Monday, September 30, 2013

Netanyahu to gov’t officials: Mum’s the word on Obama-Rouhani call

BibiRespondsWASHINGTON (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed his Cabinet and senior officials to keep silent following President Obama’s phone conversation with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

Israeli media reported Saturday that a number of top officials, including outgoing ambassador to Washington Michael Oren and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, canceled media interviews.

Netanyahu’s order came in the wake of Obama’s 15-minute phone conversation Friday with Rouhani, the highest such contacts between the two countries since the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Following the call, Obama said he was confident in the possibility of resolving tensions over Iran’s nuclear program.

“President Rouhani has indicated that Iran will never develop nuclear weapons,” Obama said. “I have made clear that we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy in the context of Iran meeting its obligations. So the test will be meaningful, transparent and verifiable actions, which can also bring relief from the comprehensive international sanctions that are currently in place.”

Netanyahu, who is set to meet Obama on Monday in Washington, has said repeatedly that he believes Rouhani’s purported moderation and willingness to negotiate amount to a ruse to buy time to advance Iran’s weapons program.

Iran says it maintains its right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. Israel opposes Iran possessing any capacity for enrichment.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Holland opposes banning any Israeli product, Dutch premier says

Dutch FlagThe Netherlands opposes any kind of import ban on Israeli products, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said, though it must enforce European Union legislation on labeling settlement goods.

“I would like to stress that the Netherlands opposes any type of import ban or the boycott of Israeli products,” a Dutch official wrote in Rutte’s name last month to the European Jewish Congress, or EJC.

The letter, obtained by JTA, was sent to EJC President Moshe Kantor in response to Kantor’s letter to several EU heads of states, including Rutte, in which Kantor warned that labeling products from areas the European Union considers as illegal settlements was counterproductive to efforts to reach a peace settlement between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Rutte’s letter followed reports in July that several Dutch supermarkets were boycotting settlement goods, though the supermarkets denied they had such a policy.

In March, the Dutch government advised business owners to refrain from labeling products from the Golan Heights, West Bank and eastern Jerusalem as made in Israel.

A decision last year by the EU Foreign Affairs Council to label settlement goods “obliges the Dutch government to fully and effectively enforce existing E.U. legislation,” Rutte wrote.

The council has yet to release practical guidelines on labeling.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague struck a less conciliatory note in his reply to Kantor’s letter.

“I am afraid that I cannot agree with your concerns about E.U. labeling of settlement produce,” he wrote. “The settlements are illegal under international law, an obstacle to peace.”

On Sept. 16, Kantor published a full-page ad in the Financial Times of London arguing against new EU guidelines prohibiting EU funding for Israeli projects in areas the European Union considers settlements.

The ad said the guidelines singled out Israel for criticism and “serve to minimize the chances for lasting peace.”

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Celebrating Simchat Torah in a Closet in Taipei

By Sarah Chen for Kveller

“Let’s go to Simchat Torah.” I said. “It’ll be fun.”

TaipeiMy husband isn’t Jewish, but he can power through the transliterated Hebrew in the Reform siddur (prayer book) with the best of them. He was skeptical, but my promise of fun (and possibly dessert) won out.

Having never celebrated the holiday growing up, the only reason I had any inkling it would be fun was because of the only other time I ever celebrated. In a closet in Taipei.

That’s where the Jews meet. A small room–a nicely converted supply closet room, really–hosts some Jewish literature, a small table, a few chairs, and an honest to goodness Holy Ark.

I was there as a recent college grad, interning at the embassy. Although Taiwan’s Jews are few and mostly foreign born, anyone who wishes to attend services is always welcome to the annex of Ritz (Landis) Hotel. There, you’ll find an Orthodox service complete with a kiddush on any regular Shabbat.

There’s rarely enough for a minyan. Since the room was too small to separate the sexes as tradition requires, I would sit squished against the back right corner of the room.

Simchat Torah morning services lasted an hour or two, and as we broke for lunch, the congregants sniffed around for lunch buddies. The well-heeled, fashionable Brazilian in the Armani suit was in town on business. The casual Brit in a button down and khakis was freelancing and teaching English. Then there was me, the college grad intern.

 Continue reading.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Minister plans 'Taglit' for Christians

Ziv Reinstein for ynetnews

Tourism Minister Uzi Landau comes up with creative way to increase number of incoming tourists: Birthright-style trips to Israel for Christian youth. But who will fund project?

New Tourism Minister Uzi Landau seems to have found a solution for increasing the number of tourists arriving in Israel. Like his predecessor, Stas Misezhnikov, his plan involves the Evangelical Christian population – but focuses on the younger generation.

In a press conference held in Tel Aviv ahead of the Jewish New Year, the minister said his future plans for increasing the volume of tourism to Israel included an initiative to conduct a Taglit-style journey for young Evangelicals.

"The Christians have a problem with their next generation too," the minister explained. "We are looking to get closer to this public in order to generate tourism and support for Israel when they return to their homeland, become our ambassadors and view Israel not through CNN's eyes."

According to Landau, who took office about five months ago, the ministry he heads focuses on digital marketing "in order to concentrate on certain target groups we believe in," as opposed to financial investment in marketing Israel worldwide.

"We won't be able to invest $50 million and more in the coming year to brand the State of Israel, as suggested by the Ernst & Young consulting company," he said, adding that he was looking for other alternatives.

The Taglit (Birthright Israel) project, which began in 1999, is a Zionist initiative by the Jewish Agency and Jewish communities in the Diaspora, which aims to take Jews who have never visited Israel on a 10-day tour of the Jewish state and bring them closer to their roots and to the State. The project is funded by philanthropists.

"We won't be able to invest in the project," the minister says in regards to the Christian "Taglit" project, "but one of the ideas raised in the meeting I held on the matter was that the community itself would fund the journey."

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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Special Report: 20 years after the Oslo accords

From Jewish Online News

 Twenty years ago this week, Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shook hands on the first substantive agreement to resolve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
It surprised everybody. Lo and behold, secret negotiations had been taking place in the Norwegian capital and – away from the limelight – negotiators reached a deal. The agreement became known as the Oslo Accords. It was a framework for peace, which called for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from occupied land and the establishment of a self- governing body that would build a new Palestinian state from the bottom up.
This new body, created in 1995 in what became known as Oslo II, would administer an area of land and govern the population according to democratic principles. It became known as the Palestinian Authority. All this, it was envisaged, would be a temporary arrangement, but it would lead to a permanent peace, the negotiations for which would start no later than 1996.
Twenty years later, hopes of peace are at rock bottom. In the intervening years Rabin was assassinated, Jewish settlers built as much housing as they did ill will, the Palestinians returned to violence and all subsequent negotiations stalled, stumbled and stuttered.
Yet Oslo remains hugely important, not least because it is arguably the closest we have come to peace in our time between Israel and the Palestinians. This week we look back at what was and what has since been.

‘Blossom’ Joins Jewish Who’s Who as Co-Chair of New Fellowship Program

The fellowship is open to Jewish students and young professionals between the ages of 19 and 25 residing in the US, Canada, Britain or Israel.  No previous Jewish experience of education is required.  Applications are being accepted until October 15.  Core18 is not affiliated with any other Jewish organization.

Mayim Bialik, familiar to most as Blossom from the 1990’s eponymous sitcom and Amy Farrah Fowler on the popular Big Bang Theory, has joined former British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and Harvard lecturer Dr. Tal  Ben-Shahar as co-chairs of a new Jewish entrepreneurial fellowship called Core18 Leaders Lab.  The project, a fresh venture from JerusalemU, an online portal for Jewish distance learning, is accepting applications for 36 fully-funded fellowships to begin in the upcoming year.  The three are supported by a veritable who’s who of Jewish leaders, educators and business people serving as advisors, teachers and board members for the program, including Malcolm Hoenlein, Natan Sharansky and Alan Dershowitz.

“To do great things in the world, we must first seek greatness within ourselves,” Bialik says in a Core18 promotional video.

“Today we need leaders, infused with a Jewish spirit and a Jewish passion, to bring the incredible energies of the Jewish people together to forge a Jewish future,” says Sacks.

The Times of Israel reported on a conference call held by Bialik just before Yom Kippur.  “Core18 Leaders Lab is a mad scientist’s dream,” Bialik says. “We bring in emerging Jewish leaders and give them the connections, training and funding they’ll need to experiment with cool new ideas that can change the Jewish landscape.”

“It’s a unique hybrid of personal development, Jewish wisdom and an Accelerator, with world-renowned mentors, to help you become a great leader…” explains Ben-Shahar, also in promotional material.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

How I Became a Sukkot Evangelist (And You Can, Too!)

By Nina Badzin for Kveller
Sukkah EvangelistI have unexpectedly become an evangelist for Sukkot. Though like any born-again-anything, I wasn’t always such a fanatic for this particular holiday.

Once upon a time I saw Sukkot as an event that only took place as part of a religious school’s curriculum. Along with the other students who came to Hebrew school three times a week, I’d help decorate the synagogue’s sukkah, stringing wire through bizarre looking gourds on the temple’s enormous property overlooking Lake Michigan. The next Sunday morning we’d have apple cider and cinnamon-sugar doughnuts in the sukkah instead of the regular slice of challah and grape juice in the classroom. We’d take turns shaking the lulav and smelling the etrog.

It was a holiday we religious school students approached with an anthropological eye. An ancient people used to build these huts, we seemed to understand. They slept there and ate there. The end. And although most of my childhood friends were Jewish, I didn’t know anyone whose family celebrated Sukkot.

When my husband and I bought our first house in Minneapolis, however, I learned that he enjoyed having a sukkah for a year or two when he was a kid. He mentioned the memory to his father, and within weeks we had a Chabad rabbi and a team of helpers in our driveway erecting a wooden sukkah in our front yard. This was even before we had kids. Eating dinner at a table for two in our dark sukkah I thought, “What now?” Then, “This place needs a light.”

In the next few years we made some friends who took the time to put up a sukkah with an eye for warmth, light, and fun decorations. Our kids would come home with projects from their Jewish preschool we were able to use for our sukkah’s bare walls, and the idea of eating all these meals with extra guests for a week grew on me more from year to year. We eventually traded in our small wooden shed-like structure for a canvas sukkah with a bamboo mat roof. Now that we’re a family of six we might even need a bigger one that can accommodate all of us and the people I like to invite.

But why do I love Sukkot so much? Why do I think it is one of the most underrated of all the Jewish holidays? My top four reasons are below:

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Monday, September 16, 2013

Peres to honor Spielberg, Wiesel with annual award

President to give award to two figures known for their work commemorating the Holocaust, among other recipients


President Shimon Peres will award this year’s Presidential Medal of Distinction to a group that includes Hollywood director Steven Spielberg and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel.

The statement commended Spielberg for his work on Schindler’s List, “one of the most important films in the history of cinema.”
Wiesel, a world-renowned author, intellectual and Nobel laureate, survived the Holocaust and is being honored for his work commemorating it across the world, and especially in the US.
Other recipients include medical advisor Rabbi Elimelech Firer, Association for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers (AWIS) director-general Brig.-Gen. (res.) Avigdor Kahalani, physicist Harry Zvi Tabor, Or Yarok road safety association founder Avi Naor and “a member of Israel’s security services who must remain anonymous.”
Israel’s Presidential Medal of Distinction is comparable to the France’s Legion of Honor or the Order of Canada. Previous winners include US President Barack Obama, former president Bill Clinton, former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, conductor Zubin Mehta and Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz.
The award “is conferred upon private individuals and organizations that have made unique and outstanding contributions to Tikkun Olam (Bettering the World), Israeli society and the State of Israel’s image around the world, and which constitute examples of initiative, innovation, creativity and vision,” according to a statement released by Peres’s office Thursday.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Story Behind NBC’s Historic Yom Kippur Broadcast on the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

Seventy years ago, two marketing geniuses harnessed the power of mass media to bring Jews into the American mainstream

By Charlotte Bonelli for Tablet
Warsaw Ghetto BroadcastA few days before Yom Kippur in 1943, NBC aired a radio play dramatizing the horrific events and tragic end of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising earlier that year. For half a minute, Americans from coast to coast, many of them Jews but most of them not, listened to a cantor chant el malei rachamim, the traditional Ashkenazi prayer for the dead. “Hear him with reverence,” the announcer instructed. “In the Ghetto, thirty-five thousand stood their ground against an army of the Third Reich—and twenty-five thousand fell. They sleep in their common graves but they have vindicated their birthright. Therefore, let him sing and hear him with reverence, for they have made an offering by fire and atonement unto the Lord and they have earned their sleep.”

This historic broadcast was the first mainstream dramatic representation of the uprising, detailed reports of which only began reaching New York in September 1943, five months after the battle and a few weeks before the High Holidays. The radio play detailed the horrific suffering of the ghetto inhabitants, the heroics of the fighters, and their inevitable deaths. The response was so overwhelming that the program was aired again for Hanukkah in December 1943.

“The Battle of the Warsaw Ghetto” wasn’t just a piece of timely wartime programming by NBC. It was the capstone of an American Jewish Committee program to combat anti-Semitism by promoting the idea that, with the world at war, anti-Jewish bigotry wasn’t just a problem for the Jews—it was also essentially un-American.

The initiative was the brainchild of Richard Rothschild, a philosopher-turned-advertising executive who was recruited in the late 1930s to craft AJC’s national strategy to combat anti-Semitism. Rothschild introduced the concept of “salting in,” whereby notable Jewish figures were folded into radio programs or print material. Their names alone, he felt, would identify them as Jews; there was to be no discussion of the character’s religion or ethnicity. The Jew was to be presented, quite simply, as a natural part of the landscape. At the same time, non-Jewish stars like James Cagney were recruited to perform AJC material. Meantime, millions of Americans saw full-page newspaper advertisements, school posters, and comic books prepared by AJC but distributed through partner organizations.

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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Great Thinker Rediscovers His Judaism on the Day of Atonement

Jewish philosopher Franz Rosenzweig was set to convert to Christianity a century ago. Yom Kippur services changed his mind.

By James Winchell for Tablet
RosenzweigIn October 1913, 100 years ago these High Holidays, 26-year-old philosopher (and Jew) Franz Rosenzweig was preparing for a crucial conversion ceremony: his own, to Christianity.

However, because he insisted on converting “as a Jew, not as a ‘pagan,’ ” Rosenzweig dutifully attended services on the Day of Atonement 1913 at a small Orthodox synagogue in Berlin. In his mind, participation in the Day of Atonement was a necessary, preparatory step toward his Christian baptism. “Here was a Jew,” writes Nahum N. Glatzer in his biography of Rosenzweig, “who did not wish to ‘break off,’ but who deliberately aimed to ‘go through’ Judaism to Christianity.”

What happened to him thereafter constitutes a paradox difficult to grasp: How is it possible that Rosenzweig’s reconnection with his native Judaism could occur only when he stood upon the virtual threshold of a Christian altar? And what role did his participation in the Yom Kippur service for 1913 play in his ultimate decision not to convert to Christianity?

Rosenzweig’s life after that determinate day, writes Glatzer, is nothing less than “the story of a rediscovery of Judaism.” Rosenzweig’s subsequent writings—most notably “Atheistic Theology” (1914), the magisterial Star of Redemption (1919), Understanding the Sick and the Healthy (1921), and “The New Thinking” (1925)—serve to short-list him among a handful of the greatest of Jewish thinkers since Rashi, Yehuda Halevi (whose Hebrew poetry Rosenzweig translated into German), and Maimonides.

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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Dirty Dancing? Ultra-Orthodox rabbis ban all-female Zumba classes

Rabbi panel in Haredi settlement Beitar Illit rules Brazilian dance and songs associated with it indecent; 'They want want to turn our town into Afghanistan,' says one resident.

By Allison Kaplan Sommer for Haaretz

Rabbis in an ultra-Orthodox settlement have come out publicly against the trendy Brazilian the trendy Brazilian fitness dance known as Zumba.

Zumba ClassA rabbinic panel in Beitar Illit ruled against Zumba classes, the Hebrew-language website Mako reported, even as it is practiced in this religious community - with a female instructor and all-female participants.

In the document issued by the Rabbinical Court of the Ashkenazi Community in Beitar and headlined "warning," women are explicitly forbidden from running or taking Zumba classes, deemed indecent because they involve moving parts of the body.

"Recently our city has seen the opening of classes employing the South American 'Zumba' method,” it reads. “After having established that both its form and manner, the activity is entirely at odds with both the ways of the Torah and the holiness of Israel, as are the songs associated to it, I hereby announce that the organization and participation in such classes is forbidden.”

According to the report, the existence of the women’s Zumba classes in the city had infuriated extremist elements in the Haredi-dominated town, leading to the publishing of the warning. It quoted an angry resident of the town who accused the Zumba opponents of “wanting to turn our city into Afghanistan, and we won’t go along with it. The rabbis and judges can’t determine whether or not we participate in Zumba classes. I’m sick of them strangling us with these illogical halachic rulings.”

It is unclear what consequences women who flout the decision and carry on with Zumba will face, but the city has a history of vigilante punishment of members of the community who ignore local standards.

In February, Israel Police probed the activities of a local ‘modesty patrol’ in Beitar Illit. Two men were arrested for allegedly threatening and attacking residents whose dress or behavior was deemed inappropriate. As part of the investigation, the mayor of the town was questioned on suspicion that he knew of the actions of the men, who worked for the municipality as youth counselors, and that he told residents who complained not to inform the police.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013