Posted by Adam Wills
Before the Grizzlies’ 116-105 win over the Kings last night, Memphis center Hamed Haddadi, the league’s first Iranian player, took some time out to meet and shake hands with Sacramento’s Omri Casspi, the first Israeli to play in the NBA.
The meeting was a first for Haddadi. In 2005, Haddadi’s Iranian team was not allowed to go to Argentina for the FIBA World Championship for Young Men because of the possibility of Israel being an opponent.
Earlier this month, before the season’s first Grizzlies-Kings match-up, Haddadi told Journal contributing writer Chris Tomasson, “It is just a sport. I don’t know what happened with the two countries. I don’t care. I just do my job. I don’t think about politics ... I do not think what the two positions of Iran and Israel is.”
Casspi finished last night’s game with 15 points and two technical fouls, which got him ejected. Haddadi didn’t play, leaving fans to wait until March 22 for the next Grizzlies-Kings match-up in Sacramento.
In related news, L.A. Clippers announcers Ralph Lawler and Michael Smith were suspended for one game last Friday by Fox Sports Prime Ticket for comments made about Haddadi from Memphis last Wednesday, which offended a viewer:
Lawler: “Wow. Haddadi, that’s H-A-D-D-A-D-I.”
Smith: “You’re sure it’s not Borat’s older brother?”
Smith: “If they ever make a movie about Haddadi, I’m going to get Sacha Baron Cohen to play the part.”
Lawler: “Here’s Haddadi. Nice little back-door pass. I guess those Iranians can pass the ball.”
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November 16, 2009 | 8:51 pm
Posted by JewishJournal.com
by Michael Ramsdell
Greetings JWW blog readers. My name is Mike Ramsdell. I have had the privilege of capturing this “Congo journey” in still and moving images. I am pleased that Janice has asked me write a guest blog for two reasons. The first is so I may shamelessly plug my most recent film – THE ANATOMY OF HATE: A DIALOGUE TO HOPE. (You can learn all about it at www.anatomyofhate.com) The second, and admittedly more important reason, is to speak about the one thing my travel partners have not spoken of – themselves.
At the risk of repetition, it is important that I define the scope of meaning when I refer to “my travel partners”.
13 days ago, having never met John or Diana, and having had very little interaction with Naama and Janice, we boarded an Airbus – destination: the center of Africa. From that day to this, we have flown the span of the Continental United States, the North Atlantic Ocean, Western Europe, the Mediterranean Sea and the northern half of Africa … twice. We’ve driven the entire circumference of Rwanda as well as significant snaking journeys into the belly of the North and South Kivu Provinces of Congo-Kinshasa. We’ve boated the entirety of Lake Kivu, one of the largest fresh water sources in Africa, the long way. And we’ve walked endless mountainsides, village roads, agricultural fields and the border of Rwanda and Congo-Kinshasa … twice.
For most of the trip, we 3 men on the trip shared a room – Isaiah, the Tutsi minister born in Congo who served as our interpreter, John the head of the Los Angeles Jewish Federation, and myself, a Lebanese-American filmmaker.
Our days would begin with our faithful scheduler, Naama, kicking our bedroom door at 6 am and politely telling us to get the hell out of bed. We would. The three of us stumbling from under our mosquito netting, like the perfect preface to an off- color joke – an African, an Arab and a Jew stumble around in their underwear….
At breakfast much coffee was consumed. Perhaps because it was phenomenal coffee, perhaps it was because of an addiction to caffeine, or perhaps because it was the only thing on the table. Whatever the reason, it worked – conversations and Blackberries began to hum at a frantic pace.
From there we would pile into an array of vehicles: a small van, a few station wagons, or at times an NGO caravan. The roads in Congo are reminiscent of a river-bed, long ago dried – replaced by lava flow and red clay cut through the world’s largest post-apocalyptic homeless shelter, where the only things which have survived are Chinese motorcycles and goats. Sometimes our vehicles had windows which opened, sometimes not. (And although I readily admit I contributed to the odor to an embarrassing degree, there is something quite indescribable about the smell of a taxi that has been packed full of humans and baked in the equatorial-sun for the last 30 years.) The trips on average were an hour and a half in length. During these trips conversations ranged from the definitions of Genocide and the feasibility of the previous days visits, to family anecdotes and useless trivia. All amidst a blur of power bars, text messages, and road block shakedowns.
We would arrive at our destination - a village, a hospital, a refugee camp. At times uplifted by the faces and stories, at other times the horror cut to the bone.
From there we would pile into the vehicles and do it again, and then again.
Around 6 pm, we would start back home in our square-wheeled vehicles for dinner. This was followed by hours of email attempts, photo uploads, and driving conversations about the day’s experiences. Then back to the rooms for a bucket shower and a few hours of sleep before the sound of Naama’s voice started the joke all over again.
At the end of such travels there are two possible outcomes – either you never speak with your travel mates again, or you are bonded to them in a way words and images fail to express– no matter how capable the auteur. A simple silent expression, a wordless moment, confirms that these strangers have now become woven into your experiential fabric in an inextricable way. Or more appropriate to the work we have seen –we have now become a “Collective.” A team united – working together for a communal benefit.
And what a collective it is….
Diana – the world traveler, whose kind smile and motherly voice was as comforting to those of Africa as it was to those of us from the US. Her tireless notations, questions and insights were an act of inspired will, as I’m sure she didn’t sleep a full night for the entire trip.
John – a man who wouldn’t complain under torture. His profound command of pragmatism and compassion is a balance not many can walk and even fewer can so capably articulate. In short, he is an incredibly wise man. To have John as an ally is to have an advantage.
Naama – a warrior who one day, I am quite sure, will back Genocide into a corner and kick the living hell out of it, making it beg for mercy and promise to never, ever show it’s face on this spinning rock again. I thank God for Naama.
And Mama Janice – a woman who was never short on prayers, hugs, snacks or tears. She is a force of nature with only two speeds – on and off. Her compassion, her intelligence, and her will have no linguistic or cultural boundaries. Her ability to motivate and focus, while never hesitating to meet the emotional and empathetic demands of the situation, is nothing short of amazing. In just a few days Mama Janice changed many lives in Congo. And I have no doubt that before she is done, she will change many, many more. Mama Janice – the Starfish are more grateful than you will ever know.
If this sounds as though I am boasting about Jewish World Watch – please know that I am. And not just about the four representatives with whom I had the pleasure of traveling. I am boasting about the thousands of you who have contributed and supported this incredible organization with time, money and action. I am boasting about the profound Rabbi Schulweis whose vision and wisdom catalyzed this small but fervent group of people in work that is, by anyone’s measuring stick – Godly. And I am boasting about the men and women at Jewish World Watch who are working tirelessly and passionately to bring the words “NEVER AGAIN” out of the esoteric emptiness of intention– into the Samsara of reality, where “will and action” must cut the path for prayer.
I traveled through Africa with five individuals looking for hope. And although many wonderful people with incredible stories proved hope in Congo is alive and well, I have left Africa with this collective as my most profound hope. The six of us, proof that it is not about the God we pray to, but the Peace we work for. I am certain that if enough of us heed the words of Leviticus – then we can leave our children a world we have so long aspired for and will “NEVER AGAIN” have to offer an explanation to our God or ourselves – as to why millions of our human collective were murdered in horror as we stood idly by.
“DO NOT STAND IDLY BY!”
God Bless and Shabbat Shalom,
November 16, 2009 | 1:01 pm
Posted by Tom Tugend
The Investigation Discovery cable channel will dramatize the 1999 shooting at the North Valley Jewish Jewish Community Center at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 18.
White supremacist Buford O. Furroiw, Jr. shot and wounded five children and adults in the attack on the center and subsequently killed mail carrier Joseph Santo Ileto.
The hour-long program is part of the Investigation Discovery (Channel 221 on Time-Warner cable) program “The Bureau,” which profiles the work of the FBI.
November 15, 2009 | 6:51 pm
Posted by JewishJournal.com
by Naama Haviv
How strange to be out of Congo. As Isaiah, our incredible translator, and I walked across the border he showed me the river that marks the boundary between the two countries here: on one side, chaos – a young man shaking down every old lady carrying insanely heavy loads up the mountain side, everyone crowding the immigration window at once – on the other, relative order, neatly organized single-file lines, gas stations, power lines. How strange to be on that other side again.
Rwanda certainly isn’t LA, but it definitely isn’t Congo either. And though I spent the first few days of our trip wallowing (I think understandably) in despair, overwhelmed by the pain that I saw everywhere, I must admit that in the end it is hard to leave. Congo is a remarkable place, and working with its incredible people I know that the Jewish World Watch community will be able to make a profound impact.
For a change of pace, here are the things I love and/or will miss about Congo:
1. That “mama” is the term of respect for women and that “papa” is the term of respect for men. To me this means that family is the center of society here, that a woman’s capacity to build life and create a home is recognized and honored.
2. The unbelievable and arresting beauty of Congo’s landscape. I don’t think any of our pictures (even though Mike has an incredible eye) can do it justice. Between the vast blue of Lake Kivu, the towering volcanoes, the rich, fertile soil and the mountainsides patchworked with gorgeous pastureland and criss-crossed farms, this is absolutely the most beautiful country I have ever seen, ever. Sorry Turkey, Brazil and Ireland – you have been bumped.
3. The very real and very profound capacity of the Congolese people to take charge of their own communities. We have had three incredibly uplifting days in a row, visiting community-based projects that show how the Congolese, despite obstacles thrown up in every direction, step up for themselves – building their communities with no help, or hand out, from their government. Incredible and beautiful women in sewing collectives, widows and single mothers receiving microloans and running small businesses, a community that has built itself three schools – parents chipping in whatever they could, even just a little bit of wood, to keep programs running. These people are amazing.
4. Congolese faith. It will never cease to amaze me that the men, women and children of Congo can undergo such horrors and virtual abandonment – and often outright betrayal – by the government that should be protecting them, but still raise their arms to God and praise. Our experience at the Heal Africa chapel last Sunday was incredible, six separate choirs raising their voices in blessing and healing in the midst of such unbelievable pain. Not one word begging God for relief – just praise and acceptance that they must work and carry on to see God’s blessings. I don’t think I could do that.
On our last car ride in Goma, careening down to the port to catch the boat to Bukavu on Goma’s treacherously potholed and lava-covered roads, I asked our friend Ziko if the Congolese made their tires out of some special indestructible material. When he said no, they were just regular tires, I was shocked. After five full days of driving down these churned-up streets we should have blown our tires at least twice a day, every day. Ziko told me “You know, we are all children of God, under His grace.” I told him that possibly God should be focusing on higher priority issues than Congolese tires (like perhaps the roads? Or the nonexistent government infrastructure that can’t get them fixed?), but I see his point.
5. Dr. Mukwege and Panzi hospital – perhaps the most well-known center taking in survivors of sexual violence (an average of 10 rape survivors every day) in Congo. Dr. Mukwege is a pioneer of fistula repair surgery, a dedicated force working to, quite literally, put the women of Congo back together again. I expected Panzi to be a place of sadness, the women there having experienced atrocities that I don’t ever want to think about, let alone suffer. Instead, Panzi is a place of healing, a place where dignity is restored and women are made whole – it is astounding.
6. Our translator, Isaiah. Though he lives in Rwanda, he is originally Congolese and has been with us from the second we landed in Kigali, so I’m claiming him for Congo. He is amazing, a truly incredible thinker and a profoundly sensitive soul. Plus, he has six kids of his own, has taken in eight others and his wife still seems to love him, so that should tell you something.
7. Activists: Congolese, European, American, you name them – there is a community of strong, committed people dedicated to ending the atrocities in Congo and leading the way towards recovery. They try to absorb the pain of everyone they see around them while staying strong enough to get to work. Those that live in Congo struggle day in and day out to make a small difference in the lives of those around them and struggle even harder to reach even further. If you are reading this, you are part of this community – expect a call from Jewish World Watch very soon.
8. This is not so much about Congo itself, but about our trip: I have loved, and will truly miss, traveling with everyone on our team. We have come together as a group supporting each other when it was hard, shrugging our shoulders together when it was ridiculous, and bursting into laughter together when there was just nothing else to say or do. With Janice, John, Diana and Mike on Congo’s side, honestly, I think we’re incredibly strong.
9. Also not about Congo specifically, but still: I love my job. I don’t know how else to say it – I love my job. I work in a place that supports everyone, not just me and the rest of our amazing staff, but the entire community to work towards a better and more peaceful world. How many people can say that? Thank you Rabbi Schulweis and Janice for building an amazing organization, and Tzivia for giving me the opportunity to do this work. I am aware of how lucky I am.
10. Last, but definitely not least: Goats. They’re everywhere – tied up in fields, grazing on the mountainside and, best of all, being led down the road by a rope like little dogs. If my wonderful husband lets me, and doesn’t think our dogs would be terrorized, I think we should get one.
All of this is to say that Congo is a beautiful, curious, fascinating place. The Congolese people are strong and do not deserve (as if anyone would) to be preyed upon – and certainly not in the brutal and intensely destructive way that this conflict has progressed in the last twelve years. With the right mobilization and enough noise, we have every opportunity to help Congo and the Congolese move towards a more just, free and peaceful society that can begin the important work of recovery.
November 15, 2009 | 6:24 pm
Posted by Tom Tugend
Steven F. Windmueller, a prominent figure in Jewish communal and academic life, will retire as the Los Angels campus dean of the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion as of next July 1.
The announcement was made by Rabbi David Ellenson, president of the four-campus institution, who also named Joshua Holo as the succeeding dean.
However, Windmueller, who took over the deanship on an “interim” basis three years ago, said he will continue fulltime as professor and incumbent of the Alfred Gottschalk Chair in Jewish Communal Service.
Windmueller, 67, joined the HUC-JIR faculty in 1995, following 10 years as director of the Jewish Federation’s Community Relations Committee.
Ellenson praised Windmueller’s contributions in advancing the Los Angeles campus’ academic, rabbinical, research and communal service programs, the relationship with USC and in creating the Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement.
He has also strengthened the campus ties with its board of overseers and philanthropic supporters, Ellenson said.
Holo, an authority on the social and intellectual life of medieval Jewry in the Christian Mediterranean, is currently the director of the Loucheim School of Judaic Studies, which provides instruction to more than 600 USC undergraduates each year.
Ellenson said that “We look forward to [Holo’s] expertise, wisdom and guidance as he advances our mission in preparing men and women as leaders of vision for the Reform Movement and the Jewish people worldwide.”
November 14, 2009 | 4:48 pm
Posted by JewishJournal.com
by Janice Kamenir-Reznik
Ten days ago we arrived in Kigali with trepidation and expectation. It seems like a day or two ago in some ways; yet in other ways it seems like lifetime ago.
Today we drove across the entire country of Rwanda—from Bukavu at the Congo-Rwanda border to Kigali. It took almost 8 hours. The countryside is completely gorgeous. But I was struck by how different Rwanda looked to me today than it did when we stopped here en route to Congo. Once you have seen girls and women brutalized by repeated gang rapes, or children with swollen bellies and infected watering eyes, men full of shame for having failed to protect their wives and daughters, widows carrying hundreds of pounds of charcoal or produce in massive bundles on their backs, strapped around their foreheads, bent over as they climb up and down the mountainous terrain to sell just enough to put a totally inadequate amount of food into the mouths of her children – once you have seen those things everything looks different.
The other day we were at the famous Panzi hospital in Bukavu; Panzi is the hospital which treats the massive majority of the most brutally raped rape victims in Eastern Congo. Panzi receives an average of 300 rape victims each month. We had the honor of meeting with Dr. Mukwege, the surgeon who runs the hospital and who, with love, sensitivity and enormous skill, does everything that is humanly possible to put the women’s bodies back together. Dr. Mukwege told us, with tears in his eyes, about the destruction and devastation he sees every day. It is almost impossible for me to write about what he sees…what we saw…it is unfathomable…it is unspeakable.
But, we have no options. We must fathom the unfathomable and speak the unspeakable. If the women of the Congo must endure the brutality, and if Dr. Mukwege must confront these ravaged women each and every day and reassemble bodies which have been so hatefully and brutally destroyed, then how can we not speak? How could any person with even a small modicum of humanity not be outraged and stirred to action to learn that men threw acid into a woman’s body, destroying that very part of a woman that was intended to bring forth life? How could anyone with a conscience not be impelled to act when he hears about a woman whose insides were decimated by sticks and prods?
We don’t want to speak these things. We don’t want to hear these things. It’s too terrible and too sad and too distracting to our lives. But, how can we pretend we do not know when we know?
What John, Diana, Naama and I experienced over the last ten days has been life changing. None of us will ever forget the women we met. We will remember the faces of the children and we will remember the incredible humanity we found as well. We return to Los Angeles in 24 hours. We do not return depressed by these images. We do not return in despair. We do not return with lost faith in humanity. No, we return to you. We return to the warm embrace of our families and loved ones. And, we return to our incredible community of people of conscience who know that we must mobilize into action. We know this because lives depend upon our actions, and our humanity gives us no choice.
November 13, 2009 | 5:43 pm
Posted by JewishJournal.com
by Diana Buckhantz
Suddenly we are surrounded by a sea of children. As we stand there they begin to form a circle around us and move in closer and closer.
Janice and I came outside after seeing an impressive women’s sewing collective. We are in a remote village called Kamisimbi, two hours outside of Bukavu in the hills. We have been brought here by Gila Garaway, an Israeli/American who heads an incredible organization called Moriah Africa, to see the women’s empowerment program she helped start. We step outside just as one hundred children, it seems, ages 2 to 16, come pouring out of their classrooms for recess. They surround us. We are trying to communicate with them. Some of the children speak French so Janice and I make feeble attempts with our school French. We are all laughing. By their expressions I am sure we are the source of many jokes. But what we don’t understand doesn’t bother us. So we all just laugh. It feels so good –a welcome relief from the many days of sadness and despair.
This was a very hopeful, positive day. With the help of Gila, Pastor Grace has implemented several programs in the village to improve the lives of the mostly women and children. There are several programs that teach them skills that will enable them to live better, less arduous lives. A sewing cooperative teaches girls and women to make beautiful bags and clothes which they then sell at market. It also teaches them how to run their small businesses. Most importantly, this program will spare them the backbreaking plight of the thousands of women we saw each day, who were carrying enormous heavy piles of charcoal on their heads as they trudged up and down the hills for miles trying to eke out a meager living. Another class teaches the young men to make hand carved furniture (we were all tempted to ship a piece home, but it’s not really possible). There was also an agricultural coop.
For me, however, one of the most optimistic aspects of the village was the school. There is 70 per cent illiteracy in Bukavu alone, and I have worried since I arrived here how Congo can one day heal and reconstruct itself if its children are not educated.
Since I arrived in Congo I have seen thousands of children, at all hours of the day, playing in the streets when one would expect them to be in school. Kamisimbi School was an example of what can be done with determination and resourcefulness. The Pastor proudly took us to each grade level where the students politely stood as we walked in and warmly greeted us. In one class the geography teacher was out sick – but when we walked in, the class was sitting and quietly studying its assignment– not what you would expect to see in LA! It struck me that these students knew how lucky they were and truly valued the opportunity to go to school. I loved what I saw.
But I need to add that under this hopefulness remains a biting poverty and desperation. For example, the roof of the school, which is made of corrugated metal sheets, had blown off twice in five months due to heavy winds. The village was having difficulty obtaining the $100 needed to repair the roof. (I proudly report that we exercised discretion and donated the new roof on JWW’s behalf!). In addition, even though this is probably the best of the rural villages, due to the attention of Gila and Pastor Grace, the people are still hungry, a fact which we evidenced first hand: at the end of our visit, the villagers gave us each a gift of an ear of corn from the communal garden. But while Janice and I were looking at the sewing cooperative, a young woman signaled to us that she was hungry and wanted our corn. It was heartbreaking…here was a vegetable cooperative and the villagers were still hungry. Janice and I sneaked our corn back to the hungry villagers – hiding it so that they wouldn’t get in trouble.
With all of the challenges, it is nevertheless evident that programs like the ones developed in Kamisimbi with Moriah Africa will help to assure a better future for the people of Congo.
November 11, 2009 | 9:38 pm
Posted by JewishJournal.com
by Diana Buckhantz
I don’t sleep here, even with sleeping pills. I wake up after a few hours, images of the day racing through my head, trying to make sense of all I have witnessed and heard. This morning I got up at 4 am. I just couldn’t stand it anymore. I preferred to get up and busy myself with packing to leave for Bukavu. It wasn’t long before Janice and Naama were up also, trying to get pictures of the sunrise—some beauty amidst all this sadness.
As I write this we are on a boat on gorgeous Lake Kivu going between Goma and Bukavu. It is a very comfortable boat showing a Steven Segal movie—just what we all needed, more violence. But this is stupid, mindless “entertainment”. The scenery outside is exquisite. It feels like we could be in some beautiful vacation spot. It is a moment to decompress.
Instead, I talk to Giorgio, Director of Operations for International Medical Corps (IMC) in Eastern Congo. We discuss the complexity of the political situation here. I am trying to make sense of it all.
If the humanitarian situation feels desperate, the political one seems completely impossible to untangle. There are various armed groups that continue to rape and pillage the country. There is the CNDP, former soldiers of the ousted rebel general Nkunda, now members of the Congolese army. Then there is the FDLR, comprised of Rwandan Hutu rebels who escaped into the Congo after the Rwandan genocide. There are also the Maimai, who are local militias created supposedly to protect their communities, but instead have morphed into terrorist groups. And then there is the FARDC, ostensibly government loyalists, but made up a various poorly integrated former rebel groups.
The situation is so complex and goes back so many years. Added to this there are the constantly shifting loyalties and allegiances of the different bordering African countries—Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Angola, Rwanda, and Namibia. These allegiances change depending upon perceived self interest.
The final layer onto which all of this must be laid, concerns the minerals which make Congo one of the most natural-resource-rich countries in the world. All of this destabilization leaves different mineral mines in various hands—none of which benefits the people. That is the tragedy here. I am told that 70% of all the mineral resources in the world are here. It is also one of the most beautiful countries in the world. And none of this benefits the people. Many tell us that the situation here is getting worse. A village was burned recently in North Kivu and last week IMC had to evacuate all their staff from Baraka due to fighting in the area. (Although I was told that they are going back today.)
I ask everyone the question of what needs to be done to move towards peace. No one gives me an answer. I come away with the feeling that until someone much smarter than I am can figure out a solution, or the various parties decide that enough is enough and the bloodshed and violence must end, all we can do is try to provide as much help and assistance to the innocent victims of this immoral war as possible.
While we are here we hope to identify programs that not only provide immediate assistance, but ones that help to change the culture of impunity that exists here. Perhaps then the true beauty of Congo will be allowed to flourish.