Take a Stand Rally against Iran deal, Penn Station

Upwards of 50 people gathered for a rally Wednesday night on North Charles Street in front of Penn Station to send a message to Maryland Sens. Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski: Vote no to the Iran deal.

With the deadline approaching for Congress to either approve or disapprove of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which President Barack Obama has promised to defend by vetoing any congressional action against its implementation, protestors affiliated with the Baltimore Zionist District arrived at Penn Station holding signs reading “Iran has O-bomb-A,” “Keep Sanctions on Iran,” and “Sanctions Relief = More Terrorism.”

Jay Bernstein, the chair of the public affairs committee for BZD and the organizer of the rally, said the goal was to tell Maryland’s congressional delegation “the deal that was negotiated has too many flaws and they should vote no.”

Robert Slatkin, president of BZD, began the rally by referencing Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who came out against the deal late last week saying, “The temporary restrictions of the agreement would pave the way for Iran to become a nuclear threshold state.”

Keynote speakers for the rally included Lauri Regan, president of the New York chapter of the Endowment for Middle East Truth and Dr. Jeffrey Herf, history professor at the University of Maryland College Park.

“There is only one reason why Iran needs intercontinental ballistic missiles; it is not to reach Israel,” said Regan. “It is to reach the United States.”

Following many of the speeches, the crowd began chanting, “Take a stand,” “Just vote no,” and “Negotiate a better deal.”

Herf began his speech by referencing his students, who he said complain because of how much reading he assigns them. His message to the senators and congressional delegation was similar to what he tells his students.

“[The deal] is complex but it is not incomprehensible,” Herf said of the 109-page document. “Do your homework and read the deal.”

Baltimore City Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector, who represents the 5th District, emphasized that Iranians have continually chanted “Death to America,” and that any deal that empowers them is unacceptable.

Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Maryland, said that “although we oppose the deal for America’s sake, we are also not ashamed to say we oppose it for Israel’s sake.

“The minds and hearts of leaders and kings are in the hands of God,” added Kaplan. “Our standing here together as Jews in unity is a way to bring God’s attention and blessing upon us here and all of the Jewish people around the world.”

Kaplan also noted that the current month of the Jewish calendar, Elul, is a month of introspection. Accordingly, he blew the shofar as a way for attendees to be mindful of their behavior and conduct.

Other speakers included David Gerstman, associate editor of Tower Magazine for the Israel Project; Brian Sacks, BZD board member; Binghamton University graduate and pro-Israel activist Justin Hayet; Berly Hershkovitz and Eli Gold, vice president of the London Center for Policy Research.

While each rally speaker had a clear message for the congressional delegation, attendees were equally as enthusiastic.

“I think it’s very important for Americans to understand that this bad deal is not just a bad deal for Israel and Israelis and Jews; it’s a bad deal for Americans. They have vowed to kill Americans,” said June Karlin, who attended a similar rally in New York last month. “I have children and grandchildren who live in this country. I’m concerned for their safety.”

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

Tourism to Israel Is Down, but Optimism Abounds Despite decline in visitors, experts remain positive about country’s tourist offerings

Senior reporter Marc Shapiro recently traveled to Israel as part of a Jewish press trip that was sponsored by Israel’s Ministry of Tourism. The weeklong trip, from July 22 to 28, allowed Shapiro and seven other journalists to travel throughout the country to Jerusalem, the Negev Desert, Tel Aviv, Jaffa and more. The following articles capture a few of the places he visited and the people he met.

 

For a country only slightly larger than New Jersey, Israel offers a diversity of activities and scenery — mountains, desert, beaches, wineries, museums and history of literally biblical proportions — for tourists from all over the world.

It also serves as a destination for people of varying backgrounds, with holy sites important to the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths. Despite all of this, tourism to Israel was down about 12.6 percent January to July 2015 compared with that same period in 2014, according to Israel’s Ministry of Tourism.

Israelis and those in the tourism industry point to various factors, including the world economy, especially the decreased value of the euro and the financial crisis in Greece, as well as last summer’s Operation Protective Edge, which saw fighting between Israel and Gaza in July and August, and the media frenzy that accompanied it.

“It’s a destination that you almost don’t have to market if everything is quiet,” said Uri Steinberg,  of the Israel Tourism Commissioner for North America, a position in Israel’s Ministry of Tourism.

A record 3.6 million people visited Israel in 2013, and there was a significant increase in the first half of 2014, but ultimately that year topped off at 3.3 million visitors, less than the year prior.

Steinberg said the picture changes depending on how you look at the numbers and notes that last year was still a good year.

“In June 2014, people were afraid of not having places to put tourists,” he said.

The outlook with regard to tourism from North America is less bleak.

From January to July, tourism from North America is down 4.8 percent compared to 2014, but up 2.2 percent compared to 2013, the year in which Israel experienced record-breaking tourism numbers.

While El Al Israel Airlines also suffered last summer, with a 62 percent decrease in operating profit in the third quarter of 2014, things have picked back up for the airline, which recently announced the purchase of 15 additional aircraft and the possibility of adding 13 more in the future. The company announced a net profit of $17.3 million in the second quarter of 2015. The company had a net profit high of $57.9 million in the third quarter of 2013, which dropped to $10.1 million in the third quarter of 2014 due to military action.

Tourism from the United States, which sends the largest percentage of tourists to Israel (about 18 percent of its total), is strong, Steinberg suggests, because of the U.S. economy’s improvements in recent years. In Europe, however, it’s a different story.

“The euro has really damaged the incoming tourism from various countries to Israel,” Steinberg said. “People have been feeling it the last couple of months really hard.”

As of press time, 1 euro equaled 4.21 Israeli shekels.

Elie Gertler, a Jerusalem resident and a licensed tour guide since the 1960s, said that, in addition to the euro being distressed, Israel is an expensive country for travelers, pointing to the high price of hiring a private car for tours as well as the high price of gas. He’s personally seen a decline in clientele and thinks the decline in overall tourism is even higher than 20 percent.

“Right now I work with the Ministry [of Tourism] because there is no work,” he said, adding that his private bookings pay more. While his calendar is usually booked solid from July to December, during a weeklong tour in late July he lamented that his next job wasn’t for a few weeks, and his calendar beyond that was very much open.

Yuval Frucht, a driver with North Negev Tours who lives in Netanya, said business is about 50 percent off, but his company, which has about 120 buses, hasn’t laid off anyone.

“I sit at home too much,” he said. But the company keeps busy with business from Israelis, including the military and schools. It’s not just tour guides and drivers who suffer when tourism is down, he said.

“It’s tour guides, restaurants, hotels; it’s one big circle,” said Frucht. “The airports, the bell boys. Businesses close because of war.”

Oded Schickler, a tour guide with Ramon Desert Tours, which gives tours of the Ramon Crater, said the two months during the fighting last summer were tough for his company. There were less youth programs and less American families. But this past winter was one of their best, he said, because a lot of Jewish tourists came to Israel to support the country.

For some lucky tour guides, things haven’t slowed down. Asaf Salomon, a licensed freelance tour guide who works with different companies and conducts private tours for likes of The Rolling Stones, said that although friends and colleagues have felt the decline, he personally hasn’t. He thinks it has to do with his personal situation, since he guides VIP tours for the Western Wall tunnels in Hebrew and English, works with Hebrew University, the National Library of Israel, the AJC and the Shalom Hartman Institute and also guides congregations, birthright groups and Jewish schools. While some agencies he works with have had a drop in groups, he’s been assigned his usual amount of groups.

Salomon said he can empathize with those who get spooked by the media, which he feels doesn’t showcase the positive sides of Israel.

“People hear about Israel in security issues, and the other aspects are not shown enough; culture, history, religion, food, high-tech, etc.,” he said via email. “I also think that the news that comes out about the region has an effect — Syria, Egypt, ISIL. [It] doesn’t really sound welcoming. If people want to travel to a place and visit a region, I’m not sure this is a choice I would make if that’s the news I was receiving.”

Other tour guides share Salomon’s sentiment.

“I’ve been to the U.S. … I look at the news and I say, ‘I’m not going back home,’” Frucht said. “The truth is everything is OK. It’s quiet. It’s nice.”

Caroline Shapiro, spokeswoman for the historic Tower of David and Museum of the History of Jerusalem, which has seen a 20 percent dip in visitors, recommends those interested in traveling to Israel check event calendars in various cities to find festivals and other cultural opportunities.

“We hope that people continue to come to Jerusalem and discover a city not only rich in history and prayers, but a city diversely rich in cultures, in art, drama and dance,” she said. “While the media looks for the negative to report, the rest of the country and its visitors from abroad don’t have to look far to find the positive and to enjoy the fusion of old and new in Israel.”

Salomon thinks Israel needs to invest in reaching individual travelers and cost-friendly tourism and advertise the diversity of sites and activities the country has to offer.

That’s precisely what the Ministry of Tourism is doing, Steinberg said.

“The Middle East is a hot spot and we have to acknowledge that. It’s about targeting those audiences, targeting those influences in those circles like rabbis, pastors and priests who can really convince their followers,” he said. “It’s about safety and a transformative experience.”

And it’s been working, Steinberg said, as Israel has seen more faith-based travelers from places such as India and Brazil.

“The idea of walking where Jesus walked is a very powerful one in Brazil,” he said.

He said the ministry is undergoing a “significant digital revolution” to try to reach specific people in a personal way.

“One of the most remarkable things in Israel is it has so many faces that fit so many different audiences that it feels like they’re living almost in a fantasy. People can connect you to who you are whether you’re in the LGBT community, the Jewish community, the Catholic community,” Steinberg said. “It’s a crossroads for so many different things.”

Destination Israel articles

Israel’s Biblical Chef

Museum on the Seam: Not Your Average Art Venue

The Ramon Crater

Soreq Stalactite Cave

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

‘Finally Happening’ Baltimore, Rockville lone soldiers make aliyah this month

Eliezer Rappoport, Gidon Herschander and Gil Kuttler made aliyah Aug. 17 with 60 others from across the country as incoming lone soldiers, immigrants who serve in the Israel Defense Forces but do not have immediate family in Israel.

They are traveling with Nefesh B’Nefesh, an organization that helps people make aliyah by removing the professional, logistical and financial problems associated with it.

“I knew since I was 10 I always wanted to contribute to Israel, and being in the army is the most interesting and best way to contribute,” said Kuttler, 18, from Baltimore. “Many people in my family died in the Holocaust. Even though I couldn’t help them, I can be part of what they dreamed of, which is being in a safe Jewish state, and I want to keep it safe.”

232 new immigrants arrived in Israel with Nefesh B’Nefesh, including 59 men and women who will volunteer for the IDF. The lone soldiers pause for a photo upon landing. (Provided)

232 new immigrants arrived in Israel with Nefesh B’Nefesh, including 59 men and women who will volunteer for the IDF. The lone soldiers pause for a photo upon landing. (Provided)

All of them have different backgrounds and motivations for becoming lone soldiers, or chayalim bodedim. Kuttler, who has visited Israel several times, attended Beth Tfiloh since kindergarten and said he appreciates the Jewish upbringing he’s had as a modern Orthodox Jew. However, he doesn’t see the American college system as appealing.

“I haven’t really found a life path I’d be happy with in America, so I know that by moving to Israel, there will be more promise for my success later in life,” said Kuttler.

Many soldiers in the IDF travel after finishing their service. Rappoport, 22, met a former lone soldier while traveling in Peru. After talking with him for a night, he felt compelled to serve in the IDF.

“If I want to say I’m a part of the Jewish people, I have to join the army and give my service to Israel,” said Rappoport. “I want to be able to protect my people and culture. There’s always a need for soldiers to protect our heritage, and I’m excited to be able to do that.”

Military service is compulsory for Israeli citizens. In order to assimilate better, many of the lone soldiers will spend several months learning Hebrew and preparing for enlistment. Kuttler is joining the army through Garin Tzabar, a program that links diaspora Jews to the Israel Defense Forces. He will live on kibbutz Maaleh Gilboa with other lone soldiers for his first several months.  Herschander, 23, is from Rockville and intends to study at a yeshiva for a year before joining the army.

“I believe that Israel  … ties all Jews together, it connects everyone,” said Herschander. His motivation for making aliyah is to “to be part of history and live in the land that connects all Jews regardless of background.”

I believe that Israel is one of the main centers for Jewish futures. I believe that it ties all Jews together, it connects to everyone.

As Americans, Herschander and the other lone soldiers on this trip are keenly aware of the U.S.’s role in the contentious Iran nuclear deal. The deadline for Congress to vote on the deal, which Israel has fiercely opposed, is September, and President Barack Obama has promised to veto any bill that blocks the deal’s implementation.

“At the end of the day I believe God is going to help the Jewish homeland and all people worldwide to make it through this conflict,” said Herschander.

Rappoport has extra incentive, he said.

“There’s never going to be a time where Israel is safe from forces trying to destroy it,” said Rappoport. “I think it makes me a better person to understand it’s a scary time but to go and put my best foot forward and help protect my family in Israel.”

For some, making aliyah is more than just joining the military.

“I’ve learned my whole life about the diaspora and the return to Israel. I also have always prayed about ‘next year in Jerusalem,’” said Kuttler. “I am so extremely excited, I feel like I’ve waited my whole life for this, and now it’s finally happening.”

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

Mama’s Mundel Bread Single mother of three realizes her sweet edible dream

Traditionally, mundel bread, or mandelbrot, is not always the most popular sweet Jewish delicacy, but imagine one with a fluffy, almost cakelike texture with chocolate chips buried like treasures and a generous coating of cinnamon and sugar.

Baking the sweet treat has been always been a hobby for Owings Mills’ Jennifer Dansicker, but last month it became a reality when the former writer and single mother of three decided to start a second act: baking.

“My 10-year-old said to me about six months ago, ‘What’s your dream job,’ and I said, ‘Let me get back to you on that,’” she said.

After thinking about it for a week, she asked herself the question, “If money wasn’t an issue, what would I do?” and she ultimately turned to the kitchen for her answer.

Jennifer Dansicker and her daughter, Audrey, prepare to put a batch of mundel bread into the oven at Rosendorff’s Artisan Bakery. (Photo by Daniel Schere)

Jennifer Dansicker and her daughter, Audrey, prepare to put a batch of mundel bread into the oven at Rosendorff’s Artisan Bakery. (Photo by Daniel Schere)

“I said to my son, ‘I guess the ideal thing would be to open up a food truck and serve all Jewish foods,”’ she said. “As a working mom with three kids, I knew the financial [impact] of opening a food truck.”

Dansicker, a Baltimore native, has served as an editor for three of The Sun’s  magazines and has been a grant writer at the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation for the last two-and-a-half years. She is also a frequent blogger.

Before my children was my mother, who was the kindest, most generous woman. And I miss her and wish she was here to see all this. I wouldn’t be any of this without her loving ways. I couldn’t even be the person I am. She’s given me inspiration all of my life.

Dansicker wanted to honor her mother, Saralee Kreshtool, who died in 2007 and would have celebrated her 74th birthday this summer. She said mundel bread was one of the best foods her mother made while Dansicker was growing up.

“It’s just something that whenever I bake it, it’s always sought after,” she said.

Twice a week Dansicker and her three children, Henry, Audrey and Stanley head to Rosendorff’s Artisan Bakery in Pikesville to bake and package the savory sweets. They prepare the dough, roll it out and place it on large trays into an industrial-sized oven. Dansicker feels baking is her way of passing the love down to her children that her mother gave to her.

“Before my children was my mother, who was the kindest, most generous woman,” she said. “And I miss her and wish she was here to see all this. I wouldn’t do any of this without her loving ways. I couldn’t even be the person I am. She’s given me inspiration all of my life.”

A portion of each sale will go to either Jewish education, the Humane Society or the American Cancer Society in recognition of the disease that took Kreshtool’s life.

Dansicker first reached out to local caterer Alan Weiss to help bring her idea to fruition, but his initial response was that he had never sold a piece of mundel bread in 30 years because “they all sucked.” Determined to convince him, she brought her baked goods to him on a Monday afternoon. Weiss sent her an email the next day telling her to go for it.

Dansicker talked with Weiss about becoming Star K certified so that she could distribute her product, and a rabbi suggested she operate out of Rosendorff’s. After talking it over with Gary Rosendorff, the business was launched July 9. In three weeks, Mama’s Mundel Bread is now available in eight stores including Goldberg’s Bagels, Miller’s Deli and Accents Grill.

“I’ve gotten reorders from all the stores I’ve distributed to,” she said while adding that Goldberg’s had sold out.

Rosendorff’s CFO and production manager, Yossi Rosendorff, said it is not standard practice for someone outside his business to operate their own business out of his bakery but that he is willing to work around someone’s schedule if they have a niche product as Dansicker does.

“It’s really all about marketing,” he said. “It’s about how well you’re able to distribute your product.”

Indeed, Dansicker’s mundel bread has been popular so far with a variety of customers; even the ones who cringe when they hear those two words.

“I think when most people think of mundel bread they think of this hard, biscotti-like thing,” she said. “I’m getting a lot of picky kids who like it. My mother made it for me, and now I’m making it for my kids.”

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

What happens next? With a vote on Iran nuclear deal approaching, expert weighs in on likely outcomes

Congress has less than a month left to review the Iran nuclear agreement before it comes to an expected vote in mid-September. Despite opponents lobbying hard and spending millions to sway undecided lawmakers, President Barack Obama may still get his way, the Senate majority leader said recently.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), according to the Associated Press, told a business group in his home state on Monday that Obama has “a great likelihood of success” in pushing the Iran nuclear agreement forward.

Under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act passed earlier this year, Congress has 60 days to review and vote on a deal. A vote on a joint resolution of disapproval is expected to take place Sept. 17.

Sen. Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, said he will vote against the Iran nuclear deal. (File photo)

Sen. Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, said he will vote against the Iran nuclear deal. (File photo)

It’s generally accepted that Republicans have enough support to vote down the deal initially, but Obama has promised a swift veto. To sustain a veto, 34 Democrats in the Senate and 146 in the House are needed.

As McConnell put it quite simply, “[Obama] can win by getting one-third plus one of either house.”

On Tuesday, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) became the second Senate Democrat, the other being Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), to oppose the Iran nuclear agreement. Menendez called the current agreement “a very expensive alarm system” that in his estimation was a “far cry from significant dismantling” of Iran’s nuclear program. Earlier in the day, Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) became the 21st Democrat to back the deal.

If enforcing existing sanctions seems like a tall order, imagine trying to corral allies into imposing more sanctions — a nearly impossible feat, said Robert Einhorn of the Brookings Institution in Washington.

As of press time, no Republicans have come out in favor of the deal. To overcome a Democrat-led filibuster of a motion disapproving the deal, six Democrats would need to join with the GOP. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) the one Republican who considered supporting the deal, said recently he will vote no.

Said McConnell, “The campaign of the president to get it approved will be entirely among Democrats, probably Democrats in very safe Democratic seats whose only fear in re-election would probably be getting [through] a primary.”

If opponents of the deal are able to overcome a presidential veto, what are the consequences to the United States for rejecting the deal?

No one can say for sure, but Robert Einhorn, a senior fellow with the Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative and the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence at the Brookings Institution in Washington, examined likely outcomes in an extensive paper published earlier this month.

Under INARA, if Congress disapproves the deal, then Obama is prohibited from issuing waivers needed to lift sanctions, a key component of the United States’ commitment under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, thus removing Iran’s incentive to keep its own commitments.

In the short term, Einhorn wrote, the president could not enact limited sanctions relief required by the Joint Plan of Action reached in November 2013. The release of $700 million to Iran each month from its estimated $100 billion in frozen overseas accounts would stop.

It would become increasingly difficult to enforce sanctions on the purchase of Iranian crude oil. Since 2012, United States oil sanctions compelled countries to reduce their imports of Iranian crude oil every six months. Under the JPOA, countries were allowed to stop their import reduction without risk of sanctions. Reimplementing sanctions would impact India, Japan, South Korea, Turkey and, most notably, China, the largest purchaser of Iranian crude oil.

China might offer up token sanctions to keep the United States happy, wrote Einhorn, but it is far more likely that China would find a workaround or completely ignore the United States’ sanctions. Other countries would follow China’s lead.

At the same time, the United States would be trying to enforce other existing sanctions. Some major international financial institutions, Einhorn predicted, might get on board rather than risk being cut off from the United States financial system, but the temptation of entry into Iranian markets may be too much for European allies.

The European Union and European governments might not crack down on sanctions busters, forcing the United States to become a worldwide sanctions enforcer, setting up a scenario where the United States government could impose sanctions on allies in pursuit of compliance.

“And as the ranks of sanctions evaders grew and as the defectors came to believe there was strength in numbers, such a campaign could become increasingly confrontational, futile and self-defeating, especially if the sanctioned entities had substantial economic links to the United States,” wrote Einhorn.

If enforcing existing sanctions seems like a tall order, imagine trying to corral allies into imposing more sanctions — a nearly impossible feat, in Einhorn’s view. In the meantime, Iran would likely begin expanding its nuclear capacity with the justification that the United States did not hold up its end of the deal. Then it would be harder to get partners back to the negotiating table, and even if the United States succeeded in restarting talks, Iran’s nuclear program would be further along than it is today.

mapter@midatlanticmedia.com

Museum on the Seam: Not Your Average Art Venue Jerusalem sociopolitical art museum in danger of shutting down

When people think of Jerusalem, biblical history comes to mind: the Western Wall, the Old City and other sacred relics of the past. But situated in a modest building on the borders of Mea Shearim, Musara and East Jerusalem is what one might call an anomaly for Jerusalem, a contemporary art museum with alluring and provocative pieces that shine light on sociopolitical issues.

Raphie Etgar, curator of Museum of the Seam, a sociopolitical contemporary art museum in Jerusalem. (Photo by Marc Shapiro)

Raphie Etgar, curator of Museum of the Seam, a sociopolitical contemporary art museum in Jerusalem. (Photo by Marc Shapiro)

A large banner that exclaims “The Revolution Is Not Over” graces the outside of the building, and inside visitors might catch a glimpse of the curator, Raphie Etgar, who founded Museum on the Seam 20 years ago.

“My feeling is that we are dividing more than we are getting together,” he said. “At the end of the day we are left with information and knowledge that is misleading us to fighting each other rather than to accept the differences.”

He talks of “sharing” and “balance” and “friendship,” and speaks critically of world leaders, who are the subject of the museum’s current exhibition, “And The Trees Went Forth To Seek A King.”

“This exhibition … is about our leaders, is about us, is about the relations that are developing from the moment we love them, we follow them, we want them to guide us and they disappoint us,” he said. “We are used to this corruption, and this disappointment is growing from every day to the other. If we lose faith in our leaders, we lose the faith in ourselves,” or as his introduction to the exhibit reads, “we face the danger of losing faith in institutions of power.”

The museum, which The New York Times named one of the best 29 art venues in the world, features a variety of international artists.

A banner declaring “The Revolution Is Not Over” greets museum visitors. (Photo by Marc Shapiro)

A banner declaring “The Revolution Is Not Over” greets museum visitors. (Photo by Marc Shapiro)

Pieces in the current exhibition include “Photo Op,” which depicts former British Prime Minister Tony Blair taking a selfie with an explosion in the background, which the artist hopes leaves the viewer to question the responsibilities and morality of politicians during war; “Those in Charge,” a six-minute video produced guerilla-style, features a motorcade of seven black Mercedes-Benz sedans topped with large portraits of Spain’s King Juan Carlos I and six prime ministers upside down, the artist pointing to disillusionment with government programs and policies as well as the suffering caused by the economic downturn; and “Begin” a mixed-media wood silhouette of former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, which reflects the leader’s “tragic image” as a courageous leader who would partly be blamed for the Lebanon War in the 1980s.

“You have distance to look at a thing and then to make up your mind [on] what is actually the real thing and what the exhibition meant,” Etgar said.

He’s well-aware of the critics in his own backyard.

“This exhibition is trying to do something that some people say is against Israel, and I think this is the opposite because what we want to do is expose the weak points. We want to tell ourselves where we went wrong and how we can change,” he said. “If we will just say to everybody, ‘We are good and this is the right way and we should fight with everybody and we shouldn’t share anything,’ this will lead us to catastrophe.”

While the museum stands out in Jerusalem, the building itself is not ordinary either. Originally built as a neoclassical mansion, it became a frontal military post during the Six-Day War in 1967, when what was Jordan was right across the street. Etgar grew up behind the building and remembers the barbed wire that used to adorn the borders of his museum.

While he’s not sure how far and wide his message has been heard in Israel, Etgar has at least one victorious story. When a group of border guards visited the museum, Etgar told them to be sensitive and do their jobs in a way that would let people being checked know that the guards weren’t against them and to remember that the women whose purses they checked were also mothers. Two months later, one of the guards returned to the museum.

“He said, ‘You know what you did to our unit?’” Etgar recalled, “‘We came to the checkpoint with bunches of flowers and we gave to each woman a flower once we checked her bag.’ And I said that day, ‘Thank you God.’”

While Etgar relishes in impactful moments such as that one, his storied museum could close in about three months. With changes in the von Holtzbrinck family of Germany, the museum’s sole donors, funding is ending. And while Etgar has met with some potential donors, no one has committed to the museum, which he said requires $1 million per year to run.

“It’s very difficult,” he said. “People are very much full of respect and full of sympathy, but that in the end, nobody’s putting out a checkbook.”

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

Israel’s Biblical Chef Moshe Basson’s culinary creations draw from the Torah and his multiethnic upbringing

Many people connect to the earth by going on hikes, connect to the Bible by going to synagogue or church and connect with food by eating and cooking it. For Chef Moshe Basson of The Eucalyptus in Jerusalem, all of those pieces come together in his work. From picking his own herbs and vegetables to cooking food that draws on Arab, Jewish, Iraqi, Israeli and Palestinian traditions with culinary roots in the Bible, Basson has rightly earned the title Israel’s Biblical Chef.

“Each dish that is on your table that we are serving here, there is a story,” he recently told a group of American journalists who visited the restaurant.

Above: Chef Moshe Basson, known as Israel’s Biblical Chef, speaks with a group of journalists at his restaurant, The Eucalyptus. (Photo by Marc Shapiro)

Above: Chef Moshe Basson, known as Israel’s Biblical Chef, speaks with a group of journalists at his restaurant, The Eucalyptus. (Photo by Marc Shapiro)

His restaurant, located in the Artist Colony near the Old City, is the culmination of Basson’s upbringing, curiosity, memories and skills learned along the way.

Basson, 65, first came to Israel with his family in 1951 as a 9-month-old. They had fled Iraq as refugees and lived in a shed made of aluminum and wood that Basson recalls was about 9 feet wide and 12 feet long. While each person could leave Iraq with only a ring and one suitcase, Basson’s family smuggled some gold out when they left. With that gold, they opened a bakery and bought a small stone house.

His father got a chicken so the family could produce eggs, planted a vegetable garden around the bakery and house and later bought two goats. They’d milk the goats, make cheese when they had enough milk and sell the cheese locally.

It was at the bakery where Basson fell in love with herbs and spices. During the High Holidays, his father would rent out one of the ovens to Arab families, and although Basson couldn’t eat their  non-kosher delicacies, he was enthralled with the scents of the pitas and samosas coming out of that oven.

He learned to forage from an Arab friend. Basson would take his goat herd and his friend would take his sheep herd and they’d pick wild herbs together.

“When you are close to the ground, really physically close, you feel happy,” he said. “It is organisms … releasing sort of chemicals, I don’t know what, but they make you happy.”

Basson, an internationally renowned chef and member of Chefs for Peace and the Slow Food movement, never went through any kind of formal training. Rather, he learned by watching his mother cook the recipes her family has passed down, from Arab mothers and from a Moroccan rabbi’s wife, among others.

“I liked cooking and reading anything, and I like the text and stories and I believe in the Bible,” he said. “I’m reading the Bible since I’m a child, and now I can show the connection, now I can see the connection and talk about it.”

The Eucalyptus’ roots go back to 1986, when Basson’s brother opened a restaurant out of the family’s old stone house to feed workers from the area.

“I joined him to help him, to consult, and I was sucked in,” Basson said. “I started to cook my memories from things that I saw.” Two years later, Basson would take over the restaurant and rename it. Other than about two years during the Second Intifada, the restaurant has been going strong ever since and moved to its current location almost six years ago.

When asked about his dishes and their biblical connections, Basson becomes part-chef, part-scholar. His restaurant prominently features the seven species that are mentioned in Deuteronomy — wheat, barley, grapes (for wine), figs, pomegranates, olives (for oil) and dates (for honey). For example, the appetizer menu features figs stuffed with chicken. He uses hyssop, which was used for brushes to paint doors with the blood of the lamb in the story of Exodus, in dishes such as his appetizer breads and dips, which features hyssop pesto. Red lentil stew, which the menu calls the “Jacob and Esau Special,” goes back to the story of Esau selling his birthright to Jacob for lentil soup.

“This soup was cooked when the Bible was really fresh,” Basson said.

When there was an infestation of grasshoppers, Basson was featured on numerous news outlets cooking the insects, which are mentioned in Leviticus as permissible to eat.

“It’s the things that you can touch and things that you can smell, and it’s all surrounding the Bible or our roots, deep roots, in this ground,” he said. “So you can get very, very modern dishes at my restaurant and always you find the sort of [ingredients] that will take you back, back, back to the Bible, to the legendary stories of the region.”

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

Matisyahu calls festival cancellation ‘appalling, offensive’

American Jewish reggae singer Matisyahu

American Jewish reggae singer Matisyahu

American Jewish reggae singer Matisyahu spoke out against the organizers of a Spanish festival that canceled his performance because he refused to endorse Palestinian statehood.

On his Facebook page Monday, a day after festival organizers announced that he was no longer invited to perform there, Matisyahu said the festival organizers had asked him “to write a letter, or make a video, stating my positions on Zionism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to pacify the BDS people.” However, he wrote, “My music speaks for itself, and I do not insert politics into my music.”

Matisyahu, who for many years was a Chasidic Jew, added that he felt “pressure to agree with the BDS political agenda.”

“Honestly it was appalling and offensive, that as the one publicly Jewish-American artist scheduled for the festival they were trying to coerce me into political statements,” he said. “Were any of the other artists scheduled to perform asked to make political statements in order to perform? No artist deserves to be put in such a situation simply to perform his or her art. Regardless of race, creed, country, cultural background, etc., my goal is to play music for all people.”

Matisyahu was scheduled to perform Aug. 22 at the Rototom Sunsplash festival in Benicassim, near Barcelona.

The Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain called the cancellation a case of “anti-Semitic cowardice.” The organizers had been pressured to disinvite Matisyahu by activists promoting the boycott, divestment and sanctions, or BDS, movement against Israel, the federation said.

“As Spaniards, we are ashamed of the organizers,” the Spanish federation’s statement said. “In this case, the BDS movement employed all its anti-Semitic arsenal against the participation on Matthew Paul Miller,” using Matisyahu’s full name.

Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington executive director Ron Halber took to Facebook on Tuesday to denounce the decision, writing that singling out Matisyahu and canceling his performance because “he wouldn’t offer statements to appease Israel haters” is anti-Semitism.

According to the El Pais newspaper, other musicians threatened to cancel their performances in the festival unless Matisyahu made a declaration.

In a Facebook post Saturday about the decision, Rototom mentioned its “sensitivity to Palestine, its people and the occupation of its territory by Israel.”

Countering Attacks What if the assaults on Israel are not from guns?

From left: Shimon Mercer Wood, consul for media affairs at the Consulate General of Israel, speaks, as StandWithUs executive director Shahar Azani, Mid-Atlantic Media editorial director Joshua Runyan and The Algemeiner Journal editor Dovid Efune, look on.

From left: Shimon Mercer Wood, consul for media affairs at the Consulate General of Israel, speaks, as StandWithUs executive director Shahar Azani, Mid-Atlantic Media editorial director Joshua Runyan and The Algemeiner Journal editor Dovid Efune, look on.

Israel is currently under assault, but not from Hamas rockets. The attacks on the Jewish state are increasingly coming from international media outlets sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.

How to counter this trend and depict Israel in a more positive light was the topic of a panel discussion titled “Israel on Trial in the Courtroom of Public Opinion” held Aug. 12 at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C., as part of the 10th annual National Jewish Retreat, an event organized by the Brooklyn-based Rohr Jewish Learning Institute, the educational arm of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.

Mid-Atlantic Media editorial director Joshua Runyan challenged the pro-Israel community to engage in the debate about Israel rather than shutting off the opposition.

“If we look at the debate and we say the debate shouldn’t be happening, we’ve already lost because it means that we are not allowing our voice to be heard,” said Runyan. “If we acknowledge that the debate is going on and we say, ‘Yes, let’s have that debate about Israel, and let’s talk about how great the country is and how it’s doing all of these things right,’ then we can actually have a conversation with Israel’s detractors.”

Runyan was joined on the panel by Shahar Azani, executive director of StandWithUs, a pro-Israel education and advocacy organization, and Shimon Mercer Wood, consul for media affairs at the Consulate General of Israel in New York. Dovid Efune, editor of The Algemeiner Journal, served as moderator.

Wood said that winning friends is as important as winning arguments and cautioned against in-fighting in the pro-Israel community.

“There is a real risk of turning our gunsights against each other and picking fights with each other,” said Wood. “Who is Zionist enough? Who is defending Israel the right way? Who is defending Israel in the wrong way? We couldn’t give a greater gift to our enemies than to be litigative and spiteful among ourselves. So building relationships, building friendships and maintaining the friendships within our own camp has to be an important part of what we do.”

Don’t allow the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to consume all the oxygen in the room when the topic of Israel is broached, advised Azani. Instead, be prepared to educate people about the positive contributions Israel has contributed to the world by engaging on social media and other forums.

Said Azani: “Be ready for the debate on the conflict, but don’t let it be your sole objective because by doing so you will have committed a crime against Israel. We are not just a counter-reaction to the Arab world or to the Palestinian people, we are a vibrant country on our own with a strong tradition and a tremendous gift to the world, and let us never, never forget this.”

A Quick and Easy Read With help from BT grad, daily newsletter that’s tailored to millennials gains traction

Austin Rief (left) and Alex Lieberman are co-founders of the Morning Brew.

Austin Rief (left) and Alex Lieberman are co-founders of the Morning Brew.

When Alex Lieberman, 22, began doing mock interviews for his friends at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, his original intention was to find something productive to do with his time.

“My big belief is if you do right by people then people will do right by you. I knew I had a knowledge base from following the market and I could provide value to my friends,” said Lieberman. “By involving myself in the interview process, I could figure out the flaws in it to help others succeed.”

While helping friends prepare for their interviews, he realized how difficult it was for his generation to access easy-to-read business news.

“The major sentiment of college students, at least at [the University of] Michigan, is that traditional business news is generally dry, dense and politically tilted,” said Lieberman. “We don’t have the attention span or time to flip through those kinds of articles.”

With that in mind, Lieberman aimed to fill what he saw as a gap in the market. He started aggregating the top business stories of the day and sent a summary to his peers called the Market Corner.

“Originally, it was just for my housemates, but it expanded to 250 people quickly,” said Lieberman. “I started to realize there was a tangible demand for this, and by January, I brought on Austin as a co-founder.”

Baltimore native and Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School graduate Austin Rief, 20, who is a junior at Michigan, helped Lieberman turn the Market Corner into what is now, the Morning Brew (morningbrewdaily.com).

“[The Morning Brew is] a daily email newsletter geared toward millennials, ages 18 to 26, who don’t want to read through The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times,” said Rief. “It’s a quick read in a conversational tone that is entertaining but gives real business knowledge.”

The duo has managed to consistently grow their subscriber base since the newsletter’s inception and that meant also growing the team and the content. With several writers, two editors and a social media coordinator, the newsletter now includes several different sections: market corner, water cooler, the mix and the breakroom.

Each section is designed to be a casual and quick read but at the same time provide practical business knowledge. The roots of the news-letter have not been lost either; the breakroom provides an interview question of the day to get readers thinking.

“You have a 3-gallon and a 5-gallon jug that you can fill from a water fountain,” read one edition question of the breakroom. “You must fill one of the jugs with exactly four gallons of water. How do you do it?”

Michael Kessler, 21, who is also a junior at Michigan, joined the team as an editor after Rief reached out to him.

“I didn’t know what to expect but I have experience writing for the Michigan Daily,” said Kessler, referring to the university’s student newspaper. “I love writing, and I love business so when I heard about the Morning Brew from Austin, it was a way to combine those interests.”

Although Lieberman has graduated and is working full time at Morgan Stanley in New York, he is still growing Morning Brew with Rief and Kessler. But the divide in his time has taught him a lesson about prioritization.

“I think the biggest thing is staying organized and being able to prioritize especially now that I have a full-time job,” said Lieberman. “There aren’t enough hours in the day to do all the things you want to do.”

For Rief, he said he has learned more in six months of running a business than two years spent in college and that some things just can’t be learned in a classroom.

“You have to be willing to do whatever it takes to get that newsletter out every day because thousands and thousands of people are expecting it to be in their inbox every morning,” said Rief. “You must be passionate about what you do. Especially in a business like this, where it requires ­a daily commitment, if you aren’t
passionate for the product and what you are doing, it is almost impossible to make it.”