So Much for Friendship

Secretary of State John Kerry (File photo)

Secretary of State John Kerry (File photo)

Conventional wisdom holds that the only solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict lies in a two-state solution and that the United States will always have Israel’s back through the peace process. In one speech last week, Secretary of State John Kerry turned that wisdom on its head.

On their face, Kerry’s remarks seemed to be nothing more than a recitation of timeworn policy positions: He condemned Palestinian violence and criticized Israel’s ongoing civilian and military presence in the so-called West Bank.

But coming just days after the United States withheld its powerful veto to allow passage of a one-sided resolution in the U.N. Security Council that declared Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria an affront to international law, Kerry’s speech should more properly be seen as the final parting shot (some would say betrayal) by an outgoing administration that up until this point — owing to the largest military aid package in the history of U.S.-Israel relations — was reasonably regarded as solidly on the side of the Jewish state.

Ever since the U.N. vote, we’ve wondered why the United States waited until now to act upon its condemnation of the Israeli settlement enterprise and to help orchestrate a Security Council declaration that Israelis living on the other side of the 1967 borders — including those living in a good portion of Jerusalem and the entire Old City — are outlaws.

If Kerry’s speech was intended to provide a good answer, it failed. “The Israeli prime minister publicly supports a two-state solution,” the secretary said in his Dec. 28 speech, “but his current coalition is the most right wing in Israeli history, with an agenda driven by the most extreme elements.” Translation: The Obama administration has been battling Benjamin Netanyahu for years, and now, weeks before the inauguration of Donald Trump, the White House feels the need to lay out its vision for the Middle East.

The bare-knuckled tactics chosen by Obama and Kerry are more fitting for a Chicago alderman race than for the implementation of foreign policy. But even more disconcerting, Kerry’s speech was also incredibly naïve. The Israelis predictably rejected it out of hand, but so did the Palestinians, who objected to the language criticizing terror attacks. Russia and the United Kingdom also joined the chorus of dissenters — an amazing development, given that just days earlier both nations voted for the anti-settlements resolution at the Security Council. U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May summed up her beef with Kerry’s speech by calling improper an attempt to impugn the government makeup of a democratic ally.

To May, we say, “Hear! Hear!” And for Kerry, we have one question: If the U.S. position is so sound and necessary, why did the U.S. abstain on the Security Council vote?

To us, Kerry’s explanation seems more in keeping with the new conventional wisdom: From Ukraine to Iran, to Syria and to Israel, foreign policy under the Obama/Kerry regime has been feckless, ineffectual and uninspiring.

A Brighter Baltimore

Joshua Runyan - Editorial Director

Joshua Runyan – Editorial Director

Poverty. Jobs. Crime. Health care.

These are not merely national concerns, nor are they strictly Maryland problems. They are Baltimore’s challenges. That much is clear in a city and region that has long struggled to make up for the loss of manufacturing decades ago, all while the core of residents who didn’t leave ages in place.

Two freshmen on the new City Council, the chamber’s only Jewish members, say they have the solutions to these challenges, promising a safer, more economically diverse and upwardly mobile city. As you’ll read in this week’s JT, Zeke Cohen of the 1st District and Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer of the 5th District are bringing a youthful energy to City Hall, spreading a vision of technological improvements and better services for the seniors who call Baltimore home.

“I am very passionate about the aging population, because it makes up a very large portion of the constituent base,” says the 27-year-old Schleifer, whose district includes the heavily Jewish areas of Northwest Baltimore. “I’ve always wanted to help people age in place and have made sure we’ve had enough senior housing for our aging population.”

The 31-year-old Cohen, meanwhile, has had a firsthand look at how technology, jobs and education can attract millennials to areas like Canton, where he lives.

“There is value to be had in hiring locally, and we know the benefit of hiring a workforce that is local, approximate and already knows the area,” says Cohen. “What that requires is that our school system and government step up and deliver a better quality education and that our business sector steps up and makes that investment in our youth.”

To be sure, Baltimore is far from the only Rust Belt city to face these concerns, which is why the ascendancy of new, young leaders like Schleifer and Cohen — who just happen to be Jewish — is so inspiring. If the last few decades have taught us anything, it’s that the Jewish community needn’t be an ethnic minority that keeps to itself. It can rather bring the Jewish ideals of justice and care for the downtrodden to society at large, providing leadership in our businesses, our neighborhood institutions and our government.

But the vision of youth can easily be tripped up by the reality that change often comes slowly. Many a politician has entered public service with high ideals only to emerge on the other end battle worn and tired. Still, there’s no reason to accept inaction and every reason to believe that the two newest members of the City Council will sustain the energy that got them to elected office in the first place. On that score at least, Baltimore’s future looks bright in 2017.

Justice for Rubashkin


Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin (Screenshot)

President Barack Obama has been using his waning days in office to cement his legacy as the most merciful president in recent memory. Two weeks ago, he commuted 153 sentences of primarily low-level drug offenders ensnared in statutorily mandated minimum sentences, bringing his overall commutation total to the highest of the last 11 presidents combined. Although that’s not the total picture — if no more action is taken, Obama will leave office this month as the second-least-likely president in history to grant pardons — it’s hard to question whether the outgoing president’s embrace of clemency is genuine.

But amid all of the mercy being doled out on nonviolent drug dealers and addicts, absolutely none has so far come the way of Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin. For those unfamiliar with his case, Rubashkin was the disgraced chief executive of what was the nation’s largest kosher meat processing facility — Postville, Iowa-based Agriprocessors — who was caught in 2008 allegedly violating U.S. immigration laws by providing fraudulent documents to migrant workers. He was ultimately convicted of bank fraud and other financial crimes that were revealed during the course of the investigation, including mishandling a business loan from an Iowa bank. In 2010, he was sentenced to 27 years in prison.

There is no question that Rubashkin broke the law and deserved to be punished. But 107 former Justice Department officials have joined with legislators from Capitol Hill and Orthodox Jewish leaders to argue that justice was far from served by dispatching an aging father of 10 — at 57 years old, Rubashkin still has 20 years left of his sentence — behind bars for close to three decades. Their charge is that overzealous prosecutors improperly influenced the sentencing phase of Rubashkin’s trial, effectively inflating the punishment handed down by Judge Linda Reade.

As outlined in a recent Washington Post opinion piece by Philip B. Heymann, a former deputy attorney general from the Clinton administration, evidence not shared with Rubashkin’s defense has surfaced implicating prosecutors in unfairly driving down the value of Agriprocessors by threatening possible buyers after the firm declared bankruptcy. Because bank fraud sentences are determined based upon the value of the overall loss to creditors, had the company fetched the price it should have, Rubashkin’s bank would have recouped more of its mishandled funds and Rubashkin himself would have faced less time in prison.

Accusations of prosecutorial misconduct are quite common in campaigns that seek sentence reductions and the granting of new trials. But the scope and prominence of the groups and individuals backing Rubashkin’s pleas is impressive. And the fact that the Justice Department has refused to listen to their grievances is quite troubling.

A defendant doesn’t have to be innocent in order for a serious miscarriage of justice to have resulted in his trial and sentencing. The outgoing president seems to understand this basic fact. It is most unfortunate, however, that his administration appears unwilling to apply that lesson to Rubashkin.

The Importance of Helping Others Parshat Va-yiggash

This week we are reading Parshat Va-yiggash, which means “and he approached.” It is the story of how Judah defends his brother, Benjamin, who is accused of stealing Joseph’s goblet. This parshah takes place in Egypt several years later now that Joseph is a top Egyptian official.

The parshah opens with a beautiful monologue by Judah, pleading that Joseph imprison Judah instead of their youngest brother, Benjamin. Judah declares that his elderly father, Jacob, will die from grief over the loss of Benjamin. He uses the word “father” 14 times in 17 verses. Joseph cannot hold back his tears and reveals himself to his brothers twice — the first time asking if his father is well and the second time forgiving his brothers for selling him into slavery.

In my family, my great-grandmother, Devorah, and her sister, Naomi, were brought to an orphanage after a pogrom took the lives of all of the other Jews in their Polish village. One day in the orphanage, a Jewish man from South Africa sat next to 12-year-old Devorah and offered to take her to his country to live in safety. My Aunt Linda wrote a beautiful book about my great-grandmother called The Night of the Burning.

In both the Joseph story and in my family’s history, there are individuals who can be considered to be “upstanders.” In the biblical text, Judah stands up for Benjamin when he is accused of stealing Joseph’s golden goblet that Joseph’s servants had planted in Benjamin’s bag. Likewise, Judah’s heartfelt plea leads Joseph to stand up when he reveals himself to his brothers and forgives them.

In the case of my great-grandmother, the upstander is Issac Ochberg, who undertook a treacherous journey for children he did not even know. Mr. Ochberg brought hundreds of Jewish orphans to South Africa, including Devorah, Naomi and others. Individuals like Judah and Ochberg are examples to us all to speak up, show kindness and assist others in need.

Henry Glaun is a seventh-grade student at Krieger Schechter Day School.

We Always Remember

I join millions of Americans, Jewish and non-Jewish, who are angered and upset about President Barack Obama’s parting gift to the Middle East — a confusing foreign policy that will haunt the world for years to come (“Obama Abstains on Israel,” Dec. 30).

But make no mistake, this decision is not his alone. He has Jimmy Carter, Joe Biden, John Kerry and U.N. ambassador Samantha Powers standing with him in supporting the division of Israel including the return of the Western Wall in Jerusalem to the same Arabs that forbade Jewish observance prior to Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War. Hillary Clinton is nowhere to be found. This is not just one man, but these are the actions of the modern Democratic Party.

I know that Sens. Ben Cardin and Chuck Schumer have spoken out against the U.N. vote, but they are mild in their speech. They find the vote “disappointing” as if the vote happened on its own. It did not. It is the modern Democratic Party not standing with the Middle East’s only democracy. The Democrats work on the assumption that people have short memories. They will forget about the Iranian nuclear deal, and now they will forget about this horrible abstention.

Remember, the next day (Chanukah) the Jews around the world commemorated a war won 2,184 years ago for the same piece of earth that Obama et al want to give away today. We say, “Never again,” because we always remember.

Take Nothing for Granted

I am sure the majority in the Jewish community are not single-issue voters, but they certainly make it easy for the Democrats to “count” on us. This past election was the most vulgar and unprecedented in my 70-plus years. It’s hard to believe the outcome. And I hope the two-term Democratic president’s failure to support Israel in the U.N. arena is also a wake-up call to our community (“Obama Abstains on Israel,” Dec. 30). Nothing is to be taken for granted. Nothing.

I hope Jewish political giving, engagement and voting will break the disproportionate free pass and historical hold given to the Democrats. While Senate Democrats are usually aligned to our major issues, the Democratic Party needs to be punished for Obama’s betrayal of a central issue we all share. How you choose to make sure this is felt and remembered is your choice. Just do it!

Shame on ‘Our Friend’

In response to the JT’s Dec. 30 article “BJC ‘Profoundly Disappointed’ by UN Resolution”:

A pox on the House of Obama and Kerry

Who stuck it to Israel, then sat and made merry.

A censure vote in the U.N., Obama abstains.

Blame it on the Jews, Kerry explains

And no loud condemnation or outrage from “our friend” Ben and the junior Sarbanes.

American. Jewish. Still a Democrat?


Paint Maryland red, switch your registration to the Republican Party!

Encourage Patronage

Regarding the JT’s Dec. 30 cover story “An Uncertain Future” about the demise of Owings Mills Mall: It was written that “some point to the death of Christina Brown as the beginning of the mall’s decline,” Brown, a cleaning company employee, “was shot and killed while walking on a path from the mall to the Metro Station.” However, there was a shooting just outside the White Marsh Mall last February in a much more well-lighted area and with more people around, not to mention the murders at the Zumiez store two years ago in the Columbia Mall.

Yet, there was no talk of those malls’ “downfalls.” Why the difference? I believe it was the media’s fault for making much more of a story of it. All I know is, I certainly hate having to schlep all the way to White Marsh or Columbia to pick up a J.C. Penney order, and I disagree with Rayna Verstandig’s assertion that this area won’t support a store like that. If both she and the media would vocally predict it to do well and encourage patronage, it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

UN Calls It ‘Palestinian Territory’; History Says It’s Not

The U.N. Security Council resolution condemning “Israel’s establishment of settlements in Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem” was one-sided and unfair. That’s obvious.

The resolution certainly won’t encourage the Palestinians to negotiate, since they see they can get what they want without negotiating. No doubt about that.

And the countries that voted for it are brazen hypocrites, since every one of them is
occupying territory to which they have much less claim than Israel has to Judea and Samaria, and Jerusalem.

But I think the most important point in this debate is being overlooked: The United Nations is condemning Israeli settlements in “Palestinian territory” — but the territory in question is not “Palestinian.”

The truth is that according to the Bible, the historical record and international law, Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem belong to the Jews, not the Palestinian Arabs.

The words “Palestine” and “West Bank” do not appear in the Torah or the New Testament. The Hebrew Bible calls the whole area the Land of Israel, and those specific regions Judea and Samaria. So does the Christian Bible. In fact, many of Christianity’s foundational events took place in the Old City section of Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives and Judea.

The terms “Palestine” and “West Bank” do not appear in the Koran, either. During the many centuries that the Muslims ruled the area (starting in the 7th century C.E.), they never created a state of Palestine. Muslims didn’t regard it as a separate territory, and the Muslim residents didn’t consider themselves Palestinians.

It was only in the 1960s that the Arabs in those areas began calling themselves Palestinians and started calling the area the West Bank. Those terms had no historical basis and were invented to advance the anti-Israel agenda. The fact that the United Nations and the Western news media adopted that language does not make it legitimate.

The only reason there are more Arabs than Jews in Judea and Samaria at the moment is because the British tolerated massive illegal Arab immigration to those areas in the 1930s and 1940s, and the Jordanians barred Jews from living there from 1949 to 1967. Those two acts of historical injustice do not make the Palestinian Arabs the rightful owners of those territories.

No matter what biased and hypocritical resolutions the United Nations adopts, Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem are Jewish territory, not Palestinian territory.

Stephen M. Flatow, a vice president of the Religious Zionists of America, is an attorney in New Jersey. He is the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in an Iranian-sponsored Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995.

People of the Book?

Gut yor! I’m Evan Tucker.

Before we were Tuckers, we were Ticockis, and before that, we were Charlaps, meaning that my family is descended from King David. The direct founder of our lineage is Yakhya Ibn Yakhya, whose name is an acronym for Khiya, Rosh L’Galut Portugal/Poleen, which means somewhere along the way, I had an ancestor who was a medieval merchant who knew he could sell more goods by exaggerating his yichus.

My story is the story of Pikesville, the story of modern America, the story of modern Judaism — a dream 2,000 years in the making, an unmistakable disappointment in reality. After two millennia without land or prosperity, why now of all eras is every Jew screaming at each other like prosperity will disappear tomorrow?

I don’t need to tell you that many of Pikesville’s most promising kids have moved to more prosperous cities for better
education, jobs and spouses.

If you give anyone enough privilege, nobody but a goy would live among Jews. We’re difficult people at the best of times. At the worst of times? I don’t need to tell you.

In this era of misunderstanding, let’s look at Eycha — the Book of Lamentations, composed by Jeremiah, the Bible’s resident depressive, chanted on Tisha B’Av, a holiday so depressing that day schools tell kids it’s in the summer. If you’re liberal, you’ve been thinking Eycha for two months. If conservative, you’ve been thinking Eycha for eight years. Five chapters, 22 verses in the outer four — representing the 22 letters of Hebrew’s alphabet and 3-times-22 verses in Chapter Three. A perfect book, and a book asking aloud if God stopped caring.

No matter what our beliefs, everyone wonders if Hashem is wroth with America these days. Could it be that we, great among the nations, have become tributary? Whatever our transgressions, we are afflicted for the multitude of them. Our cities, whether by crime or police, are compassed with gall and travail. Seventeen intelligence agencies claim Russia builds against us. Half of America thinks we’re set in dark places; half thinks we’re emerging. Americans wonder if they have become the ridicule of all their country, and never before now has America seemed like an old country of broken bones.You may or not recognize the quotes in there, but if you don’t, read Eycha. You’ll recognize your thoughts in a great text before you even think them. They read us much more than we read them. No matter what our opinions, reading the best words, whether divine or secular, give us more clarity, more wisdom, more strength. Jews and America need more of all three.

In the excruciating Chapter 1, the destroyed Jerusalem becomes a weeping widow – “a menstruous woman… all that honored her despise her, because they have seen her nakedness… she hath seen that the heathen entered her sanctuary… her virgins are afflicted… her filthiness is in her skirts…”  Modern Social Justice Warriors will be tempted to think this writing an archetypal example of the patriarchy trivializing sexual assault by comparing it to the assault of a city. I’d advise them to be slower on the draw – The Bible cannot be The Bible unless all generations find all meanings in it. Remember, if one dares, the statistics (and just statistics because the accompanying stories will make you vomit) of mass rape in the Soviet occupation of Germany, or the Japanese of Manchuria, or the Pakistani of Bangladesh, to realize how easily rape becomes both tool and objective in war. In the 20th century, the widow of Eycha could be tens of millions of widows. For those the near-future terrifies, no literature could be more relevant.

But what bonds particularly me to Eycha is the doubts of Chapter 3. What in the New Testament or the Quran ever allow for such agonizing doubts in the goodness of God? “Surely against me he is turned, he turneth his hand against me all the day… He was unto me as a bear lying in wait… Out of the mouth of the most High proceedeth evil and good…”

We chant Eycha on Tisha B’Av, the day of the Hebrew calendar on which both Judean Temples were said to be destroyed. It is the book specifically written for time of historical catastrophe, a book which dares to ask God “Yes, we still believe in Your goodness, but if we interpreted the evidence as it seems, your goodness is anything but apparent.”

Evan Tucker is North Baltimore-based writer and composer. He is the violinist and lead singer of the Yiddish rock band Schmear Campaign and has a monthly podcast, “Tales from the Old New Land,” which is a Jewish version of A Prairie Home Companion. Listen at