Friday, September 21, 2012

Opinion: A Way To Solve The Agunah Problem

Judaith Hauptman and Phyllis H. Waldmann
A few months ago my friend and co-author called to say that when going through the papers of her deceased mother, she came across an envelope postmarked Oct. 20, 1936. Upon carefully opening it, she found a document written in German with the word “Halitzah” at the top. Although not knowing what the document was, she detected certain similarities to her parents’ ketubah, which she had restored in 1985 on the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary. Curiously, the ketubah and the halitzah document were witnessed by the same men on the same day, Oct. 27, 1935, the date of her parents’ wedding in Wurzburg, Germany. A little research by us uncovered the significance of the second document. -- Judith Hauptman and Phyllis H. Waldmann, NY Jewish Week

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‘Hava Nagila’: From Ukraine To YouTube

New reflections on a classic grown old.
In the 1950s, "Hava Nagila," already a hit at Jewish celebrations,
became a crossover hit for singers such as Harry Belafonte.
The beauty of downtown’s Museum of Jewish Heritage is that it is of a piece. To get to its newest exhibit, “Hava Nagila: A Song of the People,” wander through other rooms: Ukrainian shtetl life, old Kiddush cups and white kittle gowns; photos from a Displaced Persons camp; escape to the Yishuv (the Jewish community in pre-state Israel). Wander, then, into the “Hava Nagila” room and the song is understood with a poignancy long ago lost.

After all, “Hava Nagila” (“Let Us Rejoice”) was not born in raucous catering halls but in the 1800s, in Sadigura, a Ukrainian chasidic shtetl, as a wordless meditative melody. Words and a hora were added in the Yishuv, and it was danced to in the DP camps, an expression of hope and energy in a world that seemed to have neither. Refugees and Zionists brought it to the United States, and “Hava Nagila” soared to popularity in mid-century, only to leave home, lost to parody, kitsch and cliché.

Here, though, a visitor suddenly hears the old song in a new way. -- Jonathan Mark, NY Jewish Week

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Charles Bronfman, other Jewish philanthropists, sign Giving Pledge

Four Jewish philanthropists, including Charles Bronfman, are among the latest individuals to sign the Giving Pledge, committing to giving the majority of their wealth to charity.

Bronfman, Dan and Jennifer Gilbert, and Peter Lewis were announced Tuesday as among 11 philanthropists to sign the pledge, which was initiated by Warren Buffet and Bill and Melinda Gates. Under the pledge, the wealthiest American individuals and families agree to give more than half of their wealth to philanthropy or charitable causes during or after their lifetimes.

“Philanthropy is in the DNA of my family,” Bronfman, who chairs the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies and co-chairs Birthright Israel, said in a statement Tuesday. “Doing what we can to repair the world was instilled in me from an early age. I will never forget my siblings and me knitting squares for blankets to be sent to the troops during World War II. This was an inspiration from my mother. It’s no surprise, then, that each of us has tried to contribute to society in our own way.”

He is the namesake of the Charles Bronfman Prize, which celebrates the vision and accomplishment of an individual or team of individuals under the age of 50 whose humanitarian work, driven by Jewish values, has had a significant impact on the world’s most pressing challenges and is an inspiration to the next generations.

Dan Gilbert founded Quicken Loans Inc. and owns the Cleveland Cavaliers. Lewis is chairman of Progressive insurance.

The four join 81 other philanthropists who have signed the pledge, including Bronfman’s brother, Edgar. -- JTA

Coaxing crops from the sand

Tomatoes at Yair Experimental Station
Israel’s most productive vegetable farms are located in the Arava desert. How did this inhospitable environment become so fertile? -- Avigayil Kadesh, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs

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N.Y. transit authority weighs options on anti-Islam subway ad

New York City's Metropolitan Transportation Authority said it is considering its options after a U.S. District Court ordered the authority to run an advertisement that reads "Support Israel. Defeat Jihad."

The MTA's quandary comes in the wake of recent protests in Arab countries and in Arab communities around the world over an anti-Muslim film that resulted in the deaths of American diplomats in Libya and violence at American embassies.

MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan told The New York Times on Tuesday that the authority will consider changing its ad policy at a board meeting next week -- the same week that the ad is scheduled to run in 10 New York City subway stations as a result of the court order issued in August. The ad also reads, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man."

The ad is sponsored by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, or AFDI, whose executive director, conservative blogger Pamela Geller, is a fiery critic of Muslims, liberals and mainstream Jewish organizations.

In 2011, the Southern Poverty Law Center branded the organization a hate group, while the Anti-Defamation League said in March that Geller “fuels and fosters anti-Muslim bigotry in society.”

The New York Times reported that ad space purchased by AFDI in Washington has been “deferred,” its transportation authority said Tuesday, “out of a concern for public safety, given current world events.” According to the Times, the New York MTA does not have the option to defer because of the court order.

In June, the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles abruptly canceled an event at which Geller was scheduled to speak. While the federation did not comment publicly on its decision, the event’s sponsor, the Zionist Organization of America, said the federation cited security concerns for the cancellation.

In September 2011, the MTA ran ads calling for an end to U.S. aid for Israel. -- JTA

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Anti-Islam Film Producer Wrote Script in Prison: Authorities

The controversial "Innocence of Muslims" was written, produced and directed by a convicted drug manufacturer and scam artist, who has told authorities he actually wrote the script in federal prison and began production two months after his June 2011 release from custody.

Authorities say Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, of Cerritos, California, admitted his role in the film, after seeking help from law enforcement in dealing with death threats he has received since the release of the film. Excerpts from the film led to outrage and violence in the Arab world.

Authorities told ABC News that Nakoula told them he and his son, Abanob Basseley, 21, were responsible for producing the movie which, he reportedly said, cost between $50,000 and $60,000 and was shot in a little over 12 days. -- Richard Espoito, Brian Ross, and Cindy Galli, ABC News

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Why Hasn't There Been Another Palestinian Intifada?

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks
at the 2012 World Economic Forum
(Photo credit: World Economic Forum)

Is the Arab Spring an ‘intifada’? And why haven’t the Palestinians joined in? -- Forbes

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Team Israel’s baseball classic roster features Green, Kapler

Former Major Leaguers Shawn Green and Gabe Kapler are on the 28-man roster for Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic Qualifier.

Green and Kapler will play the outfield when Israel faces South Africa in Jupiter, Fla., on Wednesday, according to a news release. The double-elimination tournament will send its overall winner to the baseball classic in March.

Green and Kapler also will serve as coaches for the Israeli squad managed by former Major League catcher Brad Ausmus.

Three Israelis -- Alon Leichman, Shlomo Upetz and Dan Rothem -- are among the pitchers. The remaining players come from minor league teams. -- JTA

El Al ending flights to Cairo

El Al said it is discontinuing its weekly flights to Cairo.

In a letter published Sunday in the daily Maariv, El Al Airlines CEO Eliezer Shkedi said Israel’s official airline cannot afford the high security and operating costs for the nearly empty flights, according to news reports.

The airline declined comment. Irena Etinger, spokeswoman for Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, confirmed the letter.

The letter, addressed to Lieberman, did not say when the flights would end.

Under the 1979 peace accord, the two countries agreed to provide flights. Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said if El Al cancels its service, another airline must provide Cairo flights, according to The Associated Press. -- JTA

Irish State did nothing to save Jews

The [Irish] Government in the 1940s did nothing to oppose the extermination of the Jews in Europe, Minister for Justice and Defence Alan Shatter said yesterday.

He also warned that the international community today had to stand up to those such as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran who not only denied the Holocaust but were actively seeking to destroy the state of Israel.

Opening a conference to mark the centenary of the birth of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved more than 50,000 Hungarian Jews from the death camps, the Minister said there were many who did nothing in the face of the industrialised genocide and destruction of European Jewish civilisation. -- Stephen Collins, Irish Times

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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Happy Rosh Hashana--L'Shana Tova

May this New Year Bring Us All
Health, Contentment and Peace
Ba'Olam will return on Thursday, September 20

Opinion: Who are the top 10 Jewish newsmakers for 5772

Top 10 Jewish newsmakers for 5772 according to the JTA Staff

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The Aleppo Codex and the Ownership of Tradition

The Torah belongs to all Jews and, indeed, to anyone who cares to learn and live its ways. But it is not transparent.  Copyists make errors.  Torah scrolls lack vowels, making pronunciation and meaning uncertain.

Matti Friedman’s new book The Aleppo Codex tells the story of the oldest and most authoritative text of the Bible from its origins in Tiberias around 930 to its present home in the Shrine in the Book at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.  Its travails are those of the Jewish people—the striving for unity, uncertain life in exile, and the return to Zion that left unhealed wounds.

A thousand years ago, a newly invented system fixed vocalization and meaning for the Jewish people.  The scholars and grammarians of Tiberias, above all the Ben-Asher family, built on hundreds of years of scholarship to create a singular edition of all the books of the Bible.  One bound book of some 500 leaves stood above all the others, as if a crown.  Its value is beyond money.

The book was written in Tiberias, sojourned in Jerusalem until its capture by Crusaders, was ransomed, and went down to Egypt, where Maimonides consulted it when writing his Mishneh Torah.  From there it went to Aleppo, Syria, where it stayed for 600 years. There, Jews called it the Keter Aram Zova, the Crown of Aleppo.  The book reposed in the Great Synagogue in a safe under lock and key, becoming an object of veneration, invested with magical properties.  Outsiders were forbidden to gaze upon it. -- Alex Joffe, Jewish Ideas Daily

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Conservation work at the Lions Gate completed

Reconstruction work at the Lions gate
(Photo: Avi Mashiah, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)
The largest and most important project carried out in the past 5 years by the Jerusalem Development Company, Prime Minister’s Office and the Israel Antiquities Authority of conserving and rehabilitating the Old City walls and gates has been completed -- the Israel Antiquities Authority via Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs

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Fate Sealed for Egypt’s Jews

Islamists storm the U.S. embassy and Egypt’s last Jews have no rabbi. Shanah tova from the Muslim Brotherhood.
(Nebi Daniel Association)
Outside of Israel, the Jewish community of Alexandria is perhaps the Mediterranean’s oldest, dating back to Alexander the Great’s founding of the city in 332 B.C. But this year, there may not even be High Holiday services at the city’s last remaining synagogue, Eliahou Hanabi, also known by its street address, Nabi Daniel.

The Egyptian press first reported that government authorities “ordered the cancellation” of this year’s Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur celebrations. But the synagogue’s caretaker, Youssef Gaon, explained that there would be services. “The only difference,” he said, “is a rabbi and cantor who usually lead the services were denied entry to the country.”

Apparently they were not granted visas for security reasons. That shouldn’t come as a surprise: The Muslim Brotherhood-led government is incapable of providing security for anyone—from ordinary Egyptians who have endured a crime wave of epic proportions since Hosni Mubarak was toppled in February 2011 to Americans based in our Cairo embassy, which is currently being mobbed by Islamists. Only a year ago this month, the Israeli embassy was also besieged; its staff was lucky to escape alive.

Given the small size of the city’s permanent Jewish community—according to one Egyptian paper, four men and 18 women, almost all of them between their 70s and 90s—these guests were crucial in order to create a prayer quorum. As the blogger Elder of Ziyon put it: “For the first time in some 2,000 years, Alexandria will not have a minyan.”

But while some see this episode as the end of Jewish life in Egypt, it is in fact the coda to a tragic story of one of what was once a thriving Jewish community in the Middle East—and for the past 50 years has existed primarily as a memorial to the past. -- Lee Smith, Tablet

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