Israel News

The Philadelphia Jewish Voice strives to cover events of interest to our readers. Send your Israel related press releases, comments and suggestions to Israel Editor Eli Levine [email protected]

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

Reenactment of the Battle of Hattin

By Aviva Shwartz

The reenactment of one of the most significant battles of the Crusader period, the Battle of Hattin, took place in Israel on July 3-5, its 832nd anniversary. It consisted of a two-day journey culminating in the reenactment of the battle itself.

Every year, the Regnum Hierosolymitanum group for history reenactment along with other groups from Israel, Germany, Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Cyprus and the United States, reconstruct the events surrounding the Battle of Hattin in the actual landscape and in conditions similar to those prevailing at the time. This project is based on significant academic and archaeological research carried out on the battle itself and the location. The Regnum Hierosolymitanum group carries out historical reenactments of significant events that occurred in the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, focusing on the second and third quarters of the 12th century, before the destruction of the Kingdom, which followed its defeat at the Battle of Hattin in 1187. The project organizer Genadiy Nizhnik, is an expert in medieval and biblical archeology and heads the “Kingdom of Jerusalem” club.

The Horns of Hattin march is a living historical event. All attendees actively participate in the reenactment and are assigned to one of two opposing armies. One side of the conflict is led by the King of Jerusalem Guy de Lusignan and the other by Salah ad-Din. Characters include knights, professional mercenaries, members of the military order, horseback riders, Mamelukes, pilgrims, countrymen, city dwellers, Bedouins, musicians, and others.

The Druze: the Brothers of the Jews

By Liav Peretz

The Druze community in Israel are the brothers of the Jews. For those who do not know this amazing community, these people are incredibly committed to the State of Israel and its values. They are Zionist, patriotic, and human loving. This community signed a “blood pact” with the State of Israel in 1948, their children serve in the IDF, and the percentage of young people who enlist in the army is very high, And due to their relatively low numbers in the general Israeli population (about 1.5%), and their contribution is not always known to the general Israeli public.

The Druze Association promotes foreign relations, education, and culture. It presents the community’s contribution and its uncompromising commitment to the State of Israel. The association was established in 1989 and since then thousands of members of the Israeli community have joined it. As part of the association’s activities in the field of education, the organization sends about 180 doctoral students every year to countries in Eastern Europe and Spain. Another prominent activity of the association is the establishment of an electronic library that is open to the public in order to make education and access to electronic devices available to the poor people of the community. Enrichment and empowerment courses are offered to women in order to promote gender equality.

Liav Peretz,the director of the overseas project of the Druze Association,is working to establish a “triangular relationship” between the Druze community, the Jewish people in Israel, and American Jewry. He founded an academic research institute for the association that will deal with Zionist values, volunteerism in the community, Jewishness in the United States, and integrating women into public works. These values will create the infrastructure for the future generation and ensure its future in the State of Israel with security, prosperity, and hope for the future.

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.

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.

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.

IsraAID’s Work in Puerto Rico

This year Israel is the only fully-participating foreign country in the annual SOMOS conference for Hispanic leaders of New York.

As part of the conference, Israel’s Consulate General in New York has organized for over 60 participants to tour two specific IsraAID projects in Puerto Rico, as the island continues to recover from Hurricane Maria: the new gravitational sand water filtration system in Barrio Real, and the donation of medical supplies at a school in Caguas.

One year after Hurricane Maria swept across the Caribbean, the Israeli humanitarian aid organization IsraAID, which was one of the earliest international responders to the disaster, has renewed its commitment to the region. In Puerto Rico, where the official number of fatalities was recently raised from 64 to 2,975, IsraAID’s team is working with local partners to provide safe water and develop community resilience. Many of the island’s residents are still without electricity or safe water.

IsraAID’s emergency response team touched down in Puerto Rico in September 2017, only a few days after Hurricane Maria made landfall. The NGO has had a team on the island ever since, providing WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) solutions, emergency medical care, and mental health support. During the initial emergency response phase, IsraAID distributed water filters for 6,000 people in six remote communities, operated six mobile medical clinics, treating hundreds of people from some of Puerto Rico’s most deprived communities in nine different areas, provided direct mental health support in six shelters, and trained the staff of two hospitals in using expressive arts techniques to respond to trauma. Since the initial emergency response phase, IsraAID’s team on-the-ground has focused on developing long-term programs to help accompany Puerto Ricans on the journey towards recovery and a sustainable future.

In early October 2018, IsraAID and the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico will complete construction of a new gravitational sand water filtration system in Barrio Real, a small, rural community, which is not served by the island’s water system. After Hurricane Maria destroyed the community’s main water source, Barrio Real’s residents were left with no access to safe water. It took seven days for bottled water to reach the remote mountain village, during which time only unsafe river water was available. IsraAID distributed temporary household water filters in the initial weeks after the hurricane.

A year later, the residents of Barrio Real are still without a permanent, communal supply of safe water. The new filtration system does not require electricity, ensuring that it can continue to provide a sustainable source of safe water for future generations. Volunteers from San Juan’s Jewish community have been trained by IsraAID to provide door-to-door workshops on safe water and hygiene to the residents of Barrio Real, ensuring that the new water system will be fully utilized. Every currently occupied household has been reached.

The psychological and social effects of the hurricane are still being felt across the island. The recently announced increase in Maria’s death toll is a stark reminder of the disaster’s long-term impact. Since arriving in Puerto Rico, IsraAID’s team has utilized the organization’s long-held expertise in mental health and psychological support to strengthen the island’s capacity to cope with the crisis. As part of its long-term programming, IsraAID’s has partnered with ASPIRA, a local organization providing alternative schooling for 3,400 at-risk young people across the island. IsraAID’s psychosocial support specialists are training ASPIRA’s teachers in how to build their students’ resilience and provide post-trauma support as they recover from the devastation of Hurricane Maria.

StandWithUs Israeli Soldiers Tour

By Ferne Hassan
Associate Director
StandWithUs/Mid-Atlantic Region

On October 14 two reservists will reveal their personal experiences in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). They will be in Philadelphia as part of StandWithUs “Israeli Soldiers Tour” (IST). These veterans will share stories from the front lines, not from the headlines. Ilan and Yuval (last names withheld for security purposes) will also share their backgrounds, life in Israel and answer any tough questions members from the audience wish to pose to them.

Ilan was born in Venezuela and moved to Israel in 2010. Ilan’s father is a Christian Venezuelan and his mother is the daughter of a Holocaust refugee. His home, education, and life have always exemplified multiculturalism and coexistence. Ilan served in the Humanitarian and Civil Affairs Unit in the IDF, also known as COGAT, working with Palestinian civilians and representatives in projects focused on improving the lives of Palestinian families. Ilan lives in Ramat Gan, Tel Aviv.

Yuval, 25, studies Law at the College of Management Academic Studies, in Rishon LeZion. At age 17 Yuval’s dance group won first place in a competition in Barcelona. At age 18, Yuval entered mandatory military service in the Israeli Air Force, administering tests both written and in a flight simulator to candidates for an Elite Pilots Course. After service, Yuval traveled by herself through Central and South America. Last year, she volunteered to be part of a humanitarian delegation to Tanzania helping renovate a school and taught children English and Mathematics. Yuval now lives in Kibbutz Palmachim.

Ilan and Yuval will speak at the Lower Merion Area Hebrew High School, Congregation Beth Or in Ambler, and the University of Pennsylvania Hillel.

This Is Not Peaceful Resistance

Hamas admitted that 50 of the 62 people killed in the recent violence on the Israel-Gaza border were Hamas members, while others among the dead have been identified as members of Islamic Jihad. In fact, organizers of the violence had laid out their intentions clearly, with the co-founder of Hamas saying unequivocally, “This is not peaceful resistance.”

We should take the organizers of this confrontation at their word. Orchestrated by Hamas, approximately 40,000 rioters gathered at the border and several thousand tried to storm into Israel at 13 locations. The campaign’s title “March of Return” reflects Hamas’ aim: to break the border fence and storm Israeli towns in order to attack and kidnap Israeli civilians. The closest Israeli communities are only half a mile away from the border. Israeli soldiers have been defending the border from what could lead to a successful breach of the fence. In this way, Israel has been acting as any sovereign nation would be expected to.

Israel made relentless efforts to prevent the Palestinian masses from violently breaching the border. These efforts included early warnings by leaflets, direct phone calls, radio and social media in Arabic, and other means.

In contrast, Hamas is taking steps to exacerbate the difficulties faced by its own people, as a play for international condemnation of Israel. Hamas turned back aid trucks containing medical supplies donated by Israel after the supplies had already entered Gaza. Despite the deteriorating health situation in Gaza, Hamas refused this humanitarian aid, returning it to Israel. This happened a week after Palestinians had sabotaged the Kerem Shalom aid crossing multiple times, including blowing up gas pipelines, in an attempt to bring about total chaos.

Israel’s need to defend itself and Hamas’ efforts to aggravate the plight of its own people are fundamental issues at the very core of the current violence. However, the way recent events have been framed does not do justice to the realities on the ground for either Israelis or Palestinians.