(Published in Haaretz, October 8, 2006)
Sarah, 21, grew up in northern New Jersey and is starting her senior year at a prestigious college in Massachusetts, majoring in philosophy and planning a career in law. Like many of her Jewish-American peers, she landed at Ben-Gurion Airport this summer with the aim of learning more about her heritage and identifying with her embattled people. Her experience in Israel, however, was not very positive or uplifting. Sarah Matari is a Palestinian American.
While most American college students visiting Israel this summer seldom ventured across the Green Line, Sarah was among several dozen Americans participating in the Palestinian Summer Encounter (PSE) program, based in Bethlehem. The participants stay with Palestinian families, study Arabic and volunteer in various projects. Sarah was a counselor at a summer camp for children in Walaja, a West Bank village of about 2,000 people, just south of Jerusalem.
Both of Sarah's grandfathers were born near Ramallah, immigrated to Brazil in 1948 and married Brazilian women. "I've been told all my life that I'm half Brazilian, half Palestinian," Sarah explains. Her parents were born in Brazil, but moved to the U.S. with their respective families as youngsters. Sarah's first language was Portuguese. "When I really didn't understand English in pre-school, my parents realized it was time to start teaching me English," she notes.
She did not hear much Arabic at home, but says she was "forced" to go to an after-school Arabic program. Her experience was similar to that of many Jewish Americans who have suffered through "Hebrew school" programs: "I switched Arabic schools like I changed my clothes, because I hated all of them."
Her attitude toward Arabic changed when she arrived at Smith College. She had studied Spanish in high school and thought Chinese would be tough to handle. "I went down the list," she recalls. "How about Arabic? No, you hate Arabic - but actually it's a pretty cool alphabet, it’s pretty to write… so I’ve been doing Arabic ever since and it’s actually my favorite class."
Stuck at Allenby
Sarah spent two months studying Arabic in Jordan last year and crossed into Israel for a few days. Her "horrible" experience at the Allenby Bridge and Ben-Gurion Airport reinforced her emergent Palestinian identity. "I was like - I don’t understand this, I’m an American. I have a blue passport. Why was I at the Allenby Bridge for eight hours?" Sarah says she was questioned for "only" two hours at Ben-Gurion Airport, but this delay was enough to make her miss the flight home.
After missing her flight, she was faced with the choice of taking a cab to her uncle's home near Ramallah or spending the night at the airport. "I didn’t really feel like enduring any more checkpoints, so I hung out at the airport," she says. This ended up being her most positive Israel experience: "I met the most wonderful Israeli people at the airport and I was really happy to have had that chance because at that point I had a lot of anger in me."
Sarah originally planned to spend this summer interning with a law firm in Boston or New York City. But after receiving an email with information about the PSE program, she became excited about the prospect of living with a Palestinian family, improving her Arabic and learning more about the situation here.
Growing up, Sarah did not hear a lot about her Palestinian heritage. "It was like – the Palestinians had land, the Jews came in and took over and that was about it. So [I decided] before I start believing one way or another, I should kind of figure things out for myself."
Her parents were fearful and tried, unsuccessfully, to dissuade her from coming on the PSE program. After the war erupted in Lebanon, they were again unsuccessful in trying to convince Sarah to return home. "I would have felt like an awful human being if I had left," Sarah explains. "How would I have explained that to my children in Walaja? I was here to help, play some games with you’all, teach you some English, I became part of your everyday lives, but then I bail out when things get a little rough?"
After improving her spoken Arabic this summer, Sarah is looking forward to having a conversation with her Palestinian grandfathers about their experiences in 1948. The fact that this conversation has never taken place, she suggests, is partly due to the language barrier and partly attributable to her grandfathers' pride: " I think if it were the opposite, if both of my grandfathers were from Brazil and both of my grandmothers were from Palestine, I would have heard a lot more. But Arab men are proud at times and don’t like to admit things.
"My grandfathers aren’t over the hurt that Israel caused them in the mid-1900s," she continues. "They have not found closure… they are still hurting and cannot see past it, nor should anyone expect them to. I, however, can see that such an attitude will not bring homes or lands back, but just perpetuate the violence."
While prepared to accept Israel as an indisputable fact, Sarah is enraged with the situation in the territories and frustrated by what she calls the "de-politicized" manner in which most Palestinians accept this reality. On the other hand, she realizes that as an American, "I can walk through a checkpoint and have an attitude" while "the Palestinians here have to try to survive." It is the job of internationals, she concludes, to help educate people about the reality in the territories. "Even I, as a Palestinian-American, was ignorant of all of this, so how do you expect anyone else in the States to understand?" she wonders.
Spreading the word
Her determination to spread the word about the situation in the territories was reinforced by an experience she had on her flight back to New York. "I found myself sitting next to an American man who had just spent two weeks in Jerusalem with some sort of program for Jewish Americans," she says. "My airplane friend was very educated, articulate, and from what I could tell, a genuinely good person." She was amazed, however, by how little he knew about the situation in the West Bank.
"We were able to have an emotionally charged conversation and then move on after it was over," Sarah recalls. "What were the odds of an American Jew and an American Palestinian, same age, same education, being seated directly next to one another on their departure flights? I felt this was a healthy end to my trip. He helped support what I have always thought and hoped - that people are willing to listen and understand when presented with the information in the right way."
Now back at Smith, Sarah is working to organize advocacy events on local campuses. She has contacted a number of student organizations about hosting a visit by "The Wheels of Justice Tour Bus" – a project committed to "nonviolent education and action against war and occupation in Iraq and Palestine," according to its Web site.
"After this sort of an event," Sarah says, "I’m sure many, especially my fellow humanitarian Smithies, would want to get more involved. I also have plans to start some sort of Israel-Palestine Peace Coalition organization. I’m hoping that members of our Smith Hillel and Al-Iman (Muslim student association) would want to be active in the cause. I’m excited."
(Published in Haaretz, August 4, 2006)
PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts - In 1892, when Theodor Herzl had yet to envision the Zionist movement, the exquisite sounds of baseball could already be heard at Wahconah Park. Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams and Satchel Paige are just a few of the baseball legends who played at this amiable stadium over the years. Wahconah Park is today the home of the Pittsfield Dukes of the New England College Baseball League, a team owned by Dan Duquette, the former general manager of the Montreal Expos and Boston Red Sox. One of Duquette’s current projects is to help develop baseball in Israel.
At a Dukes game this week, Duquette roamed the historic stadium, shmoozing with fans in the bleachers and chatting with a local political candidate. For a couple of innings, he sat in a box seat along the third base line, deftly fielding questions from Haaretz about his involvement with the nascent Israel Baseball League, a project spearheaded by Boston-based entrepreneur Larry Baras. The league is slated to begin its first season on June 22, 2007; Duquette is responsible for player development, including recruitment of about 150 players and coaches.
During the first part of his tenure in Montreal, Duquette notes, Charles Bronfman was the owner of the Expos and always hoped to bring baseball to Israel. Thus, when Baras outlined his plans for the IBL, “it struck a chord with me,” Duquette explains. “I was impressed by Larry’s enthusiasm, and it’s just a real interesting challenge” he adds.
The former major league GM cites some parallels between his work in Canada and the project in Israel: “It is the same type of program we used to grow baseball in Canada when I was with the Expos.” One of the components of this program is to establish a baseball academy for training players and coaches, like the one he helped establish in Quebec and the facility he currently operates in nearby Hinsdale, Massachusetts.
Duquette was originally slated to make his first trip to Israel this week, but is waiting for the IBL to narrow its search for suitable venues for the inaugural season. Meanwhile, the first tryout for prospective players will be held on August 21-22 at the Dan Duquette Sports Academy in Hinsdale. “The sports academy in Hinsdale will be the U.S.-based training site for Israel baseball,” Duquette notes.
He says that 25 players have signed up for the tryout so far, including current and former college players, semi-pro players “and some people who are Jewish who are interested in trying out.” (He does not know how many of the 25 candidates are Jewish.) Duquette has assembled a group of former major league scouts and coaches to evaluate the players.
The personnel plan for the IBL will be similar to the model used in Italy, Duquette says. The goal will be “to bring a significant percentage of the players to Israel from the States to get the league started and then grow the game at the grassroots level so that after a number of years they [Israelis] can progress to the level where they can play.”
Is it a realistic goal to start a professional baseball league next summer in Israel?
Duquette: “Yes, I think it’s doable. I don’t think we’ll have any issues in terms of recruiting players, it’s just an issue of getting the facilities together.”
What level of play do you anticipate?
Duquette: “That remains to be seen, but our goal is to have a solid, representative league, similar to the independent leagues here in the states - for example, the Canadian-American League or the Atlantic League or the New York-Penn League.”
What happens if you are offered another opportunity to work for a Major League Baseball team? You’ll have to step back from your involvement in Israel baseball?
Duquette: “No. This is a pretty interesting project, because we’re also trying to put together a team for the 2009 World Baseball Classic to represent Israel. We’ve got a fairly representative number of [Jewish] players who are now playing in the major leagues and minor leagues who could help the club.”
Have you already begun approaching some of these players?
Duquette: “No, we first have to get accepted into the World Baseball Conference; we’ve applied, are going through the process.”
(Published in Haaretz, September 1, 2006)
Over 400 people, including numerous members of the foreign press, filled the auditorium at the Jerusalem YMCA on Monday to hear a panel of journalists discuss coverage of the Lebanon War 2006. The event was sponsored by The Mideast Press Club, a project of Media Line, an American non-profit news agency.
The panel of journalists included Abdelraouf Amout (Al-Ayyam), Yoni Ben Menachem (Israel Radio), Steven Erlanger (New York Times), Stephen Farrell (The Times of London), Simon McGregor-Wood (ABC), Ravi Nessman (AP), Walid Omary (Al-Jazeera) and Danny Rubinstein (Haaretz).
Billed as a "town meeting" and staged as a television production for broadcast in America, the two-hour event began with a video clip from Marvin Kalb, a longtime TV newsman in the U.S. and an advisor to The Media Line.
Kalb noted that the media has become "a major actor in policy formulation" and attributed this to technological advances and a heightened "push for profit." He also acknowledged that there is widespread distrust of the media, which "has been used and manipulated by everyone…but rarely so effectively as by Hezbollah." Kalb challenged the media to ask itself in the wake of the Lebanon War: "Did you do the best job you could have done? Really?"
David Harris, Jerusalem bureau chief of The Media Line, served as moderator of the event, alternately quizzing the panel and taking questions from the audience. This dual format and the large size of the panel did not lend itself to in-depth discussion, but provided a range of insights into the issues journalists faced in covering the recent war.
McGregor-Wood (ABC News) complained that media coverage of the war suffered from a lack of access to the battlefield, with the IDF averse to allowing "embedded" journalists to accompany troops. Erlanger (NY Times) concurred, suggesting that the IDF preferred to have journalists focus on the home front, rather than report about shortages of flak jackets and water on the battlefront. He noted that Israeli journalists naturally enjoyed better access than foreign reporters.
"Without real access to the battlefield," Nessman (AP) added, "we were left with what the IDF says and with what Hezbollah says. And if we can't see for ourselves, we can't know what the actual truth is, and that leaves us open to a lot of criticism." Farrell (The Times) said he spent much of the war looking across the border with binoculars in an attempt to gain a direct view of what was happening. "When you see something [with your own eyes], it's accurate," he emphasized.
Nessman noted that Israel's modern infrastructure made it possible to quickly confirm facts when Katyushas fell, while the situation in Lebanon was much more elusive. He also mentioned the "unprecedented" impact of Internet bloggers on perceptions of the war. For example, following the discovery of a doctored Reuters picture, he said, "the creditability of bloggers skyrocketed and our credibility plummeted."
Omary, Jerusalem bureau chief of Al-Jazeera, said he phoned the IDF Spokesman when the war erupted in order to clarify the ground rules for media coverage. Several days into the war, however, Israeli authorities launched a "campaign" against Al-Jazeera, he said.
Omary was detained by police in Acre for six hours, he recalled, and was offered two explanations: "We want to protect your life" and "You are giving information to the enemy." Disputing the latter, he described a scene that drew a hearty laugh from the polite audience at the YMCA: While waiting in policy custody, Omary was watching a Channel 10 broadcast when the reporter described a Katyusha landing in Haifa. Sarcastically, he alerted the police officers: "That man must be working for Hezbollah!"
Despite the obstacles, Omary said, Al-Jazeera made an effort to produce two stories in Israel every day - one focusing on the civilian perspective and another on political and military issues. In this way, the Qatar-based network strived to maintain balance in its Israel reporting, he explained. Omary also admitted that it was personally difficult for him to remain objective because he has relatives in Lebanon.
Yoni Ben Menachem (Israel Radio) raised a few notes of discord in the otherwise tranquil discourse. He said, for example, that he was "upset as an Israeli and as a journalist" that Al-Jazeera published information about IDF casualties before their next of kin were notified. He even suggested that some Israeli journalists had "laundered" information via Al-Jazeera so they could quote it themselves.
The real story
Harris asked several of the journalists to list the mistakes they made in covering the war. Ben Menachem said that Israel Radio was wrong in allowing itself to get caught up in the "euphoria" of the war during its initial days, subscribing to the notion that a victory could be achieved solely through air strikes. "We went along with this illusion, this fata morgana, and then we had to wake up."
Erlanger said that he erred in taking the head of IDF military intelligence too seriously and in not taking Lebanese politics seriously enough. He also regretted publishing a picture focusing on a damaged section of Beirut without showing the larger context of the city. Ferrell said his organization should have given the ongoing story in Gaza more attention while covering the war in the north.
"Can the public ever get the real story?" Harris asked in conclusion, echoing a question Kalb posed in the introductory video. "It's very difficult. There are always two sides to a story," Amout (Al-Ayyam) responded. Nessman offered the audience the following advice: "Be critical and synthesize for yourself. Try to read a breadth of material and you'll probably find a pretty good picture of what's going on."
(Published in Haaretz, September 8, 2006)
Dan Kurtzer, now in his mid-fifties, has achieved several prestigious appellations during his successful career. He was "Mr. Ambassador" in Egypt (1997-2001) and Israel (2001-2005), and is now "Professor Kurtzer" at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. He says his children are proudest, however, of his latest title: "Commissioner of the Israel Baseball League."
"It's a great title," Kurtzer concurs during a conversion with Haaretz this week in Jerusalem, where he is leading a group of Woodrow Wilson graduate students on a study tour. "We're still trying to define it," he says about his role as commissioner, but indicates that it will entail public relations and dispute resolution.
The Israel Baseball League is an initiative to bring minor league-style baseball to Israel, complete with between-inning entertainment and other family attractions. Larry Baras, a Boston-based businessman, is spearheading the effort and has enlisted Dan Duquette, the former general manager of the Montreal Expos and Boston Red Sox, as director of player development. The new league, with six teams, is slated to begin play on June 22, 2007.
Kurtzer was in western Massachusetts in late August, when the fledgling league held its first tryout sessions, conducted at Duquette's baseball academy. "It was remarkable," he says. "All of a sudden, it was real. About 65 people showed up, none of whom had any connection with us before… and they want to play baseball."
Playing professional baseball in Israel will remain a pipe dream for most of these candidates, but about 10 of the players showed considerable talent, according to Kurtzer. "There will be several other tryouts, including a very important one here, obviously, and probably the biggest bulk will come from the pool of minor league players who don't make it in the spring," he adds.
"The beauty of baseball is that you think you can play. Players look human, they're not seven feet tall," Kurtzer notes. "But I have no pretension of trying out," he is quick to add. "In Cairo, I threw out the first pitch in a women's softball tournament, and it was more like a bowling ball."
How did you get involved in the Israel Baseball League initiative?
Kurtzer: "I came to Larry's attention I think because in the context of the 350th yr of American Jewish life, Cooperstown did a two-day conference on Jews in Baseball and I was invited to give a keynote speech... The more people you meet who are interested in this, you find out that a lot of people have thought about this before, but nobody ever did it, and Larry is just doing it."
How much time will you devote to your role as commissioner?
Kurtzer: "It's hard to know. Larry, with a very small group of people, is now doing 101 things every day that need to get done and so far he hasn't called on many of us who are working with him to do much. I think as we get closer in time the contribution will be greater. I plan to be here for a large part of next summer and certainly when the first pitch gets thrown out and the league gets off the ground."
(Published in Haaretz, September 8, 2006)
Tov shem meshemen tov ["A good name is better than fragrant oil," Ecclesiastes 7:1] Alex Weinreb recites a number of times during a conversation in his modest, sunlit office at the Modi'in Municipality this week. As deputy mayor of Modi'in, he hopes to make a good name for himself among the young city's nearly 70,000 residents and move up into the mayor's seat in two years.
"Service is the name of the game," is another mantra he reiterates to explain his motive for entering politics and his approach to public service. Weinreb, who immigrated to Israel with his family at age 12 from Queens, New York, does not necessarily attribute this service ethic to his American background. "People think because of the accent and because I'm like this it must have come from America. They don't know that I'm here already 36 yrs," he says. In fact, he adds, "I think a lot of Israelis believe in service too. Go to high-tech businesses or call up Pelephone or Cellcom today – they answer like a professional business."
Weinreb was among Modi'in's first residents in 1996, but says he soon was dismayed to find in Modi'in – billed as the "City of the Future" – all of the "political diseases" of Israel's older cities. "15,000 families came here on a dream," he enthuses. "We all moved as halutzim [pioneers] to a new city, and we had a dream – a new city, a correctly run city – but they brought over all the sick management from other cities." He recalls approaching the first mayor of Modi'in and encouraging him to implement professional standards. "You can't beat the system," the mayor laughed in reply.
"I don't like politics. As a matter of fact, I despise politics," Weinreb declares. "I'm using it as a platform to get to the goals that I set." Weinreb began making headlines in Modi'in as an environmental activist and decided to run for mayor in 2003. He eventually dropped his own mayoral bid to accept the number two slot on Moshe Spector's ticket. When Spector won, Alex became deputy mayor, responsible for environment, tourism and historical preservation.
No English names
Weinreb also chairs several committees at city hall, including the Names Committee. (Tov shem meshemen tov, he repeats.) "One of the bills I'm trying to pass now is to have no English names, only Hebrew names - no 'Country Center', etc.," he explains in a rapid-fire delivery, hesitating occasionally to find the right word in English. "2,100 years ago, when the Maccabees came here and threw out the Seleucids, the Greeks, one of the main things they did was to change back from Aramaic to Hebrew, to revive the Hebrew language. That's what a country's ethics come from – its language, its culture, its religious belief… language is very important. I'm tired of all these Israelis speaking every second word 'once' or 'since.'"
Weinreb became fluent in Hebrew as a boy in America, studying with Israeli teachers at a Hillel School in New York, so he fit in quickly when his family moved to Jerusalem in 1970. Still, moving to Israel was initially a "big crisis" for him. "I had just got accepted at Little League baseball and then my father said we're moving to Israel. I was on the basketball team, finally getting the girls to look at me, and then we were moving to this country I knew nothing about.
The family settled in the Ramat Eshkol neighborhood and later moved into the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. Weinreb initially studied in Jerusalem, but spent his last two years of high school at a yeshiva in Pardes Hana. "They were my best two years," he says. "I learned all the values of Eretz Yisrael [the Land of Israel] and I also threw the kippa away after there."
Weinreb says that he has found a "happy medium" in his religious life: "I still believe, put on tefillin every morning and eat kosher, but after Shabbat shul [synagogue] I drive to the beach. I thank God every morning for what he's given me and that's it." He says he has also argued at city hall to fund the local Reform and Conservative movements: "I don’t care how you thank God, with a lady next to you, with music and an organ. There's not one way to do it," he believes.
Get off your tuchus
After finishing his army duty and studying Earth Sciences at Hebrew University, Weinreb started a small advertising agency. Several years later, he opened Alex's Invitation Shop, printing bar mitzvah and wedding invitations. He ran this business for 21 years before becoming deputy mayor in 2003. Weinreb sold his printing equipment, but not his brand name – because the potential buyers refused to sign a commitment to maintain the service standards he had instituted. Tov shem meshemen tov, he explains again.
According to Weinreb, Modi'in's city government has dramatically improved since Mayor Spector took office. "We fired everybody when we got elected and put out tenders for everybody. We're changing paradigms." And by proving that the municipality can be run as a business, he hopes to attract top people to city government. "There are lots of great people at home and I'm trying to show them that in the next election – get off your tuchus. To be a civil servant isn't a bad thing… You want to go to Intel? You want to go to Comverse? Come to the Modi'in city hall – it's the same thing. We'll get the best people to do the job."
Weinreb is excited about the city's future. "I see only great things in the next two years – the city center is going to open up, the train, the theater." Among other things, he hopes the boost in revenues from the new city center will enable Modi'in to catch up on public facilities – including synagogues, swimming pools and sports fields. In fact, he is lobbying to stop the development of new housing when the population reaches 75,000-80,000 people and use this timeout to carefully study the lessons of Modi'in's first decade: "I want to stop for 7-10 years and to replenish all that is missing. Then, when we have our character together and our public buildings, we can continue on to 120,000."
He sees "all kinds of things in the future" – for example, recycling water from school roofs and using photoelectric cells to generate electricity. But he also seeks to leverage Modi'in's unique past: "It's a city with a story - the Maccabee story, the Crusader story, the 1948 story." Weinreb is seeking to raise NIS 20-30 million to build a visitors' center at the site of an ancient synagogue in Modi'in.
Meanwhile, Weinreb "loves every minute" of his job. "One of the things I will do hopefully when I'm mayor one day is to make sure all of the city workers get up with fire in their eyes. I want to give them local patriotism," he says.
First residents: 1996
Current population: Nearly 70,000
Planned population: 250,000
Anglo population: 3,500-4,000
Average age: 31
Orthodox Jews: 16-20%
Green space: 48%
* As provided by Alex Weinreb
(Published in Haaretz, March 24, 2006)
Baruch Marzel, like his mentor Rabbi Meir Kahane, was born in America. But Kahane was nearly 40 years old before immigrating to Israel, while Marzel arrived in Jerusalem as a six-week-old infant and grew up in the Bayit Vegan neighborhood before setting out as a young teenager to help establish Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Kahane served one term in the Knesset before his Kach party was banned as racist. Similar attempts to disqualify Marzel failed in 2003, when he made an unsuccessful Knesset bid as the No. 2 candidate on the Herut party list. This year, Marzel is leading his own party, National Jewish Front, in the Knesset elections.
Marzel claims that his party enjoys broad support among new immigrants “who want to live in country like the one they dreamed of before coming to Israel,” and notes that Brooklyn-born Paul Eidelberg, No. 7 on the party’s list, heads a large department for English speakers in the Nation Jewish Front.
Marzel says that “unfortunately” he still has lots of relatives living abroad. “But we’ve succeeded in bringing a large part of the family to Israel,” he adds. He understands why many Jews remain in the Diaspora (“If a Jew from abroad sees a cheap imitation of New York here, why should he leave the original one to come here?”) and he offers some suggestions on how to encourage Jewish immigration to Israel: “We need to turn this state into a Jewish state, like it should be, and make it more democratic, so that every MK won’t do whatever he wants, so that the Supreme Court doesn’t rule the country.”
Indeed, Marzel views aliyah as one of the ways to achieve his party’s goal of securing a large Jewish majority west of the Jordan River. Other means to this end include encouraging Jews to have more children – Marzel, who lives in a mobile home in the Jewish settlement in Hebron, is the father of nine – and “expelling our enemies and encouraging others who want to leave,” he explains. “There are many countries in the world that like the Muslims – maybe not as much as a few months ago – and we’ll send them some more.”
(Published in Haaretz, March 24, 2006)
Jonathan Danilowitz realizes that he has virtually no chance of being elected to the Knesset next week as the No. 7 candidate on the Shinui list, but he is determined to continue his political activity. “I’m committed to the concept of separation of religion and state as it is in the United States – civil marriage, civil divorce, no religious interference in our daily lives,” he declares.
Danilowitz, 61, was born in the small town of Krugersdorp in South Africa. His family, he says, was “very Zionist, very Jewish and fairly Orthodox,” and was part of a united Jewish community that has since scattered around the globe, including a substantial Krugersdorp contingent in Israel.
His childhood experience included “quite a bit of anti-Semitism” on the part of his schoolmates. “So I was not only interested in coming to Israel because of the Zionist background,” he explains, “but I also knew that as a South African Jew I was not going to be a first-class citizen.”
Danilowitz initially came to Israel as a volunteer in 1967, landing one day before the outbreak of the Six Day War. He chose to volunteer at a religious kibbutz, but by the end of his six-month stay he was no longer religiously observant. “I remember sitting in the synagogue on Yom Kippur and realizing that for me religion had become a meaningless thing,” he recalls. Danilowitz is quick to emphasize, however, that his disillusionment with religion was a personal decision: “I don’t say that it applies to everybody.”
Out of the closet
His break with religion was relatively easy compared to his coming out as a gay man several years later. Danilowitz began a slow process of “coming out to myself and the rest of the world” after making aliyah in 1971, just before his 27th birthday. “I guess it was after I left my past behind in South Africa, I left my heterosexuality behind also,” he says.
It was particularly difficult for Danilowitz to reveal the truth about his sexuality to his mother. “I finally told her in a letter. I couldn’t find the courage to tell her face-to-face,” he recalls. His personal experience prompted him to later found the Israeli chapter of PFLAG (Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians & Gays). Danilowitz describes PFLAG as “an organization that helps parents who have become aware of their children’s sexuality and are often devastated.” In addition, he explains, “we often have young people coming to the meetings to try to figure out how to tell their parents.” PFLAG does not “shove any advice down anybody’s throat,” he stresses. “But it’s been phenomenal at times how we’ve managed to help people. We’ve saved lives.”
El Al vs. Danilowitz
Danilowitz, who had worked for South African Airways, began a 30-year career as an El Al flight attendant after immigrating to Israel. He continued to work for El Al during a prolonged court battle over the airline’s refusal to grant a free ticket for his life partner as part of El Al’s benefit package for spouses of employees. El Al insisted on bringing the case to the High Court of Justice after the lower courts ruled in favor of Danilowitz. But the High Court also sided with Danilowitz, setting a precedent that has paved the way for granting equal rights to same-gender couples.
This court triumph is a source of considerable notoriety and great satisfaction for Danilowitz: “At the time, I had anonymous telephone calls like – ‘I’m a soldier and you’ve given me hope and how can I thank you.’ And this happens to this day. I meet people and if I say my name, they say, ‘Wow is that you? You can’t imagine what it meant to me.’”
Several years later, Danilowitz initiated another lawsuit – this time against the Ministry of Transportation – which resulted in the prohibition of smoking on all flights in and out of Israel. “As an employee of El Al and citizen of Israel, I wanted to have the same rights that every employee in this country has – to work in a smoke-free environment,” he explains.
Danilowitz says that he had always voted for Meretz – until it joined a coalition with Shas in 1999. He then became active in Shinui. He ran, unsuccessfully, as a Shinui candidate in the Tel Aviv municipal elections in 2003 and was asked to join the party’s Knesset slate after Shinui’s aborted primaries and schism in January.
“I really believe in Shinui’s economic policy, foreign policy and policy of trying to avoid religious coercion,” Danilowitz explains. Shinui has been unfairly tagged as anti-religious, he claims. “We’re simply anti-religious coercion. I want to live and let live. I want everybody to be able to eat what they want, to marry whom they want, and sleep with whom they want. I don’t want other people who don’t work, don’t pay taxes and don’t serve in the army to be a burden on my back.”
(Published in Haaretz, March 24, 2006)
A stenciled graffiti message welcoming Americans to Jerusalem but admonishing them to speak Hebrew appeared in at least two spots in southern Jerusalem this week, including this bus stop on Ben Zakkai Street, where the Katamon neighborhood meets the German Colony.
Most of the local residents questioned at the bus stop yesterday said they had no idea what the message was about. “I wish I could tell you,” said Cheryl Newman before catching a bus toward the Malha Mall. Newman, who immigrated to Israel five years ago from Chicago, noted that she was once stopped by an elderly woman who chastised her for speaking English with her children. But Newman regards this woman – and anyone who writes graffiti – as “crazy.”
Agnes Arbeli, who immigrated from Hungary 10 years ago, said she regards the graffiti as “funny” and does not believe it is directed against anyone. Her only criticism was that English and French speakers in the neighborhood often continue to speak their native tongues in the presence of others who do not understand these languages.
“I agree with the message, people should speak Hebrew here,” said Karen Hagege, who arrived in Israel from Paris only five months ago and already speaks Hebrew fluently. However, the consensus of native Israelis at the bus stop was that Jerusalemites should feel free to speak in whatever language they are most comfortable. “What are we, in Russia?” an elderly man remarked before climbing onto a bus.
(Published in Haaretz, March 31, 2006)
Jan Jaben-Eilon only lived for about two years in Israel, but she takes her Israeli citizenship very seriously. This week, as in the 2001 and 2003 elections, she made a special trip to Israel to cast her vote.
Jaben-Eilon, 53, is originally from Kansas City, Missouri and made aliyah in 1996. A year later, she married a former Israeli diplomat, Joab Eilon, who was studying to be a Reform rabbi. In 1998, the couple relocated to the U.S., where he completed his studies. Today, he teaches at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, while she works for the Israel Experience program. “My job is to help send young people to Israel so that they’ll develop the love for Israel that I was born with,” she explains.
Despite the fact that she makes her home in Atlanta (and ostensibly does not bear the direct consequences of her vote), Jaben-Eilon does not feel any qualms about voting in Israel. “I feel so Israeli,” she explains. “I see things differently after living here and I’m constantly in touch with Israel through my work and personal life. I feel more Israeli than American.”
Like many Israelis, Jaben-Eilon was less sure this time which party she would support. Earlier in the week she was leaning toward Meretz, but after some conversations with her friends and husband and after reading an editorial in Haaretz, she decided to vote for Labor.
“Each time I vote here, I become emotional,” she explains. “I never feel that way voting in the U.S. It means so much to me to be able to vote here.” Jaben-Eilon finds it hard to understand how so many Israelis choose not to exercise their right to vote. “People don’t realize how important it is.”
(Published in Haaretz, March 31, 2006)
Adam Budzanowski left his home in Toronto last December to serve in the Gaza Strip as country director for an Altanta-based assistance organization, JumpStart International. Last week, he was held for 33 hours as the captive of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, part of the spree of kidnappings triggered by Israel’s raid on the Jericho prison.
“I spent a sleepless night thinking how stupid I was to come to Gaza,” he chuckles, recalling his captivity. “Everybody I know tried to prevent me from coming.” Yet after his release, Budzanowski rejected a directive from Canadian Embassy officials to leave Gaza. “Listen, I’m a free person. I’m a Canadian. I can decide for myself,” he told them. “I came here for a reason and I have not completed my task here.”
Budzanowski, 57, is a native of Poland and settled in Canada in 1976. He now regards Canada as his only home. “My loyalty is to one country,” he explains. “People who are converted are more loyal and I’ve also been converted to the Canadian way of thinking.”
For most of the past three decades, however, Budzanowski has been away from Canada, working for various NGOs around the world. His international adventures began with work for the Afghan mujahideen just after the Soviet invasion in late 1979. His subsequent assignments included aid missions in Croatia and Bosnia.
Budzanowski insists that he does not seek out dangerous assignments, but that danger is simply part of his work. “Gaza is not what tourists would consider a vacation spot, it’s not Club Med,” he admits. “But if the kitchen is too hot for you, you shouldn’t go in,” he explains.
Budzanowski was in his office working on the computer last week when a co-worker noticed a lot of people with guns and ski masks gathering outside the building. The gunmen were soon at the door and kicked it in. “About 10 guys went through the rooms of the office and once they saw me, a white, blond Caucasian, they trained their guns on me.”
His captors pushed him out of the office and down three flights of stairs, and into one of a convoy of cars. “They started driving like madmen, at very high speeds.” When they hit heavy traffic, they started shooting into the air to clear the way. His captors pulled a ski mask over his head, but pulled it so hard he could see clearly through the fabric. “They turned into a non-descript house near Khan Yunis and brought me into a courtyard. There were about 40 to 50 people, all armed, and they started to fight over me. One side won and shoved me into a small room in the house.
“About 10 minutes later, a guy entered who described himself as a general and he spoke a little English. He was masked and shouted at me in an abusive way. He asked me for my name and my IDs. I had my Canadian passport. He was perhaps more shaken by all this than me. His hands were trembling.”
Later in the day, he was taken to another hideout in Khan Yunis and ordered to make a filmed statement. “When you have guns trained at you, you’ll say anything,” he notes. He was then taken to a small room where he spent the night. His captives warned him: “Whatever happens to [PFLP leader Ahmed] Sa’adat, we’ll do to you. If he’s killed, we’ll kill you.”
Thinking about life
Budzanowski had time to reflect on his life during the cold hours of the night. “I was thinking maybe I would meet my Maker before my time. I was thinking about life, about my parents, all kinds of things. I was never kidnapped before, never in that situation. I was not prepared for it.”
In the morning, he was instructed to make another filmed statement. His captors then informed him: “We’re going to take a chance and let you go.” Budzanowski only believed this when he arrived in downtown Gaza to a bustling media reception. It was then that he informed the Canadian officials that he wanted to remain in Gaza.
“I want to witness history first hand and I believe I can do something good here.” The projects he is coordinating in Gaza include housing restoration and an international park in Rafah, and an educational facility built around the school at the abandoned Jewish settlement of Neve Dekalim. His 33 hours in captivity “were not a pleasant experience,” he says, “but it’s still not too hot for me in the kitchen.”
(Published in Haaretz, April 7, 2006)
Jews have lived for centuries as minority communities around the world, perhaps most successfully in the United States. Yet, American Jews have made relatively little effort to engage their country’s largest minority community – Latin Americans. As part of an attempt to foster this engagement and forge a strategic partnership between the Jewish and Latino minorities in America, a high-level delegation of Latin American organization leaders, academics and journalists arrived this week for a nine-day visit in Israel.
The visit is sponsored by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and co-hosted by the National Council of La Raza, an umbrella group for about 320 community-based organizations, with an annual budget of about $1.3 billion. Leading the delegation is Dina Siegel Vann, a Jewish Mexican-American who serves as director of the AJC’s Latino and Latin American Institute in Washington, DC.
The visit is designed to enable the Latino leaders “to learn what Israel is all about, and to see it first hand, with all its virtues and warts,” Siegel Vann says. “What we’re trying to do with this trip is to sensitize our Latino partners about the importance of Israel for American Jewry, about why Israel is such a central part of our identity and our agenda. At the same time, we will hopefully find some areas of Israeli reality that resonate on our mutual agenda.”
According to Raul Yzaguirre, who served as CEO of La Raza for three decades and now teaches Community Development at Arizona State University, there are 42-45 million Latinos living in the U.S. (depending on whether Puerto Rico is included). “We’re a diverse community,” he explains. “Some Latinos have been there for generations – my own family came to what is now Texas in the late 1740s – and some of us came over last night.” He emphasizes that by every objective measure Latinos are “the hardest working Americans” and very patriotic. “We’re an asset to the U.S., but on the other hand, we have some very serious problems,” he says, citing discrimination, low rates of academic achievement and high rates of poverty.
While Latinos share some of the same problems as African-Americans and Native Americans, there are some “very stark differences,” Yzaguirre explains. For example, poverty among African-Americans is partly due to high rates of unemployment, he says. “In the Latino community, we’re working, but have the lowest hourly wages.”
A case of indifference
Siegel Vann notes that American Jewry has experienced a “bumpy” relationship with the Afro-American community in recent decades. In comparison, she says, the relationship between Jews and Latinos can be characterized as indifferent: “We have been pretty invisible to one another.” Yzaguirre concurs, suggesting that Jews identify more with the slavery experience of Afro-Americans. “Jews invested a lot of blood and money [in the civil rights movement], and then a schism occurred. That kind of investment was never made in the Latino community. Not that there was animosity, there was just non-engagement.”
Jews and Latinos share a common history, Siegel Vann contends. “We met in Spain and traveled to the New World, and are both mestizos - a combination of many races and ethnic groups.” In fact, Yzaguirre says that according to one estimate, one-third of all Latinos in the U.S. have some Jewish ancestry. “There’s a growing awareness that some cultural habits originated from the Jewish culture – for example, you cover your mirrors when somebody dies,” he adds.
“We have to articulate the case for Latino-Jewish cooperation much more clearly,” Siegel Vann adds, citing both practical and ethical grounds for this partnership. “American Jews have always believed that you have to level the playing field for everybody, all minorities. That’s the only way you can strengthen the social fabric and democracy … we cannot survive without coalitions. If we don’t do it together, American society will not champion the causes we believe in.”
Siegel Vann straddles a number of identities. Her mother’s family emigrated from Poland to Mexico in 1924, after the U.S. had already closed its gates to Jewish immigrants. Her father is from Brooklyn, New York. She attended Jewish schools in Mexico and then came to Israel as part of a “search of identity” and completed a BA in English at Tel Aviv University. “I came to Israel and suddenly became very much a Mexican,” she recalls. Yzaguirre understands this juggling of identities: “When I go to Mexico, I feel very American. When I’m with mixed groups, I feel Hispanic. And when I go to Spain, I feel very Mexican.”
Siegel Vann estimates that she is one of about 100,000 Latino Jews in the U.S., though she says the precise number is difficult to gauge. “I think it’s a new category that is being formed and there is more awareness that we can play a very important role in bringing both communities together,” she says. “We see a lot of future together.”
(Published in Haaretz, April 21, 2006)
Walk into any Israeli human rights organization and you are likely to find immigrants from the U.S. and other Western countries. In many cases, this reflects the values that impelled these individuals to immigrate to Israel in the first place, suggests Elihau Abram, the legal director of the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI), who came to Israel over 265 years ago from Seattle.
The offices of PCATI, spread over two floors in a bucolic Jerusalem neighborhood, offer a stark contrast to the brutal world of torture and Jewish-Arab violence. The staff includes 12 Jewish and Arab lawyers, educators and administrators, whose collaborative work includes a rotating assignment to prepare lunch for their co-workers.
PCATI was established in early 1990 in the wake of the first intifada, following many reports of abusive treatment of Palestinian detainees, including a number of deaths that apparently resulted from interrogation methods. The organization’s founders include Executive Director Hannah Friedman, who is originally from Holland, and Professor Stanley Cohen, who grew up in South Africa.
Over the years, the organization has represented individuals, submitted petitions of principle to the High Court of Justice and engaged in educational and publicity work. A landmark victory came in 1999, when the High Court, in response to a PCATI petition, banned the use of torture during interrogation. (The court made an allowance, however, for security officials to claim “necessity” as a defense if later prosecuted for abusive measures.)
The High Court decision led the Shin Bet to abandon some of its interrogation methods and the number of torture complaints decreased – until the outbreak of the second intifada a year later. Around the same time, PCATI decided to expand its human rights purview and co-authored a report documenting and denouncing “The Assassination Policy of the State of Israel.”
Much of PCATI’s current work focuses on challenging incommunicado detention, when a suspect is most vulnerable to abuse. “During 2003-2005, PCATI submitted over 200 petitions challenging orders that prevented detainees from seeing attorneys,” notes Abram, PCATI’s legal director. “Palestinians suspected of committing security offenses under Israeli military law in the West Bank are often prohibited from meeting an attorney during the entire period of their interrogation, which may last for over a month,” he explains.
The new legal status of the Gaza Strip following Israel’s disengagement last year prompted the government to sponsor legislation that would have enabled “non-residents” suspected of security offenses to be denied access to legal counsel for 50 days. With some “deft moves and luck,” according to Abram, PCATI was successful in spearheading an effort to stymie this proposed legislation.
Louis Frankenthaler, who immigrated to Israel from New Jersey in 1995, is PCATI’s Development and Education Director. He recognizes that a persuasive argument can be made for torture aimed at obtaining information that could prevent an imminent attack – a “ticking bomb.” – and notes that Alan Dershowitz, for example, “erroneously” advocates instituting “torture warrants” for such situations Frankenthaler also admits that on a gut level, his basic parental instinct might lead him to resort to torture if he thought this might save his own children. Nonetheless, he unconditionally subscribes to PCATI’s unequivocal absolute opposition to torture on legal, moral and practical grounds, citing experts who say that coercive interrogation methods are not effective in extracting accurate and critical information from determined terrorists.
“Let’s say you catch Dr. Doom and know that a bomb he planted will explode in 20 minutes,” says Frankenthaler. “You use torture to force him to tell you where the bomb is and he finally tells you that it’s under the Eiffel Tower. You hurry to the Eiffel Tower and start digging and – boom! – the bomb goes off under the Louvre.”
Frankenthaler explains that part of PCATI’s education mission is to help cultivate a human rights culture in Israel and complains that the civics curriculum in Israeli schools is very meager in this area. “We haven’t collectively internalized the human rights message that should have come out of the [Jewish] past,” he says.
Passover and human rights
“Passover is the holiday of freedom, but if we examine the Haggadah read at the Passover seder, I cannot help but think that one of the implicit messages is that Jewish freedom was achieved through collective punishment – by the plagues that were not just inflicted on the Egyptian leadership, but on their children and on the entire people of Egypt,” says PCATI’s Louis Frankenthaler, who briefly studied to become a Reform rabbi.
“To what extent is this collective punishment justified? Does it work? Does it liberate the oppressed? I think that a modern seder must include this line of thinking: We must look outside our windows. While Jews celebrate, the Palestinians are imprisoned, collectively cut off and locked in, more so than on a ‘regular day.’ When Jews in Israel and elsewhere celebrate the holiday of freedom, we are collectively and systematically imprisoning and devaluing an entire group of people. Perhaps this is an indication, at least in a figurative sense, of our continued wandering in the wilderness.”
Eliahu Abram, the legal director of PCATI, draws inspiration for his human rights work from the Passover story: “The historical memory of persecution and liberation, so ancient and so fresh, impels us to fight discrimination and inhumanity with eternal vigilance at the very same time as we defend ourselves against those who would rise up against us to destroy us. This for me is the meaning of Passover and the purpose of our survival of the Holocaust and the creation of the State of Israel.”
(Published in Haaretz, April 21)
Professor Julia Polak, a London-based medical pioneer whose personal story inspired a novel and play by best-selling author Rosemary Friedman, says her meetings with researchers and scientists in Israel this week have been “unbelievable, exceeding my expectations.” Her itinerary includes the Technion, Hadassah, Ben-Gurion University and Hebrew University.
Born in Argentina in 1939, Polak came to London to continue her medical training in the 1960s and remained due to the deteriorating political situation in Argentina. Her prolific career in medical research (including 25 books and over 1,000 articles) was interrupted in 1995, when she underwent a heart and lung transplant.
In a gentle voice, with traces of a Spanish accent, Polak tells about her “disaster,” which occurred in the very field she was researching: “I was working on the endocrine system in the intestinal tract, and since the lung is very similar, we started to look at the endocrine system in the lung. I contacted a transplant surgeon and we started meeting every week, discussing the problems of transplantation and what happens with the lungs. Little did I know that I was going to be donating my lungs. I had no idea.
“It took me a year to recover and I was thinking that I have to do something related to what happened to me. At that time, coincidentally, the field of tissue engineering started developing. So I thought maybe we can create artificial lungs.”
Polak founded the Centre for Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine at Imperial College London, where a team of researchers is studying ways to grow human lung and bone tissue as an alternative to transplantation. She has also spun off a private company, Novothera, to market this technology. In 2003, Polak received the honorific of “Dame Commander of the British Empire” in recognition of her achievements.
Polak describes the Israeli colleagues she has met this week as “very receptive and extremely intelligent, with no arrogance whatsoever and with a contagious enthusiasm.” She was also very excited to learn that the two neurosurgeons at Hadassah who operated on Ariel Sharon were fellow Argentineans.
She sees great potential for collaboration between scientists in Britain and Israel. “Both in biotech and academia, researchers in Israel are ahead of the field and are doing things that are complementary to what we are doing at Imperial,” the professor says. “Hopefully, this is just the beginning of a good rapport between the UK and Israel in stem cell, tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.”
(Published in Haaretz, April 21, 2006)
A German soldier in Nazi uniform strolls in the park hand-in-hand with his Jewish grandmother, the yellow “Jude” star on her coat. A Nazi officer is dispatched by the German high command to rescue the Lubavitch rebbe. These are two of the surrealistic examples Larry Price cites to illustrate the complex reality in Nazi Germany for Mischlinge – the Nazi term (literally, “mongrels”) for Germans of partial Jewish ancestry.
Price, a Jerusalem-based filmmaker, is the director and producer of “Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers,” a documentary film featuring interviews with five Mischlinge who served in the German armed forces during World War II. The film will premier on April 24 on Channel One as part of the special programming for Holocaust Day.
Born in Chicago in 1944, Price first came to Israel in the early 1970s as a journalist and “fell in love with the story.” Convinced that print journalism had a limited future, he began making films, learning the business with Herbert Krosney at United Press International Television News in Jerusalem. He has since produced hundreds of industrial and documentary films, and also helped pioneer English language broadcasts for Channel One, serving as its first news anchor.
“Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers” is Price’s first Holocaust-related work. The idea for the film was triggered by a book published in 2002 by a young historian, Bryan Mark Rigg: “Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers: The Untold Story of Nazi Racial Laws and Men of Jewish Descent in the German Military.” After reading a book review in the New York Times, Price’s friend Ilan Seidner told him, “We should do a film about it.”
‘My father’s an American Jew’
Most of the Mischlinge who appear in the documentary had one Jewish parent but were not raised as Jews. Werner Goldberg, for example, was not even aware of his Jewish roots until he was suddenly ostracized in school. Nonetheless, a picture of Goldberg in uniform appeared in a Nazi recruitment advertisement in 1939 depicting “The Ideal German Soldier.” Arno Spitz, a paratroop officer who was awarded three Iron Crosses for bravery, was also raised as a Christian. When captured by American troops at the end of the war, however, he quickly informed them that his Jewish father had fled to the U.S. and settled in Los Angeles. “You can’t take me prisoner, my father is an American Jew,” he argued. “This is the first time my Jewish ancestry came into play,” he says in the film.
Except for a three-year period (1940-43), Germans with a Jewish parent or grandparent were required to serve in the Nazi Army. Hans-Geert Falkenberg, whose mother was Jewish, emphasizes in the film: “I did not want to join the army – I had to join the army.” This military obligation did not apply to Ephraim Glazer, a yeshiva graduate born to Jewish parents in Poland. Yet Glazer, who now lives in Haifa, managed to hide his Jewish identity and joined the German Army to avoid starvation.
Rigg, who spent seven years conducting research for his book, estimates that at least 150,000 men of Jewish origin served in the German Army during World War II. One of these men was Major Ernst Bloch, the focus of Rigg’s second book – “Rescued from the Reich: How One of Hitler’s Soldiers Saved the Lubavitcher Rebbe.” Price is also working on a film version of this sensational story.
‘Use Western Union’
Price says he did not set out to convey a particular message in “Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers” and quotes the Hollywood adage: “If you want to send a message, use Western Union.” He also insists he is not a historian. “I was just telling the story the way it came out. I just hope people will appreciate the story that’s being told and see another face of the war.”
Despite these disclaimers, Price notes some insights he learned from making this film: “Hollywood has made hundreds of films about the Nazis and the Americans. It’s clear-cut, good and evil. But what I found in doing this film, and what catches people’s attention, is that it was mixed. I learned there was a difference between the German Army and the Nazi Army ... And we have this idea that the Nazis were so organized and knew exactly what they were doing every minute, but it wasn’t like that.”
It turns out, for example, that the definition of “Aryan” and “Jew” was not so rigid. The film notes that some well-placed Mischlinge received “German blood certificates” declaring them to be “Aryan.” The mufti of Jerusalem at the time, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, also received a certificate of German genealogy: Hitler explained that the Arab leader’s blue eyes indicated that he was a descendant of the Crusaders.
Caught in the middle
“Look,” says Price with a sigh, “if we try to apply the Mishlinge experience in today’s world, there’s the application to mixed marriages – how people feel they are ingrained in a society and how tenuous the grasp on society actually is.” He says he considered calling the film, “Caught in the Middle,” because the Mishlinge “didn’t really belong to either culture and I think it left psychological scars.
“It’s not an unusual tale for Jews to intermarry,” Price continues. (This dates back at least to Moses, he suggests, who was “a prince whose life changes when he finds out he’s Jewish, and who marries a gentile woman.”) The interesting thing, he says, “is what influence the Jews have on the societies they live in and what happens when those societies go off the rails.”
(Published in Haaretz, April 21, 2006)
The United States-Israel Educational Foundation (USIEF), in conjunction with several other binational organizations, will convene a symposium at Kibbutz Ma’ale Hahamisha next week (April 23-24) to discuss “The State of U.S.-Israel Scientific and Technological Cooperation.” The symposium is one of a series of events celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Fulbright Program in Israel, which is administered by USIEF.
Keynote speakers at the event will include John Marburger (director of the U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy), Eric Benhamou (chairman of 3Com), Aaron Ciechanover (Nobel Prize winner and Technion professor) and Alan I. Leshner (CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science). Both Ciechanover and Leshner are Fulbright alumni.
The Fulbright Program is the U.S. government’s flagship public diplomacy and academic exchange initiative, bearing the name of J. William Fulbright, who sponsored its founding legislation as a freshman senator in the aftermath of World War II. Fulbright envisioned the program as a way to promote mutual understanding and friendship, as well as scholarship. Some 275,000 students and faculty from over 150 countries have participated in the exchange program, including about 1,100 Americans and 1,400 Israelis under USIEF’s auspices.
The executive director of USIEF, Neal Sherman, defines the organization’s core mission as “helping to train the next generation of [Israeli] university academics and researchers by bringing them in contact with the United States, which is the world leader in just about every field of scientific undertaking.” Sherman, a former New Yorker who immigrated to Israel in 1975, emphasizes that the state of U.S.-Israel scientific and technological cooperation is very strong. However, he notes there is some concern that the centrality of this cooperation may be eroding. In particular, while Israel’s public funding for joint European projects has significantly increased in recent years, “programs which support U.S.-Israel scientific, academic and industrial cooperation have seen their funding for stimulating partnerships either stagnate or in some cases decline,” Sherman explains.
Sherman, who has served as USIEF’s executive director for four years, was previously involved in boosting Israeli-European scientific and technological cooperation. “I spent six years of my life working on the European connection as head of the internal relations department in the Ministry of Science, and no one is saying this was a wrong decision. All we’re saying is that we have to look at the map of Israeli scientific and technological cooperation, and see where the U.S. stands and whether we’re devoting enough resources to making sure that this relationship gives Israel the maximum benefit possible.”
The two most prominent Israeli Fulbright alumni, Sherman notes, are Supreme Court President Aharon Barak, who studied at Harvard on a Fulbright grant, and Nobel laureate Aaron Ciechanover, who conducted post-doctorate research at MIT. A short film produced for the 50th anniversary celebrations features several other Fulbright fellows, including Yoram Turbowicz, a former antitrust commissioner who is now chief of staff at the Prime Minister’s Office, Weizmann Institute President Ilan Chet, and Yehuda Danon, the founder of Schneider Children’s Hospital in Petah Tikva.
“When people come from different countries, with different cultures and different ways of thinking about scientific problems, it’s very fruitful,” Chet says in the film. “We regard that year as the best year of our lives,” Danon reminisces. Turbowicz speaks about the lasting impact of his Fulbright experience at Harvard and concludes: “It was a time I will never forget, we were on the top of the world.”
(Published in Haaretz, April 28, 2006)
South Africa marked its12th Freedom Day yesterday, but the country’s embassy in Tel Aviv started celebrating this anniversary of democracy one day early: On Wednesday, the embassy hosted the first South Africa Golf Day at the Caesarea Golf Club. Over 100 golfers participated in the event, including many former South Africans living in Israel, as well as members of the business community and diplomatic corps. South African Ambassador Fumanekile Gqiba, an avid golfer himself, says he hopes to make this an annual event.
“The idea is to network with the people of Israel, sharing our vision, listening to their vision and trying to find a common ground,” explains Gqiba, who is nearly halfway through a four-year assignment. And why golf? “I’ve noticed since I started to play golf that it is a sport where you can walk for four hours with an individual, speaking and networking.”
The ambassador noted that this event mainly targeted the business community. Indeed, the country club setting in Caesarea is very remote from the shantytowns of South Africa and working class neighborhoods of Israel, and it is easy to forget you are in the Middle East when gazing out upon the manicured green vista from the clubhouse veranda. Still, the embassy made a point of acknowledging the needs of the wider Israeli society by donating some of the funds provided by the event’s main corporate sponsors – diamond companies Steinmetz and Diamdel – to two South African-affiliated community organizations: Beit Issie Shapiro and Beit Protea.
Israelis reclaiming S. Africa
Gqiba is very upbeat about Israeli-South African relations. One indication of this, he suggests, are the hundreds of expatriates who have recently come to the embassy to reclaim South African passports. “In the past, there was a lot of tension between the two countries, and Israelis said, ‘We don’t need the South African passport.’ But now some Israelis are saying, ‘We come from South Africa, we love that country and want a portion of it by having a passport.’ It shows that the tension between the two countries is no longer there. People are proud to stand up and say, ‘I’m a former South African, or I’m a South African living in Israel.’” In fact, he adds, many Israelis have already moved back to South Africa. “But we don’t want to shout about that,” he laughs.
The ambassador sees another sign of warming relations in the announced readiness of President Thabo Mbeki to visit Israel. Gqiba does not know exactly when this visit will take place, but confidently asserts: “It’s going to be this year.” One of the complicating factors is Mbeki’s readiness to also meet with the elected Palestinian leadership.
Gqiba argues that South Africa’s talks with Hamas leaders would ultimately serve Israel’s best interests. “We speak to everybody and the message is loud and clear,” he explains. “We have been very close with the Palestinians and our engagement with them is a strategic move that will benefit Israel, because we are going to tell them that there is no choice but to recognize the State of Israel.” And, he adds, “Israel must trust us and learn to listen to their friends.”
The virtues of golf
Immigrants from South Africa were the ones who brought golf to Israel, explains Gil Peres, the chairman of the Israel Golf Federation (IGF): “South Africans started playing golf in Israel over 40 years ago and convinced the baron [James de Rothschild] to start the golf course in Caesarea.”
Peres, who emigrated from South Africa about 15 years ago, says the IGF has about 1,000 members, but he expects this number to grow rapidly as more golf courses are built. Currently, Israel offers just two golf venues: the 18-hole links in Caesarea and a 9-hole course in Ga’ash. Another four courses are planned: two in Tiberias, one in Ashkelon and one just outside Be’er Sheva. “People have invested money and are working hard on these plans,” Peres says. “It takes time to get all the necessary approvals, but we’re very confident we’ll have two more golf courses within three to four years.”
Peres is effusive in describing the virtues of golf: “It’s good for business, good for meeting friends, it’s a great outdoor game, and it teaches you something about yourself. You’re only playing yourself, the little ball and the course. One day you can hit beautiful shots, the next day you don’t know what you’re doing. There’s a lot you can learn about the character of a person through golf.”
(Published in Haaretz, May 5, 2006)
IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz launched the annual Flag Salute to the Fallen Soldier on Sunday by planting a small flag by the grave of First Sergeant Yosef Goodman, the latest soldier to be buried on Mount Herzl. In describing the IDF’s effort to bring a flag to the gravesite of every fallen soldier prior to Memorial Day, Halutz quoted poet Yehuda Amihai: “We have no anonymous soldier.”
Yosef Goodman, the son of Marvin (Mordechai) and Ann (Hannah), was born in New York in 1985 and arrived in Israel nine months later. He grew up in Efrat, where his parents operate a pizzeria, and graduated from the Meled high school in Jerusalem. Yosef volunteered for the elite Maglan unit and was two years into his service when he died on February 2 in a parachuting accident.
Marvin, who grew up in Texas, had already decided to make his life in Israel when he met his future wife in New York. “On our first date, when I saw that I was very interested in Ann, I laid it all out: I wanted to have a lot of kids and move to Israel.” Ann, originally from Brooklyn, was of a similar mind and they were married at the Lincoln Square Synagogue in Manhattan. In 1986, with two small children in tow, they sold their apartment overlooking Central Park and immigrated to Israel. Following the lead of their rabbi from Lincoln Square, Shlomo Riskin, they settled in Efrat, which Marvin calls “the greatest place in the world.” Over the years, the family grew to include nine children.
No regrets about aliyah
Marvin and Ann insist they have no regrets about coming to Israel – even after their son’s tragic death in the army. “Never. We don’t regret coming to Israel for one second. It’s the most important and best thing we’ve done in our lives,” Ann says. Marvin recalls that Rabbi Riskin said to him when Yosef died that there is a price to be paid for living in Israel. “I don’t feel that way, even after the death of my son,” Marvin says, emotion briefly overtaking his voice.
“Let me tell you something – life goes on, you have to live with everything God gives you,” Marvin continues. “You think I chose this path for us? Our whole life has changed because of the death of our son in the army. Our only consolation is that the army mourns with you.”
Both Marvin and Ann have only good things to say about the IDF. “We didn’t get a telegram saying our son died. We had the chief of staff and defense minister come visit us,” Marvin says. “Every step of the way they have been with us and supported us. I never would have imagined,” Ann adds.
Ann’s religious convictions have helped her cope with the loss of her son. “I feel that God gave him to us and God took him,” she explains, and quotes from the Hallel prayer: “This is the Lord’s doing.” She also takes comfort in her other eight children and in the fact that Yosef died “defending the country, which was so important to him.”
He was happy
“It’s also very comforting that he died happy – he loved being in the army, he was so happy there, he was so full of self-confidence,” she continues. “He just loved it. He used to come home glowing. As a mother, I’m happy for him that he had that.” She also does not want to deny this experience to her other boys. As bereaved brothers, they will need their parent’s signature to volunteer for elite units like Maglan. “We’ve signed already,” declares Marvin. “We don’t want to take away the chance for them to excel and love the army and the country like their brother did.”
There is one matter on which Marvin and Ann disagree: Marvin has no interest in any support groups for bereaved parents: “Forget it. Our family and the army and Eretz Israel is our support group. That’s all we need, and we have the wonderful memories of a great son.” Ann, however, is interested in looking into support groups and has been in touch with Sherri Mandel, a former neighbor in Efrat whose son Koby was murdered in 2001.
Yosef would have celebrated his 21st birthday on June 1. His post-army plans focused on business ideas, according to his mother. “He was very ambitious, with an active mind and an active body,” she says.
A true soldier
Jonathan Fidler, who immigrated to Israel with his family five years ago from Australia, served together with Yosef in Maglan. When carrying out missions with Yosef, “you knew you could count on him,” Fidler says. “You knew that if Yosef was with you, nobody was going to stop you. He gave confidence to everyone. I don’t think I’ll ever meet another person like Yosef. He was a one and only. Everyone looked up to Yosef. He was a true soldier.”
(Published in Haaretz, May 5, 2006)
When Elizabeth Sime, CARE’s country director for the West Bank and Gaza, shows her New Zealand passport at an IDF checkpoint, she can sometimes see the young soldiers envisioning their post-army travels: “I can just see them all going dreamy.” And then they often ask her: “Why are you here?” It is a good question, Sime admits.
Sime, 58, a mother of four grown children and a grandmother of five, says she led a “perfectly normal” life before beginning to work for CARE. She studied anthropology and spent most of her career working in adult education. In 1994, she was working with immigrant communities in Melbourne, Australia when her career path took an unplanned and unconventional turn. “A colleague came rushing into my office one day saying, ‘Liz, CARE is looking for people to go and help in this camp in Rwanda and they need someone with management experience and someone who understands children,’” Sime recalls.
What made her actually respond to this call? “I guess I was at a stage in my life when it was possible and I was sort of impelled I suppose by that desire to do something meaningful,” Sime explains. She spent about six months working in a refugee camp for orphans on the Rwanda-Zaire border. “It was a life-changing experience for me,” she says.
She returned to Australia and went back to her old job. “But it wasn’t the same. I felt dissatisfied,” Sime says. In 1999, she found another opportunity to work for CARE, this time in a refugee camp in Macedonia for ethnic Albanians who had fled Kosovo. She was originally on a three-month contract, but kept extending her stay month after month. “I realized that this is actually something I wanted to do,” she explains. “Fortunately, my husband and children were supportive.”
After 18 months working in the Balkans, she returned home for three weeks before taking up her next post for CARE: establishing an emergency humanitarian operation in Eritrea. Three years later, in 2003, she moved to East Jerusalem to take over the management of CARE’s operations in the West Bank and Gaza.
A walk in the park
CARE began its work here in 1948, providing assistance to both Arabs and Jews. The local office closed in the mid-1980s and re-opened in 1994 as part of an effort to help the fledgling Palestinian Authority. Since then, local operations have focused exclusively on the West Bank and Gaza, but Sime would eventually like to also resume work in Israel to help address some of its “acute social needs.”
The character of the organization’s work has changed since the intifada began, and especially since the IDF’s operation in Jenin in 2001. Instead of a development program with a team of about nine people, CARE’s program shifted to emergency humanitarian assistance and the staff grew to about 65 people.
Sime found the West Bank and Gaza to be very different from her previous assignment. “Eritrea was completely poverty stricken. Here the poverty levels were not as great, but there was a sharp decline and our role was really to prevent that descent into deep poverty.” It was also more “confronting, militarized and complex” here, she adds. Still, compared to her first CARE experience, in the aftermath of genocide in Rwanda, “everything has been a walk in the park.”
Sime is disappointed that the situation has not enabled her organization to shift back to a development program, instead of concentrating on emergency assistance. “The challenge for us is to craft our humanitarian assistance so that it is sustainable,” she notes. Sime also notes that travel between CARE’s East Jerusalem headquarters and its field offices in Ramallah and Jenin has become more difficult for Palestinian employees. “We’re very concerned about that, because we need staff to be able to move.”
With the increasing politicization of aid, especially after the Hamas victory in parliamentary elections earlier this year, Simes emphasizes: “It’s very important for NGOs like CARE to help preserve the humanitarian space, where you deliver humanitarian assistance to anyone who needs it.” However, she is not eager to take on roles previously filled by the Palestinian Authority and would regard this as a backward step and even disastrous.
“From a humanitarian perspective, you need to have a stable government,” she contends. For example, “You need to have a functioning Ministry of Health to regulate and monitor – to do things that independent agencies can’t do.” Indeed, she adds, “We don’t see the Ministry of Health as Hamas – they’re civil servants, doctors, nurses. And we would like to continue to be able to work with them.”
In Sime’s view, part of the task of large NGOs like CARE is also to try to keep some dialogue going. “One of the things that makes me sad about this place is the deepening division between ordinary Palestinians and ordinary Israelis,” she notes. “If each group is going to live in peace there has to be some dialogue … What I think I’ve learned most since I’ve been here from the Palestinian side is that Israel’s occupation of Palestine has hit so hard at people’s dignity and sense of self.” At the same time, she adds, “I understand completely how Israelis feel hurt and fearful.”
A kind of madness
Sime has witnessed some of the darker sides of human experience during her career with CARE. She insists on remaining hopeful, but has become “acutely conscious of the fact that what happened in Rwanda, for example - that kind of madness – could happen anywhere.” According to Sime, “There was nothing special about the Rwandans or the Cambodians or the Kosovars. They’re just like me and you and anyone else.” Therefore, she continues, “It is incumbent upon our leadership to guide us in a way that does not allow dehumanization of people. The challenge for us who are not leaders is how to keep them honest, how to keep that debate open. And to some extent I think we’ve failed.”
(Published in Haaretz, May 12, 2006)
Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley concluded a five-day tour of Israel on Sunday at the Tel Aviv office of the country’s most famous statesman, Shimon Peres. However, throughout his visit, the mayor made a point of avoiding comment on the sticky issues of Mideast statecraft and focused instead on the matters most relevant to his own municipal purview in the heart of America’s Midwest.
Daley has served as mayor of Chicago for 17 years – nearly as long as his legendary father, Richard J. Daley – but this was his first visit to Israel. Why now? “I just decided to visit. I’m doing more traveling than I did in the past,” Daley told Anglo File. In fact, Daley will embark next week on another trip, this time to Beijing, to gather information for Chicago’s possible bid to host the 2016 Olympics.
Daley arrived in Israel after a four-day visit to Jordan, which included a sightseeing excursion to Petra, dinner with the king and a meeting with the mayor of Amman, one of Chicago’s sister cities. Daley told a CBS television affiliate from Chicago that the agenda for discussions in Amman included: “affordable housing, economic development, airports, security, all the issues.”
The mayor, accompanied by his wife and several leaders of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, arrived in Israel on Independence Day, in time to attend a reception hosted by President Moshe Katsav. During his tour of Israel, he traveled south to the Negev and north to the Galilee, but did not venture to the east, across the Green Line, to meet with Palestinians. This was in keeping with the directive he received from the State Department, Daley explained. “I went to Jordan and I met Palestinians there. I didn’t get into internal issues there, I don’t get into internal issues here,” he told reporters on Sunday. “I don’t do that for a living. I’m a guest here and you always act as a guest in someone’s home,” Daley added.
Daley also does not want the problems of the Mideast brought to his home in Chicago. The Jewish and Arab communities in his city “work very well together,” according to the mayor. “We have lots of Palestinians and Iraqis – they’re living in America and I say don’t bring your problems with you.” Yet while insisting that the security issues in the U.S. and Israel are “completely different,” he devoted part of his Mideast visit to discussing security issues, including a briefing at Israel’s national police headquarters in Jerusalem.
Daley’s itinerary in Israel included some of the usual tourist destinations – the Western Wall and Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Israel Museum, Weizmann Institute, Yad Vashem, Caesarea and Capernaum – but also took him off the beaten track to visit Chicago-sponsored people-to-people projects. The mayor and his delegation traveled to the Arab Christian village of Fasuta in the Upper Galilee, where Chicago’s Jewish Federation and Archdiocese jointly sponsor a computer literacy project. Daley also visited with young Chicagoan volunteers who are teaching English to Ethiopian immigrants in Kiryat Gat.
The mayor told Anglo File that he was impressed by the juxtaposition of the past and future in Israel – the Old City in Jerusalem and high-tech parks. He described his visit to the Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, as “very emotional” and emphasized that “when you have the president of Iran saying I want to kill every Jew in the world, that should wake everybody up.”
No longer Beirut on a lake
During his last day in Israel, Daley had lunch with about 140 Israeli business leaders in Petah Tikva, another of Chicago’s sister cities. The event was an opportunity for Daley and the mayor of the host city, Yitzhak Ohayun, to highlight the accomplishments and strengths of their respective cities. Both mayors stressed the rich diversity in their cities and their commitment to education, as well as the business advantages each city offers. Daley cited a Wall Street Journal article from the mid-1980s that referred to Chicago as “Beirut on a lake” and boasted that a decade later, after several years in office, the same newspaper called his city “America’s urban paradise.”
Ohayon also heaped praise on Chicago, saying how impressed he was with the order and cleanliness he witnessed when visiting the city. He was also, of course, very upbeat about his own city, noting that Petah Tikva has won the title of City of Education and is experiencing a surge of high-tech growth and urban renewal. On a lighter note, Ohayon also mentioned that Petah Tikva has just entered the Guinness Book of World Records – for staging the largest picnic in the world on Independence Day.
Daley reciprocated the compliments he received from Petah Tikva’s mayor: “I appreciate the passion and commitment he [Ohayun] has made to improving the quality of life [in Petah Tikva]. I think you want public officials to believe in their vision and implement their vision as quickly as possible, and he has that chutzpa I think as a mayor.” According to Daley, cities cannot rely on national government to solve problems. “That’s why I appreciate local officials,” he explained. “Mayors get things done.”
(Published in Haaretz. May 19, 2006)
About 125 Yeshiva University (YU) alumni and friends gathered at the school’s Jerusalem campus on Monday for a nostalgic evening with “The YU Dream Team of the 1950s” – six former basketball players from New York City who later immigrated to Israel. The aging athletes, several of them now walking with canes, reminisced about playing at YU and their earlier days on the streets and playgrounds of Brooklyn and the Bronx.
Leading the discussion was YU history professor and assistant basketball coach, Dr. Jeffrey S. Gurock, author of the recently published “Judaism’s Encounter with American Sports.” Gurock asked the panel of septuagenarian jocks to join him in “exploring American Jewish history through the metaphor of sports.”
Rabbi David Hartman, who played freshman ball at YU and went on to become a prominent philosopher and educator in Jerusalem, balked at the invitation to philosophize about sports and Judaism. “I grew up in the streets of Brooklyn and just played. I didn’t think of the ideological concept … I didn’t think I was transforming European Jewry,” he protested.
Gurock insisted on eliciting some insights from Hartman about the clash of Orthodox Judaism with the American sports ethos. “How was this sporting life regarded by the leaders of your religious institutions?” he asked. “I grew up, thank God, when Orthodox Judaism was normal,” Hartman responded. “The idea of bitul Torah [that is, the notion that sports was a waste of time that could be devoted to Torah study] was not something I encountered in my youth.”
Hartman delighted the audience – and giggled himself – when considering his father’s attitude toward sports: “Did my father have any understanding of basketball? One of the great gifts my father gave me was that he didn’t want to be relevant. He had no understanding of what I was about.”
A three-sewer man
Nate Krieger, a teammate of Hartman on the 1949-50 YU team, also grew up playing ball in the streets of Brooklyn. (He drew murmurs of admiration when boasting that he was “a three-sewer man” in stickball.) Like Hartman, Krieger insisted: “Basketball was a natural thing and had nothing to do with religion.” He also recalled a more liberal era of Orthodox Judaism. “We enjoyed going to socials with girls. We had socials then. Those were the good days.” Krieger was heartily applauded after turning to his fellow panelists and saying: “Thank God we all ended up in Israel, which in my mind is the greatest achievement we could have made in all of our basketball careers.”
The standout on the 1949-50 team was Marvin Hershkowitz, a former all-city selection at DeWitt Clinton High School who transferred to YU after a successful freshman season at CCNY, then one of the top basketball schools in the country. Gurock describes in his book how Hershkowitz helped pave the way for other YU basketball players who were not products of yeshiva academies. This resulted in a string of winnings seasons in the 1950s, but also generated a new round of debate about the university’s traditional character and mission. Years later, Hershkowitz helped recruit non-yeshiva Israeli players, who became the mainstays of successful teams.
American Jewry’s team
Gurock suggested that no evening of reminiscences would be complete this year without mentioning Bernard “Red” Sarachek, who coached YU’s basketball team for 25 years and died last November at age 93. “I’m told he preached something that we continue to preach as coaches today - our sense that we’re American Jewry’s team and represent the Jewish people,” Gurock noted.
Coach Sarachek received mixed grades from his former players. Krieger called Sarachek a “strategic genius” but said he did not appreciate Sarachek’s outbursts of temper. Ruby Davidman offered a more sympathetic assessment of Sarachek: “Sure he screamed, sure he yelled, so once throw a chair – so what, he never hit anybody with the chair.” Davidman noted that he kept in touch with Sarachek for 54 years after graduating from YU: “That says a lot for a coach.” Eli Levine, who captained the 1954 team, also kept in close touch with Sarachek and told how his former coach would call from Florida ten minutes after every terror attack in Israel to check on him.
The 1950s-era posters displayed in the YU auditorium, showing the once-youthful panelists in their basketball uniforms, provided a poignant backdrop for the evening. For Hartman, at least, the basketball memories are still fresh: “I remember one game driving and doing a Cousy pass, overhead. Remember that Marv? I live with that memory.”
From “Judaism’s Encounter with American Sports”
“There is a long and unique history of American Judaism’s accommodations to the problems engendered by mass Jewish clamor for sports. No other group of modern Jews went so far down this route …
“Growing up, Abe Gerchik, who in his parents’ opinion spent too much time playing ball in the streets of Brooklyn, “thought his first name was ‘get a job’ and his last name ‘bum’ because his mother always used to say to this budding athlete ‘get a job, bum.’”
Maimonides: “If one leads a sedentary life and does not take exercise… even if he eats wholesome food and takes care of himself in accordance with medical rules, he will throughout his life be subject to aches and pains and his strength will fail him.”
Rabbi Solomon Schechter: “Unless you can play baseball, you will never get to be a rabbi in America.”