Friday, January 31, 2014

Scarlett Johansson Drops OxFam, Sticks With SodaStream

The star stands by her carbonated endorsement following backlash

By Stephanie Butnick for Tablet Magazine
ScarJoScarJo doesn’t mess around. Two weeks after signing on to be SodaStream’s global representative and announcing she will appear in the company’s Super Bowl ad, Jewish actress Scarlett Johansson has stepped down from her post as OxFam ambassador, which she’s held since 2007, citing the humanitarian organization’s stance on the BDS movement. Johansson came under fire from critics, OxFam among them, for endorsing the carbonated beverage company, which operates a factory in the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, the AP reports.

A statement released by Johansson’s spokesman Wednesday said the 29-year-old actress has “a fundamental difference of opinion” with Oxfam International because the humanitarian group opposes all trade from Israeli settlements, saying they are illegal and deny Palestinian rights.

“Scarlett Johansson has respectfully decided to end her ambassador role with Oxfam after eight years,” the statement said. “She and Oxfam have a fundamental difference of opinion in regards to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. She is very proud of her accomplishments and fundraising efforts during her tenure with Oxfam.”

While Johansson may have been unwittingly thrust into the role of conflict negotiator in the minefield that is the public debate over the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, she’s proven herself to be more than just a glamorous face attached to a product, responding to the backlash with a statement saying she’s a “supporter of economic cooperation and social interaction between a democratic Israel and Palestine.” She’s turned what could have been yet another celebrity endorsement—or quickly dropped celebrity endorsement—into an actual stance on an actual issue.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Israel in the Eye of the Hurricane

The Middle East is imploding. America is pulling back. Time for a new regional strategy.

By Ofir Haivry for Mosaic

Mideast ImplodingAs upheaval sweeps into country after country of the Middle East, endemic instability has become the order of the day—with no end in sight. Egypt and Tunisia seem permanently on the verge of civil war, Syria in the­­ midst of it; Libya and Yemen are disintegrating, with Lebanon and Iraq seemingly not far behind; unrest is seeping into Algeria, Morocco, Sudan, and Jordan; not even oil-rich Saudi Arabia or the smaller Gulf states seem immune. Long-established certitudes about the regional order are no more, having been supplanted by an Arab “spring” that produced neither a summer of democracy and prosperity nor a return to the winter of past authoritarian immobility but, rather, a prolonged autumn of volatility and baffling uncertainty. And this is not to speak of the impact of events on nominally peripheral powers like Turkey, Ethiopia, and Iran—the last-named of which presents a regional challenge of major proportions—or on such formerly inhibited but now emergent actors as the Kurds, the Christians, the Druze, even the Alawites.

At the eye of this regional hurricane, Israel is eerily quiet, tensely following the turbulence and endeavoring, amid the wreckage, to fathom the shape of the new Middle Eastern reality. Much is still unknown—other than that the old order is gone for good, an epochal shift is under way, and Israel’s three-decades-old strategy for survival may have to be abandoned. Can it be replaced by a better one—even an older one?


The history of Israel’s regional strategy predates by a half-century the birth in 1948 of the state itself. Under the formal suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire, the centuries-old regional order found by the visiting Theodor Herzl in 1896 displayed a variety of social and political arrangements. Some areas were administered directly from Istanbul, others—like Egypt and Arabia Deserta—were virtually independent, and still others like Kuwait and Lebanon enjoyed special rights and status under the protection of European powers. Herzl sought to forge a deal either with the Sultan or with a European power to sponsor a Zionist protectorate. At his death in 1904, his efforts seemed to have come to naught.

Continue reading.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Israel Among Ten Most Powerful Nations In World

Recent study of National Power Index ranks Israel tenth; research is composite index of factors including military and economic capability.

By Ari Yashar for ArutzSheva7

IsraeliFlagIsrael, the tiny nation that defied history in coming back to life after 2,000 years of exile, is among the top 10 most powerful nations in the world according to a recent research study.

Market Business News recently reported on the 2012 National Power Index (NPI), released by the Foundation for National Security Research (FNSR), a New Delhi-based think tank. The study is a comprehensively revised version of the previous indexes published in India's National Security Annual Review (INSAR) since 2002.

According to the research, Israel achieved a 32.19 NPI ranking, placing it tenth on the list of the world's most powerful countries.

The NPI is a quantification of a nation's power, meaning its ability to influence global events. The ranking is based on a composite of indexes of statistical analysis in terms of economy, military, diplomacy, technology and population. Each factor has a certain weight, and the composite index includes a detailed analysis of individual components.

The research appraises Israel as a country of 8 million, with a GDP of $272.7 billion and 176,500 active military personnel.

Israel stands out in military capability where it is ranked 6th in the world, and technological capability where it ranks 4th. Its capabilities ranked 25 in economy, 17 in population and 19 in foreign affairs.

The index study notes that Israel has the strongest military in the Middle East, and is among the world's leaders in technology and science. It also notes that Israel ranks 15 on the UN development index, illustrating the high quality of life in the Jewish state.

Unsurprisingly, the United States headed the list of most powerful nations, ranking in at 77.77 on the NPI. It was followed by China (58.66) and Russia (43.36). The remaining nations on the list were France, Japan, the UK, Germany, India and Canada in that order.

A map by Maps of World displays the 10 leading powers in highlighted colors, including tiny Israel among its massive fellow powerful nations.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu encouraged investment in Israel this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, touting Israel's innovation in developing "more conceptual products per capita than any nation on earth."

Monday, January 27, 2014

This is Danny Pearl’s Final Story

By Asra Q. Nomani for Washingtonian

Danny PearlKhalid Sheikh Mohammed is walking toward me in a black prayer cap, a cream-colored tunic, and matching shalwar, or baggy pants. He’s hunched over, his beard dyed red, a symbol of piety to conservative Muslims, and I can’t take my eyes off him.

It’s May 5, 2012, the first time in three and a half years that KSM—as he’s known to American officials—has appeared in court, outside his prison cell. We are at Guantánamo, where a US military commission is about to arraign him and four other men for the September 11 attacks, in a courtroom that feels like a movie set. Erected atop an abandoned airfield on the base, it’s as big as a warehouse and has small trailers outside set up as holding areas, one for each defendant. When the courtroom door opened for the men, the Caribbean sun pushed its way into the room first.

I’m in seat number two in the first row of journalists and spectators, separated from the defendants by a wall outfitted with soundproof glass. A video system feeds sound and pictures to screens above us. I’m about 30 feet behind KSM, and there are 40 of us in the gallery. Yet as KSM takes his seat, it feels for a moment as if we’re the only two people in the room.

“Allahu, Allahu, Allahu,” I whisper.

For the families of those who died on 9/11, the day marks the start of what’s likely to be a years-long trial for justice against KSM, the self-described architect of the World Trade Center attacks. For me, it’s something else. KSM is the man who bragged about taking a knife to the throat of my Wall Street Journal colleague and close friend Daniel Pearl.

Twelve years ago, on January 23, 2002, Danny left my home in Karachi, Pakistan, for an interview and never came back. Like so many of our peers, we had each put down roots in Pakistan to report on America’s so-called war on terror. I was on book leave from the Journal, finishing a memoir. Danny, the newspaper’s South Asia bureau chief, and his wife, Mariane, were living in Islamabad. They’d come to see me for a few days so Danny could do an interview for a story about Richard Reid, the Englishman who had packed his shoes with explosives and tried to blow up an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami three days before Christmas 2001. The plan was for Danny and Mariane to vacation in Dubai after Danny’s meeting. Mariane was five months pregnant. He had just texted me: “It’s a boy!!!!!”

Continue reading.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Pamela Anderson To Israeli PM: Using Fur Violates Jewish Principles

StreimelsLos Angeles, CA - Actress and animal rights activist Pamela Anderson is asking Israel’s prime minister to endorse a bill banning the sale of clothes made of animal fur.

Fresh off a honeymoon in Israel, Anderson sent a letter to Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday urging him to support the legislation. If passed, it would make Israel the first country in the world to impose a national fur clothing ban.

More than 40 lawmakers have endorsed the bill, promoted by the Israel-based International Anti-Fur Coalition. Netanyahu previously has expressed views sympathetic with the animal rights movement.

In her letter, Anderson said the way animals “suffer and die for fur violates Jewish principles.” She added that by passing the bill, “Israel would set an example of compassion for the rest of the world to follow.”

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Wounded Syrian couple treated in Israel

Danny Brenner From Israel Hayom

Wounded Syrian woman: "We hesitated coming to Israel, because we were taught to hate it. We were taught this is a brutal enemy state, but we learned that reality is different. People here have a conscience. Our enemy is in Syria, not in Israel."

Israel Defense Forces troops brought a wounded Syrian couple to Poriah Hospital near Tiberias Thursday night. The couple, residents of the embattled town Daraa, arrived with gunshot wounds in their legs. The male is 27 years old and his wife is 23 and in the early stages of pregnancy.

While the two did not have life threatening wounds, the two have been through an immense amount of duress recently: Two months ago, the couple lost their daughter two weeks after she was born. "Because of the gunfire and the siege on our town in the Daraa area, we were left with no choice but to deliver the child at home -- and the medical condition of my baby deteriorated," the woman told Israel Hayom. "All our pleading at the [Syrian] army checkpoint to go to the hospital did not help. We went back home and our daughter died there."

Eight days ago, the couple was struck with another tragedy. Their village came under attack, "artillery bombardment, gunfire, and planes bombing from above," the woman said. "In the evening my brother came and took us, my mother and two other wounded people and we tried to flee the village. During our exit from the village we were fired on by the army and my brother was killed before my eyes. We managed to escape back to the village and were treated in a field hospital. But the wounds got worse -- until my cousin took us to the border and we got into Israel for treatment," the woman said. Her brother, 19, fought with rebels trying to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime.

Currently the couple remains hospitalized, both in the same room. The woman is struggling with being away from her family, but admitted that she did not expect such friendly treatment from her enemy. "We were surprised by the treatment and dedicated medical care we got in Israel," she said. "We hesitated coming to Israel, because we were taught to hate it. We were taught this is a brutal enemy state, but we learned that reality is different. People here have a conscience. Our enemy is in Syria, not in Israel. If only we could stay here."

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Meryl Streep attacks Walt Disney on antisemitism and sexism

Actor highlights Disney's membership of antisemitic lobbying group during speech honouring Emma Thompson in Disney biopic Saving Mr Banks

The Guardian

Meryl StreepWhile honouring Emma Thompson at a dinner for the National Board of Review on Tuesday night, Meryl Streep made an extraordinary speech that criticised Walt Disney for being a "gender bigot" who was a member of an antisemitic lobbying organisation.

Streep, perhaps Hollywood's most respected and beloved actor, showed she is far from a cosy establishment figure as she carefully trod a line between praising Thompson and attacking Disney. The very film Thompson was being celebrated for, Saving Mr Banks, is based around Walt Disney's persuading of PL Travers to allow him to adapt Mary Poppins.

According to Variety's Ramin Setoodeh, Streep called Thompson "a beautiful artist" who is "practically a saint", and read out a self-penned poem to the actor, before launching into her criticisms of Disney. She quoted a letter he wrote to a female animator that read: "Women do not do any of the creative work in connection with preparing the cartoons for the screen, as that task is performed entirely by young men." She also noted that Disney's colleague Walter Kimball said that his boss "didn't trust women or cats."

Elsewhere at the awards, which open two months of prize-giving in the US film industry, there was recognition for Oscar favourites as well as some relative outsiders. Bruce Dern and Will Forte were commended for their performances in Nebraska, while the cast of Prisoners, including Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal, received the ensemble prize. Spike Jonze won best director for Her, which also won best picture.

Fruitvale Station, one of the year's most acclaimed indie releases, won three awards: best supporting actress for Octavia Spencer (who won the same category at the Oscars in 2011 for The Help), best directorial debut for Ryan Coogler, and Michael B Jordan for breakthrough performance. Jordan may be familiar to UK audiences as teenage drug dealer Wallace in HBO's TV series The Wire, and he dedicated the award to his father: "He really showed me what it means to be a man: he sacrificed for his family and he put himself last a lot of times."

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Haftarah Reading That Inspired Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I Have a Dream’

King’s speech draws on a part of Isaiah that Jews recite after Tisha B’Av—offering a model for revitalizing his mission

By Charles Kopel for Tablet Magazine

MLK InspirationEvery January, Americans observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Rather than celebrating a broader Civil Rights Movement Day, we prefer to tell the story of a singular hero who represented and led the struggle for justice and equality, giving his life for it long before his work was done. And King—in spite of his well-documented personal flaws—gave us exactly the story we need. This story speaks not only to the reverend’s fellow Christians, but to Jews as well.

In calling for black people to be included in American society, King grounded his demands in the nation’s most sacred texts: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bible. King’s approach thus set him in dialogue with the other received American traditions, Christian and Jewish alike, that accompany these texts. In 1963, King led the historic March on Washington and delivered the rousing “I Have a Dream” speech by which we best remember him. He famously referred to the nation’s founding documents and the Emancipation Proclamation and also quoted this bit from Isaiah 40:

I have a dream that one day “every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”

These powerful words link the goal of racial equality with the greater promise of harmony and divinity. They aroused King’s massive audience to action in 1963, the Protestants in attendance hearing a charismatic preacher revive their Social Gospel and the Catholics hearing him echo their liberation theology. The Jews who heard the speech—both those who physically attended the event and those who have studied and cherished his words in the five decades since—likely found the southern preacher’s style less familiar to their religious experiences. But many have undoubtedly been reminded of the haftarah.

Continue reading.

Friday, January 17, 2014

EXCLUSIVE: UNESCO Pulls Jewish Exhibit After Last Minute Protest From Arab League

from the algemeiner

UNESCO ExhibitUNESCO, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, has pulled a Jewish exhibit two years in the making, entitled “People, Book, Land – The 3,500 Year Relationship of the Jewish People and the Land of Israel,” after a zero hour protest from the Arab League, The Algemeiner has learned.

The exhibit, which was created by Los Angeles-based Jewish human rights group the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) together with UNESCO, was scheduled to open on January 20th, 2014, at UNESCO’s Paris headquarters. The invitations had already gone out, and the fully prepared exhibition material was already in place. The display was co-sponsored by Israel, Canada and Montenegro.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, Dean of the SWC, told The Algemeiner that the move was an “absolute outrage.” “The Arabs,” he said, “don’t want the world to know that the Jews have a 3,500-year relationship to the Land of Israel.”

Hier said that his organization, which is accredited by UNESCO as an NGO, worked in intimate co-operation with the international body on the project, which his center initiated after the Palestinian Authority was unilaterally accepted as a UNESCO member state in 2011.

“We made a clear attempt to work with them and the system, they can’t say they were blindsided, they commented on every sentence (in the exhibit’s materials) and still, in the end, the Arabs protested and they kicked us out,” he said.

“It is not supposed to be a place of censorship,” Hier said, “It is not supposed to deny one nation the right to their history.”

“The Arab world doesn’t know that Isaiah didn’t live in Portugal, Jeremiah didn’t roam France and Ezekiel wasn’t from Germany.”

Continue reading.

The cowardly new anti-semitism

By Victor Davis Hanson for Mosaic

cowardly new anti-semitismAn obscure academic organization called the American Studies Association not long ago voted to endorse a resolution calling for a boycott of Israeli universities. The self-appointed moralists were purportedly outraged over the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians.

Given academia’s past obsessions with the Jewish state, the targeting of Israel is not new.

Yet why do the professors focus on Israel and not Saudi Arabia, which denies women the right to drive and only recently granted them the right to vote? Why not Russia, which has been accused of suppressing free speech, or India, which has passed retrograde anti-homosexual legislation?

The hip poet Amiri Baraka (aka Everett LeRoi Jones) recently died. He was once poet laureate of New Jersey, held prestigious university posts and was canonized with awards — despite being a hateful anti-Semite.

After 9/11, Baraka wrote a poem that suggested Israel knew about the plan to attack the World Trade Center. One of his poems from the ’60s included this unabashedly anti-Semitic passage: “Smile, jew. Dance, jew. Tell me you love me, jew . . . I got the extermination blues, jewboys. I got the hitler syndrome figured.” Yet that did not preclude The New York Times and NPR from praising him after his death.

Trendy multicultural French comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala is known for his anti-Semitic provocations and for making a gesture that has been described as an inverted Nazi salute. He recently quipped of a Jewish journalist: “When I hear him talk, you see . . . I say to myself, gas chambers . . . a pity.” Auschwitz is now a joke?

In politics, Israel often finds itself at the wrong end of a troubling double standard.

Secretary of State John Kerry seems to be camped out in Israel these days.

Continue reading.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Fruity Dinner for Tu Bishvat

What to eat on the birthday of the trees

By Leah Koenig for Keveller

Pistachio CupcakesAnyone who has hosted or attended a Tu Bishvat seder likely remembers a cornucopia of fruit on the table. This agricultural abundance can be somewhat confusing because, unlike Sukkot and Shavuot, Tu Bishvat is not associated with any particular harvest period. Instead, fruit's connection to Tu Bishvat is more metaphysical. As Lesli Koppelman Ross writes:

On Tu Bishvat it is traditional to eat fruit associated with the land of Israel. The "classical" fruits are the seven species described in Deuteronomy 8:8, "a land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs, and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey." Since leaving Palestine, Jews throughout the world have maintained connections with the Land of Israel on Tu Bishvat by eating fruits produced there.

In other words, eating the fruits associated with Israel--even if they are out of season--helps root the holiday in the land where it originated. Additionally, the kabbalists, who helped re-imagine Tu Bishvat's celebration in 16th century Safed, developed practices of ritualized fruit consumption as a tool for spiritual elevation.

For those people who are less interested in kabbalistic ritual, serving a fruit-inspired dinner on Tu Bishvat--either after the seder, in lieu of a seder, or on the Shabbat closest to the holiday--can be a great way to honor Tu Bishvat's agricultural roots. To get you started, the two menus below (one meat, one vegetarian), feature fruit in every course. B'teavon!

 Continue reading.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Tu B’Shvat Reflections on Parenthood, Extreme Weather, and the Human Family Tree

By Rabbi Rachel Barenblat for Zeek

 Tu B’Shvat ReflectionsIn my house, we receive free Jewish books and music from the PJ library. One of their recent gifts is Joanie Leeds’ CD Family Tree, which our 4-year-old son adores. His favorite track is the first one, which he knows now by heart. He sings along with great gusto: “I want to be green! I want to be green! Take care of the earth and keep it clean!”

When the CD arrived earlier this winter, I thought, “Cute, it’s a Tu B’Shvat CD.” Of course, the whole thing isn’t Tu B’Shvat-focused. But there’s a song about taking care of the earth, and another song about tikkun olam. Given the timing of the CD’s arrival, I couldn’t help seeing it as a kid-friendly offering for “Jewish earth day.”

It’s fun to teach a 4-year-old about Tu B’Shvat. We’ll probably sing happy birthday to the trees in the backyard, and bless and eat a variety of tree fruits and nuts at a kiddie Tu B’Shvat seder at the synagogue. Maybe we’ll try to connect trees with taking care of the earth, the way Kai-Lan cleans up garbage in the back yard for the sake of the snails.

For adults, Tu B’Shvat offers opportunities for more meaningful reflection.

Tu B’Shvat reminds us to go outside and encounter the natural world where we are. Here in the Diaspora, Tu B’Shvat posters and food traditions remind us of the foodways of our Mediterranean ancestors, including Israel’s blooming almond trees. Where I live, Tu B’Shvat usually means bare trees rising out of snow.

Usually Tu B’Shvat falls during sugaring season in western Massachusetts. The maple sap rises when the days are above freezing and the nights are still cold. All around my region, plastic tubing sprouts like new growth, funneling sap drop by drop into collection buckets and tanks for boiling.

 Continue reading.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Woman Behind Levy’s Jewish Rye Slogan Dies

Retired advertising executive Judy Protas was 91

By Stephanie Butnick for Tablet Magazine
Levys RyeJudy Protas, the advertising executive at Doyle Dane Bernbach credited with writing a 1961 slogan so ubiquitous it now resides in the upper ad echelons with the likes of “Who Shot J.R.?” has died at 91, the New York Times reports. “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s Real Jewish Rye,” the unexpected ad campaign for Levy’s, a Brooklyn bakery largely catering to and popular among local Jews, was Protas’ brainchild—though several others have been credited with it over the years—and an instant hit.

The signs, which featured the faces of a diverse range of people, young and old, male and female, were plastered in subways, and haven’t ventured far from popular memory, at least in New York, since. (You can buy poster versions of the ads online.) According to the Times, the Levy’s slogan was just one of Protas’ many clever creations, though it certainly is her most remembered.

And thus, from Ms. Protas’s largely anonymous pen sprang a slogan — “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s Real Jewish Rye” — that has far outlived the actual campaign, which began in 1961 and ran through the 1970s.

A copywriter who spent most of her career at DDB, Ms. Protas was responsible for some of the most vibrant entries in the agency’s portfolio, including ads for Cracker Jack (“Candy-coated popcorn, peanuts and a prize”) and Ohrbach’s, the discount department store.

Protas attended Barnard College as an undergraduate and received a Master’s degree in English literature from Yale. She worked for Macy’s before being hired by DDB in 1950, where she was became vice president in 1967. She retired in the 1990s. Protas is survived by two nieces and four nephews.

What are your memories of the Levy’s ads?

Monday, January 13, 2014

Sharon's Legacies — in Life and Death

How Should We Die Jewishly and With Dignity?

By Jane Eisner for The Jewish Daily Forward

Sharon FuneralI was saying kaddish for my mother when Ariel Sharon was felled by a stroke in January 2006. To me, Sharon was a complicated, divisive figure, whose attitude towards Palestinians left me so disgusted that I once walked out on a speech he gave. I remained skeptical of his political conversion and concerned about the consequences of unilateral disengagement.

But he was the Israeli prime minister. I am a Jew. I should pray for him, right?

So when I went to minyan every day to recite the mourner’s prayer, I silently included his name in the prayer for healing. As the days stretched into months, I wondered why I continued this ritual. Since I doubt the medical efficacy of intercessional prayer, I didn’t expect Sharon to suddenly awaken from his vegetative state because I was whispering his name thousands of miles away. I looked to that prayer for spiritual sustenance, to help ease the way even for someone whose path is irreversible.

But there was no path for him. He was gone, despite the insistent efforts of his sons to keep him alive at all costs.

This, too, is Ariel Sharon’s legacy. His death on January 11 has prompted all manner of commentary on his military, political, diplomatic and strategic accomplishments and failures — how he lived. But coming as it did eight full years after his stroke, I hope it also prompts discussion about how he died.

I don’t mean a strict cost-benefit analysis. Haaretz reported that Israel spent nearly half a million dollars a year on his care, mostly in a long-term care unit at Sheba Medical Center, where he had a private room, a private nurse, and round-the-clock security.

That expenditure might have been worth it had there been a prospect of recovery. But while Sharon was breathing on his own, he was artificially being kept alive in other ways, with nary a change in condition year after year.

 Continue reading.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Mark Obama, Barack's Jewish Brother

by Tsvi Sadan for IsraelToday

Mark ObamaBarak Obama’s autobiography seems to be as complex as the president himself. Tzach Yoked, writing in Maariv this week, exposed to Israelis, perhaps for the first time, that among the American president’s eight half-brothers is one, Mark Obama Ndesandjo, who is Jewish.

Obama’s father had four wives – two Kenyan-born women and two white American women, the Christian mother of Barak Obama, Ann Duham, and the Jewish Mother of Mark Obama, Ruth Baker. Ruth was born to a Jewish family that immigrated to the United States from Lithuania. She married Obama Sr. in 1964 and moved to Kenya. Ruth divorced her husband after seven years of abusive marriage.

Though by no means religious, Mark Obama is proud of his Jewish identity. “My mother is a liberal person who did not keep the religious rituals,” he said. “However, she always taught me to be proud of the fact that I am Jewish … as far as I am concerned, the main aspect of my Jewish identity does not stem from performing the religious rituals and prayers, but out of a strong sense that I am Jewish. It is something that you simply feel, a strong sense of secular Jewish identity that my mother gave me … she is the woman who taught me what’s important in life, who helped me to understand Torah, taught me music, helped me with my studies.”

Mark Obama recounts that contrary to what President Obama has said, they first met in 1988, and not in 2007. Asked why the president hadn’t told the truth about their meeting, the Jewish sibling said his older brother was probably ill-advised by political advisers. Nevertheless, it would seem that Mark adores Barack, even though, as he claims, the president has failed to be in touch with his brother for several months now.

Mark Obama went on to marry Liu Xuehua and has been living in China for the last 12 years. He is an accomplished pianist and published the semi-autobiographical novel “Nairobi to Shenzhen: A Novel of Love in the East.”

Mark, who has adopted China as his home country, is a vivid testimony of the complexity of Jewish identity. Born to a black Muslim father and a white Jewish mother, raised in Kenya but educated in the United States, half-brother to a president whose own religious identity is far from clear, Mark Obama is no less Jewish than any other child born to a Jewish mother. If anything, he well represents the crisis of secular Judaism.

This form of Judaism, as can be found also in Israel, wants to maintain Jewish identity apart from the Jewish faith. In America, where society is overwhelmingly non-Jewish, secular Judaism is on the decline due to a high rate of intermarriage. If anything can be learned from it is, as Israeli President Shimon Peres said just recently, that as far as Jews are concerned, state and religion cannot be separated.

Israeli students and IDF soldiers collect coats and blankets for Syrian refugees

Project organizers have collected 100kg of equipment to help people across the northern border keep out the winter cold

Israel Moskowitz for

Syrian refugeesIn a few short weeks, when thousands of Syrian refugees receive cartons packed with warm blankets, clothes and sleeping bags, they might well be surprised to learn that the winter gear was collected by dozens of Israeli students and IDF employees at an army base in northern Israel.

Like neighboring northern Israel, Syria can experience bitterly cold winters, with temperatures falling to as low as -3 degrees Celsius. For refugees who are living in makeshift accomodations or even sleeping in the rough, keeping warm can be a challenge.

Shimshon Camp, one of the IDF's largest Ordnance Corps bases, is also the home of the Aman-Shimshon school, attended by 125 students from grades nine to 12, and the drive is their initiative. "Our students include Druze, Bedouin, both Christian and Muslim Arabs, Circassians and Jews," says school principal Nitzan Amit proudly.

Two weeks ago, one of the school's teachers, Hana Perlmutter, came across an interesting project.

"I discovered project Human Warmth, which collects warm gear for Syrian refugees," she says. "As a daughter of Holocaust survivors I knew we had to help out."

Perlmutter contacted Nur Suwad, the deputy head of the student council, and he immediately got involved. "I put the project at the top of my agenda," he says. "We all pitched in."

The students began to fill up a large space near the principal's office with donations, and have collected 100 kg worth of gear. And this weekend they are planning to use a truck to transfer the equipment to the Syrian refugees across the border. Amit even intends to ask the hundreds of soldiers at the IDF base to donate unused equipment.

"They asked us to remove all Hebrew lettering," says organizer Etti Cohen. "So we're going to write greetings in Arabic and put them in the pockets of the clothing, so that the Syrian refugees get a little bit of support."

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Janet Yellen Confirmed as Federal Reserve Chief

First woman to run the country’s central bank in its 100-year existence

By Stephanie Butnick for Tablet Magazine

YellenThe Senate has confirmed Janet Yellen as chairwoman of the Federal Reserve, with a 56 to 26 vote, the New York Times reports (bad weather prevented the rest of the Senators from being present for the vote). Yellen is the first woman to ever head the central bank, a milestone some say is long overdue:

As a woman, Ms. Yellen will be a rarity among the world’s central bankers, a club dominated by men. “Practically one hundred years to the day from when the Federal Reserve was created, the central bank finally has its first woman president,” said Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women. “It’s about time.”

But while she may be in small company as a woman, she is certainly not the first Federal Reserve chair to be Jewish. As Steven I. Weiss noted last month during Yellen’s confirmation process, she would be the third Jewish Fed chief in a row.

Yellen’s ascent to the post will also guarantee that, by the end of her first term, Jews will have occupied the Fed’s top post for three decades straight – an unprecedented run of Jewish power and influence. The chairman’s seat hasn’t been occupied by a non-Jew since 1987, when Alan Greenspan was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to follow Paul Volcker.

Ben Bernanke succeeded Greenspan in 2006, under President George W. Bush. Mazel tov to Yellen, whose strong presence in the Fed during the recession, particularly in dealing with the employment crisis, augurs well for her time as Fed chair.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

How can my congregation talk about Israel in ways that are productive?

by Ask A Rabbi from

How can my congregation talk about Israel in ways that are productive?

By Rabbi Rachel Dvash Schoenfeld

Talk About IsraelMany liberal congregations have difficulty talking about Israel, and especially politics around Israel/Palestine. Talking about Israel is loaded with emotion, especially within Jewish communities. Synagogues and many families have a hard time talking about these issues, which are based on deeply held values and can be painful to disagree on.

Two surveys this year illustrate how central this issue is to American Jews. The recent Pew Research Center portrait of Jewish Americans showed that 43 percent of American Jews think that caring about Israel is essential to Jewish identity; this means that 57 percent don’t. Without even getting to the substance of the issue, just the question of the centrality of Israel divides Jews. Many Jews feel that they need to support Israel as a matter of Jewish survival, while other Jews feel they have a responsibility to improve Israel and be more critical. These two basic identities and positions often clash. A survey from the Jewish Council for Public Affairs said that one-third of rabbis feel they can’t freely express their own views about Israel. My experience is that at least one-third of people in Jewish communities feel this way, not just rabbis.

Due to the difficulty of talking about Israel’s politics, a few great resources have evolved. I’ve been an active facilitator for the Jewish Dialogue Group, an organization that works to foster constructive dialogue about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other challenging issues within Jewish communities. Another good resource is israel360, funded by Combined Jewish Philanthropies, whose mission is to talk about Israel from all sides, with none of the food fights. They hold dialogues in Boston. (The next israel360 “convo salon” is this Wednesday, Dec. 18.)

At my congregation in Newton, Shir Hadash Havurah, we are having a yearlong exploration of diverse points of view related to Israel and Palestine, and we invite anyone to come learn with us.

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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

In a surprise, Hamas signals readiness for reconciliation with Fatah


The measures are seen as a direct result of the deep crisis facing Hamas in the aftermath of the ouster of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi.

reconciliation with Fatah In a surprise move, Hamas announced on Monday a series of measures to pave the way for reconciliation with its rival Fatah faction.

The measures were announced by Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh during a press conference in Gaza City.

The measures are seen as a direct result of the deep crisis facing Hamas in the aftermath of the ouster of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi.

The Egyptian authorities have since tightened their blockade of the Gaza Strip, sealing the Rafah border crossing and destroying most of the smuggling tunnels along their shared border.

The Egyptian authorities have also accused Hamas of involvement in terror attacks against Egyptians – a charge that has been strongly denied by the Islamist movement.

The Hamas measures include allowing Fatah members who fled the Gaza Strip during the Hamas takeover of the area in 2007 to return to their homes.

Haniyeh announced that his government would also release Fatah members who were arrested for politically motivated security offences.

He said that among those who would be allowed to return to the Gaza Strip are Fatah legislators who fled in 2007.

Some of the legislators fled to the West Bank, while others found shelter in Egypt and other Arab countries.

Fatah leaders and members who wish to visit the Gaza Strip are also free to do so, Haniyeh said, adding that the measures were aimed at enhancing trust between the two parties.

The Hamas leaders said that his government was prepared to do all what is needed to end the split between the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He urged both sides to “absorb” the “positive messages” coming from Hamas.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Dutch soccer team ditches Israeli player for Abu Dhabi match

JTA-Team facing criticism for agreeing to play matches despite United Arab Emirates' refusal to let Israeli defender Dan Mori into the country

A Dutch soccer team is facing criticism for playing in Abu Dhabi despite the emirate’s refusal to let in the team’s Israeli defender.

DanMoriTwo Dutch politicians and several media criticized the team Vitesse from Arnhem over the weekend for agreeing to play in Abu Dhabi despite the refusal Saturday to let Dan Mori into the country for matches against two German teams.

Geert Wilders, leader of the rightist, pro-Israel Party for Freedom, on Sunday called the team cowardly on his Twitter account. “Vitesse shouldn’t have gone to the United Arab Emirates to protest the refusal to let Mori in. They are now accepting the emirates’ Jew-hate. Cowardly.”

Pieter Omtzigt, a lawmaker for the CDA party, told Dutch media on Monday that Vitesse should behave like Dutch lawmakers, who refuse to visit places which try to dictate the make-up of parliamentary delegations.

Ester Bal, communications director for Vitesse, said the team “stays away from politics and religion. We have always done this. We are a soccer club.”

Management said in a statement that the decision to go to Abu Dhabi was made because “the team had obligations and wanted to prepare to the best of our abilities for future matches.”

In January 2010, Hamas operative Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh was assassinated in the neighboring Saudi emirate of Dubai in a complex operation which involved two people dressed in tennis outfits and several other operatives.

Israel, which was widely seen as responsible for the killing, never confirmed or denied its involvement.

Friday, January 3, 2014

IDF appoints first female battalion commander


Oshrat BacharMaj. Oshrat Bachar will be promoted to rank of Lieut.-Col and will head Eitam battalion, tasked with monitoring terror in Sinai Peninsula

The IDF has appointed its first female battalion commander, Maj. Oshrat Bachar, who will head a Combat Intelligence unit in the Southern Command along the border with Egypt.

Maj. Bachar will be promoted to the rank of Lieut.-Col, and will take charge of a battalion named Eitam, tasked with monitoring hostile terrorist activity in the Sinai Peninsula. She began her military career as a lookout soldier in the Combat Intelligence Corps, and went on to become a company commander in the field. From there, she became an instructor at the IDFs Combat Intelligence School, before serving as a department head in the office of the advisor on to the chief of staff on womens' affairs.

Maj. Bachar is currently completing a course on command and special staff at Glilot, and will then go on to begin a battalion commander's couse.

Her husband, Maj. Ohad Bachar, told an army publication in recent days that they both shared the goal of becoming battalion commanders, and praised his wife for "realizing her ambitions and making a breakthrough as the first woman in the role."

During a conference for recruiting women to Combat Intelligence units in 2008, Bachar told young women that "this is your opportunity to be pioneers in the issue, and to build another brick in this new and powerful wall."

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Doctors: Sharon in organ failure, condition deteriorating

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is in multiple organ failure and his condition has deteriorated seriously.

Sharon’s condition has been classified as critical, Tel Aviv’s Chaim Sheba Medical Center Director Zeev Rotstein confirmed to reporters on Thursday. “His life is definitely in danger,” Rotstein said. He said that the condition of Sharon, 85, who has been in a coma-like state since he had a major stroke in January 2006, has been deteriorating for a while and that now “he has taken a turn for the worse.”\
Sharon’s family reportedly has been with him.

The Israeli leader reportedly has been in renal failure for several days and is not receiving dialysis due to his age and condition.

Israeli media are reporting that Sharon has only days to live.
Sharon has been in a state classified as “minimal consciousness” since his massive stroke. Tests conducted one year ago at the Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheba showed that Sharon has significant brain activity, despite being presumed to be in a vegetative state.