The 2012 Trendlines team brought their tour to Baltimore. (Provided)

The 2012 Trendlines team brought their tour to Baltimore. (Provided)

Bethesda and the Maryland/Israel Development Center (MIDC) will play host to Israeli medical technology companies on Oct. 18, as the companies present their work and offer investment and partnership opportunities to local businesses.

The stop will mark the culmination of a multicity tour of U.S. cities put together by Israeli investment firm Trendlines and OurCrowd, a new equity investor that uses crowd-funding, a way for a large group of people to pool money to support a project or company, to garner funds from smaller investors.  The Maryland event is cosponsored by law firm Offit Kurman, whose Bethesda office will hold the event.

“It’s a matchmaking function,” said MIDC Executive Director Barry Bogage. “It gives a platform for the companies to present to Maryland businesses.”

Part of the appeal for investors and entrepreneurs in investing in the companies is that OurCrowd and Trendlines have already backed up their stated support of the companies they will present with their own investments. Trendlines, which looks to develop medical and agricultural technology companies, has invested in 60 companies and been involved in bringing together American and Israeli companies for more than a decade.

“We create and develop companies that improve the human condition,” said Todd Dollinger, the chairman and CEO of the Trendlines Group.

OurCrowd is much younger as a company but uses the growing field of crowd-funding to give smaller inv-estors a chance to participate in companies they vet. It has brought more than $20 million to Israeli companies since February. OurCrowd will also share some of its process and history at the event.

“They make investment available to more people,” Dollinger said, explaining how with Trendlines and similar companies there is a minimum investment of $50,000. OurCrowd requires just $10,000 to join in the company’s development.

The companies that will present at the event are working on medical technology that could potentially impact a huge number of patients. ProArc Medical, for example, has developed a treatment that reduces infection risks for those with enlarged prostates. Gordian Surgical’s product can be used to open and close incisions automatically during laparoscopic surgery to minimize trauma. SensoGo has created a system to analyze walking patterns to help create therapy suggestions for patients with orthopedic problems, patients who might also benefit from CoreBone’s new bone graft material that could improve healing prospects and even apply to dental procedures.

“All of them are going to move into human trials next year,” Dollinger said.

Another company, Medical Surgeries Technologies, is a bit further along and will present their robotic manipulator with software that keeps laparoscopes exactly where a doctor wants them without requiring the complexities of coordinating the movements with any assistants.

This is not the first time that MIDC has hosted this kind of event.

“We bring a lot of high-tech companies to Maryland,” Bogage said. “We also take trade missions to Israel.”

In November, MIDC will host an event showcasing Israeli companies in Maryland. Last year, MIDC worked with the Baltimore Jewish Council to take Gov. Martin O’Malley to Israel.

Israeli tech companies are eager to access the Baltimore-Washington corridor with its close proximity to top hospitals, the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration, Dollinger said.

There will likely be more than 50 investors at the Bethesda event looking to extend that partnership.

Said Dollinger: “Maryland’s been very supportive of our companies over the years.”

Eric Hal Schwartz writes for JT’s sister publication, Washington Jewish Week.

Turning Point

Maryland jobs are on the road to recovery, according to the most recent figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but many members of the Jewish community are not feeling much relief.

“People with good, solid career histories in fields that are robust are getting jobs more easily,” said Tracey Paliath, director of economic services at Jewish Community Services. But, she said, “most people 50 and over who have been unemployed would find cold comfort in those numbers.”

The state of Maryland added 9,700 jobs in the month of August, data released last month by the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed, bringing the job base for Maryland back to a level it has not seen since the recession began.

Of those jobs added in August, 4,900 were private-sector jobs, the highest number of jobs added to the private sector in the month since 2007. Most of these private-sector jobs were added to the professional and business services sector.

JCS provides assistance for those seeking employment in any field, at any level, by offering clients access to career coaching, vocational rehabilitation, interview preparation programs and resume and cover letter help.

The job market is extremely competitive right now, despite what gains have been made, said Paliath.

From what she has seen, the time it usually takes for an adult 50-years-old or older to find a job is about twice as long as someone younger, and the situation for recent college graduates is not much better.

“They’re opting to go to graduate school, if they can get in, or they’re continuing with their college employment,” said Paliath. “All of that is perfectly fine, there’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s probably not what they majored in or went to school for.”

In the worst of the recession, she said she saw a sense of hopelessness permeate the lives of those she helped look for unemployment. Many even gave up the search altogether.

“They get discouraged,” she said.

For those close enough to 62, the youngest age at which one can receive Social Security retirement benefits, the plan sometimes changes from job hunting to reorganizing finances to stretch until they can begin retirement benefits.

For even more people, the jobs they are able to find are far different from those that they lost to the recession. Paliath saw many JCS clients accept commission-only or part-time work, an adjustment that can be difficult for someone who has grown accustomed to a regular paycheck.

At the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development, Director Karen Sitnick agreed that the number of people seeking help is still high. More than 23,000 local people logged on to the area’s online job resource channels over the past year.

However, Sitnick said she has seen some hints of improvement in the local job market. For one, the number of companies coming to the office seeking help with mass layoffs has dropped off recently. Meanwhile, the number of companies reaching out to the Office of Employment Development looking for trained employees has risen again after slumping over the past few years.

With the arrival of Horseshoe Casino approaching and other opportunities in construction on the horizon, Sitnick says there is a sense of optimism at the office among both career counselors and job seekers.

“It’s not as doom and gloom,” she said. “I think we’re all feeling we’re really moving in the right direction.”

At The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, President Marc Terrill said the local Jewish community took a major hit during the recession. The organization saw long-time donors begin to turn to it for financial and job assistance. “While we have seen some recovery in the community, we still have people hurting,” Terrill said. “We are fortunate that Jewish Baltimore continues to rise to the occasion during times of great need. We saw it in 2008 and it is still in play today.”

JCS’s Paliath agreed that there have been some signs of hope, even among those who were able to hang on to their jobs through the recession.

“Before, everyone was frozen,” she said. “I think now, people are open to looking around and exploring possibilities. They’ve moved beyond the paralysis of just being thankful that they have a job.”

But, she said, the improvements in some areas do not necessarily equate to good news across the board. She noted that there are still many people who either lack experience or are on the older end of the workforce who continue to wait for the good fortune to extend their way.

For them, said Paliath, “it’s going to continue to be some time before things noticeably improve.”

Jewish Community Services is an agency of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. To make a donation to the annual campaign, visit

Heather Norris is a JT staff reporter —

‘They Love This Stuff’

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) at a news conference at the Capitol on Oct. 5, 2013. (Chris Maddaloni/Getty Images))

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) at a news conference at the Capitol on Oct. 5, 2013. (Chris Maddaloni/Getty Images))

The first lawmaker to speak at a closed-door Capitol Hill confab convened by the Republican Jewish Coalition’s women’s affiliate was, naturally enough, a woman. So was the second.

Against the background of the current federal budget battle, that’s about all that united Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.).

Ayotte has been a leading Republican voice calling on her GOP colleagues in the U.S. House of Rep- resentatives to stand down in their battle over President Obama’s signature health care law — a fight that led last week to a shutdown of the federal government. Bachmann has been a leader among those urging them to hold the line.

Judging from the RJC’s Twitter feed Tuesday from the Capitol Hill Club, the white linen establishment near the Capitol where the coalition’s National Women’s Committee was hosting its event that day, both women received an equally warm reception.

But the genteel veneer can barely paper over the sharp divisions among Jewish Republicans as they watch their party rend itself over an impasse that has ground government oper-ations to a halt and could presage an unprecedented default on the national debt.

“My party has magnificently grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory,” said Fred Zeidman, a Houston-area lawyer and major donor to Republican presidential campaigns.

The current crisis stems from the refusal of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives to pass a federal budget unless Obama agrees to delay or defund aspects of the 2010 health care law known as Obamacare. The president has refused to negotiate, arguing that the Republicans are threatening to blow up the national economy because they opp-ose a measure already duly passed into law.

Zeidman made it clear that he blamed both sides. Obama should agree to negotiate with his Republican counterparts, he said, and the Republicans should adopt a continuing resolution that would permit the government to keep functioning. Failing to do so, Zeidman said, would cost Republicans at the polls next year.

“Am I against Obamacare?” he asked. “Yeah. Am I going to shut down the country over it? Never.”

Zeidman, who said he had personally urged House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to bring an unconditional funding authorization to the floor, blamed a cadre of about 35 to 40 conservative Tea Party Republicans in safe House seats for holding the national party hostage.

“These are the zealots,” he said. “They love this stuff. What are they going to do when they see we lose elections?”

Jewish Republicans by and large have been reluctant to address the issue.

Matt Brooks, the Republican Jewish Coalition director, turned down several requests for interviews, and the office of Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the only Jewish Republican in Congress and the House majority leader, did not respond to two req-uests for interviews.

Cantor, who supports the party’s strategy, earned cheers at the Capitol Hill Club meeting for calling on Obama to negotiate with Republicans, according to tweets from conservative blogger Melissa Braunstein, who was present.

“When you have divided government, you work through things by talking,” she quoted Cantor saying. “This is about more than Obamacare or the debt. We have a real debate about the balance of power.”

More telling, perhaps, was how expansively the RJC’s own Twitter feed reported the remarks by Ayotte, who has said elsewhere that the shutdown is not a “winning strategy.”

According to the tweets, Ayotte sharply criticized the isolationist faction within the GOP that has helped drive the shutdown, arguing that it was harming the U.S. on the world stage.

The RJC tweeter followed up:

“Ayotte: ‘Withdrawing from the world is not an option.’ Predicts Reagan wing will win debate with isolationists within GOP.’ “

A senior Jewish Republican aide in Congress said the Tea Party wing deserved praise for galvanizing Republicans following the demoralizing Obama victory last November. The shutdown, said the aide, would open up a broader philosophic conversation about the role of government.

“Soon we’ll shift the message to spending, what type of government we have, what kind of country we want to live in,” the aide said.

The aide dismissed claims that shutting down government is an illegitimate tool, a way to roll back a despised law that Republicans were unable to repeal through normal legislative tactics. He noted that Tip O’Neill, the esteemed Democratic House speaker in the 1980s, had shut down the government several times..

Mel Sembler, a Florida real estate magnate who, like Zeidman, is a major fundraiser, recalled that President Bill Clinton agreed in 1996 to negotiate an end to a government shutdown with Republicans. Democrats counter that no previous government shutdown was aimed at undoing settled law.

“Our president says he won’t negotiate,” Sembler said. “Our president is not a problem solver.”

The aide said that notwithstanding some complaints from moderates, the response from party members countrywide — including from donors such as the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers — had been positive.

“They’ve been spoiling for a fight for years,” the aide said. “They’re thrilled we shut the government down.”

Ron Kampeas writes for JTA Wire Service.

No Serious Injuries As School Bus Flips Over On Greenspring Avenue

The Baltimore County police crash team continues to investigate last Friday’s school bus accident that sent five children to local hospitals. (Provided)

The Baltimore County police crash team continues to investigate last Friday’s school bus accident that sent five children to local hospitals. (Provided)

A school bus en route to Pikesville Middle School with 10 students overturned last Friday morning on Greenspring Avenue, according to Baltimore County Police.

Five children and the bus driver, a woman, were transported to local hospitals with minor injuries, police said.

The bus flipped in the 10800 block of Greenspring Avenue, near Hillside Drive in Stevenson. No other vehicles were involved in the accident, and the police crash team is investigating. Baltimore County Public Schools will also conduct an internal investigation of the incident, according to a police news release. At the time of this writing, the cause of the crash had not been determined.

“We were driving and the bus just started to turn and slide and did like a 180 and hit a wall or something and then flipped over,” said Charlie Nelson, a seventh-grader who was on the bus.

When the bus flipped, Charlie hit his head on the roof, giving him a bump and causing some bleeding. He went to his pediatrician with his mother instead of going to the hospital.

It happened very fast, he said, and students were scared, but they were all able to climb out the roof hatch after the bus came to rest on the side of the road.

The driver was transported to Sinai Hospital’s Division of Trauma, and five students were transported to Johns Hopkins Hospital’s Pediatric Center and to Greater Baltimore Medical Center, according to police. The parents of the other five students, including Charlie, declined treatment for their children.

Baltimore County Police and Fire got the call at 7:29 a.m., with the first medic unit arriving at 7:37 a.m., police said. The driver and students had evacuated the bus prior to first responders arriving, and no one was trapped on the bus.

Most of the students called their parents on their cell phones, said Baltimore County Schools spokeswoman Diana Spencer, who noted that many of the students said they would still go to school on Friday,

Janice Nelson, Charlie’s mother, got a call from a neighbor who saw the bus flip, and she raced to the scene. When she got there, Charlie was being looked at by medics in the back of an ambulance with another student. She said he was bleeding but was OK.

“It was a very tumultuous morning,” she said. “I can’t believe they got out of there without any broken bones or anything worse.”

Photos show the bus on its side in a wooded area facing the opposite direction of traffic.

“I can’t imagine what got the bus in that particular location,” Spencer said. “It was odd.”

The bus, contracted by county schools through Woodlawn Motor Coach, is about 3 to 4 years old, Spencer said.

Hobby Lobby Apologizes for Alleged Anti-Semitic Incident

After customers in a New Jersey store were allegedly told that Hobby Lobby doesn’t cater to Jewish customers, the company issued an apology and said it is re-evaluating its merchandise selection and investigating the incident.

New Jersey blogger Ken Berwitz reported that family friends went to a Hobby Lobby in Marlboro, N.J., which was stocked with Christmas merchandise but had nothing Chanukah-related. When they asked about Chanukah merchandise, they were reportedly told, “We don’t cater to you people.”

When Berwitz called the store and was told they would not be stocking Chanukah goods, he reported that the employee on the phone explained that “because Mr. Green is the owner of the company, he’s a Christian, and those are his values.”

Hobby Lobby released a statement from owner Steve Green on Oct. 3 after expansive media coverage made news of the incident go viral.

“We sincerely apologize for any employee comments that may have offended anyone, especially our Jewish customers and friends,” the statement said. “Comments like these do not reflect the feelings of our family or Hobby Lobby.”

Hampden resident Jessica Krasnick, who gets concert posters framed at the Hobby Lobby in Columbia a couple of times a year, said it sounds like they’re trying to cover up a mistake. She thinks the company realized after the media attention and outcry of posts on the company’s Facebook wall that they needed to respond to the concerns.

She hasn’t had a hostile experience at the store but said she may shop around for a comparable framing option.

“I had my ketuba framed there, and they said it was beautiful and said all these nice comments about it, and I didn’t feel nervous at all to hand them something Jewish,” she said. “At the same time, it’s in their mission statement … it’s in there about following biblical principles. They need to make clear to their employees what that means.”

The company’s website says employees are committed to “honoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles” and that the company believes that “it is by God’s grace and provision that Hobby Lobby has endured. He has been faithful in the past, and we trust Him for our future.”

In the company’s statement, Green said Hobby Lobby has a deep respect for the Jewish faith and contributes to Yad Vashem as well as synagogues and Jewish museums in the U.S. and Israel. The company has previously carried merchandise for Jewish holidays.

“We select the items we sell in our stores based on customer demand,” Green said in the statement. “We are working our buyers to re-evaluate our holiday items and what we will carry in the future.”

Wonder Bread Goes Kosher

Hostess Brands recently emerged from bankruptcy, which means Wonder Bread is back on the shelves.

Remember Wonder Bread? It’s hard to forget the fluffy American sandwich staple of the 20th century. But now, it’s going kosher.

The Orthodox Union recently announced that it’s certifying Wonder Bread products in regions of the U.S. If the product bears an OU symbol, it has been certified. It’s unclear in which cities one will find kosher Wonder Bread, as the Orthodox Union has stated it will not be everywhere.

The big question: What’s the next Hostess product to bear an OU? Twinkies, Ho Hos?

America’s Realty Acquires Massive Cleveland Shopping Center

A Pikesville-based commercial redevelopment company acquired an 800,000-square-foot shopping center in Maple Heights, Ohio, making it the largest project in the company’s portfolio.

America’s Realty bought the shopping center, its 220th, for $14 million, or $17.50 per square acre.

“There’s a void of a lot of services, and we want to cater to the area,” said Carl Verstandig, the company’s president and CEO, who was profiled in the July 26 issue of the Jewish Times (“Verstandig Picks Up The Pieces”).

The center, which is about 33 percent vacant, is anchored by a Home Depot and a Giant Eagle supermarket. Verstandig said his company plans to invest $3.5 million in improvements to the center in the first year.

“This a regional center that services about 200,000 people within about
15 miles of the Cleveland area,” he said.

He sees a lack of clothing stores at the center, which he plans to bring in, and since the center is near about 20,000 apartments, he also plans to bring in a laundromat and dry cleaner. To further cater to the area, he is looking into getting a specialty food shop such as a Hispanic grocer.

Verstandig plans to pass the savings —  he bought the center for less than half of the original price of $38 million — on to his tenants, offering rent of $5 to $7 per square foot.

Verstandig had been trying to buy the center from its lender for about a year and a half, with the lender tying up proceedings in court to try to avoid taking a loss on the property. Since acquiring the center, potential tenants who weren’t able to open in the center during the proceedings have contacted America’s Realty.

“It seems like there’s a demand for space, just no one has been allowed in there,” Verstandig said.

Since this acquisition, America’s Realty has contracted to buy its fifth
regional center in North Carolina, its 16th in Ohio and its third in Georgia.

Verstandig and his company are also in the process of redeveloping the Fields of Pikesville building, and he is currently in negotiations with a New York-based kosher grocer. He plans to reveal the name of the grocer when a contract is signed. The JT will have the exclusive on that.

New ICC Director Named

Jacob Baime has been selected as the new executive director of the Israel on Campus Coalition (ICC), the college pro-Israel advocacy organization.

“I’m very passionate about pro-Israel campus affairs,” Baime said. “I’m a product of [them].”

Baime first got involved with ICC as a college student when he and other Brandeis students received a grant to travel to Washington to lobby on behalf of Israel.

“At the time it was the largest such group to go,” he said.

The ICC was founded in 2002 to encourage pro-Israel leadership on college campuses across the U.S., working as a partner organization with Hillel and other Jewish and Israel campus groups.

Baime is coming to the position with a lot of experience. He most recently worked as area director for AIPAC in the New England region and prior to that served as national field director for AIPAC as well, roles that have a direct relation to the kind of outreach and grassroots organization on college campuses that ICC does, though there are differences.

“There’s a difference in how they approach campuses,” Baimes said. “AIPAC sees campus work as a means to an end, while the ICC sees the campus as an end in itself.”

Baime is quick to point out that although he found a way to express his desire to support Israel through AIPAC, that doesn’t mean it’s the only valid one.

“There’s got to be an outlet for everybody,” he said.

Those outlets can come from not only ICC programs, but also coord-inated campaigns with other campus groups that have similar goals of celebrating Israel, Baime said.

One of the central focuses for ICC is the movement on some college campuses for campaigns to boycott Israel and otherwise isolate the country in a process known as Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS).

“Combating BDS is going to be absolutely essential,” Baime said, noting how to combat it is more complex. Still, he remains optimistic.

Baime takes his place as director in mid-October, but he is already thinking about ways to further his ideas to promote Israel and pro-Israel advocacy.

“I’m looking forward to helping empower the whole Israel campus network,” he said.

‘The Greatness of Israel’

President Shimon Peres met regularly with Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. The president was among those who delivered a  eulogy at the rabbi’s funeral on Oct. 7. (Photo by Kobi Gidon/Flash 90)

President Shimon Peres met regularly with Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. The president was among those who delivered a eulogy at the rabbi’s funeral on Oct. 7. (Photo by Kobi Gidon/Flash 90)

More than 800,000 people (one-tenth of the population of Israel) attended Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s funeral earlier this week. Rabbi Yosef died Monday at the Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem of complications from multiple organ failure. He was 93.

Since his passing, countless articles and statements by some of the world’s most important Jewish (and some non-Jewish) people have been published. The Facebook feed of an Orthodox Jew, even in the United States, is cluttered with pieces bemoaning the loss of a Torah giant, a man who elevated the ethnic and religious pride of Sephardic Jews in Israel and around the world.

World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder termed Rabbi Yosef “a scholar of great renown … [who] re-energized Israel’s Sephardic community.”

Rabbi Yosef presided over a veritable empire of Sephardi religious services. He opened a network of schools that now has 40,000 students. He managed a kosher certification called Beit Yosef that has become a standard for many religious Sephardim. He was a dominant power broker when it came to electing Sephardic chief rabbis and appointing Sephardic judges in religious courts.

Rabbi Yosef’s impact, according to Ben Sales who attended Rabbi Yosef’s funeral as a reporter for JTA Wire Service, said the event demonstrated the diversity of the lives that Rabbi Yosef touched. While aerial photographs shown afterward illustrate a sea of black choking the broad avenues of Haredi Orthodox northern Jerusalem, Sales said up close he saw a different scene.

“As the group coalesced, men in polo shirts mixed with boys in sweatshirts and soldiers in full uniform — some still holding their guns,” Sales wrote on Oct. 8. “Knit kippot bobbed in the crowd with black hats, Sephardi Haredim in wide fedoras walked with Ashkenazi chassids in bowlers. A man in a black coat made conversation with another in short sleeves.”

The funeral, which started at 6 p.m., lasted upward of three hours.

“A man of strong opinions who was not afraid of clashing with others, Rabbi Yosef engaged in many ideological battles. But few shaped the modern State of Israel as much as he did, which is why more than a half-million attended his funeral,” Lauder said.



Rabbi Yosef’s History

Dignitaries were among the 800,000 people who attended Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s funeral. (Photo by Mark Neiman/GPO)

Dignitaries were among the 800,000 people who attended Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s funeral. (Photo by Mark Neiman/GPO)

Ovadia Yosef was born Abdullah Yosef in Baghdad, Iraq, on Sept. 23, 1920. Four years later, his family moved to Jerusalem, in what was then Palestine, where Rabbi Yosef studied at the Porat Yosef yeshiva, a well-regarded Sephardic school. At 20, he received ordination as a rabbinic judge, and at 24, he married Margalit Fattal. She died in 1994 at the age of 67.

Rabbi Yosef began serving as a rabbinic judge in 1944, and in 1947, he moved to Cairo to head the rabbinic court in the Egyptian capital, returning in 1950. He continued serving as a religious judge until becoming Sephardic chief rabbi of Tel Aviv in 1968, a position he held until he was elected Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel in 1973. During that period, he began publishing his well-known works, beginning with his Passover Haggadah, “Hazon Ovadia,” in 1952. In 1955, he was awarded the Kook Prize for Religious Literature. In 1970, the government awarded him the prestigious Israel Prize in recognition of his books.

Rabbi Yosef defeated a sitting chief rabbi in the 1973 election, itself a controversial move. He founded the Shas political party in 1984, one year after finishing his term as chief rabbi. The party now holds 11 Knesset seats.



Rabbi Yosef’s Rulings

Rabbi Yosef favored leniency over stringency so as to encourage compliance with Jewish law. But he based his decisions on Torah knowledge. Rabbi Yosef was considered a genius with an outstanding memory and authority in all areas of Jewish scholarship. Over his lifetime, he published hundreds of books and dozens of articles. Some were for scholars, such his most famous “Yalkut Yosef” and “Yabia Omer.” But he also wrote popular books for the public and had a radio program for many years, explaining Torah to the masses.

“Chacham Rav Ovadia Yosef, of blessed memory, was a man of great vision, who worked indefatigably to fulfil his life’s mission to restore the crown of Torah to its ancient glory,” said Rabbi Leonard Matansky of the Rabbinical Council of America in a statement.

Yosef was responsible for several breakthrough halachic rulings, including allowing more than 1,000 women — the wives of Israeli soldiers who were killed in Israel’s wars and declared military fatalities whose resting places were unknown — to remarry, in a decree known as “the release of agunot;” declaring a collective recognition of the Jewishness of Ethiopian Jews; and in more recent years, ordering the Shas party to vote in favor of a law recognizing brain death as death for legal purposes.

Rabbi Yosef supported peace treaties involving Israeli withdrawal from conquered territory. He argued that such deals were allowed under Jewish law because they saved Jewish life.



Rabbi Yosef In Politics

A sea of black filled the streets of northern Jerusalem earlier this week for the funeral  of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. (Photo by Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)

A sea of black filled the streets of northern Jerusalem earlier this week for the funeral of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. (Photo by Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)

In the history of the modern State of Israel, political leaders and Torah scholars have occupied separate domains. Rabbi Yosef will be remembered for combining those two roles.

Rabbi Yosef formed the Council of Torah Sages, the body that holds the top rabbinic authority in Shas. Under his leadership, Shas became a pivotal player in Israeli politics and has cast the deciding vote in numerous political battles.

Because the party represents both Haredi and poor Sephardim, it advocates a unique mix of dovish foreign policy, conservative religious policy and liberal economic policy.

“Shas is Yosef’s most controversial creation,” wrote Israeli columnist Shmuel Rosner on Monday. “It made him a villain in the eyes of many Israelis. It made him a divisive figure. … Yet, he was a revolutionary.”



Rabbi Yosef’s Rhetoric

In his later years, Rabbi Yosef stirred controversy with a number of inflammatory statements, often made at a weekly Saturday night sermon. In 2000, he said that Holocaust victims were reincarnated sinners, and in 2005, he said that the victims of Hurricane Katrina deserved the tragedy “because they have no God.” In 2010, Rabbi Yosef said, “The sole purpose of non-Jews is to serve Jews.”

He once noted that the public should “hold a feast” in the event of Meretz leader Shulamit Aloni’s death and called her fellow party member Yossi Sarid “the devil” and an “Amalek” (the biblical archenemy
of the Israelites). He wished for the “ruination of the home” of Attorney General Michael Ben-Yair, who in 1993 pushed to indict Shas Chairman Aryeh Deri, effectively forcing him out of politics.

Still, expressions of grief and condolence came from all aspects of Israeli society (and even from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas). In the history of modern Israel, wrote the Orthodox Union in a statement, there has not been a leader like Rabbi Yosef.

“Rabbi Ovadia was a giant in Torah and Jewish law and a teacher of tens of thousands,” said Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in a statement. “He worked greatly to enhance Jewish heritage and at the same time his rulings took into consideration the times and the realities of renewed life in the State of Israel. He was imbued with love of the Torah and the people.”

Said President Shimon Peres in his eulogy: “When I pressed his hand [in the hospital, just after he passed], I felt I was touching history and when I kissed his head it was as though I kissed the very greatness of Israel.”
So what’s next?

“There has been a lot of talk in the past few days about the question of his heir apparent,” wrote Rosner, noting it could be one of Rabbi Yosef’s sons or Rabbi Shlomo Amar. “The thing about the question is that if we even need to ask it, this means there is no heir. There is no one that is acceptable to everybody, no leader like Rabbi Yosef.”

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef visited Baltimore in 1983 to meet with Rabbi Herman Neuberger, Z”l. He also traveled to Washington on that trip to meet with President Ronald Reagan. Rabbi Yosef is survived by 10 children.

Maayan Jaffe is JT editor-in-chief —

Wonder Bread Goes Kosher

101113_wonder_bread_smHostess Brands recently emerged from bankruptcy, which means Wonder Bread is back on the shelves.

Remember Wonder Bread? It’s hard to forget the fluffy American sandwich staple of the 20th century. But now, it’s going kosher.

The Orthodox Union recently announced that it’s certifying Wonder Bread products in regions of the U.S. If the product bears an OU symbol, it has been certified. It’s unclear in which cities one will find kosher Wonder Bread, as the Orthodox Union has stated it will not be everywhere.

The big question: What’s the next Hostess product to bear an OU? Twinkies, Ho Hos?