Flavors from the Emirates for Rosh Hashanah

Benjamin of Tudela

The first Jew to write about his travels to the area that is today the United Arab Emirates was Benjamin of Tudela. In 1170, one hundred years before Marco Polo embarked on his voyage to the Silk Road, Benjamin of Tudela traveled to “Kis,” located in the north of the Arabian Peninsula. He wrote about this and many other adventures exploring Europe, Asia, and Africa in his book, The Travels of Benjamin. This year a peace treaty is being signed between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. It will finally be possible for Israeli citizens to follow in the footsteps of Benjamin of Tudela.

Kis was connected to the port city of Julfar, in present day Ras al-Khaimah. Ras al-Khaimah, which means “head of the tent,” is located on the coast of the Persian Gulf. It is famous for its lush date palms and fertile mountain valleys. It was active in trade with East Asia, importing spices, porcelain, silks, gems, and incense. Kis was inhabited by Bedouins, who excelled at trading and navigating.

Many of the foreign traders who sailed to Kis were Jews. A sea captain named Buzurg ibn Shariyar described one of these Jewish traders, named Ishaq bin Yahuda , in his Book of the Wonders of India, first published in 900. In the 1970s a group of Bedouins discovered a Jewish tombstone from the 1500s in Ras al-Khaimah. It was made for a man named David. He was presumably a trader who died in Julfar and had to be promptly buried, per Jewish law. No other archaeological signs of Jewish life have been found, indicating that there was never a significant permanent Jewish community in Ras al-Khaimah.

Benjamin of Tudela probably enjoyed Bedouin cuisine during his sojourn in Kis. The staples of the Bedouin diet consisted of flatbreads baked in an earth oven, goat’s milk yogurt and cheese, olives, fava beans, lentils, dates, pomegranates, grapes, almonds, and melons. For special occasions, grilled lamb or chicken may have been served. Everything was flavored with exotic spices imported from the East. The Bedouins of Kis also grilled the abundant fish they caught in the Persian Gulf.

In honor of the peace treaty between Israel and the UAE, add a special recipe from Ras al-Khaimah to your Rosh Hashanah feast. Like the ancient Jewish traders before you, try this delicious Bedouin recipe for fish flavored with dates and spices. It would be fitting for such an historic Rosh Hashanah!

Samak Mashwi: Charcoal Grilled Fish
Adapted from The Complete Middle Eastern Cookbook by Tess Mallos

Kosher fish
2/3 cup dried pitted dates
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 onions, chopped
1 ½ tsp. Baharat spice mix
1 tsp. ground turmeric
Salt to taste

If grilling over charcoal, light the charcoal and wait until it glows.
If you are using an oven, preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit (232 degrees Celcius).
Soak the dates in cold water for 30 minutes.
Wash the fish.
Mix the onions, garlic, Baharat, turmeric, and salt in a bowl.
Fill the fish cavity with the spice mix.
Place the fish in a roasting pan.
Puree the dates.
Coat the fish with the date puree.
Grill the fish over charcoal until it flakes easily with a fork.
If using the oven, roast the fish in the oven for 18-20 minutes.

Virtual StandWithUs Student Conferences

Due to the Covid 19 pandemic this year’s StandWithUs conferences were hosted virtually. The 2020-21 StandWithUs High School Interns and college Emerson Fellows completed their respective conferences and are excited to begin educating about Israel and combating antisemitism in their schools and communities. Educational sessions were run by StandWithUs staff, and they bonded via the multiple networking, exercise and engaging sessions designed to connect them together individually and as a group. While virtual conferences have their challenges, and students worldwide are experiencing zoom-fatigue, none of this seemed to matter!

Created in 2012, the StandWithUs High School Internship is a year-long program for North American students in 11th and 12th grades. The program prepares students for challenges they may face regarding Israel in college and to grow their Israel knowledge and leadership skills to make a difference in their schools and for the future. Interns are passionate about creating educational opportunities to inspire their peers with thoughtful, nuanced, and intentional Israel education programs throughout the school year.

This year’s interns are Abi Schonberger, Lower Merion High School; Matthew Khelmer, Council Rock High School South; Alexa Jakubowitz, Upper Dublin High School; Benji Himmel, Taylor Allderdice High School; Blake Fox, Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy; Alex Forgosh, Parkland High School; Miriam Decker, Cheltenham High School and Lital Abergel, Kohelet Yeshiva High School.

The StandWithUs Emerson Fellowship was founded in 2007 by Los Angeles philanthropists Steve and Rita Emerson. Student leaders on campuses throughout the US, Canada, the UK and Brazil are selected and trained to educate about Israel and confront anti-Israel rhetoric. Throughout the year, they create interesting Israel programming designed to engage others, including bringing in speakers and creating educational and cultural events. They also monitor and respond to anti-Israel and antisemitic actions.

This year’s Emerson Fellows are Penn Israel Coalition board member Allison Gorokhovsky at the University of Pennsylvania; Alexis Lukaszewski at Pennsylvania State University (University Park), who serves as secretary for Lions for Israel, and Paige Weisburg at Muhlenberg College, who is the Hillel Israel Chair.

Both programs have a record number of students this year, selected from high schools and universities in the U.S., Canada, the UK, and Brazil. There are 125 High School Interns and 149 Emerson Fellows.

Interns and Fellows attended two conferences, including SWU’s annual “Israel in Focus” International Conference. Throughout the August conferences, students learned how to create their personal “Israel story,” and present it to different groups. They took a deep dive into Israel’s history, the Arab-Israeli Conflict, and the social history of Israel to have the context necessary to have insightful conversations about Israel. They also learned about when criticism of Israel crosses the line into antisemitism. Participants were exposed to tactful debate skills so that they can begin to practice addressing anti-Israel claims in a respectful and effective manner. They shared strategies of how to confront anti-Israel boycott campaigns and disputes with professors.

Paula Joffe, who recently celebrated her first anniversary as executive director of StandWithUs Mid-Atlantic, remarked, “With their eagerness to learn, their passion to educate about Israel and their enthusiasm for sharing what they’ve learned, these extraordinary students are setting examples for their peers, their parents, their educators and their communities. StandWithUs provides them with the tools and support to become credible sources of information and the confidence to become life-long leaders. These students and their coordinators Matthew and Nathan, will have a profound impact on the pro-Israel movement and in creating a community of critical thinkers who understand why Israel is vitally important and why we must combat antisemitism.”

High School Internship from StandWithUs and Gratz College

StandWithUs and Gratz College have partnered to offer the StandWithUs High School Interns college credit for successful completion of the Internship. The StandWithUs High School Internship is a year-long leadership program which prepares high school juniors and seniors for the challenges they may face regarding Israel in college and in their communities. The Gratz College course will appear in the Gratz course library as, “Israel: The Socio-Political History of a Modern State.” Participating students may apply the three college credits they receive to their future universities.

Dr. Paul Finkelman, the president of Gratz College noted that “for 125 years, part of the mission of the College had been to support and develop new programs in Jewish education.” He observed that “this partnership brings together two leading innovators in Jewish education: Gratz College and StandWithUs. Both strive to prepare the next generation of Jewish leaders to meet the challenges of the 21st century. The teenagers selected to participate in the StandWithUs High School Internship program are precisely the kind of students that Gratz seeks to work with: bright, articulate, caring, and motivated. We look forward to watching them develop through this program and beyond. We believe this new partnership will benefit StandWithUs, Gratz, and our larger communities through our joint efforts and through the leaders we help educate and inspire.”

Miri Kornfeld, StandWithUs Executive Director of High School Affairs, who holds an MA in Jewish Education, will oversee the program. She stated, “We are always seeking to provide our students with the best possible educational and leadership opportunities. Collaborating with Gratz College, a prestigious Jewish university, allows our students to be rewarded for their incredible effort and educational achievements during the course of their internship. We are thrilled that Gratz recognized the hard work that our students do every single year and are honored to to offer this game-changing opportunity to our students who truly are game-changers themselves in so many different ways.”

The IDF Now Faces the Invisible Enemy

Former Friends of the Israel Defense Forces National Director, Maj. General (Res) Yitzhak (Jerry) Gershon, currently serving as a General in the reserves in the IDF, shared his perspective on the IDF duties during this time, with Tzvia Wexler, FIDF Executive Director on the Pennsylvania/Southern New Jersey region.

Maj. General Gershon’s career in the IDF involved coordinating numerous IDF operations, including the first Lebanon War, ‘Defensive Shield’ during the second Intifada, and leading the Home Front Command in the second Lebanon war. He lived in the U.S. for six years while heading the national FIDF organization, and is now back in Israel with his eyes and ears on the ground.

The State of Israel celebrates 72 years of existence this month, and despite its independence, this young country is still in the midst of a historic nation-building process.

Wexler asked Maj. General Gershon about the upcoming national Israeli holidays and about how the IDF, and Israeli society, are managing the Covid-19 crisis.

(TW) We are just days before Israel’s Memorial Day and Independence Day celebrations. One of the strengths of the IDF is maintaining close ties with commanders, soldiers, and bereaved families, after losing their loved ones while serving. This year, it will look different. As a commander who lost soldiers during an IDF operation, what are your thoughts?

(JG) Memorial Day and Independence Day constitute the foundation upon which we are able to continue to live, grow, and develop. We could not have existed without the sacrifice of the commanders and fighters before the establishment of the state up to this day. Bereaved families do not need a remembrance day, as the empty space that has been created in their lives is a painful reminder that they face every day. Memorial Day is meant for all people to unite and to remember that those who lost their lives commanded us to live. As someone who has lost fighters on the battlefields, I am a bereaved commander who does not the ability to be with families in this special moment of the year, to shake their hands, hug them and be with them to remember together. As commanders, we are an important part of the memory of their loved one. Our presence has an effect on the lives of the bereaved. This year so as not to jeopardize anyone, we will remotely remember our lost soldiers and commanders through a phone call or the use of other technological means.

(TW) Last week marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. How did the IDF integrate themselves into the events?

(JG) The army and its commanders and fighters constitute the protective wall of the Jewish people and the State of Israel, with those in uniform ‘quietly shouting Never Again’ during the heroic ceremonies. It is customary on this day for young paratroopers in red berets to commemorate the Yom Ha’Shoah as the message goes out to the nation and the whole world that Israel is capable of protecting itself on its own.

(TW) What has been the role of the IDF in fighting the pandemic which presents a different kind of war?

(JG) The IDF and the Israeli security system have joined forces to stabilize actions to help save lives, fight the virus and defeat it. As always, when Israeli society is threatened, they unite and do everything possible to successfully meet the challenge. For example, the Israeli institution considered the best intelligence organization in the world, initiated and led the development of a protective app that lets you know in real time if you are close to a patient and what needs to be done. A plan was systemized to ensure that Israel would have the equipment needed to save lives. The Home Front Command and other IDF forces initiated and organized treatments at various locations where the virus broke out and the Ministry of Defense converted hotels to isolation sites for those infected. As always, the security system is mobilizing to meet national goals that are not necessarily linked to external military threats. This is part of Israel’s history. In the first few decades, the army helped establish settlements. In later years, the IDF brought in Ethiopian immigrants, rescued the kidnappers from Entebbe, and much more.

(TW) Since the founding of the State of Israel, IDF soldiers have been imbued with a strong sense of national identity to protect the nation’s independence and security of its citizens. Can they continue in the midst of the pandemic?

(JG) All countries around us, including Iran, are heavily preoccupied with the virus, but their targets against Israel have not changed. IDF soldiers, today as always, are on the brink, practicing vigorously to prevent war, and if it comes, to defeat it as quickly as possible. IDF commanders cannot afford to forget their main mission for one moment. The IDF is dealing with the epidemic and maintaining the military’s operational competence both at the same time.

(TW) As a commander, what is the connection you have observed between the IDF and Diaspora Jews?

(JG) The IDF commanders and their fighters are known as a defense army for Israel – defenders of the entire nation of Israel, and every Jew everywhere across the globe. Know that the State of Israel will be there for them. Every Jew knows that Israel and the Israel Defense Forces are the insurance certificates that allow them to live anywhere, develop, create, and influence in any good ways that they choose for all of humanity.

What message would you like to share at the close of this interview?

(JG) The virus that pervades the world and has largely stopped the world from turning, allows us to think about the moment after the virus is defeated and we go back to our daily routines: The world probably won’t return to exactly where it used to be, but it may well be a better world if we learn the good that we discover and leave behind the less good. Take care of the globe since it is our home. Be more humble and family oriented. Understand one another and always try to see the glass half full.

Hilary Levine Named Associate Director of AJC Philadelphia/Southern NJ

AJC Philadelphia/Southern NJ is pleased to announce that Hilary Levine has been promoted to Associate Director. In this new role, Levine will continue to manage AJC Philadelphia’s ever-growing advocacy, interreligious/intergroup, and programmatic initiatives throughout the region (which covers Pennsylvania, Southern NJ, and Delaware). She will also take on a role with donor cultivation and fundraising outreach.

Levine previously served as AJC Philadelphia’s Assistant Regional Director since December 2014. During this time, she is noted for helping to grow the regional office’s advocacy and interfaith work and enhancing AJC’s presence in the community. Achievements included receiving the prestigious AJC Staff Excellence Award at the 2016 AJC Global Forum in Washington, D.C. and representing AJC on the 2018 Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs Diplomatic Seminar for Young Jewish Leaders. Additionally, Levine was a Fellow at the Hertog Foundation in Washington, D.C. in 2016 and is a graduate of the FBI Philadelphia Citizens Academy, class of 2019.

“AJC is delighted to offer Hilary this opportunity for advancement in her career,” stated Marcia Bronstein, Regional Director. “She is an asset to the field of Jewish Communal Service and a strong leader among her peers.”

Prior to joining AJC, Levine served as Associate for the Community Relations Committee (CRC) of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ where she planned and implemented Israel advocacy programs and educational opportunities and managed the Israel and World Affairs portfolio for the Federation, while supporting the CRC’s government affairs and other issue-based work. Levine graduated summa cum laude from Elmira College, where she studied international relations and history, and undertook graduate studies in international affairs, concentrating in diplomacy and foreign policy, at The City College of the City University of New York. Levine hails from North Caldwell, NJ and currently resides in Philadelphia.

“My combined interests in and passion for advocacy, policy, international affairs, interfaith relations, Israel, and the Jewish people make AJC the perfect place for me,” noted Levine. “It has been an honor to play a role in the growth of AJC in this region, and I look forward to what the future holds.”

Photo credit: Christopher Brown.

Israel Update from Jerusalem

Avital Leibovich is the director of the American Jewish Committee’s Jerusalem office. Ms. Leibovich established the Interactive Media Branch of the IDF Spokesperson’s unit before joining AJC. She was the face of the IDF during the Cast Lead and Pillar of Defense operations. I had an opportunity to interview her. We discussed the challenges Israel is facing, and what they mean for the Jews in the diaspora.

According to Avital Leibovich, there are difficult regional challenges for Israel. It is hard for many Americans to understand the reality of what is occurring from what they see and hear in the media. Israel is facing strategic challenges along its borders. Iran is trying to infiltrate Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon (via Hezbollah).

The issues of the Middle East have implications beyond the Middle East. What happens in the Middle East doesn’t stay in the Middle East. One example is the situation with the Kurds in Syria. The Kurds were guarding prisoners who were members of ISIS in Syria. The United States decided to pull out of the Kurdish area of Syria. Turkey invaded Northeastern Syria in order to be able to send Syrian refugees back from Turkey to Syria. Now the ISIS prisoners held by the Kurds have been freed by Turkey. They are at liberty to go to Europe and other places to commit acts of terror there.

Ms. Leibovich told me that there is a gap between Jews in Israel and the United States. She shared the results of AJC’s 2019 Survey of American Jewish Opinion here: https://www.ajc.org/news/survey2019, and of AJC’s 2019 Survey of Israeli Jewish Opinion here: https://www.ajc.org/news/survey2019/Israel. Avital Leibovich thinks that we must work together to foster greater unity between Israeli Jews and Jews in the United States. Israel is a glue to Judaism. If this glue melts away, so does Judaism. Many Jews in the diaspora don’t know how liberal Israelis are, or how many values they have in common with US Jews. Young people are not reading, and they are not educating themselves. 50% of American Jews have never visited Israel. Yet there is a record number of tourists to Israel from all over the world.

The Jewish community and Israel must work together for the sake of the younger generation. At the end of the day, Israel is the country of the Jews, and it is imperative for Jews in the diaspora to find a way to connect with it.

Avital Leibovich will be in Philadelphia at the end of October. She is scheduled to speak to a small, invitation-only gathering of leaders of the Philadelphia Jewish community. Ms. Leibovich will update them on such topics as the recent Israeli elections, the security situation, and relations with the Arab world. To find out more contact Andrew Demchick at the AJC office, [email protected] or call 215.665.2300

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.