Author Archives: Ebony Brown

Maintain the Blockade

During the first 24 hours of the Gaza war, Palestinian terrorists fired more than 200 rockets into Israel. Yet only one Israeli was wounded, and none were killed. How is that possible?

When Israel fires missiles at enemy targets, they strike with pinpoint accuracy. Sometimes they hit a lone terrorist on a motorcycle or a single, targeted apartment in the middle of a dense cluster of apartment buildings.

Yet when Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian terror groups fire rockets into Israel, the vast majority land in empty fields or parking lots.

The difference is not that the Israelis have better aim. The difference is that the Israelis have the right equipment.

Israel has the sophisticated computer systems necessary to ensure that their missiles lock on the desired target. The Palestinians don’t have that technology.

The reason they don’t is because of the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

That’s right, the much-maligned Israeli blockade — the focus of so much griping by the Arabs, by Palestinian support groups around the world, by the United Nations and even by the Obama administration. That blockade. It’s working.

Israel took a lot of heat for intercepting the Mavi Marmara, the ship of pro-Hamas extremists from Turkey and elsewhere that tried to bust the blockade of Gaza in 2010. In the aftermath of that episode, various groups adopted the blockade issue as their cause du jour.

In 2011, for example, a panel of five “independent human rights experts” for the United Nations declared that the blockade is “a flagrant contravention of international human rights law.” In 2012, the U.N.’s annual report on the Gaza situation called the blockade “collective punishment.” In 2013, the U.N.’s “humanitarian coordinator” for Gaza, James Rawley, claimed that “Gaza is becoming uninhabitable” because of the blockade. This  past March, the commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency declared that the blockade “is illegal and must be lifted.”

Even the Obama administration fell in line with the knee-jerk Israel bashers and has tried to get Israel to ease up on the blockade. “Gaza Blockade Untenable, U.S. Believes,” read the headline of an NBC News report in 2010. “The Obama administration believes Israel’s blockade of Gaza is untenable and wants to see a new approach that would allow more supplies” into the territory, NBC reported.

That same week, Vice President Joe Biden told Charlie Rose on TV, “We have put as much pressure and as much cajoling on Israel as we can to allow them to get building materials” and other forbidden items into Gaza. Biden seemed oblivious that many construction materials are what is known as dual-use items. In addition to their primary purpose, they can also be used for terrorist purposes. Concrete for the foundation of a building can also be used to make an arms-smuggling tunnel.

Fortunately, Israel resisted this international pressure. It kept the blockade. As a result, Palestinian rocketeers, without target-locating computers, continue to fire their missiles into open fields instead of supermarkets and kindergartens.

Amnesty International and the rest owe Israel an apology. But we won’t hold our breath. We’ll just note whose advice has proved sound and what lessons can be learned.

The first lesson from the Gaza war: Blockading the enemy works.

Moshe Phillips and Benyamin Korn are members of the board of the Religious Zionists of America.


Lone Soldier Fund Serves Thousands

Lt. Col. Tzvika Levy’s organization provides inspiration and support to nearly 6,000 lone soldiers. (Provided)

Lt. Col. Tzvika Levy’s organization provides inspiration and support to nearly 6,000 lone soldiers. (Provided)

Talk about having a large family. Lt. Col. Tzvika Levy has his hands full. An officer who is part of an elite unit within the Israel Defense Force’s paratrooper brigade, Levy is also founder and director of Tzvika Levy’s Lone Soldiers.

For the past 25 years, Levy has held this post, a position in which he has served as a
father figure to thousands of men and women from all over the world.

Since war broke out in Gaza last week, Levy has been shuttling between military bases, bringing encouragement and much-needed supplies to his lone soldiers. In a phone call with the JT on Monday, Levy said, “We need underclothes, T-shirts, socks, hats and towels.”

The nearly 6,000 lone soldiers Levy’s organization supports hail from 40 countries and came to Israel voluntarily and by themselves to serve in the Israeli military. In addition to providing necessities and emotional support, Levy’s job entails finding homes and surrogate families for the soldiers, most of whom have left their home countries for no reason other than their desire to protect the Jewish state.

Levy, who is endorsed by Eddie Rogers of the Friends of the IDF Baltimore Chapter’s board of directors, praised the lone soldiers for their bravery and commitment, stressing the fact that “no one asked these people to come. They came because of their love for Israel.”

Levy said that nearly half of the lone soldiers who join the IDF choose to serve in dangerous combat positions.

For more information, visit or the organization’s Facebook page.


To The Rescue

071814_chocolateThose who enjoy kosher baking can breathe a collective sigh of relief: There’s a new pareve chocolate chip in town.

The spring of 2012 was a tough one for those who appreciate a good, chocolaty homemade dessert after a meat meal. Food retailer Trader Joe’s brutal announcement that May — that its popular pareve chocolate chips would thereafter be certified kosher/dairy — sent local bakers into a frenzy.

Because the bags sold by Shop Rite are also pareve, things in Baltimore weren’t as bad as in Pittsburgh, where people were buying up the chocolate morsels by the case from two Trader Joe’s locations and freezing them for an anticipated string of proverbial rainy days. But the work of Pittsburgher Chana Shusterman has nevertheless benefited kosher bakers here.

Back in 2012, Shusterman ordered four cases of the Trader Joe’s chocolate chips and shared them with about 10 friends. At the time, she was optimistic that consumer pressure on the chain would convince the retailer to make whatever changes were necessary for its venerated brand of chocolate chips to qualify again for the kosher/pareve certification.

But when that didn’t happen, Shusterman took matters into her own hands.

Finding no reasonably priced, high-quality vegan and pareve chocolate chips in the local market, the high school teacher and software business owner set out on a mission to fix the problem.

“During that first year, I really thought there would be availability somewhere,” Shusterman said. “But when there wasn’t, I did some investigating. I looked into who were the top chocolate manufacturers, and I was able to taste a few brands.”

She was looking for a dairy-free, allergen-free chocolate, with no fillers and a high percentage of cocoa.

Once she found the right chocolate, she got to work researching bagging and printing companies and kosher certification entities.

The result: California Gourmet-brand vegan, gluten-free chocolate chips with a 45 percent cocoa content and certified kosher/pareve by the OK. A 10-ounce bag goes for $2.89.

The California Gourmet chocolate chips are available at two-dozen stores in six states, including Seven Mile Market and Pomegranate in Brooklyn, N.Y., and can be ordered online at

“The taste is excellent,” Shusterman said. “They are very smooth, and good for melting.”

Lila Weiss, owner of Murray Avenue Kosher in Shusterman’s home town, is happy to be carrying the new product, she said.

“You know how some chocolate chips taste waxy?” Weiss said. “These are chocolaty.”

The product, which has been on her shelves for about four weeks, is “moving nicely,” Weiss said, adding that the other brands of chocolate chips she
carries are “a little more expensive.”

While the Shop Rite brand of pareve chocolate chips is available at Seven Mile — and is somewhat less expensive than Shusterman’s product — California Gourmet seems to be attracting buyers who have been missing the Trader Joe’s brand, said Moshe Boehm, the general manager of the store.

“Trader Joe’s had a following,” Boehm said. “There are many, many other chocolate chips out there. But for those people who liked the Trader Joe’s chocolate chips this is a big deal. I’ve heard from a few people that this replaces Trader Joe’s. These are definitely serving a need. They are definitely something that people are interested in.”

For Rivky Bukiet of Baltimore, known, she said, for her homemade chocolate chip cookies, California Gourmet chocolate chips have been just what she had been looking for since the Trader Joe’s product went dairy.

“I couldn’t find a substitute, something of good quality and pareve,” she said.

When she got her first taste of California Gourmet chocolate chips at her sister’s house in New York, “she couldn’t believe it,” she said.

Thrilled to discover they were being sold in Baltimore, she is now using them in all her baking, from pumpkin muffins to peanut butter balls to her famous chocolate chips cookies.

“I’m really excited to share this with all my friends,” she said. “I know when people taste this, they’ll want more.”

Toby Tabachnick is senior writer at The Jewish Chronicle in Pittsburgh, Pa.


On Target

An Iron Dome missile battery is in place near Tel Aviv. (Flash 90)

An Iron Dome missile battery is in place near Tel Aviv. (Flash 90)

SDEROT, Israel — In less than two weeks, Israel has endured more than a thousand rockets.

Yet, the casualty toll so far from a rocket strike during the conflict is one Israeli citizen.

In many ways, Israel’s Operation Protective Edge — its third Gaza operation in six years — is much like previous Israeli campaigns in the territory. Israel has used airstrikes to exact a toll on Hamas and has massed troops on the Gaza border, threatening a ground invasion.

So far, Israel has conducted nearly 1,500 airstrikes over Gaza, with 166 Gazans having died as of Monday.

But in the absence of Israeli fatalities, this conflict has been like no other in the country’s history. Despite Hamas rockets that travel farther than ever, Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system has intercepted 90 percent of the rockets heading toward population centers, and early-warning sirens and shelters have protected residents.

Iron Dome was first used during Israel’s 2012 conflict with Hamas, though the system has added batteries and been more fully developed since. In that conflict, six Israelis were killed, five of them from rocket fire.

Hamas’ total failure this time to kill Israelis — though several have been injured by rockets — has allowed most Israelis to continue their daily lives. And even amid discussion of a cease-fire, it has given the army breathing room to continue its mission.

“We are striking Hamas with increasing strength,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a Cabinet meeting Sunday, addressing Israeli citizens. “Regarding civil defense, one needs not only an Iron Dome but iron discipline as well. You have shown this up until now. This could yet take a long time, and we need both your support and your discipline.”

Israel’s goal in this conflict is to destroy Hamas’ rocket stocks and launchers while reasserting the Israel Defense Forces’ military deterrence. Meanwhile, the Israeli home front has been guarded by Iron Dome. Within seconds of when a rocket is launched, Iron Dome identifies the type of missile fired, maps where it came from and where it will land, and — if necessary — fires a missile to knock it out of the sky.

The missile defense system has managed to intercept about 90 percent of its targets.

“If anyone hit nine of 10 in the Major Leagues, he would be cast in gold and sent to Cooperstown,” Eran Lerman, deputy chief of Israel’s
National Security Council, told a Jewish Federations of North America delegation Monday, referring to America’s baseball Hall of Fame.

Lerman hailed Israel’s “remarkable ability to defend ourselves technologically.”

Experiencing loss of life from war has been central to the Israeli experience. Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, is a solemn occasion for the country. Civilian and military deaths have been a key part of the calculus of when to begin and end military campaigns.

With Protective Edge, Israel has so far experienced a new kind of conflict.

But Amichai Cohen, a research fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, wrote that Iron Dome could lead to more blame being assigned to Israel because its civilians are less exposed to harm than is Gaza’s population.

“Given the real, yet much smaller threat that rockets pose to Israeli civilian lives after the invention of Iron Dome, there is a real question of whether the IDF’s freedom of action has been curtailed,” Cohen wrote in an email sent out Monday by his institute. “Is the IDF, in effect, penalized for this life-saving technology?”

One place that doesn’t benefit from Iron Dome is Sderot, a city in the western Negev that has been absorbing Qassam rockets from Gaza since 2000. Because Sderot is only about a half-mile from the Gaza border, Iron Dome doesn’t have time to intercept the rockets. Residents have 15 seconds from the time of a warning siren to run for shelter.

Speaking to leaders of North American Jewish community federations who came to show solidarity with the city, Sderot’s mayor, Alon Davidi, encouraged the Israeli army to fight until it eliminates Hamas’ offensive capabilities. He said that the long-range rockets now being fired into the rest of the country have made millions of Israelis understand what Sderot has had to endure.

“All of the country feels what it means to want to save your life,” Davidi said. “In Tel Aviv they have two minutes. We have 15 seconds. We have a joke: If we lived in Tel Aviv we could take a shower and make coffee” before seeking shelter.

“We pray the army can do the job and succeed with the operation,” he added.

Many Israelis would likely welcome the respite from running to bomb shelters that a cease-fire would provide. But Talia Levanon, head of the Israel Trauma Coalition, said that if this operation ends like Israel’s last in 2012, there will hardly be a break in the conflict for Sderot.

Whether “it’s called an operation or it’s called a war, we need to seek shelter with my children and grandchildren, “ Levanon said. “Right now we speak of a cease-fire. We’ll wait a year or two years for it to happen again. We’re always licking the wounds of the previous operation and preparing for next time.”

Azerbaijan: Good for the Jews?

The true story of Jewish Azerbaijan past and present has Hollywood written all over it. Two ancient cultures meet on the same land. One is Muslim and one is Jewish. But here is the twist: The land is overflowing with natural riches, from fruits to “black gold” (oil), and the cultures work and live harmoniously. Not only that, but they forge new, vital forms of culture, government and commerce. And pay attention Hollywood: Almost no one outside of Azerbaijan has heard this story. Those who have are amazed and want to know more.

What is today the Republic of Azerbaijan, bordered by Russia, Georgia, Turkey, Iran and Armenia, has been home to Jews since Late Antiquity. Many of these early Jewish settlers came during the Persian Empire and settled in the north of what is today Azerbaijan, in an area called Guba.

Over the centuries, Jewish practices, beliefs and traditions held the Jews together even during low points. Shared family lives and business relationships, particularly in agriculture and trade, kept the neighboring Jewish and Muslim towns functioning as close neighbors.

After breaking away from the Soviet Union in 1991, Azerbaijan found quick recognition by Turkey and then by Israel. The Azerbaijan-Israel strategic partnership today plays a vital role in the security of both countries.

A venerated and beloved figure in Azerbaijan is a young Jew named Albert Agarunov. Agarunov fought valiantly in the battle for Azerbaijan’s sovereign territory in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that continues to plague the country today. Agarunov died at the hands of Armenian forces during the 1992 occupation of the town of Shusha, a center of Azerbaijani culture. Azerbaijani authorities buried Agarunov in Martyrs’ Lane in Baku and posthumously awarded him the title of National Hero of Azerbaijan, the country’s highest honor.

Surely Hollywood would accord Agarunov top consideration for a Jewish Azerbaijani lead. But other Jewish Azerbaijanis too have a place on the big screen; a movie about colorful Baku-born Nobel Prize-winning (1962) physicist Lev Landau is already in the making.

In Azerbaijan, the close, even seamless relationships among residents are a powerful balm against any perceived societal ills. Friendships, weddings, businesses, all show signs of Jewish-Muslim closeness and solidarity.

When pressed about Azerbaijan’s unique cultural oasis, many Azerbaijanis cite “Ali and Nino,” the romantic novel based in Baku from 1918 to 1920. The book, virtually embedded in Azerbaijani consciousness, is believed to have been authored by 20th-century writer/historian Lev Nussinbaum, a man of mixed Jewish-Russian background from Baku who adopted a Muslim pen name, Kurban Said, and assumed Azerbaijani identity.  In this Baku of old, East and West, Muslim, Christian and Jew and ancient and modern appear in a seemingly impossible yet complementary weave of elements. To many contemporary visitors and residents, that is Baku.

Hollywood, are you listening?

Diana Cohen Altman is executive director of the Washington D.C.-based Karabakh Foundation, a U.S. cultural charity focused on Azerbaijan.