Archive for the ‘Jews in the News’ Category

Of Pain and Pride: Hard Lessons from Israel’s No-Medal Olympics

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No Israeli came home with a medal in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Thirty-seven Israeli athletes competed in eight sports. Two athletes came in sixth place, but alas, no medals.

For Jews and Israelis around the world, however, this Summer Olympics was overshadowed by the campaign to convince the IOC to hold a moment of silence for the 11 Israeli athletes killed by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich games. The campaign consumed the media in advance of the games and even caught the attention of world leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama.

In the end, while several separate services were held in their memory, the IOC chose not to hold a moment of silence during the main opening or closing ceremonies. They felt it was not an appropriate forum for a moment of silence. “Shame on you, IOC,” said Ankie Spitzer, who was married to fencing coach Andre Spitzer who was killed in Munich. “You have forsaken the 11 members of your Olympic family. You are against them only because they are Israelis and Jews.”

While it would have been nice for the IOC to hold that moment of silence—and it would have been very meaningful—I can’t help but listen to a little voice in the back of my mind. What if, instead of complaining, Israel had actually won a few medals this year? What if the world saw not a sore loser, but a brave winner? What if Israel could have proven to the world that it’s in the game and a key player on the world stage?

Imagine hearing Hatikva while the Star of David flag rose up before the podium. Imagine the great PR opportunities for Israel with its athletes in the spotlight. Imagine the voice Israel could have in the IOC if it competed at the highest levels of athleticism. Imagine Israel’s top athletes publicly displaying the Olympic spirit, like the incredible moment when Kirani James of Grenada exchanged bibs with double-amputee competitor Oscar Pistorius of South Africa. Imagine Israel’s gold medalist telling the press that her win was in honor of the Munich 11 (See Jewish American gymnast Aly Raisman’s tribute). Imagine then the incredible impression Israel could have given the world.

In my opinion, Israel should resolve today to support athletics like never before. If Israel really set its mind to it, it could have a good number of Summer Olympic medalists in the next four, eight or twelve years. Israel could generously fund athletes who train overseas and later bring back their expertise to train younger athletes in Israel. New athletic centers could be built and more kids and parents could be encouraged to participate. Whole communities could get involved and attend competitions. Israel could reach out to top coaches around the world and offer them jobs in Israel.

With stronger athletes, Israel could compete at the highest levels and make a name for itself. Not as a victim, not as a bitter widow, but as a triumphant nation born to greatness.

Imagine the pride then.

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Identity and Irony: Oprah’s Review of Hasidic Jews

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Oprah’s visit to Hasidic Brooklyn aired on Feb 12, 2012 from 9-10 pm and on Feb 13, 2012 from 10-11 pm on OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network. 

As an insider when it comes to Orthodox Judaism (though not the Hasidic brand), I eagerly anticipated Oprah’s two-part series. How would “we” be represented?

I had seen Oprah’s after-taping interview with (a MUST-WATCH) and saw how positively she felt about the spiritual teachings she gleaned from her visit. I was very excited for Oprah to have such a positive view of Judaism.

As it turns out, however, the narrator began by reminding us that the show was only about Hasidic Jews. I was not going to be represented. “Ok,” I thought as I settled down to watch, “if it’s embarrassing, at least she isn’t talking about me!”

But the irony was that she WAS talking about me.

I’m not Lubavitch, I’m not even Hasidic, but I knew everything Oprah learned. I felt everything she learned. I felt it as an insider, and I especially identified with the sheitel-wearing ladies in Part II.

Oprah was smart to invite the ladies to a candid chat. As she says at the end of the episode, she got exactly what she came for. She connected with the women, she understood them, and she felt a common bond.

As an insider, it was pretty powerful. I’ve always liked Oprah and admired her success, but now I understand why she’s so successful. She’s open, warm, inquisitive, and blunt (all at the same time) and this is what makes her so likeable. She did an amazing job in Part II, helping the women feel at ease, respecting them, asking good questions, and listening to them.

There was one middle-aged lady sitting to Oprah’s left, next to Shternie Ginsburg. I don’t know her name (I think she was Chaya), but in my mind, she represented the rebbitzens of the world. She was smart, articulate, she exuded leadership, and her tone was very spiritual. She was truly a beautiful person.

Oprah was a complete outsider, but she managed to tell a tale of friendly Jewish women who value community, raise their kids in a wholesome way, and love their husbands. She is a genius.

I know that the vast majority of Oprah’s viewers may never know that the people she met were Lubavitchers, and that Lubavitch is just one type of Hasidim. And they may never know that there are non-Hasidic types of Orthodox Jews.

But Oprah’s brief glimpse into these people’s lives showed religious Jewish women with values, personality, confidence and a lot of love. Whether a person is an insider or an outsider, the show was both meaningful and inspiring.

I have to admit that in the beginning of the first episode, I wondered why there was no reference to the 18th century or the Holocaust. And I didn’t understand why she focused so much on marriage, Taharat Hamishpacha, and TV. I felt like there was so much more of our identity that she was missing. I worried that she was ignoring the forest for the trees. But by the time I finished watching the second episode, I understood that through this tiny slice-of-life lens and the perspective of Lubavitch, she was able to weave a beautiful story in which we—all Jewish women—had a starring role.

And so I thank Oprah for NOT focusing on the bigger picture. I thank her profusely for not mentioning the debate within Lubavitch about the Rebbe’s potential messianic status. I thank her for NOT mentioning the differences between Lubavitch, Belz, Bobov, Satmar, and Ger. And I thank her for NOT reminding us of painful periods in Jewish history.

Instead, she met with families, chatted with women, and showed short vignettes of life around town. We saw a wedding, a kosher restaurant, a wig store, a Judaica store, and even the Mikvah. Through this lens, she captured a vibrant culture with positive goals and much to look forward to.

And all Jewish women can thank Oprah for that.

There’s more on Oprah’s visit to Hasidic Brooklyn, including exclusive “webisodes” on OWN’s Website.

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The New Anti-Semitism: Blurring the Lines with Anti-Israel Political Sentiment

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While anti-Semitism rages all over the world, we may be blind to the fact that it’s also growing right here in our own backyard. We thought America was PC—that anti-Semitism wasn’t cool anymore—and that this would protect us from it. Unfortunately, that was only a fad, and anti-Semitism is back. And it’s pretty ugly.

If you don’t believe me, take a look at this. According to JTA, in the last month, the following incidents occurred in the United States:

  • Rocks were thrown through windows at Indiana University, including at the Jewish Studies building, and at a Chabad center off-campus. At the library, Judaic Studies books were brought to the bathroom and urinated on. (Nov. 29, 2010)

    Helen Thomas

    Helen Thomas

  • At the University of Florida Hillel, a large outdoor menorah was removed and thrown down. Some of the lamps were damaged. The vandalism came after an incident the previous evening in which about 10 people shouted an anti-Semitic epithet and kicked over a fence on the property. (Dec. 2, 2010)

  • Former news correspondent Helen Thomas continued to mouth off after she resigned from Hearst over previous comments. This time she said, “Congress, the White House and Hollywood, Wall Street, are owned by the Zionists. No question in my opinion.” At least her alma mater, Wayne State University, had the sense to withdraw their Spirit of Diversity Award. (Dec. 2, 2010)
  • 200 headstones were toppled at the Jewish Washington Cemetery in Borough Park, Brooklyn. The incident is being investigated as a possible hate crime. (Dec. 20, 2010)

Anti-Semitism is on the rise in the United States. In 2006, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights said that anti-Semitism had become a “serious problem” on many campuses across the country. (JTA, Kenneth L. Marcus, Dec 8, 2010).

But here’s what’s new this time around. Often, the anti-Semitism is cloaked in anti-Israel political sentiment. And somehow that makes it okay.

Here are some examples:

  • In the first Helen Thomas incident (an interview with, she felt perfectly comfortable saying that that the Jews should “get the hell out of Palestine” and “go home.” (May 27, 2010) Watch the Video. One could have argued that she was simply stating a political opinion. However, her second comments (above) show her real beliefs. You can’t mistake her “Zionists” comments as anything but anti-Semitism. Thomas is of Lebanese descent.
  • When Israeli Sgt. Kenny Sachs spoke at the University of Massachusetts Amherst about his injury from a terror attack, he got a hostile welcome from protesters, who would not even let him speak. Thankfully, the professor managed the situation well, and the protesters left peacefully. Watch the Video. The incident could be seen as only anti-Israel, but their “heil Hitler” kind of salute certainly smacked of anti-Semitism. A comment on the protestors’ own video of the event said, “Whoever is saying that this act is anti-semitic, well i tell them: if the Semitic values allows you to kill children of Gaza and steal land from others and commit massacres to defend your right of occupation .. then i am A PROUD ANTI-SEMTIC….”  (Dec. 2, 2010)

Again, the lines are blurring, and apparently, at least to some people, anti-Semitism is now something to be proud of.

  • A bus ad was planned for 12 Seattle Metro Transit buses. The ad was going to feature a group of children looking at a demolished building under the heading “Israeli War Crimes: Your tax dollars at work.” There was enough of an outcry that Seattle decided the ads were no longer legal, as they would pose too great a security risk to the transportation system. (Dec 24, 2010)

What is going on here?

Israel has close ties of friendship with the United States. But that doesn’t mean that people in America can’t protest against Israel. Legally, they can. The problem is that it insults our sensibilities as Jews. We are so identified with Israel that insulting Israel is a direct insult to us. Whether justified or not, we do often think of this last group of incidents as anti-Semitic. And these kinds of incidents are on the rise as well.

I don’t think previous administrations would have stood for any of this nonsense one bit. However, President Obama’s own left-liberal stance has allowed this sentiment to flourish in America. They use words like “human rights,” “religious freedom” and all kinds of butchered American values to justify their arguments. And unfortunately, many otherwise good people, including many liberal Jews, fall into their trap.

The irony is that if these people only put things in perspective, they would see how life-affirming, growth-oriented, and progressive Israel and the Jews actually are. They would see how life-loving and generous we are as a people, and how much we further world peace, religious freedom and human rights for all.

There’s something very ugly about this new anti-Semitism. Things are being said that would never have been said just a few years ago. Helen Thomas waited until she was 90 years old to show her true anti-Semitic colors. Which public figure will be next?

On the international scene, this new kind of anti-Semitism comes from high-profile sources, and goes hand-in-hand with anti-Israel political sentiment.

According to the JTA, here are some of the most recent international incidents:

  • A University of Toronto thesis argued against Holocaust education programs, saying that the “construction of a victimized Jewish identity,” is intentional; it produces “effects that are extremely beneficial to the organized Jewish community” and to “apartheid” Israel. Irving Abella, a well-known Canadian historian and former president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, told the Toronto Star that the thesis is “not scholarship, it’s ideology. It’s totally ahistorical; I found it full of untruths and distortions and held together by fatuous and very flabby analysis. It borders on anti-Semitism.” Unfortunately, the writer of the thesis was a Jew. (Dec. 7, 2010)
  • An Iranian-born elected official in Quebec joined a boycott of Le Marcheur, a Montreal shoe store, because it sells Israeli-made products. Amir Khadir, a member of the National Assembly in the province, took part in a demonstration over the weekend in front of the store, handing out flyers and asking customers to boycott the shop. The store owner, who is not Jewish, said, “I don’t care where my products come from, I only care about comfort and quality.” The Jewish community in Montreal has been especially supportive of the store. (Dec. 20, 2010)
  • A high-level priest on the morning show of the largest television station in Greece blamed world Jewry for Greece’s financial problems. Metropolite Seraphim said during an interview that there is a conspiracy to enslave Greece and Christian Orthodoxy, and he accused international Zionism of trying to destroy the family unit by promoting one-parent families and same-sex marriages. (Dec. 21, 2010)
  • A Chilean Senator, Eugenio Tuma, said that prominent Jews, including the country’s interior minister, are agents of the Israeli government. Tuma, who is of Palestinian descent, also said that Chilean Jews are responsible for holding back the country’s recognition of a Palestinian state. (Dec. 27, 2010)

Physical attacks against Jews are also on the rise in Europe. Jews in Holland, Hungary, Austria, France, and even England are questioning the future safety of their communities. Sadly, nobody can guarantee Jews a truly safe place to live. Terrorism, Anti-Israel sentiment and anti-Semitism are taking hold around the world—and yup—in our own backyard, the US of A.

What do you think about anti-Semitism taking on this new form and increasing around the world?

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