25 Years Without Justice: AJC’s AMIA Commemoration

Twenty-five years ago, on July 18, 1994, a suicide bomber drove a van loaded with over 600 pounds of nitrate fertilizer and explosives into the AMIA (Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina) building – the central meeting place of the Jewish community in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The explosion and resultant building collapse killed 85 people. The youngest was a 5 year old boy named Sebastian Barreiro, and the oldest was a 73 year old man named Faiwel “Pablo” Dyjament. An additional 300 people were injured.

Argentina has the world’s sixth largest Jewish community, numbering about 230,000. The AMIA bombing was the deadliest terrorist attack that has ever happened in Argentina. Initially, local Argentinian antisemites were suspected of planning this attack. They were found to be not guilty of any involvement.

Alberto Nisman and Marcelo Martinez Burgos, two Argentine prosecutors, were charged with conducting an investigation into the bombing. In 2006 they presented their formal accusation that the government of Iran directed the attack, and that Hezbollah, Iran’s military proxy in Lebanon, executed it.

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, the president of Argentina from 2007 to 2015, was accused of covering up Iran’s involvement in the terrorist operation. Alberto Nisman was scheduled to testify against her in court. He was murdered in his home before he had the opportunity to reveal what he had discovered. Mrs. Kirchner is scheduled to be tried for her role in the coverup and abuse of power. No suspects have ever been convicted for the planning and execution of this terrorist attack.

Philadelphia’s Latino-Jewish Coalition of the American Jewish Committee presented a special program commemorating the 25th anniversary of the AMIA bombing. The keynote address was delivered by Jason Isaacson, AJC’s Chief Policy and Political Affairs Officer. Mr. Isaacson reflected on both his personal experiences being in Argentina two days after the bombing, and AJC’s continuing efforts to bring the alleged perpetrators, Including Iran and Hezbollah, to justice. The event concluded with a special candle-lighting ceremony where the victims’ names were read by several dignitaries, including Alicia Falkowski, Argentina’s consul in Philadelphia.

Children and Siblings of Fallen Israeli Soldiers Celebrate Bnei Mitzvah in Bala Cynwyd

Thanks to a generous grant from the Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces, a diverse group of 36 youngsters enjoyed a visit to the United States and a Mitzvah celebration. The group, that included Jewish, Bedouin, and Druze children, attended a summer camp in Pennsylvania.

As part of the FIDF’s Legacy summer program, they were given a unique opportunity to bond with other children from the United States who have also experienced loss and can relate to their struggles. One of the most memorable days was an adventure in Hershey Park.

Their visit concluded with a festive communal celebration at the Jewish Family and Children’s Service in Bala Cynwyd. The children shared the stories of their families’ losses in Hebrew, Arabic, and English. The participants honored Mrs. Barbara Brodsky for her support of the FIDF, which made this experience possible for them. One of the guests was so moved by what they had been through that he was inspired to give generously on the spot. Mr. Israel Roizman pledged to donate $36,000 so that more bereaved children will be able to have the opportunity to experience this summer getaway.

The party ended on a high note with a delicious cake, hora dancing, and incredible singing by Mrs. Tzvia Wexler. Mrs. Wexler, the executive director of the FIDF in Pennsylvania, sang in an IDF troupe during her military service. The party concluded with a gift of a t-shirt for each participant with Philadelphia’s “Love” sign from a Lower Merion teenager who just celebrated her bat mitzvah in Israel.

Jews and Latinos: Natural Allies

This week the American Jewish Committee honored Sally Bleznak, the founder of the AJC Latino – Jewish Coalition, with its Human Relations Award. Ms. Bleznak understood that Jews and Latinos have similar values and aspirations. She created a framework in which they could work together to help each other.

Mr. Juan Dircie, an assistant director at AJC, explained that many Hispanic immigrants come to the United States as refugees. Who better than the Jewish community to understand what that is like?

Family is central for Latin American immigrants. Many of them send a portion of their earnings to support the relatives they have left behind. When the whole family lives in the United States, the adults sacrifice to create better opportunities for their children. Like the Jews, the Latin American immigrants come here to work hard and fulfill the American Dream.

Some of the Latin Americans who immigrate to the United States are also Jews. They form a natural bridge between the American Jewish community and the Latino community.

According to Mr. Dircie, the majority of immigrants from all countries have legal status in the United States. There are 11 million undocumented immigrants, the majority of them Latin American. Almost all of these undocumented immigrants are making a positive contribution to American society.

The AJC advocates for a fair immigration system that will ensure the security of the United States. The Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States when they were minors, are of special interest. AJC advocates to provide them with an opportunity to become full members of society.

In order to successfully work together, AJC united the two communities by forming the Latino – Jewish Congressional Caucus. This is a bipartisan group that has worked on immigration reform and global anti-Semitism.

One of the highlights of the year for the AJC Latino – Jewish Coalition is a model Passover Seder held in Miami. Hispanic leaders are invited to enjoy a service held in Hebrew, English, Spanish, and Ladino. Along with the Haggadah, there are texts that highlight diversity, immigration, and acceptance. Most of the Latino guests, whose families came to the United States to escape persecution, had no idea that Jews celebrate freedom too. Many of them are surprised that the Seder ends with the words, “Next year in Jerusalem.” They remain attached to their countries of origin, and appreciate that all Jews have a 3,000-year old relationship with Israel.

The Latino community makes up 18.1% of the population of the United States, and it is growing. By focusing on common issues and shared values, Latinos and Jews can pave the way for a stronger collaboration.

10th Annual Yom HaAtzmaut Barbeque for Lone Soldiers

The Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levine celebrated Israel’s 71st Independence Day with their 10th annual BBQ for lone soldiers, those without immediate family in the country. Over 500 pre-draft, currently serving, and post-service lone soldiers enjoyed a fully loaded barbeque, beer on tap, mechanical bull riding, gladiator Knockout, food trucks, and a live DJ.

The Parents of Michael Levin also attended the event. “This is our biggest event. And then it is Thanksgiving,” chuckled Mark Levine. “With both joy and pride, Mark and I were thrilled to attend this year’s annual Yom HaAtzmaut Lone Soldier Bbq. As they continue to put their lives on the line defending the nation of Israel, we will continue to support them in every way possible,” added Harriet Levin.

Amar’e Stoudemire, former NBA player and current American-Israeli professional basketball player, joined the celebration. Tzvi Maller, the proprietor of Crave Restaurant, served 165 pounds of beef,185 pounds of brisket,110 pounds of chicken wings,and 8 pounds of lamb bacon.This delicious feast was paired with unlimited home baked side dishes, salads, and desserts by the incredible communities of Chashmonaim, Beit Shemesh and Ramat Beit Shemesh.

“All these kids that are here alone. It cannot be easy. It just can’t be. Anything that can make it a little easier for somebody is what I want to do. There are over 7,000 lone soldiers, so if local volunteers can be a little bit of a help, we are honored to be associated with these guys,” said Tzvi Maller.

Speaking Out for the Voiceless

The Honorable Irwin Cotler was the Keynote Speaker at the American Jewish Committees’s Murray Friedman annual lecture. Murray Friedman was a passionate advocate for human rights and this program honored his memory. Professor Cotler is the Chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, an Emeritus Professor of Law at McGill University, former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada and longtime Member of Parliament, and an international human rights lawyer.

Mr. Cotler is passionate about the struggle for human rights of minorites all over the world. He has worked tirelessly for the protection of human rights internationally. His mission is to give a voice to the voiceless. Mr. Cotler discussed the human rights abuses occurring in Venezuela, Iran, China, and Saudi Arabia. He decried the world’s indifference to the suffering of political prisoners and genocides of persecuted minorities.

Mr. Cotler described the laundering of the delegitimization of Israel under the guise of human rights. He described the selective use of words and images to present Israel as a human rights abusing nation that should not exist. According to Mr. Cotler, the United Nations’ Human Rights Council is populated by human rights violators. There is a culture of impunity, in which only Israel is condemned internationally, while other countries are ignored. With the passage of time, this condemnation becomes internalized, accepted, and adopted by journalists, academics, and politicians around the world.

What is to be done? Mr. Cotler believes that it is our individual and collective responsibility to speak on behalf of the voiceless. We cannot allow ourselves the luxury of indifference to suffering just because it is occurring far away from us.

Photo credit: Christopher Brown.

FIDF Poland Trip for Holocaust Survivors

More than forty Friends of the Israel Defense Forces(FIDF) supporters from across the country will join Holocaust survivors on a mission to Poland and Israel from May 2nd to May 10th. They will be accompanied by forty five soldiers and officers representing all branches of the Israel Defense Forces(IDF.

Joining the delegation will be Holocaust survivor Sophie Tajch Klisman, 89, of Detroit. Klisman, along with her sister Felicia, survived the Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, and Salzwedel concentration camps. The youngest of four children, she was only 10 years old when Nazi Germany occupied Lodz, forcing the family into the Lodz ghetto of 68,000 Jews. Both sisters were liberated from Salzwedel in April 1945, and immigrated to the U.S. in 1949, settling in the Detroit area. The remainder of their family perished.

“If I look at the rest of the family, they were already adults and grown-ups and here was this child; that was just a miracle that I survived; it was meant for me to survive,” Klisman said. “I just hope in conclusion, that nobody, nobody should have to live through such terrors, such horrible conditions at such a young age, or at any age. It was a horrible experience, but I’m glad that I finally was able to tell it.”

Also joining will be Holocaust survivor Gizella “Gita” Mann, 89, of Israel. Mann’s community in Hungary was forced into a ghetto and later brought to Auschwitz, where she and her sister were separated from their family. Gita was later separated from her sister and sent to Germany, where she worked for most of the war. After narrowly escaping death, she was taken to Sweden and stayed there until 1946. She returned to Hungary after the war and reunited with her sister and three brothers. In 1948, she moved with her then-fiancé to Israel, where she stayed until emigrating to the U.S. in 1964, and finally returning to Israel five years ago. Mann has two children who live in New Jersey, and she currently lives in Jerusalem.

Led by FIDF National President Bobby Cohen and FIDF National Director and CEO Maj. Gen. (Res.) Meir Klifi-Amir, the nine-day “From Holocaust to Independence” mission will span Jewish history, from its darkest moments to its most triumphant. Israeli soldiers and Holocaust survivors will accompany the FIDF supporters on a trip across Poland, starting in Krakow, once home to more than 60,000 Jews, and tracing the community’s steps from the city’s ghetto to the Buczyna forest, where the Nazis executed more than 800 children, and then to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camps.

The entire delegation will then fly to Israel on an Israeli Air Force (IAF) airplane, after the IDF Chief of the General Staff granted the FIDF delegation exclusive access, and land at an IAF base. The group will visit IDF bases and meet soldiers serving on Israel’s front lines, commemorate Yom HaZikaron – Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror – and celebrate Israel’s 71st Independence Day.

“This historic mission will survey Jewish modern history through the eyes of those who survived the horrors of the Holocaust and those who risk their lives to defend the Jewish homeland,” said Klifi-Amir. “We’ll celebrate our story of heroism – from near annihilation, to the triumph of establishing the state of Israel. When we march tall and proud through the gates of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camps, together with Holocaust survivors, FIDF supporters, and 45 Israeli officers in uniform, gratefully flying the Israeli flag, we will send a clear message: that we are here, we will never forget, and we will do whatever we must do to protect our country and our people to guarantee – Never Again.”

“This mission serves as one of the last opportunities for survivors to return to Auschwitz and share its dreadful stories,” said Cohen. “We will walk through the gates of hell, where countless Jews suffered and perished at the hands of the Nazis. We will ensure the stories of survivors live on, safeguarded by those brave soldiers who defend and protect the state of Israel, and Jewish people around the world.”

Anti-Semitism in Europe Today and What it Means for America

Photo by OsamaK https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:OsamaK

Eldad Beck is a multilingual, Sorbonne-educated Israeli journalist based in Europe. He has spent the past several years walking about the streets of Berlin, Paris, Budapest, and other cities listening to the people. According to him, anti-Semitism is alive and well in the hearts and minds of regular Europeans. The trends in Europe may be a roadmap for the Jewish community in the United States.

Since he covers the whole continent, he spoke of the situation in several countries. For the sake of brevity, we will focus on his experience in Germany.

Mr. Beck was curious about what young Germans think about Jews these days. Do they know what anti-Semitism is, and if it exists in Germany? Why is Israel so negatively seen in Germany?

He asked a class of college students about the news media. What do the reports say, and how does that make them feel? The students analyzed all the major German newspapers. They discovered that whether they were politically to the left or to the right, regardless of the other conflicts in the Middle East, all of the publications have an anti-Israel slant.

Mr. Beck wondered how Germany arrived at this place. He asked the students why they think Jews are negatively portrayed. The students shared three reasons that German gentiles don’t like Jews.

The first is that they feel like there are many Jews in Germany. Mr. Beck asked them how many Jews they thought live in Germany. They thought the community numbers one million. In reality, the Jewish population of Germany is two hundred thousand.

The second reason Germans don’t like Jews is that they think that there are many Jews in politics, with an outsize influence. The truth is that there is not a single Jewish politician serving in the Bundestag.

The third reason the students gave is that there are many Jews in the media. There are very few Jews in the German media.

How did these German college students come to have these beliefs?

They never learned about anti-Semitism. These young Germans were never taught about the process in Germany that led up to the Holocaust. Anti-Semitism is only one part of the hatred of Jews. It is possible to have anti-Semitism in places where there are no Jews.

The hatred of Jews started as a religious hatred. The issue was over who has the true religion. When Jews were faced with a choice of life or death, they could change their religion in order to save their lives. This is what occurred during the Inquisition.

The Inquisition was the root of the second type of hatred of Jews, a hatred of a race. Jews who converted to Catholicism, or “New Christians,” were not really considered clean by the Old Christians.

“Semite” replaced the word for “Jews” in Europe. Historically, anti-Semitism was hatred of Jews, and of no other Semites.

The State of Israel was founded after the Holocaust. Zionism was not a response to Nazism. It had originated much earlier, in the late 1890s, with Theodor Herzl.

Anti-Zionism is the political hatred of Jews. According to the anti-Zionists, Jews are not allowed to have their own state. In Europe, the word “Zionist” is a curse.

Germany has a double crisis. There is a revolt against the elites and a conflict between “old” Europeans and “new” immigrants and refugees. The one point of agreement between all these people is their hatred of Jews. This engenders all sorts of conspiracy theories.

One such theory is that Angela Merkel is a Jew. Mrs. Merkel supports Israel. She promotes good relations between Israel and Germany. Some Germans compare what the Nazis did to the Jews with what Israelis do to the Palestinians. This is a way for them to clean their conscience and memory from the Holocaust.

Germany has allowed so many Muslim immigrants into the country that the Germans now feel threatened by them. The German authorities refuse to acknowledge Muslim anti-Semitism. When anti-Semitic attacks occur, the police are afraid of interfering and escalating the situation. In 2014, three men of Palestinian descent threw a Molotov cocktail at the Wuppertal Synagogue near Dusseldorf. A German court ruled that this is considered a legitimate expression of anger at Israel.

Mr. Beck concluded that the difference between today and the past is the existence of the State of Israel. Jews all over the world have a country they can go to. Standing by Israel is one of the best guarantees against all forms of hatred of Jews. The fight against hatred must not stop. The battle today is against the existence of the State of Israel. Those who oppose Israel want the Jews to be weak and dependent on them. The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement is not a boycott movement. It is a movement to annihilate the Jewish State. The political slogan chanted by members of the BDS, “Palestine from the river to the sea,” means all the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. This means the destruction of the State of Israel.

There are 1.6 million Jews in the European Union. 38% of these Jews are considering immigration. 80% will not wear external Jewish symbols such as a Star of David or yarmulke, or go to Jewish public events. If the Jewish community in the United States does not open its eyes to the threats against it, it will inevitably face the same situation.

Tabouli Cuisines: Philly’s Israeli Druze Outpost

As I was perusing the Ardmore Farmer’s Market for dinner ideas, a perfectly formed Maqluba, or molded savory cake made with rice, meat, and vegetables, caught my eye. It is so difficult to get this recipe to come out just right that I felt compelled to find out who the skilled cook was! Mona and Mohammed, the proprietors of Tabouli Cuisines, introduced themselves to me in flawless Hebrew.

Mona and Mohammed are from the Druze community of Majd al Shams in the Golan Heights. The Druze are Unitarians, who believe that they descend from Jethro of Midian. Mohammed’s father served in the Druze Battalion of the Israeli Defense Forces, and was killed in combat in the Yom Kippur War. Mohammed’s mother was left alone to care for her ten children. Mohammed was only ten years old. “It has been a very difficult road, but we have built something,” Mohammed told me.

The inspiration for their food stand came from Mona’s homemade Levantine cuisine. When they came to the United States, their children’s classmates would stay for dinner. When they extended these invitations to the adults as well, their guests loved the food so much that they starting placing special orders to cater festive occasions. Mona prepared everything in her home kitchen.

Eventually they decided to open a food stand. They have built up a loyal following, and I must say that after tasting their food I will be returning too. Everything is made from scratch, with recipes that have been handed down over generations. Apart from their incredible Maqluba, there are colorful, freshly cut salads, stuffed vegetables, kibi (bulgur croquets stuffed with meat), falafel, and baklava. There are many vegetarian and vegan options.

You may purchase their delicious foods at their stand at the Ardmore Farmer’s Market. Tabouli also offers a catering menu and delivery.

Tabouli Cuisines
Address: Ardmore Farmers Market,, 120 Coulter Avenue, Ardmore, PA 19003
Phone: (610) 896-3800

Celebrating America’s Pioneer Jewish Congregations

In his latest book, author and documentarian Julian H. Preisler leads readers on a virtual Jewish-themed journey across the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Along the way, he gives us a historical introduction to each of the oldest Jewish congregations still in existence in America today, and wows us with 195 vintage and present-day images of their synagogues. Published late last year, Preisler’s book is aptly titled America’s Pioneer Jewish Congregations: Architecture, Community and History,

The book depicts historic congregations from the earliest days of Colonial America up to the present day. Reflecting the wide diversity found in the American Jewish community, the congregations featured are in large cities, suburban locales and small towns. And they represent many of the largest Jewish communities, as well as some of the smallest. The synagogues portrayed in the book range from small, functional ones to large, architecturally significant ones, with many different styles of architecture represented, from Classical-Revival and Moorish-Revival to Mid-Century Modern and Contemporary.

An excellent choice for summer reading, Preisler’s book combines travel log, photographic essay and historical background to take readers on a comprehensive tour of American Jewish congregations and their synagogues over the past 363 years.

Aunt Katy’s Hungarian Yeast Cake

Photo: Alex Gall.

Shabbat in Israel has unspoken rituals. People eat lunch at around noon, and then rest until 4 p.m. No one calls or rings door bells during those four hours. After the siesta, social life begins again with cake and coffee. The streets fill with people on the way to their friends’ homes for an afternoon visit. Most hosts eschew the convenience of cake mixes or store-bought cakes. They take pride in their family recipes and the pastries they bake themselves. One of my most memorable coffee klatsch experiences was with my Aunt Katy. She baked her family’s Hungarian yeast cake, filled with walnuts from the tree in her garden. [Read more…]