Posted by Orit Arfa
From the Century City Mall to Ra’anana
Marianne and Koby Tanzer met at the Century City Mall. He had just finished his service in the IDF and was working as a security guard to make some money. She was working at Origins. He asked her out on a date, she agreed, and on their first date, he said to her: “Stick with me, and one day we’ll go back to Israel.”
She “stuck” with him, and fifteen years later, they’re on the August 18 Nefesh B’Nefesh charter flight where I met with them. Their eldest daughter Noa, 5, was watching Barbie and the Diamond Castle on the in-flight entertainment system embedded behind each seat. Noa, 3, was sleeping, and Ori, 1, was in his mothers arms, covering her bulge. She‘s five months pregnant.
“I never wanted to go to Israel,” Marianne related, while her husband, Koby, an investment banker, joined the minyan for mincha prayers in the back of the plane. “It never in my life occurred to me I’d want to live anywhere but America. My family was not Zionist.”
Her husband, on the other hand, came from three generations of Zionists. His parents were involved in the socialist Zionist youth movement, HaBonim, and his grandparents lived on a kibbutz pioneering agricultural methods. He made aliyah on his own from Calgary, Canada at age 15.
Neither was observant when they met, but Marianne and Koby grew together in Orthodox Judaism. Marianne will miss the most her friends and family in Los Angeles. They were very active in Young Israel of Century City, the city where it all began.
“My husband’s dreams become my dreams,” Marianne said. “Now they’re like our family’s dreams. If it were just me, I wouldn’t be doing it. I can’t be the one to hold him back and now I see compelling reasons for me to go, intellectually. Emotionally, it’s very hard for me to leave America. For how long have Jewish wanted to live in Israel? How many tears were cried for people to live in Israel? In our lifetime we have that chance. How could I pass it up?”
Like many Orthodox families making aliyah, they are driven first and foremost by Zionist idealism, but many practical benefits come with living in the Jewish homeland, as discussed in my recent article on LA Aliyah. They’d save about $14,000 annually per child on Jewish day school education.
“But money was never an issue,” Marianne said. “You have to follow your heart and do what’s right and everything will fall into place.”
Through proxy they rented an apartment in Ra’anana just north of Tel Aviv, a city they’ve never even visited but which they chose in part for its high concentration of English-speaking olim. Koby plans to find a job in finance. Having just completed her MBA, Marianne, who worked in environmental counseling, will first work as an “Ima.”
“People asked if we’re having a boy or a girl,” Koby said, returning to his seat after mincha. “I said I don’t know but we’re having a sabra.”
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August 26, 2010 | 5:28 am
Posted by Orit Arfa
Sitting next to Josh Markovitz, a recent UCLA law school graduate from Hancock Park, on the Nefesh B’Nefesh charter flight on August 18, he told me about the moment his dream of making aliyah became more urgent.
“What sticks out is the day Barack Obama got elected, especially when I was in UCLA, which was an Obama shrine,” he said from the El Al coach seat, just after breakfast, about an hour away from touching down on Israeli soil. “Everyone knew about his alliances with people who generally felt ill will towards Jews and the Jewish state, and the people didn’t really care. I think at that moment, I suppose, I understand that it isn’t their fault, but my values and things I care about are not necessarily the same things shared by the majority of Americans.”
The most well known of these “alliances” is Obama’s Chicago pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, whose anti-American and Israel statements are well-publicized. Markovitz was the only law student who wore a McCain/Palin kippah during elections.
I wondered how many people on this flight to Israel felt the same as Markovitz. Suspicions of Obama’s anti-Israel bias are strong among Orthodox Jews, who, judging from appearances, made up the majority on this particular charter flight. Since Obama was elected, aliyah across the board in North America and Israel has risen about 20 percent, although a variety of factors, such as the economy and normalization of aliyah, have served as an aliyah trigger, as discussed in my article on this year’s aliyah from LA.
Markovitz is the only one I interviewed in my series of aliyah articles who mentioned America’s political landscape. On the plane, one Nefesh B’Nefesh rep told me he heard some people say, during the presidential elections, that if Obama were elected, that’s it, they’re heading out. When Obama was elected, they didn’t exactly follow through.
But Markovitz, 25 and single, knew he wanted to make aliyah for a long time.
“We have all these prayers that are part of the liturgy and we say them all the time, but they’re meant to be fulfilled, not just recited,” said the Yeshiva Gedola High school alum. Now, he said, Jews have a chance to realize 2,000 years of prayers of returning to Zion.
After high school, he spent three years in Israel studying at a yeshiva in Jerusalem, where he earned his BA in Talmudic Literature, qualifying him for entrance into UCLA law school. At UCLA, he served as the Articles Editor for the Journal of Islamic and Near Eastern Law.
“I wanted to understand the other side and not just from other people’s reports but from their own un-self-conscious omission,” he said. Suspicious of the political intentions of the Muslim establishment, he opted to take a class on Islamic law for some reconnaissance.
His studies convinced him that most Muslims “don’t try to convince you of the rectitude of their beliefs or the superiority of their faith. It’s actually the opposite. They try to flatter you so if and when their movement gains control of the country, you won’t pose an objection to their exerting political influence because you see them and they’re nice.”
Waiting for his bar exam results, he’s not sure if he’ll practice law in Israel. He’ll be staying with relatives in Jerusalem as he determines the next steps in the fulfillment of his prayers. He’s considering volunteering in the IDF in a position that would allow him to apply his education in law and Islam.
August 25, 2010 | 8:41 pm
Posted by Jay Firestone
Ken Mehlman, former chair of the Republican National Committee and Bush re-election campaign chief, has told family members and associates that he is gay. Mehlman, who is Jewish, currently sits on the board of directors for the Republican Jewish Coalition, according to the organization’s website.
Mehlman arrived at this conclusion about his identity fairly recently, he said in an interview. He agreed to answer a reporter’s questions, he said, because, now in private life, he wants to become an advocate for gay marriage and anticipated that questions would arise about his participation in a late-September fundraiser for the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER), the group that supported the legal challenge to California’s ballot initiative against gay marriage, Proposition 8.
“It’s taken me 43 years to get comfortable with this part of my life,” said Mehlman, now an executive vice-president with the New York City-based private equity firm, KKR. “Everybody has their own path to travel, their own journey, and for me, over the past few months, I’ve told my family, friends, former colleagues, and current colleagues, and they’ve been wonderful and supportive. The process has been something that’s made me a happier and better person. It’s something I wish I had done years ago.”
Privately, in off-the-record conversations with this reporter over the years, Mehlman voiced support for civil unions and told of how, in private discussions with senior Republican officials, he beat back efforts to attack same-sex marriage. He insisted, too, that President Bush “was no homophobe.” He often wondered why gay voters never formed common cause with Republican opponents of Islamic jihad, which he called “the greatest anti-gay force in the world right now.”
Ken Mehlman’s profile at Jewish Virtual Library:
Ken Mehlman, a native of Baltimore, Maryland, is a Member of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co, LLP. He oversees the firm’s global external affairs activities, including corporate marketing, regulatory affairs and public policy, communications, and engagement with the firm and portfolio companies’ key stakeholders. Before joining KKR, Ken Mehlman was a Partner at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer and Feld, where he helped businesses and individuals manage risk and seize opportunities at the nexus of business and public policy.
A few years ago, Bill Maher “outed” Mehlman on CNN’s Larry King Live:
Here’s a clip of Ken Mehlman defending the Bush administration on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart:
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
August 24, 2010 | 2:17 pm
Posted by Orit Arfa
Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, now Envoy of the Quartet on the Middle East, was the keynote speaker of the August 24 symposium entitled “The De-legitimization of Israel: Threats, Challenges and Responses” organized by The Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at IDC Herziliya in cooperation with the Office of the Leader of the Opposition.
Speaking to an auditorium packed with press, students, and security, Blair, calling himself a proud friend of Israel, distinguished between the obvious Israel deniers (Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah) and the more “insidious” critics who say they accept a two-state solution but don’t sincerely try to understand Israel’s position.
“It’s not about an overt denial of Israel’s right to exist,“ Blair said. “It’s an application of prejudice in not acknowledging that Israel has a legitimate point of view.”
For example, those who de-legitimize Israel would take issue with Israel’s desire to inspect incoming vessels into Gaza but wouldn’t acknowledge Israel’s legitimate concern over the transport of weapons in the Gaza.
He sympathizes with critics of the Occupation, “but there has to be security once they lift the Occupation….Hamas, with an unchanged position on Israel running the West Bank, Israel would have a legitimate right to be concerned about its security.”
He tells those who condemn Israel defensive actions: “Don’t apply rules to the government of Israel that you would never dream of applying to your own government or country,” a statement which elicited fierce applause form the audience.
He proposed five steps to combating the de-legitimization Israel.
First: “The aim is not to make people agree with Israel’s point of view but to insist that they listen to it and persuade them at least to a point of understanding.”
Second: “Israel has to be staunch and unremitting actor for peace.“ The restart of negotiations next month is a positive step and “shows there is a simple and sincere yearning on part of people of Israel to live an enduring and honorable peace with their neighbors.”
He acknowledged cynicism about the peace process, but believes “if Israel can receive real and effective guarantees about its security, it’s willing and ready to conclude negotiations for a Palestinian state.”
Third: Negotiations must include discussions of final stages. “Proposals on this issue will be a litmus test to seriousness.”
Fourth: While taking into account legitimate security concerns, Israel must do what it can to improve quickly the daily life of the Palestinians.
“No top down negotiations will work without it.”
Fifth: “It is our collective duty, yours and mine to argue vigorously against the de-legitimization of Israel. It is also our collective duty to arm ourselves with an argument and narrative we can defend and with which we can answer the case made against Israel with pride and confidence.”
Having spent more time in Israel since his premiership, he has come to admire the democratic nature of Israel: its vibrant parliament, freedom of the press, and enforcement of individual rights. The creativity of the Jewish state, he said, stems from the Jewish spirit of achievement in the arts and sciences.
“The best answer to the de-legitimization of Israel lies in the character of Israel itself and the openness, fair-mindedness and creativity of all Israelis. That character is what built the state of Israel.”
He received a standing ovation when he concluded with: “What you’ve created is remarkable for you, but what you’ve created is remarkable for the rest of us.”
Here’s some (amateur) footage of the first few minutes of his talk:
August 23, 2010 | 12:06 pm
Posted by Orit Arfa
The slogan of Nefesh B’Nefesh is “Live the Dream” because its mission is to remove the major obstacles that make aliyah a difficult reality for so many North Americans (from cutting through red tape, finding a community, and affording it, to enrolling kids in school, setting up a bank account, and buying a phone.)
But they also help another very small segment of the Jewish population to live another dream, if not of moving to Israel, then at least of visiting. Every summer they invite journalists form major Jewish publications worldwide to join the charter flights leaving from New York to Israel to document the process of aliyah of those in the communities they cover.
It’s been two years since I left Israel for LA after making aliyah in 1999, and I didn’t know if and when I would come back to visit. As a member of in-flight press for the second year in a row, I’m wondering if Nefesh B’Nefesh is staging a conspiracy to entice me back to the land….(I’m all for it!) Read about the take-off of the third and final charter flight of summer 2010 here, and stay tuned on Bloggish for profiles of some of those on the flight.
Last year, I wrote about my emotional and meaningful return to the Jewish homeland in a column entitled “A Zionist Love Story”, in which I compared Israel to a husband I had left. I compared the arrival ceremonyof Nefesh B’Nefesh to “An Aliyah Wedding” between Israel and lovers of Zion. Being a part of it for a second time, it’s like I’m renewing my vows.
I’ve created a montage using footage from both of my arrival ceremonies, so that you, like me, can vicariously live the dream of receiving such a warm, moving welcome to Zion. The next time I enjoy the arrival ceremony, who knows? maybe it’ll be not as a journalist, but as a participant, which means, as an Israeli, I’d only qualify for the charter flight if I marry a non-citizen. Now, if only Nefesh B’Nefesh can hook me up with a husband.
Every year, Nefesh B’Nefesh invites Israeli dignitaries and politicians of all political and religious stripes to give a heartwarming welcome message to the new olim. Last year, I heard Opposition Leader MK Tzipi Livni (Kadima) speak, and this year I heard MK Silvan Shalom (Likud). Who said it better? Kadima or Likud? You decide.
August 18, 2010 | 11:35 am
Posted by Orit Arfa
I’m writing this from the EL AL lounge as the new olim are saying their last, tear-filled goodbyes to family on the third charter flight organized by Nefesh b’Nefesh this summer leaving JFK international airport in New York. This year marked the first direct flight from LA. Over 3,000 olim from the USA, Canada, and the UK have made aliyah so far with Nefesh B’Nefesh and the Jewish Agency for Israel.
Two hundred and thirty nine people are on this flight. Of those 108 are under 18 years-old, 58 are singles and 41 are families. The oldest oleh is 82, the youngest is seven weeks old. Four dogs and and one cat are also on board
The Zionism here is palpable and also visual—people are broadcasting their love for Israel through an array of creative T-shirts. There’s definitely an industry in pro-aliyah T-shirts. Here’s a photo essay of those who wear their hearts on their chests (and you’ll also be able to tell those NOT making aliyah, at least not yet. They’re seeing family off).
August 12, 2010 | 12:08 am
Posted by Tom Tugend
The Anti-Defamation League and the Simon Wiesenthal Center love to see their names in print, but even they might consider the three separate articles in Wednesday’s (8/11/) Los Angeles Times as a bit much.
In the same issue, the West Coast’s most influential daily reported in three different ways on the public reactions by the two Jewish defense organizations to the plan to build a large mosque two blocks from the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center.
The mosque, named Cordoba House by its backers and “ground zero mosque” by its detractors, has been advertised as a future cultural center and meeting place for members of all religions, to talk, view exhibits, visit bookstores and go swimming.
The harshest Times criticism came in an unsigned editorial, which claims that in questioning the propriety of building a mosque close to where 3,000 people died in an attack carried out by Muslims, ADL and the Wiesenthal Center went counter to their professed ideals of tolerance and anti-discrimination.
Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Wiesenthal Center, with headquarters in Los Angeles, has expressed personal opposition to the location of the Cordoba House as akin to the German government building a cultural center facing Auschwitz after World War II.
However, Hier urged that the decision on whether to locate the mosque near ground zero should be left to the families of 9/11 victims, rather than politicians.
The Times editorial ends somewhat snidely with the advice that the Wiesenthal Center “should take care not to be seen as hypocritical for opposing an Islamic community center on grounds of insensitivity, while moving forward with the construction of a deeply controversial new Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem, located on an old Islamic burial ground. Sensitivity, like opposition to bigotry, must run both ways.”
On the op-ed page, Tim Rutten, a respected Times columnist, scored the “nativist agitation” by the mosque’s opponents and the ADL’s “ill-advised intervention in the controversy.”
Like Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek’s international editor, Rutten has been the recipient of ADL’s annual Hubert H. Humphrey First Amendment Freedom Prize.
But unlike Zakaria, who has announced that he is returning the award and accompanying monetary prize to ADL in protest of its stance on the mosque, Rutten wrote that he will not do so.
He explained that “ADL’s misguided excess of feeling in a case in which clear thinking was requisite is not part of a pattern, which is why it stands out so clearly as a mistake. In fact, since 9/1ll the organization has spoken out clearly against discrimination toward Muslims.
“In an era of revived nativism like this one,” Rutten added, “ADL, even if it occasionally errs, is an organization I regard as indispensable.”
In the entertainment issue of the same issue, staff writer David Ng reports that the Wiesenthal Center is “not opposed to the new structure – at least not in principle, and also quotes Hier’s suggestion that the families of 9/11 victims should have the final word.
“Ground zero is the site of one of the greatest atrocities ever committed on U.S. soil. It may be too much to bear for families of those who were murdered,” the article quotes Hier.
Backers of Cordoba House won a major victory this earlier this month when New York’s Landmarks Preservation Committee removed one obstacle when it turned down granting historic status to the former Burlington Coat factory, now standing on the proposed mosque site.
A leading voice in support of the mosque project has been New York’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg. On its web site, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) publicly thanked the Jewish mayor for his stand.
August 9, 2010 | 10:19 am
Posted by Orit Arfa
I recently interviewed Shalhevet High School alum Galya Nisenbaum and her parents in their LA home as part of my upcoming feature on the 58 college-aged Angelenos making aliyah (immigration to Israel) straight into the IDF.
From the moment Galya got off the August 2 charter flight of Nefesh B’Nefesh and the Jewish Agency, she’s become a mini-celebrity. Shimon Peres waited on the tarmac to greet and kiss the new IDF recruits from across the country (well, to kiss the ladies, at least, on the cheeks) as soon as they touched the Israeli soil (rather, cement). Galya and her fellow comrades have made headlines in Yediot Acharonot (Israel’s largest Hebrew daily), The Jerusalem Post and a host of other Israeli media outlets as members of the largest contingent of future IDF soldiers from America on a charter flight. (Her very proud father, Paul, sends me all the updates).
In this interview with Channel 23 (translated into English in the comments section), Galya proudly represents the Los Angeles Jewish community as she talks about why she traded UC Berkeley to become an officer specializing in treating trauma among wounded IDF soldiers.