Student Killed In Egypt Was Active In Hillel, Motivated By Peace

 Andrew Pochter, the American student stabbed to death Friday during a protest in Egypt, was active in Hillel and motivated by a desire to encourage peace and democracy in the region.

“He went to Egypt because he cared profoundly about the Middle East, and he planned to live and work there in the pursuit of peace and understanding,” said a Facebook post reportedly put up by his family, according to Reuters.

Pochter, 21, of Chevy Chase, Md., was killed during a protest against the Muslim Brotherhood in Alexandria. He reportedly was teaching English there to children and studying Arabic.

He was to enter his junior year at Kenyon College in Ohio in the fall. The Facebook post said Pochter expected to study in Jordan next spring.

The Forward reported that Pochter had served as a co-manager of Kenyon’s Hillel, where he was asked to give a speech to fellow students marking Rosh Hashanah last year.

“Entering the New Year really resonated with him,” Marc Bragin, director of the Kenyon Hillel, told the Forward. “He was so excited just to go out and discover things. His passion really came out that Rosh Hashanah morning.”

Bragin added, “What really stands out to me about Andrew is how incredibly welcoming he was to different people and to different ideas. He had a passion for learning, for learning about other people and other cultures.”

Machzorim For Lund

062813_machzorim_for_lundI’ve never been to Sweden. To be truthful, I’ve never given much thought to Sweden at all. When someone mentions Sweden, I usually think of three things:

• Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust.

• The Swedish chef from “The Muppet Show.”

• Bob Hope and Frankie Avalon in the 1965 film “I’ll Take Sweden.”

And I must confess, not necessarily in that order.

But when a call went out on the Cantors Assembly email list requesting High Holiday machzorim for a small congregation in Lund, Sweden, I offered to send as many of our unused prayer books as they could use. And there my Swedish odyssey began.

It was a confluence of events that began this journey. After agreeing to donate the books, I began to make arrangement for their delivery. Wanting to be certain that the books were appropriate for their needs, I made contact with the cantorial student who would be leading the services. Leah Frey-Rabine is a student in the Aleph Seminary program, affiliated with the Jewish Renewal movement, and she lives near Frankfurt, Germany.

I was surprised and delighted to learn that not only was she born in Minnesota and graduated from Indiana University’s opera program, but she has also been making her living as a dramatic soprano and voice teacher in Europe for many years. We immediately fell into the familiar singer’s conversation — “Who did you study with?” “Which roles did you perform and where?”

As we talked, I realized here was a person who, later in life, discovered a need within herself to nurture precious Jewish souls in a place where it can be challenging (even dangerous) to be openly Jewish.

Frey-Rabine’s use of her successful performing career and experiences as a lens through which to focus and share her deep love of Judaism struck a resonant chord within me; and it was then that the idea of personally delivering the machzorim to Lund began to germinate.

I eagerly started to research the history of Sweden’s Jewish population from medieval times to the present and also read of the many challenges facing the community today. Shechita (kosher slaughter of animals) has been illegal in Sweden since 1937. Circumcision is highly regulated and strongly discouraged. After consulting with my wife and with Beth El’s leadership, I decided to fly to Copenhagen and from there to make the short trip to Lund with my precious cargo. During my stay I will also visit Malmo, the site of some of the most virulent anti-Jewish behavior in Sweden, and will lead Shabbat services at the Great Synagogue in Stockholm.

Frey-Rabine is just one of the fascinating and courageous personalities I have encountered, as I prepare for this journey, and in the coming weeks you will hear more about them. In the next few issues you’ll read about:

• The Stockholm mohel, whose main occupation is circumcising Muslim boys.

• The activist who established “kippa walks”  in defiance of anti-Jewish incidents.

• The young Muslim who courageously established an organization to educate Muslims about anti-Jewish bigotry and the Holocaust.

This is an odyssey. I hope to gain a deeper appreciation for the Jews of Sweden. I also hope to experience firsthand the unique challenges faced by a tiny minority in a country, where Jews do not enjoy the freedoms that we in the U.S. take for granted.

NSA And The Jews

Edward Snowden’s revelations have ignited a firestorm of debate on individual privacy versus national security.  ( Lee)

Edward Snowden’s revelations have ignited a firestorm of debate on individual privacy versus national security.
( Lee)

The revelations by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden that the government gathers and stores data on the public’s phone and Internet use as part of the PRISM program in the name of national security has renewed debate on questions over security versus privacy in the modern world.

For the Jewish community, questions about necessary steps to be safe are more than just philosophical debates. Even in the U.S. there are threats Jewish groups face from anti-Semitic rhetoric and violence, and Jewish events often engage a higher level of security than might be seen elsewhere. Whether a private security guard at a synagogue or coordinating with local law enforcement in advance of an event, questions of safety loom large for the Jewish community.

“A substantial number of attacks on Jewish institutions have been successfully stopped,” said Paul Goldenberg, executive director of the Secure Community Network, an organization that consults with Jewish communities on safety issues on behalf of many of the largest Jewish groups and federations.

He made it clear that those have nothing to do with the PRISM program, but they do illustrate that Jewish community leaders are justified in their concern over safety. In his opinion, that safety is worth having the program, although Goldenberg made very clear that that approval is only if the program strictly adheres to legal standards.

“As long as these intelligence-gathering methods are within the law, I support them,” he said.

Protecting Americans from terrorist attacks is ultimately the goal according to releases from government officials. In defending the program, White House officials have said that PRISM is responsible for preventing more than 50 terrorist attacks on American soil since its inception. The details of these planned attacks are not known, but directly or indirectly it is not difficult to imagine that Jews would have been among the targets.

“As long as it’s dealt with as des-cribed, it’s not a problem,” said Dr. Arthur Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council.

Of course, until recently the program was a secret, and many believe a lot of the methods and details of the PRISM program are sketchy. The information released by Snowden and subsequently elaborated on by government documents indicate an intricate system for the gathering and investigation of the data since the program began in 2008, but new information continues to change the picture.

According to the latest released information on the program’s parameters, the PRISM program is aimed at gathering phone and internet usage of foreign nationals outside the U.S. communicating with people in the country and can only hold onto information about citizens and legal residents if it contains foreign intelligence of criminal evidence. To access that data, the government must obtain a warrant from a Foreign Int-elligence Surveillance Court by showing probable cause that getting the data will help prevent terrorism. But even with those constrictions, many Americans have expressed unease, and there is growing pressure for more information. There are also class-action lawsuits organized by groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union to stop the program entirely.

However, Goldenberg said that it may be hard to argue with the program’s success over the last several years however. He compared it to his own experience as a law enforcement executive who had executed many search warrants and wiretaps in efforts to prevent crime.

“I don’t think it’s happenstance that this nation has not seen more catastrophic attacks,” he said. “I believe in the system and working in the system,” he added, “as long as it’s done with due process.”

The other major discussion to come out of the revelation of the PRISM program, besides talking about the program, has been the matter of Edward Snowden, who fled to Hong Kong before the information he revealed became public.

“I’m not a fan of Snowden,” Abramson said.

This weekend, the U.S. formally charged Snowden with espionage and related crimes and requested that Chinese authorities detain him but instead Snowden was allowed to fly commercially to Moscow and is expected to seek asylum in Ecuador on the advice and with the help of WikiLeaks. Ecuador had also provided shelter to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in its London embassy.

For the most part, it’s hard to say where the debate over the PRISM program will go. Official opinions and statements on the particulars of the program will likely evolve as time passes, Goldenberg said. But for now, it appears that the program has not been abusive and has been used to good effect.

“We’re a nation of checks and balances, and I’m very grateful for that,” Goldenberg said.

Taxed & Overtaxed

Americans with over $10,000 in an Israeli bank account must report that money to the IRS.

Americans with over $10,000 in an Israeli bank account must report that money to the IRS.

Do you have a bank account in Israel?

If so, let’s hope you filed the correct forms. Otherwise, you could be in for a criminal investigation and some hefty fines.

That’s because early this year, the Internal Revenue Service announced that it was cracking down on people not voluntarily disclosing their inc-ome and funds in Israeli accounts to the U.S. government agency.

In February, court filings revealed that an American citizen pled guilty for failing to report the existence of two bank accounts maintained in the Holy Land to the IRS. As part of a plea agreement, the defendant agreed to cooperate with government authorities and to pay a significant financial penalty.

“It’s important to note,” said Charles M. Ruchelman, a member of the Washington, D.C., law firm Caplin & Drysdale. “Just as occurred in Switzerland, it is now clear that the U.S. government is increasing its focus on Americans who are failing to report Israeli assets.”

Previously, the IRS had focused on accounts in the Caribbean, Switzerland and India. Now, said Ruchelman, the IRS is working closely with Israeli banks and bankers and is ready to investigate and prosecute those who fail to report their funds and accounts, and those who enable this to happen.

Who is the government looking for?

United States citizens who have an interest in, or signature or other authority over, a financial account in Israel with assets in excess of $10,000. Ruchelman said people with these accounts are required to disclose the existence of such accounts on Schedule B, Part III of their individual income tax returns. Additionally, U.S. citizens and residents must file a Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Reports (FBAR) with the U.S. Treasury disclosing any financial account in Israel with assets in excess of $10,000. That form is due June 28, 2013.

If they don’t, according to a statement by the Department of Justice: “A deliberate failure to report can result in a penalty of up to 50 percent of the amount in the account at the time of the violation.”

Why Israel?

Ruchelman said because the U.S. and Israel have close relations and “thousands and thousands of Americans have accounts in Israel … This is very much on the [IRS’s] radar, and it will affect the Jewish community.”

Ruchelman explained that the IRS started focusing on offshore accounts in 2008 or 2009, when a whistleblower who worked with one of the large foreign banks in Switzerland informed the government that Swiss banks were not only allowing Americans to open up accounts but enabling Americans not to report the funds therein.

“Switzerland prided itself on bank secrecy,” said Ruchelman.

This initial investigation led to the criminal prosecution of one Swiss bank, Weglin & Co., and numerous taxpayers, bankers and other professionals.

The IRS leveraged this highly publicized criminal enforcement focus by ecouraging noncompliant taxpayers to participate in its longstanding Voluntary Disclosure program. The 2009, 2011 and 2012 programs provided taxpayers who came forward before the IRS learned of their accounts with both certainty regarding the financial penalties they would incur and assurances that they would not be referred for prosecution. According to a recent GAO study, these programs generated approximately 38,000 disclosures and well over $5 billion in taxes, interest and penalties.

Caplin & Drysdale handled hundreds of these cases.

“The idea is: You come into us before we [the IRS] find you, and we will not prosecute you criminally, and we will not impose the harsh penalty of 50 percent per year of nondisclosure, we’ll only impose 27.5  percent for one year,” explained Ruchelman.

For the Jewish community, Ruchelman said, having a foreign bank account is not … foreign. Many Jews who were living in Germany just before or during the Holocaust caught wind of what was happening on the ground and funneled money outside the area. If they escaped the Nazis and started a new life in the States, they left those accounts abroad as a safety net, a just in case.

But America’s system, he explained, only works if citizens properly self-report.

“If people aren’t self-reporting, the system is breaking down,” said Ruchelman. “It is a lot of assets that have been untaxed over the years.”

Dr. Michael Elman has an account in Israel as well as real estate. He said he’s been reporting on that account for the last 15 years. For him, because he doesn’t make money in Israel, he only has to report the existence of the account. It’s one tax form.

“For me, it is pretty simple,” he said.

Dr. Elman noted that he knows many others with accounts in the Jewish state and the people he knows report properly, but he can see why the IRS would be upset if one was refraining from doing so. Nonetheless, he told the JT, “I happen to think that in either country we are overtaxed. Is that fair? No.”

Still, he’ll keep reporting.

Said Ruchelman: “If you do get caught, you are going to get hit pretty hard.”

Over The Red Line?

Tea Party Patriots rally to protest the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of Tea Party and grassroots organizations. (SHAWN THEW/EPA/Newscom)

Tea Party Patriots rally to protest the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of Tea Party and grassroots organizations.

The news that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) unfairly targeted conservative groups has brought a new spotlight on a 2012 lawsuit filed by the pro-Israel group Z Street. According to Z Street Director Lori Lowenthal Marcus, the IRS singled out the organization and failed to move forward its request for 501 (c)(3) tax-exempt status because Z Street “is an organization that disagrees with the president’s policy.”

Z Street filed a lawsuit against the IRS in 2010. The suit was filed in federal court in Pennsylvania and later transferred to D.C. A judge in Washington will hear the case July 2. Most of the Tea Party groups known to have come under scrutiny applied for 501 (c)(4) status, which allows advocacy groups to avoid federal taxes on their operations budget but doesn’t render donations to the group tax deductible. Both kinds of applications are processed in the same Cincinnati office.

According to the Forward, a second Jewish group, Ameinu, a self-described progressive Zionist group, also reported that the group was red-flagged because of its connection to the Jewish state.

The Z Street case has raised some — but not many — eyebrows in the Jewish community.

Dr. Arthur C. Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, said he is not alarmed. He said, “I had never heard of them. … I can’t say this was unwanted attention.”

But Lowenthal, whose group still has not obtained its nonprofit stature, is not willing to take this battle sitting down. She expressed “disappointment” at the Jewish community’s response.

“As a general matter, the Jewish community is up in arms about discrimination against other groups,” she said. “The public response for us from the organized Jewish community has been disinterest. When it has not been disinterest, it has been vicious.”

According to Lowenthal, Z Street is a “purely educational” group that works to disseminate information about Israel that one might not see in the headlines of major newspapers. From her vantage point, Z Street was red-flagged not because it does anything wrong, but on the basis of its viewpoint that “I support Jews living and breathing in Shiloh” and other neighborhoods located in Judea and Samaria.

She said the IRS rebuttal to this claim is that any organization that does business in the Middle East (inc-luding in Israel) must be red-flagged because there is a heightened risk of terrorism.

At that, Lowenthal chuckles.

“Israel is not the source of the terrorism,” she said. “Israel is the victim of terrorism. There are not Israeli terrorist groups raising money in the U.S.”

Moreover, noted Lowenthal, Z Street does not provide grants to anyone, including to Jews living in Israel.

But Abramson said he does not see an issue with red-flagging organizations with ties to Israel. He said, “Obviously, the majority of the terrorists are coming from the Arab community, but there are Jewish terrorists.”

Abramson recalled that even over a decade ago when BJC applied for 501 (c)(3) status for the Congressman Elijah Cummings Youth Program in Israel (ECYP), BJC went through what seemed an arduous process. He said tying the name of a congressman with a nonprofit raised a red flag, as did the fact that the organization contained Israel in its name.

“They questioned it. I don’t see anything of note,” Abramson said.

And he also noted that he supports the government’s right to decide if nonprofit funds should be used to support programs over the green line.

Douglas Bloomfield, a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant, said he is less worried about the fact that an organization tied to Israel was red-flagged than he is that there is such uproar that the community thinks it wrong for the IRS to do its job.

“This is not a partisan issue,” he told the JT in relation to the alleged singling out of Tea Party programs, noting that it is not an issue of perspective on Israel or anything else either.

Lowenthal said she thinks knowledge that the IRS may scrutinize one organization over another will lead the community not to trust the IRS. She said, “People [and organizations] will just sanitize their language” to get the status they want. “I know of groups that were having difficulty getting IRS approval, so they changed their names and got what they wanted.”

Bloomfield said he thinks Congress should put an end to that, too  if it is happening, and he is not confident that it is. Congress, he said, has a responsibility to make sure the IRS is properly funded to provide strong oversight to all who apply for 501 (c)(3) and (c)(4) statuses and to offer continual oversight to make sure those organizations are not abusing their power. He said the IRS “should do a full, fair and good job” of vetting each applicant to make sure it is qualified; everyone has to meet the same standards.

“Let the sunshine in,” he said. “Sunshine has the greatest healing/curative power. We need to know who, how much, for what.”

Meeting At Vatican One Between True Friends

Group photo of IJCIC members and Pope Francis. (PRNewsFoto/World Jewish Congress)

Group photo of IJCIC members and Pope Francis. (PRNewsFoto/World Jewish Congress)

Citing the Declaration Nostra Aetate, and the teachings of Saint Paul, Pope Francis declared Monday, during his first official meeting in the Vatican with representatives of the Jewish community, that “due to our common roots, a Christian cannot be anti-Semitic!”

He continued, “The fundamental principles expressed by the Declaration have marked the path of greater awareness and mutual understanding trodden these last decades by Jews and Catholics, a path which my predecessors have strongly encouraged, both by very significant gestures and by the publication of a series of documents to deepen the thinking about theological bases of the relations between Jews and Christians. It is a journey for which we must surely give thanks to God.”

The meeting was organized by the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultation, who, by tradition, is the first group to meet with a new pope. According to Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive director of the Rabbinical Assembly, the IJCIC, “is one of the places in Jewish life where rabbis and lay leaders from all denominations join together in common cause to build relationships with other religious groups in order to strengthen the Jewish people.” Schonfeld, who was part of the 30-member delegation to the Vatican meeting, noted that, “The power of the day, which was so remarkable for the feeling of friendship between the Vatican and the Jewish community, was made infinitely more so by the rare privilege of bringing common cause with rabbis from across the denominational spectrum — Reform, Conservative and Orthodox.”

First greeted and briefed by Zion Evrony, Israeli ambassador to the Holy See, Schonfeld explained that, “The satisfaction we all derived by coming together as a Jewish community to represent was palpable. On behalf of the Jewish community, we are sensitive to the fact that we come not only to represent Jewish concerns to the Vatican, but also to build relationships so as to listen to concerns that the Vatican wishes to share with us.”

Following is the text of an interview with Rabbi Schonfeld following her meeting with Pope Francis.

What were your impressions of the pope?

The pope has established important friendships with rabbis in Buenos Aires, including my colleague, Conservative Rabbi Abraham Skorka, who co-wrote a book with the new Pope in 2010, On Heaven and Earth, recently translated into English.

The most powerful impression for me was how the pope asked all of us publicly, and repeated to many of us individually, that we pray for him. This is a fascinating trope, already associated with this pope. Pope Francis is very warm and personal, and he inspires a great deal of trust. His humility makes people attach themselves to him. His request for prayers for him is a part of his overall humility, with which he leads. As a part of the whole personae that he creates, this invitation to pray for him invites people to be a part of the sacred way he perceives his work. Pope Francis represents a departure, characteristic of the 21st century, from a vision of leadership that is about the greatness of the man to a vision that is about the interconnectedness of the community.

Presentation of gift to Pope Francis: left to right - Kurt Cardinal Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity; Martin Budd, Treasurer, IJCIC; Lawrence Schiffman, Chair, IJCIC; Betty Ehrenberg, Vice Chair, IJCIC; assistant to the Pope Archbishop Ganswein; Pope Francis. (PRNewsFoto/World Jewish Congress)

Presentation of gift to Pope Francis: left to right – Kurt Cardinal Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity; Martin Budd, Treasurer, IJCIC; Lawrence Schiffman, Chair, IJCIC; Betty Ehrenberg, Vice Chair, IJCIC; assistant to the Pope Archbishop Ganswein; Pope Francis. (PRNewsFoto/World Jewish Congress)

Because of the strong friendships between Pope Francis and the rabbis he knows well from Argentina, he enters the stage of Catholic-Jewish dialogue with an unprecedented amount of trust and goodwill from the Jewish community. As a consequence, while we must still continue to work through the many issues that will inevitably continue to exist, sometimes on the local level, this has created a new potential for our two religious communities to work together on the many areas of common values that we share. In the few moments I had to speak with the pope directly, I mentioned the courageous work of Catholic nuns, who have been on the forefront in the fight against human trafficking. The President’s Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships took up this issue this past year. The plight of modern day slaves, who now number at least 21 million people around the world, is gaining increasing attention in the public sphere, especially given President Obama’s commitment to the issue. Pope Francis has spoken about related issues as well. Here is an opportunity where Catholics and Jews, inspired by scriptures that we share, can work together to do God’s work in realizing the biblical vision of people freed from slavery.

Why was this meeting important?

The relationship between the Jewish community and the Vatican is one of the most significant inter-religious relationships we have. Through years of hard work, the Jewish and Catholic leaders who led the way in these dialogues over the past decades actually brought about healing in a relationship that was fraught with painful history.

Catholics and Jews have invested a tremendous amount over the past few decades in interreligious dialogue, and much has been accomplished. The spirit of the meeting was one of trust between real friends.

How do you think the Jewish-Catholic relationship is, currently, both in the U.S. and worldwide? Do meetings such as this one, make any difference or serve as a model?

Looking back over the centuries of relationship between the Vatican and the Jewish community, it is remarkable to see how far these relations have come over the years. Today’s relationship would have been unimaginable even a few decades ago.

Several of us took the few free hours we had to spend time in what is known as the “Jewish ghetto” of Rome. There, only minutes from the Vatican, it is almost unfathomable to grasp the distance this relationship has come. The unfathomable suffering that anti-Semitism has wrought upon our people cannot be undone. Jews, in our relationship to the Vatican, face a great challenge — how can we ensure that the memory and the lessons of that suffering are translated into meaningful work that fulfills our highest values?

A short walk from the ghetto, we joined a tour of the Roman ruins. A tourist from Great Britain, seeing the kippot on my colleagues, commented on what these ruins, and especially the Arch of Titus, must mean to us. I told her that the Arch of Titus symbolizes for us a great victory — today, it is merely a ruin, and yet, centuries later, we are still here, bringing the message of our Torah to the world.

Meredith Jacobs is managing editor of JT’s sister publication, Washington Jewish Week.


Hand In Hand

062113_Hand_In_HandBen-Gurion University of the Negev recently graduated its first class of Jordanian and Israeli students who completed a special joint-emergency medicine BA program earlier this year. The first graduating class at the Israel-Jordan Academic Emergency Medicine Collaboration included 54 graduates who spent three years studying emergency medicine and medical response.

One part of the curriculum included a Joint Disaster Management Project, which had Jordanian and Israeli students training with officials from Israel’s national emergency service, the Magen David Adom, and the Jordanian Red Crescent to respond to emergency situations such as earthquakes.

There are only three countries that provide emergency medical response qualifications at the BA degree level, according to Dr. Mohammed Al-Hadid, one of the founders of the Ben-Gurion program. If Jordanians want to earn a bachelor’s in emergency medical response, they can either go to the United States, Australia or Israel’s BGU, which provides the only university-based academic degree for paramedics in the Middle East.

“We choose to go next door to our neighbors,” said Dr. Al-Hadid in an article about the program on the website of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Dr. Al-Hadid, who is the president of the Jordanian Red Crescent, said that he and his colleagues were impressed with Israel’s emergency medical services.

“We were very impressed with the level of expertise demonstrated in Israel — and when you see something is working for others, you want to have the best for your own people,” he said.

Israel’s emergency medical teams are internationally recognized for their emergency response to disasters and tragedies, as they travel across the world to assist nations in natural disasters.

In order to make the unique Israeli- Jordanian collaboration possible, Dr. Al-Hadid worked with professor Jimmy Weinblatt, a former rector at BGU, and professor James Torczyner, director of the McGill Middle East Program in Civil Society and Peace Building.

One of the primary goals behind the BGU program is to enable neighboring Arab countries and Israel to work together when a natural disaster or medical emergency strikes. Fault lines along the Syrian-African rift have been worrying regional seismologists, who warn that they could cause an earthquake in Jordanian and Israeli cities in the future.

The program received its funding from the Israeli Ministry for Regional Cooperation, MASHAV (Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation), the European Union Partnership for Peace Program and private donors.

Tuition costs and living expenses in Beersheva were completely covered for the Jordanian students, who took part in campus life and social gatherings with their Israeli counterparts. Courses were taught in both Arabic and English.

In his congratulatory address to the first graduating class, Dr. Al-Hadid expressed thanks for this opportunity.

“I thank you all for giving our students the opportunity to get their education and training them to become lifesavers, unlike those life-takers who do so in the name of their fanatic beliefs. Our belief will always be through humanity to peace,” he said. “Experience has shown us that it is possible to bring Arabs and Israelis together to achieve common goals.”

“Medicine is the bridge to working together. We’re all people and there’s absolutely no difference between us,” added Bruria Adini, director of the BGU program. “We need a joint and collaborative response that can save lives.”

Anav Silverman writes for Tazpit News Agency.

Personal Connections

From left: Vadim Kashtelyan, Stephanie Hague, Ellen Goldman and Paula Farbman visit with a homebound Hesed client (center) who relies on The American Jewish Joint  Distribution Committee’s  program for health and social

From left: Vadim Kashtelyan, Stephanie Hague, Ellen Goldman and Paula Farbman visit with a homebound Hesed client (center) who relies on The American Jewish Joint
Distribution Committee’s
program for health and social

Twelve communal leaders and two professionals from The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore returned on May 26 from a mission to Baltimore’s sister city, Odessa, in the Former Soviet Union. The seven-day trip was in the works, according to Baltimore-Odessa Partnership Committee Co-chair Andrew Razumovsky, for upwards of nine months.

Odessa is proud of its two Jewish Community Centers, which offer a wide array of  programs, including art classes for both children and adults.

Odessa is proud of its two Jewish Community Centers, which offer a wide array of
programs, including art classes for both children and adults.

“We tried to model a lot of things based on the success of the Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership,” said Razumovsky. “The only way to make [the partnership] successful is to build personal connections.”

Razumovsky said one of the most important outcomes of the mission was the hiring of a local Odessa coordinator, who will serve as a liaison between the Baltimore and Odessa communities. Another success was the percentage of Russian speakers who traveled with the group. Of the 12 lay people, four were Russian.

“One-and-a-half-million people left the Former Soviet Union because of Operation Exodus,” Razumovsky said. “No one in the Soviet Union grew up with a concept of charity, of giving or philanthropy. Here, we want to get everyone more involved, so our kids will know about that — and teach their kids.”

Neil Leikach (left) and Jason Blavatt (right), of Baltimore, with Avrom Suslovich of the JDC, shop for Hesed clients with JDC food cards that enable clients to purchase products of their choice.

Neil Leikach (left) and Jason Blavatt (right), of Baltimore, with Avrom Suslovich of the JDC, shop for Hesed clients with JDC food cards that enable clients to purchase products of their choice.

Razumovsky said a 2014 mission is being discussed, and more information will be available in the coming months.

Dancers at the Beit Grand JCC strike a pose as a part of a performance put on for the group’s final night in Odessa.

Dancers at the Beit Grand JCC strike a pose as a part of a performance put on for the group’s final night in Odessa.

‘Can’t The Jews Have One?’


Marc Provisor serves as head of security projects at One Israel Fund. He says “the roads are not happy” in the West Bank, and he and his team are trying to keep people safe. (Provided)

Marc Provisor serves as head of security projects at One Israel Fund. He says “the roads are not happy” in the West Bank, and he and his team are trying to keep people safe. (Provided)

It was a tragedy that is hard to forget. In March 2011, a terrorist infiltrated the town of Itamar and slaughtered five members of the Fogel family, including a 3-month-old baby girl and two other children.

The killings were discovered by 12-year-old Tamar Fogel. Volunteers from Israel’s emergency cleanup organization ZAKA, who arrived on the scene shortly after she raised the alert, said what they witnessed was “absolutely horrific” and “among the worst we have ever seen.”

That tragedy could have been prevented. At least according to Marc Provisor, head of security projects at One Israel Fund.

Provisor was in Baltimore last week to raise money for much-needed security equipment and infrastructure upgrades for Jewish towns in Judea and Samaria, known as the West Bank.

Provisor told the JT that Itamar had installed one surveillance security camera shortly before the Fogel incident. Security officials were aware that “raw probes were happening” by Palestinian terrorists, meaning they were testing the fence, determining the probability of getting caught. Itamar is large, and there are two distinct sides to the town. One was being monitored. One was not.

“They [the terrorists] are more sophisticated today than ever. They have been trained by the American army. Itamar knew, before the Fogels, that the community was vulnerable,” said Provisor.
Why wasn’t there another camera? Cost.

Said Provisor: “The [Jewish] community is reactive and not proactive. They had only one camera system, and we could not raise the money for the other. After the Fogels, we raised the money like that.”

The cost of one security camera such as the one in Itamar costs around $70,000. Smaller portable systems can cost between $13,000 and $18,000.

It’s not about politics, Provisor made clear during an interview in Owings Mills. He said, “It’s about human rights.”

According to a census conducted by Israel’s Interior Ministry, about 360,000 Jews live in around 150 communities in Judea and Samaria. And, according to the Israel Democracy Institute, while 58 percent of Jewish Israelis support the establishment of an independent Palestinian state given appropriate security arrangements, 58 percent believe that the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem should not be transferred to the Palestinian state, and 51 percent believe that under no circumstances should settlements in Judea and Samaria (West Bank) be dismantled.

While the territories remain disputed, the people there are not and therefore are in need of protection.

Provisor said that while you rarely hear of attacks such as the one that happened in Itamar, attempted attacks and attacks with fewer casualties are happening on a daily basis.

In the hour spent talking with this reporter, Provisor received alerts of more than half-a-dozen attacks/attempted attacks.

“A Palestinian threw a Molotov cocktail at an Israeli bus by Kever Rachel [the Tomb of Rachel],” read Provisor from his iPhone. “1:55 p.m. — border police stopped an armed terrorist from infiltrating into Israel.”

Continued Provisor: “The roads are not a happy place today, mostly south of Jerusalem, between Jerusalem and Hebron. But it is not just Judea and Samaria, it’s on the other side of the Green Line, too. It’s in cities like Ramle and Lod. There is a major surge of cold violence. It’s not yet hot violence, which means guns. I’ve been really busy.”

Scott Feltman, executive vice president of OIF, said the goal of the organization is to ensure there are no more Jewish victims. He said OIF tries to secure funds and install security surveillance equipment and supply protective gear before it’s needed.

“If we’re successful,” said Feltman, “our job is harder.”

To help combat the stereotype that OIF is for the right-wingers and that settlers are all religious fanatics, Feltman and Provisor, together with a team of volunteers, take visitors to
Israel into the settlements to show them what life is like. Provisor said, “It usually blows their minds.”

Travelers visit the Soda Stream factory, which manufactures and distributes home carbonating devices and flavorings for soft drinks. At that factory, Jews and Arabs work together side-by-side.

They hit area vineyards and taste succulent wines of the area. There’s Gat Shomron Winery, Givon Winery, Gush Etzion Winery and Hacormim Vineyard (which also produces fruit liquors) to name a few.

There’s a chocolate factory and a high-technology sector, too.

Over the years, Provisor, who served in the Israeli army and is an artist by profession, said OIF has evolved. Now, this tiny operation (Provisor and Feltman, who lives in N.Y., are the only full-time employees) is consulting with municipalities in southern Israel, like those of Sderot and Ashkelon, who are the constant focus of terrorist attacks from the Gaza Strip. With the Syrian civil war in full force, northern Israeli security officials requested some of the armored ambulances OIF refurbished for use in the event of an emergency situation in the Golan Heights.

“I really want to keep people alive,” said Provisor.

And he also wants to protect what he calls “the heart of Israel.”

Provisor said people take for granted that many of the most significant events in the Bible occurred in Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley. It was in this area that Jacob traveled from Laban to the Land of Israel. And it was here that Joshua Bin Nun drove the Canaanite nations out of the land.
Joseph’s Tomb is in Nablus. The Cave of the Patriarch’s is in Hebron.

Almost all Arab towns and villages in Judea and Samaria use Biblical Jewish names to refer to those areas. For example, Anata is the Biblical name for Anatot, the dwelling of Jeremiah; Beitin is Biblical and refers to Beit El, a site of the Holy Ark and court of Samuel the Prophet; and Bethlehem is mentioned 44 times in the Torah.

“You want to give that up?” Provisor asked, noting that if he thought it would bring about true peace, even he would do it. But he said if there was a real peace, then Jews and Arabs could live together.

“We wouldn’t have to leave,” he said. “There are 22 nations claiming rights to Islamic states. Can’t the Jews have one?”

To learn more about One Israel Fund, visit

Maayan Jaffe is JT managing editor

What If The Nazis Had Tweeted?

062113_Nazis_TweetedWhat could Goebbels have done with 140 characters?

The question, disturbing as it might sound, can no longer be approached only as theoretical.

As the archpropagandist of Nazism, Joseph Goebbels spread the demonic messages of his Fuehrer via the written word, mass demonstrations, radio and film. He used those avenues to near perfection, promoting what perhaps was the most evil publicity campaign in the history of humankind.

Some eight decades later, the tools are different, but the motivations are the same. In the place of vitriol-filled radio broadcasts and Berlin stadia filled to capacity with saluting Nazis, the resources employed today by bigots are increasingly the Internet and social media. Undoubtedly the #HeilHitler hashtag, if launched in 1933, would have had followers in the many millions, likely surpassing even the numbers of the most revered celebrities who employ resources such as Twitter.

With all the tremendous good it does, and the hundreds of millions of people it entertains, inspires and educates daily, at its core the Internet is the most capable propaganda tool ever invented.

The online community is both largely uncensored and without any natural borders or limits — a combination that makes it so effective and so dangerous. With the same speed it takes to reach millions with videos of laughing babies or talented Korean dancers, hate-filled messages pour into the world’s social media feeds and email inboxes.

The reality in the online war against hate is that our enemies are smarter than any anti-Semitic forces we have ever seen. They understand the power of the Internet and embrace the protections under law it offers.

Today’s most effective anti-Semites are not the flag-waving, storm-trooping skinheads of yesteryear. While those forces still exist, their reach pales in comparison to the computer users who are able to spill their messages of hate to millions of people around the globe in a matter of minutes.

The peace-loving forces within the international community are therefore faced with a daunting challenge — yet it is not insurmountable.

First, we need to recognize the scope of the problem. Online hate is difficult to impossible to quantify. While perhaps we can try to count the number of problematic websites, there is no real way to know how many people those sites reach. All the more so with social media, where the trail of content can split into literally thousands of directions in minutes. The scope of the problem is unprecedented and enormous and thus deserving of massive resources and international cooperation.

Second, and perhaps more fundamental, the world must change its mindset for what deserves protection within the online community.

Most often, when people speak about the Internet and the world of social media, terms bandied about are “marketplace of ideas” or “common ground for expression” or similar terminology professing that users should be allowed to disseminate whatever ideas come into their minds at a given time. This position is defended by those who advocate that freedom of expression should be interpreted literally to allow people to express whatever they feel, regardless of how inflammatory or incendiary it might be. This must be rethought.

Freedom of expression indeed means that people’s right to free speech must be protected. But the protection should never be extended to expressions that come at the physical expense of the other.

Without entering into legal discourse that is far too complex for this forum, there is no disputing that hate speech on the Internet and in social media has the very real potential to inspire acts of violence. This has been proven countless times since the advent of the Internet and is realized every day through the examples of young and impressionable people who turn to the Web for inspiration for all sorts of devious ideologies and beliefs.

In order for the Internet to sustain its openness, all responsible parties must commit to guarding against the use of online hate mongering.

This new medium is so different from anything faced previously by the civilized world that it requires re-evaluated understandings of what is and is not acceptable. It will be a challenging process and requires an underlying commitment to protect the interests of all viewpoints while rooting out those messages that cross the fine line between valid speech and dangerous incitement.

The success of this effort will require the participation and involvement of the relevant commercial players who allow the Internet to flourish, along with national governments and international law enforcement. It will not be achieved overnight.
If the past has taught us anything, however, it is that the stakes are far too high to do nothing. This time the world must be sure to respond.

Gideon Behar is the director of the Department for Combatting Anti-Semitism of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs and chaired the Global Forum for Combatting Anti-Semitism (May 28-30 in Jerusalem). This column was originally written for the JTA Wire Service.