Israel News

Israel’s Fallen

‍‍2015-01-21 09:31:41 - כח כסלו תשעה ipotts

 Friends and relatives mourn during the funeral ceremony of Shahar Shalev at the Haspin cemetery in northern Israel on Sept. 1, 2014. Shalev, who was injured by an improvised explosive device in the Gazan city of Khan Younis during Operation Protective Edge, became the 72nd and final Israeli casualty of the Gaza war when he died from his wounds. Credit: Flash90.

Friends and relatives mourn during the funeral ceremony of Shahar Shalev at the Haspin cemetery in northern Israel on Sept. 1, 2014. Shalev, who was injured by an improvised explosive device in the Gazan city of Khan Younis during Operation Protective Edge, became the 72nd and final Israeli casualty of the Gaza war when he died from his wounds. Credit: Flash90.

“There isn’t a day that I don’t think about him. That I don’t think of my pain and the pain of the others whose children were killed. It is not easy,” says Shosh Goldmacher, whose son Nadav, a 23-year-old resident of the southern Israeli city of Beersheba, was killed by an anti-tank missile when he responded to a terrorist infiltration during Operation Protective Edge.

The attention of the Jewish community and the rest of the world is (not surprisingly) transfixed on the three recent Islamist terrorist attacks in Paris that took the lives of 17 people, including four Jewish shoppers at a kosher supermarket. But not too long ago, last summer’s 50-day war with Hamas in Gaza claimed the lives of 66 Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers and six Israeli civilians. More than four months after the end of the conflict — but still early in the grieving process—the bereaved families are working to pick up the pieces.

Last month, OneFamily — an Israeli organization working to rehabilitate families that have seen members killed or injured by war or terrorism — held an event for 160 people from 50 families that suffered a loss from Operation Protective Edge. The event, which was also funded by the Iranian American Jewish Federation, offered a therapeutic environment for the families to heal together and to receive financial aid for the coming year.

OneFamily staff members had visited each home of the families that were bereaved by the Gaza war during the seven-day shiva mourning period, and the organization has offered counseling and other support to these families since last summer.

“It gives me tremendous joy to see all of you sitting together, eating together,” Rabbi David Ba-ruch Lau, the Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel, said at the Dec. 31 event.

But in reality, the positive healing energy that the event sought to create is just the beginning of a lengthy process for these families. Rebecca Fuhrman, the communications manager for OneFa-mily, said the families are already experiencing the forgetfulness of society.

“Neighbors and friends are moving on and they are left with the loss,” said Fuhrman. “It is the first time they are really experiencing that since the summer. It can be a lonely journey.”

“A lot of friends came in the beginning, but everyone has returned to their lives,” said Shosh Goldmacher. “Our friends have moved on.”

Goldmacher takes solace in talking about her son, who was in the IDF reserves when he entered the Gaza war last summer. She said Nadav wanted to fight in Gaza in order to give back to the Jewish people.

Chava Noach of Mitzpe Hoshaya lost her 22-year-old son, Oren Simcha, when the armored per-sonnel carrier he and his squad were traveling in was caught in an anti-tank ambush in the She-jaiya neighborhood of Gaza.

“It makes you understand what is important and what is not important. … Losing a child, know-ing he won’t come back every day, that just doesn’t disappear,” she said, her words coming in between her tears.

Noach draws on her faith to get through the days. She believes her son had a job to do in this world. “He fulfilled it and now he is gone,” she said.

Goldmacher said it is painful knowing that there is a strong likelihood of future wars in Gaza. But she doesn’t think her son’s sacrifice came in vain.

“We are not done [with Israeli-Palestinian wars], there is no question,” she said. “And every time we go into Gaza more children will die. But what is the other solution? If we didn’t have this war, there could have been the very deadly attack they were planning for the holidays.” (Gold-macher’s reference is to a foiled Hamas plan to use the tunnels it dug from Gaza to Israel to exe-cute a massive attack on southern Israel last Rosh Hashanah.)

“Your children watched over Gaza… and we will watch over you,” Israeli Economy Minister Naftali Bennet said at the Dec. 31 OneFamily event. “I want to tell you, ‘Thank you.’ You sacri-ficed the most and we are indebted to you forever.”

OneFamily distributed $90,000 to the bereaved families attending the event.

“This is a wound that cannot be healed — the loss of a child, a spouse, a parent, a sibling. It is not a healing process, it is a coping process,” Fuhrman explained.

Dr. Zieva Konvisser, author of the 2014 book “Living Beyond Terrorism: Israeli Stories of Hope and Healing,” expressed the same sentiment. She said “coping” is the correct word to describe the aftermath of losing a loved one to war or terror. For her book as well as her 2006 doctoral dissertation, Konvisser interviewed dozens of people who managed to transform personal trag-edy into triumph.

Konvisser told the story of Dina Kit, who lost one son to cancer and then a second son to a Pales-tinian suicide bombing in 2001. Kit and her husband, Omer, went through counseling through OneFamily and then began volunteering with the group. Dina Kit ultimately became the full-time office manager at OneFamily’s main office in Jerusalem. Konvisser quoted her as saying, “They see that I lost two sons and I am productive and strong, and they get encouragement from this. They see that when the body begins to strengthen, the spirit begins to work with and take care of the body.”

Omer Kit is a member of OneFamily’s male choir along with 11 other fathers who lost children to terror or war. He sings to remember his son, but also to make others like him happy. Konvis-ser said that the Kit family’s story proves how “alongside the pain and horror and grief, there is a possibility to move forward.”

Chava Noach is just beginning this renewal process. She is working with Oren’s friends to com-memorate her late son, who loved camping and hiking, through the construction of an observa-tion point not far from the family’s home in Mitzpe Hoshaya. “Oren’s observation point” will be located in the Tzipori Mountain Range, feature spectacular views of the Galilee valleys, and be a part of the Israel National Trail.

Still, Noach contends that for her, the best kind of support she can receive is “a big hug.”

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Biden Pledges Continued Support for Israel

‍‍2014-11-12 18:22:19 - יז טבת תשעד mshapiro

111414_ga_biden_smAmong the many personal connections Vice President Joe Biden has made in the Jewish community, he holds that of Elie Wiesel close to his heart. The Holocaust survivor, author, activist and professor said something that has stuck with Biden for a long time.

“Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented,” Wiesel told Biden, who recalled the encounter during a speech before Jewish community officials Monday. Those words have inspired Biden in how he teaches his family about the Holocaust, and have provided a foundation to his foreign policy in regards to Israel and Iran, said Biden.

The vice president spoke at the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly after being introduced by Holocaust survivor and advocate Nesse Godin.

Biden, one of several Democrats among a slate of presidential hopefuls who could be on the ballot in 2016, began by referencing his early connections to the Jewish community, including campaigning for the Delaware state Senate out of the Wilmington JCC. His unwavering support for the Jewish community began at age 13, he said, when he learned about the Holocaust at the family dinner table.

“[I was] never fully understanding why there was even a debate in the Jewish community about why there should be a state of Israel,” he said.

He now teaches his children similar lessons, and has taken all three of them to Europe for their 15th birthdays with the first stop being the Dachau concentration camp in Germany “to not only show them what man and humanity is capable of but also more importantly to let them witness the incredible resilience of the human spirit,” Biden said.

He credited Jewish federations across the United States with continuing to bear witness, something he said is getting harder as the Holocaust becomes more distant.

“Silence is never acceptable,” he said.

To that end, Biden is working to address the needs of Holocaust survivors in America, 25 percent of whom live below the federal poverty line, he said, and has held hearings about anti-Semitism in Europe despite criticism. He noted that anti-Semitic speech all too often gets disguised as opposition to Israeli policies.

“Too often in too many countries, opposition to Israel’s military operation crosses the line,” he said. “The president and I stand with you. … We make it clear that Israel’s legitimacy is not a matter of debate. It is not negotiable.”

Biden said he and President Barack Obama will continue to support Israel’s security, something he sees as necessary for the security of the United States.

“Were there not an Israel, the United States would have to invent one. It’s more than an obligation we have, it’s a security necessity,” he said. “We will never, ever, abandon Israel out of our own self-interest.”

As he spoke of Israel, which he said has no friend like the U.S., and vice-versa, he turned to Iran, and used the opportunity to refute critics of the Obama administration’s overtures to Tehran to achieve a deal on the Islamic republic’s nuclear program.

“I’ve heard so much malarkey about our position on Iran, let me say to you clearly in a ‘Biden-esque’ way: we will not let Iran acquire a nuclear weapon. Period,” he said.

He assured the audience that as the Nov. 24 deadline for signing a nuclear agreement approaches, the U.S. will not sign a bad deal.

Of course no discussion of Israel’s security would be complete without addressing the ongoing conflict with Palestinians. While Biden said part of securing Israel’s safety includes a two-state solution, he also sees opportunity for Israel and its Arab neighbors to battle emerging and longtime common threats together. And he is hopeful that it could change the political landscape of the Middle East.

“Israel and nearly all its Arab neighbors … find themselves on the same side in a fight against violent Islamist extremists like [the so-called Islamic State] as well as a regional struggle against Iran,” he explained. “They have all this in common and shame on us if we are not as nimble and as capable as our grandparents taking advantage of this.”

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Verbal Assault

‍‍2014-10-30 15:15:12 - יז טבת תשעד hnorris

As fallout from anonymous Obama administration officials’ insults toward Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues, advocates for people with disabilities are calling on the White House to issue a separate apology for officials’ reported use of the word “Aspergery” in their description of the Israeli Prime Minister.

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, CEO of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization working to reshape American society’s attitudes toward and strive for greater inclusion of persons with disabilities, told the Washington Jewish Week Thursday that she hopes the administration directly addresses the use of that word and reforms its internal etiquette and sensitivity practices.

“Disability impacts Americans in huge ways. Literally, 18.6 percent of us have disabilities, which means a majority of us have a loved one with a disability,” said Mizrahi. “And so what they think they were trying to convey is that [Netanyahu] is a person who’s incapable of building a relationship.”

In an article published in The Atlantic on Oct. 28, journalist Jeffrey Goldberg listed the collection of outrageous words he has heard Obama administration officials direct at Netanyahu.

“Obama administration officials have described Netanyahu to me as recalcitrant, myopic, reactionary, obtuse, blustering, pompous, and ‘Aspergery.’ (These are verbatim descriptions; I keep a running list.),” Goldberg wrote.

The article exploded in the media in the days following its publication primarily because of another word used by one anonymous administration official, who called the prime minister “a chickenshit.”  Yet, the use of the word “Aspergery,” which references stereotypical traits of individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome, might hurt the administration in more than just in its relationship with Netanyahu and Israel.

On Wednesday, the Ruderman Family Foundation, a disability advocacy organization based in Boston, released a statement singling out the word “Aspergery” and called for action from the administration.

“While it is perfectly acceptable for people to be critical of each other, it is unacceptable to use a term of disability in a derogatory manner,” said Jay Ruderman, the foundation’s president. “The term ‘Aspergery’ was used in a manner that is insulting to the millions of people around the world with Asperger Syndrome. It is never OK to insult someone by referring to them by using disability in a negative manner.

“The Foundation calls on the administration to release a statement denouncing the use of the name of a disability in a derogatory manner,” Ruderman continued.

Going beyond the use of that word, Mizrahi thought the insults between the two countries are unfortunate, pointing out that Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon was once quoted in Israeli media questioning U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s “messianic” fervor in pursuit of an Israel-Palestine peace deal.

“I know that there is a lot of concern about what an unnamed official said about Prime Minister Netanyahu, but definitely using disability as an insult is disgusting — to use it as an insult or slur — but I will say that I hope that the insults diminish on both sides, because there are some very serious issues right now,” said Mizrahi, pointing to a reported nuclear deal with Iran in development and the escalation of violence in East Jerusalem. “Whether it’s disability names or any other kind of names, we need to work together.”

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Anti-Israel Resolution Fails in CUNY Vote

‍‍2014-10-29 12:48:50 - יז טבת תשעד mjankovitz

A resolution calling for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions failed Friday in a vote by the Doctoral Students Council (DSC) of the City University of New York (CUNY), garnering 31 out of the 39 votes it needed for passage.

In September, the same resolution was tabled after a vote on the measure had been scheduled for just before the start of Shabbat, leading to the exclusion of a number of pro-Israel individuals who would have otherwise participated in the debate.

“The resolution’s backers claimed they were promoting justice and human rights, that they were seeking sovereignty and freedom for the Palestinian people, that they are trying to end the ‘occupation.’ Nothing could be further from the truth,” said Jacob Baime, executive director of the Israel on Campus Coalition.

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Cruz Takes Aim At Iran

‍‍2014-07-31 11:42:50 - יז טבת תשעד ebrown

In a lengthy speech on the Senate floor this month, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) slammed the Obama administration’s stance on the Israel-Gaza conflict and nuclear negotiations with Iran — indicating that he will  present a bill to reimpose the sanctions on Iran previously lifted by the United States.

Cruz said that U.S. efforts should be focused on supporting and ensuring the security of Israel and backing Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket
attacks from Hamas, not forcing Israel to make security concessions to the Palestinians in pursuit of a cease-fire.

“Only when the Palestinians take it upon themselves to embrace their neighbors and eradicate terrorist violence from their society can a real and just peace be possible,” Cruz said. “Until then, there should be no question of the United States’ firm solidarity with Israel in the mutual defense of our fundamental values and interests.”

Up until the start of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, Israeli officials were clear that their main priority was to ensure that the Islamic Republic of Iran does not create a nuclear bomb — often putting itself at odds with the United States and Secretary of State John Kerry, who sought a more moderate approach that included allowing Iran to maintain a level of enrichment capability as part of a final deal.

In his speech, Cruz linked his position on Iran to the safety of Israel, noting that Iran is considered to be a significant sponsor of Hamas. He called Kerry’s Joint Plan of Action, an agreement with Iran limiting its nuclear ambitions to energy production only, that after an extention will expire on Nov. 24, a “historic mistake.”

“The connection between Hamas and Iran is a sobering reminder of the larger context in which the events of the last month have taken place,” Cruz said. “They are not an isolated local issue that could be managed if only Israel would act with restraint. Both the United States and Israel want the Palestinian people to have a secure and prosperous future free from the corrosive hatred that has so far prevented them from thriving.”

Cruz’s proposed bill, which he said he will be introducing later this week, will include strong sanctions and mechanisms for their enforcement as well as calling for a dismantlement of Iran’s nuclear program.

“A negotiated settlement is not an absolute prerequisite to Israel’s security, as the administration has claimed,” Cruz concluded, “but rather establishing Israel’s security may well be the only way to eventually reach any such settlement.”

Cruz is also the sponsor of another pro-Israel bill presented two weeks ago which would require the U.S. State Department to offer a $5 million reward for capturing the Hamas terrorists responsible for the murder of a dual American-Israeli citizen, Naftali Fraenkel, along with two other Israeli teens. The bill is co-sponsored by Foreign Relations Committee chairman Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and includes a version in the House co-sponsored by Reps. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) and Brad Sherman (D-Calif.).

That bill, along with another bipartisan Senate resolution in support of Israel’s operation in Gaza, appeared in front of the Senate Foreign Relations committee.

dshapiro@washingtonjewishweek.com

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