Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Arik Einstein, 74: The voice of the good old Israel we still dream of

Arik Einstein, 74: The voice of the good old Israel                     we still dream of

He was our Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and Bruce Springsteen all rolled into one, a singer of ballads
and anthems and especially love songs that seduced entire generations.
By Chemi Shalev |

A part of Israel passed away on Tuesday night. A slice of its soul has departed. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis, possibly millions, have lost a close personal friend, an intimate lifelong companion. A voice of Israel – the voice of Israel, for many – will sing no more.

His name is Arik Einstein, and he died on Tuesday night at the age of 74. He may not have been very well known outside of Israel, but he was, in many ways, the most adored of Israeli singers, the most admired, the most iconic. He was our Frank Sinatra, our Elvis Presley, our Bruce Springsteen all rolled into one.

Einstein was the embodiment of the new, liberal, secular Israel that we once thought we would be. He was the quintessential, apolitical, fun-loving king of Tel Aviv decades before the city became so hot and trendy. A superstar by anyone’s standard, he remained shy, modest and unassuming until his very last day.

He was the antidote to arrogant generals, the antithesis of pompous politicians, the polar opposite of crass capitalists and manipulative machers. He was no heroic kibbutznik, no daring commando, no pretentious preacher or dogmatic fanatic. He was unencumbered by history, unburdened by Jewish suffering, undaunted by the bombastic ideology of his elders and peers.

He was a genuine sabra, Tel-Aviv-born, locally grown - less Diaspora Jew, more reborn Israeli. He was a normal sabra and he sang of the mundane, day-to-day things that a normal Israeli would wish for, if he could only be normal.

He wrote the words for some of his songs and composed the melodies of a few of his hits, though “not enough to challenge Mozart,” as he once laughed. But he had a canny eye for budding young musicians to take under his fold, an incomparable ear for the zeitgeist of his times, a baritone as smooth as silk and the dashing looks of a Hollywood star.

His popularity has withstood the passage of time. His tunes for children pick up new fans as soon as they are born, his challenge to conventions continues to entice rebellious teens, his love songs – his exquisitely tender and romantic love songs - endeared him to lovers both young and old. He resuscitated, almost singlehandedly, the songs of the first Zionists, the hymns of “Good Old Israel,” the days of early innocence and boundless optimism, when hopes were high and possibilities seemed endless.

But he belonged to people my age - 10 years older, perhaps, and 10 years younger - more than to any other generation. He was our comrade in arms, our partner in life, our guide to a brave new world. He gave us our first pop combo, our first supergroup, our first Hebrew rock and roll, our first protest songs, our first rebellion, our first defiance, our first taste of forbidden fruit, our first detoxification from the constrained and conservative Mapainik dogma that governed every part of our lives. He was a beach bum in Tel Aviv, a connoisseur of wine, women and song, a voracious consumer of Lebanese hashish before we knew what that was.

He became a singing sensation from the day he joined the army’s popular Nahal singing ensemble at the age of 18, a popular actor, comedian and impersonator before he was 25. But it was with the “Yarkon Bridge Trio” that he set up with two other singers in 1964 that Einstein began to trail blaze his way in Israeli music, to churn out a seemingly endless supply of legends and anthems and immortal tunes that Israelis know by heart to this very day.

With his Hebrew covers for the Beatles and Animals, Einstein took Israelis by the hand and weaned them off the Italian songs and French chansons with which they had been force fed in late 50s and 60s. Together with bad-boy songwriter Shmulik Kraus and the American-born singer Josie Katz, he formed Israel’s first-ever pop group, “the High Windows” in 1966, thrilling young Israelis with a Mamas and Papas style harmony and shockingly irreverent songs about the bible and the military that were banned by both Israel and Army radio.

But it was after the group broke up that Einstein began producing the iconic songs that etched a generation. He gave Israel its first ever rock album, with “Poozy." He linked together future superstar singers, songwriters and comedians in the Shablul ensemble that produced not only stellar albums but, with his pal Uri Zohar, unbearably funny television comedies as well.

Together with the young Shalom Hanoch, later a rock god himself, Einstein produced hit after smash hit after megahit and, from that point onwards, he never stopped once. He plucked one musical genius after another from obscurity and catapulted them to stardom, collaborated with the best and the brightest, gave a voice to budding songwriters and genius poets from the classic Haim Bialik to the modern Yankale Rotblit and many others as well.

He sang of the old Tel Aviv of his childhood, of his passion for sports, of youthful promise and later disappointment, of jaundiced journalists and crooked politicians. And he sang of love, always of love, providing the background music and upfront lyrics that seduced entire generations. He steered clear of politics and division and territories and Palestinians, enabling him to stay above the fray and remain loved by all.

Einstein continued producing music well into his 60’s and 70’s. In 2010, at the age of 71, he was, astonishingly, still the most widely played singer in the country. In 2011 he produced yet another album, his 35th. And it was only a few days ago that the newspaper Maariv announced that Einstein had agreed to write a weekly column.

On Tuesday night he suffered from an aortic aneurysm and died a few hours later. His death brought forth an outpouring of collective grief that is reserved only for those who are truly worthy of worship. Israel, everyone knows, won’t be the same without him.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Jerusalem to mark International Day to stop violence against women

Jerusalem to mark International Day to                                   stop violence against women


200,000 women in Israel are victims of domestic violence; 7,335 treated for injuries in the past year.

Women's rights activists in J'lem Photo: Marc Israel Sellem

The Jerusalem Municipality will host an event in the capital Sunday to observe the annual International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. The day was created in 1999 by the UN General Assembly to raise awareness of the international blight.

According to a report that Women’s International Zionist Organization released last week, approximately 200,000 Israeli women are victims of domestic violence. The study also revealed that over the past year 7,335 women were treated in 89 centers for domestic violence across the country.

In a statement announcing the event, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat denounced any form of violence against women. “We must act with all our means to prevent violence against women and to promote women in all of society,” he said.

Barkat added that the Jerusalem Municipality is working diligently to promote the status of women via numerous empowerment programs – including awareness classes, conferences, women’s council activities and a campaign to foster greater awareness of the issue.

Orly Ben-Aharon, an adviser to the mayor, noted the prevalence of violence against women in all sectors of society, as well as the urgency to increase awareness.

“We believe that by combining forces between different organizations with shared reading illustrating the clear struggle women face against violence, we will increase awareness and strengthen the struggle to eradicate this phenomenon,” she said.

The municipality will hold its event at Yad Ben- Zvi at 7 p.m.

Danielle Ziri contributed to this report.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Rabbi urges Jews and Israel to drop the 'near extinction' narrative

Rabbi urges Jews and Israel to drop the 'near extinction' narrative

The president of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem says both Israel and U.S. Jewry are strong and vibrant - they just need to realize that.

By Ilene Prusher
When the Pew Research Center’s "Portrait of Jewish Americans" was released in September, it set off the equivalent of a five-alarm fire across the organized Jewish world. The first substantive survey of American-Jewish life in more than a decade indicated that the trend toward assimilation had mushroomed, with a high increase in Jews who are intermarried, unaffiliated and define themselves as ethnic or cultural Jews "of no religion."

Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman, president of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, has his fair share of water to pour on that fire. He also suggests that the pollsters may be asking yesterday’s questions.

"They’re looking at things through '70s eyes," says Hartman, who at 55 looks more like a fit Tel Aviv lawyer than a Jerusalem rabbi with his nose buried in books. "One of the biggest shifts that has taken place is that there is no intermarriage anymore in Jewish life," he notes. "American Jews are meeting American Christians and getting married, and they don’t see it as intermarriage. They don’t see themselves as marrying out, and the non-Jewish partner often sees himself as joining."

That paradigm shift is monumental, yet Hartman believes that much of the organized Jewish community has yet to process it. "Years ago, you had to be insane to want to be a Jew, which in part explains the historical reluctance to accept converts," he says. "'What, you want to see a pogrom from the inside?'"

The organic, almost accidental humor that springs up even as Hartman is talking about the most critical issues facing the Jewish people is reminiscent of his late father, Rabbi Dr. David Hartman, who died in February at 81. The elder Hartman, a Brooklynite who founded the institute in 1976 and oversaw its move two decades later to a leafy green hill in the German Colony, named the center after his own father. Although David Hartman had once been an Orthodox congregational rabbi, he moved into a broader role as a sort of public philosopher navigating between tradition and modernity, posing aloud what other rabbis were afraid to raise even in their innermost circles.

Continuing his legacy, Donniel Hartman argues for an adaptive Judaism through the Hartman Institute, which will play a key role during the General Assembly of Jewish Federations in Jerusalem. The institute will lead visitors in a text-based study session on the foundations of Jewish diversity of religious practice.

In a remarkably businesslike manner, Hartman points to the reasons why Judaism and its geographical manifestation – identifying with Israel – don’t seem to excite growing numbers of American Jews. "We’re stuck in old conversations and old categories," he says. "We have a mediocre product, and if you have a mediocre product you die." 

To clarify: It’s not Judaism that’s mediocre, but the way it has been packaged for several generations of Americans and other Diaspora Jews. In the most basic terms, it looks something like this: We had centuries of anti-Semitism, then the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust, and now a Jewish state faced with the possibility of imminent annihilation. It could all fall apart – without your help.

"The way they kept interest in the past was to say someone’s dying - either world Jewry’s dying or Israel is dying. We’re not going to give up a death narrative, so we still say we’re dying," Hartman says.

At the same time, there is small but heroic Israel, which wins its wars and, more recently, makes Silicon Valley swoon. "We want to be Startup nation and Pathetic nation at the same time. You want to be David and stay David, even after he defeats Goliath," Hartman quips. "The problem is that none of us are dying. Israel is strong and vibrant, and U.S. Jewry is strong and vibrant. Different groups in this environment can engage."

A new discussion on Israel

Getting U.S. Jews to look more substantively at Judaism and Israel is part of the institute’s signature program, iEngage. Launched four years ago, iEngage is a curriculum developed at the Hartman Institute in which sessions are led by a local teacher, scholar or rabbi, who also plays accompanying DVDs to facilitate difficult conversations about Israel. It’s not hard to imagine, for example, that when they get to the curriculum's chapter 5 - "War and Occupation" - it might be better to let a
far-away rabbi in Jerusalem raise the tough questions that the local congregational rabbi feels he or she can’t.

In short, iEngage was a move to take some of the institute’s resources and turn it into "deliverable educational products" that could be brought to Jewish community centers, synagogues, Hillel branches and the like. It’s now used in some 400 sites in the United States, and an iEngage 2.0 - for groups ready for the next installment - is now going out. 

"Now you can conduct a discussion about Israel on a level you’ve never been able to before," Hartman says. "We talk about building the Israel that you want, not justifying the Israel that is." These questions are particularly appealing for what he calls the "trouble-committed": Jews who feel connected to Israel but are disturbed by what they see and read. Israelis in America – their own subculture within the American Jewish framework – have also been using the program.

Some of the same problematic tendencies he sees in the American-Jewish community exist in Israel as well. Specifically, the tendency to be driven by crisis – again, that narrative of being perennially, perilously close to the edge of extinction. The rejection of death and more death as a flawed building block on which to base modern Jewish identity was famously expounded on by David Hartman in 1982 in an essay called "Auschwitz or Sinai?"

"While I respect and share in the anguish …. I believe it is destructive to make the Holocaust the dominant organizing category of modern Jewish history and of our national renewal and rebirth," the elder Hartman wrote. "It is both politically and morally dangerous for our nation to perceive itself essentially as the suffering remnant of the Holocaust. It is childish and often vulgar to attempt to demonstrate how the Jewish people’s suffering is unique in history."

When iEngage was introduced and David Hartman, in the last years of his life, wondered what it was, Donniel reminded his father of that essay and told him how a program had been created to implement it.

"As a country, we’re pushing Auschwitz as the entranceway to Jerusalem. Israelis have returned to the death narrative, and in the programing we’re doing in Israel, we look at the idea that Israel is not about death. Israel is about ideas and values," Hartman says, noting that it's best to look forward for a raison d'etre.

"What are we doing to make Judaism competitive? What ideas are we producing? What leadership? What membership policies? This Pew survey is good news because it reminds us that we have to work harder."

Jews have special Reasons to Remember JFK Assesination.

Jews have special Reasons to Remember JFK Assesination.

By Ira Stoll

NEW YORK (JTA) — As the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination approaches, we Jews have our own special reasons to mourn.

The conventional community memory of Kennedy would be enough by itself. JFK overcame the legacy of his father, President Franklin Roosevelt’s notoriously appeasement-minded ambassador to Britain on the eve of World War II, Joseph Kennedy, to build a warm relationship with American Jews.

As Warren Bass recounted a decade ago in his book “Support Any Friend,” the U.S.-Israel alliance advanced significantly with JFK’s approval of the sale of HAWK — short for Homing All the Way Killer — missiles to Israel.

President Kennedy appointed Arthur Goldberg as labor secretary and then to the Supreme Court, Abraham Ribicoff as secretary of health, education and welfare, and Mortimer Caplin as internal revenue commissioner. Even a strangely large number of the gentiles in his administration had Jewish roots: Speechwriter Ted Sorensen was a self-described “Danish Russian Jewish Unitarian,” while Treasury secretary Douglas Dillon and White House aide Arthur Schlesinger Jr. both had Jewish immigrant grandfathers.

In the closing days of the 1960 campaign, Kennedy held separate rallies in New York’s garment district with David Dubinsky’s International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union and with the rival Amalgamated Clothing Workers, which also was heavily Jewish.

In conducting research for my new book, “JFK, Conservative,” I came across two lesser-known pieces of evidence that shed new light on Kennedy’s positive views about the American Jewish community and the warmth of his relationship with it.

The first was a tape recording of a meeting between Kennedy and American civil rights leaders following the March on Washington in 1963. The Oval Office recording system became famous under Nixon, but it was active in the Kennedy years as well, and it captured some fascinating interactions.

With the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at the White House following his “I Have a Dream Speech,” Kennedy launched into a discussion not of the need for federal civil rights legislation, but rather of what blacks could do to help themselves.

“Now, isn’t it possible for the Negro community to take the lead in committing major emphasis upon the responsibility of these families, even if they’re split and all the rest of the problems they have, on educating their children?” Kennedy asked/lectured. “Now, in my opinion, the Jewish community, which suffered a good deal under discrimination, and what a great effort they made, which I think has made their role influential, was in education: education of their children. And therefore they’ve been able to establish a pretty strong position for themselves.”

Kennedy added, “With all the influence that all you gentlemen have in the Negro community … [you] really have to concentrate on what I think the Jewish community has done on educating their children, on making them stay in school, and all the rest.”

For blacks, the president’s advice might have been good, patronizing, beside the point or all of the above. But for Jews, it encapsulated the way Kennedy admired them and saw them as a success story of American immigrant upward mobility.

An example of that trajectory was the Jewish attorney Lewis Weinstein, who built a close relationship with Kennedy and is the source of the second piece of evidence.

Weinstein had been born in Lithuania in 1905. He had come to America when he was 15 months old, graduated from Harvard and its law school, served in the army on Eisenhower’s staff during World War II, and had returned to become a partner at the Boston law firm of Foley, Hoag, and Eliot.

One day in the summer of 1946, Weinstein’s partner Thomas Eliot, whose grandfather Charles had been president of Harvard, walked into Weinstein’s office and said, “Lou, meet Jack Kennedy.” From this classic Boston political moment — the Brahmin lawyer introducing the Irish Catholic politician to a Jewish partner who could help him raise campaign contributions — an enduring relationship began.

The relationship came into play later when the plight of Soviet Jewry was starting to emerge as a concern for American Jews. And this particular anecdote is at least a partial corrective to the claim in Gal Beckerman’s well-received 2010 history “When They Come for Us We’ll Be Gone” that Soviet Jewry “was an issue that John F. Kennedy ignored.”

It is true that American Jewish organizations were rebuffed when they tried the usual route — having friendly members of Congress contact the State Department. The assistant secretary of state for congressional relations, Frederick Dutton, sent Senator Keating of New York a long letter acknowledging that Russian synagogues had been closed and Jewish cemeteries desecrated as part of “the long-term Soviet campaign against religion generally,” but fretting that the American government could not do much about it.

“It is doubtful if further protestations would be helpful to the Jews in the Soviet Union,” the letter concluded.

But that was not the end of the story. Weinstein, as he later recounted in a little-noticed 1985 article for the journal American Jewish History, went to Robert Kennedy and succeeded in having a mention of the Soviet closing of synagogues included in President Kennedy’s September 1963 speech to the United Nations General Assembly.

Weinstein persuaded the president to have Averell Harriman raise the matter with Khrushchev during a Harriman’s negotiating mission to Moscow on arms control. And in a White House meeting with President Kennedy in November 1963, Weinstein, who was soon to take over as chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, launched into a plea on the issue.

“You know, it’s getting pretty bad,” Weinstein said. “There are murder trials going on. They call them economic trials, but the defendant is always a Jew. He’s charged with black market [trading] or something else like that, he’s always convicted and executed. They’re murder trials, in which the defendant is murdered and not the murderer.”

Weinstein told Kennedy that Soviet authorities had closed the gates, slowing the flow of Jewish refugees out of Russia to a trickle. And he said no American president had intervened with the Russian authorities on behalf of the Jews since President Theodore Roosevelt had protested to Czar Nicholas II after the Kishinev massacre.

Kennedy replied: “Well, here’s one president who’s ready to do something.”

Kennedy told Weinstein to organize a conference in Washington about the Soviet Jewry issue. The president told Weinstein to schedule the meeting for sometime soon after Kennedy returned from an upcoming political trip to Dallas.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Isn’t Iran the enemy here?

Isn’t Iran the enemy here?

It’s entirely legitimate for Israel and the US to disagree on the viability of an interim deal with Iran. It’s entirely counterproductive for them to be sniping about it publicly

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Jerusalem on November 6, 2013. (Photo credit: Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

No, the deal that Iran chose not to sign in Geneva on Saturday does not involve the dismantling of so much as a single centrifuge — as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been at pains to point out. Repeatedly.

That’s because it’s an interim deal.

It is not the intended permanent agreement on thwarting Iran’s nuclear weapons drive. It is, rather, an intended first step down that road.

It is designed to freeze the Iranian program in place, not take it apart, in return for a certain easing of certain non-core economic sanctions. And to serve as the starting point for negotiations on a binding, permanent arrangement to ensure Iran does not attain nuclear weapons.

At the root of the current bitter, unpleasant and very public Israeli-American standoff — or rather the bitter Netanyahu-Obama standoff — is a difference not over the terms of this interim deal, but over whether an interim deal of any kind is a good idea.

The Obama administration is convinced that it is. As Secretary of State John Kerry explained from Geneva in the very small hours of Sunday morning, after the talks had broken up without a deal, “People need to stop and think about what happens each day now that you don’t have an agreement.” Until a deal is done, he said, Iran “will continue to enrich” uranium and install new centrifuges. What the diplomats are trying to do, Kerry said, “is freeze that program in place” with an interim deal, and then work toward a final agreement.

Netanyahu is certain that this is an utterly misguided approach. His fear is that even the slightest easing of sanctions, as part of this presumably soon-to-be-signed interim deal, will bring the entire house of cards down — that years of gradually escalated international pressure will be punctured, Iran will be off the hook economically, and any chance of achieving a lasting accord that keeps Iran from the bomb will have vanished.

These, as the nonagenarian President Shimon Peres told this writer in our public interview at Monday’s Jewish Federations’ General Assembly in Jerusalem, are entirely legitimate differences. “About tactics, you can argue,” said Peres.

That Netanyahu has chosen to make the dispute so public, and to rather obfuscate the argument by repeating the obvious point that the interim deal doesn’t dismantle Iran’s centrifuges, underlines the far deeper crisis of faith between the two leaderships.

That crisis is born of the administration’s conviction that Netanyahu cannot always be relied upon to act in Israel’s best interests on the Iranian or the Palestinian issues, and of the prime minister’s despair at what he considers President Barack Obama’s willful blindness to the ruthlessness of the Middle East and the imperative to deter enemies who rush to exploit any scent of weakness.

The Americans’ low assessment of Netanyahu was laid bare for all to see in Kerry’s from-the-heart interview with Channel 2 last week, in which the secretary earnestly struggled to understand why the Netanyahu government would insist on provocatively adding new Jewish homes to settlements in territory that the prime minister knows will have to become “Palestine” in the very two-state solution that Netanyahu claims to endorse.

And Netanyahu’s dire take on the administration is being hammered home daily in his withering English soundbites, accusing the administration of pushing for a mad, bad, dangerous deal with Iran.

It should not require stating that this open public spat between the Jewish state and its most important ally does neither side any good. It’s by no means the first such public bust-up between the two leaderships, but it’s centered on the gravest of issues.

Word from Geneva is that it was the Iranians who scuttled the deal last weekend, but you’d be hard pushed to appreciate that when Netanyahu and Kerry are sniping back and forth. It’s a bad deal, John. I’m not blind, Bibi. Then why are rushing to sign this, John? Because we’ve got to start somewhere, Bibi…

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif gestures to Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, as they arrive at a press conference at the end of the Iranian nuclear talks in Geneva, early on Sunday, Nov. 10, 2013. (photo credit: AP /Jason Reed, Pool)

While Jerusalem and Washington fight it out on the airwaves, those centrifuges spin merrily on, Iran builds up greater stockpiles of enriched uranium, and its technical bomb-making prowess grows ever more assured. And Iran’s charm offensive — so quickly and correctly identified by Netanyahu for its capacity to delude the international community’s wishful thinkers — gains ground too.

The soft-spoken Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif — graciously telling the watching world from Geneva in his perfect English that he’s “not disappointed at all” that they didn’t finalize a deal this time, and cheerfully musing that if there weren’t differences, the sides would not have needed to meet — emerges as warm, mild and patient, the unthreatening face of poor, sanctioned, misunderstood Iran. What a contrast to those angry Israelites.

Germany releases details of Nazi-looted art cache

Germany releases details of Nazi-looted art cache

Government puts together task force to speed identification in response to pressure from Jewish groups

Close-up of a photo provided by the Augsburg prosecution showing Otto Griebel's 'Kind am Tisch' 
(Child at a table), which was among the more than 1,400 works of art seized by German authorities in a Munich apartment in February 2012. (photo credit: AP/Staatsanwaltschaft Augsburg)

BERLIN (AP) — Bowing to pressure from Jewish groups and art experts, the German government made public details of paintings in a recovered trove of some 1,400 pieces of art, many of which may have been stolen by the Nazis, and said it would put together a task force to speed identification.

The German government said in a written statement that about 590 of the pieces could have been stolen by the Nazis. In a surprise move, it quickly featured some 25 of those works on the website and said it would be regularly updated.

Officials had so far released few details about the art found in the Munich apartment of 80-year-old Cornelius Gurlitt, though it was known to include pieces by Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. 
The discovery resulted from an ongoing tax probe, adding to secrecy concerns.

Among the paintings listed on the site were Otto Dix’s “The Woman in the Theater Box,” Otto Griebel’s “Child at the Table,” and Max Liebermann’s “Rider on the Beach.”

Looted art was stolen or bought for a pittance from Jewish collectors who were forced to sell under duress during the Third Reich. For the heirs of those collectors, the discovery has raised hopes of recovering art, while the slow release of information has stirred frustration.

Photo of Otto Dix’s “The Woman in the Theater Box” (photo credit: AP/Staatsanwaltschaft Augsburg)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman said earlier Monday that the government understood the demands of Jewish groups in particular that the pieces be quickly made public. “We can well understand that especially Jewish organizations are asking many questions. They represent older people who were treated very badly,” said the spokesman, Steffen Seibert.

The new task force of six experts will be put together by the German government and the state government of Bavaria, with the support of a research group on “degenerate art” at the Free University of Berlin.
“Degenerate art” was largely modern or abstract works that Adolf Hitler’s regime believed to be a corrupt influence on the German people. Many such works were later sold to enrich the Nazis. Some 380 art pieces could fall under the category, the government said.

The task force will work in “parallel” with the ongoing legal probe by prosecutors in Augsburg, the government said. Prosecutors had only said there was evidence that one item — a Matisse painting of a sitting woman — was stolen by the Nazis from a French bank in 1942. Also Monday, Stuttgart state police spokesman Horst Haug said that local police last week took 22 pieces of art from a home in Kornwestheim in southern Germany to a safe location “because parts of these paintings were associated with the Munich art discovery.”

German media identified the owner of the paintings as Gurlitt’s brother-in-law, who reportedly was worried about the safety of his art due to the recent media frenzy. Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, meanwhile, warned that Germany’s reputation abroad would suffer if it didn’t take a more proactive approach to publicly identifying the artworks in the Munich trove.

“We should not underestimate the sensitivity of this issue around the world,” Westerwelle told the German news agency dpa. “Transparency is at the highest importance now.”

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Syrian mom has boy in Israeli hospital

Syrian mom has boy in Israeli hospital

‘I don’t feel like I’m in an enemy country,’ says 20-year-old who came across border alone

For the first time, a Syrian refugee gave birth in an Israeli hospital on Sunday. The woman, a 20-year-old nurse, came across the border alone, and gave birth to a healthy 3.2-kilogram (7 pound) boy. When the woman felt the baby coming, she was stuck in her home near Quneitra, with no access to a Syrian hospital and no medical care in the town. So she decided to take a huge risk for the sake of her unborn child, and made her way to the border.

“I feared for the baby’s welfare if the birth went through complications at home,” she said. “To my joy, the Israeli army saw I was suffering from terrible pains, and picked me up and transferred me to the hospital.”
When the IDF found her on the border Saturday night, she was already in labor. They brought her to Ziv Medical Center in Safed, where many of the dozens of Syrian medical cases brought into Israel are treated.

Since she came across the border with no family, midwives at the hospital took their place, holding her hands and coaching her through the birth. “At the end of the birth she thanked everyone and hugged everyone with joy,” one of the nurses said. “The team of Israeli midwives and doctors treated me with sensitivity and respect,” noted the mother.

“She received warm and embracing care from the entire birthing staff,” said Mira Eli, a nurse in the birthing room at Ziv, “just like every mother needs — and even more.” After surviving on a rice diet for the past two months, the mother received meat and vegetables at the hospital.  “I really don’t feel like I’m in an enemy country; everyone is helping me and caring for me,” she told Channel 2. (Syria and Israel are formally at war, and have fought three major conflicts — in 1948, 1967 and 1973.)

Since February, over 250 Syrian civilians have been admitted to Israeli hospitals for treatment. Many less serious cases have been treated by Israeli medical teams at an IDF field hospital in the Golan Heights.
Israel has said it offers the care as an act of humanitarian assistance, while endeavoring to stay out of the Syrian war, in which an estimated 100,000 people have been killed since March 2011.

Monday, November 4, 2013

A Tenuous Victory as Women of the Wall Mark 25th Anniversary

A Tenuous Victory as Women of the Wall                                     Mark 25th Anniversary

Amid rumblings of a split over the group’s decision to accept Robinson’s Arch proposal, Rosh Hodesh service is bittersweet

Women of the Wall praying at the Western Wall Monday. 
(photo credit: Debra Kamin/Times of Israel staff)

Twenty-five years after they first donned prayer shawls at the Western Wall, some 1,000 egalitarian worshipers marked a bittersweet anniversary on Monday morning by lifting their voices in song and solidarity at the monthly Women of the Wall Rosh Hodesh service at the Kotel.

They made it into the women’s section — in recent months they have occasionally found themselves barred from it, due to security decisions by the police — but the group was penned in on one side by a line of female police officers and faced on another side by a wall of jeering, booing ultra-Orthodox men who peered over the barrier separating the men’s and women’s sections and made their disgust clear.

Women of the Wall, a feminist, egalitarian organization, has been fighting since 1988 for the right to pray at the Western Wall in a way that some Orthodox Jews say runs contrary to accepted religious norms.

The women don prayer shawls, kippot and tefillin and raise their voices in public song, all practices which are considered among traditional Jews to be the exclusive province of males. In the past three years, women have been arrested at the Kotel on charges of civil disobedience, and prayer meetings have been marred by organized ultra-Orthodox protests that have included jeers, screams and sporadic violence.

The days of Women of the Wall’s monthly prayer meetings in the Kotel’s women’s section, however, may now be numbered thanks to a recent agreement hammered out between the group and the Jewish Agency for Israel. After bitter debate and threats among some group members to splinter off entirely, the Women of the Wall’s board last month accepted a proposal from Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky to move to a section of the wall near Robinson’s Arch. The decision to accept Sharansky’s proposal, which stipulates the building of a specially designed section, caused several board members to resign in protest.

Women of the Wall chairwoman Anat Hoffman, however, said she has come to terms with the plan. “I’m not happy about it, but I’m at peace with it,” she said, standing at the back of the women’s section in a Tshirt emblazoned with the organization’s logo and a tallit thrown over her shoulders. “It took a tremendous amount of courage.”

Police escort Anat Hoffman, holding a Torah scroll, from the Western Wall, on July 12, 2010. 
(photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

After 25 years of struggle, Hoffman added, she was proud of the group’s progress and the change they had created for egalitarian prayer in the state of Israel. “We’ve come a long way, baby!” she exclaimed.

Many of those praying with the Women of the Wall on Monday morning were American supporters who had flown in specifically for the 25th anniversary. While the women squeezed into the women’s section, their ranks eventually swelling until they took up more than half of the small area, hundreds of men crowded just above them at the Kotel’s front plaza to pray in unison. Haredi schoolgirls stood by and scowled, while several older women heckled the crowd. One religious woman shouted at a female in a prayer shawl, “You’re the reason our soldiers have died!”

Up in the plaza where the men stood, a line of Haredi boys formed a sort of face-off with American secular teenage boys, many of whom attempted, in fluent but accented Hebrew, to defend the women praying below. Lines of Israeli police — male in the upper plaza and female down below in the women’s section — stood idly by, looking bored and squinting in the sun. One yeshiva student, an American who had moved to Israel from Brooklyn, shouted out, “If you want to wear a pair of tefillin, first grow a pair!” His friends clapped him on the shoulders and howled in laughter.

Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky
(photo credit: Oren Fixler/Flash90)

Despite the many insults thrown around from both sides, however, there was no violence.

Julie Silver, a musician from California, had flown in to Israel for the event and said she was excited to be at her first Rosh Hodesh with the Women of the Wall. Staring at the ancient stones in front of her, she said, “I feel very strongly in bringing together historically marginalized people and currently marginalized people.” She said she did not know much about the controversy of the proposed third section, but that, as an American, she was appalled that women did not have the right to pray in any way they wished at the space.

An illustration of Natan Sharansky’s proposal, which will expand the Western Wall 
and create a permanent egalitarian space in the Robinson’s Arch area. 
(photo credit: Creative Commons/Graphics by Uri Fintzy/JTA)

For Batya Kallus, a longtime board member of Women of the Wall, the move to Robinson’s Arch is a decision that will bolster the group. They should be proud, she said, that after a quarter of a century they have earned their own space in which to pray as they see fit.

“It’s a day of celebration,” she said of the Rosh Hodesh anniversary. “We have achieved so much. We have actually won.” For nearly three decades, she said, no one had asked the Women of the Wall what they really wanted — until now. And while they would prefer to stay in the women’s section, she said it was foolish to refuse to compromise.

“This is the first real offer,” she said. “So when we’re given a real offer made by the prime minister himself, we can’t step away … We want to be part of the process and part of the future.”

The voices of dissent, however, remain strong. Phyllis Chesler, one of the Women of the Wall’s founding members, did not fly from her New York home to join the Rosh Hodesh prayers at the Kotel on Monday. Speaking by phone over the weekend, she said that in accepting Sharansky’s proposal, the group was losing sight of its original vision of an all-women’s prayer group at the Kotel.

“If we are dragged against our will to Robinson’s Arch, the original vision becomes an afterthought,” she said. “It will be marginalized in the middle of a mixed-gender prayer group, and all of our energy and vision and hard work will have been hijacked.”

Chesler insists she respects the desire to expand the Women of the Wall’s prayer to fit the standards of more secular Jews, but that in the meantime several of its more Orthodox women have felt sidelined. “Anat has exiled certain people,” she said of Hoffman. “I think it’s unforgivable.”

Sharansky, speaking on Monday morning, said he wasn’t sure when he made the proposal if it would be accepted. He had tried, he said, to be sympathetic to the demands of all sides, and to act “as a bridge” between them.

“For the Kotel, the most important thing is to keep the most ancient Orthodox synagogue in the world in one piece,” he said. “I have no doubt that on both sides, there is a feeling that they didn’t get everything they deserved. But if one side gets everything, that means the other side is defeated. And then we all lose.”