Friday, August 31, 2012

Opinion: Can Hezbollah Survive the Fall of Assad?

The Syrian government has tried many times to transfer its crisis to Lebanon, but it has failed to cause a real explosion that would lead to another Lebanese civil war. It has, however, succeeded in inciting small outbreaks of violence that have pushed the country to the verge of a breakdown for the past 17 months.

Clashes in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli between Sunnis and Alawites have intensified in recent days — but this time the Lebanese Army intervened to stop the fighting.

Something fundamental has changed: the Shiite militant group Hezbollah, long Syria’s powerful proxy in Lebanon, has become a wounded beast. And it is walking a very thin line between protecting its assets and aiding a crumbling regime next door. -- Hanin Ghaddar, NY Times

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Designer Galliano reportedly sues Dior over firing for anti-Semitism

Designer John Galliano reportedly has filed an $18.7 million lawsuit against Christian Dior, the fashion house that fired him for anti-Semitic speech.

On Tuesday, the website of the London-based The Daily Telegraph reported that Galliano “is believed” to have lodged an employee/employer dispute claim with the French labor court, with a Paris hearing scheduled for Feb. 4.

The Vogue website reported the following day that “a spokesperson” for Galliano “refused to comment on rumours” that Galliano had sued.

Christian Dior fired Galliano, a British national, last year after he was filmed making anti-Semitic statements at a Paris bar. Galliano stated his love for Adolf Hitler and told people he believed were Jewish that their mothers should have been gassed. He blamed his outbursts on addictions to drugs and alcohol.

On Aug. 20, the French government journal published a decree signed by French President Francois Hollande which said that Galliano, 51, may no longer wear the French Legion of Honor medal that he received in 2009.

Last year, a French court ruled that Galliano had made "public insults based on origin, religious affiliation, race or ethnicity" in several incidents. -- JTA

Polish funeral company wants to build crematorium near Majdanek death camp

Polish funeral company has announced plans to build a crematory near the Majdanek concentration camp.

The Anti-Defamation League said in a statement Wednesday that it had sent a letter to the mayor of Lublin in eastern Poland asking him to block the company, Styks, from going ahead with the plan.

Some 360,000 people perished at Majdanek during the Holocaust, according to the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. The Nazi death camp covered 667 acres of land on the highway connecting Lublin, Zamosc and Chelm. It had seven gas chambers where inmates were killed and two crematoria where their bodies were cremated.

Majdanek is now a state Holocaust memorial and museum that hosts thousands of visitors annually.

Kuba Wyszynski, a journalist and member of the Jewish community of Warsaw, told JTA that Syks has made several bids at building the crematorium there over the past few years.

“It is difficult to adequately express the pain and insult which will result if this project goes forward,” said Abraham Foxman, ADL's national director and a Holocaust survivor from Poland.  Foxman said the idea of building a modern crematorium near the former death camp was “reprehensible.”

In a letter to Lublin Major Krzysztof Zuk, the ADL called the proposal to build the crematory “outrageously insensitive” and urged the city to adopt new planning rules around the museum. -- JTA

Italy Celebrates Jewish Culture, Despite Quake

“Good morning, I would like to visit the Synagogue,” says a sweet lady wearing an old-fashioned patterned dress at the Milan Sinagoga Centrale (Central Synagogue) on a lazy mid-summer afternoon. “I’m sorry ma’am. For security reasons, it is not possible,” replies the attendant.

It happens often. People want to visit synagogues as they would visit churches, and they cannot. Sometimes it is possible to book a group visit, but the experience is not the same. To amend this situation, every year, all over Europe, thousands of synagogues open their doors to the public for the European Day of Jewish Culture (EDJC) on the first Sunday of September.

The EDJC was born in 1999 and has become one of the most beloved and effective means of spreading knowledge of Judaism and Jewish Culture. Every year the Association for the Preservation and Promotion of Jewish Culture and Heritage (AEPJ), an umbrella organization that gathers B’nai B’rith Europe, Red de Juderías de España and the European Council of Jewish Communities, selects a theme related to Jewish culture. In past years, the EDJC celebrated Art and Judaism, Jewish Festivals, Jewish Cooking and Jewish Music. For 2012, the AEPJ chose “The Spirit of Jewish Humor.” -- Rossella Tercatin, Forward

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JESNA to put main focus on Hebrew schools

The Jewish Education Service of North America is “sharpening the thrust” of the agency to build up supplementary and Hebrew schools.

The move comes as in recent years day school coordinating groups such as the Partnership for Jewish Education and RAVSAK: The Jewish Community Day School Network have come into existence.

“Not so long ago there wasn’t a PEJE or a RAVSAK and we were generalists,” Leora Isaacs, JESNA’s vice president for programs and organizational learning, told JTA. “We are focusing now on complementary education as the first arena that engages the largest population of American youth and has a lot of challenges.”

About 65 percent of children involved in formal Jewish education are in supplementary or Hebrew schools with the remainder in day schools, she said.

However, studies also have shown that around 50 percent of children who might go to the supplementary schools are not involved in Jewish education, she added.

The new direction will have JESNA identify “promising models, guide and assist communities in redesigning their local complementary education systems for children and teens, and foster networks of innovators, established institutions, and national and local support frameworks to ensure that successes are shared and critical issues addressed collaboratively,” JESNA chair Cass Gottlieb said in a statement.

The effort will be led by JESNA’s Lippman Kanfer Institute and the recently created Berman Center for Applied Innovation.

“It is sharpening the thrust for the agency,” Isaacs said.

Also, Don Sylvan, JESNA’s president and CEO for the past seven years, is leaving the agency “to pursue other professional interests,” according to a JESNA release. He will stay on through Dec. 31 as a senior adviser to help his as yet unnamed successor. -- JTA

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Muppet urges Israelis to prepare for possible emergency

A photo shows the cover of a new emergency pamphlet being distributed nationwide
by Israeli Army's Home Front Command August 27, 2012.
The Israeli muppet on the cover puts a happy face
on some grim warnings in a country preparing for possible war with Iran.
The Israeli muppet on the cover of a new, emergency pamphlet being distributed nationwide puts a happy face on some grim warnings in a country preparing for possible war with Iran.

Israelis, the military-issued booklet says, would have only between 30 seconds and three minutes to find cover and hunker down between the time air raid sirens sound and rockets slam into their area.

The 15-page pamphlet has started to appear in mailboxes across the country, and instructs Israelis how to prepare a safe room or shelter for emergency situations.

On the cover a smiling Moishe Oofnik, the Israeli muppet version of Oscar the Grouch - the resident pessimist of the U.S. children's show Sesame Street - sticks out of the trash can he calls home.

Jeffrey Heller, Reuters

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16th Century women’s siddur reissued in Hebrew

A 500-year-old Sephardi women’s prayer book is being reissued in Hebrew.

Seder Nashim, created in the 16th century by Rabbi Meir Benbenishti, was originally written in Ladino because most women in Europe who used it did not know Hebrew, Ynet reported.

The siddur will be published by the Ben Zvi Institute.

Benbenishti taught his daughters to read and write in Ladino and recommended that every man “teach his daughter a little writing every evening,” the report said.

The women’s siddur features regular halachot, or Jewish laws, regarding women and general Jewish laws on topics such as the rules of the eruv, mezuzahs and more. It also includes a haggadah for women holding a Passover seder on their own, which is written in the feminine gender grammatically, according to Ynet.

In addition, the traditional morning blessing of thanking God “who has not made me a woman” is not in the siddur and no other version of the prayer was put in its place, according to the report. -- JTA

Celebrating 25 Years of Koran in Yiddish

Haifa's Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Wrote the Book
Islam Unplugged Leaders of a Haifa Muslim sect says
it translated the Koran into Yiddish to offer a different face of Islam.
Photo by Haaretz
Members of a Muslim sect that translated parts of the Koran into Yiddish are marking 25 years since that translation was published.

The president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Israel, Muhammad Sharif Odeh, said the group translated select parts of the Koran into Yiddish in order to present a different face of Islam. In addition, said Odeh, “We decided we had to make sure that our neighbors could also read the Koran.”

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is the only Islamic community that believes the Messiah has come. Adherents believe that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, born in 1835, was the “metaphorical second coming of Jesus … whose advent was foretold by the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad,” according to the website. “God sent Ahmad, like Jesus, to end religious wars, condemn bloodshed and reinstitute morality, justice and peace,” say believers.

There are some 2,000 Ahmadiyya Muslims in Israel; most of them reside in Haifa’s Kababir neighborhood. The sect says it has tens of millions of followers in more than 200 countries. -- Haaretz via Forward

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Cyber warfare’s new reality adds to Israel’s already complex battlefield

Cyber security developers like those seen here from Elbit,
an Israeli defense electronics company, will need to play an increasingly integral role
in halting more complicated computer viruses. (Courtesy Elbit Systems)
As the frequency of suicide bombings increased in the 1990s, Israelis began to realize that their conflicts had shifted from the conventional battlefield to their streets, buses and cafes.

Now the country -- along with the rest of the world -- is adapting to a new battlefield, one that defense experts call the “fifth dimension": computers.

The impact cannot be underestimated, says Dror Mor, CEO of the Sdema Group, an Israeli company that specializes in homeland security protection.

“A big part of the next war, wherever it is in the world, will be cyber warfare to silence infrastructure, electricity, communications, movement of planes and trains,” he says.  -- Ben Sales, JTA

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The Story of a Jewish Violin: Why Jews Love Violins

Marc Chagall's The Blue Violinist (1947)

With the Jewish fiddler in the picture, we can note that there is a long-standing connection between Jewish tradition and the violin, that perhaps most popular of instruments. In fact, since the emergence of the violin it has drawn the attention of many and is featured in many works of art beyond music, such as in paintings by Marc Chagall, and others. -- Shai Baitel, Houffington Post

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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

France opens enquiry into claims of Arafat poisoning

Yasser Arafat's
French prosecutors have opened a murder enquiry into Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's 2004 death near Paris following claims he may have died of polonium poisoning, sources told AFP Tuesday.

The probe comes after Arafat's family launched legal action in France last month following reports the veteran Palestinian leader may have died from radioactive polonium.

Arafat's widow Suha and his daughter Zawra lodged a murder complaint on July 31 in the Paris suburb of Nanterre. Arafat died at age 75 at a military hospital near Paris in 2004....

At the time of Arafat's death, Palestinian officials alleged he had been poisoned by long-time foe Israel, but an inconclusive Palestinian investigation in 2005 ruled out poisoning, as well as cancer and AIDS.

Israel has consistently denied the allegations, accusing Suha Arafat and Palestinian officials of covering up the real reasons for the death of the former leader, who led the struggle for Palestinian statehood for nearly four decades.

Following the news of a French enquiry, Israel said it "does not feel this investigation is of any concern to it despite all the hare-brained allegations made against us," foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said.

"I hope this enquiry throws light on every aspect of this affair," he added.  -- Pauline Talagrand, AFP

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Former U.S Sen. Arlen Specter reportedly is "battling for his life."

Former U.S Sen. Arlen Specter reportedly is "battling for his life."
 Specter, who represented Pennsylvania in the Senate for more than 30 years, was diagnosed with cancer six weeks ago, CNN reported Tuesday. He previously overcame a brain tumor and non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

Specter's officer confirmed to the Philadelphia Inquirer on Tuesday morning that Specter is fighting cancer.

"I am battling cancer, and it's another battle I intend to win," Specter said in a statement issued by his office, according to the newspaper.

Specter, 82, was treated for non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 2005 and again in 2008.

The Jewish lawmaker served as a Republican senator from 1980 until 2009, then switched to the Democratic Party until he lost his bid for reelection in 2011. -- JTA

Israeli Rabbis Prove Religion Works Better than Diplomacy in the Middle East

Left to right: a mission of good will
with MK Rabbi Nissim Zeev, Rabbi Ben Abrahamson,
Turkish Muslim teacher and author Adnan Oktar,
Geneva Chief Rabbi Dr. Izhak Dayan, and Dr. Mordechai Keda
A small group of religious Jews did it. They accomplished what Israel’s foreign ministry could not in three years of attempted diplomacy – namely, to meet with representatives from the Turkish government and attempt to heal the rifts between Turkey and Israel.

From August 15 – 17, meetings were held in Ankara and Istanbul hosting Shas MK Nissim Ze’ev, Shas deputy finance minister Yitzchak Cohen, the chief Rabbi of Geneva, Professor Mordechai Kedar of Bar Ilan University and other leaders.

This small delegation met with no less than twenty Turkish parliamentarians to discuss resolution to the flotilla incident in May 2010 and to move forward in positive Turkish – Israel relations. Four Rabbis met with, I’ll say it again, twenty members of the Turkish parliament. How did this small group of religious Jews manage diplomacy on such a large scale? -- Rivkah Goldman, Jewish Press

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Jury Said Hotel Owner Is Anti-Semitic, But She Insists: ‘Some of My Best Friends Are Jewish’

Santa Monica hotel owner Tamie Adaya has done T'shuvah
and now loves Jews.
Photo Credit:
The Santa Monica hotel owner recently found liable by a jury for dozens of counts of anti-Semitic discrimination has issued a press release in which she claims she deplores anti-Semitism.  Not only that, but, to replay one of her losing defenses at trial, some of her best friends are Jews. And, she claims, she never did or said the things the jury determined she did. -- Lori Lowenthal Marcus, Jewish Express

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In the New Orleans area, a synagogue dedication, community rejuvenation and Orthodox-Reform bonds

The new home of the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in suburban New Orleans. (Alan Smason)
Seven years ago an iconic picture for many Jews of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina was of men waist deep in a flooded synagogue carrying Torahs to safety.

On Sunday, in a celebration of physical and spiritual unity, the Torahs of that congregation were carried into their new home next to the Reform congregation that offered space to the Modern Orthodox synagogue and now shares with it a new playground.

“Our congregation is a remarkable story in the way the Jewish community leaned on itself and supported one another,” says Rabbi Uri Topolosky of the Modern Orthodox Congregation Beth Israel. “This is a story that I think resonates with so many of us in town and it symbolizes great things for all of us who have been rebuilding since Katrina.” -- Charlotte Anthony, JTA

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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

François Hollande and French Jewish Memory: Paris marks its liberation, pays tribute to deported Jews

Commemoration of the Liberation of Paris(Adam Chandler)
The very idea of a muscular commemoration in honor of French military prowess defies many of the stereotypes that people tend to heap upon the French. But over the weekend in Paris, muscular is what the city got as it marked the 68th anniversary of its victory over the forces of Nazi occupation in the Battle of Paris.

Outside the Hôtel de Ville, the site of the city’s municipality since the mid-14th century, a series of speakers told the history of the occupation of Paris to a huge crowd including a number of tourists, children, and pensioners–some of whom were among the last remaining veterans of the battle and were dressed in the mothballed uniforms of the famous resistance. A chorus sang battle hymns! The whole of the 4th arrondissement quaked as three fighter jets swooped in low from the Seine in a military flyover. (A gripe: Very little credit was given to the assisting Americans.)

French President François Hollande used his speech as an opportunity to make the parallel between the French struggle against Nazi Germany and the Syrian rebellion against the Assad regime. (A few blocks away from the event, a raucous anti-Assad rally was taking place in a square beside the Châtelet metro stop.) -- Adam Chandler, The Scroll

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Israelis Invent Date Rape Straw

Two Israelis have invented a straw that can detect date rape drugs.

Professor Fernando Patolsky, of Tel Aviv University, and his partner Michael Ioffe created the device to pick up ketamine and gamma-hydroxybutyric, or GHB. The pair is currently working to allow the straw to detect rohypnol, or ruffies, as well.

Once the straw comes in contact with a drug in the user’s drink, a chemical reaction occurs. -- Jspace Staff

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Balloons and kazoos in hand, Israeli clowns accompany surgeons into operating rooms

Penny Hanuka, or Dr. Fifi, a Dream Doctors medical clown, speaks on a phone
as she entertains Yael, a 2-year-old girl at the Meir Hospital in Kfar Saba, central Israel.
Photo by Ariel Schalit/Associated Press
Doctors in Israel are beginning to believe in the power of clowning around.

Over the last few years, Israeli clowns have been popping into hospital operating rooms and intensive care units with balloons and kazoos in hand, teaming up with doctors to develop laughter therapies they say help with disorders ranging from pain to infertility.

This is not how things are done in most of the world’s hospitals. Clowns often visit pediatric wards to cheer up young patients, but in most places the clowning ends where the medicine begins. When it comes time for a child to get a shot or go under the knife, the clowns step aside.

Israeli clowns thumb their shiny red noses at that approach. They quote studies which suggest that a clown’s participation in treatments can help patients — especially kids — endure painful procedures and speed their healing. -- Associated Press via Washington Post

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Israeli archaeologist digs into Nazi death camp

Israeli archaeologist Yoram Haimi, left, talking to young people from the Dror School in Israel about his findings
at the site of the former German Nazi death camp of Sobibor,
in eastern Poland, on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2012.
Dror school is trying to find remains of the camp still hidden in the ground in order to redraw its shape.
The Nazis burned the camp to the ground in to erase all trace of it as the Soviet Red Army was approaching.
AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski
When Israeli archaeologist Yoram Haimi decided to investigate his family's unknown Holocaust history, he turned to the skill he knew best: He began to dig.

After learning that two of his uncles were murdered in the infamous Sobibor death camp, he embarked on a landmark excavation project that is shining new light on the workings of one of the most notorious Nazi killing machines, including pinpointing the location of the gas chambers where hundreds of thousands were killed -- Aron Heller, Associated Press via

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But is it good for the chews?

I’ve always felt a little proprietary about Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews. Years ago, when I interned at the Jewish federation in Philadelphia, baskets of the candy were placed on the tables during fund-raising drives, a gift of the local family that owned the company. I was thrilled, and not only because I am lactose intolerant and the chews (until they changed the production method a few years back) were labeled pareve — dairy-free. -- Andrew Silow-Carroll, New Jersey Jewish News

To read more and see the accompanying video, click here.