Israeli Lives Matter

Within hours after the recent terrorist attacks in Brussels, landmarks around the globe — including the Eiffel Tower, Brandenburg Gate, Trevi Fountain and the World Trade Center — were bathed in lights showing the red, yellow and black of the Belgian flag — much as the French flag appeared after the Paris attacks last November.

My heart goes out to the families of the victims and to the people of Belgium. But when it comes to terrorism, not all victims are equal.

Since October 2015, 30 Israelis have been murdered in a wave of premeditated knife attacks, with an additional 217 injured. Israelis today are on constant alert as they conduct their daily lives — working, going to school, grocery shopping, waiting for a bus or walking down the street. Parents have been murdered with knives or hatchets in front of their children. Attack victims have included pregnant women, teenagers and toddlers.

When an attack takes place in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, there is often a deafening silence from the world, an effort to conflate the killing of Israelis — mostly civilians — with a broader “cycle of violence” or, at worse, a pivot to suggest that Israel bears responsibility. These are textbook cases of blaming the victim.

Many American political leaders have expressed solidarity and spoken out for Israel’s right to defend its citizens from attack. But where is the global sense of outrage?

Just as Israel is often deemed uniquely qualified for criticism over exercising self-defense, it also appears to be uniquely unworthy of outrage in the face of terror attacks.

The cruel irony is that many countries have been able to improve security — from airport screening to intelligence gathering to the functioning of hospital trauma centers — by relying on Israeli experience and expertise.

The people of Israel need our help. The United States must lead the international community, calling on political leaders of all nations that purport to fight terrorism to speak out loudly against attacks on its citizens, and to pressure Palestinian leaders to do all they can to stop the targeting of Jews for murder.

I urge all who read this message, in any city or nation, to insist that your leaders and local media give the same consideration to Israeli terror victims that they would give to victims in your own community, or in any country other than Israel.

I issue this call as someone who has seen the carnage first hand. If Hadassah’s hospitals can practice non-discrimination toward people who seek to do us harm, the world can act the same way to support people in harm’s way. Discrimination is odious when it denies people their right to life — or the recognition of our common humanity — based on race, nationality or religion. It’s time for the world to understand that Israeli lives matter.

Ellen Hershkin is the national president of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America.

Jewish Teenagers Want to Engage, Just Ask Them

NEW YORK — Welcoming teens into Jewish life is both one of the most important and seemingly challenging endeavors of the Jewish community.

The rapid decline in teen engagement in Jewish life post-b’nai mitzvah is well documented and depressing. It’s also an entirely reversible trend, but only if the Jewish community approaches teen engagement in a new way — one that recognizes the whole teen and values her or him as an equal partner in creating experiences that add meaning to her or his life.

Jewish teens today are deeply thoughtful, inquisitive and ambitious. They can also be narcissistic and attached to technology. Most of today’s teens are vastly different than a generation ago, and in many ways different than a decade ago. These changes are due in large part to the central role of technology and the nearly endless opportunities for personal customization a click away.

We know this because The Jewish Education Project led major research to learn about Jewish teens from Jewish teens. We heard directly from them about their lives, their views on spirituality, their ambitions, their fears, their feelings toward friends and family, how they form their identities and more. We’ve compiled and analyzed the findings into a new report, Generation Now: Understanding and Engaging Jewish Teens Today.

The report’s insights are a wake-up call. Our community needs to work with teens to create experiences that address all aspects of their lives.

Just a few insights from Generation Now show the depth of Jewish teens today:

› Jewish teens want programs of substance that add value to some facet of their life.

› While many teens still see Judaism as a religion, many more relate to being Jewish in language commonly associated with ethnicity, culture, heritage or tribal affiliation.

› Being a minority group in the U.S. is something that many Jewish teens highly value and feel pride in, but they do not view themselves as being special for this reason. In fact, many Jewish teens enjoy involving non-Jewish friends in “Jewish activities.”

The challenge now is to take the report’s insights and have them inform our community’s approach to Jewish teen education and engagement. We must move beyond thinking about teens as passive recipients of Jewish learning experiences. Instead, we must begin designing initiatives and programs with Jewish teens, for Jewish teens.

David Bryfman, Ph.D., is the chief innovation officer at The Jewish Education Project, which is a beneficiary agency of UJA Federation of New York.

Engage at Myerberg

I enjoyed your Insider Focus on Seniors and would like to share with Jewish Times readers that the Edward A. Myerberg Center offers many programs which promote mental and physical health for older adults.

Research shows that older adults who engage with others and receive intellectual stimulation will stay healthy and at home longer. To help members of our community age in place, the Myerberg Center offers more than 150 fitness activities, academic classes, art programs and trips each year, a men’s club, a women’s club, support groups and medical education.

Our welcoming community full of supportive staff members, talented professors and friendly members offers something new every day for adults 55 and older.

‘Narrow-Minded Destructive Logic’

Sadly, I was not at all surprised to read that Agudath Israel of America opposes the Child Victims Act, which would eliminate the statute of limitations for child sex abuse offenses. This narrow-minded and destructive logic has long been a dangerous and destructive force in so many Jewish communities.

The statement from the Agudah that this bill would open up institutions to “ancient claims and capricious litigation” is indicative of their lack of focus on the top priority: the safety of our children. Perhaps these schools that are on “shoestring budgets” should be forced to close down if they care so little about preventing abuse and protecting our kids. To a victim of sexual abuse, the impact of abuse is not ancient history. It follows them throughout their lives and it often takes year of therapy to deal with the damage done by perpetrators.

We gather on Tisha B’Av, the saddest day of the year, to talk about caring more for one another so we can bring the Messiah and have our Holy Temple rebuilt. Caring about our children and the impact of abuse is a good place to start. Let’s ensure the safety of the next generation and continue to reach out to survivors of abuse.

 

A Call for Civility in the Public Sphere

Diversity of opinion has long been a feature of Jewish tradition as well as of American democracy. Argument “for the sake of heaven” — disagreement in search of a higher truth, as opposed to disagreement for the sake of obstinacy — is a core feature of Judaism. Similarly, a robust and vigorous debate about political and social issues has always been a hallmark of American society.

But since the presidential election season began in earnest last fall, civility — even a thin veneer of it — has been overshadowed by a troubling phenomenon: invective in place of debate. That has given way to a dangerous brand of politicking: argument, accusations and name calling for the sake of self-aggrandizement.

It’s easy to call names, to churn frustration into hate, and to divide an already fractious community. But it must stop. Every candidate from every party must reaffirm, through their words and actions, their commitment to the shared core values of American political life: free thought, mutual respect and civic engagement. The electorate is entitled to nothing less.

In the American Jewish community, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs is circulating a statement on civil discourse during elections and beyond. We support that effort and its call for everyone “to engage in a thoughtful, respectful and civil discussion over the future direction of this country” and to “strive to make our politics represent the best of our American values.”

“Shrill political discussion can cross the line, and spread intolerance and bigotry,” the statement continues. “Especially during elections, when divisions are most pronounced, we must be vigilant in preventing political discourse from drawing on deep-seated resentment and intolerance.”

America is what it is because of the rule of law and its free institutions. Some of the founders were as fearful of the tyranny of the mob as they were of the despotism of those in power. To this view, a demagogue and his or her followers are threats to the people’s life, liberty and pursuit of happiness because they seek to uproot the institutions that safeguard stability and foster incremental change.

That change seems even slower today, as the pace of activity and communication continues to increase and the opportunity for deep thinking decreases. So perhaps because it is so easy to repost statements or pronouncements that have the depth of bumper stickers and make disparaging comments without thinking about them while scrolling down a Facebook wall, we each need to take up the practice of civility as a discipline. Today is a good time to start.

Misleading With Contempt

Politics, diplomacy and warfare are not for the naïve. So we probably shouldn’t be upset to learn that the Obama administration manipulated the media to tell a narrative about the nuclear negotiations with Iran that was misleading and untrue. But we are upset. And we have a right to be.

The conduct of secret, sensitive diplomacy involving national security issues is nothing new. Indeed, in many cases absolute secrecy is necessary for any number of valid reasons. But secrecy is one thing. Intentionally lying to the public is another. And there is no excuse for the latter. Moreover, the contempt shown by Ben Rhodes, the president’s deputy national security adviser for strategic communication, for the press and the electorate in his recent New York Times interview shows a level of chutzpah that is downright offensive.

Americans were told that the election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate, led to a breakthrough in the nuclear negotiations. Now we learn that wasn’t true. Rhodes disclosed to the Times that even before the Rouhani election, the United States was already dealing with Iran’s more hardline leadership and had reached a framework for a nuclear agreement.

Many Obama supporters and pro-Israel Democrats backed the Iran deal, despite their own misgivings and the vocal opposition of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at least in part because they understood that there was a need to show support for Rouhani and Iranian moderates. Rhodes’ disclosure begs the question of whether those supporters might have listened more closely to their misgivings and other concerns had they known the truth.

Then there was the arrogance with which Rhodes described taking advantage of young reporters. “Most of the outlets are reporting on world events from Washington. The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns,” he said. “That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing.” His team therefore created what he called an “echo chamber,” in which so-called experts did nothing more than parrot the administration’s talking points in interviews.

There’s the sin of “managing” the press and the public. Then there’s the ignominy of bragging about it.

Just why did Rhodes decide to go public? Is the public better off knowing the truth now rather than later? Perhaps. But it sure isn’t a very good feeling to know that we have been misled on such a major issue. And it makes us a bit more suspicious about what we hear from the administration and read in the press.

Rhodes’ response to the fury following the Times article sounded like that of an unassuming team player, and was unrepentant. While telling it like it is may be fashionable this year, misleading the public and holding the people and the press in contempt is not.

Protecting Lives Parshat Acharei Mot, Levitcus 16-18:30

“You shall keep My laws and My rules; and live by them; I am God” (Leviticus 18:5).

I am delving into this line because Jewish clergy are being asked this week to speak out on the issue of domestic abuse in our communities.

“Domestic abuse occurs in the Jewish community at the same rate as the general population,” according to the Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse’s clergy training manual. There is often denial that anything like this can happen in our communities.

But the Torah does not shy away from difficult topics. When we deny that domestic abuse happens in our communities, do not believe congregants when they tell us about abusive situations, downplay the significance of this issue or suggest that someone remain in an abusive situation for the sake of shalom bayit (a peaceful home), we can endanger the life of a member of our community.

When the rabbis taught that “you shall keep My laws and My rules and live by them,” at minimum you should not die for them. It is from this conclusion that they derive the idea that we may violate the Shabbat and other commandments in order to save a life. This is the Jewish value of pikuach nefesh. It is part of our responsibility as a community to protect the lives of our members by doing all that we can to address issues of domestic abuse and to assist those who are suffering any kind of domestic abuse.

At a recent training for clergy sponsored by the Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse, we learned that every time one of us speaks out about this issue, the phones begin to ring at the organization. Here is JCADA’s number for those who may need it: 301-315-8041.

If you are reading this article and your spouse is abusing power over you in spiritual, emotional, financial, sexual or physical ways, I want you to know that God wants you to live and that there are people ready and eager to assist you. You are not alone, this is not your fault, and there is help available.

I also want you to know that the Holy One of Blessing does not support this abuse in any way. I pray for you to have strength and courage to reach out.

For people who might notice something that does not seem right with folks in your community, please know it is OK to gently inquire about how things are going and then listen. Expressing care and concern and breaking down the isolation and shame that often accompany domestic abuse is part of becoming a holy community that provides ways for humans to live.

Rabbi Rain Zohav is spiritual adviser for the Interfaith Families Project of Greater Washington, D.C.; education director of the Shirat HaNefesh Shabbat School; and co-director of Educating for Spirituality.

Boos? What Boos?

In “Biden, Kerry Defend Administration’s Legacy at J Street Event” (April 22), the JT made the highly misleading statement that Biden “was booed at the AIPAC Policy Conference” in contrast to the applause he received at J Street. I attended the AIPAC Policy Conference and was present during the vice president’s speech. I heard no boos whatsoever.

To the contrary, the vice president received standing ovations on his entrance and exit and during his address. It was clear that AIPAC attendees warmly welcomed him. And, as he related his long history of participating in policy conferences, it was evident he felt comfortable and among friends.

Yes, there were a few lines where the audience was mostly silent, particularly when Biden alluded to the Iran nuclear deal that AIPAC strongly opposed.  In a crowd of 18,000, it is conceivable that a few people booed (although I did not hear any), but to characterize his reception as being “booed” is utterly unfair and a distortion of what occurred.

Simply Put, Anti-Israel

The JT drastically understates the issue in “Blaming the ‘Liberal-Left’” (April 29). The self-described progressive wing of the Democratic Party in the U.S. and similar parties in Europe aren’t so much soft in their support for Israel as they are anti-Israel. You can see this on university campuses, at meet-and-greet events, at donor receptions. It is quite possible that there will be an explicitly anti-Israel plank in the Democratic Party platform. Outside the U.S., the situation is more extreme with the Labor Party leadership in Great Britain becoming so anti-Zionist that it becomes obvious anti-Semitism.

Embracing Coexistence

Editor-in-Chief

Editor-in-Chief

Religious freedom is a bedrock principle of American life, so much so that we frequently defer to houses of worship and other religious institutions, granting them exceptions from taxes and many workplace regulations. The freedom to worship as one pleases, enshrined in the First Amendment, is intimately linked with the freedoms of speech and of assembly, and we jealously fight encroachments on religious practice as the hallmarks of tyranny.

The right to own property and to punish its devaluing by the actions of others is an equally strong principle, fundamental to the idea of the social contract that underlies civil government: We individually sacrifice personal freedoms so the natural rights to, among others, safety and property.

It’s when such integral components of Western life stand opposed that we truly see the vibrancy of what it means to be an American. We’ve seen such debates play out in states such as North Carolina and Mississippi, where some are claiming religious rights in opposition to LGBT individuals claiming the rights of self- expression and, in the case of bathroom preferences, safety.

And as you’ll read in this week’s JT, we’re seeing another religious-rights debate play out right here in Baltimore, where the Ariel Jewish Center and Synagogue is heading to the county for yet another round in a land-use dispute with neighbors over its plans to set up shop on a 3-acre plot on Stevenson Road in Pikesville. On one side stands Rabbi Velvel Belinsky and the supporters of his Chabad-affiliated center for Russian-speaking Jews: They claim that both current zoning laws and a federal statute known as the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act trump the concerns of neighbors — many of them Jewish — who say they are worried about traffic and noise in the suburban neighborhood. But the opposition, which includes Del. Dana Stein (D-District 11), maintains that they want to live in peace and never considered living next door to a synagogue when they purchased their homes.

On whose side you stand may betray your own religious proclivities, although even Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Maryland and a veteran of his own land use litigation, recognizes that having a religious institution as a neighbor might not be everyone’s cup of tea.

“I can understand it,” he said of the opposition to Ariel. “It’s not that I don’t understand, but it doesn’t make it right.”

Kaplan summed up his thoughts with maybe the most American attitude of all: We’re a nation of laws.

At the end of the day, one party or the other is going to emerge from court — which may take many more months or even years — vindicated. The other will likely continue to feel aggrieved. The real question will come when the fervor has subsided: Will both sides embrace that equally American trait known as coexistence?

jrunyan@midatlanticmedia.com