Archive for April 9, 2010

Holyland scandal continues to dominate Israeli headlines

April 9, 2010 Leave a comment

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–Israel returned from its Passover vacation, and unburdened itself of several files awaiting release from one official body or another.

The scandal of the Holyland apartment development gained more weight with the detainment of another real estate mogul, said to have bribed local planning officials with respect to that project, and officials of the Israel Lands Authority with respect to a project elsewhere. Like every other participant in the Holyland affair, he has been identified as a close associate of Ehud Olmert.

Where is Ehud?

Still overseas. The judges have suspended his trial on other offenses while officials sort out his involvement in these matters.

He is currently in Spain, protected by a diplomatic visa arranged by the Foreign Ministry that will keep him from being arrested on charges of war crimes. In Israel, a former prime minister has no immunity from arrest. He still has a bodyguard, but that person works for one of the security agencies, and is unlikely to offer protection from another law officer.

Holyland took second place behind a young woman, a former draftee who served as a clerk with high security clearance. She downloaded a couple of thousand sensitive documents, and gave them to a journalist who wrote up some of the details for Ha’aretz. Both the young woman and the journalist may have thought they were doing good by revealing a lack of justice in the actions of the IDF, but she has been charged with a security crime that carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. The journalist is somewhere in Britain, still on the payroll of Ha’aretz, but not returning home for the time being. He is said to have violated an agreement made with the security forces to return the material supplied to him in exchange for freedom from prosecution. One side says he returned only some of the material. The newspaper says he returned all that was important, and is standing on the side of journalistic privilege and the greater injustice of the IDF.
The journalist may be thinking of Mordecai Vanunu, who turned against Israeli policy (and Judaism) while working as a technician in the Dimona nuclear facility, photographed the workplace, and sold the pictures to overseas newspapers. Security personnel kidnapped him, brought him home to face 18 years in prison and a continued denial of permission to speak with journalists or to leave the country.

Israel may be sloppy in what it does, tolerant of extreme criticism, casual with respect to the implementation of its laws, and often seems passive in the face of violence. Yet when someone violates vaguely defined “red lines,” the response can be severe. The young innocent who stole classified documents may pay a heavy price, despite the claims of friends and mother about her idealism. The residents of Gaza suffered from a military onslaught and still from a blockade, which came after seven years of wondering if Israel would respond forcefully to rocket attacks on its civilians.

It’s a lesson that the American White House might ponder. Is it a good idea to be so flexible about the nuclear program of a country whose leader has threatened Israel’s destruction?

Another scandal would be front and center if it was not for the competition. A military hero from the Yom Kippur war is charged with the illegal purchase and sale of human organs. Among the juicier features of this story are reports that poor individuals offered considerable sums for their organs actually received only a small portion of what they were promised.

We are on the verge of Holocaust Remembrance Day. It may give us some quiet from current events, but items in the media will not be joyful.
Varda will light candles for her grandmother and uncle.
She spent her childhood hoping for news of them on a daily radio program that sought to reunite individuals separated by war and migration. Later she contacted the tracing service of the Netherlands Red Cross, and received the dates and places of their killing.

My American friends occasionally tell me they know a Holocaust survivor.

I know few Israelis of European backgrounds who are not Holocaust survivors, or the children, grandchildren, or greatgrandchildren of Holocaust survivors. And few Israelis of Middle Eastern backgrounds without family stories of persecution and being forced out of places they had lived for a thousand years or more.

Past suffering is not useful as a blanket excuse for actions that are controversial, but is essential for understanding. Mix fear of powerful others with the Biblical notion of Chosen People, plus the norms of the prophets and 2,500 years of commentary, and you may begin to comprehend the Israeli mystery.

Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University.


Why some are tired of hearing about the Holocaust

April 9, 2010 1 comment

Bruce Kesler

By Bruce Kesler

ENCINITAS, California–“I’m tired of hearing about the Holocaust.”  Be close enough to most people for them to be honest, even Jews, and you’ll often hear that said. What they most usually mean is they are tired of hearing hypocrisy.

Sunday is Holocaust Day, Yom Ha-Shoah, Day of Remembering the Catastrophe, sadly commemorated in many nations so we don’t forget.  The actual full title is Yom Ha-Shoah Ve-Hagevurah, Day of Remembering the Catastrophe and the Heroism.

Yes, there was heroism.  Among the parents and strangers who kept spirits alive ‘til death. Among the relative handfuls who risked all to shelter or aid escape. Among those who escaped to fight.  Among those who tried to alert the Allies and get their help, failing but persevering.

No one but a few crazies or modern advocates of mass murder now doubt the magnitude or the sheer evil of the Holocaust.  But, we have largely forgotten that such enormous slaughter occurs only because it isn’t stopped, if not when emergent at least when evident. Most may mouth the words but fail to step up and combat the inciters and perpetrators before they proceed to unleash their venom and death beyond the original target peoples or nations.

Iran promises and prepares for another, of Israel, as would many in the region applaud or participate, and the world stand by. All will live in terror and subjugation to it.

To perpetrate genocide requires the encouragement of tyrants, the aid of organization and the state, inculcation and mobilization of murderers, and the willing or tacit support of the people sown with excuses and calumnies for violent hate.

They all profit: Rulers from distraction away from their oppression, corruption or incompetence and by organizing mass movements to be used for other ends; Organizations from receiving the favors of the rulers; Murderers from being unshackled from restraint; People who are enriched by their neighbors’ property or from feeling more elevated than they are.

To allow genocide only requires other nations’ leaders to have other agenda priorities believed above the justice of actively opposing it, or more important than the consequences not only for the murdered and dispossessed but also for regional peace and security when tyrants are allowed to their ends and then reach out further with their empowered belligerence. Weak and ill-guided leaders of these nations profit from temporarily avoiding responsibility.

In any genocide, there are some but few heroes who risk their own and families’ safety.  It is unrealistic to expect many more, especially when isolated, endangered, operating in isolation. There are even fewer when abandoned by other nation’s leaders, especially by those who actually have the power to support them, and their opportunities to survive, overcome or overthrow are diminished.

“I’m tired of hearing about the Holocaust.”  When something is really done to end the threat or actuality, then I want to hear.  Politicians, please keep your empty platitudes.  Do something. Do something real.  Then tell me “Never Again!”

Actively support a US and an international strike force that will intervene promptly.

Stop supporting the United Nations’ platform for tyrants.

Stop belittling or hogtying the few allies who have the survival or moral stake to stand up to tyrants.

Repeatedly, loudly denounce those who set themselves on the path to genocide and send aid to those within their grasp with the courage to fight back.

Until then, “I’m tired of hearing about the Holocaust” will be common, and even justified.

My middle name is Neach, Neal in English, named after my grandfather’s brother, principal of a Jewish college (that’s an academic high school) in the Pale, he and his family beaten over their heads with shovels by Germans and locals and tossed into pits.  I too am tired of hearing about the Holocaust as the tired BS from too many among our hypocritical or dangerously misguided politicians, most notably now President Obama.

This isn’t a Jewish issue.  This is the human issue. Simon Wiesenthal: “For your benefit, learn from our tragedy. It is not a written law that the next victims must be Jews.

Cynics warp the Holocaust as not a special instance, as there were and are other genocides.  But, they actually make the point of why the Holocaust is so important as our first modern technologic precursor, and still the most murdered. Others try to confuse the issue by calling anything they want to denounce a holocaust if it is alleged done by the West, to weaken the West’s self-respect and resolve, and to weaken Israel.

Holocausts, genocides, and how we speak and act reveal what we create, what we tolerate, what we are. As does the integrity of our focus, their prevention, our actually fighting, reveal our morality.

Kesler is a freelance writer based in Encinitas, California.  This post also appeared on Maggie’s Farm.

The kashrut of self-control

April 9, 2010 Leave a comment

By Rabbi Leonard Rosenthal

Rabbi Leonard Rosenthal

SAN DIEGO–Kashrut observance is one of the defining rituals of Judaism. For Jews, the food we put into our mouths is equally as important as the words that come out.

Parashat Shemini cites the defining characteristics of Kosher mammals and fish. Mammals must have cleft hooves and chew their cud. Sea creatures need to have fins and scales. Shemini does not
define the characteristics of Kosher birds but specifies them by name instead. In general, domesticated birds are kosher while birds of prey and scavengers are not.

Jewish sages, traditional and modern, have come up with a variety of reasons for keeping Kashrut. They range from prevention of cruelty to animals (Kosher slaughtering techniques) to avoidance of pagan practice (not cooking the kid in its mother’s milk).

Often, however, it is suggested that the laws of Kashrut have less to do with reason and more with obedience to God

One sage asked: “Why should God care whether an animal is ritually slaughtered or if it is killed some other way instead? Will the meat be better or worse either way? And why should God care if we eat cows rather than pigs? Is one animal better than another?

Obviously not! So why did God give us these rules? In order to refine [ tzareif ] humanity.”

How does keeping Kosher “refine” humanity? By teaching us to limit our choices and to live our lives within boundaries. We live in a country and time with almost unlimited freedom. However, many people have not learned that not every choice is a good choice, and that we often have to limit and narrow the things we do and acquire if we want to have rich, meaningful, and fruitful lives.

Sometimes painful decisions have to be made in order to ensure the future well being of all. This is a lesson our government, both national and local, is painfully learning now. Kashrut is one of the ways Jews practice limiting their choices.

Smoking is forbidden on Shabbat and every other day! 

Sometimes there is no apparent reason other than our willingness to respond to the commanding voice of God and tradition. However, if we learn to curb our appetites when it comes to the type of food we eat, we should be well practiced when we need to make important and painful decisions in life.

Rabbi Rosenthal is spiritual leader of Tifereth Israel Synagogue in San Diego

San Diego’s historic places: Museum of Man exhibit tells of Kumeyaay life

April 9, 2010 Leave a comment
By Donald H. Harrison 

Donald H. Harrison

SAN DIEGO – One of the nicest things that one can do for other people is to remember their names, especially after they have died. Just by saying or writing people’s names is to testify to their existence, to the fact that, as individuals, they walked the face of the earth and that their time here mattered.

The San Diego Museum of Man, in its permanent exhibition about the lives of the indigenous Kumeyaay people, paints a picture in text and artifacts about where the Kumeyaay lived, the foods they ate in different climate zones, their patterns of trade and military alliances, their life cycle stages, their gender roles and occupations, their art and their entertainment. It is a comprehensive exhibit from which students can learn much simply by reading the panels.

Cinon Mataweer

The exhibit is enlivened by photographic peeks into the lives of such Kumeyaay as the shaman Cinon Mataweer, the potter Wass Hilmawa, the ritual dancer Manuel Lachapa, and the basketmaker Carmalita La Chappa.

Pictured in 1906 in ceremonial costume in an exhibit case that also includes gourds and an instrument known as a bull-roarer, the visage of Cinon Mataweer attracts the attention of passersby. What is this old man doing here?

The answer is provided in a panel that says “ceremonies and dances were marked by elaborate song cycles, accompanied by rattles. Ritual leaders wore special costume, including feather head plumes and eagle feather skirts, and all participants painted their faces and bodies.”

In the photograph, Mataweer “wears the traditional headband and owl feather plumes of a Kumeyaay kuseyaay (shaman) along with an eagle feather skirt worn as a bandoleer.”

As for the gourds, they were “obtained in trade” and were commonly used in the ceremonies. “The bull-roarer, whirled to make a loud humming sound, announced ceremonies, and was hung over the entrance of ceremonial enclosure to guard its contents.”

The museum legend also reported that the “bullroarer is from Capitan Grande, 1908,” which today is under the lake created by the construction of the El Capitan Reservoir. For the most part, the Kumeyaay who lived there moved to an area near Lakeside known today as the Barona Indian Reservation.

Manuel Lachapa is shown dancing the “whirling dance” in 1910 at Mesa Grande, which is a Kumeyaay village in the Cleveland National Forest.

The exhibit tells visitors that “shamans were individuals who had the ability to make contact with the spirit world through trance states and dreams, gaining supernatural power to use for the benefit of the people. The Kumeyaay had many shamans. Some had power over the weather, others over big game, finding lost objects, curing rattlesnake bites or bringing good crops.

“In early historic times the Kumeyaay received from the north a new religion centered on the use of toloache, a vision-producing plant. The toloache religion superseded many older beliefs – it is probable that many characteristic ceremonies, including the whirling dance with its eagle feather skirt, were introduced at this time. “ With the eagle feather skirt (shown in the exhibit), the dancer could “imitate an eagle’s flight.

A series of photographs show Wass Hilmawa demonstrating the Kumeyaay methods for making pottery in 1928. It was a process that required skill and patience, according to the storyboard.

The clay was dug out with digging sticks, dried, pulverized, sifted, and kneaded with Yerba Santa leaves. Thereafter, “the base of a vessel is begun on the bottom of an old pot rubbed with ashes. Thinning is done by paddling. New clay is rolled between the palms into long coils and bonded to the unfinished pot by pinching. The vessel is turned upright and a small anvil is held inside to support the wall while the paddling continues. The anvil may be a small pot, a cobble, a mano or a specially made clay anvil.”

Once the pottery is put into final shape, it is smoothed with wet hands, sun dried, and painted with red ochre. Often a broken piece of pottery would serve as the paint palate. After more drying, the pot is fired in an open kiln using oak bark. “Potters state that the pots will break if anyone watches the firing.”

Basketry was another art at which the Kumeyaay excelled, with weavers making “effective use of their environment as a source of varied raw materials.,” the exhibit states. Among favored materials is juncus, which grows in marshes.

“The stems are split into 3 or 4 pieces. Color gradation on the stem gives a variegated appearance to the basket,” the exhibit panel informs. “Split juncus was dyed black for basketry designs. The pulverized acorn caps of Canyon Oak contain tanning which reacts with iron in water from certain springs to produce the black dye.”

The slide show below this article includes a basket with deer motif that was made in Campo, approximately in 1900. The deer was created with dyed juncus. Also shown is a larged coiled tray, featuring a rattlesnake design in dyed juncus that was created between 1932 and 1942 by Carmalita La Chappa in Campo. A photograph of her holding the tray is included in the exhibit.

Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World, a publication covering San Diego, the Jewish community and the world.

Introducing a new series on San Diego’s historic places

April 9, 2010 1 comment


 SAN DIEGO –Donald H. Harrison, editor of San Diego Jewish World, inaugurates a series today on historic places in San Diego County.  

The series is built on current reportage as well as upon research that Harrison has done as the author of Louis Rose: San Diego’s First Jewish Settler and Entrepreneur (Sunbelt Publications, 2005) and as one of the founders in 1989 of Old Town Trolley Tours of San Diego.

In “Historic San Diego Places,” Harrison will examine venues that visitors may go to better appreciate San Diego County’s four major eras of history: Native American, Spanish colonial, Mexican, and American.

To be called “Historic San Diego Places,” the series will be launched with an examination of some of the places in the county where one may encounter the culture of the Kumeyaay Indians, and then will tell of places associated with the Spanish period of exploration and colonization, before moving onto the Mexican and American periods.

The series will examine people of many ethnicities and religious backgrounds, in addition to telling of the contributions and development of San Diego’s Jewish community.

Owing to the vastness of San Diego County’ geography, the series occasionally will skip back and forth through the four eras.

We hope you will enjoy it.

On rituals and traditions

April 9, 2010 Leave a comment

By Natasha Josefowitz, Ph.D.

Ritual: any practice or pattern of behavior regularly performed in a set manner; a prescribed code of behavior regulating social conduct, such as the shaking of hands in greeting.[1]

Tradition: the handing down of legends or customs from generation to generation, especially by word of mouth or by practice; a continuing pattern of culture, beliefs, or practices.[2]

We all have our own rituals and traditions. We also can stop long-done rituals and traditions and start new ones. For instance, I brush my teeth every morning when I wake up, a ritual, but I no longer make coffee right afterwards because I eat breakfast in the communal dining room here at the White Sands of La Jolla. We had a tradition in our family of having evening meals together—we no longer do that as the children have moved away.

We can also start new rituals and traditions—moving to new settings or changing lifestyles often ends familiar ways of doing things and makes us have to re-invent ways of dealing with everyday life. Obviously, moving to a new community entails a host of new rituals. What is not so obvious is that we infuse our new environment with elements of the traditions we leave behind and can start new traditions wherever we live.

Getting a friend to walk with you on a set day and time is a ritual. It’s helpful ritualize it if you don’t like walking alone and need the exercise.

Here at White Sands in La Jolla, Callifornia, I have started three rituals and traditions.

  1. A weight management club that meets once a week for a weigh-in and a lecture by our staff nutritionist. Menus are discussed: what to avoid—deserts and cream soups—what to eat lots of—vegetables and fruit. This will be an on going club, a place to ask questions and get support.
  2. Another one is based on the fact that many people here are living alone in their apartments, usually because they have become widowed or divorced. If someone falls or has a stroke or heart attack, the clinic calls an ambulance and the person is taken to the ER and then lies there on their gurney alone hoping to see a doctor soon. There are geriatric care managers who can meet them at the ER and be their advocate, but they do this for a fee. What I have instituted here is a buddy system. Everyone picks a friend to be their advocate in an emergency. It will become a tradition—to not have to be alone in the ER.
  3. And lastly, this week we had our first annual Passover service. Ninety-seven resident’s signed up. David Kroll, who taught religious school at Temple Beth Israel for twenty years and sang in its choir, was the perfect person to lead the service, sing, and teach our community about Passover. Many here had never attended a Seder and were glad to have the opportunity to learn and participate. Being an inter-faith community, it is important to act on our values and celebrate our various faiths together.
  4. Our Swiss chef Urs, made matzoh ball soup as delicious as my grandmother’s as well as other traditional fare such as beef stew with prunes and apricots and home made chocolate macaroons for dessert. There was a seder plate and each table as well as the traditional sweet wine.
  5. Anyone, anywhere, can start a new ritual, can begin a tradition—it can be anything—picking up your mail at a certain time or having lunch at the same place every Thursday, as I have done at the downtown Rotary since 1987.

Because our society has become so mobile, it is easy to lose the rituals and traditions we grew up with. We must consciously choose to share ours with new people in new places and to create new ones, because rituals and traditions bring people together, emphasizing commonalities. Predictable events give us a sense of security—we know what to expect. We need rituals and traditions to ground us, to connect us to each other and to our past, as well as to be able to forge a future together.

This column previously appeared in the La Jolla Village Voice.

[1] “ritual.” Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 01 Apr. 2010. <;.

[2] “tradition.” Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 01 Apr. 2010. <;.

Guidelines for online comments

April 9, 2010 Leave a comment

 Memo to our readers:

Some of you may be wondering why some comments are posted below stories, and others aren’t.

Our editors usually have the opportunity to review comments before they are posted.  

As a matter of policy we send to the trash comments that include abusive language;  generic attacks on any nationality,  racial group, religious group, gender or sexual orientation;  or comments which are potentially libelous. If a reader disagrees with a reported action by an individual or group, by all means the reader is free—even encouraged—to express that disagreement.  However, commentary should focus on specifics, and not be construed as an opportunity to attack an entire group of people. 

Commentaries also should be relevant.  We are amazed how many times people send us letters having nothing to do with the subject at hand—their misguided purpose apparently to either get their name or product’s name into print. 

Civil and relevant – those are the qualities that we look for in commentaries.

We hope you will contribute to our ongoing forum.

Donald H. Harrison, editor, San Diego Jewish World