Posted by Rob Eshman
Heshmat Elyasian, nearly 103 years old, at Los Angeles International Airport, where she arrived with her son and his family. An Iranian-Jewish client of HIAS, the international migration agency, Heshmat is the oldest refugee in HIAS records, which date back to 1909, and may be the oldest ever to arrive in the United States. (HIAS)
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February 2, 2009 | 5:07 pm
Posted by Julie Gruenbaum Fax
Rabbi Haskell Lookstein received a standing ovation for his sermon a few weeks ago, when he explained to his congregation why his decision to participate in the National Prayer Service following Barack Obama’s inauguration was the right thing to do as an Orthodox rabbi – contrary to the admonition he got from a national Orthodox umbrella group.
While the Rabbinical Council of America worried that his participation transgressed a longstanding ban against interfaith dialogue – if we talk to them, we legitimize them, the reasoning goes – Lookstein believes having the Orthodox voice as part of the national conversation overrides that concern. He also dismissed the notion that Jews are forbidden from entering churches because it would give the appearance of impropriety. In fact, Lookstein told his congregants at Kehillath Jeshurun on New York’s Upper Eastside, it is the RCA that should worry about appearing improper, quoting one congregant who asked, “What world are they living in?”
A week ago Monday, I received an urgent call from Rabbi Basil Herring, Executive Vice President of the Rabbinical Council of America, who told me that a certain Rabbi, who shall remain nameless, called him very upset, because he said he had been asked to participate as the Orthodox representative in that service and that he had declined and why was Haskel Lookstein being allowed to represent Orthodoxy. Parenthetically, I checked on that report and discovered that the whistle blower had in fact never been asked to participate in the first place. That said, Rabbi Herring proceeded to tell me that if I did participate I would be violating the Rav’s [Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik] explicit ruling on not engaging in interfaith dialogue and that, under any circumstances, it was against halacha to go into a church. I told him I thought it was my civic duty to accept this assignment. Rabbi Herring advised me that sometimes members of the RCA are called before the Vaad Ha-kavod [ethics board] and face disciplinary action for this kind of behavior.
Lookstein consulted a rabbi who assured him there was firm halachik grounding for him to be part of this national moment. Lookstein describes the meaningful if denominationally pareve service, with quotes from the Old Testament and universalist blessings. And giving credence to Lookstein’s instincts that he should not give up this opportunity to speak truth to power, he had a meaningful encounter with the new president:
From his sermon:
We were cautioned by our “handlers” not to engage in conversation with the President because fifteen people had to have their pictures taken. Nevertheless, as I watched the first three people take their pictures and make small talk with the President, I was determined to say something significant to him, about which I had thought in advance. I asked him if I could recite a blessing. He said, “Of course.” I then recited the blessing that one is supposed to pronounce when one meets a King – a President is the closest thing we have to a King. Baruch ata a-donai E-loheinu Melech ha-olam shenatan michevodo l’vasar vadam. Blessed art Thou our Lord our God, King of the universe who bestows His Glory on human beings.” The President and his wife thanked me.
I then continued, and said, “Mr. President: thank you for your strong support of Israel. We will always remember your unforgettable statement in Sderot.” He knew exactly what I was referring to. It was in Sderot many months ago where he said, “If anybody would shoot rockets into my house while my daughters were sleeping, I would do anything in my power to make sure they wouldn’t do it again.” The President responded to me with a clear assent. I then said to him, “May God bless you!” He replied: “You know that Barack means blessing.” I said, “Of course, but blessing is baruch; you have to be able to say the ‘ch’ sound.” He broke into a big smile and said: “It’s a little too early in the morning.”
The RCA has not brought disciplinary action again Lookstein.
For the text of the sermon, click here.
February 1, 2009 | 6:28 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
The Spanish language report below provides breaking news on the Caracas synagogue attack. According to the report, 15 unknown men broke into the main Caracas shul on Friday night, Jan. 31. They spent 5 hours there, muzzled 2 guards, destroyed the offices and the areas where Torahs are kept. They painted graffitti: “damned Jews,” “Out Jews,” “We don’t want you, Jews”, and “Murderers.”
The synagogue community reports that it has dealing with hateful graffitti for a while, and has been reporting about suspicious people observing the synagogue for a while and taking pictures.
Community spokepeople report an increase in antisemitic incidents. Never in the history of Venezuela have Jews been a target of this kind of hateful offense. The headline states that Jewish community leaders blame Chavez for creating tension.
Destrozaron objetos de culto y pintaron frases contra Israel. Por qué la comunidad judía dice que Chávez ayudó a crear un clima de tensión.
31.01.2009 | 16:22
Así quedaron parte de las instalaciones de la sinagoga. | Foto: AFP
Un grupo de unos 15 desconocidos irrumpió en la noche del viernes al sábado en la Sinagoga Principal de Caracas, donde destrozaron objetos de culto y pintaron frases contra Israel. La denuncia fue hecha por los voceros de la comunidad judía venezolana, quienes alertaron de las crecientes amenazas que están sufriendo.
“Permanecieron en la sinagoga unas cinco horas, amordazaron a los dos vigilantes, destrozaron las oficinas y profanaron el lugar donde se guardan los rollos de la Torah (libro sagrado para los judíos)”, explicó Elías Farache, presidente de la Asociación Israelita de Venezuela.
“Israel, malditos”, “Fuera los judíos”, “No les queremos”, “Asesinos” eran algunas de las frases escritas en las paredes del lugar sagrado. Los agresores destrozaron además el sistema de vigilancia por video de la sinagoga y se llevaron las cintas que podrían haber grabado el ataque, perpetrado en el corazón de Caracas.
“Nunca en la historia de la comunidad judía en Venezuela habíamos sido objeto de un ataque similar. Hay un clima muy caliente hacia nosotros. Nos sentimos amenazados, amedrentados, atacados”, agregó Farache.
Según el responsable, la reciente expulsión del embajador israelí de Venezuela y la ruptura de relaciones diplomáticas con el Estado hebreo, decretadas por el gobierno de Hugo Chávez debido a la ofensiva militar contra la franja de Gaza, han contribuido a crear este clima de tensión.
“Últimamente ha habido grafitis en la fachada de la sinagoga y los feligreses ven a gente sospechosa tomando fotos sin razón en los alrededores de este lugar”, explicó Farache.
El caso fue denunciado ante la Fiscalía y el responsable pidió que el gobierno les brinde la protección necesaria. Reaccionando a este ataque, el ministro venezolano de Información, Jesse Chacón, aseguró este sábado que el gobierno “rechaza toda accion violenta que se lleve a cabo contra cualquier grupo en Venezuela” y desmintió los rumores sobre una vinculación entre el grupo de agresores y el Ejecutivo.
“Una cosa es el Estado de Israel y la politica del Estado de Israel hacia los palestinos y la franja de Gaza, que las rechazamos rotundamente, y otra cosa es la relacion del gobierno con el pueblo judío que vive en Venezuela, con el cual tenemos una excelente relacion”, aseguró.