Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
If Chanukah starts at sundown on Wednesday evening, Nov. 27, why is Mayor Eric Garcetti, the first Jew to be elected to the city’s highest office in the history of Los Angeles, participating in a menorah-lighting ceremony around midday on Tuesday, Nov. 26?
Call it a consequence of “Thanksgivukah.”
“On Wednesday, City Hall is pretty much shut down,” Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin of Chabad of California told the Journal on Monday evening. City leaders, Cunin said, would be starting their Thanksgiving vacations at least one day early -- according to the City Hall website, some committee meetings on Monday and Tuesday have been canceled – so Tuesday was the best opportunity to bring them together to celebrate the Jewish holiday.
“We’re actually going to be lighting eight candles to make clear to people that this is a pre-Chanukah event,” Cunin added.
This year marks the 28th time Chabad will host a Menorah-lighting at city hall, and there have been other years when the event did not take place on Chanukah itself. In 2012, when the first night of Chanukah fell on a Saturday night, Dec. 8, the official City Hall lighting was held on the Friday before.
Cunin oversees all of Chabad’s operations on the West Coast, and he helped orchestrate the first public lighting of a giant menorah in modern times. That took place in either 1968 or 1969, Cunin said, at Chabad’s regional headquarters in Westwood. The menorah was constructed by a resident of the Chabad house, using pipes that were four inches in diameter and designed to channel rain from rooftops.
Chabad has since brought Menorahs into the most public spaces in cities all around the world, and Cunin said that the holiday embodied the spirit of the movement.
“This is the yontif ,” Cunin said, using the Yiddish word for holiday, and putting additional emphasis on “the.”
“This is the triumph of light over darkness, this is the triumph of good over evil, of purity over impurity, and that’s really the whole message of Chabad,” he continued. “We’re not afraid of darkness.”
11.25.13 at 7:43 pm | Chalk it up to Thanksgivukah.
11.25.13 at 10:00 am | What the interim agreement means, and why even. . .
11.1.13 at 10:23 am | On stage together for the first time: Women of. . .
10.9.13 at 6:56 am | Thanksgivukah, sure -- but Hanukkahgiving?. . .
9.17.13 at 7:25 am | Yes, argues historian Jack Wertheimer.
6.12.13 at 11:41 pm | The resolution came before the council nine. . .
11.25.13 at 10:00 am | What the interim agreement means, and why even. . . (99)
11.25.13 at 7:43 pm | Chalk it up to Thanksgivukah. (41)
5.23.13 at 2:54 pm | The 59-year-old bakery and caterer is the third. . . (8)
November 25, 2013 | 10:00 am
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
The interim deal (PDF) signed in Geneva early Sunday morning gives Iran some relief from international sanctions in exchange for the Islamic Republic’s halting some nuclear development activities and rolling back others.
Politicians, analysts and others from around the world – who had been vocally supporting or opposing a potential deal for weeks – quickly reiterated their positions on Sunday about the deal that was actually signed.
President Barack Obama said the agreement was a necessary “first step.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the agreement with the Iranians signed by the United States and five other world powers a “historic mistake.” Other members of Israel’s cabinet also decried the agreement.
Those who support the deal acknowledge that it isn’t perfect, and emphasize its “interim” nature. And for all who take a position on the matter, the question isn’t just whether the deal is better or worse than some other hypothetical deal; it’s whether striking such an interim deal now is better than doing nothing.
The basic contours of the interim deal are as follows: Over the next six months, Iran, which has approximately 11,000 centrifuges that can enrich uranium to various levels, must not build any additional ones, and must not produce any more low-grade enriched uranium (3.5 to 5 percent).
Today, in addition to the 7,154 kilograms of the lowest grade uranium, the Iranians have stockpiles of 196 kilograms of higher-grade uranium (20 percent). These must be diluted down to the lower grade or converted to fuel, a form that is more difficult to convert into weapons-grade uranium.
The agreement also requires the Iranians halt construction on the Arak research reactor, which is intended to produce plutonium, another potentially bomb-worthy substance.
Throughout the negotiations -- and still today -- Iran maintains that its nuclear development is intended for peaceful purposes. Western powers fear that it is intended to produce a bomb. As such, the interim deal in Geneva allows inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) daily access to some Iranian facilities and increased access to others.
Combined, all of these measures are intended to ensure that Iran cannot make the “dash” to the bomb-quality uranium -- which is enriched to 90 percent – without the United States and its allies having time to respond.
In exchange, the Iranians will receive between $6 and $7 billion in sanctions relief, including about $4.2 billion worth of oil revenue that has been frozen in foreign banks.
Opponents of the interim deal say they’re concerned that it does not require Iran to stop enriching uranium to the lower-level (3.5-5 percent) grade. Mark Dubowitz, of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, also argues that the relief to Iran from an interim deal would add up to about $20 billion, far higher than the official estimates.
And even those who are happy with the interim deal are expressing that support only tentatively. Amos Yadlin, a former Israeli military intelligence chief and the head of the Institute for National Security Studies, said that the deal is better than nothing – for now.
“If this was a final agreement, it would indeed be a very bad deal, but this is not the case,” Yadlin told reporters on a conference call on Sunday.
According to the Jerusalem Post, Yadlin said that his preferred final agreement would require Iran to shut down centrifuges, ship its low-enriched uranium out of the country, and boost inspections, granting IAEA inspectors daily access to all sites.
Over the next six months, many will be following and trying to influence what goes on in Washington, where members of Congress disagree on whether the deal is good or bad. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R – Va.) called it “dangerous,” while Rep. Adam Schiff (D – Pasadena) told MSNBC it was a “positive step.”
But, as I made clear in the cover story of this week’s Journal, supporters and opponents do share many points of agreement. They broadly agree that the sanctions have worked, and they all explicitly state that a military option is undesirable. And even Rep. Brad Sherman (D – Sherman Oaks), who said in a statement that the interim agreement is significantly flawed, and is pushing Congress to take up legislation next month that would impose additional sanctions on Iran, acknowledged in the same statement that the Geneva deal had “many positive elements.”
But with the Geneva deal a fait accompli – and with some, even in the normally hawkish halls of congress, wondering if the Israeli leadership went too far in lobbying against administration policy in the lead-up to Geneva – the Netanyahu administration has shifted gears in the hopes of shaping the final pact.
November 1, 2013 | 10:23 am
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
When American Jewish leaders gather in Jerusalem for the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) General Assembly later this month, they’ll have the opportunity to hear from top Israeli political leaders on a variety of issues. They’ll also have the chance to witness the first public conversation between two groups of Israeli women at the center of a heated disagreement over what the future of the Western Wall should be.
On Monday, Nov. 4, Women of the Wall (WOW) will celebrate the beginning of a new Jewish month and its 25th anniversary by doing what it's been doing for most of that time: holding female-led prayer services at Judaism’s holiest site, the remnant of the ancient temple in Jerusalem that is known in Hebrew simply as “the Kotel.”
They were the only women publicly involved in this debate – until, that is, the formation of Women For The Wall (W4W) in May 2013. A self-described “grassroots group” of Orthodox and Haredi women, W4W opposes any changes to the current restrictions that prohibit women from collectively praying together at the kotel – enjoining practices that are de rigeur in most non-Orthodox congregations, like women wearing prayer shawls and reading from the Torah.
Yet, over the past few months, efforts by a number of Israeli organizations to put together public conversations between representatives of both groups have been stymied – which makes the upcoming meeting on Nov. 11 between WOW Chair Anat Hoffman and W4W Director Ronit Peskin all the more noteworthy.
“There have been many invitations to them to join us in a discussion; they refuse to acknowledge our presence,” W4W’s Peskin said of WOW. “This is the first time they’ve consented to appear, and we think it’s wonderful. You can’t have a real discussion of an issue by only hearing one side of it.”
Shira Pruce, WOW’s director of public relations, said her group welcomed the upcoming appearance at the GA, and that Hoffman was “honored to be sitting on a panel moderated by Jerry Silverman.”
WOW will “continue [its] cooperation with the Jewish Agency and the North American Federations,” Pruce said, adding that any comparison between the meetings at which WOW declined to appear with the GA is “apples and oranges.”
The groups that have tried to coax WOW into public discussions with W4W in the past are reasonably well-established. Gesher, a 40-year-old organization that works to bridge the religious-secular divide in Israel, tried to convene a conversation between women on both sides of the Kotel issue earlier this year, without success. Media Central, a non-profit, independent, media-liaison service that for the past seven years has worked to support foreign journalists in Jerusalem, managed to get representatives from WOW and W4W to appear -- but only by agreeing not to have them on stage at the same time.
“The fact that the Women of the Wall -- the supposedly more open-minded group -- refused to have anything to do with or any conversation or dialogue with Women for the Wall, I found amusing,” Aryeh Green, Media Central ‘s director, said. “And somewhat off-putting.”
In some ways, it’s not surprising JFNA was able to convene this public conversation when Israeli groups could not; the debate over the future of the Kotel has as much – perhaps more – to do with Jews outside of Israel as it does to do with Israeli Jews.
In the United States, the largest streams of Jewish observance – the Reform and Conservative movements – embrace women’s prayer and promote egalitarianism. As such, the fact that a rabbinic authority controls the type of prayer that can take place at the Kotel can make Israel feel particularly foreign to some American Jews. Indeed, anything resembling theocratic rule can be hard to explain to residents of a country where separation of church and state is sacrosanct, and WOW’s reception in the United States -- and the international media – has, accordingly, been largely positive.
By contrast, the case being made by W4W relies on another line of argument that Americans understand: adherence to tradition.
“We just wish they would respect the traditions,” Peskin said on Oct. 31, speaking to Journal while riding a bus through Jerusalem. A native of Cleveland, Peskin now lives in Cochav Yaakov, a religious settlement in the West Bank. “If they went to the Vatican they would respect the rules. If they went to Al-Aqsa [Mosque], they would respect the rules. Only the Kotel is a place where they don’t respect the rules. Without rules, a holy place becomes a free for all.”
Natan Sharansky, the head of the Jewish Agency, has made similar arguments as he tries to come up with a resolution to Kotel conundrum. Sharansky and other brokers recognize that the issue presents a potential obstacle to relations between Jews in Israel and in the diaspora; advocates on either side are working hard to make their case in the international media. (The fact that both the WOW and W4W websites load first in English seems telling.)
But WOW’s Pruce took pains to explain her group’s apparent reluctance to take part in earlier proposed public conversations. The briefing organized by Media Line did take place, Pruce noted. As for Gesher’s invitation, Pruce said it was presented to them as a “mediation,” but ultimately seemed more like a “media stunt.”
Speaking to the Journal on Oct. 31 via Skype, Pruce said Gesher had apologized to WOW; a representative from Gesher declined to comment, other than to say that the group hoped this “hot issue” would be handled “respectfully” at the GA.
Being treated with respect is not something that WOW members can take for granted; women have reported enduring all manner of abuse while praying at the Kotel. Pruce told the Journal that Hoffman’s decision to appear at the GA had everything to do with WOW’s confidence in the sponsoring organization.
“We, as feminists, do not participate in female mud-wrestling on a public stage,” Pruce told the Journal. “We respect [the JFNA] and trust that this forum will be nothing but the highest standards of professionalism and discourse.”
October 9, 2013 | 6:56 am
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
Not long ago, I wrote about Thanksgivukah, the hybrid holiday this November when American Jews will celebrate two holidays with lots of, uh, food and stuff.
And while I noted that some are spelling it “Thanksgivukkah,” I only recently learned that there are a few completely different linguistic massacres -- sorry, mashups – being committed, er, coined, in advance of this once-in-an-eon holiday.
Happy “Hanukkahgiving,” says a group selling T-shirts ($18) to raise funds for the International Rescue Committee.
Celebrate “Hanugivingkkah” with our greeting cards ($40 for 12), hollers another. (One card features a kippah-wearing Turkey saying – wait for it -- “I pronounce that Gobbleanukkah.”
Clever designs? Not quite. Good causes? Guess so.
But seriously: enough with the terrible portmanteaus.
September 17, 2013 | 7:25 am
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
And you shall teach, coax and command your Jewish children to marry within the faith…and openly and vocally disapprove when they don’t.
That, in a nutshell, is the new strategy Jack Wertheimer proposes to Jewish leaders as the way to stem the tide of Jewish intermarriage, which stands at about 50 percent among non-Orthodox Jews. In an essay that set off a conversation about intermarriage at Mosaic this month, Wertheimer calls for “a more assertive approach,” by which he means upping communal efforts to get unmarried Jews to marry one another, talking tough to those Jews who are considering intermarriage and making clear to intermarried couples that there will – once again – be a price to exogamy.
The approach isn’t really all that new, as Wertheimer, a professor of American Jewish history at the Jewish Theological Seminary knows. Intermarrying was taboo for centuries; generations of Jewish parents sat shiva upon hearing that their daughter or son was marrying a gentile; innumerable relatives boycotted countless weddings.
What Wertheimer would like to do is revive those reactions, to turn back the clock – and that’s the part of his prescription that could raise hackles. (The positive suggestion in his essay – that Jews should encourage their young to marry other Jews, either by exposing them to Jewish education or by creating programs designed to get young Jews to pair off with one another – is uncontroversial. Endogamy is, after all, the explicit or implicit goal of just about every Jewish youth group ever created, from the BBYO to Birthright.)
But to win the war against intermarriage, Wertheimer argues, Jewish leaders must explicitly set up in-marriage as an ideal, work to discourage those who are considering intermarriage, and make clear to those Jews who go ahead and marry someone from outside the faith that if they wish their partner to be considered a full member of the community, that partner must convert.
That part of Wertheimer’s strategy – reviving the threat of communal disapproval for those who marry out of the faith – has provoked dismissive responses from those who have responded to his essay.
It won’t work, writes Sylvia Barack Fishman, a professor of Jewish and contemporary life at Brandeis, because the non-Orthodox Jewish community – along with the rest of America – is delaying marriage, or avoiding it altogether.
“For the parents of today’s young American Jews, the question becomes not ‘will I have Jewish grandchildren?’ but ‘will I have any grandchildren?’” Fishman writes. Such parents…understandably come to view intermarriage as a lesser evil, and will more readily pressure their rabbis and the Jewish community at large to accept their (finally) marrying children with open arms.”
It won’t work, writes Rabbi Eric Yoffie, former head of the Union for Reform Judaism, because most Jews don’t want to cloister themselves off from the rest of American society.
“In the 1960s, when Jews were still a largely isolated ethnic enclave, the intermarriage rate stood at 6 percent,” Yoffie writes. “Today, only a tiny handful of Jews would accept the societal conditions of 50 years ago; for the rest of us, those seemingly impenetrable walls of ethnic and religious division have fallen, never to return. Single-digit intermarriage rates have disappeared with them.”
It won’t work, writes Steven M. Cohen – indeed, the history of the last fifty years shows that the “disapproval” strategy hasn’t worked.
And even if it did, Cohen, a professor professor at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, notes that “today’s non-Orthodox communal leaders are simply incapable of embracing the normative approach -- in part for fear of alienating their children, friends, congregants, and donors, in part out of aversion to ‘judgmentalism.’”
Furthermore, Cohen says that Yoffie’s preferred strategy – welcome every intermarried Jew into a synagogue with open arms -- hasn’t slowed the rush of non-Orthodox Jews heading to the altar with members of other faiths, and has been “a major contributing factor” to the decline in the non-Orthodox Jewish population in America.
Wertheimer’s recent essay may read like a prophecy of doom to some, and it is – although as an academic who works within the Conservative movement’s preeminent rabbinical school, he’s actually less triumphalist than some Orthodox Jews are when looking at the same trends.
“You want to know why non-Orthodox Judaism is doomed?” an Orthodox Jewish leader in Los Angeles asked me a few years ago. “Take a week’s worth of editions of the Los Angeles Times, read the obituaries of Jews, and just look at how many grandchildren they have. And while you’re at it, look at their grandchildren’s names. They’re not reproducing fast enough for replacement, let alone for growth.”
Wertheimer appears to be simply urging non-Orthodox Jewish leaders to consider going back to the good old days, when Jews knew that to preserve Judaism, they had to take a strong stand against intermarriage. But Yoffie clearly sees Wertheimer's essay as advocating an "Orthodox" approach, and argues that adopting Wertheimer’s “just say no” strategy simply won’t appeal to affiliated Reform Jews,
“Doing so,” Yoffie writes, “would require Jews in this country to pull back from full, enthusiastic participation in American life and to construct barricades and bunkers to separate themselves from the American mainstream.”
June 12, 2013 | 11:41 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
Los Angeles’s City Council unanimously approved a resolution on June 12 stating that the city would continue awarding city contracts without considering issues related to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The resolution, sponsored by Councilmembers Paul Koretz and Mitchell Englander, deals a pre-emptive blow to backers of the BDS movement. That movement, which seeks to marginalize Israel and has been gaining some traction on some college campuses in California, is named for its three primary strategies, boycotts, divestment, and sanctions.
The resolution came before the council nine months after a coalition of B.D.S. activists urged the city not to award a bus contract to a French multinational company with business holdings in the West Bank.
Back in September 2012, when activists assembled to urge councilmembers on the transportation committee not to renew a city contract with Veolia Transportation, the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’s community engagement committee and other local Jewish groups turned back the effort, arguing that not renewing Veolia’s contract would be a breach of fiduciary duty, and might even be illegal.
Federation helped draft the resolution that passed on Wednesday, which stated that all contracting decisions would continue to be made “based on the best interests of the City, its residents, businesses and taxpayers,” and not taking into account “issues related to the Arab-Israeli conflict.”
In a statement emailed to the Journal by a member of Federation staff, Federation Board Member Daniel Gryczman, who also chairs its community engagement initiative, said he believed the resolution was the first of its kind adopted by a large American city.
“We are very proud of the victory and the community coalition that our Federation built around this issue,” Gryczman said in the statement.
The full text of the resolution is below:
WHEREAS, individuals affiliated with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions
(BDS) Movement attempt to isolate and delegitimize the State of Israel through targeted campaigns across the United States; and
WHEREAS, the BDS movement seeks to block American cities from doing business with or awarding contracts to companies doing business with Israel; and
WHEREAS representatives of this movement have recently targeted the City of
Los Angeles in an attempt to influence City policy decisions in support of their BDS efforts; and
WHEREAS, the Federal government and the State of California have adopted measures prohibiting discrimination in commerce on the basis of contacts in or with Israel; and
WHEREAS, the Federal Government has repeatedly emphasized that efforts to isolate and delegitimize Israel will not promote Middle East peace, which can only be achieved through direct negotiations between the parties; and
WHEREAS, linking the City’s public contracting process to the Arab-Israeli conflict would be contrary to state and Federal policy and is not in the best interest of the City; and
WHEREAS, attempting to isolate Israel in this way will only cause needless division within our community.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the City of Los Angeles will continue to make contracting decisions based on the best interests of the City, its residents, businesses and taxpayers and in accordance with the City Charter and applicable State and Federal law and hereby affirms that issues related to the Arab-Israeli conflict will not be considered and will have no impact on the awarding of contracts with the City of Los Angeles.
PAUL KORETZ, 5TH District MITCHELL ENGLANDER, 12TH District
May 23, 2013 | 2:54 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
Schwartz Bakery, a kosher bakery and caterer with six retail locations across Los Angeles, has dropped the Rabbinical Council of California (RCC) as its kosher certifier. The bakery announced on its Facebook page on May 20 that all of its locations are now being supervised by a competing kosher agency, Kehilla Kosher.
According to its Web site, Schwartz is "the first kosher bakery in Los Angeles." It is the third kosher establishment to leave the RCC in recent weeks, and the second to join the businesses supervised by Kehilla.
On May 23, two Schwartz locations were still listed in the directory of RCC-certified businesses the kosher certifier's Web site.
The RCC has been under intense pressure since March, when video footage emerged that showed the owner of Doheny Glatt Kosher Meat, the largest meat distributor under RCC supervision, allegedly bringing unidentified animal products into his store at a time when the kosher overseer was absent.
Schwartz is likely the largest business to leave the RCC to date. Founded in 1954, the family-owned business also caters events, sells packaged baked goods to retailers across the Southland and runs the lunch program at Yeshivat Yavneh, an Orthodox day school near Hancock Park.
Marc Hecht, Schwartz Bakery’s owner, and RCC President Rabbi Meyer May could not be reached immediately on Thursday for comment.
May 22, 2013 | 11:41 am
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
In March, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D – CA) introduced a bill that would allow Israelis to enter the United States without first applying for a visa. The measure would, its backers say, help improve the business ties between the U.S. and Israel and encourage more Israeli tourists to come to America. Who could have a problem with that?
A lot of pro-Palestinian, Islamic-American, leftist and peacenik civil rights groups, it turns out. Opponents of the bill say it grants Israel an exemption from the requirement to treat all Americans coming to visit Israel in the same way Israelis would be treated on their trips to the United States (should the bill pass).
The bill’s language requires Israel to make “every reasonable effort, without jeopardizing the security of the State of Israel, to ensure that reciprocal travel privileges are extended to all United States citizens.”
That’s not enough, say the bill’s opponents. Framing the policy this way “not only allows, but also codifies, Israel’s routine practice of racial profiling and discriminatory treatment of Americans of Palestinian or Arab descent, as well as Muslims and human rights activists critical of Israeli policies,” said a coalition led by the California chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR-CA) in a letter to Boxer on May 21.
Boxer disagrees, saying the proposed law only gives Israel the same “right to deny entry to individuals based on national security concerns” enjoyed by all other countries.
“In fact,” Boxer wrote in a letter to the Los Angeles Times on May 5, “the U.S. explicitly warns countries that are granted entry into the visa waiver program that we retain the ability to deny entry to any foreign national who represents a ‘threat to the welfare, health, safety or security of the United States.’”
The Times of Israel reported about the dispute over whether to allow Israel to join the visa waiver program, which currently allows citizens of 37 countries to travel to the United States without first obtaining a tourist visa. Israel already grants automatic, three-month tourist visas to U.S. citizens who travel to the Jewish state; Boxer’s bill, which has been referred to committee, would give Israelis traveling to the U.S. that same privilege.
Rep. Brad Sherman (D - Sherman Oaks), who introduced a similar bill in the House of Representatives in January, told the Times of Israel that those who oppose granting Israel entry into the visa waiver program are “the same people who wake up every morning and accuse Israel of genocide.”
Sherman noted that both France and the United Kingdom currently have reciprocal visa waiver relationships with Israel.
“Over 300,000 Israelis have to go through a [laborious] bureaucratic process to get into the United States [each year], and 21,000 people are on America’s ‘do not fly’ list,” Sherman told the Times of Israel on May 20. “And here you’ve got one person saying 100 Arab Americans were inconvenienced, but we don’t know who they are.”
One Arab-American, George Bisharat, a professor at UC Hastings College of the Law and son of a “Palestinian father and my blue-blood American mother,” described his inconvenient experiences (he called it “blatant racial profiling”) in an opinion piece in the L.A. Times earlier this month. Here’s his description of the welcome he received at Israel’s Ben-Gurion airport:
The screeners, typically youngsters half my age, grow tenser and the questions begin: "Where was your father born? Where are you going in Israel? What is your purpose here? Where will you stay? How many times have you been here before? Who do you know in Israel?" I respond, patiently and truthfully. On it goes for hours, punctuated by long waits on hard benches as increasingly senior interrogators shuttle in. Occasionally I am strip-searched. When I clear customs, the non-Arab passengers from my flight have long since departed the airport. I endure this whether traveling alone or with my family. In 2000, my daughter spent a substantial part of her ninth birthday contending with such a Ben Gurion Airport welcome committee.
Both Boxer’s bill in the Senate and Sherman’s in the House have been referred to committee. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has lobbied for Israel’s inclusion into the program.