Amirim.
In 2011, Israeli fourth-graders had improved to seventh place in the math section of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study test given to students in approximately 60 countries including the United States, China and several European countries. Eighth-graders came in 13th on the science portion of the test. Israelis also finished 18th in the 2011 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, which tested students in about 40 countries. 
At Amirim, students taking the math test moved up from an average grade of 64 percent in 2007 to 80 percent, placing them in the top 10 percent of Israeli schools. Its students also moved into the top fifth of Israeli students in Hebrew, an improvement of 10 percentile points. 
“We had a clear measurable goal; every teacher and every employee knew what was expected of them,” said Dalit Shtauber, the director-general of the Education Ministry. “We [previously] talked about process and we [moved] to an emphasis on results at every level, from the general staff through individual schools.”
The improvement in test scores paints only a partial picture, at best, of Israeli education. Low-income students performed far worse than wealthier ones. Arabs lagged behind both Israeli Jews and the international average in math and reading. Class size in Israel, which is about 50 percent higher than the U.S. average of 24 students, remains a cause for concern. Haredi Orthodox students, who don’t learn the country’s core curriculum, did not take the test and thus were not factored into Israel’s averages. 
Shtauber says that test scores in all socioeconomic sectors have improved since 2007, though the Education Ministry’s statistics show the gap in scores between rich and poor had shrunk only slightly in that period and have widened on the reading comprehension test.
But on the whole, the improvements have been dramatic. And Israeli teachers, who initially opposed the increased demands on their time, seem to have come around.
“We know what’s expected and we’re very precise,” said Orly Barel, a Hebrew teacher at Amirim who described the initial reaction of her colleagues as “antagonistic” to the new requirements.
Teachers are now expected to work longer hours, and they bemoan the size of Israeli class sizes, which range from 32 to 40 students per class. And like teachers in other countries where standardized testing has been made a crucial part of accountability in education, they resisted infringement on their classroom autonomy.
“The teachers need to adjust themselves to the system,” said Ran Erez, who heads Israel’s high school teachers union. “If you’re teaching one way for 20 years and they say to do it differently, it’s hard.”
The funding increases also have allowed schools to hire more teachers to teach specific subjects, as opposed to having one teacher teach several subjects.
“It’s just like when you break a leg, you go to an orthopedist, not a general practitioner,” Bahat said. “Parents and kids know they have expert teachers.” 
The chairwoman of Amirim’s Parents’ Committee, Nava Levy, says the additional resources have led students to perform better. 
"A lot of things have changed," she said. "Now the teachers help kids more, listen to parents better. They help us help our kids at home." 
Amirim is one of Israel’s luckier schools, located in an upper-middle class neighborhood of Holon, a city of 184,000 south of Tel Aviv. The ministry hopes to close the achievement gaps between schools like Amirim and those in lower income areas in part by reducing class sizes and providing students more opportunities for small-group learning. Teachers who choose to work in low-income towns also receive financial incentives.
But Shtauber says the ministry “can’t solve the whole problem” of economic inequality.
“If a kid comes from a good home, he has a computer, his parents read,” Bahat said. “Parents with no time or money, their kids come from a tough background. Their upbringing isn’t the same."

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Brian Schatz, Hawaii’s Jewish Lt. Gov., named to U.S. Senate

WASHINGTON (JTA) -- Hawaii's governor named his Jewish lieutenant governor, Brian Schatz, to replace the late Daniel Inouye in the U.S. Senate.  

Brian Schatz is on the right

Gov. Neil Abercrombie, a Democrat, on Wednesday named Schatz, a former chairman of the state Democratic Party, to replace Inouye, who died last week.
Schatz, 40, lists his religion as Jewish on his Facebook page.
He campaign for President Obama in Hawaii, Obama's home state, in 2008, and his experience is in the non-profit sector.
He was for a time the CEO of Helping Hands Hawaii, a social services provider.
Inouye, who was a pro-Israel leader in the Senate and who once considered converting to Judaism, had told Abercrombie that his preferred successor would be  U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii).
Inouye's office said it was "disappointed" but wished Schatz the best of luck, the Associated Press reported.
Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had urged Abercombie to appoint a senator as soon as possible, in part because of the urgency of negotiations over the federal budget. Automatic cuts kick in Jan. 1 unless the government approves a budget.
Schatz was to return with Obama Wednesday evening to Washington aboard Air Force One. Obama had been in Hawaii for the Christmas vacation.
Schatz will serve until 2014, when there will be a general election for the seat.
Schatz brings to 11 the number of U.S. Senators who identify as Jewish.
All are Democrats, except for Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is an Independent who caucuses with the Democrats. Additionally, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) does not identify a religion but notes that his mother is Jewish.

Monday, December 24, 2012

World’s Second-Oldest Bible Fragment Posted Online

Document Includes 2,000 Year Old Copy of 10 Commandments

The University of Cambridge posted online thousands of pages from fragile religious manuscripts.
One of the documents scanned and uploaded to the Cambridge Digital Library is the Nash Papyrus, a 2,000-year-old fragment containing the Ten Commandments and part of the Shema prayer discovered in Egypt in the late 19th century. 

It is the world’s second oldest known manuscript containing a text from the Hebrew Bible. The oldest are the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The text is among several important religious documents that were made public in a series of high-quality zoom-friendly images by the Cambridge Digital Library, which draws on the British university’s vast collection of manuscripts. It holds one of the world’s largest set of medieval Jewish manuscripts.
Also digitized and uploaded last week was the Cairo Geniza Collection, a collection of manuscript fragments that were found in a storeroom in Egypt in the late 1890s and that detail life in a Cairo area Jewish community from the Dark Ages through the 19th century. Genizas house documents forbidden from destruction because Jewish law deems them holy.

“Because of their age and delicacy these manuscripts are seldom able to be viewed — and when they are displayed, we can only show one or two pages,” university librarian Anne Jarvis said in a statement. “Now, through the generosity of the Polonsky Foundation, anyone with a connection to the Internet can select a work of interest, turn to any page of the manuscript, and explore it in extraordinary detail.”

Other texts posted include the “Codex Bezae,” a 5th century New Testament; and the “Book of Deer,” a 10th century pocket gospel book about 6.2 inches tall and 4.3 inches wide.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Ever Wondered What Jews Do on Christmas?

May there be peace and joy in the world and may it begin this Shabbos.  A little cheer to get you through the weekend.  Have a wonderful week.

Enjoy the video and the spirit in which it was made.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Jewish View on Weapons

As we debate gun policy in the wake of Newtown, we should heed the wisdom of the Jewish sages

The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School has sparked passionate debate about whether or not we need stricter gun-control laws in this country—and the Jewish community is no exception. For every organization like the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, which aggressively advocates for strict gun control, there are others like Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, who call gun control “code words for disarming innocent people.” Both camps, of course, claim that Judaism is on their side.
Who’s telling the truth? What does Judaism actually have to say about guns? The question can’t be answered with the perfect passage from the Torah or the Talmud, in part because the rabbis could never have fathomed the destructive nature of modern guns, like the ones that took the lives of 27 people in Newtown last Friday. To understand what our sages would have thought about our modern problems of unlimited ammunition and semiautomatic weapons, we have to examine their perspective on the dangers of their time—such as swords, dogs, stumbling blocks, and snakes. Their wisdom remains eerily relevant.

Swords and Other Weapons

There is little doubt that our rabbinic forebears lived in a violent world: The Talmud is full of stories and rules regarding ropes, chains, stocks, swords, and shields. Yet their views on these implements were not monolithic. On the one hand, the 13th-century Spanish commentator Nachmanides says that when Lemach, Adam’s great-great grandson (mentioned in the fourth chapter of Genesis) taught his son to smelt metal, his wives protested. They worried that through this simple act, Lemach was bringing death into the world since now humans would be able to make swords. However, Lemach, according to Nachmanides’ interpretation, replied to the wives that murder existed well before weapons. After all, his great-grandfather Cain killed his brother Abel with his bare hands. The story is perhaps the oldest variation on the phrase made famous on so many bumper stickers: Swords don’t kill people. People kill people.
But the story of Lemach is not even close to the Jewish tradition’s last word on the matter. The Mishnah, in Tractate Shabbat, records a debate between Rabbi Eliezer and a group of rabbis called the sages about whether one may carry weapons on Shabbat. According to Eliezer, weapons like swords, bows, or cudgels were considered “adornments” like jewelry or hair ribbons. Since these items are essentially like one’s clothing we don’t have to worry about them violating the prohibition against carrying on Shabbat, he argues.

Continue reading.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Poll: Majority of Israelis prefer two-state solution

Smith Research poll shows majority of Israelis fear a bi-national state; youth hold more right-wing positions.

A clear majority of Israelis believe that the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state is Israel’s best chance to remain a Jewish and democratic state in 20 years’ time, a Smith Research/Jerusalem Post poll showed on Monday.
The survey, commissioned by Blue White Future, was conducted among 500 respondents from a representative sample of the adult Jewish population in Israel.
According to the survey, 58 percent of Israelis would prefer to see Israel remain as a Jewish, democratic state through fixed borders along the route of the West Bank security barrier, with Israel preserving its character alongside a demilitarized Palestinian state.
A majority of 62% supports the principle of “two states for two peoples.”
The survey shows that younger people have more right-wing positions than adults, with 69% of respondents aged 50 and above supporting the two-state principle, compared to 63% among those aged 30-49 and 42% of those aged 18- 29.
Furthermore, 25% of those aged 18-29 supported a scenario involving the annexation of the territories without granting full rights to the Palestinians in order to keep the state Jewish and democratic, compared with 16% of those aged 30-49 and 7% aged 50 and above.
Meanwhile, a panel discussion at the Sapir Academic College near Sderot on Tuesday titled “Agreement for Peace” elaborated upon public opinion about the conflict and premises for its resolution.
Prof. Tamar Hermann presented a study carried out by the Israel Democracy Institute, which dealt with the position of the Jewish Israeli public towards peace with the Palestinians.
The research illustrated that such a peace is one of the lowest measured priorities for the Israeli public – with an index of 14.7 in 2012 compared to 56.8 in 1969.
The social justice protests of 2011 had “almost no effect” on the rate of achieving peace with the Palestinians, the study surmised.
MK Arieh Eldad (National Union) commented on the findings, saying the public is “not ready to buy the faulty product we call Oslo [Accords],” adding that partition cannot solve the conflict, which is centered around far more than just territory.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Israeli Technology Turns Tumors Into Ice Balls To Cure Cancer

Breast cancer patients could be treated without surgery following the development of a technique that destroys tumors by turning them into a ball of ice. Doctors have begun treating women suffering from breast cancer in trials of the device, which uses a super-cooled needle tip to repeatedly freeze then defrost tumors so that the harmful tissue is damaged and ultimately dies.

The technique, which does not require general anesthetic and can be completed in about 15 minutes, could provide an alternative to surgery, which often requires women to stay in hospital for up to a week and can leave them with scars.
The needle is cooled to -274F (-170C) by pumping liquid nitrogen through a network of tiny tubes, allowing the surgeon to control the size of ice ball produced to ensure it freezes the entire tumor.
Scientists behind the device say it is possible to treat tumors up to the size of a golf ball. It has already been used on benign tumors and doctors have now begun a trial of the procedure in 30 breast cancer patients.
Freezing instead of boiling
“The cells in the human body are made mainly of water, which means they freeze,” said Hezi Himmelfarb, the chief executive of IceCure Medical, the Israel-based company that has developed the system.
“There have been attempts before to use heat to destroy cancer cells like this but that can be extremely painful because our bodies are very sensitive to heat.
“Cold has an anesthetizing effect, so the patients feel very little pain during or after the procedure. We have developed the system so it can be carried out in a normal doctors’ surgery as it is minimally invasive and relatively quick.”
The procedure, known as cryoablation, controls the size of the ice ball produced to ensure that the tumor can be destroyed without damaging healthy tissue.
“There is very little scarring as it is only the needle that is inserted and the tumour does not need to be removed,” added Mr Himmelfarb.
The device has already been approved for use in the United States and IceCure is hoping to get European approval in the next year.
To continue reading this article, click here.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Soloveitchik Who Loved Jesus

A Yale president’s forebear was an enigmatic and pro-Christian member of the famed rabbinic dynasty

Peter Salovey’s recent appointment to the presidency of Yale University, founded by Congregationalist ministers, was cause for celebration for those who admire the Soloveitchik dynasty, an illustrious family of rabbis from Lithuania that includes Rabbi Hayyim Soloveitchik of Brisk (1853-1918), one of the most creative and important Jewish sages of modern times, and Rabbi Joseph Dov Ber Soloveitchik (1903-1993), known simply as “the Rav,” the leader of Modern Orthodoxy in America. In a breathless column, a writer for the Yale Daily News reported on the new president’s rabbinic lineage—under which Salovey himself commented, proudly affirming his place in the family tree as he had come to understand it.
But what went unmentioned in the celebratory genealogy is that Salovey’s forgotten forebear, R. Elijah Zvi Soloveitchik, was forgotten for a reason: his love of Jesus Christ. Indeed, Rabbi Elijah Zvi Soloveitchik (aka Elias Soloweyczyk, 1805-1881), the grandson of R. Hayyim of Volozhin, was an enigmatic traditional rabbi who in the middle decades of the 19th century wrote a commentary to parts of the New Testament (Mark and Matthew) and a book, Kol Kore, which argues for the symmetry between Judaism and Christianity and claims that there is nothing in Christianity that is alien to Judaism.

Much of what we know about R. Elijah Zvi Soloveitchik is contained in the work R. Elijah Zvi Soloveitchik: The Man and His Work [Hebrew] (Jerusalem 1995) written by Dov Hyman, a British-born dermatologist who lived for many years in New York before emigrating to Jerusalem in the 1970s. Hyman’s father and grandfather both studied in the yeshiva in Volozhin. After finding R. Elijah Zvi’s work cited in an obscure “messianic” journal he came upon in the library of the Great Synagogue, Hechal Shlomo, in Jerusalem, Hyman collected everything he could find on the man and his work and published it in this book. Because of the delicate nature of the subject he printed only 50 copies and distributed them to scholarly friends, family, and those who helped him in his research. (I was given a copy, and provided information about the author, by my good friend Menachem Butler, through the generosity of one of Dov Hyman’s sons.)
Rabbinic writing about Jesus was very popular in the mid 19th century, especially by liberal and Reform rabbis arguing for Jewish emancipation. What is striking about R. Elijah Zvi’s work is how different it is from that of reformers such as Joseph Salvador in France, Abraham Geiger in Germany, Claude Montefiore in England, and Kaufmann Kohler, Isaac Mayer Wise, and Joseph Krauskopf in America. Many of these rabbis were quite critical of Christianity and focused largely on the historical Jesus to argue that Judaism was the religion of Jesus while Christianity was the religion about him—implying that Christianity and the teachings of Jesus need to be viewed as distinct. In fact, for most of them, their positive appraisal of Jesus was a veiled critique of Christianity.

Continue reading.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Fascination With a New Yankee’s Jewish Roots

It has been a game of sorts over the years — marveling when ballplayers turn out to be Jewish and straining to expand the parameters of the religion so that as many players as possible can be included.

For years, Kevin Youkilis has been a leading figure in this odd, but entertaining, sport that was elevated to on-air comedy in 2006 when the actor and comedian Denis Leary, in an extended bit of shock, wrestled with the startling fact that his beloved Red Sox first baseman, with a name like a Greek omelet, was, incredibly, a Jew.
“Now, Youkilis, is he a Greek kid?” Leary asked that night during a visit to the Red Sox television booth. When told that Youkilis was, in fact, Jewish, Leary reacted with manic glee. “That’s fantastic,” he said. “That’s one bottle of whiskey away from being Irish Catholic. They got the Manischewitz, we got the Jameson’s. It’s the same guilt, the same bad food. That’s fantastic. We got a Jewish first baseman!”
The Youkilis family story is as traditionally Jewish as you can get — filled with name changes and tales of persecution in Eastern Europe — and now that the hard-nosed 33-year-old veteran with the unusual batting stance has signed with the Yankees, his background should especially resonate in the New York market, where many fans are Jewish and have immigrant roots similar to Youkilis’s.
The Youkilis family was not originally named Youkilis. Far from it, although exactly what occurred on the other side of the Atlantic more than a hundred years ago is more spoken lore than documented fact.
“There are so many stories in the family,” Mike Youkilis, Kevin’s father, said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “But we’ve agreed on one.”
In that story, there was, sometime in the 1800s, a teenager with the last name Weiner, who is believed to have been Kevin Youkilis’s great-great-great-great-grandfather — give or take a great — and who lived in what is now Romania. Fearing the Cossacks, who were no friends of the Jews, and of being drafted at age 16 into the army, he fled to Greece.
“Apparently, there was a family friend there with a name like Youkilis,” Mike Youkilis said. “A couple of years later, he got homesick, and when he decided to go home, he couldn’t come back with the name Weiner or he’d be thrown in jail. So he took the Greek name. He met a lady and they married in Romania and started to have kids. And we kept the name.”
Edward Youkilis, Kevin’s uncle, could not recall relatives ever suggesting that the name be restored to Weiner. “We grew up with everyone thinking we were Greek, but never once did I hear a relative say let’s change it back,” he said by telephone. “It wasn’t something we thought was unusual in those days.”
Changing back to Weiner would have deprived Red Sox fans of shouting “Yoooouuuk!” at Youkilis after he emerged as a stalwart in the Boston lineup.
Mike Youkilis’s father, a jeweler, and his 10 siblings ultimately left Romania for the United States, all detouring first through Canada. Some settled in Cincinnati, where Mike owns a wholesale jewelry business, and where Kevin was raised. When Kevin was in the minor leagues and making little money, his father said that he told him, “I’ll put you to work here.”
“But he hated it,” Mike Youkilis added. “The joke was, ‘If you don’t start hitting, you’ll be doing this.’ ”
One aspect of the fascination with Jewish ballplayers — of whom there have never been many — is whether one’s mother is Jewish. That, by traditional Jewish law, makes one Jewish regardless of whether someone is observant of the religion, or oblivious. On that score, Ryan Braun, the Milwaukee Brewers’ star outfielder, is not considered Jewish by some because while his father is Jewish and was born in Israel and lost family members in the Holocaust, his mother is Catholic. Braun himself has embraced his Jewish identity.
Then there is Ralph Branca, who learned last year, at age 85, that his mother, who had raised him Catholic, was actually Jewish. That makes Branca Jewish, too. And yet Shel Wallman, a co-editor of Jewish Sports Review, said that Branca, the Brooklyn Dodgers right-hander who gave up Bobby Thomson’s famous home run, could not be in his publication because he had followed a different faith all his life.
There is little ambiguity when it comes to Youkilis, though. While his mother, Carolyn, a West Virginian, was not raised Jewish, she converted after marrying Mike.
And there was never any doubt that Kevin would have a bar mitzvah at age 13, his father said.
Mike Youkilis said the ceremony was held in 1992 at Adath Israel Congregation, a Conservative synagogue in Cincinnati.
“Kevin was superb,” Mike Youkilis said. “We had a luncheon and a party the next night.”
And, he added, “None of us speaks Hebrew well, but Kevin can still read it — with the vowels.”
Irvin M. Wise, the senior rabbi at Adath Israel, was asked about his former student Wednesday and responded in an e-mail: “As you can imagine, he is quite the ‘man’ in Cincinnati in general and especially in our Jewish community.” He said he last saw Kevin at a baby-naming ceremony a few years ago but hopes to see him next at one of the monthly “Cincinnati nights” that are held at Edward’s, the restaurant in TriBeCa owned by Youkilis’s uncle.
Whether or not Youkilis becomes a TriBeCa habituĂ©, he is almost certain to be in high demand from Jewish groups. Scott Barancik, who runs the Jewish Baseball News Web site, said that Youkilis should handle the extra attention well. “He’s always worn his Jewishness proudly,” he said.
In fact, back in 2009, Ian Kinsler, the Texas Rangers second basemen, who has a Jewish father and, like Braun, embraces the Jewish part of his identity, said that Youkilis was always mindful of their shared heritage when they crossed paths on the field. “He’ll just say, ‘Happy Passover,’ or something like that,” Kinsler told Bloomberg News at the time. “He’s pretty into it.”
In New York, plenty of other people will now be, too.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Britain appoints special technology ambassador to Israel

UK prime minister personally announced appointment of ‘tech envoy’ Saul Klein

Relations between Israel and the United Kingdom are generally good, despite the diplomatic flareups that make for bombastic headlines. In the day to day, both countries collaborate on a wide variety of projects in the defense, political, and social welfare areas — as well as in technology. In fact, as far as London is concerned, the latter category is important enough that the government announced Tuesday that it was appointing a special technology ambassador to Israel.
Britain was the first — and still the only — country to established a special government-sponsored mission in Israel, called the UK-Israel Tech Hub, to deal specifically with programs that will facilitate cooperation between Israeli and UK companies, universities, and institutions to develop leading-edge technology in computers, networks, medical devices and technology, and other high-tech areas. That program has been so successful — and important — to London that Prime Minister David Cameron himself announced the appointment of British businessman Saul Klein to the post of tech envoy to Israel, an appointment Cameron said he hoped would further enhance tech relations between the two countries.
Announcing the appointment Tuesday, Cameron said that the UK “wants to work much more closely with Israel on innovation and technology. That’s why a year ago we launched the UK-Israel tech hub at our embassy to link up with UK Israel Business, the Israeli Embassy here in London and countless talented young people in both our countries. I am delighted to announce today that we are appointing Saul Klein, someone with huge experience in early-stage investment, to be the UK’s first tech envoy to Israel.”
That the prime minister himself would personally announce such an appointment is impressive — but just as impressive is the fact that Cameron is apparently keeping track of the breadth and depth of those relations.
“Just last week the Tech Hub and the UK Trade & Investment organization brought over 19 Israeli tech companies over here to meet the best of British companies and investors,” the prime minister said.
Lest one think that Cameron was “going through the motions” and reading a prepared statement for some political purpose, Matthew Gould, the UK’s ambassador to Israel, said that the government in London sees developing tech relations between Israel and Britain as a top priority.
In fact, Gould said at a recent event hosting British and Israeli start-ups, it is “one of the things I, and the government, care most about.”
“Israel is full of disruptive and innovative technology,” he said. “If we could bring just a portion of that technology to Britain, instead of to Silicon Valley where much of it goes now, it would do wonders for the UK economy.”
Partnering with British tech companies, said Gould, was a smart move for Israeli start-ups, too. “It’s about building partnerships, and a relationship on something positive, a much better situation for me as ambassador, allowing me to focus on the positive things instead of the differences and disagreements between our countries,” he said.
And now, Gould will get some help in managing those tech relations, as Klein, a British venture capitalist, takes on the job of tech ambassador, and directorship of the UK-Israel Tech Hub. Among his activities, Klein founded the Seedcamp organization to help European entrepreneurs successfully build technology businesses, was part of the original executive team at Skype, and has invested in dozens of successful start-ups — all of which made him the right choice for the job, said Cameron.
Commenting on his appointment, Klein said: “I have worked in tech in both the UK and Israel, and I know that there is a huge potential synergy between our two tech economies. Britain could get a huge economic boost by partnering up with Israeli tech. Israeli innovation could benefit from using Britain’s global reach, world-class companies, our scientific base, our capital markets and our business development expertise. So I am excited to be appointed Britain’s tech envoy to Israel. It’s appropriate that our first ever Tech Envoy should be to the Start-Up nation, and I look forward to helping build the tech partnership that ought to exist between us.”

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Hamas: 25 Facts For 25 Years

Much of the media covered the weekend’s events in Gaza, where Hamas leader Khaled Meshal commemorated his terror organization’s 25th anniversary.

What is Hamas really celebrating? Here are 25 facts to remind you:

1. Hamas takes its name from an acronym that means “Islamic Resistance Movement” in Arabic.

2. Hamas refuses to recognize the State of Israel’s right to exist as an independent, sovereign nation, and is totally opposed to any agreement or arrangement that would recognize its right to exist. At the beginning of its charter there is a quotation attributed to Hassan Al-Bana, the Muslim Brotherhood’s founder, that “Israel will arise and continue to exist until Islam wipes it out, as it wiped out what went before.”

3. Hamas is committed to jihad. Its charter stresses the importance of jihad (holy war) as the main means for the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) to achieve its goals: An uncompromising jihad must be waged against Israel. Jihad is the personal duty of every Muslim.

4. Hamas is an anti-Semitic organization. According to its charter, the Jewish people have only negative traits and are presented as planning to take over the world. The charter uses myths taken from classical European and Islamic-based anti-Semitism.

5. The Hamas Charter includes anti-Semitic myths taken from The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (mentioned in Article 32) regarding Jewish control of the media, the film industry and education (Articles 17 and 22). The myths are constantly repeated to represent the Jews as responsible for the French and Russian revolutions and for all world and local wars: “No war takes place anywhere without the Jews’ being behind it” (Article 22). The charter demonizes the Jews and describes them as brutally behaving like Nazis toward women and children (Article 29).

6. Hamas is the local Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, which recently took control of the Egyptian government.

7. Hamas is designated as a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States, Canada, the European Union and Japan.

Continue reading.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Chanukah Tips for a happy holiday for children of all abilities

For a Chanukah celebration that is child-friendly and fully accessible for children with special learning needs, here are some suggestions from Gateways: Access to Jewish Education, a Boston-based agency for Jewish special education.

1. Jewish parents and educators place a lot of importance on students learning how to say the Chanukah blessings. However, the act of reciting a blessing isn’t meaningful if a child is simply repeating words in Hebrew that have no meaning to them. Since students with special needs are often strong visual learners, adding symbols to the blessings can help them to learn the meaning of the Hebrew words and phrases.

2. Did you know that the body learns 10 times faster than the brain — and forgets 10 times slower? Here are some ways to incorporate movement and fun into your Chanukah traditions: Build menorahs out of Legos or Play-Doh; create a two-dimensional menorah out of shaving cream or finger paint; cut strips of paper to make a paper-chain menorah. Also, spinning the dreidel helps improve finger movement for a child’s pencil grip.

3. One menorah for each family is good — but one for each family member is even better. Having their own menorah helps kids feel more engaged and invested in Chanukah traditions. Plus, it is an opportunity to practice properly setting up the candles and lighting them. For very young children, you can buy or create a fabric or paper menorah with Velcro candles and flames.

4. Making and eating latkes is an integral part of Chanukah, and children with an array of needs can participate in helping to prepare them. The key is breaking the process into easy, single-action steps that match your child’s abilities and motor challenges. Do this by creating step-by-step instructions using simple language and pictures. Set up stations — one step per station — with all the supplies the child will need for that step.

5. Many children have difficulty with transitions and waiting. That’s why it’s a good idea to separate gift-giving from lighting the menorah. Too often, kids just want to rush through lighting the menorah to get to the gifts. Also, giving kids toys at night (especially on school nights when they won’t have time to play with them) can be challenging. Instead, consider gift-giving at any time during the day, depending on its use — for example, pajamas and books at bedtime, toys after school so kids have time to play. That way, you have time to enjoy the process of setting up the menorah, lighting it and playing dreidel.

Continue reading.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Israel Has No Other Alternative...

...But the Alternative it Has is a Good One

by Barry Rubin of The Rubin Report

The Palestinian leadership, abetted by many Western governments, has now torn up every agreement it made with Israel. Once the efforts of two decades of negotiations—including irrevocable Israeli compromises in giving the Palestinian Authority control over territory, its own armed forces, dismantling settlements, and permitting billions of dollars of foreign aid to the Palestinians—were destroyed, the world has decided to focus the blame on Israel approving the construction of 3000 apartments.

In 1993, Israel signed an agreement with the PLO to make peace in the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The accord, known as the Oslo agreement, included the following passage in Article 31:

“Neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations.”

By essentially unilaterally declaring the existence of an Arab Palestine, the world has abrogated that agreement.

What is shocking is not just that this has happened but there has been no discussion much less hesitation by dozens of countries to destroy an agreement that they hitherto supported. Indeed, a study of the history of this agreement shows clearly that the Palestinian side prevented the accord from succeeding, most obviously by permitting and carrying out continuing terrorism and rejecting Israeli offers for a Palestinian state with its capital in east Jerusalem both in the 2000 Camp David summit and in the ensuing offer conveyed by President Bill Clinton at the end of that year.

Now there are certain implications of this move. I am completely aware that virtually no one in a position of power in the Western world cares about these implications but it is necessary to remind them and others of just what they have done.  And at least the Western public should know how this all looks from an Israeli perspective, information often denied it altogether or distorted by the mass media.
--They have rewarded the party that refused to make peace.

--They have rewarded the side that rejected the offer of a state and pursued violence instead, cheering the murder of Israeli civilians.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Oven-Fried Potato Latkes

Chanukah begins tomorrow night, after Shabbes.  The miracle of these latkes is that they break free from the frying pan, so there's less mess for you.

One Hanukkah night, years ago, I called food writer Melissa Clark (my friend and mentor) and scribbled her latke recipe on the back of an envelope. I've been the official latke-maker in our circle ever since. This year, Melissa finally published the recipe for those potato pancakes. Ultra-crunchy, perfectly salty, savory from the onion, lacy at the edges and soft in the middle…you'd be hard-pressed to improve upon them.
The whole tradition of latke-making, however, could use improving: flipping fiddly little pancakes in four skillets awash with burning hot oil while the house swarms with hungry adults and their gelt-fueled, manic children is not particularly festive from a cook's perspective. . Or safe. And if the kids are old enough to clamor for latkes night after night—or old enough to want to help cook—a person might ask whether all the tsuris and clean-up is really a necessary part of the festival of lights?
This year, I was determined to embrace the tradition of making lots of latkes in lots of oil night after night, but without making a mess of the stove, scalding a small child or burning out after night two. So into the oven went Melissa Clark's recipe, with the help of my toddler (who pushed the food processor buttons and helped form the latkes on baking sheets). And out of the oven—all at once!—came a whole batch of perfectly crisp, utterly delicious oven-fried latkes. This is not a healthier adaptation—if it was, no one would be clamoring for them eight nights in a row—but rather a technique shift. Give it a try and tell me if these fry-free latkes aren't one more miracle to celebrate.

Oven-Fried Potato Latkes

Adapted from In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite, by Melissa Clark. As Melissa points out, this recipe is easily multiplied (or halved, actually). If you make more than one batch, add a bit more oil to cover the bottom of the pans after the first batch, and reduce the baking time to allow for the pre-heated pans.
Time: 30 minutes
Makes 24 latkes
2 large russet potatoes (about 1 pound), scrubbed and quartered lengthwise
1 large onion (8 ounces), peeled and quartered
½ cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
2 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
About 1 cup vegetable oil
Applesauce, sour cream or Greek yogurt, and smoked salmon, for serving
1.    Preheat the oven to 425˚ F. Line two large, heavy rimmed baking sheets with heavy-duty foil. Coarsely shred the potatoes and onions together in a food processor (or grate by hand with a box grater). Transfer the mixture to a clean dishtowel and squeeze and wring out as much of the liquid as possible.
2.    Working quickly, combine the potatoes and onions with the flour, eggs, salt, baking powder and pepper, tossing with a fork until well combined.
3.    Pour ½ cup oil onto each baking sheet, spreading it with a spatula. With a fork, scoop 12 small latkes onto each baking sheet, pressing to flatten into disks.
4.    Bake the latkes until crisp on the bottom and sizzling, about 12 minutes. Flip the latkes, rotating the pans from back to front and top to bottom, and bake until crisp on the second side, about 8 more minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack lined with paper towels or paper bags, drain briefly, and serve.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Susan Rice, a loyal Obama soldier, wins Jewish plaudits

Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, talking to journalists about the crisis in Gaza, Nov. 21, 2012. Rice, who reportedly is being considered for secretary of state, has earned plaudits from Jewish groups for her U.N. role. 

WASHINGTON (JTA) -- The very quality that helped get Susan Rice in hot water with some in Washington is what pro-Israel groups have come to appreciate -- she is a vigorous and reliable defender of the Obama administration’s foreign policies.

Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who is widely seen as a leading candidate to replace Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, has garnered plaudits from Jewish communal leaders over her defenses of Israel at the world body.

“She has proven herself as an ardent defender of major Israeli positions in an unfriendly forum,” said Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director. “And I'm more comfortable with the person I know than the person I don't know. She is close to the president and that's important in that position if you have someone you can relate to and understands us.”

If Obama nominates Rice, however, she would likely face opposition from Senate Republicans.
She has been under fire from Republicans since September, when she blitzed Sunday talk shows with what turned out to be misleading information prepared by intelligence agencies suggesting that a deadly attack on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Libya began with a spontaneous protest. Media reports have suggested that Rice had been eager to go on the talk show circuit to defend the administration, which was facing strong criticism from Republicans over its handling of the attack and its public explanations of what happened.
President Obama has vigorously defended Rice, although he has not said whom he will nominate to succeed Clinton when she steps down early next year. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, also is considered a leading contender, while several other names of potential nominees have been cited in media reports.

Rice, 48, began her career as a youthful protege of Madeleine Albright, who served as secretary of state under President Bill Clinton. Albright landed Rice an influential position on the National Security Council as Africa adviser.

Rice has been a key player in pitching Obama’s foreign policy, notably using friendships forged at the United Nations -- particularly with Vitaly Churkin, the Russian ambassador -- to create space for some of Obama’s key international initiatives. These have included enhanced sanctions targeting Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program and the effort that helped topple Libyan dictator Muammar Gadhafi last year.
A blunt and forceful speaker in private -- she once famously gave the finger to diplomat Richard Ho
lbrooke during a staff meeting when both were serving in the Clinton administration -- Rice has bonded with the president over basketball, a shared passion.

Jewish groups see Rice’s trajectory at the United Nations -- from tussles over Israel’s settlements and membership on the Human Rights Council at the outset of her term four years ago to close cooperation more recently -- as reflective of the Obama administration’s evolving approach to Israel.
“One thing important to point out is that the votes have reflected administration policy,” said Daniel Mariaschin, B’nai B’rith International’s executive vice president. By contrast, he said, a secretary of state is more a shaper of policy than just its messenger.

Still, Mariaschin said, Rice as U.N. ambassador has demonstrated an understanding of Israel’s difficulties in the international arena.

“There are ways of explaining your vote and ways of explaining your vote,” he said. Mariaschin noted that Rice’s explanation of the U.S. “no” vote last week when the U.N. General Assembly elevated Palestine to non-member state status incorporated many of the talking points conveyed to her by pro-Israel groups.
“She made kind of a good end to an otherwise disappointing day,” Mariaschin said.
Rice in her post-vote explanation was dismissive of whatever hopes that the lopsided vote -- 138 for, 9 against and 41 abstentions -- might have engendered for the Palestinians.

“Today’s grand pronouncements will soon fade,” she said, “and the Palestinian people will wake up tomorrow and find that little about their lives has changed, save that the prospects of a durable peace have only receded.”

Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said Rice routinely meets with Jewish groups.
“We had a meeting right before the General Assembly, and we covered the wide range of prospects,” Hoenlein said. “I can't say there were big areas of disagreement -- and where there might have been, she's always been forthright and honest.”

Some Jewish conservatives, however, have warned against Rice being elevated to secretary of state, citing disagreements related to Israel from the first part of Obama’s first term. They have criticized Rice over the U.S. decision to join the U.N. Human Rights Council, a body that has disproportionately targeted Israel for criticism, and over her criticism of Israel’s settlements in explanatory remarks after the U.S. vetoed a Security Council resolution in February 2011 that would have condemned Israel for its settlement policy.
A Nov. 29 Op-Ed in The Wall Street Journal by Anne Bayefsky, who directs Touro College’s Institute of Human Rights and the Holocaust, and Michael Mukasey, who served as attorney general under President George W. Bush, noted two issues, among others, in questioning her “moral fitness” for the job of secretary of state.

“Though the president, not the U.N. ambassador, makes foreign policy, one is entitled to ask how a Secretary Rice would view the acts and omissions of Ambassador Rice,” they wrote.
Foxman was furious with the Bayefsky-Mukasey Op-Ed, saying it was an unseemly attempt to drag the Jewish community into a political fight.

“People may differ about the effectiveness of certain tactics or, as we have often done, even seriously question whether bodies like the U.N. Human Rights Council will ever give Israel a fair hearing,” he wrote in a letter to the Journal that it has not published. “But no one should use the U.N.’s anti-Israel record to cast aspersions on Ambassador Rice. She has earned her reputation as a fighter for Israel’s equality in a hostile forum where an automatic majority reflexively expresses its bias against Israel.”

David Harris, the American Jewish Committee’s executive director, said he had come around to the idea that joining the Human Rights Council was a reasonable decision after having earlier opposed the move.
“The decision to go back in was understandable,” Harris said, adding that in retrospect, he accepts that “the determination that influence was probably best achieved from inside rather than outside.”
Regarding the speech on settlements, leaders of Jewish groups said that Rice was reflecting the policy of the Obama administration, which later retreated considerably from its approach of publicly criticizing Israel over its settlement policy.

“It was a concern at the time, but in the context of this question, was this a decision that Susan Rice made or was this a speech made by the Obama administration and that she had to carry out?” Harris said. “U.S. ambassadors, when they speak on issues of importance, don't do so without full consultation with the administration.”

Monday, December 3, 2012

Terrorist killed while carrying out attack in Samaria, five injured

The terrorist crashed his car into an ISA vehicle and proceeded to attack them with an ax. The wounded are being treated while the area is being investigated
There are initial reports of a terrorist attack earlier today in Samaria. A Palestinian resident of one of the villages near Tul Karem deliberately crashed his car into an operational security vehicle. The suspect then began attacking the occupants of the vehicle with an ax. ISA (Israel Security Agency) personnel shot and killed the suspect. Five security personnel were injured in the incident and security forces are continuing to investigate of the surrounding area.
The ISA operations took place in the area of Deir Sharaf (between the towns of Shave Shomron and Einav). The Palestinian car swerved off course and collided head-on with security forces travelling in a military jeep. As a result, the military jeep flipped over with all travelling inside sustaining minor injuries.
Soon after, the Palestinian driver left his vehicle and approached the jeep shouting "God is great." He proceeded to attack those inside the vehicle wounding two. One of the ISA members drew his weapon, shot, and killed the suspect.
A source from the field said that "all the injured are being treated at the site by army medics. Two were evacuated by members of the Magen David Adom, while the remaining three await evacuation.
Since Operation Pillar of Defense, there have been an increased number of hostile terrorist events in Judea and Samaria, including stone throwing, disturbances, and attacks with firearms. Recently, a terrorist attack was carried out on a bus in Gush Etzion, inside the operational area of the Nahshon Battalion of the Kfir Brigade, who immediately arrived on scene to respond to the event. In addition, a wave of arrests has continued in Judea and Samaria. Over 100 suspected terrorists, some high ranking officials from various organizations, were arrested in cooperation with ISA forces and Israeli Police.
Two weeks ago, a senior official from Central Command said, "since the beginning of Operation Pillar of Defense, more events have occurred in Judea and Samaria, and there is an escalation that is occurring in every aspect. This is another reality and likewise we are increasing the amount of security forces operating in the area. We are doing everything we can so that escalation will end with the ceasefire, but this an operational reality that we are ready for."

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Defeat Hamas. There, I Said It.

We must drop the assumption that there is no way to vanquish Hamas. Terrorists have been defeated before.