Attempts at Full Israeli-Palestinian Peace Only Exacerbate the Conflict, Says Analyst

Yossi Alpher, in his new book “No End of Conflict: Rethinking Israel-Palestine,” argues that peacemakers must separate “pre-1967” and “post-’67” issues. (Photo courtesy Americans for Peace Now)

Yossi Alpher, in his new book “No End of Conflict: Rethinking Israel-Palestine,” argues that peacemakers must separate “pre-1967” and “post-’67” issues. (Photo courtesy Americans for Peace Now)

Prospects seem so poor for Israeli-Palestinian peace that even some longtime advocates of a two-state solution have begun arguing for new  approaches to preserve Israel’s Jewish and democratic character.

“We’re on a slippery slope, on both sides, to something very ugly,” veteran Israeli security analyst Yossi Alpher said over coffee at Kramer Books in Washington’s Dupont Circle last month.

Alpher, a former Mossad  officer and former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, said that neither Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has the political strength or personal desire to reach an agreement to establish a Palestinian state alongside  Israel and end the conflict  between the two peoples. Well-meaning attempts, such as Secretary of State John Kerry’s 2014 peace push, can only fail under the circumstances and leave the region worse off.

World leaders are making a mistake by trying to build agreements on the model of the 1993 Oslo Accords, which sought to end every aspect of the conflict at once, Alpher said. “My argument is, 25 years after Oslo, it’s fair to suggest that whoever wants to deal with the issue should stop and say, ‘We tried this at the highest level, and we failed.’ If you try again based on all the same rules, you’re going to make things worse.”

We’re on a slippery slope,  on both sides, to something very ugly.” — Israeli security analyst Yossi Alpher

 

Alpher, a Washington, D.C., native who has lived in Israel since 1964, is often associated with Israel’s peace movement. He writes a weekly analysis column for Americans for Peace Now and co-edited Bitter Lemons, an online dialogue with Palestinian academic Ghassan Khatib.

But Alpher said that he is an independent analyst, not an ideologue. He was back in Washington to speak about his new book, “No End of Conflict: Rethinking Israel-Palestine,” whose policy prescriptions seek to slow down — not transform — the ride to a  binational Israel in constant conflict with its Palestinian  inhabitants.

“I used to be optimistic. Then I became realistic. I am so concerned about the future that I have written this book,” he writes.

The flaw inherent in all peace attempts, including the 2008 effort between Abbas and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, where the two parties came closest to agreement,  is between what Alpher calls “pre-1967” and “post-’67” issues.

The post-’67 issues — borders, security arrangements, land swaps — are relatively simple to agree on. But the pre-’67  issues, which arose from  Israel’s creation, are “narrative issues” upon which both the Israeli and the Palestinian  national identities are founded: Jerusalem and the holy places and Palestinian refugees. Agreements repeatedly founder on these issues, Alpher said.

One lesson from Kerry’s failed peacemaking effort, Alpher said, is that the two sets of issues should be separated, and the narrative issues should be set aside. “Talk about the nuts and bolts of a two-state solution, not about the end of the conflict.”

Alpher views Israel’s settlement and West Bank policies over 50 years almost like a Greek tragedy. They “add up to a strategic mistake worthy of being listed in Barbara Tuchman’s 1984 ‘March of Folly’ alongside the Trojan War and the U.S. War in Vietnam,” he writes.

“The existential threat to  Israel is from within,” he said, “as a democratic, Jewish, Zionist state. And this is our doing. And in this sense it’s a strategic mistake. The recognition [in 1967] should have been: Get out.”

In the book, he offers five possible scenarios for the future: The Arab world contributes to Israel’s continued military-strategic strength despite the continuing Palestinian problem; things become so bad that Israelis decide unilaterally to give up the West Bank; the Palestinians revolt against Israel’s presence in land they claim for a future state; or the Palestinians give up their struggle for independence.

Alpher said the more likely scenario is “muddling through.”

Nevertheless, he said, “we’re in a revolutionary era in the region, which is why you can’t truly predict the future.”

What if Gaza runs out of water in two years, he asked, as the United Nations predicts? “What effect does that have? Or if [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan makes an agreement with Israel and  becomes a patron of Gaza. What effect will that have?” Or what if Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi deputy crown prince and rising star, announces he will come to Jerusalem “and offer Israel peace and normalization ‘if you and the Palestinians do A, B, C and D.’ What effect would this have on Israeli public opinion?”

Egyptian President Anwar Sadat did make such a groundbreaking gesture in 1977, Alpher noted. But that was only after the trauma of the Yom Kippur War. That’s a high price to pay for fundamental change.

dholzel@midatlanticnedia.com

Baltimore Remembers Wiesel as Eloquent, Thoughtful, Righteous Mensch

Elie Wiesel (Eugene Garcia/ZUMA Press/Newscom)

Elie Wiesel (Eugene Garcia/ZUMA Press/Newscom)

Elie Wiesel, the iconic Holocaust survivor, activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner, died of natural causes on Saturday, July 2 at the age of 87. While he was a figure of international prominence, there is hardly a Jewish community around the world that didn’t feel his impact, and Baltimore is no different.

“It was like looking in the face, shaking hands with righteousness itself,” said former Baltimore Jewish Council executive director Art Abramson, who met Wiesel first in Los Angeles and again in Washington, D.C. “The man knows every emotion I think a human being can experience.”

“He’s just a once-in-a-lifetime figure,” said Neil Rubin, former senior editor at the Baltimore Jewish Times and an area Jewish history educator who interviewed Wiesel in 1992. “The written word gave him an opportunity to speak, and when he spoke he was riveting. He was really haunting in his look, in what he had to say. And yes, he did laugh, and yes, he did smile, which was very important as well.”

A philosopher, professor and author of such seminal works of Holocaust literature as “Night” and “Dawn,” Wiesel perhaps more than any other figure came to embody the legacy of the Holocaust and the worldwide community of survivors.

“I have tried to keep memory alive,” Wiesel said at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in 1986. “I have tried to fight those who would forget. Because if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices.”

Often he would say the “opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference.”

He was a real kind of intellectual and also a man who thought profoundly and deeply about your time and place in space and what you’re supposed to do, and you sensed that when you were with him.
— Neil Rubin, former JT Senior Editor

Wiesel spent the majority of his public life speaking of the atrocities he had witnessed and asking the public to consider other acts of cruelty around the world, though he drew the line at direct comparisons with the Holocaust.

Wiesel won a myriad of awards for his work, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Gold Medal and the National Jewish Book Award. “Night” is now standard reading in high schools across America. In 2006, it was chosen as a book club selection by Oprah Winfrey and, nearly half a century after it was first published, spent more than a year atop the best-seller list. He would also take Winfrey to Auschwitz that same year.

Morris Rosen (left), a Baltimore Holocaust survivor, says it’s an honor that Elie Wiesel called him “dearest friend Morris.”

Morris Rosen (left), a Baltimore Holocaust survivor, says it’s an honor that Elie Wiesel called him “dearest friend Morris.” (Photo provided)

Born in the town of Sighet, Transylvania, then and now a part of Romania, in 1928, Wiesel was deported to Auschwitz in 1944 with his family when he was 15. His mother and one of his sisters would disappear forever when the family was forced aboard the cattle cars, murdered immediately. His father, who traveled with him to the camps, died of dysentery and starvation in Buchenwald. Two sisters would survive the war.

Wiesel was liberated from Buchenwald in 1945. He went on to study at the Sorbonne and moved to New York at the end of the 1950s, where he lived in relative obscurity. He worked hard to find a publisher for “Night,” which initially sold poorly.

In the late 1960s Wiesel finally began to emerge as one of the pre-eminent voices in Holocaust literature. By the end of his career he had written some 50 books.

His 1966 book reporting the plight of Soviet Jews, “The Jews of Silence,” made possible the movement that sought their freedom.

Along with his wife, Marion, Wiesel is survived by a son, Shlomo.

For some, Wiesel could have been a regular dinner guest had they not known who he was.

Beth Tfiloh Congregation Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg said Wiesel was the first person he invited to speak at his congregation when he started there in 1978, and Wiesel did so that December. Before his speech, Wohlberg had him over for dinner.

Morris Rosen (left) and  Elie Wiesel (Photo provided)

Morris Rosen (left) and Elie Wiesel (Photo provided)

“You would never know how great a human being he was because when you sat with him it was as if a family member or close friend was sitting with you and schmoozing. And you just felt enveloped with his warmth and his love,” Wohlberg said. “I believe it was around that time that he had become a father, and I had two small, young children. And the greatest challenge he felt was bringing a child into this world after the Holocaust.”

He signed a book to Wohlberg’s sons: “May they bring joy to their parents and our people,” Wohlberg recalled. “He was very focused on not just the last generation, but on the next generation.”

He excused himself during the meal to call his son and say goodnight, Wohlberg recalled.

Rubin also got to experience Wiesel in his less larger-than-life form when he flew to New York to interview Wiesel at his apartment for the Atlanta Jewish News in 1992.

“I met him in the lobby. He was coming home with his wife; they had been food shopping, so I helped him with his groceries, took them upstairs,” Rubin said. “It was a ‘hey, this is a real person’ kind of experience.”

Rubin recalled thousands of books on shelves in various languages “all of which he probably read in the original [language],” Rubin quipped, and a sliding wood ladder to climb in order to reach higher shelves.

All through their discussion — which included Yom HaShoah, which Wiesel thought should be combined with Tisha B’Av — Rubin said Wiesel was very profound.

“He was a real kind of intellectual and also a man who thought profoundly and deeply about your time and place in space and what you’re supposed to do, and you sensed that when you were with him,” Rubin said. “He wrote books about Chasidic masters and their legends, and he was very much into mysticism, which asked the eternal question of why the hell we’re here were anyway … To say he was thoughtful is a bit like saying the sun is warm.”

Rubin said he admired Wiesel’s not being afraid to criticize Israel, which he said Wiesel did in private sometimes, and that he spoke out about other atrocities around the world such as in Sudan and Biafra.

“[That] was his way of saying we don’t own suffering, which a lot of Jews think we do, and they’re wrong,” Rubin said.

To Baltimore resident and Holocaust survivor Morris Rosen, Wiesel was a friend.

“He all the time called me ‘dearest friend Morris,’” Rosen, who first met Wiesel in the 1980s, said. “It was an honor.”

Rosen, 93, said it was how Wiesel spoke and what a mensch he was that made him such an icon.

“[He cared about] not only what happened in the Holocaust, but he took up wherever [injustice] was done; he was there,” Rosen said.

Abramson said it was how Wiesel told his story that made him stand out.

“There was something about the way he told it and that look in his eyes. Although he probably told the same stories a million times, for him, every time he told it, it was to teach a lesson. I think that’s what it was all about,” he said. “He kept going because I think he felt an obligation to teach lessons. His books taught lessons and taught lessons to avoid it from ever happening again.”

For Howard Libit, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, it is Wiesel’s footsteps in which many of the organization’s efforts follow.

“Everything we do in relation to Holocaust education is essentially an effort to further his message — the teacher institute that we help put on that will be later this summer to Yom HaShoah, the community remembrance, to the tremendous efforts we make to enable survivors to continue to speak to schools across the region,” he said, “In every case, it’s about never being silent, making sure we never forget. That is such an important message, and what we’re doing is dedicated to furthering that.”

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

Elie Wiesel Gave the Holocaust a Face and the World a Conscience

President Barack Obama has lunch with Elie Wiesel in the Oval Office Private Dining Room, May 4, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

President Barack Obama has lunch with Elie Wiesel in the Oval Office Private Dining Room, May 4, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate who became a leading icon of Holocaust remembrance and a global symbol of conscience, died Saturday at 87. His death was the result of natural causes, the World Jewish Congress said in a statement.

A philosopher, professor and author of such seminal works of Holocaust literature as “Night” and “Dawn,” Wiesel perhaps more than any other figure came to embody the legacy of the Holocaust and the worldwide community of survivors.

“I have tried to keep memory alive,” Wiesel said at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in 1986. “I have tried to fight those who would forget. Because if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices.”

Often he would say the “opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference.”

The quest to challenge indifference was a driving force in Wiesel’s writing, advocacy and public presence. Though he considered himself primarily a writer, by the end of the 1970s he had settled into the role of moral compass, a touchstone for presidents and a voice that challenged easy complacency about history.

Wiesel spent the majority of his public life speaking of the atrocities he had witnessed and asking the public to consider other acts of cruelty around the world, though he drew the line at direct comparisons with the Holocaust.

“I am always advocating the utmost care and prudence when one uses that word,” he told JTA in 1980.

President Barack Obama, who met frequently with Wiesel and took his counsel, said he had been a “living memorial.”

“Along with his beloved wife Marion and the foundation that bears his name, he raised his voice, not just against anti-Semitism, but against hatred, bigotry and intolerance in all its forms,” Obama said in a statement. “He implored each of us, as nations and as human beings, to do the same, to see ourselves in each other and to make real that pledge of ‘never again.’”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wiesel was “bitterly mourned” by the State of Israel and the Jewish people.

“Elie, the wordsmith, expressed through his extraordinary personality and fascinating books the triumph of the human spirit over cruelty and evil,” he said in a statement.

Wiesel won a myriad of awards for his work, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Gold Medal and the National Jewish Book Award. “Night” is now standard reading in high schools across America. In 2006, it was chosen as a book club selection by Oprah Winfrey and, nearly half a century after it was first published, spent more than a year atop the best-seller list. He would also take Winfrey to Auschwitz that same year.

Writing for The New York Times Book Review in 2008, Rachel Donadio said “Night” had become “a case study in how a book helped created a genre, how a writer became an icon and how the Holocaust was absorbed into the American experience.”

“There is no way to talk about the last half century of Holocaust consciousness without giving Wiesel a front and center role,” said Michael Berenbaum, a professor at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles and former director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s research institute. “What he did, extraordinarily, was to use the Nobel Prize as a tool to call attention to things, and as a vehicle to scream louder, shout more, agitate more.”

Born in the town of Sighet, Transylvania, then and now a part of Romania, in 1928, Wiesel was deported to Auschwitz in 1944 with his family when he was 15. His mother and one of his sisters would disappear forever when the family was forced aboard the cattle cars, murdered immediately. His father, who traveled with him to the camps, died of dysentery and starvation in Buchenwald before liberation. Two sisters would survive the war.

In “Night,” Wiesel describes pinching his face to see if he is dreaming when he sees the murders of infants.

“In those places, in one night one becomes old,” Wiesel told NPR in 2014. “What one saw in one night, generations of men and women had not seen in their own entire lives.”

Wiesel was liberated from Buchenwald in 1945. He went on to study at the Sorbonne and moved to New York at the end of the 1950s, where he lived in relative obscurity. He worked hard to find a publisher for “Night,” which initially sold poorly.

These are slave laborers in the Buchenwald concentration camp near Jena; many had died from malnutrition when U.S. troops of the 80th Division entered the camp.  Germany, April 16, 1945.  Pvt. H. Miller.  (Army) NARA FILE #:  208-AA-206K-31 WAR & CONFLICT BOOK #:  1105

These are slave laborers in the Buchenwald concentration camp near Jena; many had died from malnutrition when U.S. troops of the 80th Division entered the camp. Germany, April 16, 1945. Pvt. H. Miller. (Army)
NARA FILE #: 208-AA-206K-31
WAR & CONFLICT BOOK #: 1105

“The truth is in the 1950s and in the early 1960s there was little interest and willingness to listen to survivors,” said Wiesel’s longtime friend Rabbi Irving “Yitz” Greenberg, who had read a copy of “Night” in Israel in the early 1960s. “In 1963, someone told me this author is alive and well in New York City and I somehow managed to find him and go see him.”

Wiesel was “gaunt” and “working as a freelance reporter, a stringer, for a French newspaper, an Israeli newspaper and a Yiddish newspaper — and for none of the above was he making a living,” Greenberg said.

Greenberg was determined to help Wiesel find work.

“He had this magnetic presence,” the rabbi said. “He was quiet but with tremendous force and he felt the vividness the Holocaust had a message.”

In the late 1960s Wiesel finally began to emerge as one of the preeminent voices in Holocaust literature. By the end of his career he had written some 50 books.

In 1972, he enthralled Yeshiva University students with his excoriation of the American and American Jewish leadership for its silence during the Holocaust.

How many Jewish leaders “tore their clothes in mourning?” Wiesel asked. “How many marched on Washington? How many weddings took place without music?”

His 1966 book reporting the plight of Soviet Jews, “The Jews of Silence,” made possible the movement that sought their freedom.

“Elie Wiesel was the collective moral compass of the Jewish people,” Natan Sharansky, who became the face of the Soviet Jewish struggle, said in a statement with his wife, Avital, who with Wiesel led advocacy for Sharansky’s release from prison.

“He was the first to break the silence surrounding the plight of Soviet Jewry, and he accompanied our struggle until we achieved victory,” said Sharansky, who is now the chairman of The Jewish Agency for Israel. “We will miss him deeply.”

In 1978, Wiesel became the chairman of the Presidential Committee on the Holocaust, which would ultimately recommend the building of a Holocaust museum in Washington. As his public presence grew, he began to visit the sites of other genocides. In 1980, he traveled to Cambodia. In an interview with JTA, Wiesel called the Cambodian refugee camps “spectacles of horror” and noted, “That these things could happen again simply means that the world didn’t learn — or that the world didn’t want to learn.”

In 1985, Wiesel’s reputation grew beyond the Jewish world when he challenged President Ronald Reagan on live television over his intention to visit a German cemetery that housed the remains of Nazi soldiers. In the Oval Office to receive the Congressional Medal of Achievement, Wiesel chastised Reagan.

“This is not your place, Mr. President,” Wiesel famously said. The president visited the cemetery anyway, but changed his itinerary to include a visit to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

Wiesel challenged the White House again in 1993 when he charged the newly inaugurated President Bill Clinton to do more to address the atrocities then unfolding in Yugoslavia.

“Most people don’t confront a sitting president that way, and he confronted two,” said Sara Bloomfield, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s current director.

“He saw people would listen to him,” said Stuart Eizenstat, who held senior positions in multiple presidential administrations and was a key figure in the negotiation of Holocaust restitution agreements with several European governments.

“He became more aggressive about showing that it is not just the Holocaust, but applying lessons to rest of the world as well,” Eizenstat said. “He became more active in other genocidal or world conscious issues. He wanted to use that power for the cause not just of Holocaust memory, but also to prevent genocide.”

At the inauguration in 1993 of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Wiesel said, clearly, “I don’t believe there are answers. There are no answers. And this museum is not an answer; it is a question mark.” That question mark he applied to global atrocities, as well as historical ones.

His later years saw him wade into politics. He was friends with Obama but also loudly chastised the president for calling for an end to settlement construction and for brokering the Iran nuclear rollback-for-sanctions-relief deal, positions that led to criticism, even from longtime admirers. His very public support for Netanyahu was also questioned. Peter Beinart, writing in Haaretz, said: “Wiesel takes refuge in the Israel of his imagination, using it to block out the painful reckoning that might come from scrutinizing Israel as it actually is.”

The final years of his life also saw financial turmoil. His personal finances and $15.2 million in assets of the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity were invested with Bernie Madoff, who was convicted in 2009 of fraud. Wiesel’s fortune and the reserves of his organization were wiped out.

Yet he did not cease his work. Just months after the Madoff scandal broke, in June 2009, he led Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on a trip to Auschwitz, where he noted he was at his father’s grave. Wiesel then gave a searing indictment of the world’s continued inability to learn.

“As a public figure who was also the very symbol of the Holocaust survivor in America, Wiesel acted as a moral compass, his personal history lending unequaled gravity to his public remarks on genocide, anti-Semitism and other issues of injustice worldwide,” said Ruth Franklin, author of “A Thousand Darknesses: Lies and Truth in Holocaust Fiction.” “Wiesel never pretended that he understood the Holocaust. He spoke of it as a horror beyond explanation, a black hole in history. As the virtual embodiment of the catch phrase ‘never forget,’ he did more than anyone else to raise awareness of the Holocaust in American life.”

Along with his wife, Wiesel is survived by a son, Shlomo.

Brazil’s Jews Scale Back on Kids’ Birthday Extravaganzas

Eduard and Mariana Zagury held a third birthday party for their twins, Gabriel and Daniela, at a fancy “party house” in Rio, but they chose the venue for its innovative educational approach. (Gustavo Serebrenick)

Eduard and Mariana Zagury held a third birthday party for their twins, Gabriel and Daniela, at a fancy “party house” in Rio, but they chose the venue for its innovative educational approach.
(Gustavo Serebrenick)

RIO DE JANEIRO — Mini roller-coasters, Ferris wheels, monorails and zip lines are just some of the over-the-top attractions featured at birthday parties for Rio’s privileged under-10 set — including the overwhelming majority of Jewish kids.

At “casas de festa” (party houses), parents often pay several thousand dollars for lavish themed decorations and amusement-park style attractions for four-hour long, deejayed parties for 100-plus friends of the birthday boy or girl — often as young as 3 — escorted by their parents and siblings.

“It’s a millionaire market,” said businessman Fernando Fajngold, 46, one of the pioneers of the $100 million party industry. “Parties are spectacles where parents ask for foreign [cartoon] characters, magicians, mimics, caricaturists, Japanese food and whatever else you can imagine. Some of these super productions may cost nearly the price of a popular car.”

But in a sign of Brazil’s flagging economy, and a growing sense of modesty among many families, some Brazilian Jewish families are beginning to cut back on the birthday extravaganzas.

Latin America’s largest nation and the home of some 120,000 Jews is facing what is considered the most severe economic crisis in a century.

In 2015, a record 500 Brazilian Jews moved to Israel seeking a better life for their families, including quality public health care, education and job opportunities. For many emigres, moving to Israel is also seen as an escape from snobbery and one-upmanship.

Michelle Diamante Wajntraub, a native of Porto Alegre who lives in Rio, believes the economic crisis is changing attitudes among her contemporaries. She remembers inviting 150 guests to one of her daughters’ parties, but now she prefers small get-togethers.

“It’s too much money for a four-hour party and the child won’t even care if the mother did it or hired someone. All they want is to play with ” she said. “When kids are little, their big parties mostly end up being for the parents. Also, I like to get involved and the kids have lots of fun with the preps.”

Psychologist Aline Fridman said her children Kurt and Charlotte, ages 7 and 5, prefer parties held at their spacious apartment near Copacabana, the Rio neighborhood where most middle-class Jews live.

“Music, theater, books and toys, that’s how we do our parties at home,” Fridman said. “Kids choose what to play with. Last time I bought a pie, candies and food and that’s it. My mom and aunts helped me. It’s cozier and we save money to travel and for cultural activities. We know many couples who are used to doing the same.”

Deborah Khodari, the co-founder of Zukie, a fancy children’s clothing store popular among Jewish moms in Rio, has noticed signs of change among mothers who buy presents for their children’s friends.

“Kids attend an average of four to six parties every month. Sometimes it seems they need to clone themselves between three parties on one same weekend,” said Khodari, a mother of two. “Our shoppers used to pay $30 for a present, but now the average is nearly half of that.”

To be sure, Brazilian Jews continue to host extravagant parties, just as many North American Jews throw lavish bar and bat mitzvah galas despite calls from rabbis and others to scale back for the sake of modesty and “spirituality.”

The children’s party market in Brazil grows 30 percent every year, according to SEBRAE, the Brazilian government’s small business bureau. Considering a target population of 52 million children under 14 in the country, the business is hardly child’s play.

Many of the air-conditioned entertainment shrines where such parties are held are located in Botafogo, where Brazil’s largest Jewish day school, Colégio A. Liessin, is also located. When observant families throw a party, they provide a small table with kosher food — if not a full kosher buffet. When meat is served there are even non-dairy versions of brigadeiros, the sugary Brazilian bonbons that are de rigueur as part of elaborate birthday displays.

Fajngold opened the Unidunite party house in 1996 in upscale Barra da Tijuca, Rio’s newest neighborhood. The demand was so impressive that he opened a second venue, where during the 2000s he hosted some 30 parties every month. Competition quickly became fierce, leading him to close the branch. Today he runs a film and photo production company to serve the industry.

Mariana Zagury’s twins Daniela and Gabriel attend kindergarten at Liessin. Some 200 guests attended their third birthday at one of Rio’s ritziest party houses, Existe Um Lugar. Typical for such events, families brought nannies dressed in impeccable white uniforms to look after their kids.

And yet even here the couple tried to make the day more meaningful. Zagury and her husband, Eduardo, who serves as cantor for Jewish weddings, chose the venue for its innovative educational approach, healthier food, open-air environment and the greenery surrounding the playground.

“Everyone, including Jewish couples, have been seeking more meaningful parties,”Zagury said. “I have the best memories from my childhood when my mother made most things alone without professional aid. I guess it’s a trend once again.”

Although some prefer discretion, most Jewish parents brag about their super parties. Sending pictures to a Jewish newspaper’s social column has been replaced by sharing an album on Facebook. Gustavo Serebrenik is among the more sought-after photographers. Nearly half of his clientele is Jewish.

“Spontaneous photos, when performed with the appropriate technique and good light, have the power to make parents truly delighted,” he said. “Those are moments that they didn’t notice during the party and they are caught by surprise to see in pictures.”

In Israel, some Brazilian immigrants look back on the big parties with a mixture of nostalgia and rue.

When Rio-born kindergarten teacher Karen Holperin, who now lives near Tel Aviv, threw the first birthday party for her Israeli-born child Yoni last year, she invited only 30 children and adults. Guests were asked to bring a savory or sweet dish to the park, and she baked the cake.

“I fell in love with the simplicity and intimacy. No waiters, no cleaning ladies, no cooks, no professional decoration,” Holperin said. “We do it on our own. We prepare quiches, salads and sandwiches, or order coxinha [chicken fritters]. Mothers prepare the recreation. I follow my Brazilian Jewish friends’ parties on Facebook and today I find those super productions very awkward.”

Sao Paulo native Luciana Almeida Tub, who lives in Netanya, recently threw a joint party for her kids Uri and Lia. She and her Uruguayan husband welcomed friends of various backgrounds to a party at a Netanya park. Tub directed the show herself.

“What has always impressed me in celebrations here is simplicity in all possible ways,” Tub said. “No loads of money, no one dying to set up a breathtaking decoration, no one dedicating an entire night to prepare candies.

“Initially, I confess I found it big and ugly, but today parties have been planned more carefully. There is even an online group called Talented Moms, where mothers share their dedication to parties, cakes and presents with pride.”

Marcela Goft’s daughter Hannah was born in Israel after her mother made aliyah in 2008. However, the family traveled to Rio to celebrate her first birthday — at a party house.

“We did it the Brazilian way. Israelis believe parties like ours are unnecessary and — why not — chaval al hazman, a waste of time,” Goft said in an email from her home in Efrat, in the West Bank. “Something I like in the Israeli culture: Whereas in Brazil birthday kids receive tens of very expensive presents, here ordinary sticker books or coloring books is enough.”

For Fridman, replacing opulent parties for the do-it-yourself style is a smart and very Jewish trend.

“Due to the historic persecutions, we Jews know we don’t take with us anything but our knowledge, memories, talents, traditions,” she said. “What we save today can be enjoyed by our family tomorrow.”

Netanyahu Keeps Calling for Talks with Abbas. Is He Serious?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with Israel Defense Forces deputy chief of staff Yair Golan alongside President Reuven Rivlin at an Israeli Independence Day ceremony for outstanding  soldiers on May 12. (Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90 via JTA)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with Israel Defense Forces deputy chief of staff Yair Golan alongside President Reuven Rivlin at an Israeli Independence Day ceremony for outstanding soldiers on May 12. (Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90 via JTA)

TEL AVIV — For a leader often accused of not wanting to talk peace with the Palestinians,  Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sure does a lot of talking about wanting to talk to the Palestinians.

In a series of three statements this month, Netanyahu repeatedly stressed the need for peace with the Palestinians. He called the peace process one of his highest priorities and hinted that a renewal of talks might be underway.

Responding to a question about the peace process on Twitter on May 12, Israel’s Independence Day, Netanyahu said “there’s nothing I want more or am more active on, in many ways you don’t know.” Later that day, speaking to foreign diplomats in Jerusalem, he asked for help arranging a meeting between himself and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

“I have taken steps that no other prime minister in Israel’s history has taken to advance peace,” he said. “Every minute that President Abbas refuses to accept my call for peace robs Palestinians and Israelis of the opportunity to live without fear.”

Netanyahu’s commitment to a Palestinian state, even in theory, has remained a question mark and divided observers of Israeli politics since he took  office in 2009. Both his defenders and his critics point to different sets of gestures and statements he’s made that signal support for, or opposition to, a two-state solution. In the lead-up to elections 14 months ago, he dismissed the possibility of a Palestinian state on his watch.

But in a talk to North American Jewish federations last  November, he said he “remain[s] committed to a vision of two states for two peoples where a demilitarized Palestinian state recognizes the Jewish state, and Israel will continue to work for peace in the hope that what is not achievable today might be achievable tomorrow.”

At the same time, Abbas repeatedly has declined another round of negotiations, saying he would only talk following Israeli good-faith measures. Before the last series of talks, in 2013, Israel released 82 Palestinian prisoners before the two sides met. Net-anyahu’s defenders say Abbas’ reticence shows that the Palestinian leader remains the main obstacle to a deal.

“This process has two sides, and I think the central problem isn’t Israel but Abu Mazen,” said former Israeli Deputy National Security Adviser Shaul Shay, using Abbas’ nom de guerre. “Abu Mazen isn’t prepared to reach an agreement, so things are stuck not necessarily because of Israel.”

Abbas instead has turned to international forums, including the United Nations, to recognize a Palestinian state and hold Israel accountable for what he calls violations of international law.

Most recently, Abbas endorsed a French-led initiative to convene an Israeli-Palestinian peace conference for the summer, an initiative Israel opposes.

The France initiative is just one of three factors leading  Netanyahu to emphasize peace talks again, analysts say. The others include the possibility of the center-left Labor Party joining his coalition and a  desire to project optimism on Israel’s Independence Day.

The French initiative calls for a regional peace conference to be held in the summer. Should negotiations fail, France has vowed to recognize a State of Palestine. Israel thus far has refused to participate, saying the statehood recognition threat gives the Palestinians no incentive to negotiate in good faith.

“The only way to advance a true peace between us and the Palestinians is by means of direct negotiations between us and them, without preconditions,” Netanyahu told his Cabinet on Sunday. “Any other attempt only makes peace more remote and gives the Palestinians an escape hatch.”

Netanyahu is also enmeshed in negotiations with the Knesset’s largest opposition party, Labor, which advocates a settlement building freeze and renewed peace talks. Rumors have swirled in recent days that party chairman Isaac Herzog is ready to sign on in exchange, in part, for being named Israel’s foreign minister. Herzog acknowledged the negotiations in a May 12 Facebook post, but said he was not yet ready to join the government.

“If I receive a mandate to stop the next campaign of funerals and to block the danger of an international boycott, to bring back the United States and  Europe as allies, to open negotiations with regional states and to separate from the Palestinians into two states so as to stop the continual campaign of terror, then I’ll know my hands are on the steering wheel,” the post read.

Renewed negotiations have seemed remote recently. A brutal war in Gaza followed the collapse of talks in 2014. Last year saw the formation of a right-wing Israeli government, succeeded by a wave of terror that is only now fading.

“He sees a theoretical possibility but not a practical one,” said Dror Zeevi, a Middle Eastern studies professor at Hebrew University, referring to Netanyahu. “If things come together, it’s possible he would be ready for a deal, but I don’t think it’s practical in the current government.”

Those who insist Netanyahu is sincere about renewing talks point to his 2009 speech at Bar-Ilan University, where he committed to supporting a  demilitarized Palestinian state alongside Israel. They note that he froze West Bank settlement growth in 2010 and freed Palestinian prisoners to jump-start negotiations in 2013 and 2014. Since taking office seven years ago, Netanyahu  repeatedly has called for direct negotiations with Abbas.

“He’s ready to make concessions,” said Ephraim Inbar,  director of Bar-Ilan’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. “Everyone knows he’ll make concessions. He was ready to freeze settlements. There are concessions he won’t make for security reasons, for historical reasons, and the nation agrees with him.”

Others point to Netanyahu’s decades-long opposition to Palestinian statehood prior to 2009. Since the building freeze, they note, Netanyahu has expanded settlements throughout the West Bank. And in March 2015, two days before Israeli elections, Netanyahu told the Israeli news website NRG that a Palestinian state would not rise while he is prime minister.

Gershon Baskin, who has acted as a conduit between the Netanyahu government and Palestinian leaders, said that Abbas has thrice offered to begin secret direct talks with Netanyahu. Each time, Baskin said, Netanyahu has refused.

“The point isn’t negotiating anymore — it’s making decisions,” Baskin said. “[Netanyahu] doesn’t do anything in terms of policy to show that a two-state solution is what he wants. Nothing on the ground indicates that.”

But others insist it is Abbas offering mixed messages, as the Washington Institute for Near East Policy titled a recent report on the Palestinian leader and Israel.

“It is not just that Abbas and the P.A. turned their backs on any peace talks with Israel — a position they have hewed to ever since” turning to the international community for unilateral actions, wrote David Pollock, the Kaufman fellow and director of Project Fikra at The Washington Institute in “Mixed Messages.” “It is also that they had decided thenceforth to seek independent statehood for themselves without paying any price at all to  Israel — neither the end of claims and conflict, nor a compromise on refugees, nor formal agreement on any other issue. In other words, their objective was land without peace.”

Britain’s Labor Party Suspends 50 Over Anti-Semitism, Racism

Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is no stranger to controversy, having called Hezbollah and Hamas members his friends. (Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is no stranger to controversy, having called Hezbollah and Hamas members his friends. (Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

Britain’s Labor Party reportedly has secretly suspended 50 of its members in the past two months over anti-Semitic and racist comments. The suspensions by the party’s compliance unit were reported in the British daily The Telegraph on Monday, May 2, citing a senior source within the party. Up to 20 members have been suspended in the past two weeks, the source said. Some 13 members have been publicly named since October.

On Monday, the party suspended three local lawmakers over a span of several hours for anti-Israel and anti-Semitic social media postings.

The Daily Mirror accused party head Jeremy Corbyn of playing down the issue of anti-Semitism and racism in the party after he said in an interview with the London-based newspaper: “What there is is a very small number of people who have said things that they should not have said. We have therefore said they will be suspended and investigated.”

On April 28, the party suspended former London Mayor Ken Livingstone for saying that Nazi leader Adolf Hitler was a Zionist for advocating in 1932 a policy of moving Europe’s Jews to Israel. The following day, Labor said it would launch an investigation into anti-Semitism in the party. Corbyn also said in a statement that he would propose a new party code of conduct that would “make explicitly clear for the first time that Labor will not tolerate any form of racism, including anti-Semitism, in the party.”

Corbyn, a harsh critic of Israel who has called Hezbollah and Hamas activists “friends,” has been criticized for not doing enough to curb the rising anti-Semitic rhetoric in his party and has been accused of encouraging vitriol against Israel and Jews by not distancing himself from groups such as Hamas.

Local elections in Britain, including for mayor of London, were scheduled for Thursday in a race that Labor’s candidate, Sadiq Khan, was favored to win, which would make him the first Muslim mayor of a major Western city. Labor, however, is expected to lose tens of seats nationwide. Khan is among those who have called for Livingstone’s expulsion from the party.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Parliament member Naz Shah, who was suspended from the party last week for a 2014 Facebook post calling for the relocation of the entire State of Israel to the United States, resigned from a Home Affairs Select Committee investigating anti-Semitism in the party. The committee agreed at her request to excuse Shah “until her current issues have been resolved,” The Telegraph reported.

A Land Flowing With Milk, Honey and … Water Desalination Innovation Infiltrates Israel’s Economy

(Ben-Gurion University of the Negev)

(Ben-Gurion University of the Negev)

Even as one of the world’s smallest countries, Israel is in its second decade of progress toward tackling one of the world’s largest problems: water scarcity.

One of Israel’s efforts toward making its water usage more efficient and environmentally sustainable came to fruition in 2005 with the construction of the Ashkelon Desalination Plant on the Mediterranean coast. There are now four plants with a fifth scheduled to open later this year at Ashdod.

The most recent plant to open was at Sorek in 2013, when the desalination company IDE Technologies partnered with Merkerot, Israel’s national water company, to implement a much more advanced reverse osmosis process converting salty water from the Mediterranean Sea into potable water.

“Ten years before, the question was: Who can make desalination? Of course, in those days a lot of companies made desalination,” said Boris Liberman, chief technology officer and vice president of IDE.

Liberman explained that Israel does not have separate water systems for drinking water and irrigation, but Sorek treats water for both purposes.

“It’s one common system, but the standard of the water we are producing is the highest standard,” he said.

With the production capacity of 624,000 cubic meters of water per day (164.8 million gallons), Sorek is the largest seawater desalination plant in the world. Water first undergoes the pre-treatment stage, where all suspended solids are removed, and “we try also to remove a little bit of the dissolved organic material as much as we can,” Liberman added.

The unique thing about our technology  is that this is very important. You can  incorporate it into a new system, or you can  also incorporate it in an existing system.” — Dr. Noam Perlmutter

 

The water then passes through long, tube-like structures called membranes, where dissolved salts are removed from the water in two stages: first from the seawater and then again from the brackish water (a mixture of seawater and freshwater). Due to its increased production, Sorek uses 16-inch membranes, which are twice the size of those in any other plant in Israel.

“The size of the membrane is related to the size of the desalination you’re doing,” Liberman said. But “when you actually start to design this plant, you understand that a huge membrane is not cost-effective.”

In the post-treatment stage, a bit of limestone is added to the water in the absence of  fluoride for drinking water.

“People need calcium for their bones, so somehow we have to add calcium,” he said, which limestone provides.

Liberman said each pump can produce about 2,500 cubic meters of potable water, which, he said, is unique to anywhere else.

Despite the larger, more expensive membranes, Liberman said Sorek’s cost of production is no different from that of Ashkelon’s or a plant in Hadera.

Drought-Propelled  Innovation

For many years, the Sea of Galilee was Israel’s major source of water, but drought conditions in the 1990s caused lake levels to become low and led to contamination, said Ehud Zion Waldoks, a spokesman for Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. But the desalination plant project initially lacked public support, which caused delay and put Israel in “dire water straits,” even to the point of people not washing their cars.

“In 1999, it rained a lot, and people asked, ‘Why do I need an extremely expensive desalination plant?’” he said.

Israel now uses a combination of freshwater from the Kinneret and desalinated seawater from the Mediterranean as its potable water sources for both drinking and irrigation. More than 80 percent of Israel’s treated wastewater is recycled and is used for irrigation of crops, which is higher than anywhere else in the world. Next is Spain, which recycles 20 percent of its wastewater.

At the helm of much of  Israel’s water innovation has been BGU’s Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research. The university was established in 1969 by the Israeli government with the purpose of economically rejuvenating the Negev. It has produced a number of technological innovations such as the startup company ROTEC, which designs mineral scaling technology that prevents mineral salt deposits from collecting in membranes during the desalination process. The company has also brought its technology to Jordan, the United States and several countries in Europe.

Dr. Noam Perlmutter, one of ROTEC’s founders, explained that the desalination in Israel has ballooned to a roughly $30 billion- to $50 billion-per-year industry for revenue.

“The unique thing about our technology is that this is very important,” he said. “You can incorporate it into a new system, or you can also incorporate it in an existing system.”

Desalinated water has become a hot commodity around the world, used by large corporations such as IBM and Coca Cola. Perlmutter said ROTEC is developing a project with Coca Cola but is still in the early stages.

“In the United States, desalination is taking out water from the sea and [creating] potable water,” he said. “But desalination is much more than that. Today, you’re using desalination in every aspect of the industry.”

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Wastewater  Treatment

ROTEC’s latest pilot project is a flow reversal unit that is being tested at the Shafdan Wastewater Treatment Plant, which supplies water to the Dan  region of Israel and includes Tel Aviv. It’s is the largest wastewater treatment plant in the country. Treating wastewater requires less pressure than  seawater, Perlmutter added.

Shafdan can process 7.5 cubic meters of wastewater per hour (almost 2,000 gallons) and can recover up to 90 percent of the water by reversing the  direction of the water’s flow and create a highly concentrated brine. The unit would be used only for nonpotable water purposes.

Perlmutter said that in Israel brine can be put back in the sea — there is no other current use for it — but other countries such as the United States and Australia forbid this practice.

“This is why in some cases the desalination of brackish water is not economically  viable,” he said. “This is a big problem when you’re trying to get this much water [out of] the desalination process.”

But the presence of an advanced water infrastructure in Israel dates back further than 15 years.

The remains of the ancient Israelites’ irrigation system from the seventh century B.C.E. can be seen on the site of Tel Beersheva, just east of the modern-day city of Beersheva, and is open to the public.

BGU archeology professor Steve Rosen said the water system was set up in order to manage flash flooding at Wadi Beer Sheba. Rosen said all of the work in constructing the cistern would have been done with iron picks and that the engineering feat was “genius” for its time.

“They have no optical instruments. They have obviously no mechanical instruments. The whole thing is dug by hand with picks. The dirt is removed on the backs of donkeys and on the backs of people,” he said.

“You’d take three steady rods to line them up, and if they’re lined up in a straight line, you get plumb bobs to get a straight line going down. And you had to do all of that to make sure that they had a slope that would bring the water into the system.”

Rosen said most likely the majority of the work was done by slaves, due to the pyramid-like social structure of the ancient Israelite society.

“You would come out during the season and work on the king’s lands unless you were part of the aristocracy,” he said. “If you got to be in the upper class it was great, but how many people were in the upper class, 2 percent?”

Rosen himself was a part of the excavation team that uncovered the site in the 1970s and said that upon digging, the  researchers discovered that much of the rock that was used in the construction collapsed in order to stabilize the ceiling, which is made of limestone block.

Rosen said the ancient civilizations typically did not drink the water due to the fact that it was full of waste but would typically elect to drink alcohol.

“We know from the Roman and Byzantine texts that you would not drink the water,” he said. “You would mix the water with wine, and they actually say it cleaned the water, which makes a little bit of sense because the wine had alcohol and the alcohol probably killed some of the bugs.”

Rosen added that some of Israel’s ancient cisterns still collect water, but it typically turns into green sludge that “you don’t want to put your toe in, let alone drink.”


The Kornmehl Goat Cheese Farm and Restaurant (Daniel Schere)

The Kornmehl Goat Cheese Farm and Restaurant (Daniel Schere)

A Nutritious Negev for Noshing

The concept of Jews having “made the desert bloom” may not be completely visible as you travel along Route 40 through the bare hills of Israel’s Negev desert, but venturing off the beaten path between Beersheva and Sde Boker may turn you on to one of the region’s most delicious hidden treasures.

The Kornmehl Goat Cheese Farm and Restaurant was started almost 20 years ago by Anat and Daniel Kornmehl, who had been studying agriculture at Hebrew University. Daniel had also studied cheese-making in France. After graduating and traveling around Australia and the United States, the couple came back to Israel with the intent of raising goats and starting their own cheese business.

“I was working in the Ministry of Agriculture in the extension service for farmers,” Anat said. “I was teaching sheep and goat farming, and then we decided that this is what we want to do. We want to practice agriculture and sell a product.”

They wanted to start their business in Jerusalem but were put off by the bureaucracy, so they decided to raise their own goats. The Kornmehls went to the land authorities and applied for a grazing  license, only to be told they needed the actual goats first.

“At that time, Daniel was starting cheese-making in one of the places in Jerusalem, and they got an agreement that instead of getting money for the work that he did there, he [would] get 12 young goats,” Anat said.

The Kornmehls raised the goats for five years only to be repeatedly met with red tape.

The Kornmehl Goat Cheese Farm and Restaurant (Daniel Schere)

The Kornmehl Goat Cheese Farm and Restaurant (Daniel Schere)

“We got to a point where we said enough is enough. We either sell the goats or else I don’t know what we’re going to do,” she said.

They ended up settling on government-owned land just north of the Sde Boker kibbutz in 1997. Four kids and almost two decades later, the couple still does not have a permit, but they have been living on the site and going strong with their business.

“This is why we live in a compound, we can’t build a house yet after 18-and-a-half years,” she said.

In addition to the restaurant they offers tastings and opportunities to watch the goats being milked. March and April, Daniel said, is when farmers see their largest yield of goat’s milk, because mother goats usually get pregnant in July and start producing milk two months before they have kids. But the kids drink some of the mothers’ milk during infancy, which is around November and December.

The hard cheeses are in season first during the spring, and they then become progressively softer as the warm months progress.

Kornmehl’s menu is none too overwhelming but includes a series of effective outlets for getting cheese in the stomach including a calzone with goat cheese, tomatoes and red peppers and fried filo dough-wrapped goat cheese pieces that express “fresh from the farm” like no other style of goat cheese. You can also order a sampler plate that includes a selection of hard and soft cheese varieties.

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

Baltimore Couple Brings Israeli Jews, Arabs Together

Jewish and Arab students enrolled in Achla show off their art projects. (Provided)

Jewish and Arab students enrolled in Achla show off their art projects. (Provided)

When Alan and Lauren Sachs made aliyah with their children from Baltimore in 2010, they wanted to find opportunities for their older kids, who are now 10 and 12, to learn Arabic.

“The idea was to expose them to the language, the sounds and some basic vocabulary,” Alan said. But it was difficult to find a good after-school program. “It was shocking to me when we came here that they had no exposure to Arabic because it was all around us and it seemed like a missed opportunity,  especially at their ages when they were absorbing Hebrew so fast.”

They connected with Arab-Israeli Faten Jbara, a Taibe resident who teaches Arabic at a Jewish school, and she began teaching four kids Arabic in the Sachs’ basement in Ranana. Once they knew enough Arabic, Jbara brought her kids over so the Jewish kids could interact with Arab kids. Separately, the Sachs family had connected with other Arab families from Taibe, an Arab Muslim town about 12 miles northeast of Ranana, who were interested in the group.

“Suddenly, our intro to Arab group, the focus had shifted, and it became really an opportunity — and here really a very exceptional opportunity — for Jewish kids and Arab kids to be in a classroom together and sit with each other, learn with each other, interact with each other and really gain some exposure to each other in a positive environment,” Alan Sachs said. “We had not found any other opportunities locally for this kind of interaction.”

As interest in the group grew, the Sachses sought a new facility and were given space by Beit Berl, an academic college located between Ranana and Taibe. In the fall of 2015, Achla was launched. Even at a time when tensions were high in Israel due to attacks between Israelis and Palestinians, the first class was so crowded there weren’t enough chairs for all of the children.

The name of the program is an Arab word that is used in Hebrew as slang for cool or awesome.

The program is structured so that two Fridays a month, Jbara teaches Jewish children Arabic and Lauren Sachs teaches the Arab children English. A third teacher was recently brought in so Achla could have two levels of English classes. After their separate classes, the students come  together for a snack and a group activity. The lessons  as well as the activity are  centered on a theme.

Past themes have included greetings, food, community, travel and holidays. Not only do students learn  vocabulary associated with each theme, but they speak about how their culture  relates to that theme. For example, for the community theme, students brought in photos of their favorite places from their neighborhoods, and the group looked at photos of the inside of mosques and  synagogues.

“I learned that not all Arabs are mean and there are a lot of Arabs that are nice that can be our friends.” — Liat Lazer, an 8-year-old student at Achla

 

In a region where ethnic and religious identity can be polarizing, Achla helps humanize Jews for the Arab children and Arabs for the Jewish children.

“I learned that not all Arabs are mean and there are a lot of Arabs that are nice that can be our friends,” said Liat Lazer, who turns 9 in June. “They’re really nice, they’re like us, and they’re regular children, and they’re fun to play with. … I really feel like I’m not that scared by all the stories I heard at school.”

Achla students, who are Jewish and Arab Israelis, play cat’s cradle. (Provided)

Achla students, who are Jewish and Arab Israelis, play cat’s cradle. (Provided)

Yael Ebenstein, Liat’s mother, said her daughter is excited to see Arabic words and to try to understand them. She now says hello and engages with custodial workers at her school, Arab Israeli women who wear hijabs.

“I really wanted her to be exposed to  Israeli Arabs who are fellow citizens. We don’t have a lot of direct connections,” Ebenstein said. “I didn’t want her to be afraid when she sees people speaking in Arabic. I want her to understand Arabs are lovely people we can be friends with.”

It’s the same reason Taibe resident Osnat Hag Yahia sends her 12-year-old daughter, Leen, to Achla.

“I really wanted my daughter to get to know new people in other cultures and to speak with them,” she said. “She also loved the idea that she can meet people her age that do not speak her native mother language. It’s also good for her to explore and discover the other side, the other people that live here in the country.”

Jbara, the Arab teacher, has seen the stereotypes crumble at Achla and friendships among students form.

“We need that value, to have a good living together [between] two cultures who live in the same country,” she said. “I believe that this exposure that we make for these kids [could] change our future. I believe and hope that as adults we will change something.”

Lauren Sachs agrees: “I think it’s a testament to the power of what could be.”

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

Counting the Bombshells in Pew Israel Study

pew

There was more than one bombshell in the Pew Research Center’s “Israel’s Religiously Divided Society,” a study  released this month. The first was the finding that 48 percent of Jewish Israelis support  “expulsion and transfer of Arabs from Israel.”

But maybe it was only a bombshell in the United States. In its exploration of Israel’s  religious identities, the study describes a very different  Judaism than the American variety, which Pew explored in its 2013 “Portrait of Jewish Americans.” The two communities are similar enough for each to support the other but different enough for the  new study to cause a blow to American Jewish expectations.

Taken together, the two Pew studies cover 80 percent of world Jewry. The Israel survey found that 40 percent of the country’s Jews call themselves chiloni, or secular; 23 percent say they are masorti, or traditional; 10 percent are dati, or Orthodox; and 8 percent are Haredi Orthodox.

But the English translations do not fully explain the meaning of the Hebrew words. And that can lead to surprises for an American reader.

By American standards, Israel, even with its large secular population, is a very religious place. Fifty-six percent of  Israeli Jews versus 23 percent of American Jews say they  always light Shabbat and holiday candles; 60 percent versus 40 percent say they fasted last Yom Kippur; and 63 percent versus 22 percent say they keep kosher at home.

Since the study’s release,  analysts have been trying to interpret how nearly half of Israeli Jews can favor an  Israel without its Arab  citizens — if that’s what  they were saying.

 

When the Pew study of Jewish Americans was released, critics noted how 73 percent  of American Jews said that  remembering the Holocaust was an important element of their Jewish identity. Critics said this showed how limited American Judaism is.

But 65 percent of Israelis also said that remembering the Holocaust was an important part of their identity.

Other surprises concerned Israel’s long-term problems.

Thirty-eight percent of  Israelis said security was their most crucial issue. But 39 percent said economics was Israel’s greatest long-term problem. By contrast, 66 percent of American Jews said security was Israel’s biggest problem. But they completely overlooked the high cost of living and income disparity that caused hundreds of thousands to take to the streets in 2011.

A panel discussion at the Pew Research Center in Washington on March 17 tried to make sense of these findings.

One issue is each nation’s conception of pluralism.

While the American concept of pluralism is that among a variety of religious approaches no one way is more important than another, “Israeli pluralism has never considered an alternative religious ideology to Orthodoxy as worthy,” said Steven M. Cohen, research professor of Jewish social policy at Hebrew Union College.

Added Joy Levitt, executive director of JCC Manhattan; “For a lot of chiloni Israelis, religion is the government.  It’s the state.”

And for them, the state-sponsored Judaism is Orthodoxy. Asked why the average Israeli would want to stop another  Israeli from being married by a non-Orthodox rabbi — only the Orthodox rabbinate has state-sanctioned authority to intervene in personal status questions among Jews in Israel — Shmuel Rosner, a fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute in Jerusalem, said, “Because they don’t want to import the American split into streams [of Reform, Conservative,  Orthodox, etc.]. There is an advantage to having one stream that everyone follows or ignores. They do not want to add to the splits in Israel.”

Compared with Israel, American Jews “have a huge stake” in the separation of  religion and state because they are a minority.

When it comes to how each society views the Holocaust, Rosner noted that Israel was founded to counter Jewish helplessness in the diaspora. Nevertheless, Holocaust remembrance is a central tenet of  Israeli life.

“It’s almost impossible for a Jew to say that the Holocaust isn’t important,” he said. “Israel is obsessed with the Holocaust. Almost all high schoolers visit death camps in Poland.”

Cohen said Israel has the view that “the entire world is against us. While in America, Jews are told that we are the most loved people in the country.”

The lack of American interest in Israel’s economic situation is a significant blind spot, said Levitt. “It troubles me that American Jews have so little understanding of Israeli’s economic troubles. It’s a piece of data that American Jewish policymakers should take  notice of.”

Since the first headlines accompanied the study’s release, analysts have been trying to interpret how nearly half of  Israeli Jews can favor an Israel without its Arab citizens — if that’s what they were saying. For Rosner, the finding was more likely Israeli Jews blowing off steam or a cultural tic. The survey was taken between October 2014 and May 2015 after Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza and before the start of the so-called Knife Intifada.

“I don’t think we should be hysterical about it,” Rosner said, adding that in 1992, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who had reached the Oslo Accords with the PLO, said, “It would have been great if Gaza had drowned in the Mediterranean.”

“So not just the [Israeli] right feels a natural sentiment that one feels toward an enemy,” Rosner explained. “It does not mean Jewish Israelis will support an actual plan. But it’s a warning sign about the right way to treat a fellow citizen.”

But Cohen said the finding — along with another in which 79 percent said Jewish Israelis deserve preferential treatment — is “consistent with public policy.”

“So much more money is spent on Jewish schools than on Arab schools,” Cohen said. “It reflects decades of discrimination by the Jewish majority. It reflects a policy of discrimination not warranted by the security needs of Israel, the country that I love.”

dholzel@midatlanticmedia.com

30 Dead in Brussels Attacks; Jewish Schools Locked Down

Shattered windows at Zaventem Airport show the devastation caused by a suicide bomber. (Gareth Fuller/PA Wire via ZUMA Press/Newscom)

Shattered windows at Zaventem Airport show the devastation caused by a suicide bomber. (Gareth Fuller/PA Wire via ZUMA Press/Newscom)

Jewish schools and other  institutions in Antwerp and Brussels went into lockdown following attacks in Belgium that killed at least 30 people at the main airport and in the metro in Brussels.

At least 10 people were killed in the attack Tuesday morning at Zaventem Airport, according to the online edition of the Le Soir daily. Officials said a suicide bomber detonated the deadly charge.

About an hour later, another 20 people died in an explosion at a metro station in central Brussels, according to the daily. Several explosions were heard near the Maelbeek  District, not far from the headquarters of the European Union.

Dozens were injured in both attacks.

Police advised civilians to remain indoors. Public transportation and flights to and from Zaventem were suspended.

The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying it was in response to Belgium’s participation in the U.S.-led coalition fighting against the group.

Among the wounded was an Israeli citizen who resides in Antwerp and was in Brussels for a wedding, according to Rabbi Pinchas Kornfeld, a community leader from Antwerp. He sustained injuries to his legs but is not in life-threatening condition, Kornfeld said.

Another Jewish person was moderately wounded, according to Samuel Markowitz, a paramedic for Hatzoloh, a local Jewish emergency services  organization. Several dozen Jews were among the hundreds of passengers who were evacuated to a safe area near the airport, he added in an interview with the Joods Actueel Jewish monthly.

Shortly after the attacks, the Antwerp World Diamond Center canceled a Purim party it planned for tomorrow “out of respect for the victims and their families,” the center’s CEO, Ari Epstein, told Joods Actueel. Another Purim party by the European Jewish Association was canceled in Brussels, the group’s director, Rabbi Menachem Margolin, said.

The airport attack occurred at 8 a.m. near the American Airlines desk, according to the online edition of Joods Actueel. Kornfeld said many Jewish passengers were traveling between Antwerp, which has a large Haredi Orthodox community, and New York.

“It was the right time and place to produce many Jewish casualties,” he said.

Le Soir reported that two explosions ripped through the airport. A federal prosecutor said at least one of the explosions came from a suicide bomber’s explosive vest.

Recess was canceled at dozens of Jewish schools in Antwerp, and children were instructed to stay inside the buildings, Kornfeld said. Shortly thereafter, similar  instructions went out from the Belgian government’s crisis center to all of the country’s schools. University students were instructed to refrain from coming to campus.

Witnesses told Joods Actueel that at the airport they heard shouts in Arabic, gunshots and a massive explosion that tore through the ceiling and produced a thick cloud of white smoke and dust, as  hundreds of people fled from buildings there.