Friday, March 29, 2013

Rabbi Herschel Schacter Is Dead at 95; Cried to the Jews of Buchenwald: ‘You Are Free’

The smoke was still rising as Rabbi Herschel Schacter rode through the gates of Buchenwald.

It was April 11, 1945, and Gen. George S. Patton’s Third Army had liberated the concentration camp scarcely an hour before. Rabbi Schacter, who was attached to the Third Army’s VIII Corps, was the first Jewish chaplain to enter in its wake.
That morning, after learning that Patton’s forward tanks had arrived at the camp, Rabbi Schacter, who died in the Riverdale section of the Bronx on Thursday at 95 after a career as one of the most prominent Modern Orthodox rabbis in the United States, commandeered a jeep and driver. He left headquarters and sped toward Buchenwald.
By late afternoon, when the rabbi drove through the gates, Allied tanks had breached the
camp. He remembered, he later said, the sting of smoke in his eyes, the smell of burning flesh and the hundreds of bodies strewn everywhere.
He would remain at Buchenwald for months, tending to survivors, leading religious services in a former Nazi recreation hall and eventually helping to resettle thousands of Jews.
For his work, Rabbi Schacter was singled out by name on Friday by Yisrael Meir Lau, the former Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel, in a meeting with President Obama at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

More Countries Continue to Isolate Israel

BRICS memo: Time ‘to take decisive action against the increasing Israeli Occupation as well as Israel’s apartheid policies’

BRICS1Yesterday the BRICS Memorandum on Palestine was officially submitted to the forum of emerging market powers at the 5th BRICS Summit (BRICS stands for Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) currently taking place in Durban, South Africa. The memorandum, represents the will of South African civil society and political organizations including South Africa's largest trade union federation, COSATU.

BDS South Africa BRICS Memorandum on Palestine:

We now hereby call on BRICS to take decisive action against the increasing Israeli Occupation (and its illegal Settlement enterprise) as well as Israel's apartheid policies against the Palestinian people. The time has come for progressive countries that seek a peaceful and just world to take clear action in the interests of the oppressed Palestinians – taking such action would put BRICS on the side of the developing countries, on the side of the peoples of the world and on the right side of history.

The significance of this presentation should not be underestimated. South Africa was officially admitted as a BRICS nation in 2010 after being invited by China and the other BRIC countries (the new capital “S” in BRICS stands for South Africa) and was once at the receiving end of embargoes from each of the other four countries, BDS South Africa explains:

Monday, March 25, 2013

Passover In The Desert: Jews Trek to Mojave For A Visceral Holiday

(RNS) More than 3,000 years ago, the Israelites escaped bondage in Egypt and made themselves into a nation in the Sinai Desert. This Passover, a group of their descendants will camp in California's Mojave Desert to viscerally experience the story of liberation.
Passover celebrations typically involve a ritual Seder meal in which participants recount the 10 plagues visited on the Egyptian oppressors, God's parting of the Red Sea, and the Israelites' 40 years of desert wandering as chronicled in the Book of Exodus.
But for some Jews, there is a more intense Passover experience to be had -- one that requires them to leave their smartphones at home and head for terrain much like that of the Sinai Peninsula.
"While it's important to tell the story of Passover at the Seder table, we offer the opportunity to have a 'felt' experience of Passover," said Zelig Golden, who is organizing the sixth "Passover in the Desert" this year for the Berkeley-based Wilderness Torah, which aims to meld nature and Jewish spirituality.
The desert, Golden said, is a place where "we can get in touch with our personal liberation and where we can connect with the natural world. It can open our hearts to spirit."

More than 100 Jews of varying levels of religious observance have signed up for "Passover in the Desert" this year. Starting next Thursday (March 28), they will live for four nights and five days as part of a makeshift village centered around a Tent of Meeting, an open air structure that takes its name from the one the Israelites built in the wilderness.
Participants -- who in past years have ranged from preschoolers to octogenarians -- will ritually cleanse themselves in a canyon river, venture solo into the wild as Moses did, and pray for deliverance from the burdens of their modern lives.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Obama: Israel prevents another Holocaust

JERUSALEM (JTA) – Israel does not owe its existence to the Holocaust, but its existence prevents another one from happening, President Obama said on the third and final day of his visit to Israel.

"Here we hope," Obama said Friday at Yad Vashem's Hall of the Children after touring the Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem.

"Because after you walk through these halls, after you pass through the darkness, there is light -- a glorious view of the Jerusalem forest, with the sun shining over the historic homeland of the Jewish people; a fulfillment of the prophecy: 'you shall live again…upon your own soil,'" he said. "Here, on your ancient land, let it be said for all the world to hear: The State of Israel does not exist because of the Holocaust. But with the survival of a strong Jewish State of Israel, such a Holocaust will never happen again."

Obama, in a 2009 Cairo speech to the Muslim world, decried the proliferation of Holocaust denial in some Muslim sectors. His phrasing in that speech was criticized by some Jews and Israelis as predicating Israel's existence on the Holocaust. Obama's aides denied that was his intention. One of the aims of Obama's current trip, his first to Israel as president, has been to counter that impression.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Rockets fired on Israel from Gaza on second day of Obama visit

Rockets Fired on Israel
Lian Haziza 8, looked out of her house after a rocket fired from Gaza landed in her courtyard on Thursday in Sderot , Israel

JERUSALEM (JTA) -- At least four rockets were fired from Gaza at southern Israel. Two of the rockets fired Thursday morning landed in Sderot, damaging one home. The other two rockets are believed to have landed in Gaza.

The attack came on the second day of President Obama's three-day visit to Israel, and occurred hours before he traveled to Ramallah in the West Bank to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

It is not believed that Israel will retaliate during Obama's visit, according to reports.

"The Israeli response will come at the right place and the right time," an unnamed Israeli official was quoted as telling several Israeli newspapers.

There was no claim of responsibility for the attack. It is the second rocket attack on southern Israel since an Egyptian-brokered truce ended the Gaza conflict, Israel's Pillar of Defense operation, in November, and the second in a month.

"We condemn violence against civilians regardless of its source, including rocket firing," the official Palestinian Wafa news agency quoted Abbas as saying. "We are in favor of maintaining mutual and comprehensive calm in Gaza." 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A New Reality in U.S.-Israeli Relations

By George Friedman of Stratfor
 MidEast LeadersU.S. President Barack Obama is making his first visit to Israel as president. The visit comes in the wake of his re-election and inauguration to a second term and the formation of a new Israeli government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Normally, summits between Israel and the United States are filled with foreign policy issues on both sides, and there will be many discussed at this meeting, including Iran, Syria and Egypt. But this summit takes place in an interesting climate, because both the Americans and Israelis are less interested in foreign and security matters than they are in their respective domestic issues.

In the United States, the political crisis over the federal budget and the struggle to grow the economy and reduce unemployment has dominated the president's and the country's attention. The Israeli elections turned on domestic issues, ranging from whether divinity students would be required to serve in Israel Defense Forces, as other citizens are, to a growing controversy over economic inequality in Israel.

Inwardness is a cyclic norm in most countries. Foreign policy does not always dominate the agenda and periodically it becomes less important. What is interesting is at this point, while Israelis continue to express concern about foreign policy, they are most passionate on divisive internal social issues. Similarly, although there continues to be a war in Afghanistan, the American public is heavily focused on economic issues. Under these circumstances the interesting question is not what Obama and Netanyahu will talk about but whether what they discuss will matter much.


For the United States, the focus on domestic affairs is compounded by an emerging strategic shift in how the United States deals with the world. After more than a decade of being focused on the Islamic world and moving aggressively to try to control threats in the region militarily, the United States is moving toward a different stance. The bar for military intervention has been raised. Therefore, the United States has, in spite of recent statements, not militarily committed itself to the Syrian crisis, and when the French intervened in Mali the United States played a supporting role. The intervention in Libya, where France and the United Kingdom drew the United States into the action, was the first manifestation of Washington's strategic re-evaluation. The desire to reduce military engagement in the region was not the result of Libya. That desire was there from the U.S. experience in Iraq and was the realization that the disposal of an unsavory regime does not necessarily -- or even very often -- result in a better regime. Even the relative success of the intervention in Libya drove home the point that every intervention has both unintended consequences and unanticipated costs.
George Friedman is the founder, chief intelligence officer, financial overseer, and CEO of the private intelligence corporation Stratfor. Strategic Forecasting, Inc., has been dubbed by Barron's as "The Shadow CIA," it's one of the world's leading global intelligence firms, providing clients with geopolitical analysis and industry and country forecasts to mitigate risk and identify opportunities. Stratfor's clients include Fortune 500 companies and major governments.     

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Sarah Schulman ‘Doesn’t Know’ About Hamas

What happened when I asked the BDS academic about the anti-gay Islamist group
By Sohrab Ahmari

Whatever else you might say of Hamas, at least give the Palestinian Islamist group credit for its honesty. Take Hamas’s founding covenant, first issued in 1988 and unrevised since then. Article 7 declares: “The Day of Judgment will not come about until Moslems fight Jews and kill them.” When it comes to domestic matters, Hamas is equally open about its goal of establishing a theocratic tyranny in Palestine: Just last week Hamas banned women from an annual Gaza marathon organized by the United Nations, leading to its cancellation by the U.N.
You’d be hard-pressed to find the same degree of honesty in the “boycott, divest and sanction” movement that paints Israel as an “apartheid” regime and an unabashed aggressor determined to lord over Palestinians. To achieve these aims, the activists and academics who make up the BDS movement must remove all moral complexity from the century-long conflict, including by portraying the Palestinian national cause as wholly benign—denying even the most obvious facts about the Palestinians.

I got a taste of this mendacity last Monday at the New York City LGBT Center in downtown Manhattan, where a large crowd had gathered to hear the author Sarah Schulman discuss her new book, Israel/Palestine and the Queer International. Schulman teaches at CUNY Staten Island, but she was briefly thrust into the national spotlight with a November 2011 New York Times op-ed, in which she argued that Israel’s famous tolerance for sexual minorities is actually part of a campaign to “pinkwash” its repression of Palestinians.
Schulman’s book picks up where her op-ed left off, recounting her metamorphosis from an English professor mostly indifferent to the troubles in Palestine into a partisan of the BDS cause. She described her trip to Bilin, the West Bank village where residents have for years mounted nonviolent protests against Israel’s separation barrier. Here Schulman had an epiphany: “We’re marching around,” she recalled, “and then the Israeli soldiers appear. And it was such a weird feeling for me. Because of course they look like me. Because if I was there I would be them, maybe, or something, who knows.” The soldiers, she claimed, began firing teargas at the activists for no apparent reason. “Something changed inside me. I remember asking myself, ‘Who is we?’ And me and those soldiers were not we. It was me and these queer Palestinian women I had met. . . . We were we. . . . There was no more us.” This drew thunderous applause from the BDSers.
Sohrab Ahmari is an assistant books editor at The Wall Street Journal.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Streisand to perform two stadium concerts in Tel Aviv

JERUSALEM (JTA) -- Barbra Streisand will perform two Tel Aviv concerts in Israel in addition to performing at the 90th birthday celebration for President Shimon Peres.

The concerts will take place June 15-16 at Tel Aviv's Bloomfield Stadium, the Israel media reported.
On June 18, Streisand will perform at the opening ceremony of the Israeli Presidential Conference, which will be marking Peres' milestone birthday.
Streisand reportedly has visited Israel many times, and is a strong supporter of Israel, but has never performed in the Jewish state.
One of the best-selling musicians of all time, Streisand has sold some 72.5 million records in the United States. She performed at last month’s Oscars for the first time in 36 years.
Some 4,500 people are expected to attend the Israeli Presidential Conference.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Pope Francis and the Jews

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder congratulated Cardinal Jorge María Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, on his election as Pope Francis I on Wednesday.
"Pope Francis I is no stranger to us. In recent years he attended many inter-faith events co-organized by the WJC and our regional affiliate, the Latin American Jewish Congress," he wrote, adding he had met him in Buenos Aires in 2008.
Lauder praised the new pope as "an experienced man, someone who is known for his open-mindedness...a man of dialogue, a man who is able to build bridges with other faiths".
"We look forward to continuing the close relationship that has been fostered between the Catholic Church and the Jews over the past two decades."
After praising the work of Popes John Paul and Benedict for Catholic-Jewish relations, Lauder said:
"We are convinced that new pontiff will continue on this path, that he will speak out against all forms of anti-Semitism both within and without the Catholic Church, that he will take action against clerics who deny or belittle the Holocaust, and that he will strengthen the Vatican's relationship with Israel."
(Reporting By Tom Heneghan; Editing by Michael Roddy)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Obama's trip to Israel: low to no expectations

Three different New York Times op-eds express why no one should be holding their breath that the U.S. president's trip to Israel next week will advance Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Obama Going to IsraelAlthough many people in Jerusalem and Ramallah are anxiously waiting for U.S. President Barak Obama to arrive next week, there are some who are not as enthusiastic. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who is considered close to the White House, wrote Tuesday morning that Obama "could be the first sitting American president to visit Israel as a tourist."

Friedman does not criticize Obama personally but treats his visit to Israel with a lot of cynicism:

"In case you haven’t heard, President Obama leaves for Israel next week. It is possible, though, that you haven’t heard because it is hard for me to recall a less-anticipated trip to Israel by an American president… little is expected from this trip - not only because little is possible, but because, from a narrow U.S. point of view, little is necessary.

"Quietly, with nobody announcing it, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has shifted from a necessity to a hobby for American diplomats… Obama worked on this hobby early in his first term. He got stuck as both parties rebuffed him, and, therefore, he adopted, quite rationally in my view, an attitude of benign neglect. It was barely noticed," he wrote.

Obama has many good reasons to neglect the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. A Palestinian state would be nice, but the tumultuous Arab world and the struggle between Sunnis and Shiites in the region raises questions about the mere future of the Syrian, Egyptian and Libyan states.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Next Pope and the Jews

by Seth Chalmer
Pope and Jews
When the next pope is elected, pronouncements from major Jewish organizations will follow this basic script:

Mazel tov. Your recent predecessors did many good things for the Jews; please expand them. Your predecessors also did many bad things for the Jews; please admit this and do better. Mazel tov again, and keep in touch.

Different organizations will highlight different issues: Some Jewish leaders will be most concerned with anti-Semitism, Vatican relations with Israel, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; others will focus on interfaith dialogue on theology and history; others will discuss social and economic policy, and the place of religion in politics and the public square. But whatever concerns are mentioned, this much is certain: The organized Jewish community will present a long wish list to the chief cleric of a religion in which it does not believe.

That is no problem in itself. Religious communities seeking to coexist have every reason to discuss their grievances. But sometimes Jewish leaders expect more from Christians (and from the Catholic Church in particular) than it is reasonable to ask.

For example, in April 2005, a few days after Pope Benedict was elected, the Jewish Daily Forward quoted Rabbi Leon Klenicki, former director of interfaith affairs at the Anti-Defamation League, as saying, “If he stresses Jesus is the only way of salvation then we are in trouble. . . . If he’s going to relate to the world Jewish community and others, he will have to work to reconsider his previous positions, especially vis a vis Jews and Judaism. Otherwise he is going to be a pope of the Middle Ages when he has to face the twenty-first century.”

I cannot imagine many Catholics welcoming the idea that a non-Christian is qualified to declare which Christian doctrines are best suited to what century. We in the Jewish community should resist the urge to tell Christians how to be Christian. To do so is neither valid interfaith dialogue, which respects the other group’s right to define its own beliefs, nor valid proselytism, which is honest enough to seek the other party’s conversion forthrightly.

Continue reading.

Seth Chalmer is assistant director of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at NYU. 

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Dishonesty of “The Gatekeepers"

The Academy Award-nominated documentary ignores history and context, creating a distorted picture.


The GatekeepersDror Moreh’s documentary, The Gatekeepers, could have been a profound film.

Instead, Moreh uses his interviews with six former directors of Israel’s top security services to send a simplistic and deeply partisan political message: If Israel withdraws from the West Bank, terrorism will subside and peace will break out.

To promote this message, the documentary engages in intellectual dishonesty and omits critical context. While most Israelis know the wider context, the average viewer probably does not, and therefore is vulnerable to the filmmaker’s biased version of the facts.

Though the film tries to portray Israel’s antiterrorism policies as counterproductive and cruel, the interviews inadvertently tell a different story. The six directors are well-spoken, deeply thoughtful, and genuinely self-critical.

They exude gravitas as they describe wrestling with the moral quandaries they regularly faced.

They are not cruel men. They sincerely grappled with how to protect Israelis and Palestinian civilians alike. Their descriptions of the Shin Bet’s legal and ethical constraints are a testament to Israel’s high moral standards. Their comfort in speaking freely is a testament to Israel’s robust democracy.

The film repeatedly ignores history and context.

However, the film repeatedly ignores history and context. It blames Israel for the Palestinian hostility and violence that occurred after 1967, when Israel began administering the West Bank.

The viewer never learns from the film that terrorism against Jews and Israelis was not a result of Israel’s administration but rather has been a regular feature of life since pre-state days.

Palestinian Arabs murdered over 1,000 Jews between 1920 and 1967, and they ethnically cleansed all Jewish communities from the areas they captured during the 1948 war, including the West Bank, Gaza and eastern Jerusalem. The pattern of terrorism simply continued after Israel’s victory in its 1967 defensive war. Yasser Arafat organized 61 Fatah military operations from the West Bank in the few months after the war, and 162 Israelis were killed by terrorists between 1968 and 1970.

Monday, March 4, 2013

In New Knesset, a True Maverick

Why Ruth Calderon, a Talmud scholar and rookie politician, has a shot at breaking the Orthodox monopoly on Judaism

Ruth CalderonEvery new member of Israel’s Knesset gives a debut speech, and this year, with 48 rookies, the docket was full, with parliamentarians introducing their résumés, their proposed policies, and their hopes for the coming four-year term. One decided to ignore convention altogether. This member of Knesset used the allotted time to teach Talmud.

A full third of the 19th Knesset are observant Jews, but it wasn’t any of them. It was a woman named Ruth Calderon, a Talmud scholar and the founder of two Jewish houses of study. She was elected to Knesset as No. 13 on the list of Yesh Atid, a new party headed by former journalist Yair Lapid that swept the recent elections, earning 19 seats on a promise to bring about a more equal Israel, including by drafting the ultra-Orthodox into the army.

Standing in front of her colleagues with a volume of the Talmud given to her by Lapid’s grandfather David Giladi, Calderon offered photocopies of the section she was explicating—a story about Rabbi Rechumei who studied so hard before one Yom Kippur that he did not make it home to his wife before the fast began. As his wife cried at home, Rechumei studied on the roof of his school, and the roof caved in, and he died.

The room was quiet as Calderon told this story, except for when the session’s ultra-Orthodox moderator, Shas MK Yizhak Vaknin, interceded to strengthen her point. Calderon said Rechumei’s name included the root of the Hebrew word rechem, meaning womb, as well as rachamim, mercy. Vaknin said if one would rearrange the letters, to read ramah, its numerological value would total 248, the number of organs in the human body.

Vaknin: Rechem also [has a numerologically significant] value of 248.

Calderon: Thank you. Yasher Koach. Thank you for participating.

Vaknin: I think the idea she is saying is wonderful …

Calderon: I am happy about this participation in the words of Torah.

Calderon ended her talk with a prayer, calling out to the “God of her fathers and mothers” to help her and her party do good work in government. The speech went viral, gaining almost 200,000 eyeballs within a week—and it was certainly the only time when a female member of Knesset taught about the Talmud.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Hollywood’s Unknown Rescuer

Before Schindler’s List, an L.A. studio boss saved hundreds of Jews from the Holocaust. Why was he alone?

Carl LaemmleOn Dec. 27, 1938, a young woman in Berlin named Johanna Rockmann sat down and wrote a desperate letter to a stranger in California. In the immediate aftermath of Kristallnacht, it was clear that things were only getting worse for Germany’s remaining 550,000 Jews, of whom Rockmann was one. Appeals to Americans with influence or money, whose names and addresses could be culled from newspapers or encyclopedias, were one of the few avenues for escape that most German Jews had left. “With the greatest desire of my life I take the liberty to address you,” she wrote, in fluid English script. “I politely address my petition to you, asking you for your kind assistance in getting to a transatlantic country. At the same time, I may be permitted to ask you for an affidavit.”

The man to whom she addressed her plea was Harry Warner, one of Hollywood’s Warner brothers. President of the studio that bore his family name, he was ranked by Fortune as the second-most-important man in the film business—a man with production schedules to meet and high-powered egos to manage and little time left over to help people he didn’t know.

What Rockmann needed from Harry Warner was something quite involved: a signed and notarized guarantee of financial support that she could offer to U.S. consular authorities as proof that she would not become a burden to the American public. Such an affidavit, signed by the head of a major Hollywood studio, would seal her application for a precious visa that would allow her to escape from Nazi Germany.

To further her case, Rockmann described the 14 years she spent working as a bookkeeper for a lighting-supply company, Siegel & Co. She added that she was fluent in foreign languages and also a diligent housekeeper and seamstress. “Hoping you will be kind enough to consider my petition for which I will always be thankful to you,” she concluded. Below her signature, she added a postscript—“Please turn over!”—whose final exclamation point belied her anxiety. On the reverse side of the page, she wrote that the Dominican Republic was allowing refugees to land as long as they had $50 in hand, so if Warner was not inclined to offer an affidavit, perhaps he would loan her the cash? “I will return you the money with my thanks after my admittance,” Rockmann pledged.

Continue reading.