Survey: 74 percent of French Jews mulling emigration

Nearly 75 percent of thousands of French Jews who participated in a recent survey said they are considering emigrating.

The survey, the results of which were released Monday by the Paris-based Siona organization of Sephardic French Jews, encompassed 3,833 respondents from the Jewish community of France, Siona said.

Of the 74.2 percent of respondents who said they are considering leaving, 29.9 percent cited anti-Semitism. Another 24.4 cited their desire to “preserve their Judaism,” while 12.4 percent said they were attracted by other countries. “Economic considerations” was cited by 7.5 percent of the respondents.

In total, 95.2 percent of all respondents to the online survey conducted by Siona from April 17 to May 16 said they viewed anti-Semitism as “very worrisome” or “worrisome.”

Slightly more than half, or 57.5 percent, of respondents said, “Jews have no future in France,” while 30.6 percent said there is a future for Jews there.

Asked whether they had personally experienced anti-Semitic incidents in the past two years, 14.5 percent replied in the affirmative, but of those, only 21.2 filed a complaint with police. Of the complainants, 27.6 percent indicated that their deposition had led to concrete results.

A similar survey from 2012 showed a quarter of Jews who experienced anti-Semitic incidents filed a complaint, Siona noted in a statement, adding, “The results give cause for concern.”

Ninety-three percent said the French state had no efficient means for countering “Islamic exclusionist and pro-Palestinian propaganda,” whereas 93.4 percent said French mass media are partially responsible for France’s anti-Semitism problem. Roughly three-quarters said French Jewish institutions were helpless to stop anti-Semitism.

A similar number of respondents, 76.3 percent, said they were concerned by “the attack on ritual slaughter and circumcision,” compared with 16.9 who said they were not concerned.

Never Too Late

Ava Barron-Shusho taught adult students to “tame their inner gremlins” at Chizuk Amuno Congregation’s Luv2Learn Festival on May 18. (Provided)

Ava Barron-Shasho taught adult students to “tame their inner gremlins” at Chizuk Amuno Congregation’s Luv2Learn Festival on May 18. (Provided)

Middle school students saw the tables turned when they ushered their parents and other adults to their assigned classrooms as part of Chizuk Amuno Congregation’s Luv2Learn Festival on Sunday, May 18.

“I think it’s interesting for people who have been out of school so long to come here and get a sense of what it’s like,” said Hannah Wahlberg, a sixth-grader at Krieger Schechter Day School.

She, along with fellow KSDS students Charlie Hallock, Tal Boger and Ezra Suldan and Pikesville Middle School student Alex Hellman, took part in the event as ushers.

“It’s just good to get people in the community together and get them talking,” said Ezra Suldan, an eighth-grader.

It was not a coincidence that Chizuk Amuno held its inaugural learning festival on Sunday. As director of congregational life, Rabbi Paul Schneider explained that May 18 is Lag B’Omer, a traditionally somber time that coincided with the deaths of thousands of students of the Mishnaic sage Rabbi Akiva. According to tradtion, the plague that claimed their lives stopped on Lag B’Omer. So on the the 33rd day, Jews are given a reprieve from their solemnity and are free to enjoy themselves. Lag B’Omer is traditionally a time for picnics, barbeques and learning.

In coming up with the topics for more than 25 workshops, Schneider said he and co-chairs Marsha Manekin and Howard Cohen chose to provide a broad range of learning opportunities in Jewish and secular subjects.

“We decided to model the festival loosely after Ted Talks,” said Manekin, “by giving short presentations covering a lot of different subjects. People can get a taste of learning about technology, Wall Street, advance directives, Maimonides [and] archaeology.”

Participants chose up to three 30-minute sessions including one from co-chair Cohen, who taught contemporary art glass.

“What’s really amazing is that all presentations are given by school parents and synagogue members,” said Manekin. “None of the synagogue’s staff or administrators are teaching. It’s all lay people.”

052314_luv2learnAva Barron-Shasho, a parent of one KSDS alum and one eighth- grader, taught “Identify the Voice of Your Inner Gremlin and Learn How to Tame it.” Barron-Shasho, a life coach, said the course was meant to “teach people what’s going on in their heads.”

“The gremlin is that inner critic. It’s that voice, either very loud or subtle, that tells us we can’t do what we want to do,” she said. “We give it a lot of credence, but really it’s not logical. It keeps you from moving forward.”

Audrey Polt, who taught a class called “Album-Making as a Legacy: Connections to Our Past, Present, and Future,” had trouble selecting courses to take because of the diverse options. “All of the topics are very interesting. I hope they have this again,” said Polt, who decided to attend the course on advance directives. In another classroom, 10 or so couples were practicing salsa dancing in “You Can Dance at Any Age.”

The learning sessions were followed by a wine-and-cheese reception.

“When we reached out to people in our congregation, we realized what a magnificent community with such a wide range of talent and knowledge we have,” said Schneider. “Luv2Learn is a great opportunity for people who are reluctant to commit to many weeks to have an educational experience by committing to only one afternoon.  It’s a great way to spend Lag B’Omer.”

sellin@jewishtimes.com

Seizing An Opportunity

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The Mini Mobile Robotic Printer was invented by Tuvia Elbaum and Matan Caspi.
(Photo Courtesy of ZUtA Labs Ltd.)

Living in the fast-paced world of evolving mobile technology, two young Israeli entrepreneurs have invented what they hope will revolutionize the one device that they feel “got left behind” and seems to have missed the mobile revolution train: the printer.

Tuvia Elbaum and Matan Caspi, both 29 and students at the Jerusalem College of Technology (JCT), are the designers of the world’s first truly practical and operational mobile printer. Known as the Mini Mobile Robotic Printer and slated to be available to the general public in 2015, the printer—measuring 4 by 4 1⁄2 inches and weighing only a one-half pound —will allow students, business professionals and anyone in need to print their work from any location.

Elbaum said that he came up with the idea for a pocket printer “from my day-to day life.”

“I’m always working on the go from my smartphone, tablet and laptop in random places, and when I wanted to print something — a memo before or after a meeting, a term sheet, short contract, or even an essay for school — I had to run and look for a printer or wait until I got home or to the office,” he said. “When I went online to look for a portable printer, I only found printers that are either too big to really carry around or too small to print on a standard A4 page [size].”

When Elbaum noticed that all of the printers needed to have paper fed through the device itself, he thought, “Hey, why not put the cartridge on a robot and let it run around by itself, and that will allow the printer to be really small and yet print on any size of paper?”

Elbaum and Caspi were able to pursue their innovation after being accepted into an elite program at JCT known as the Friedberg Program for Entrepreneurial Excellence, which gives students the opportunity to advance entrepreneurial ideas from the “exploratory” to the “concrete” stages—offering them financial assistance, mentoring, workshops and more in order to help make their ideas become a reality.

The pair of entrepreneurs then formed a new company called ZUtA Labs Ltd. and launched a fundraising campaign on Kickstarter, which according to Elbaum “succeeded in raising over 125 percent of what we wanted (more than a half-million dollars) and included some big names such as Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple.”

While the pocket printer is still “a project in the making,” Elbaum said those who offered their financial backing “really wanted to be part of creating this product, which is incredible and [demonstrates] the true power of Kickstarter.” He hopes to “reward” those who contributed via Kickstarter by shipping them the first batch of the finished mobile printers in January 2015.

Also helping the entrepreneurs’ cause were rave revues the device received at the Microsoft Israel Corporation’s prestigious ThinkNext technology fair, recently held in Tel Aviv.

In terms of how the printer works from a practical perspective, Elbaum said it is “just like any other printer.” One’s mobile device, such as a smartphone or laptop, will “recognize it as a printer and connect through Bluetooth,” he said.

The printer features an inkjet cartridge that will last for more than 1,000 printed pages and a battery that allows for more than one hour of use per full charge. It is “designed to be used in the simplest way and offers the most simple user experience,” said Elbaum.

Shimmy Zimels, who heads the Friedberg entrepreneurship program at JCT, said that the venture of Elbaum and Caspi “is a great achievement” and that they “seized the opportunity we gave them” through the program.

Zimels — himself the CEO of SunDwater.com, an Israeli company that converts polluted water into clean water — said he believes that the Friedberg program, launched in 2012, “helped push [Elbaum to Caspi] out of the gate,” providing them with “the combination of the right team, the proper funding, the mentoring and the access they had to the electronics laboratories at JCT.”

“We were a small accelerator to help them start their business,” he said.

But Zimels repeatedly stressed that Elbaum and Caspi, not the Friedberg program, should be given the credit for the invention.

Elbaum said he and Caspi, along with the rest of the staffers at ZUtA Labs, have already come up with several additions to the printer and are working on designs for other innovative products. But in the meantime, his plate is full with the launch of the robotic printer. He said, perhaps only half jokingly, that on top of everything else he “still has one class to complete in order to graduate” from JCT.

‘Touchdown Israel’

The Jerusalem Lions line up against the Tel Aviv Pioneers. The two teams are IFL arch-rivals. (provided)

The Jerusalem Lions line up against the Tel Aviv Pioneers. The two teams are IFL arch-rivals.
(provided)

Almost four years ago, San Francisco-based documentary filmmaker Paul Hirschberger began learning all he could about the North American-style of tackle football that is being played in Israel.

He has turned the research into his first sports film, “Touchdown Israel,” about how the growing sport is bridging cultural gaps in Israel.

“I was looking for my next film project and in doing my research I had read a feature story in The New York Times about tackle football being a growing sport in Israel,” Hirschberger said. “I contacted Andrew Gershman and Ari Louis of Israel Sports Radio, who covered football in Israel, and that began my nearly three-year odyssey to tell the story of football in Israel.”

He decided to use much of his own money to tell a story that has many facets to it and showcases how sports can be a tool to bring people together as teammates.

“What I ended up with was ‘Touchdown Israel,’ a feature-length documentary that presents the broader religious and cultural diversity that is Israel and illustrates how sports can be both metaphor and unifier for the world around it,” said Hirschberger. “American football has set down real roots in the Holy Land. The playing levels vary widely, but the cast of characters is utterly compelling: Israeli Jews, Arabs and Christians as well as Americans living in Israel and religious settlers.”

He added that the game is played in a uniquely Jewish way, with some players putting helmet on over their yarmulkes and some player will davening before the game starts.

An important part of the film, Hirschberger said, is the history of the game, which began in 1988 with the establishment of the American Football in Israel (AFI) group. The group grew to more than 90 contact and non-contact flag football teams. In 2005, the AFI established the Israeli Football League (IFL), which is devoted to American-style full-contact tackle football.

“They play an eight-man game [instead of 11 like in the U.S.] because the fields are smaller than the regulation 100-yard football fields that we are used to here in the United States,” he said.

Hirschberger credits Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, and his late wife, Myra, for advancing the game and sports in Israel in general. Although he had some safety concerns initially, Kraft worked with sponsors to build fields and get uniforms for teams in the league. The league honored him in its name, the Kraft Family Israel Football League.

“Kraft Field is likely the only place in the entire Middle East you’ll find Palestinians and Jewish settlers embracing after a big win,” Hirschberger said. The IFL has grown from 25 players in Tel Aviv to a thriving league of more 600 players and 11 teams throughout Israel, he added.

The 2014 league is comprised of the Tel Aviv/Jaffa Sabres, the Tel Aviv Pioneers, the Ramat Hasharon Hammers, the Jerusalem Lions, the Judean Rebels, the Jerusalem Kings, the Haifa Underdogs, the Beersheva Black Swarm, the Petach Tikva Troopers, the Northern Stars and the Rehovot Silverbacks.

“In many ways, Israelis are perfectly suited to play the game of football,” explained Hirschberger. “They have all served their country in the military and love the strategy that goes into the game along with the physical contact.”

While covering the football side of the story was interesting, Hirschberger was also inspired by watching Israeli, Arab, Christian, Thai and Palestinian players work together as teammates. The film focuses on the friendship of three particular players: Jeremy Sable, a Conservative Jew who played youth football in Philadelphia but wouldn’t play on Shabbat and gave the sport up until his family moved to Israel, Saud Kassas an Arab from Jaffa, and Roni Srisuren, a Christian from Thailand who lives with his family in Israel.

“I got the three of them together in a bar and we just talked about everything,” Hirschberger said. “Each young man spoke in detail about growing up with a total lack of understanding of the religion and backgrounds of others. Yet, it was through football these three men became friends for life.”

Hirschberger is taking the film on the festival circuit before he releases it nationwide. He will start at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, head to the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival and then the Toronto Jewish Film Festival. He is in discussions with film distributors and hopes to announce local showings soon.

To see previews of “Touchdown Israel” and get the latest news on where it is playing, go to touchdown israel.com.

The Family They Chose

Members bring many strengths to the Chavurah. Top row, from left: Dick Goldman, Glenna Ross, Susan Coleman, Allan Pristoop, Shoshana Harris, Shirley Blumenfeld, Miriam Gerstenblith.  Bottom row, from left: Carol Pristoop, Shlomo Alima, Gail Lipsitz, Ann Andorsky and Meital Andorsky. (David Stuck)

Members bring many strengths to the Chavurah.
Top row, from left: Dick Goldman, Glenna Ross, Susan Coleman, Allan Pristoop, Shoshana Harris, Shirley Blumenfeld, Miriam Gerstenblith. Bottom row, from left: Carol Pristoop, Shlomo Alima, Gail Lipsitz, Ann Andorsky and Meital Andorsky. (David Stuck)

In the nearly 40 years he has been a member of the Baltimore Chavurah, Dick Goldman has often thought the group would make a terrific model for the entire Jewish community. And though Shoshana Harris, one of the Chavurah’s founding members, said there is no magic formula to the group’s longevity, it is evident that there is something magical about the tightknit, interdenominational community its members have created over the years. The Chavurah meets six times every three months for Jewish learning, holiday observance and prayer, and levels of observance among its members run the gamut from Orthodox to Reconstructionist.

Founded in 1974 by Aliya Cheskis- Cotel, the Baltimore Chavurah started with a group of eight Jews in their 20s and early 30s. Harris is the only member who has been involved since the group’s inception.

“If my memory is correct, she [Cheskis-Cotel] learned about the Boston-area Chavurah movement that wanted to move away from institutionalized Judaism to a more personalized, living one,” said Harris.

In general, she explained, “the 1970s were percolating with lots of creative ways to be Jewish, and young Jews wanted to create their own Jewish environment and develop new rituals. It was an exciting time of experimentation, innovation and connection to the essence of Judaism.”

Some of the group’s current members, including Goldman and his wife, Roz, and Shlomo and Louise Alima, joined in 1976; Gail Lipsitz joined in 1977.

“I was single and had just moved to Baltimore,” recalled Lipsitz. “Another single woman told me about the Chavurah, and I had kind of been floating around, and I needed something.”

When she heard about the Chavurah, Lipsitz was interested.

“Really, we were hoping to meet men, but all of the people in the group had different last names. That was the way in the ’70s  so it was hard to tell who was married and who was single,” she said. Nevertheless, Lipsitz welcomed the opportunity to learn with others who were well versed in Jewish history and religion.

At the time, she noted, belonging to the group was somewhat controversial, since almost none of the members belonged to a synagogue.

“Joining a synagogue and trying to fit into its existing structure seemed much less attractive than, for example, building one’s own sukkah and davening with women and men who developed their own services and prayer materials,” Harris pointed out. “It was a liberating and spiritual experience to break out of the synagogue mold and create a unique and personal Jewish experience.”

“We had our own services, our own holidays, even our own Sunday school,” said Alima. “Once we had kids, we started affiliating.” Yet, synagogue memberships or not, they kept attending meetings of the Chavurah. And as members married and started families, they brought their children with them.

“At the early meetings, some of the women used to nurse their babies. Now we’re having grandchildren,” said Goldman. In fact, said Carol Pristoop, “at the last meeting we learned that there were six daughters [of Chavurah members] pregnant with seven babies!”

When Pristoop and her husband, Allan Pristoop, were first asked to join, she felt intimidated by the Jewish IQs of the other group members, and he thought it was too much of a commitment. In fact, the Pristoops turned down the invitations more than once.

“Then we went to [fellow Chavurah member] Miriam Gerstenblith’s wedding and saw the ruach, and we had to join,” said Allan Pristoop.

“If you want ruach, you invite the Chavurah,” pronounced Glenna Ross, the newest member of the group, who joined in 1993. “I think a lot of the strength of the group comes from the fact that so many people in it were Jewish communal professionals.”

A sizable number of Chavurah members are Jewish educators, mental health professionals, klezmer musicians and scout leaders. While some members came to the group already in the field, that wasn’t the case for everyone. Carol Pristoop, former executive director at the Pearlstone Retreat Center, earned a master’s degree in Jewish communal service after joining the Chavurah.

“It was such an eye-opening experience,” she said. “It was kind of like an incubator for me to become comfortable with the Jewish experience.”

Susan Coleman and her husband, Jeff, had little Jewish education when they joined, but Coleman said the group was so accepting, that they soon felt comfortable.

“Some people want to present textual study and others want to do something less academic,” she explained. “Everyone has their strengths.”

Over the years, the Chavurah has found a rhythm that works for them. Every three months, four people take on the responsibility for planning programs for the quarter. Since the group began, Goldman said there have been 500 different programs. Group presentations have included talks on topics such as famous chazzanim to Jewish comedians to the Litvak-Galistsianer Wars, to activities such as helping to build the JCC playground, and Purim spiels.

“The beauty for me is that almost all the resources come from the people designing the programs. It’s so inspiring,” said Gerstenblith. “Before the Chavurah, I had never experienced that spirituality and I find it at the Chavurah, not all the time, but sometimes. The other night when Shlomo led a Yom Hazikeron service, it just ripped me apart.”

In 1977, said Goldman, the group decided to put guidelines for membership in writing. Early on, they tackled some serious questions.

“We had many discussions about who was a Jew, and who could join,” said Goldman. “We decided that [for the purposes of the Chavurah] anyone who identified as Jewish was Jewish. We would respect every person’s observation.”

There are no leaders and everything is decided by consensus. Money is collected only as needed, except for tzedakah, and there is rarely a need for it. In the last 20 years, said Goldman, the rules have stayed mostly the same.

It has taken sensitivity and compromise to make the Chavurah work for people with so many different religious perspectives, and group members admit that this is especially challenging when they hold religious services.

“Some of the Orthodox men don’t come when we’re having services. Some don’t say the prayers,” said Ross, who is Orthodox. “On Friday nights, people can’t always make it to meetings, but we try to accommodate them by having the Chavurah close to their homes.”

“Some don’t keep kosher, so maybe they will bring a cold dish with special utensils,” said Goldman. “We have a list of different homes and the different levels of kosher.”

“Things come up, but we are part of the group,” said Ross. “We have made a decision to be here and that outweighs other things.”

And the group has been together through thick and thin.

“It’s amazing how close the second generation is,” said Lipsitz.

“When Dick [Goldman] was very sick, his son had so much support from the kids in the Chavurah,” offered Carol Pristoop.

“It goes both ways,” added Allan Pristoop. “When our son was having some issues, he got support from the other kids too.”

“My daughter is studying in Israel now, and it’s amazing how many Chavurah members have taken her out to dinner when they are visiting,” said Gerstenblith.

Lipsitz recalled bringing her newly adopted son to a Chavurah New Year’s Eve party straight from the airport on the day he first arrived in the U.S. She also remembered the support she received from the Chavurah when her husband Allan passed away in 2007.

“It was a very sudden, shocking loss. I would never have gotten through it without the Chavurah,” said Lipsitz.

“We like to say the Chavurah is the family we’ve chosen. Being together is more important than doing it ‘my way,’” added Goldman. “We’ve found ways to work things out.”

sellin@jewishtimes.com

Jewish Trainer Has High Hopes For Preakness

051614_Trainer

Art Sherman has been involved in horse racing for more than six decades.

Long before he trained the horse that won the famed Kentucky Derby earlier this month and became one of the most popular men at this year’s Preakness Stakes, Art Sherman was just another student at Hebrew school in suburban Los Angeles.

“It was a little different in that era,” said Sherman, 77, who dropped out before his bar mitzvah after a case of mistaken identity resulted in his getting whacked on the head with a ruler by the morah.

“I got up and never did go back,” laughed Sherman.

Today, what began more than 60 years ago as a half-joking suggestion that Sherman try out jockeying has landed him in the history books as the oldest trainer to ever saddle the winner of the Derby.

“I was always on the small side,” said Sherman, trainer of California Chrome, the clear favorite to take the top spot on Saturday at Pimlico Race Course. Horse races were always on the TVs at his father’s barbershop, said Sherman, and some of the clients told him, “Gee, you’re little enough to be a jockey.” So Sherman decided to give it a shot.

“It was great,” he said of his first experiences riding at a ranch in Ontario, Calif., where he worked as a stable hand before becoming an exercise rider.

After spending some time breaking in young horses Sherman, a native of Brooklyn, eventually moved up to racing.

“[Racing] is a different ballgame,” he said. He had to learn to get along with the much more high-strung horses, many of which weighed 1,200 or more pounds.

He jockeyed for 23 years, during which time he won some races but said he existed pretty “under the radar.” He retired from jockeying with a win in his last race and, after winning his very first race as a trainer, became hooked on prepping the horses for the track.

Whether or not California Chrome wins at Pimlico, which would propel it to just one win away from claiming the Triple Crown, Sherman said he plans to enjoy his time in Baltimore. Though he loves traditional Jewish food — “I call it soul food,” he said — he is especially looking forward to eating some of the local delicacies.

The New Reality

Head of Hamas Ismail Haniyeh (right) and senior Fatah official Azzam Al-Ahmed share a private moment during a news conference that announced a Palestinian reconciliation agreement in Gaza City on April 23. (Abed Rahim Khatib /Flash90)

Head of Hamas Ismail Haniyeh (right) and senior Fatah official Azzam Al-Ahmed share a private moment during a news conference that announced a Palestinian reconciliation agreement in Gaza City on April 23.
(Abed Rahim Khatib /Flash90)

With the recent collapse of the U.S.-brokered peace negotiations, the Palestinian leadership has embarked on a broad plan of unilateral action to gain recognition of a Palestinian state and to isolate Israel internationally. Couple those developments with the Palestinian Fatah movement’s unity pact with the terrorist group Hamas, and Israel is facing a complex new reality.

Without peace talks, what options does Israel have left? Will Israel be forced to take its own unilateral steps?

“If [an] agreement is unachievable, then moving independently to shape the borders of Israel is the better course,” Amos Yadlin, a retired Israeli Air Force general and former head of the Israel Defense Forces Military Intelligence Directorate, said. “While it is not the [ideal] alternative, it is better than the status quo or a bad agreement [with the Palestinians].

Yadlin, who now serves as director of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), is among a growing number of respected Israeli leaders putting forth proposals for unilateral steps.

In a proposal posted last Sunday on the INSS website, Yadlin argues that Israel has more than the two options usually discussed — a peace agreement and the status quo. According to Yadlin, Israel’s four strategic options are as follows: a peace agreement along the parameters established by former President Bill Clinton at Camp David in 2000; an “unacceptable” peace agreement on Palestinian terms; a status quo in which the Palestinians can dictate their own terms; or a status quo in which the Israelis dictate their own terms.

Yadlin argues that while the Clinton parameters — which include the Palestinians agreeing to end the conflict and give up both the “right of return” of Palestinian refugees and dividing Jerusalem — are Israel’s “best option,” it is “highly unlikely” that such an agreement will ever be realized.

Instead, Yadlin believes that Israel should promote an “Israeli option” that preserves Israel’s objectives to remain a “Jewish, democratic, secure and just state.” He said this move allows Israel to “independently shape its own borders” with a strategy toward “advancing a two-state solution.”

In this scenario, Yadlin said Israel would “withdraw from heavily populated Palestinian areas to the security barrier, keeping the Jordan Valley for security reasons.

“[This would leave] 70 to 80 percent of the West Bank to the Palestinians and allow Israel to keep 70 to 80 percent of the major settlement blocs,” Yadlin said.

Unilateralism, however, has been a taboo subject in Israel for many years since former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005, which many Israelis — especially on the right — look back upon as a failure due to the rise of Hamas there. Sharon suffered a stroke before he could implement plans for unilateral moves in the West Bank.

As such, Israel is likely to be cautious in considering any unilateral plans, especially given that the status quo still favors Israel.

“I don’t see the Israelis necessarily making any unilateral moves at this moment. The collapse of the peace talks wouldn’t prompt any immediate action from the Israelis, because there is no immediate threat,” Jonathan Schanzer, a Middle East expert and vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said.

Nevertheless, with the ongoing unity talks between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah Party and the terrorist group Hamas, along with recent unilateral actions by the PA through the United Nations and other international avenues, Israel may soon realize it does not have a viable partner for peace — possibly spurring a unilateral move.

“Those are the things that I think could prompt a response from Israel,” Schanzer said.

Other prominent Israelis have come out with their own unilateral plans of action.

Historian and former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren said in an interview in February — while peace talks were still ongoing — that Israel needs to have a Plan B like the Palestinians do.

“The two-state solution is the preferred solution. And if we can reach a negotiated agreement with the Palestinians that is permanent, legitimate and assures Israel’s security, that is, of course, the preferable choice,” Oren told the Times of Israel.

“However, the Palestinians have intimated that if they can’t reach a negotiated solution with us, they then have a Plan B, and their Plan B is a binational state. And I think it’s important that we also have a Plan B,” he said.

Meanwhile, Israeli Economy Minister and Jewish Home Party leader Naftali Bennett recently wrote a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that urged him to annex a number of the major Israeli communities in the West Bank, including Gush Etzion, Maale Adumim, Ofra, Beit El and several more — which are home to about 440,000 Israelis.

“These areas enjoy a broad national consensus and have security, historical and moral significance for the State of Israel,” Bennett wrote.

If Netanyahu does decide to pursue a unilateral course of action, one of his toughest sells might be with the international community, which has rejected previous Israeli unilateral moves such as the annexation of Eastern Jerusalem or the Golan Heights.

In order to address this, Yadlin believes that Israel should offer the Palestinians a “fair and generous agreement” before taking any unilateral steps.

“The international community has to be convinced, as they were with [former Prime Minister Ehud] Barak in 2000 or [former Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert in 2008, that Israel really offers the Palestinians a fair deal,” Yadlin said.

After nine months of negotiations that produced little results, Secretary of State John Kerry has said that the U.S. will likely take a “pause” in its peace efforts.

Without peace talks holding back the Palestinians, it is clear that Abbas is seeking to shape his own legacy and future — one that may include reuniting the Palestinian people, which split under his watch during Hamas’s bloody 2007 takeover of Gaza.

“You can make a very valid argument that all of these moves are designed to spook the U.S. and Israel and force them back to the table to yield more concessions. I would say that the trajectory is far from clear,” Schanzer said.

Yadlin believes that Israel must be proactive and not allow the Palestinians, or anyone else, to dictate their terms to the Jewish state.

“[Unilateral action] is a move done out of a position of strength and the ability to shape your own destiny according to parameters that I believe are better for the Sstate of Israel,” he said.

A Matter of Interpretation

Reaction is mixed as to whether the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling this month allowing local governments to begin their meetings with a sectarian prayer will lead to more religion in the public arena or possibly even government funding of religious schools.

In the case, Town of Greece v. Galloway, the majority of justices said Christian prayer at a public meeting does not violate the constitutional provision forbidding government from establishing a religion. The five-member majority agreed that as long as no one is coerced into participating in the prayer, it was permissible.

Attorney Nathan Lewin, who agreed with the ruling, believes it could be influential in paving the way for public financial aid to Jewish day schools. “This is one of the steps saying, fine, it is not against the law” to support private religious schools, he said.

But others disagree, including Nathan Diament, executive director of the Orthodox Union’s Advocacy Center. The court’s belief about coercion is not new, he said.  Diament believes that funding issues are different.

It is permissible to use funds to repair a religious building if it’s in a depressed area, but that has little to do with religion, Diament said, explaining the courts have allowed government money to be used to fix up a section of downtown Detroit that included some churches.

Courts have ruled that it is OK to give funds to religious institutions as long as the money is not used for religious purposes, Diament explained. One example of that is the use of school buses by both public and private schools.

Marc Stern, general counsel at the AJC, said there has long been an exception allowing prayer at legislative meetings and that the recent ruling is not all that new. Even the four justices who dissented, including all the Jewish members, did not want to outlaw sectarian prayers, Stern said. “They just wanted to be sensitive and make sure you have a broad array of people” leading prayers.

His concern is not so much what the justices ruled as how individual towns will interpret it. He said a Christian prayer opening a meeting at a town in the Bible Belt is one thing. But what if a court proceeding begins with a religious, Christian prayer, and the person charged with a crime cannot leave the room?

“I think a lot of people are going to say, ‘We don’t want [religious prayers] at our meetings.’ We’ll have to see how that plays out,” Stern said. “This is going to be very interesting to watch.”

Marc Kramer, executive director of RAVSAK, the Jewish day school network, also did not necessary believe the courts will favorably consider public funding for religious schools following their recent ruling, calling that view “a leap.”

“We as an organization that is designed to advocate and support and guide Jewish day schools clearly believe in the power of prayer,” Kramer said. However, RAVSAK does not want to see religion promoted in public, Kramer added, explaining that neither a Christmas nativity scene nor a menorah belongs in the public square.

Glover, others in ‘American Revolutionary’ call for boycott of Israel

Actor Danny Glover and others featured in “American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs” lamented the documentary film’s screening at the DocAviv festival in Tel Aviv and called for a boycott of Israel.

“We stand in solidarity with the people of Palestine and support their call for cultural and academic boycott of Israel,” the 12 signatories said in a statement.

The signatories, including Grace Lee Boggs herself, said they were “shocked” about the film’s screening at DocAviv on May 13 and 15, which was “scheduled without our knowledge.”

“We immediately took action to have the film withdrawn from the festival,” they said. “The festival organizers and film producers informed us that this was not possible, and they would move forward with the screening, over our objections.”

Glover had already supported a boycott of Israel in 2009.

Sterling apologizes in first interview since racist rant

Donald Sterling, the Los Angeles Clippers owner banned for life from the NBA for making racist comments, publicly apologized in his first interview since the remarks were made public.

“I’m a good member who made a mistake, and I am apologizing and asking for forgiveness,” Sterling said in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper that aired Monday evening, with excerpts released earlier in the day. “I love my league, I love my partners. Am I entitled to one mistake? It’s a terrible mistake, and I’ll never do it again.”

Asked by Cooper why he waited so long to apologize, Sterling said it was because he was “so emotionally distraught.”

“The reason it’s hard for me, very hard for me, is that I’m wrong. I caused the problem. I don’t know how to correct it,” he told Cooper.

Under the punishment laid down late last month by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, Sterling may not associate with the team or the league after it was determined that his was the voice recorded without his knowledge making the racist rant, which included comments about black Jews in Israel. Sterling will be pressured to sell the team; he also was fined $2.5 million.