The Precious Gift of Frieda Pertman

The first thing Frieda Pertman did during an interview late last week was lovingly display delicate tendrils of crocheted lacework and embroidery on her lap. She had just received them in the mail from a newly discovered cousin.  But the lace was more than a thoughtful gift.  It helped weave together pieces of an extended family torn apart by two world wars.

Frieda Pertman is the only survivor of her parents, six siblings and many aunts, uncles and cousins.  The family members were killed in Poland during the Holocaust.  She and her late husband, Chaim Pertman, had fled to Russia in 1939 so they survived the war but not without living through horrendous, life-threatening conditions and years of arduous forced labor. They shared these horrors of war, but they also shared an impenetrably strong spirit.

The family left Europe for Israel in 1957.  After living a year-and-a-half there, the Pertmans and their four children — 5-year-old twins and two teenagers — arrived in Baltimore in December 1958.  A childhood friend of Chaim’s had sponsored the family and provided the needed paperwork. So with just a few clothes and personal items, and $140, the Pertmans began building their life in America.

“We came on a Saturday night, and on Monday my husband took a job,” Frieda said. “On Pratt Street was a factory that was making ladies’ coats, he was paid $5 an hour. He went to work there, and he was very good at it, he was very fast. He brought home the first week $90. … Well, it was enough to pay the landlady $40 for burning oil.”

It took some time for Baltimore to grow on Frieda.  Even through all she had endured, she was still used to living in bigger cities and attending events such as opera, theater and movies. To her, Baltimore had a small village feel and sensibility.  She had imagined a more sophisticated America.

“You would see in the car, a fancy car, a man in a T-shirt.  I didn’t like that,” Frieda said. “I didn’t like windows with the curtains closed, I was used to windows open with the curtains moved aside.”

Frieda Pertman, 96, who lost her parents and six siblings to the Holocaust, displays her aunt’s more-than-100-year-old crocheted lace. At right, Frieda  at 26 in Russia with son Allan, daughter Rita and late husband Chaim.

Frieda Pertman, 96, who lost her parents and six siblings to the Holocaust, displays her aunt’s more-than-100-year-old crocheted lace.

Another contrast was Frieda grew up in a very religious family, but when they came to Baltimore the days of attending shul and eating kosher were a distant memory. Years of fighting to maintain life one step ahead of hunger, disease and military evacuations took its toll. And as a new immigrant family, finances were tight, and paying for synagogue membership would have been too dear a luxury at the time.  But she maintained her Jewish family life and spirit nonetheless. Her husband had acquired work and the children were in school, so she was dedicated to staying and raising the family in Baltimore.

Some years later, Frieda proudly became a U.S. citizen. She was hospitalized at the time but managed to talk a doctor into letting her out because she was determined to participate in the ceremony.

“I was in the hospital, and I wanted to go to the court to be sworn in, and the doctor gave me two hours,” Frieda said. “I still had the hospital bracelets on my wrists. … I remember the questions the judge was asking me.”

The judge asked her who was the first president of the United States; she answered Abraham Lincoln. The judge smiled.

“No, Mrs. Pertman, it was George Washington. But most of the people born in the United States would answer the same thing,” she recalled him saying.

Frieda playfully claims she still answers more trivia game questions correctly than many of her native-born neighbors at Springwell Senior Living.

Frieda at 26 in Russia with son Allan, daughter Rita and late husband Chaim.

Frieda at 26 in Russia with son Allan, daughter Rita and late husband Chaim.

But that’s no surprise to anyone who’s met Frieda.  At 96 she’s thoughtful and talkative, small in physical stature, but big in spirit.  When she was younger she taught herself Russian and Hebrew. She learned English alongside her twins as they studied in elementary school.  She’s literally saved the lives of her children, survived and held her family together with scant resources and persevered under conditions that are inconceivable.  And recently she’s recovered from a stroke and still walks and exercises each day.

When Frieda laughs, her entire face lights up. Considering all that she’s endured, seeing her laugh is like a receiving a precious gift.

“She has a very deep understanding of the issues of life. She’s instinctively smart, she reads more than anyone I know.  She has insights deeper than anyone I know. She’s inspirational and she’s wise. … There’s something special about her that connects with virtually every life she touches,” said her son, Adam Pertman.
Frieda is the matriarch in an ext-ended family of grandchildren, great-grandchildren and in-laws across the eastern U.S. She told a story of her great-grandson, then 7 years old, making a point to invite her to his bar mitzvah. She asked him, “Do you know how old I am?”

“Yes, I know how to count,” he replied.  “I know exactly how old you’re going to be and I don’t care, but I want you at my bar mitzvah.
“Now I’m 96, and if I live to be a hundred, I have only four years. … It runs fast,” Frieda said. “But sometimes you just get tired.  You don’t get tired of living, you get tired of fighting to live.  And it’s hard.  At this stage of the game, if I give up, I won’t last very long, so I’m trying not to give up.”

Recently, thanks to an innocently uttered comment about two relatives and investigative work by her tenacious, impassioned granddaughter-in-law, Frieda discovered she has more relatives in the U.S. than she thought.  At the age of 95, Frieda met for the first time (over the phone) three octogenarian first cousins.  It turned out that two aunts, Bessie and Rachel, had left for the U.S. before World War I.  Soon after, the family members had lost all contact.  The newly found first cousins were the children of Bessie, who was Chaya Rojza’s (Frieda’s mother) older sister.  Chaya Rojza planned to leave Poland as well, but the war broke out and that made it impossible. She perished in the Holocaust.  It was Bessie’s daughter, Lillian, a newly discovered cousin living in Las Vegas that sent Frieda the crocheted lace gift.  Frieda turned over a piece of the handwork that lay in her lap.

“This is the work of my mother’s sister (Bessie) … that’s her handwork, this is more than a hundred years old.  … [Lillian] was keeping it all these years, she said, ‘Now it belongs to you.’  I got it last evening, they brought it to me from the mail, and I didn’t sleep.  At first she wrote me some jokes, I had a good laugh, then I had a good cry.  She said, ‘Now, now Bessie is home.’  She sent it to me to leave it to my children,” Frieda said.

Living and thriving through what she has endured, Frieda adopted a strong sense of, in her understated words, “do the best you can with what you have,” and also a deep gratitude for family.  She pointed to a group photo taken at her 95th birthday, showing her at the center of more than 30 smiling faces surrounded by a frame decorated with handwritten birthday wishes.

“This bunch.  This bunch keeps me alive,” she said.

Frieda had last seen her immediate family in Wohyn, Poland when she was 22 before she lost them forever in the Holocaust.  But she has created a progeny here on the other side of the world in Baltimore.  Now the worlds are connected once again, woven together like the delicate threads of lace in the heirloom she received from her newly found first cousin, to be handed down from generation to generation so that they may always remember.

[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/111081762″ params=”” width=” 100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

Jennifer Mendelsohn contributed to this article. You can read Jennifer’s account of Frieda Pertman’s discovery of her first cousins at tabletmag.com/jewish-life-and-religion/139943/an-unexpected-family-reunion.

Sweet & Savory

091313_sweet_savory1

Photos by David Stuck

It happened so fast. Who pressed the fast-forward button on summer? It felt as if Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur got the bum’s rush from the Jewish calendar. I went from the hot sweat of August to the cold sweat of preparing my Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur menus. Now, just as I take a deep breath, here comes Sukkot. This year, the joyous holiday starts at sunset on Sept. 18 and runs through sunset
on Sept. 25.

Sukkot 101: It is a celebration of history and agriculture.

Historically, it recalls the time during which the children of Israel wandered in the desert and lived in temporary shelters for more than 40 years. Agriculturally, it commemorates an ample harvest. If you need to know more on the basics of Sukkot, there is a cornucopia of information on the Internet. You can even find a How to Celebrate Sukkot page on wikiHow.

Your sukkah can be purchased or become a do-it-yourself project. Some actually live in the sukkah for seven days; some only eat meals there. For children, decorating a sukkah can be a fantastic experience. Again, on the Internet, you can get a range of ideas from formal chandeliers to more artsy-craftsy homemade decorations. But for me, it’s all about the food.

Fortunately, Sukkot has a more relaxed food vibe than the High Holidays, which are tied to a list of traditional foods, such as apples, honey and round challah. Even though food is key to this holiday, Sukkot does not have a list of specific and/or traditional dishes. Sukkot has a real anything-goes tradition when it comes to what you eat. For me, Sukkot is a foodie’s free-for-all. Many scholars believe the Pilgrims adapted Sukkot for Thanksgiving. Since it is a harvest festival, it seems natural to focus on fresh fruit and vegetables.

At this time of year, Maryland offers a wide selection of locally grown items. You can find fall fruits and veggies in supermarkets, farmers’ markets and at local farms that have stands or pick-your-own fields. I recently discovered a terrific website from the University of Maryland to help guide those of us who want true farm-fresh. Go to marylandagriculture.com for descriptions, locations, days and operating hours of more than 100 markets and farms all over the state. Again, local supermarkets have plenty, too, including dried fruits, which are terrific for sukkah snacks and desserts.

On Sukkot, we are often reminded to include figs, dates, pomegranates and grapes. But don’t let that hem you in. Be bold. There are green grapes, red grapes and tiny champagne grapes. Pomegranates, especially, have come out of the closet lately. You can enhance salads with pomegranate seeds that can be bought in containers. Pomegranate juice, widely available, is wonderful for drinking over ice or mixing with other juices, making salad dressings and more. There are Medjool dates and Deglet Noor dates, and some specialty markets have other varieties. Don’t forget rambutans and figs.

The ABCs of local fruits and veggies? Here’s a list of some of the items now available: apples, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cantaloupes, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chard, cucumbers, eggplant, grapes, green beans, kale, melons, mushrooms, nectarines, okra, peaches, pears, peppers, plums and pluots, raspberries, scallions, squash, tomatoes, turnips, watermelons and zucchini.

Stuffed foods remind us of a bountiful harvest, which often means stuffed cabbage or other stuffed vegetable dishes, such as stuffed tomatoes or zucchini.

Locally prepared foods are abundant, too. Gourmet Again sells sliced smoked brisket with a side of barbeque sauce and onions. The brisket is so tasty, you don’t even need the sides, and they sell out whenever they have it. With a great sliced challah or challah rolls, you can create a smoked Baltimore brisket bar in your sukkah. I am a great fan of food bars that feature a main course and an array of condiments for personalizing your plate. My family is partial to my homemade mandel bread, and I intend to have a mandel bread bar. Right next to my coffee and tea station, I place a tray of mandel bread with little dishes of toppings for dipping. (No double dipping allowed!)

Challah is always welcome, but here is a way to really ratchet up the yum factor. If you make your own challahs, try adding some flavors, sweet or savory, such as caramelized chopped onions, chopped apples and cinnamon, chocolate or berries. If you like this idea but aren’t up to baking it yourself, try going to shopchallywood.com. Challywood is a kosher pareve bakery in Queens, N.Y., that has all the flavors I mentioned and more. It delivers, often overnight. The prices are super reasonable, with free shipping for a minimum order. Challywood bakes luscious flavors: choco-cherry, choco-coconut, blueberry pull-apart and more. I have had them, and they are scrumptious. And like all challahs, you can freeze them if you need to. Yes, you can have a Sukkot challah bar, too. I know I will.

Continue the harvest theme in your table décor. No fancy flowered centerpieces for me on Sukkot. I use mason jars, shallow trays, glasses and other containers to create a tablescape of dried and fresh fruits and veggies. I admit that I sometimes use Pinterest to look at table décor and to borrow ideas. I searched Pinterest for Sukkah décor and found photos of unique, easy-to-make candle holders for evening in the Sukkah. Slice off the tops of apples and/or colorful gourds, and hollow them out far enough to set a tea light inside each one.

Here are some more kitchen tips and recipes. Enjoy the bounty and the leeway that allow you to make new creations and traditions for your sweet and savory Sukkot.

Jamaican Jews? C’mon Mon

Shaare Shalom Synagogue, with its sand-covered floors, is Jamaica’s only shul and has fewer than 200 members.

Shaare Shalom Synagogue, with its sand-covered floors, is Jamaica’s only shul and has fewer than 200 members.

When New York resident and Pikesville native Perry Katz traveled to Jamaica for a vacation last December, he spent five days relaxing on its beaches and enjoying tropical beverages amid the country’s tourism-laden north coast.

He was completely unaware that about three-and-a-half hours south, in Kingston, Jamaica’s capital city, there exists an intimate Jewish community that boasts more than 300 years of rich tradition.

To lifelong Kingston resident Ainsley Henriques, whose ancestors settled in the Caribbean nation around 250 years ago, Katz is not the exception. Most people, Jews included, have no idea that a Jewish population in Jamaica even exists.

Henriques, Jamaica’s honorary consul to Israel (the country does not have an Israeli ambassador), said when people are informed of the island’s Jewish nook, the reactions he receives are usually quite similar.

“They are surprised,” said Henriques, 74. “The Jamaican Jewish community has never been overtly active in telling its story anywhere. … The world has sort of woken up to the idea that Jews actually did — and do — live in Jamaica.”

The landmark cornerstones of Kingston’s Jewish footprint are its Shaare Shalom Synagogue — the country’s only shul — and its adjacent Jewish Heritage Center.

Erected a little more than 100 years ago, the synagogue is a pearly white structure with one main prayer room that seats around 350 people. Its most discernable feature is the sand that comprises its floor — it’s one of five synagogues worldwide to lay claim to this amenity.

“You can wear sandals to synagogue and get sand in your toes,” Henriques said.

091313_jamacan_jews2

Shaare Shalom Synagogue in Kingston (pictured) and its adjacent
Jewish Heritage Center reflect Jamaica’s storied Jewish history.

Some 30 feet away, the heritage center contains posters on the wall that document Jamaica’s Jewish history. It also displays items used over the course of the year such as tefillin, one of its 13 Torahs and a shofar.

For Henriques, however, the main challenge is not just getting Jews worldwide to fathom Jamaica’s Judaism, it’s also ensuring that the unique community — comprised of a diverse variety of denominations and backgrounds — sustains long after his generation is gone. Currently, Shaare Shalom has fewer than 200 members, and it struggles to retain individuals from the younger age brackets.

“I can’t tell you,” said Henriques, when asked about the community’s long-term future. “My only hope is that it [continues] as a long as I am alive.”

Part of the issue lies in the reality that when many Jamaican Jews leave to study abroad, they never return, instead opting to pursue job opportunities and set up their lives in other countries. It’s an ironic problem, considering that it was economic opportunity and freedom that led Jews to settle in Jamaica in the 1600s and 1700s.

The difficulty is exemplified in David Matalon, the synagogue’s president for the last three years. Matalon has been on Shaare Shalom’s board since 1972.

“I’m about to come off because I think 40 years on the board is long enough for one person. But if I come off, my problem is, I don’t know who they are going to replace me with,” said Matalon, 63. “I’d love younger people to come on, but they don’t seem to step up to the plate.”

That’s not to say everything is doom and gloom. There are several sparks of positive development.

After going 40 years without an official spiritual leader, Shaare Shalom installed Rabbi Dana Evan Kaplan two years ago. Since then, aside from one week, the congre-gation has maintained a regular weekly minyan — albeit a small one. Last Passover, around 130 people crammed into the heritage center for a community Seder. Its b’nai mitzvah program boasts about a half-dozen students, and the rabbi is also working to solidify a weekly Torah study.

One of the perks of a diminutive community is its intimacy and its openness. Shaare Shalom is a combination of Sephardic and Ashkenzic traditions simply because there wasn’t enough of a population to warrant multiple synagogues throughout the city. It’s a tightknit, amalgamated environment, almost a reflection of Jamaica itself, a relatively small country of just around three million people.

“Everybody knows everybody. Most are related to one another in some sort of way. You tend to have a pretty good idea of who’s who,” Henriques said. “If somebody new turns up we look at them and say, ‘Oh, who are you?’ [But] they are welcome as part of our Jewish community.”

David Snyder is a former JT staff reporter.

Green Golan

091313_green_golan1Israel is renowned for creating innovative solutions for dealing with a scarcity of natural resources from seawater desalination to drip irrigation. Indeed, these technologies have been sold internationally and are aiding the solution of dire water and food shortages in the developing world. Israel has now begun to focus on a new challenge, that of moving toward a greener economy. The Golan Heights region is one such area that, despite its pastoral serenity, has seen tremendous economic growth and in turn faces detrimental effects on its picturesque landscape.

The Golan Heights is a welcome island of green in a predominantly arid country. The green hills, peppered with vineyards and orc-hards, the bubbling streams and the snow-capped Hermon Mountain, are all gems in Israel’s geography. Likewise, they are all at risk of increased environmental pollution and the negative consequences of climate change. In a report released last year, the Ministry of Environmental Protection declared that “Israel recognizes the necessity to decouple the destructive link between economic growth and environmental degradation and is forging forward with a new green growth agenda.”

Towering over the Golan Heights region lies the wind farm at Tel Asania. While solar energy provisions are costly and space intensive, wind farms produce energy efficiently on significantly less land space. The reg-ion’s gusty plateau is the perfect location for Israel’s first-ever wind farm, which provides electricity for one of its largest employers, the Golan Heights Winery, other regional ind-ustries and a proportion of the area’s residents. It was announced earlier this year that a new wind farm containing 50 turbines, the height of the Azrielli centers in Tel Aviv, will be built in the region at a cost of $332 million. It is predicted that by 2015, the new 120-megawatt wind farm will begin producing electricity and that the farm will become the largest in the entire Middle East region.

The Golan Heights Winery is committed to increasing its positive impact on the area.

The Golan Heights Winery is committed to increasing its positive impact on the area.

The Golan Heights’ businesses and industries have gone on board outlining new strategies to minimize their carbon footprints and develop policies to protect the region for the generations to come. Katzrin, the capital of the region, is home to one of the region’s greatest prides, the Golan Heights Winery. As one of the region’s largest employers and the country’s leading wine producer, it takes responsibility for leading the way in environmental responsibility.

“The Golan Heights Winery is totally indebted to the incredible natural offerings of the region,” said Yael Gai, head of International Marketing for the Golan Heights Winery. “The mineral-rich basalt soil and the perfect weather conditions enable us to grow the fantastic grapes that are produced year after year. For that reason, one of our main goals is to increase the positive impact that we have on the environment.”

“There is a growing trend in the wine world to move toward organic farming and sustainable agriculture,” noted Golan Chief Winemaker Victor Schoenfeld. “We work on a system of biodynamic agriculture, which aims to strengthen the connection between man, nature, animal and plants.”

To this end, the Golan Heights Winery has made strides to paint the Golan green in more ways than one.

For the past 15 years, the Golan Heights Winery has been cultivating its unique Odem organic vineyard.

“Organic wine growing not only expresses, to the fullest extent possible, the unique terroir (soil and climate) of the Odem Vineyard, but it also positively influences its quality,” said Schoenfeld, “In light of our successful experience with organic wine growing in the Odem Vineyard, and following extensive study of the topic, we implemented organic methodologies in additional vineyards across the Golan Heights, thus reducing the use of environment damaging chemicals in the whole region.”

Without using powerful chemicals to deter unwanted guests, the Golan Heights Winery went back to basics employing a parliament of barn owls to guard the vines and using pheromones to confuse pests and preclude breeding. Any grape waste from these vineyards is then turned into organic compost and there-after used in over 40 percent of the winery’s vineyards.

In addition to the use of wind turbine-produced energy, the winery invests heavily in reducing water usage through an innovative drip-irrigation and advanced water-measurement system. This enables the winey use the absolute minimum amount of water required to water the vines. The large quantity of water used in winemaking and cleaning the vast vats is rerouted through a unique purification device enabling the efficient recycling of waste water. The organic waste is then broken down into gases by anaerobic bacteria, which in turn power an electricity-producing turbine. Finally, the winery has ceased to use non-recyclable plastic bags and in its place uses eco-friendly, biodegradable packaging.

“We still have a long way to go to ensure that our environmental sustainability remains in line with our expansion,” said Schoenfeld. “But we are making real headway and setting an example to the whole region.”

In addition to high-tech solutions and innovative energy conservation devices, the Golan Heights also relies on a team of volunteers to maintain its lush green habitat. The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) has launched a number of programs to try to combat the deterioration of the Golan’s natural water sources including the many streams, rivers, springs and wetlands in the region.

“Israel’s rivers are in a state of crisis,” reads SPNI’s report on the current situation. “Israel’s rivers and wetlands have changed beyond recognition. Rivers and wetlands have become dumping grounds for sewage, industrial and agricultural runoff.”

In part due to the increased usage of desalinated water for urban water consumption, SPNI has taken the opportunity to launch the Longing for the Streams campaign to improve the way natural water sources are managed. In addition to rehabilitation programs and new legislation, it runs a River Guardian program for school-age children to learn what they can do to protect the area’s water sources.

Keeping the Golan green is a combined effort. Together with the leading businesses in the area, such as the Golan Heights Winery, Israel’s governmental, charitable and CleanTech organizations are all playing their part in protecting one of Israel’s most beautiful regions. While the Golan Heights is now blooming with flora and fauna, the area’s residents are acutely aware that they bear responsibility for its preservation for the generations to come.

Anna Harwood writes for IMP Media Group.

‘It’s Really About Education’

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick,  archbishop emeritus of Washington, D.C., says it is not too late for peace in the Middle East. (Ed Pfueller/The Catholic University of America)

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick,
archbishop emeritus of Washington, D.C., says it is not too late for peace in the Middle East.
(Ed Pfueller/The Catholic University of America)

Discussing conditions in Israel and the Middle East, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop emeritus of Washington, D.C., said that “twilight has fallen on the possibility of a two-state solution” but added that despite the real and enormous challenges, it is not too late for peace in the region.

The crowd of Catholic leaders, clergy and invited guests listened attentively as the cardinal gave his keynote address as part of the conference called “Religious Freedom and Human Rights — Path to Peace in the Holy Land — That All May be Free.” Held Monday at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., conference attendees represented a diverse sample of Catholic interest groups and organizations. The conference was sponsored by a similarly wide spectrum of groups — the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America and Catholic Relief Services.

The speakers — Christian, Jewish and Muslim — covered issues of human rights and religious liberty in Israel and the Palestinian territories. In talking through the problems and issues, all of the speakers brought forth ideas on how to encourage peace and improve the lives of everyone living in the region.

Much of the day’s discussion rev-olved around Israeli religious policies for minorities and the interaction of the Israeli government with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. McCarrick said he sees the growth of Israeli settlements as a real danger to the peace process.

“Recognizing Israel’s shortcomings is crucial,” said Peter Berkowitz, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. “But they must be understood in context. The relationship between religion and state is complicated.”

Berkowitz spoke as a respondent to McCarrick and discussed a lot of the positive aspects of life in Israel for religious minorities. While acknowledging the validity of the concerns under discussion about Israeli policies, he said a one-sided story is often told in the world media.

“Verifiable and illuminating facts about freedom in Israel are overlooked in Western reporting,” he said, citing as an example Israeli tolerance of peaceful demonstrations in support of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt while the Palestinian Authority detained and arrested many who did the same.

The conference ended on a hopeful note of future reconciliation and peaceful tolerance for all who travel to the region; the daunting task of getting there should always get its due, McCarrick said. On that, there was general agreement from his audience.

“It’s really all about education,” Bishop Denis Madden said. “Today won’t solve the big problems, but people will go home and think about what they’ve learned.”

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

Lebanon Buckling Under Weight of Syrian Refugees

Syrian refugees in Lebanon live  in camps made of makeshift tents or in unfinished concrete block structures. Despite the efforts of the local Lebanese groups, refugees are often deprived of water and electricity for medical care. (Vincent Sannier/Polaris/Newscom)

Syrian refugees in Lebanon live
in camps made of makeshift tents or in unfinished concrete block structures. Despite the efforts of the local Lebanese groups, refugees are often deprived of water and electricity for medical care.
(Vincent Sannier/Polaris/Newscom)

With reports from the United Nations that the number of refugees who have fled from Syria has passed the two-million mark — more than half of them children — neighbouring Lebanon is struggling to absorb the hundreds of thousands of who have sought safety across the nearest border.

Officially, the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon is 716,000, but Lebanese officials say the real number is more than a million. The total population in Lebanon is just over four million, and the flow of refugees is increasing daily.

“I’m very concerned,” Lebanese Tourism Minister Fady Aboud said. “Imagine [if you had] 50 million Mexicans coming to the U.S. We cannot cope. You cannot welcome people and then not provide them with a tent or medicine or any services.”

Jordan, which now houses more than 500,000 refugees from Syria, and Turkey, with 460,000 more, are also struggling to cope. But it is Lebanon, with the smallest population and growing sectarian tensions, that is suffering the most.

Thousands of members of Hezbollah, an Iranian-aligned group listed by the American State Department as a terrorist organization yet which is part of the Lebanese government, have been fighting in Syria alongside army troops loyal to the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad, where their casualty toll continues to rise. Violence from the fighting in Syria has periodically spilled over into Lebanon, which has a significant Christian minority.

Several Lebanese officials have suggested that the United Nations establish refugee camps on the Syrian side of the border to contain the flood of those seeking safe haven.

“It’s not human to allow them to enter Lebanon when we cannot provide them with shelter,” Aboud said. “We receive less than 20 percent of the money that Jordan receives, and we have many more refugees.”

Lebanese analysts say there has been a sharp increase in crime since the civil war began next door, especially in areas where there are a lot of refugees.

“They are living in a very bad situation,” said Farid Chedid of the Lebanon Wire. “While some of them have been received by relatives, some are begging or sleeping under bridges. Others are prostitutes. Everyone says, ‘Enough, we can’t take any more refugees,’ but some say it loudly, and others won’t say it out loud.”

Aboud said 22 percent of Lebanon’s prison population today is comprised of Syrian nationals.

The flood of refugees also threatens to undermine Lebanon’s delicate demographic balance. About 40 percent of the population is Christian, while Sunni Muslims constitute about 27 percent and Shi’ites another 27 percent. All of the refugees are Sunni.

The Lebanese government collapsed last March, and since then the cabinet has served in a caretaker role. That has made it more complicated and difficult for the government to make decisions on refugees.

While most refugees from Syria continue to be allowed into Lebanon for humanitarian reasons, authorities have cracked down on the number of Palestinians being allowed into Lebanon. Human Rights Watch said that since last month Palestinian refugees are being denied entry into Lebanon.

There are already 455,000 Palestinians in Lebanon, many living in overcrowded refugee camps that have been the scene of frequent clashes. According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, some 92,000 Palestinian refugees from Syria have already sought refuge in Lebanon during the current crisis.

A senior Palestinian official in Lebanon confirmed that there have been fewer Palestinian refugees allowed into Lebanon. But he said it was for practical considerations only.

“Amid the increase in the number of refugees in Lebanon, the authorities made new regulations to help specify the real refugees,” he said. “If a person is going to a hospital or running away from the war, they are always allowed in. They require a rental contract from those coming in to make sure that they are real refugees.”

The official explained that some people are considered to be refugees even as they travel back and forth between Syria and Lebanon. Some come to Lebanon on weekends and return to Syria on the weekdays. He argued that it is not correct to afford refugee status to those who stay in Lebanon but travel to Syria periodically to check on their homes there.

Lebanese officials say that while they are sympathetic, they have simply reached the limit of their capacity to help.

Linda Gradstein writes for The Media Line.

Say No To Sukkot Weight Gain

Rosh Hashanah has its shofar, apples and honey. Yom Kippur has its tefillot (prayers) and fasting. Chanukah has its menorah and draidel. Pesach has its Seders. Shavuot has its Torah.

Sukkot, except for several symbols, is really about the joy of eating in the sukkah and enjoying the friends and family you have invited.

This year, it’s a three-day holiday, with Shabbat following right after, and we will be eating six meals in the sukkah, one after another. There are many challenges related to a three-day holiday, a schedule that comes every so often in the Jewish calendar. These challenges include having enough food available, especially if entertaining many family members and friends, and having a variety of foods to keep it fresh and inviting. There’s also the stress of avoiding significant weight gain.

When you think about it, this year, the month of September, spanning from Rosh Hashanah through Sukkot, mimics Thanksgiving to New Year’s, when average weight gain could be three to five pounds. Also, since the holidays are a month earlier, we light the candles later, and we are eating our meals at a later hour.

What are the reasons for weight gain during these marathon holidays?

Eating a large amount of food during mealtime.
Especially if the weather is nice, it is enjoyable to sit out in the sukkah, sharing with friends and family and consuming wonderful food. Some dishes are made especially for the holiday. In addition, the food is likely to remain on the table, encouraging second helpings and nibbling, rather than being taken off the table and into the house.

Eating much later at night.
Consuming a large meal and then going to sleep, after spending most of the evening in the sukkah, soaking up great conversation and singing, causes weight gain.

Lack of exercise.
During the holidays, when one is grocery shopping, cooking and eating and then grocery shopping, cooking and eating some more, there is much less time for regimented exercise or taking time out for a walk, let alone a trip to the gym.

So how do we avoid excessive weight gain and keep it reasonable and manageable so that we can lose it quickly when the holiday is over? Here are some easy tips:

Pace, pace, pace yourself.
Realize that if you don’t taste a delicacy at one meal, it will probably show up at another of the meals. At dinnertime, when we are probably eating at 8 p.m., don’t forget the importance of monitoring portion sizes.

Try to avoid excess fat and sodium while putting together your menus.
Include lots of dishes that are baked, broiled and grilled instead of fried, or include items with lots and lots of sauces. There is nothing more wonderful than a platter of perfectly grilled carrots, onions, sweet potatoes and turnips.

Consider mindful eating.
It is important to really experience your food, using all five of your senses. No time is more critical to be mindful than during a three-day holiday spent with friends and family, catching up on a whole year of events and happenings. Do not go into autopilot and lose yourself in spirited conversation, while consuming way more calories than necessary. Enjoy those you love and haven’t seen for a year, but be mindful of every bite of food at the same time.

Do yoga, meditation or deep breathing.
These exercises will help to keep you centered and mindful and help get you through what could be a stressful time. Even taking a walk after meals with a family member can have wonderful benefits.

Adriane Stein Kozlovsky, M.S., R.D., L.D., is a licensed registered dietitian in private practice, working with individuals, groups, corporations and nonprofits. She recently completed a 200-hour yoga teacher-training course at the University of Maryland School of Medicine Center for Integrative Medicine and is teaching individual and group yoga classes. Visit ChaiLifeNutritionForU.com.

‘Friends Are Watching’

Protestors rally on Capitol Hill in support of a U.S. strike against Syria. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Protestors rally on Capitol Hill in support of a U.S. strike against Syria.
(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Pro-Israel officials rolled their eyes this week in response to the opposing spins about their support for President Barack Obama’s drive to punish Syrian President Bashar Assad for his purported use of chemical weapons against his own people.

Some suggested that once again the tail was wagging the dog and Israel was leading the United States into another Middle East war. Others charged that the president’s arm twisting was forcing the pro-Israel community to take sides in a congressional debate it would rather avoid.

Whatever the truth, Obama’s concerns about letting the alleged Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack go unpunished dovetailed with broader pro-Israel concerns about maintaining U.S. credibility in the region and the dangers of unconventional weapons.

“A lot of folks are watching, friends and foes,” said David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee. “If we blink, if we flinch, foes will draw their own lessons, and the world will become a more dangerous place.

“And friends are also watching, including friends in the Arab world, friends in Israel [and] elsewhere. They will draw their conclusions, fairly or unfairly, that they cannot necessarily rely on the United States.”

Jewish groups were hesitant initially to support Obama’s push to strike following an attack that is said to have killed more than 1,400 Syrian civilians, including several hundred children. The reluctance all but evaporated after top Obama advisers outlined the administration’s proposed legislation in a conference call last week with Jewish leaders.

The next day, Sept. 3, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee mobilized its grassroots to call members of Congress. On Tuesday, 250 of its top members held one-on-one meetings with lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

The lobby’s talking points, as outlined by an AIPAC official who spoke anonymously, are twofold.

“One, there is a very strong strategic case: If we are to deter Iran from obtaining an unconventional weapon, we must stop its proxy Syria from using them without consequence,” the official said.

“Then there is the moral case: Barbarism on a mass scale must not be given a free pass. We have sent the photos and videos of hundreds of children being stricken, and it is imperative America must act.”

Despite the forcefulness of AIPAC’s push and the lobby’s vaunted clout on Capitol Hill, Obama faces an uphill battle in gaining support from Congress for a strike. In the House of Representatives, sentiment leans against authorizing a strike. The Senate appears to be split evenly.

The nod from AIPAC and other pro-Israel groups could help shift the balance — in part because lawmakers tend to defer to groups considered expert on a given topic, but also because of the fundraising prowess associated with the pro-Israel community.

AIPAC’s support is joined by other leading American Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. Notably, both partisan Jewish organizations — the Republican Jewish Coalition and the
National Jewish Democratic Council — are backing Obama.

Despite the community’s caution to have the president lead lest it be blamed for another Middle East war, commentators already are fingering Israel as the catalyst for American military action.

“AIPAC wants this war” was the headline over a string of posts by Andrew Sullivan on his influential Daily Dish blog over the weekend. And conservative Jewish radio personality Michael Savage blamed Israel outright on his syndicated talk show.

“I’m sick of this slavish worship of Israel,” Savage said, according to the conservative website Newsmax. “No, it’s America first and Israel’s the tail, not the dog. We’re the dog, they’re the tail. And I’m sick and tired of America being yanked around like we’re the tail and they’re the dog.”

Until recently, Israel had maintained a careful distance from pronouncing on the Syrian civil war, except to note that it would respond to any attack on Israel — by the government or the rebels. But The New York Times reported Tuesday that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was reaching out personally to some congressional leaders at Obama’s urging.

Neither the Israeli embassy nor U.S. congressional leaders would confirm The Times report. But in the wake of the chemical attack, Israel has grown more vocal in supporting a response that would degrade Assad’s unconventional weapons capability.

“Israel agrees with President Obama that the use of chemical weapons is a ‘heinous act’ for which the Assad regime must be held accountable and for which there must be ‘international consequences,’” Israel’s ambassador in Washington, Michael Oren, wrote last week on a Facebook message. “Israel further agrees with the president that the use of chemical weapons promotes the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and encourages ‘governments who would choose to build nuclear arms.’”

Oren’s former deputy, Dan Arbell, said any Israeli pronouncement on a matter of intense public debate would have to be made with considered delicacy.

“It’s always a fine line to walk,” said Arbell, a lecturer on the Israeli-Arab conflict at American University. “You don’t want to insert yourself into the middle of a debate.”

Harris said the narrative of Jewish eagerness for war — peddled heavily during and after the Iraq War — was to be expected. But he added that this should not inhibit Jewish groups from exercising their right to make their views known.

“We’re proud Americans who have every reason and right to engage in the debate as other Americans,” Harris said. “We care deeply about American influence and American national security.”

Ron Kampeas writes for JTA Wire Service.

See also, Baltimore Takes Action and
Kalb Looks At Syria, AIPAC And ‘The Road To War’

Baltimore Takes Action

[slideshow id=”Baltimore Takes Action”]

Protestors rally in Downtown Baltimore in support of building jobs in America rather than paying for a war against Syria

See also, ‘Friends Are Watching’

Kalb Looks At Syria, AIPAC And ‘The Road To War’

When it comes to war, veteran reporter and commentator Marvin Kalb wants to turn back the clock.

“When a president goes to war, he ought to take the country with him. That means he ought to take the Congress with him.”

Franklin Roosevelt was the last president to ask Congress for a declaration of war. Since then, Congress has ceded its war-declaring powers to the executive, leaving the people’s representatives to deal with such issues hastily in “urgent emergency sessions,” as the country is witnessing following President Barack Obama’s call for a military strike on Syria, he said.

Kalb, whose recent book, “The Road to War: Presidential Commitments Honored and Betrayed,” looks at the history of modern American war-making, spoke to the JT before Obama’s national address on Syria on Tuesday.

Issues of war “require time for reflection and debate, but not in a pressure-cooker environment,” he said. “The best way would be for Congress to assume its responsibility in war and always be abreast of foreign policy initiatives.” That way it could act “in a natural, responsible way.”

Kalb, a nonresident senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution, recalls the series of month-long sessions that Sen. J. William Fulbright (D-Ark.) held in the Foreign Relations Committee in the 1960s over America’s “deepening involvement in Vietnam, the possibility of a door to China and the linkage of the two.” Those sessions are the gold standard for congressional responsibility now abandoned because of the demands of the news cycle and fundraising.

Asked about AIPAC lobbying members of Congress in favor of a U.S. attack on Syria, Kalb said the group, which usually focuses on strengthening aid for Israel, “has a perfect right to lobby on behalf of any cause. My concern would be if AIPAC is doing it at the behest of the U.S. government.”

Some observers believe that it is.

Bloomberg columnist Jeffrey Goldberg wrote, “It seems obvious that the president’s national security team sincerely believed the hype about AIPAC — that it could move members of Congress to do things they otherwise wouldn’t do — and therefore drafted the group, along with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, to aid in the Sisyphean task before them.”

Kalb said AIPAC’s involvement could backfire, because it could “discourage people who might support the president [on Syria] because of their opposition to AIPAC or Israeli policy. Maybe if AIPAC wasn’t pushing they would support the president.”

Israel is watching how America handles Syria for hints of how it might handle Iran, if its nuclear drive succeeds.

“The feeling among Israeli leaders is that they love the U.S. But at the end of the day they know” they will have to protect themselves. “They fear a presidential betrayal, even if unintended.”

Presidents come and go, Kalb wrote in “The Road to War.” The solution is a mutual defense treaty between the U.S. and Israel. The time has come to institutionalize the U.S.-Israeli relationship so that everything does not rest any longer on the decisions of one person.”

David Holzel writes for JT’s sister publication, Washington Jewish Week.

See also, ‘Friends Are Watching’