Thursday, October 31, 2013

Peace is closer than you think

By Gershon Baskin for the Jewish Chronicle

There is a journalistic urge to report, matched with politicians’ needs to be quoted and publicised. Most senior politicians cannot easily admit that they don’t know what is being discussed, in what are probably the most important issues facing Israel and Palestine.

Gershon BaskinMy advice to the readers is remember this: those who speak don’t know, and those who know are not speaking.

I have met negotiators from all sides (Israel, Palestine and the US). I have been told by all, two things prior to all my meetings: “We [meaning them] are in a listening mode only, and you cannot tell anyone that you met us.”

Within those very clear restraints, I will try to convey what I understand from my conversations and from the requests that I have received for information, ideas, proposals, and possible wording. I would venture to say that my assessments are as close to the truth as possible — without really knowing.

The negotiations are very serious, they are not deadlocked and significant progress has been made. There are up to six people in the room — Tzipi Livni and Yitzhak Molcho on the Israeli side, Saeb Erekat and Mohammed Sthiyeh on the Palestinian side, Martin Indyk and Frank Lowenstein from the American side.

It was reported that Israel wants to focus on security issues and the Palestinians on the border issues. All of the issues are on the table — security, borders, Jerusalem, refugees, water, economic issues, education and incitement, recognition issues, and more. The issues are not being negotiated separately.

Continue reading.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Zombies, Vampires, and Things That Come Back to Life: A Rabbi’s Take on Halloween

 Kids’ fascination with the undead goes far beyond one holiday, but it’s a perfect time to talk about Jewish traditions around death

By Regina Sandler-Phillips for Tablet Magazine

Rabbi's Take on Halloween“What is your position on zombies?”

It’s not something I’m usually asked as a rabbi, especially in the middle of a meal. Adam was approaching bar mitzvah at the time, and his parents had invited me to stay for dinner after one of our study sessions.

‘Tis the season for discussions of how kosher it is for Jews to celebrate Halloween. But the fascination with “the undead” isn’t limited by the calendar; it’s ongoing, particularly for young people, and it provides opportunities for dialogue between generations on issues that go beyond costumes and candy.

My young student’s phrasing of his question was more nuanced than most. As a rabbi, I’m often invited into a game of “Judaism Says.” This game is somewhat less arbitrary than “Simon Says,” since I’m expected to make a statement based on reasonable knowledge and authority. But “Judaism Says” inevitably oversimplifies complex issues.

What “Judaism Says” about Halloween, for example, varies as much by personal focus as by denominational persuasion. More traditionally observant communities uphold clearer dress and dietary codes, but mixed religious symbolism, consumer excess, and supervision of children’s behavior are concerns across the Jewish denominational spectrum.

Whatever their ambivalence, Jewish leaders of less insular worldviews generally conclude that the pagan/Christian elements of Halloween have been secularized beyond recognition, and that participation in this one day out of the year will not cause irreversible damage to Jewish identity. Many recommend a proactive clarification of parameters—at least to ensure that basic health and safety needs are met and ideally to highlight teachable moments for instilling Jewish values. Purim is often upheld as a superior Jewish costume-and-candy alternative.

But rabbis don’t usually address the significance of the year-round fascination with the undead. Even commentaries like “Can a Zombie Count as Part of a Minyan?” sidestep implications as elementary as Purim yet often absent from general Jewish awareness.

Continue reading.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Paula Abdul to get Kotel bat mitzvah

American singer and reality show star to meet with President Shimon Peres; Beyonce may be planning 2014 performance

By Times of Israel staff

Paula AbdulAfter a delay of of almost four decades, American singer and reality show star Paula Abdul, 51, will finally realize her dream of celebrating her bat mitzvah at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Abdul, who became famous in the 1990s as a singer and more recently for her role on “American Idol” and “The X Factor,” is to arrive in Israel Monday as a guest of the Tourism Ministry and celebrate the milestone during this, her first visit to the country, according to a ministry statement.

While here Abdul is expected to tour major sites in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and the Galilee.

She will also be meeting with President Shimon Peres and Tourism Minister Uzi Landau.

Abdul was born to Jewish parents and grew up in a Reform community. She has also been connected to the Los Angeles Chabad Rabbi Chaim Mentz and took part in a Chabad fundraiser last November in Toronto.

At the same time, speculation has ramped up that pop star Beyonce may plan an Israel concert in 2014.

Israeli production companies are reportedly battling to secure the potential show, which would likely take place at Tel Aviv’s Ganei Yehoshua, the only venue capable of holding some 50,000 concert-goers. There are no fewer than five candidates currently vying for the opportunity to cash in, Yedioth Ahronoth reported.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Iron Dome intercepts rocket fired at Ashkelon from Gaza

Sirens heard in communities surrounding Strip; comes hours after Israel names 26 Palestinian prisoners set to go free, including 5 Gazans

By Lazar Berman and Times of Israel staff October 28, 2013

Iron DomeTwo rockets from the Gaza Strip were fired at Israel in the early hours of Monday morning, setting off sirens in Ashkelon and in areas surrounding the Strip. There were no reports of injuries or damage.

The incident came hours after Israel published the list of names of the 26 Palestinian prisoners set to be released on Tuesday — including five Gazans — as part of a deal to keep the US-brokered Israeli-Palestinian peace talks on track. All are convicted murderers.

On Sunday, two mortar shells from the Gaza Strip landed in Israel in the afternoon, the Israeli military said. There were no injuries or damage.

The shells fell at 1:30 p.m. in an open area in the Eshkol region in the western Negev.

The return to rocket fire came after several months of relative quiet. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Rocket fire from Gaza has mostly stemmed since an Israeli military offensive in November 2012 meant to stop near daily missile launches.

There are still sporadic rocket shootings, sometimes presented as responses to Israel Defense Forces action.

Last Monday, soldiers discovered a roadside bomb positioned along the border with the Gaza Strip and safely disposed of the device. No injuries or damage were caused in the incident.

That incident came a week after the IDF discovered and detonated a Hamas-built tunnel running east from the Gaza Strip into Israel. The tunnel was a recently discovered part of an excavation that was first revealed in November 2012, and contained several barrels of explosives.

Also last week, the army killed a suspected terrorist during a shootout in the West Bank. Islamic Jihad, which often shoots rockets out of the Strip, claimed Mohammed Aazi was a member of its organization.

Israel said he planned a Tel Aviv bus bombing last November that left over 20 people injured.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Going the Extra Degree

Four lessons from the heart by Michael Landsberry, the heroic math teacher who was killed protecting his students in Nevada.

by Sara Debbie Gutfreund for

Going the Extra DegreeA 14-year-old student shot and killed Michael Landsberry, a math teacher, and critically injured two classmates before shooting himself at his Nevada middle school Monday morning. Before the shooting the student was heard yelling: “Why you people making fun of me, why you laughing at me?”

Landsberry, a popular 8th grade math teacher at the Sparks Middle School, ran across the basketball courts towards the shooter and told him to put down the gun. The boy yelled at the teacher to back off and then shot him, killing him instantly. The teacher, a former Marine, had just celebrated his wedding anniversary this past weekend. He was a beloved math teacher and soccer coach, but the real lessons that he has left behind are lessons of the heart.

1. Say “I love you” today. Just a few days before he was killed, Michael wrote on his Facebook page: “Happy Anniversary to my beautiful wife Sharon Landsberry. You are my world, my everything. I love you so so so very much!” Too often we think we have unlimited time to express our feelings to those we love. We push off saying “I love you” for tomorrow or maybe the day after. We may even forget about it all together by then. Michael’s heart felt message to his wife teaches us all: Say it today.

2. Learn from each person. On his website for his students, Landsberry wrote: “Just like you I have good days and bad days. What may bother me one day may not the next. A very good skill to learn is reading people and their moods. We will learn a lot from each other this year and what bothers us the most. One of my goals is to earn your respect while you earn mine.”

This constant striving for mutual respect with his students not only made him a favorite teacher but taught his students to notice each other’s feelings and perspectives. He encouraged them to learn from every person, on the soccer field and in the classroom. When the news broke that Michael had died, hundreds of messages began pouring in from students thanking him for teaching them how to be better people.

3. Become a crucial player in your children’s life. Landsberry had two stepdaughters and no biological children of his own. But what he put into his parenting in the few years that he was given to be a father is evident through this post written by his stepdaughter, Andrea, this past summer: “This man, my dad has been through so much to make me and my family happy, and I don’t know what I would do without him. He hasn’t always been in my life since he just married my mom a few years ago, but it feels like he has been there for me forever. We act the same which can cause us arguments sometimes. But no matter what I’ll always love him. I love you dad.”

 Continue reading.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Less Attachment To Israel Among Younger Non-Orthodox

New data from Pew study finds generational divides; Stephen Wise to sponsor Birthright trip.

Stewart Ain for The Jewish Week

Steven CohenYounger non-Orthodox Jews are less attached to Israel but are more optimistic about achieving a two-state solution than older non-Orthodox Jews, according to data just released from the new Pew Research Center survey of the American Jewish community.

Steven M. Cohen, research professor of Jewish social policy at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and a lead researcher for the Pew survey, said the “decline in Israel attachment” was coupled with a “rise in criticism of Israeli government policies among younger non-Orthodox Jews.”

Cohen, who asked the Pew Research Center to extrapolate these figures for him so that he could discuss them on a conference call Monday with the Israel Policy Forum, said the numbers revealed also that only 30 percent of non-Orthodox Jews 18-29 agreed with the statement that “caring about Israel is an essential part of being Jewish,” compared to 52 percent of those 65 and older.

He said he asked Pew to separate the results of non-Orthodox Jews from the Orthodox because the Orthodox tend to be “passionately supportive of Israel” and are “so supportive of [Israeli] government policies.”

In large part because of the free Birthright trips to Israel, 39 percent of those 18-29 said they had been to Israel, compared with 47 percent of those 65 and older. As a result of those trips, Cohen said, “younger Jews are more attached than they would be otherwise.”

Continue reading.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Why the Red Sox are the Chosen Team

Joshua HammermanBy Joshua Hammerman for The Times of Israel
Now that the Boston Red Sox are back in baseball’s World Series, facing the St. Louis Cardinals beginning Wednesday night, the compelling argument must be made that the Sawx, as we native Bostonians affectionately call them, are the official baseball team of the Jewish people. The Cardinals might have the power to pick Popes, but the Red Sox have even more lofty connections.

The fact that one of their key players, Craig Breslow, the Connecticut Yalie and every Jewish mother’s dream, is an MOT, is only incidental to this declaration. Even if there were no Jews among these post Kevin Youkilis, post Theo Epstein, post Gabe Kapler Sox, even if perennial batting champ Wade Boggs hadn’t drawn the Hebrew word chai (life) in the batter’s box before every at bat, they still would be the Chosen Team for the Chosen People.


Let’s start with baseball history. Bradford Pilcher put it best in his 2007 article, “Why Every American Jew Should Love the Boston Red Sox and Hate the New York Yankees,” writing that of the five seminal moments in the history of Jewish baseball players, “four of them involve the Boston Red Sox. Only one of them involves the New York Yankees. I really think you should do the math.”

His list includes such luminaries as Moe Berg the spy-catcher (no, he did not catch spies, he WAS a spy, against the Germans in WW2, AND a catcher, for the Red Sox), Kevin Youkilis (the mistakenly nicknamed “Greek god of walks” and Mel Gibson… yes, Mel Gibson, who is not Jewish but was lampooned memorably and hilariously by comedians Dennis Leary and Lenny Clarke from the Red Sox broadcast booth in 2006.

But history is not the only factor, nor is it even close to being the most important.

Continue reading.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Abbas: Peace talks with Israel haven't reached dead end

Avigdor Lieberman responds to Palestinian president's remarks to German TV, saying Abbas is no partner for peace.

By Haaretz

AbbasPalestinian President Mahmoud Abbas denied Saturday that peace talks with Israel have reached a dead end.

In an interview to German channel Deutsche Welle, the Palestinian leader said the talks have only just begun, and that there is still time to discuss various issues, according to a report on Israel Radio.

Abbas told the German channel he couldn't discuss the talks in detail, but said each side has discussed the proposal presented by the other side, Israel Radio said.

On Sunday morning, Yisrael Beiteinu leader MK Avigdor Lieberman responded to Abbas' remarks, saying that he is no partner for peace.

In an interview to Israel Radio, Lieberman said there is no point seeking a final-status agreement between Israel and the Palestinians at the moment. Israel should focus instead on "economic and security cooperation with the Palestinians."

He said Israel must demand the Palestinians change their education system from the ground up, and added that Palestinian textbooks do not include maps of Israel or one word about the Holocaust.

Official Palestinian media is filled with anti-Semitic incitement and glorify suicide bombers, he said. Only after the Palestinians start educating the younger generation for peace, will real negotiations be possible, he added.

In another meeting in Germany, Abbas said the Palestinians would continue negotiating openly and with good intentions. He added that they want to create an atmosphere conducive to reaching an agreement within the nine-month alloted time frame, Israel Radio reported.

 Continue reading.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

This day in Jewish history / Superman's father is born, only to repudiate his child

The first effort of high school buddies Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster was a mad scientist. The ensuing Man of Steel was rather more benign, yet his disillusioned creators came to loathe him in the end.

By David B. Green for Haaretz

October 17, 1914, is the birthdate of Jerry Siegel, who together with partner Joe Shuster, created the Man of Steel – no, not Joseph Stalin – Superman.

The two met while they were high-school students in Cleveland, Ohio, and teamed up on a number of projects, including one centered on a mad scientist (bald, of course) called “The Superman”. Then came a sleepless night in 1934, when Siegel, the writer in the team, had an inspiration.

Thus was born the rather more benign character who devoted his extraordinary powers to the benefit of humankind. It took them another four years before they found a publisher willing to help them tell their story.

'Girls would notice man leaping over building'

Jerome Siegel was born in Cleveland, the youngest of the six children of Mitchell Siegel and the former Sarah Fine. The family had emigrated from Lithuania after the birth of their first two children, daughters.

Mitchell owned a shop for men’s clothing accessories, and it was there that he died during a robbery in 1932, apparently of a heart attack.

Several years ago, novelist Brad Meltzer wrote a novel based on his study of Jerry Siegel’s life, in which he suggested that the traumatic death of Siegel’s father was at least partly behind his invention of an immortal superhero.

“Think about it,” Meltzer told USA Today in 2008: “Your father dies in a robbery, and you invent a bulletproof man who becomes the world's greatest hero. I'm sorry, but there's a story there."

In fact, Siegel’s first drawings for the evil version of The Superman were made only weeks after his father’s death.

Of course, there were also more prosaic forces at work behind the inspiration for Superman. As Siegel reported many years later, "I had crushes on several attractive girls who either didn't know I existed or didn't care I existed," he said. "It occurred to me: what if I had something going for me, like jumping over buildings or throwing cars around or something like that?"

Siegel met Joe Shuster, who had been born in Toronto, Ontario, but who moved with his family to Cleveland at the age of 9 or 10, when the two were studying at Glenville High School there. Both were, by all accounts, shy and somewhat awkward, and they bonded easily. "When Joe and I first met, it was like the right chemicals coming together," Siegel later recounted.

Continue reading.

Philip Roth Wins Nobel Prize

Philip Roth

The renowned writer, who plumbed Jewish identity and became an American master, adds the biggest laurel to his crown

By the Editors of Tablet Magazine

Philip Roth, whose brilliant, humorous, often feverish inquiries into Jewish identity, politics, sex, and culture turned him into America’s most celebrated author, won the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature on Thursday.

Announcing the award in Stockholm, the Swedish Academy said that Mr. Roth, 80, the author of 29 novels and the only living American author to have his works anthologized by the Library of America, is “an epicist who examines contemporary American life with incorruptible scrutiny.” He is the 14th American and the 14th Jew to be anointed with the honor.

The Newark-bred author will add the Nobel Prize to an unparalleled array of accolades, including two National Book Awards, two National Book Critics Circle Awards, three PEN/Faulkner Awards, the Pulitzer Prize, the inaugural Franz Kafka Prize, the Man Booker Prize, the French Legion of Honor, and the National Humanities Medal. Often short-listed by the betting site Ladbrokes, in recent years, Mr. Roth’s name had dropped to 50/1 odds, making him a perennial long shot.

When reached by phone at his apartment in Manhattan, Mr. Roth seemed nonchalant about his new laurels. “I wasn’t in a hurry,” he said.

Continue reading for related stories.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

And Now for Some Good News About the Pew Survey

Population Is Growing and Jews Aren't Hiding From Heritage

By Bethamie Horowitz for The Jewish Daily Forward

Pew Good NewsInitial reactions to the recent Pew Research Center’s study of American Jews have been almost knee-jerk in their pessimism. One commentator called the portrait a “grim” one. Another viewed the study’s results as “devastating,” with its evidence of “so much assimilation.” This rush to gloom brings to mind the old sendoff about the definition of a Jewish telegram: “Start worrying. Details to follow.”

The actual facts that evoked these reactions needn’t be viewed as unequivocally problematic. Another reading is possible.

Consider these findings: The American Jewish population turns out to be larger than expected: 6.8 million rather than previous estimates of 6 million or less. Intermarriage rates have held more or less steady since 1990. And most (61%) of Jews who intermarry are raising their children as “Jewish or partly Jewish,” rather than in another religion.

So the Jewish population isn’t shrinking, and even though many Jews intermarry, among those who do, the impulse to evade being seen as Jewish and to avoid “burdening” the identity of one’s children with a Jewish connection seems to have faded.

Today, intermarriage is more aptly a marker of integration and acceptance of Jews into America than a sign of Jews abandoning their origins or turning their backs on Judaism. I’m thinking of people like Jon Stewart, Natalie Portman and Rahm Emanuel, who have intermarried yet strongly identify as Jews.

Continue reading.

Monday, October 14, 2013

At centennial, United Synagogue aims to retool Conservative

By Uriel Heilman for JTA

NEW YORK (JTA) — It’s being billed as the “Conversation of the Century.”

When the main synagogue organization of Conservative Jewry gathers this weekend in Baltimore to celebrate its centennial, there will be a lot to talk about.

Girl Reading From TorahThe number of synagogues affiliated with the group, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, is in decline. The proportion of American Jews who identify as Conservative has shrunk to 18 percent, according to the recent Pew Research Center study of U.S. Jewry, down from 43 percent in 1990 and 33 percent in 2000. And with a median age of 55, Conservative Jews are older on average than Reform or Orthodox and more likely to leave their movement than Jews from either of the other two major denominations.

At this moment of challenge for Conservative Judaism, the movement’s leaders have a message for the biennial conference: We’re ready to change.

With a conference program markedly more diverse than past years, United Synagogue is promoting the idea that it’s not just embracing change — the need for change has been a constant refrain within the movement for at least a decade — but that the conference is a place for figuring out how to retool Conservative Judaism for the 21st century.

“It’s not just coming and talking for the sake of talking,” said Rabbi Steven Wernick, the CEO of United Synagogue. “It’s about coming up with ideas and strategies people can take back to their own communities or to their personal lives.

“This convention is an opportunity to pull all those people together who care about the future of an egalitarian, pluralistic and traditional approach to Jewish life, to learn from each other, to be inspired from each other, to come up with new strategies and ideas, and also to have a whole lot of fun.”

On the table is everything from how the movement should treat same-sex couples to how synagogues can be revamped to focus more on what people want. The Shabbat preceding the conference will feature five different prayer services simultaneously ranging from a contemporary-style service with instrumental music to a non-egalitarian minyan featuring the tunes of the late Orthodox spiritualist Shlomo Carlebach. Some of the presenters and entertainers at the conference are Orthodox.

 Continue reading.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Seven Great Quotes from Israeli and Jewish Leaders

Through the years, Israel and the Jewish people have been blessed with eloquent leaders. Below are seven of what we think are the best and most memorable quotes we’ve heard. Read them and be inspired — then share your favorite quotes about Israel in comments below!

“Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.”
      — Golda Meir, Israel’s first female prime minister, during a 1957 speech
    “I think that this is the first war in history that on the morrow the victors sued for peace and the vanquished called for unconditional surrender.”
    — Abba Eban, then Israel’s Foreign Minister, after Israel’s decisive victory over Arab armies in the 1967 Six Day War
    “The truth is that if Israel were to put down its arms there would be no more Israel. If the Arabs were to put down their arms there would be no more war.”
    — Benjamin Netanyahu, 2006
    “In Israel, in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles.”
    — Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, 1956
    “The Jews who will it shall achieve their State. We shall live at last as free men on our own soil, and in our own homes peacefully die. The world will be liberated by our freedom, enriched by our wealth, magnified by our greatness. And whatever we attempt there for our own benefit will redound mightily and beneficially to the good of all mankind.”
    — Theodor Herzl, father of modern Zionism, from his book Der Judenstaat, (The Jewish State), published in 1896

    “We, the soldiers who have returned from battle stained with blood, we who have seen our relatives and friends killed before our eyes, we who have attended their funerals and cannot look into the eyes of their parents, we who have come from a land where parents bury their children, we who have fought against you, the Palestinians We say to you today in a loud and clear voice: Enough of blood and tears. Enough.”
    — Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, 1993
    “If you want to make peace, you don’t talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.”
    — Moshe Dayan, Israeli military leader and politician, 1973

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

2013 Nobel Prize--Two Israeli scientists who emigrated to U.S. win Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Arieh Warshel, Michael Levitt, and Martin Karplus win prize for the development of multiscale models for complex chemical systems; all three scientists are Jewish, while Warshel and Levitt hold Israeli citizenship.

By Ido Efrati for Haaretzv and The Associated Press

Three Jewish scientists - two of them Israelis who emigrated to the U.S. - won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry on Wednesday.

Arieh Warshel, Michael Levitt and Martin Karplus were awarded the top international prize for the development of multiscale models for complex chemical systems.

All three winners are U.S. citizens, but also hold dual citizenships. Warshel and Levitt are Israeli citizens and both studied at the Weizmann Institute in Israel, and the prior was also educated at the Technion. Austrian-born Karplus had fled the Nazis to the U.S. as a child. The Nobel prize was awarded to them on the basis of their research at American universities.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences on Wednesday said, upon awarding the prize of 8 million crowns ($1.25 million), that their research in the 1970s has helped scientists develop programs that unveil chemical processes such as the purification of exhaust fumes or the photosynthesis in green leaves.

"The work of Karplus, Levitt and Warshel is ground-breaking in that they managed to make Newton's classical physics work side-by-side with the fundamentally different quantum physics," the academy said. "Previously, chemists had to choose to use either/or."

Karplus, a U.S. and Austrian citizen is affiliated with the University of Strasbourg, France, and Harvard University. Levitt is a U.S., Israeli and British citizen and a professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Warshel is a U.S. and Israeli citizen affiliated with the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

Pretoria-born Levitt, immigrated to Israel aged 35 in 1983. He married an Israeli, and worked a few years at the Weizmann Institute until he left for Stanford University in California.

Warshell completed his undergraduate studies in chemistry at Technion Institute in Haifa in 1966. From there he went on to the Weizmann Institute, where he completed his doctorate in three years, finishing in 1970. Between 1972 and 1976 he was a researcher at the chemistry faculty, in the Department of Structural Biology. He left in the 70s to go to the U.S. According to one of his fellow students at the Technion, Professor Shammai Speiser, this was because he couldn't get tenure at the Weizmann Insitute.

Speaking to Israel Radio on Wednesday, Warshell's wife said that her husband "didn't know how to market himself well enough for Israeli academia." 

Continue reading.


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Two Jews Win Nobel Prize in Medicine

Mazel Tov!

By: Jewish Press News Briefs

Two more Jews, both from the United States, and a German non-Jew won the Nobel Prize in medicine in Monday, while two Israel contenders lost out. The newest Jewish Nobel Prize winners are James Rothman of Yale University and Randy Schekman of the University of California. The Israeli hopefuls were Hebrew University professors Howard Cedar and Aharon Razin. More than 20 percent of the 800 Nobel Prize winners so far have been Jewish although Jews represent only 0.2 of the world’s population. The third winner Monday was Dr. Thomas Sudhof of Stanford University. All three scientists shared the $1.2 million for their research on how tiny bubbles are carriers inside cells, making sure that the right elements arrive at the right place and at the right time. This year’s Nobel Prizes in other fields are to be announced within the next two weeks.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Overcoming bureaucratic tangle, producers bring Jerusalem IMAX film to screen

By Penny Schwartz for JTA

BOSTON (JTA) — Five years in the making, the first IMAX film ever made about Jerusalem is as much a visual tour de force as a marvel of cultural diplomacy.

“Jerusalem,” which had its world premiere last week at Boston’s Museum of Science, uses cutting-edge cinematography to immerse the audience in the ancient city’s historic sites from rarely seen perspectives.

Over the course of 45 minutes, viewers are treated to rare aerial views of the Old City as Jews gather at the Western Wall for the priestly blessing, Christian pilgrims march down the Via Dolorosa and Muslims gather at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the first Friday of Ramadan.

Footage of the annual Ceremony of the Holy Fire, held at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre during the Orthodox Easter celebrations, sets the screen aglow with dazzling light.

Distributed by National Geographic Entertainment, the film, narrated by the British actor Benedict Cumberbatch, will show on IMAX screens and in digital 3-D cinemas across the United States in the coming weeks.

Gaining access to some of the world’s most sensitive and contested locations was a test of devotion and artful negotiations that took the film’s three producers and a team of advisers years to accomplish. Preparations required dozens of meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials, the Israeli army and the many clerics who control the city’s religious sites.

Filming from a low-altitude helicopter in the Old City of Jerusalem’s strict no-fly zone required a permit that had not been granted in more than 20 years, the filmmakers said, and acquiring the permit took eight months of negotiations.

In advance of the shooting, producers took out ads in the major Hebrew- and Arabic-language newspapers to notify residents about the helicopter filming.

“There was nothing that was not complicated,” Taran Davies, one of the film’s producers, said at the premiere.

Even the terrestrial shots were difficult to carry off. For the scene filmed at the Western Wall, an IMAX camera was mounted on a crane above the crowds. To film the fire ceremony, producers secured permission from the six entities that share authority over the church.

The most challenging authorization by far was for the Muslim Noble Sanctuary, known by Jews as the Temple Mount, which required permission from the Islamic custodial body, the religious affairs ministry in Jordan and Israeli security forces.

 Continue reading.


Friday, October 4, 2013

Netanyahu Warns Iran In Farsi, Considering Meeting Rouhani

In an interview with BBC Persia on Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister showed off his command of Farsi, warning the Iranian people of the perils of allowing its government to obtain nuclear weapons, according to The Times of Israel.

During the interview, his first to a Farsi-language station, Netanyahu addressed the Iranian people directly, telling them the ayatollahs’ regime was responsible for the harsh sanctions and socio-economic situation they are enduring.

“You don’t want them [the regime] to have nuclear weapons because you’ll never get rid of this tyranny,” he warned. “I would welcome a genuine rapprochement, a genuine effort to stop the nuclear program, not a fake one, not harf-e pootch ['nonsense' in Farsi]. “We are not sadeh-lowe ['suckers' in Farsi],” said the prime minister.

“The Iranian people are paying a steep price for the military nuclear program the regime insists it doesn’t have,” Netanyahu said.

“I saw the desire of the Iranian people to have real freedom, a real life. The Iranian and Israeli people can be friendly once this regime falls.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani countered on twitter that Israel is upset because Iran’s message is being heard. The tweet read: “Tel Aviv upset & angry…because the Iranian nation’s message of #peace is being heard better. #Iran #Dialogue”

Early Friday however, reports have been reporting that Netanyahu told National Public Radio that he would “consider” meeting the Iranian president. According to The Times of Israel, Netanyahu, speaking to National Public Radio as part of a media blitz while in the US, said he would question Rouhani on Tehran’s nuclear program, which the Israeli leader has called to be completely shut down.
“I don’t care about the meeting. I don’t have a problem with the diplomatic process,” Netanyahu said to NPR’s Steve Inskeep.

“I haven’t been offered. If I’m offered, I’d consider it, but it’s not an issue,” he clarified. “If I meet with these people I’d stick this question in their face: Are you prepared to dismantle your program completely? Because you can’t stay with the [nuclear] enrichment.”
He also called Rouhani, considered a relative moderate, the “least bad” candidate of those who were allowed to run in Iran’s June presidential elections.

Netanyahu told NPR that Iran’s overtures toward a deal with the West to curb its uranium enrichment were “hogwash,” but said he would be “delighted” by a “real” deal, according to excerpts published by NPR. The full interview was to air on Morning Edition later Friday.
According to The Times, Israel’s Channel 2 reported Wednesday that Netanyahu was presiding over “intensive contacts” with unnamed Arab and Gulf leaders to form a new alliance against Iran, amid fears that the US would be duped by Tehran in the nascent diplomatic process.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Jewish-American leaders dismiss Pew findings on negative attitudes toward Israel

Establishment sticks to guns even as consensus frays.

By Josh Nathan-Kazis The Forward
PewAmerican Jews are far more critical of Israel than the Jewish establishment, according to the new Pew survey, but Jewish leaders say the findings won’t change their positions.

Officials with leading Jewish organizations told the Forward that the 38% of American Jews who Pew says think the Israeli government isn’t making a “sincere effort” to come to a peace deal are either uninformed, unengaged, or wrong. They also asserted that those respondents don’t represent their constituency.

“You know who the Jewish establishment represents? Those who care,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “This is a poll of everybody. Some care, some don’t care.”

“I think it’s interesting, we need to be aware,” he said. “But I’m not going to follow this.”

Pew’s Portrait of Jewish Americans, based on interviews with 3,500 Jews in all 50 states, found that most Jews feel attached to Israel. But it also found high levels of skepticism of the Israeli government and high levels of opposition to the continued construction of settlements in the West Bank.

American Jewish establishment groups are reluctant to criticize the Israeli government in public. While most don’t actively support the settlements, few mainstream groups outright oppose settlement construction.

Leaders of these establishment groups, when contacted by the Forward, were unconcerned about the apparent disconnect.

Foxman, who has led the ADL since 1987, said that Jewish leaders weren’t beholden to the opinions of the Jewish public. “I don’t sit and poll my constituency,” Foxman said. “Part of Jewish leadership is leadership. We lead.”

Some Jewish officials argued that those Jews suspicious of the Israeli government didn’t know much about Israel.

Jews who told Pew that they had no religion were far less likely to believe that the Israelis are sincere in their peace efforts than those who said that their religion is Judaism. Jews of no religion are also less likely to be involved in Jewish life. According to Steve Bayme, , director of the Contemporary Jewish Life Department at the American Jewish Committee, that suggests that they know less about the peace process.

“Those who are most involved in Jewish life are also most knowledgeable, and therefore I tend to think their opinion more closely parallels the opinion of the organized Jewish community,” said Bayme. “Those not involved… they are the ones who are going to be viewing these issues from a lack of adequate knowledge base.”

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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A Portrait of Jewish Americans

Pew Poll

New Pew poll raises fascinating (and troubling) questions about American Jews

American Jews overwhelmingly say they are proud to be Jewish and have a strong sense of belonging to the Jewish people, according to a major new survey by the Pew Research Center. But the survey also suggests that Jewish identity is changing in America, where one-in-five Jews (22%) now describe themselves as having no religion.

jew-overview-1The percentage of U.S. adults who say they are Jewish when asked about their religion has declined by about half since the late 1950s and currently is a little less than 2%. Meanwhile, the number of Americans with direct Jewish ancestry or upbringing who consider themselves Jewish, yet describe themselves as atheist, agnostic or having no particular religion, appears to be rising and is now about 0.5% of the U.S. adult population.1

Pew ChartThe changing nature of Jewish identity stands out sharply when the survey’s results are analyzed by generation. Fully 93% of Jews in the aging Greatest Generation identify as Jewish on the basis of religion (called “Jews by religion” in this report); just 7% describe themselves as having no religion (“Jews of no religion”). By contrast, among Jews in the youngest generation of U.S. adults – the Millennials – 68% identify as Jews by religion, while 32% describe themselves as having no religion and identify as Jewish on the basis of ancestry, ethnicity or culture.

This shift in Jewish self-identification reflects broader changes in the U.S. public. Americans as a whole – not just Jews – increasingly eschew any religious affiliation. Indeed, the share of U.S. Jews who say they have no religion (22%) is similar to the share of religious “nones” in the general public (20%), and religious disaffiliation is as common among all U.S. adults ages 18-29 as among Jewish Millennials (32% of each).

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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Putin Refuses To Let the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Library Leave Moscow

An international cast of characters is embroiled in a bizarre legal dispute over the late rabbi’s personal collection of books

By Avital Chizhik for Tablet
Chabad LibraryThere was something surprisingly calm about the tiny Brooklyn courtyard of 770 Eastern Parkway, the address of the international headquarters of Chabad-Lubavitch. Groups of Hasidic men passed by talking, clutching cellphones, laughing, carrying boxes of books. One morning this past March, I knocked on a heavy wooden door; someone inside the building buzzed me in.

Down dark hallways and anonymous stairwells, the library of the Agudas Chasidei Chabad was eerily silent. Only the third floor offered a sign of life: a simple exhibition room with an assortment of glass cases, documents from the 18th century enclosed, rebbes’ walking sticks, streimels, phylacteries, portraits, shtenders, and grandfather clocks. The descriptions are in a mix of Hebrew and English, a jumble of cards and numbers that is barely decipherable. This is the kingdom of Rabbi Berel Levin, chief librarian and archivist in charge of over 250,000 books on the premises.

But these 250,000 works constitute only some of Chabad’s official library. There are another 15,000 books, which have been housed for the past century in the shadow of Moscow’s Kremlin and which have been the center of a decades-old property dispute between Russian officials and Chabad representatives based in the United States.

When I explained my reasons for coming to 770 Eastern Parkway, Rabbi Levin sighed. He agreed to speak with me, but only to discuss the history of Chabad’s missing books; the current status of the absent library of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, was strictly off-limits.

“A very sensitive time we are in now,” he said, watching me carefully from across his desk. Over the past four years, the fate of the Schneersohn library has had its international consequences, as American-Russian relations grow increasingly strained. Since February 2011, Russians have refused to loan any artwork to American museums, fearing the pieces will be used as ransom for the Schneersohn books. The Hermitage in St. Petersburg and the Pushkin Museum in Moscow have effectively canceled all loans, the New York Times reported in January; American museums have been left scrambling for alternative pieces to fill major gaps in their exhibits. Walk into any major American museum’s exhibit and you’ll see the blank spaces: The Metropolitan’s most recent Matisse exhibit lacked the painter’s iconic goldfish (housed in the Pushkin Museum); the National Gallery of Art’s upcoming 2014 exhibit of Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt will probably not include the Degas’ “Blue Dancers” or a Cassatt version of “Mother and Child.” “We are all caught up in a political situation that is not of our making,” Thomas P. Campbell, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, told the New York Times at the time of the Russians’ unparalleled decision to halt art traffic.

“All right,” I replied, just as carefully. “Tell me about the past, then. What brought us here?”

The white-bearded rabbi looked down for a long moment, and then he began.

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