An Alternative to the Alternative Kotel

— by Richard Lederman

If you haven’t heard by now, there’s a new plan for Jewish worship at the Western Wall — the Kotel — in old Jerusalem. Since Jewish access was restored to the Old City in June 1967 after 19 years of Jordanian control, Orthodox rabbinic authorities have held sole sway over the Kotel, enforcing their understanding of Halakha — Jewish law — pertaining to the forms of worship that could take place there. Most explicit is the strict separation of men and women and the prohibition against certain forms of worship in the women’s section. For instance, women may not wear traditional religious garb — Tallit and Tefillin — and may not read from a Torah scroll. For years, these restrictions have been challenged by The Women of the Wall who have bravely endured humiliation, threats, physical abuse and arrest as they overtly defy these restrictions in acts of civil disobedience.

In the meantime, a new section of the wall has gradually become a venue for egalitarian worship. Underneath a feature of the wall known as Robinson’s Arch, located south of the main plaza, men and women worship and lead the services as equals. In recent months, Jewish Agency Chair Natan Sharansky has concluded a nearly three-year negotiated compromise with the rabbinic authorities and the government affording official status to this section of the Kotel. The execution of this compromise is in the offing, whereby the area in front Robinson’s Arch will be transformed into a plaza not unlike the original plaza created in 1967, with equal 24/7 access for all worshipers. In other words, now you will have two mostly equal choices when you visit the Kotel: the original plaza and this new egalitarian section.

Naturally, as with all compromises, no one is particularly happy, and the announcement of the new arrangement has been met with a slew of articles and opinion pieces in the Jewish press. Even some of the supporters of egalitarian prayer at the Kotel feel let down. Writing in The Forward, Gabriela Geselowitz, a young “Birthrighter,” bemoans the fact that she still can’t wear her Tallit and Tefillin at the part of the Kotel that is from “the postcards, the documentaries, the images of Jewish Jerusalem that the world knows.” To Geselowitz, Robinson’s Arch is not the “real” Kotel, the “authentic” Kotel. “I can’t help thinking,” she concludes, “that we’ve agreed to the idea that being shunted out of the way, to something ‘technically’ part of a holy experience, is enough. It’s not.” [Read more…]

Earth to Ban Ki-moon: Israel Offered to End “Occupation” at Camp David

Reprinted courtesy of Yaakov (Dry Bones) Kirschen

Reprinted courtesy of Yaakov (Dry Bones) Kirschen

Ban Ki-moon is a curious kind of messenger.

He writes in The New York Times, “No one can deny that the everyday reality of occupation provokes anger and despair, which are major drivers of violence and extremism and undermine any hope of a negotiated two-state solution.” [Read more…]

Consul General Sideman Addresses ZOA

Israeli Consul General Yaron Sideman shows the plush doll that encourages violence against Israelis.

Yaron Sideman shows plush doll that encourages violence against Israelis.

— by Richard Chaitt

Israeli Consul General Yaron Sideman spoke at The Zionist Organization of America – Greater Philadelphia District’s quarterly meeting Temple Adath Israel in Merion, PA. During his talk, he held up a toy. It was a plush terrorist doll (complete with rock to throw) that the Palestinian Authority wants their young children to play with. He contrasted this to a plush dreidel that Jewish children use.

_DSC8169Mort Klein detailed a number of anti-Israel activities worldwide. Steve Feldman and the local ZOA leadership discussed fighting media bias, helping to inform elected officials and politicians, monitoring school curriculum, reaching out to the uninformed and other needs. As pro-Israel advocates, we should be motivated to actively address these problems.

Mort Klein and Yaron Seidman both took questions after they spoke.

Photos by Richard Chaitt.

The Real Opportunity Confronting Israel

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

Iran has performed the steps required under the multinational agreement negotiated last year.  It has dismantled its rapid capability to  develop a nuclear bomb, has accepted international monitoring, and now is released from international sanctions. A new era of better relations between Iran and the U.S. could happen. Israel’s inappropriate attack in the U.S. Congress on the multiparty agreement with Iran  could be forgotten.

Or could it? Israelis need to address the next phase of their relationship with Iran and the the Arab states and with the U.S. Will the Netanyahu government seek to participate in the coming U.S. presidential election in a continuing battle to advance American militarism and the candidates who walk that line? Or will  Israel take the opportunity that the Iran Agreement offers to try for a better future?

Argument will not cease over whether the Iran Agreement is good or bad, or better or worse than the U.S. (and the nations China, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom who joined with us) might have achieved. What is undeniable is that the Agreement sets the stage for a 15-year period of opportunity.

David Hazony argued that Netanyahu is a centrist measured against the majority of the Israeli body politic. He said that American Jews in the “moderate middle” have lost touch with the authentic Jews and Jewish sovereignty that exist in Israel today.

But leadership, whether by Netanyahu or Obama, has the obligation to carry us in productive directions. For America this means building relationships across the world, because we are the preeminent world power. For Israel this means building bridges between their political island and the sea of Arabs that surround them.  At a minimum, Israelis must accept that their government has no veto on American foreign policy, and must make its own way.

Israelis may believe that they are invincible. Their government may have sold them the idea that they can live with occasional terrorist activity, and if the level of that activity grows objectionable from time to time, they can launch a military strike to quell it.  As a standing bet, that is tough. Technology moves forward, and seemingly impervious defenses are sometimes breached. Then there is the question of sustaining a confrontational posture in the face of a growing Arab population within Israel.

Israelis need to find their own pathway to the future. The challenge to Israel today is to make the best use of the 15-year multinationally supervised breather with Iran, its most vocal enemy. Every step Israel can take to come to terms with its Arab neighbors that remain estranged, and everything that Israel can do to advance the condition of Arabs within and along its borders, deserves to be explored in the most serious way.

That is the real opportunity that is available to Israelis. We can hope that they are not blinded to it by the ferocity of the rhetoric of their leadership.

StandWithUs Pro-Israel Billboard in Harrisburg

StandWithUs Billboard in Houston reads "Not with our tax dollars. Stop U.S. aid for Palestinian terrorism."

StandWithUs Billboard in Houston reads “Not with our tax dollars. Stop U.S. aid for Palestinian terrorism.”

StandWithUs is placing a billboard on I-83 south between Harrisburg and York beginning January 7, 2016 for four weeks.  The billboard alerts commuters of the foreign aid America sends to the Palestinian Authority with the message, “Not With Our Tax Dollars. Stop U.S. Aid for Palestinian Terrorism,” and directs viewers to learn more and sign a petition.

The StandWithUs billboard counters an anti-Israel one also on the I-83 initiated by StopTheBlankCheck and paid for by IfAmericansKnew that asks, “$10 Million a Day to Israel? Our Money is Needed in America.”  The StandWithUs billboard will appear concurrently with the anti-Israel one.

StopTheBlankCheck Billboard

StopTheBlankCheck Billboard

“The anti-Israel billboard campaign is misinforming people, as usual.  The agreement between America and Israel stipulates that 75 percent of the military aid Israel receives from the US has to be spent in America,  The U.S. spends $250 billion a year to keep American troops protecting allies around the world, from Germany to Japan and South Korea. In contrast, the $3 billion a year America sends to Israel boosts the US economy, protects our interests and does not include any American troops on the ground in Israel, which protects itself,” explains Joseph Puder, director StandWithUs Philadelphia.

“The anti-Israel billboard also omits the fact that the U.S. has given the Palestinians billions of dollars in aid since 1993, which is obviously not spent in the U.S.  The U.S. has been the primary financial supporter of the Palestinian refugees since 1949, and has donated over $6.5 billion to the UN agency, UNRWA (United Nations Reliefs and Works Agency), an agency set up to address their specific needs, while the needs of other refugees worldwide have no such specific agency.  Indeed, the Palestinians have received more foreign aid per capita than any other group of people in the world.  It is unfortunate that this money is spent on promoting hate and violence against Israelis by the Palestinian leadership, rather than on the betterment of its own people,” he continues.

StandWithUs has countered anti-Israel messages on public transit and highways wherever they appeared throughout the United States and Canada since 2007.

British Horse Expert Boycotts Israel By Snubbing 13-Year-Old Girl

Shachar Rabinovitch

Shachar Rabinovitch

A former Cambridge University professor refused to help a 13-year-old Israeli student with a research project, hiding behind the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement for her decision.

Shachar Rabinovitch, 13, wrote to Professor Marsha Levine, a British-American researcher, requesting information about early horse species, Levine’s area of expertise. According to the girl’s mother, Levine replied: “I’ll answer your questions when there is peace and justice for Palestinians in Palestine.”

According to B’nai B’rith International, The goal of BDS is to isolate Israel to the point of dissolution:

This BDS episode illustrates the senselessness and degree to which BDS followers will go to follow the Palestinian narrative. Levine’s refusal to help a student demonstrates an extreme absurdity, with its total lack of proportion in its response to a student.

B’nai B’rith has long fought the BDS campaign to isolate Israel and its myopic focus on Israel, even as real human rights abusers, like Iran and Syria, escape unscathed.

Pope Declares Attacks on Israel and Jews Are Anti-Semitism

Pope Francis welcomed more than 100 leaders of the World Jewish Congress (WJC) on Wednesday and issued a strong condemnation of anti-Semitism.

(Left to right) WJC Governing Board Chairman David de Rothschild, WJC President Ronald S. Lauder, Pope Francis, WJC Treasurer Chella Safra, President of Latin American Jewish Congress Jack Terpins, WJC CEO Robert Singer and Executive Director of the Latin American Jewish Congress Claudio Epelman.

(Left to right) WJC Governing Board Chairman David de Rothschild, WJC President Ronald S. Lauder, Pope Francis, WJC Treasurer Chella Safra, President of Latin American Jewish Congress Jack Terpins, WJC CEO Robert Singer and Executive Director of the Latin American Jewish Congress Claudio Epelman.

At a private audience with WJC President Ronald S. Lauder in the morning, the Pontiff made it clear that outright attacks against Israel’s existence are a form of anti-Semitism:

To attack Jews is anti-Semitism, but an outright attack on the State of Israel is also anti-Semitism. There may be political disagreements between governments and on political issues, but the State of Israel has every right to exist in safety and prosperity.

Jews and Catholics marked the anniversary of the 1965 declaration Nostra Aetate, which condemned anti-Semitism and completely transformed and improved relations between Jews and Catholics.

Lauder praised the Pope for this powerful message and said relations between the two faiths were stronger than they had ever been before:

Pope Francis does not simply make declarations. He inspires people with his warmth and his compassion. His clear and unequivocal support for the Jewish people is critical to us.

Nearly 150 delegates and observers from the World Jewish Congress Governing Board took part in the public audience with the Pope in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday. The delegates were in Rome for the Board’s annual meeting.

The pope recalled Nostra Aetate, a declaration adopted on 28 October 1965 by the Second Vatican Council:

Indifference and opposition were transformed into cooperation and benevolence. Enemies and strangers have become friends and brothers. The Council, with the declaration Nostra Aetate, paved the way. It said yes to the rediscovery of the Jewish roots of Christianity, and no to any form of anti-Semitism and condemnation of any insult, discrimination and persecution derived from that.

On Tuesday, the WJC Governing Board, representing more than 100 Jewish communities around the world, held discussions which focused on the implications facing Jewish communities in light of the various conflicts in the Middle East, including the threat of jihadist terrorism.

The Governing Board reaffirmed its continued support of a two State solution and urged Israel and the Palestinian Authority to resume peace talks without preconditions as soon as possible.

The Board also called on the international community to maintain and, if necessary, expand sanctions on Iran until there is verification and international acceptance of Iran’s compliance with all the conditions of the nuclear deal.

Concerning the refugee crisis, the delegates passed a resolution calling on the international community to provide refugees with sanctuary irrespective of origin or religion, recalling the Talmudic maxim that says, “He who saves a single life saves the whole world.”

It Takes Two for Peace, President Abbas

DomeMuch of the angst between Israeli and Palestinian sides has been centered around finger pointing. It is easier to tell the other side what it must do before peace can come. The Israelis put the onus on the Palestinians, claiming Israel is ready to go. And the Palestinians do the same. Neither side makes hard decisions. Netanyahu digs his heels in. And Abbas likewise takes an intractable stand.

Many of us, who advocate for a two-state solution, speak of our ability to control only what happens on our side. We talk about the things that Israel can do to create space for peace, or even promote unilateral moves Israel can make to achieve peace. We continually call upon the Israeli government to take proactive steps regarding restarting peace talks and settlements. But realistically that is not enough.

The truth remains that peace can only come when both sides are prepared to make the difficult and courageous choices, which include concessions neither want to make. But they both are compelled to make these compromises in order to create the greater good of peace for all. Leaderships must be prepared to truly be visionaries and take bold steps.

So Mr. Abbas, your people, the world and your potential ally Israel are watching current events and your responses very closely. We hear your silence when youngsters brutally attack with knives and deliberately place themselves in harms way in a futile and desperate attempt to incite and murder. We hear your voice fanning the flames of hate with falsehoods playing on the emotions of the Muslim faithfuls regarding the Temple Mount/al-Haram al-Sarif/Har Habayit, and the purposeful false report of the death of a 13-year-old. Through these things, you clearly tell us where you stand as the leader of the Palestinians and on the opportunity for peace.

You appear to have turned your back on your people. You are willing to make them a nation of perpetual martyrs, permanently disenfranchised with no hope of a homeland, only the fantasy of victorious war over Israel.

It is time to make Israel your ally. She is both legitimate and permanent. So the choice is yours: a never-ending battle using your people as pawns, or the creation of a viable peace between two nations living cooperatively. Ultimately, perhaps your goal might be to someday stand like Ronald Reagan and declare it is the time for the Security Wall to come down. And in an era of peace, your Israeli counterpart will be all too likely to comply.

Israeli Family Copes With Wave of Terror

Marne Joan and Leora Shirit Rochester in their bomb shelter.

Marne Joan and Leora Shirit Rochester in their bomb shelter.

Matzav is Hebrew for “situation,” which is what we call it during times of unrest.

Last year, during the matzav I would sing with the kids in my daycare the song by Naomi Shemer based on the saying by Rebbi Nachman from Breslov:

All the world is a very narrow bridge. But the main thing is to not be afraid.

כל העולם כולו גשר צר מאוד, והעיקר לא לפחד כלל.

But how can one not be afraid when terrorists are running around the country killing people? I think what the song really means is to not let the fear take control.

I survived the first Gulf War with SCUD missiles landing in the backyard of my kibbutz, the first intifada, and the second intifada when every time we heard sirens my friends’ then-five-year-old child would ask, “Ima, where is the pigua?” (Pigua is Hebrew for “terror attack.”)

I have heard bombs go off. I have felt bombs go off. I have lost people I knew and cared about. I have survived these times of unrest without letting the fear take over, without locking myself inside. I kept going out and living my life as if there was no matzav, but with a bit more vigilance, always looking around.

Last week was my daughter Leora’s birthday. She has hit the double digits. Her party was based on the Israeli version of the show, “The Amazing Race.” We did “The Race for Leora”: The kids paired up and had to run around the neighborhood fulfilling different tasks to get the next clue.

Everything changed Tuesday. There was a shooting and stabbing attack in Armon HaNatziv, the next neighborhood, on a bus that I sometimes take. I know people who witnessed it and kids in the kindergarten and school right across the street from the attack. Before, all the rock throwing (more like cinder-blocks and rocks the size and weight of bowling balls and larger) and Molotov cocktails being hurdled in Armon HaNatziv seemed so far away. This attack seemed so close.

For the moment, Leora is not allowed to be outside by herself, and I do my best to find rides to and from places. I imagine once the shock of Tuesday wears off and if there is no other attack near the neighborhood, I will relax a bit.

The matzav is also causing an internal conflict. Before the second intifada Jews would regularly go into the Arab villages to do business, buy things, have a cup a coffee, and socialize with the residents. Close relationships were formed. Jews and Arabs would attend each others’ celebrations. During the second intifada, the Jewish Israelis felt betrayed by people they considered friends when they would praise the terrorist attacks and celebrate them in the villages. Since then, the relationships never recovered.

Tuesday, after the attack in the neighborhood, a parent with a child in Leora’s youth movement and I were discussing how to get the kids to and from the activity, since neither one of us wanted our kids to walk. Usually, I encourage Leora to walk, but yesterday was not a usual day. I suggested that I pick them up in a cab, since I do not have a car, but we both wanted to make sure it was a safe company. That meant no Arab driver. Many of the terrorists, as well as cab drivers, come for the neighboring village. I used the same cab company for years until I found out that they did not hire Arab drivers. I did not want to be part of the racism. But now, my main concern is my daughter’s safety. With the celebrations in the villages after each attack, I just cannot trust them with the most precious thing in my life.

The same day I went food shopping. I always bring a book to read while waiting in line. That night it was a good thing it was a very thick book, because I was in line for 50 minutes. Almost half of the registers were closed. When I asked why, I was told that the girls were afraid to come to work, or their parents were afraid to let them.

It is one of the most inexpensive store chains and known for equal hiring of minorities. Last summer the owner was called to fire his Arab workers after three Jewish teens were butchered by Arabs. He rightfully refused. But after the attack carried out by the Arab worker of a phone company and the celebrations in the villages, people feel that they cannot even trust their co-workers. On the positive side, during the troubled times, Israelis are much kinder to each other. No one pushed or shoved or yelled while waiting on line, which is very unusual for the supermarket here. People stood patiently, having conversations with other customers.

When I finally got home, I saw an e-mail from my daughter’s school. They got the water company to stop the work they are doing on the pipes across from the school. Parents and school staff were concerned because some of the workers were Arab. A few years ago the “tractorists,” Arab workers who took the tractors they were working with to run over people, made people suspicious of all Arab workers. And the cleaning company the school uses is to come in only after the kids have left. I have very mixed feelings about this. I do not want the situation to affect honest people’s livelihood. I do not want my daughter or any of the other kids to be suspicious of all Arabs. Part of me feels like I should speak up. But my need to keep my daughter safe is stronger.

Here we are again, dealing with it the best we can. What can I do? I have ordered pepper spray and signed up for a class to learn self-defense against knife attacks. I hope to God I will not need these. Meanwhile, some dark humor and chocolate get me through the matzav.

In Israel, a Nation of Laws Is Tested

ThemisViolence continues to escalate in Israel, with the knife as a weapon of choice, and fear is spreading as attacks come from seemingly out of nowhere.

The natural and proper inclination is for law enforcement to become even more vigilant in order to prevent attacks rather than only respond. But the police however must be judicious in how they protect the citizens of Israel.

Israel is a nation of laws. She prides herself on having a legal system similar to the American ideal founded on the principle of equal protection under the law. Now this system is being severely tested and Israel’s heart and soul are at risk.

If Israel permits the profiling of people and the preemptive assault on individuals outside the prescribed due process of the legal system, then it loses and the terrorists win. Israel cannot be democratic if it limits the application of law to select privileged classes, such as Jews, while others, such as Arabs, fall outside that sphere. A crackdown on terrorism cannot come at the price of the fundamental principles of Israel.

The violence and barbaric nature of these attacks on civilians (police included) are certainly not random acts. Is this a mass response to “occupation” or are these individual actors perpetrating crimes as copycats? It certainly seems to not be the latter. Even if not expressly ordered by a central control, the attacks are coordinated.

The first order is to restore calm. The second order is to cool the boiling over of the cauldron. Repression of an entire group, such as the Arabs of East Jerusalem, and sealing off of that portion of the city, will provide a temporary subduing of these attacks. A closer and deeper look at the grievances that encourage this violence as a legitimate response is required. Then deliberate steps must be taken to create a society that is fair and just.

Both the Israeli government and its citizenry must balance the need for security and safety against the fair application of law to all.  It is very tempting to let fear drive the reaction to violence. The harsh and repressive measures of which politicians speak, that deprive people of protections under the law, and penalizing suspects and whole segments of society, will not solve the problems but foment them instead.

Israel is at its best when it strives to attain the ideals upon which the state was founded as expressed in the Declaration of Independence and basic laws. Israel must hold on to these guiding principles more tightly than ever before.

I do not condone or legitimize the violence. Those that have perpetrated these attacks should be duly punished for breaking the laws of the State and of civilized society. Now it is up to the State and civilized society to solve the problems that have contributed to fomenting such deep discontent with a system of justice that speaks to everyone.