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

Join the Lego Man in Building Jerusalem out of LEGOs at Ohev Shalom

Stephen Schwartz, who is also known as Lego Man, will lead a LEGO® building workshop at Ohev Shalom of Bucks County on February 10, 2019 from 10 AM until 12 PM.

 

Please join us for this exciting workshop when Stephen Schwartz Man will lead us in building a replica of Jerusalem out of 70,000 LEGO® blocks. Stephen Schwartz (a.k.a. Lego Man) is an Architect of Building Blocks Workshops who leads two-hour LEGO workshops. Come and have fun using your imagination in creating a LEGO replica of Jerusalem during this exciting, educational, and engaging event. This event is free and open to the public. Children of all ages both young and old are welcome to attend provided you love playing with LEGO® blocks! As you know, LEGO® blocks hurt when you step on them, so please wear socks to this event.

 

For more information, please call 215-322-9595.

 

Building Blocks Workshops is a model building “large Group Activity” that is presented through the vision of an Architect. Participants are encouraged to build structurally sound, interesting, and whimsical models that have an architectural character worthy of the history they represent. They are Exciting, and Engaging, and Educational. Each program is a 2 hour fast paced activity utilizing 70,000 LEGO® Building Blocks.

Candidates in the 4th Congressional District Offer Perspectives on Israel

With the primaries next week, candidates are crisscrossing the 18 newly drawn congressional districts in Pennsylvania, talking to voters about a host of issues, ranging from gun violence to education to healthcare to the environment. However, the issue of Israel is rarely discussed during candidate forums and speaking engagements. Since this issue is profoundly important to many of our readers, we have decided to ask some of the candidates about their views on Israel, starting with those in the 4th Congressional District, which now consists primarily of Montgomery County. [Read more…]

The Direction of Prayer

By Rabbi Chaim Galfand

Sunday, May 13, is Yom Yerushalayim, or Jerusalem Reunification Day. This Israeli national holiday celebrates the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967 in the wake of the Six Day War. As we prepare to mark this occasion when the Kotel (Western Wall) and the entirety of the Old City came under Israeli control, it seems like a very appropriate time to answer a question that has been posed to me: why do Jews face east when they pray? [Read more…]

Why Israel Should Not Be Extolling President Trump

Photo by Wayne McLean (Jgritz) http://www.waynemclean.com/

Jerusalem. Photo: Wayne McLean

Israel is going gaga over President Trump, largely for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. There are over 110 “God bless Trump” signs in Jerusalem. There are plans to name a future rail station near the Kotel (Western Wall) after Trump. The Jerusalem Friends of Zion Heritage Center put up a four-story display thanking him. But, there are many reasons to reconsider the abundant praise.

A major reason is that Trump, along with a majority of Republicans, is in denial about climate change, an existential threat to Israel, the US, and the world. Despite the overwhelming consensus of climate experts and the many recent severe climate events, Trump is the only major world leader denying climate change. He has pulled the US out of the 2015 Paris climate pact agreed to by all of the 195 nations attending, including Israel. He appointed a climate denier as director of the US Environmental Protection Agency. He also has filled many other important positions with those who deny anthropomorphic global change. He is doing everything possible to eliminate or weaken recent efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, claiming that he is freeing businesses from regulations.

Israelis should be especially concerned about climate threats. Due to climate change, the Middle East is becoming hotter and drier and, according to military experts, this makes violence, terrorism, and war more likely. If the rapid melting of polar icecaps and glaciers continue, the coastal plain that contains most of Israel’s population and infrastructure will be inundated by a rising Mediterranean Sea.

Israel is already facing the effects of climate change, now in the fifth year of a severe drought. The water level of the Sea of Galilee is at a 100 year low, much of the Jordan River is reduced to a trickle, and the Dead Sea is shrinking rapidly.  Water experts warn that if the Sea of Galilee continues to shrink, it could become a salt sea like the Dead Sea, as underground springs release saline water into it.

Another important reason is that Trump’s policies are contrary to basic Jewish values in terms of concern for the disadvantaged, the stranger, the hungry, and the poor. Rather than improving Obamacare, which provided health insurance to tens of millions of Americans, Trump supported health legislation that would have caused up to 32 million Americans to lose their insurance and others to pay higher premiums. Rather than supporting efforts to rebuild America’s crumbling infrastructure (given a grade of  D+ by the American Society of Civil Engineers), Trump and Republican legislators pushed through a tax bill that greatly benefits the wealthiest Americans and large, profitable corporations. This will increase the U.S. national debt by up to $1.5 trillion, giving the Republicans an excuse to carry out their long-time desires to cut social security, Medicare, Medicaid, and environmental and health protections.

Then there is the issue of Trump’s character. As NY Times conservative columnist Bret Stephens, a former chief editor of the Jerusalem Post, put it in a recent article, Trump’s character involves, “lying, narcissism, and bullying.” He continues: “In place of the usual jousting between the administration and the press, we have a president who fantasizes on Twitter about physically assaulting CNN. In place of a president who defends the honor and integrity of his own officers and agencies, we have one who humiliates his attorney general, denigrates the F.B.I. and compares our intelligence agencies to the Gestapo.” Do we really want to honor such a person and make him a role model for our children and grandchildren?

In addition, lavishing praise on Trump is adding to the current split between many American Jews and Israel. Almost 80% of American Jews disapprove of the job Trump is doing, according to a September poll by the American Jewish Committee. So when they see how Israel is going overboard in praising Trump it adds to the alienation many Americans feel due to recent Israeli decisions on prayer at the Kotel, conversion, and other issues. This could reduce the moral, political, and financial support Israel receives from American Jews.

Yes, but doesn’t Trump still deserve praise for his strong support of Israel? Somehow negative things about Trump’s positions and statements about Israel are being ignored. For example: Trump has not kept his pledge of seeing that there would be no space between the US and Israel, as he has demanded several times that Israel limit settlement construction. Trump’s $110 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia reduces Israel’s qualitative military edge. In his Holocaust remembrance statement Trump omitted any mention of Jews. Trump appointed white supremacists to senior positions and retweeted neo-Nazi propaganda on several occasions. He failed to quickly condemn anti-Semitism several times. He has left the post of Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism vacant since taking office. He ended President Obama’s tradition of hosting a White House Seder. He compromised Israeli intelligence by sharing top secret information with Russia. Since Trump became president there has been a sharp increase in incidents of anti-Semitic and other bigoted statements and acts. There are many other examples.

Trump deserves praise for his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, but not to be lionized, for the reasons above and more. Of course, Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, always has been and always will be. But the nations of the world will only acknowledge that if it is part of a comprehensive, sustainable resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While Trump’s pronouncement about Jerusalem is good for Israel’s morale, it did not change the overall situation. It did cause much resentment among the Palestinians, other Arabs, and many nations, led to some violence, showed further evidence of widespread opposition to Israel’s position on Jerusalem through the votes in the UN Security Council and General Assembly, and resulted in a further decrease in the potential of a peace agreement. Also, Trump again signed a waiver so that the US embassy will not soon be moved to Jerusalem and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson indicated that it will likely not be moved during Trump’s current term.

Yes, the peace process has been basically dead for some time, and the Palestinians certainly deserve much blame. But Israel needs to do everything possible to obtain a resolution of the conflict in order to avert continued and possibly increased violence and diplomatic criticism, effectively respond to her economic, environmental, and other domestic problems, and remain a Jewish and a democratic state. Many Israel strategic and military experts agree with this assessment, including all the living ex-heads of the Shin Bet. Of course, Israel’s security has to be paramount in any agreement.

Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus, College of Staten Island

 

Jerusalem Reunification From the Eyes of a Child

Western Wall, Jerusalem, June, 1967

Western Wall

-Written by Eli Yaron

I witnessed the reunification of Jerusalem firsthand. I was a nine-year-old boy when this modern-day miracle unfolded during the Six-Day War in 1967.

Three weeks before the war, I was enjoying the Yom Hatzmaut (Independence Day) celebrations, which included the IDF parade during the day, and the yearly Israeli song festival in the evening. The parade took place in Jerusalem that year. However, because the occupying Jordanians had restricted the access of Jews within the walls of the ancient part of the city, the parade had to be held in the newer part. Due to the cease-fire agreements with Jordan, the parade was limited to marching troops and jeeps. Although the air force flyby and the columns of tanks were not allowed, the parade was still a show of force.

Singer Shuly Nathan with her guitar on stage

Singer Shuly Nathan

The song festival included 12 songs that competed for first prize. I recall my family sitting around the radio listening to the songs. Then, it was announced that the mayor, Teddy Koleck, had asked for a special song, that was not part of the contest, to be written about Jerusalem. A young singer whom none of us had ever heard before, Shuli Nathan, started singing “Avir Harim Tzalul K’Yaytin” (Mountain Air That Is Pure as Wine), written by Naomi Shemer. We were mesmerized. My mother came in from the kitchen, and when the refrain of “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav” (Jerusalem of Gold) was sung for the first time, I saw her wiping a tear. On the radio, we could hear the crowd singing the refrain, followed by a brief silence and then applause that seemed to last forever. My father simply said, “Hayinu Kecholmim (as if we are dreaming).”

Most Israelis do not recall which song won the 1967 song festival contest. But all those who listened to the broadcast recall vividly that at the end of the evening, Shuli Nathan came on stage again to sing “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav,” with the audience joining her and choking back tears.

The next morning, the 7 a.m. news started with Nasser, the president of Egypt, demanding the removal of the UN peace-keeping forces between Israel and Egypt. The UN forces vacated their position on the border, and the Egyptian army took their place. In response, Israel mobilized those in military reserve units. Within a few days, our neighborhood changed — only children, young women, and the elderly were left. School continued as usual, and the only difference in my life was that my parents were working long hours. My father was working around the clock at ZIM, the Israeli shipping line. He came home every third or fourth day for a quick shower and meal, before going right back. My mother was working full-time at a friend’s hardware store, as he was called to reserve duty as well.

A few days later, two major events took place. On the foreign affairs front, Nasser announced he was closing the Tiran Straits to Israeli ships. And on the home front, our cleaning lady, a widow who lived in downtown Haifa in a mixed Jewish-Arab neighborhood, came crying to my mother. Our cleaning lady said that her Arab neighbor told her, “Wait until we win. We are going to kill your children first, and then we will kill you!” My mother told her not to worry about a thing, because that would never happen. Tuning in to the Arab radio stations that broadcasted in Hebrew, we repeatedly heard the same message: “We will slaughter you and throw your bodies into the Mediterranean Sea, as none of you will remain alive at the end of the war.” [Read more…]

Film Screening & Discussion: Wrestling Jerusalem

The 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War is an occasion to both celebrate and to reflect on how we move forward. As a result of this victory, Jews were once again — after 2,000 years — able to pray at the Western Wall, their most holy site. However, the Six-Day war also left Israel in control over millions of Palestinians, while stalled efforts at peace have caused trauma and suffering on both sides.

In light of this anniversary and the complex issues that surround it, we invite you to join us for a screening of the critically acclaimed film, “Wrestling Jerusalem,” starring writer-actor Aaron Davidian. The movie takes viewers on a multi-dimensional journey into the heart of the Middle East, and the intersection of politics, identity and spiritual yearning. Davidman, the sole actor, gives voice to 17 different characters on all sides of the existential divide — moving between male and female, Jewish and Muslim, Israeli and Arab — modeling what it takes to bear witness through the eyes of the other. Following the film, Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, president of The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership (CLAL), will moderate a discussion with the actor.

Ticket Prices
$36 (adult)
$18 (student with ID)

Get your tickets here.

Jerusalem Facts for the Democratic National Convention

The Democratic and Republican parties will meet soon in Philadelphia and Cleveland and adopt their party platforms. They will address questions about Jerusalem.

Before they make this important decision, it is important to make sure they have the facts straight. StandWithUs has created this educational fact sheet about Jerusalem to distribute to members of the platform committee as well as to other convention delegates and key policymakers:
[Read more…]