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Peres lauds Bulgaria’s record resisting Holocaust

August 12, 2010 Leave a comment

SOFIA (WJC)– Israel’s President Shimon Peres has paid tribute to Bulgaria’s record with respect to the plight of its Jewish population during World War II. Peres said that the country had “suffered much from many directions, including from the Nazis, but the country managed not only to save itself, but also to save the Bulgarian Jews”.

“I am sincerely grateful for this,” Peres said in a speech, after he was bestowed by Bulgarian President Georgi Purvanov with an order in recognition of his “great contribution towards strengthening and developing Bulgarian-Israeli bilateral relations”.

Peres was in Bulgaria to discuss cooperation between Israel and Bulgaria in technology, industry and tourism. His visit follows Purvanov’s trip to Israel in 2008, and “is the result of the high level of bilateral cooperation in all spheres”, an official statement of the Bulgarian government said.

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Preceding provided by World Jewish Congress

What about all those wrong notes?

June 3, 2010 1 comment

David Amos

By David Amos

SAN DIEGO-This is a somewhat negative article, not about the wrong notes we hear, but about the lack of them, and the notes and music we do not hear.

Nowadays, we hear virtual perfection from soloists and orchestras. This is what we expect. Sometimes it is as if we are hearing a computer, flawless, no spontaneity, no risks, and just safe notes. So many artists on the concert stage will not take any chances, but it is at the sacrifice of creativity. This is why I am reluctant to run to a local concert by a renowned artist; all the notes will be there, but I’ll be bored to death.

But it was different in the past. Here are a few salient examples:

Among the most exciting recordings of a live performance is the one of pianist Sviatoslav Richter, playing Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, in Sofia, Bulgaria, sometimes in the 1950’s. The dated Columbia long play record and the subsequent release on CD are full of flaws. The microphone placement is questionable, and the audience has a collective case of terminal coughing. Oh, yes, and Richter misses more notes than you could imagine. Someone could write a concerto just with the notes dropped under the piano.

Yet, this is an electrifying performance. The energy level coming out of the piano is indescribable, as is the virtuosity of the soloist. The communication is so strong, the message of the music so vivid, that after a while, you forget about the pianistic clams, and you feel transported into a different dimension.

If you want to hear sloppy ensemble playing, listen to the many recordings of Wilhelm Furtwangler and the Berlin Philharmonic in releases from the 1930’s and 40’s. But that becomes unimportant. What you keep and remember from these historical discs is music that sparkles, is alive, and energetic. They have the stamp of epic performances. Furtwangler’s interpretations were legendary, and once you get past the primitive recording sound and the less-than-perfect playing, the real quality becomes apparent.

Here is another classic example. From the Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: “Arthur Schnabel (1882-1951) was a classical pianist who composed and taught. He was renowned for his seriousness as a musician, avoiding anything resembling pure technical bravura. He was said to have tended to disregard his own technical limitations in pursuit of his own musical ideals. However, Schnabel is widely considered one of the greatest pianists of the Twentieth Century, whose vitality, profundity, and spiritual penetration in his playing of works by Beethoven and Schubert in particular, have seldom, if ever been surpassed”. His recordings on the Angel label of the Beethoven Piano Sonatas are a standard and a model for others to emulate.

Today, we judge a performance and call it “faulty” if it has a few wrong notes. But quite the opposite, if we do that, we are listening to the wrong things and missing the whole point of what music is all about.

And, what’s even funnier, musicians can play an anthology of wrong notes, but if they are consonant and don’t clash harmonically, 99% of the listeners would not know the difference!

There are many wonderful and talented soloists in the world today. But in the past, you could recognize the style of an emerging soloist by the teacher with whom he or she studied. The individual personality was all there, but the stamp of the master teacher or the school was clearly discernible. It had pedigree. Today, no matter where of with whom a young artist studied, they all tend to sound alike, with non-geographical, predictable similarity to other musicians of their generation.

It is no secret that musical competitions of the last 30 years or so are usually won by the contestants who play the loudest and fastest. None of the subtleties and spontaneous imagination which makes great music is to be found. And judges, artists’ managers booking agents and audiences, on the whole, don’t get it.

Today, after finishing this article, I will be one of those judges at a music competition. I will do my best not to succumb to the temptations of flashiness vs. serious artistry.

The best music being made today on a worldwide, world-class level is by musicians who are willing to take chances. They play and create something vibrant and fresh during the performance, not just “pay it safe”.

No wonder that recitals and concerts, on the whole, are stale experiences which do not communicate and leave so many listeners dissatisfied, sometimes not even knowing why. And maybe this is a contributing factor to the ever-growing problem of creating and cultivating new, young audiences.

Many of us who are veteran concert-goers have become somewhat immune to the cookie-cutter interpretations on stage today. We hear not what is taking place, but what we want to hear. Younger, less seasoned listeners may actually be more perceptive than many of us, and are justifiably unexcited by the concert experience.

I have discussed this subject through the years with many people, in and out of music, and in recent times, with someone who has had a direct connection with some of the greatest names in music in the last 100 years, including legendary artists.

By learning from the past, music can strengthen our present and future.

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Amos is condutor of the Tifereth Israel Community Orchestra and has been guest conductor of professional orchestras around the world.

ADL lauds walkout on Ahmadinejad’s nuclear speech at U.N. conference

May 3, 2010 Leave a comment
 
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Press Release)–The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) on Monday praised the countries whose delegates walked out on Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech at a United Nations conference after he accused the U.S., Israel and an unspecified European country of threatening Iran with nuclear weapons.
The Iranian president was delivering remarks to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review conference.

Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director issued the following statement:
 
While there may be legal and diplomatic obligations to grant Ahmadinejad the UN podium, there is also a moral obligation to condemn his words, his actions and what he stands for. Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust, denies there are homosexuals in Iran, and denies the existence of Iran’s nuclear weapons program. To this list of lies he added another – that the U.S. and Israel pose a nuclear threat to Iran, when in fact the opposite is true.
 
“We appreciate the gesture made by those states that walked out, for it sends a strong personal message to Ahmadinejad that his rants do not deserve the respect of an audience. We also appreciate UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s preemptive and public declaration that ‘the onus is on Iran’ to resolve this crisis.
 
“Ahmadinejad’s presence at the NPT conference is a perfect opportunity for the international community to send him the message that he needs to hear: If Iran doesn’t shut down its nuclear weapons program, there will be severe consequences.”
 
Representatives from the United States, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Morocco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and the United Kingdom left the room as Ahmadinejad opened his remarks. Canada reportedly boycotted the speech from the outset.

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Preceding provided by the Anti-Defamation League

 

So who knew sex could be so boring?

March 26, 2010 1 comment


By Cynthia Citron
 

Cynthia Citron

LOS ANGELES – Who knew sex could be so tedious?  In David Hare’s The Blue Room  11 acts of intercourse are conducted without heat, or charm, or intimacy, or humor, or foreplay. The acotrs climb all over each other into a black out, and from there, it’s just “wham, bam, thank you, ma’am” and “Where are my shoes?” 

Moreover, if a cardinal rule of acting is “Never let them see you acting,” Christian S. Anderson and Christina Dow apparently never got the memo.  They are so busy “acting” in their own individual roles that they might easily be in two different plays.  There appears to be no physical or emotional connection between them. 

It has to be the acting and the direction (by Elina de Santos), because the play itself, in more able hands, might well be an engaging exploration of desire and passion—and the lack thereof.  The playwright, Sir David Hare (he was knighted in 1998, the same year The Blue Room was first produced), has certainly won enough major awards (the Olivier, BAFTA, New York Drama Critics Circle Award, London Theater Critics’ Award, Berlin Film Festival’s Golden Bear) to qualify as one of Britain’s more prolific and respected theater and film auteurs. 

Hare early in his career became resident dramatist at the Royal Court Theatre and the Nottingham Playhouse and later became the associate director at the prestigious National Theatre.  He is also the founder of Greenpoint Films, for which he has written many screenplays. 

The Blue Room was commissioned by British director Sam Mendes as an adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’s play from 1900 that examined the mores and decadence of Viennese society and the alarming spread of syphilis throughout all the classes of that society.  Considered to be too sexually explicit to be performed, the play (“Der Reigen”) was only meant to be read and performed privately by Schnitzler’s friends.  Its first public performance in 1921 was closed down by the Viennese police and Schnitzler was subsequently prosecuted for obscenity.  The play also unleashed a wave of antisemitism toward its Jewish playwright.  In 1950, however, Max Ophuls turned it into the highly successful movie “La Ronde.”  Different times, different attitudes. 

Hare’s version of this durable play reduced the 10 characters to two—a challenging feat for its actors—and starred Nicole Kidman and Iain Glen.  But even though it had been a hit in London (influenced, perhaps, by a glimpse of Kidman’s dimly lit tush) it received mixed reviews in New York. 

In Elina de Santos’ version, set presumably in New York, judging by the prostitute Irene’s accent in the opening round, each encounter is followed by an on-screen sign reckoning how long the act took.  The times vary from 45 seconds to two hours and 28 minutes.  (And the signs misspell 40 as f-o-u-r-t-y—twice!—and 20 as t-w-n-e-t-y.) 

Meanwhile, the accents switch from New Yorkese to, inexplicably, bad British and, at one point, some sort of garbled Bulgarian (Italian?).  In one particularly annoying scene, Anderson, playing a British politician, keeps enunciating “that is” and “it is” rather than “that’s” and “it’s” which prompts Dow, in a totally different context, to admonish him by saying “You do talk like a prick!” 

And so it goes.  If the actors are to be commended for anything, it’s for the speed with which they make their many costume changes.
Anderson spends much of his time onstage getting in and out of his pants, but stripping down to his skivvies doesn’t loosen him up much; he is pretty wooden throughout (no pun intended). 

Adam Flemming provides a set consisting of screens that project multi-colored abstract designs while the furniture is being rearranged, and Arthur Loves Plastic provides original music interspersed with sexual moaning in the background. 

If you’re still with me, here’s a piece of free advice: go to Netflix and order any of the many DVDs of “La Ronde.”  See it at home.  The popcorn is cheaper! 

The Blue Room will continue as a Guest Production presented by SOLOCAT at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 Sepulveda Blvd., in West Los Angeles, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 through May 2nd.  Call (310) 477-2055 for tickets.

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Citron is a theatre reviewer and Los Angeles bureau chief for San Diego Jewish World 

This, too, is politics

March 5, 2010 Leave a comment

By Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–Not everything is the stuff of high drama, invasion or stealth, blood, bodies, and claims of decisive victory. There are also statements and actions, coming out of government departments, legislative committees, what may be chance remarks, and programs on public radio and television.

In neither the big or little episodes is there usually anything close to final victory or defeat. Life and politics go on, countries tend not to disappear, no matter how dramatic the deaths or the insults.

What is important?

There may not be a clear answer.

Ambiguity is a work of art.

Recent bits of the less dramatic sort in international politics have appeared in the United States, Britain, and Israel.

The larger conflict at issue is the “war against terror.” We must admit that “war” and “terror” are both fuzzy concepts, but it is possible to convey some meaning without parsing those terms to death.

One cluster of events appears to be slaps directed against Turkey, most likely as punishment for its government’s approach too close to the lines pursued by Iran and Syria.

The ammunition employed is the so-called genocide against Armenians in the context of World War I and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Perhaps 1.5 million Armenians died as a result of forced expulsions, starvation and other brutality. 

Until now, the governments of the United States and Israel have stood with the Turks, and have used their powers of persuasion against condemnation or even publicity of Armenian claims. Official reluctance still may be the policy. Reports are that the Obama administration urged members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee to avoid any condemnation of genocide, and the vote in favor was a close 23 to 22. It is still not clear if the measure will reach the full House. The Bush administration succeeded in keeping a similar committee resolution from reaching the House floor in 2007, when it was concerned with the loss of Turkey’s cooperation with its policies in Iraq. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/05/world/europe/05armenia.html?scp=2&sq=armenian%20genocide&st=cse

In what looks like a flick in response to a slap, Turkey’s prime minister has condemned the committee vote, and recalled the ambassador to the United States for consultation,

If the issue gets any bigger it may delay what appeared to be moves of reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia, including the definition of the border between the two countries.

Israel is making its own tiny contribution to the “confrontation of symbols,” which appears to be a few degrees lesser in intensity than “a war of words.”

One “salvo” comes from the Anti-Defamation League, not Israeli but a cousin. It announced that it considered the killings to be genocide. Another, closer to the Israeli establishment, is a program on public television that describes the killings as the Armenian Holocaust. The senior broadcaster of Israel broadcasting moderates the program. He has a wide public following, and is known from the somber way in which he condemns evil by the tone of his voice.

Officially the Israeli government is acting like the American government. President Obama wants Congress to stay away from the issue, and President Peres has told the Turkish prime minister that Israel has not changed its position, i.e., that Turkey and Armenia should resolve the issue among themselves in a dialogue. http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/897273.html

Not likely that the Turkish government will be quick to moderate its posture with respect to Iran, Syria, the Palestinians, and Israel. We will never know if less than decisive actions in Washington and Jerusalem lead Turkey to do anything serious to prevent cooperation at the levels where things count in the actions of military and economic bureaucracies.

Another weapon in Israel’s arsenal against Turkey is tourism. The southern coast of Turkey is the vacation spot of choice for middle and lower income Israelis and others. Prices are low, the hotels are glitzy and the souvenirs plentiful. Labor unions organize group packages for their members. During the month that includes the Passover holiday, there will be more than 80 charter flights from Tel Aviv to Antalya and other airports in the resort area.

There was more traffic prior to the uptick in tensions, and there may be fewer if the tensions worsen. Promoters are flogging vacations almost as cheap on the coasts of Greece and Bulgaria.

Another front in this conflict via impressions comes from the British government. It is pondering with some seriousness a change in the law relevant to “political” arrest warrants. The prospect of being detained has kept former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, and maybe even Colin Powell from visiting Britain. Officials want to curtail the right of an individual to obtain a writ of arrest from an ordinary judge. One proposal is for a high ranking body, such as the Crown Prosecution Service, to take over responsibility for prosecuting war crimes and other violations of international law. Key figures, including Prime Minister Gordon Brown worry about the damage to Britain’s standing due to the capacity of political activists to obtain warrants that limit the visits to Britain of the mighty, including some invited for consultation with leading officials. However, the issue is sensitive, there is an election coming, so deliberations will be delayed. Ms Livni and Mr Powell may postpone their travel plans yet again.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/mar/04/gordon-brown-tzipi-livni-arrest-warrants-change-law

Meaningless tempest is a tea pot?

There are lots of those in international as well as domestic politics.

It is not always easy to know what is going on.

Israelis who may be in the know say that they are not all that concerned about the tempests raging around that incident in Dubai. Lip service, they say, expressed by officials objecting to the use of their country’s passports, and even by Dubai personnel who would rather have Israeli business people coming to their little place than Palestinian killers.

None of this is new.

Bava Kama is the Tractate of the Talmud that deals with damages. One of its discussions deals with when it is permitted or forbidden to injure a person or property when the individual to be injured asks that the act be done. The rabbis warn that not all statements are serious. Some are sarcastic, and must not be honored. (Chapter 8, page 93a)

One has to listen and read about the words and deeds of adversaries and others, look beneath the surface, and judge their meaning and significance. It may not be easy.

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Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University.

The Jews Down Under~Roundup of Australian Jewish News

January 25, 2010 1 comment

 

Compiled by Garry Fabian

Peer Protest moves to Melbourne

MELBOURNE, 20 January – A small group of  Palestinian supporters held a protest outside the  Australian Open on Tuesday afternoon (January 19).

The Australians For Palestine group, which  numbered fewer than 10, singled out Israel’s top tenns player Shahar Peer for criticism. The  protest was peaceful, but after a time, the demonstrators were asked by police to leave.

The group, most of who were dressed in corporate  attire, held placards with a photo of Peer in her  Israel Defence Forces uniform. The slogan on the  placard read:  “Shahar Peer serves for apartheid Israel”.

According to a flyer distributed by Australians  For Palestine, Peer has been singled out because  she “has shown no understanding of the oppressive
conditions under which Palestinian athletes are  forced to live, but rather sees herself as a victim of discrimination”.

Peer, who refrains from making political  statements, has been the target of anti-Israeli  protests. Most recently, she was heckled at a  tournament in Auckland. She also came to global  attention last year when the United Arab  Emirates, host of the Dubai Tennis Championship, refused to issue the Israeli citizen with a visa.
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Peer advances to second round

MELBOURNE, 21 January – Israeli tennis player  Shahar Peer has won through to the second round  of the Australian Open after defeating Czech  player Lucie Hradecka 6-7, 6-2, 6-1 on Wednesday (January 20).

Peer, the 29th seed, looked sluggish in the  opening set and struggled to find her rhythm  against Hradecka, who served powerfully in the early stages of the match.

Peer gave up an early break in the first set when  she failed to hold serve in the eighth game. The  rest of the set went on serve to the tie-break,  where Peer quickly fell behind 5-1. She clawed  her way back to 5-6, fending off a set-point in
the process, before Hradeka produced another big serve to take it 7-5.

However, Peer found her range midway through the  second set and began to dominate proceedings from  the back of the court. She broke in the fifth and
eighth games of the second set, with Hradecka  gifting her the latter with four double faults.

Peer dominated in the third set, and was further aided by a hefty unforced error and double-fault  count from Hradecka, who was beginning to become frustrated.

With little help from her booming first serve,  Hradecka was unable to match Peer’s superior ground strokes.

At the post-match media conference, Peer said: “I  played her [Hradeka] last year and lost in  straight sets. She is a good player and has a big  serve, but she is not always consistent and I  think that’s the main thing with her.

“I had to play good and be aggressive, because  she tries to dominate points pretty early, so my  main goal was to be solid but also aggressive. I
tried to combine those two and return well too  and I think I did it quite well.”

Peer will play unseeded Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova in the second round.

At the media conference, Peer talked down threats  to her security when asked whether the recent  spate of anti-Israel protests had affected her preparation.

“There is security going on around me, I don’t  know exactly how much but I feel really safe,” Peer said.

“I’m just focusing on playing tennis and I’m not  here to focus on my security or what’s going on outside the court.”

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Youth movements safe despite GFC

MELBOURNE, 21 January — Amid reports that Jewish  youth movements worldwide had gone cap in hand to the Israeli government to save them from
financial collapse, the Zionist Federation of  Australia (ZFA) this week insisted that the  future of local organisations was secure.

However, ZFA president Philip Chester cautioned  that the groups for children and teenagers were surviving “hand-to-mouth”.

Chester voiced his concerns just days after  leaders of world Zionist youth movements met with  the Knesset Education Committee to plead their
case for increased funding. It followed extensive  budget cuts by the Jewish Agency for Israel last year.

Chester ­ who ultimately oversees Betar, Bnei  Akiva, Habonim Dror, Hashomer Hatzair, Hineni and  Netzer ­ said  “People would be shocked at the  small budgets some of the movements are running on.”

The organisations, run by youth leaders, most of  who are under 21, are largely responsible for their own funding. Most rely on parents,  supporters or movement alumni for week-to-week  activity and camp funding. Traditional
fundraising methods, such as film and trivia nights, are common.

Increasingly, movements are also having to raise  money to support shaliachs (emissaries), who are  sent to Australia by the Jewish Agency, but are
only partially financially supported.

The movements’ roof body ­ the Australian Zionist  Youth Council ­ receives some funding from the ZFA, but only for large-scale programs, such as  leadership camps. For some movements the model works.

Bnei Akiva, for example, has strong support from  the Mizrachi community and is savvy in its  fundraising ­ organising a mishloach manot sale  at Purim and a lulav and etrog sale at Succot.

Other movements, particularly the smaller ones, have less success.

The ZFA is working with them to attract support,  but according to Chester, it is not easy.

“We haven’t yet worked out the magical formula to do it,” he said.

Community philanthropists have been approached to  ascertain whether they would be interested in  assisting, and Chester has also been in  discussions with the NSW Jewish Communal Appeal  (JCA) to garner support for the Sydney movements.

And while JCA support for youth movements was not on the short-term agenda, he said he was more hopeful in the longer term.

Meanwhile, Chester said he was confident of the survival of local chapters.

“The numbers are good and to their undying  credit, the kids do it for nothing and run functions on the smell of an oily rag.

“The truth is, no matter how little they have, they will never stop doing it.”
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Dudi Sela blows lout of Australian Open

MELBOURNE, 20 January – Israeli tennis player Dudi  Sela has crashed out of the Australian Open in  the first round, losing to Ukrainian qualifier  Ivan Sergeyev 6-3, 7-6, 4-6, 7-6.

Israel’s top-ranked male player ­ ranked 41 in  the world ­ came into the match with a virus and never found his rhythm, despite displaying patches of brilliance.

The match lasted three hours and 22 minutes.

The Israeli was broken in the first game of the match and there were two more breaks of serve in  the set, one to each player. Sergeyev served out the set with a love game.

The second set went on serve to a tie breaker,  which Sergeyev dominated with some big serving, winning 7-3.

Sela regained his composure and took the third set 6-4.

There were consecutive service breaks in the  second and third games of the fourth set as the intensity went up a notch.

The set then went on serve until the tie break,  and it was a brilliant passing shot on the  forehand that eventually gave Sergeyev his hard-fought win.

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Australian Jewry rallies for Haiti

SYDNEY, 21 January – Australian Jews are being urged to step up their support for the international aid effort in Haiti.

In the wake of the earthquake that has ravaged the Caribbean island, claiming an estimated 200,000 lives, two community charities — Jewish Aid Australia (JAA) and Magen David Adom (MDA) — have launched appeals.

In three days, JAA had already raised $70,000 for  the relief effort. It is directing its donations towards CARE Australia — a non-partisan, non-political Australian charity on the ground in Port-au-Prince.

JAA chief executive officer Gary Samowitz said: “The response has been fantastic and we’ve been inundated with calls and emails.”

Among the donors are AJN owner Robert Magid and his sister Nora Goodridge, who made a $40,000 pledge.

“Bob and Nora’s donation is an inspiring example to the rest of the community,” Samowitz said. “The more money raised, the more services will be  provided to those suffering the aftermath of the earthquake, and every donation counts.”

The Pratt Foundation, meanwhile, run by Jewish philanthropist Heloise Waislitz, has made an initial donation of $50,000. The foundation’s  CEO, Sam Lipski, said the 5000 workers at the  family company, Visy, had also been invited to give funds to the people of Haiti. He said donations made by staff would be matched by the foundation.

Ron Raab, president of Insulin for Life Australia,  added that his organisation had sent emergency shipments of insulin to assist Haitian diabetics
who were struggling to get access to lifesaving medication.

Local MDA branches are also running an appeal to support the work of their Israeli colleagues on the embattled island. As part of the International Committee of the Red Cross, MDA sent a paramedic delegation to Haiti immediately upon hearing of the earthquake.

According to MDA-Red Cross coordinator Dudi Abadi, all the money raised by the ambulance and first aid service will be used to fulfill the most urgent needs — medical equipment, blankets, water, food, hygiene items, purification tablets and sheets of plastic.

Encouraging the community to give generously to the appeals, Executive Council of Australian Jewry president Robert Goot said: “The earthquake
claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people and has left many of the survivors without homes, food, water, medical and hospital services, and
other basic necessities. I urge everyone in our community to dig deep and support the recognised international aid organisations, which have
workers on the ground in Haiti, including Jewish organisations such as Jewish Aid Australia Limited, Magen David Adom and ZAKA.”
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Israeli Torah scholar sets up new Kollel

SYDNEY, 21 January – Despite success stories in Melbourne and Perth, Sydney has struggled for years to establish a viable kollel.

But this time around the Jewish Learning Centre  (JLC) is hoping that the outcome will be different.

Next month, JLC plans to bring four Israeli  bochers (Torah scholars) to set up Australia’s third Torah MiTzion Kollel.

Once established, it will be one of 25 religious-Zionist kollels dotted around the world under the umbrella organisation of Torah MiTzion in Israel, including one in Melbourne, based at Mizrachi shul and another in Perth.

Rabbi Daniel Eisenberg, who will be heading the project, said: “Jewish life is very dependent on the vibrancy of its institutions and every additional source of inspiration that can be provided to the Sydney community will help advance stronger Jewish identity.

“This is a prime example of that kind of institution.”

Traditionally, a kollel is an institute for  advanced Torah studies, which provides married men with housing and a regular monthly stipend to study Judaism’s classic texts.

However, this Torah MiTzion Kollel will run slightly differently.

For starters, these bochers are not married. Further­more, while they will undertake intensive studies at JLC’s beit hamedrash, the men will also perform outreach work.

Other shuls run similar initiatives for unmarried  bochers, but this is the only program to officially be called a kollel in Sydney.

“The focus here is to work in the traditional sense of the kollel, as well as to strengthen the Jewish nature of the community,” said Rabbi
Eisenberg, who is still raising some of the $180,000 in funds needed to operate the project in its first year.

This is not the first time an organisation has tried to establish a kollel in the area.

In 2006, the Adass Israel congregation brought out seven rabbis and their families to set up Sydney’s first full-scale kollel. But two years later, it closed down because of funding and organisational issues.

Rabbi Eisenberg, however, believes this time they will succeed.

“It’s not like bringing a group of married men and their families. It’s a very big difference in proportion. It’s more sustainable,” he said.
Can Pakula make the trains run on  time?

MELBOURNE, 21 January – Jewish MP Martin Pakula  has been handed Victoria’s poisoned chalice – the transport portfolio.  The state’s transport minister Lynne Kosky resigned from parliament on Monday, citing family health problems.

Pakula who was voted in by his caucus colleagues  yesterday, will inherit a range of problems, which include over crowded trains, transport cancellations and a troubled over-budged new  electronic ticketing system, and technical
problems with the public transport system.

The 40-year old who was elected to Parliament in  2006, had a Jewish upbringing, and is a son of a Holocaust survivor. He also adds industrial relations to his portfolio.

He is one of three Labour MP’s in the Victorian Parliament. The others are Marsha Thomson and Jennifer Huppert.

Pakul caught the train to work recently, taking time out to hear complaints from frustrated commuters.

Mr Pakula chatted with passengers on the 8.17am  from Sandringham, hearing their complaints about punctuality and cancellations on the network.

He said most people had been welcoming, but had a lot to say about their morning commute.

“What they want is reliability and punctuality. That’s the absolute key message from today,” he said.

A casual user of the system Mr Pakula said he caught the Sandringham line a couple of dozen times a year and sometimes caught the bus home from the station.

“Like all commuters, I’ve had times when the train I’ve been on has been extremely crowded, or it has been extremely hot or there’s been delays
and I understand why people would be frustrated by that,” he said.

But from today he is expected to be a regular  traveller, getting out on public transport every day.

Mr Pakula also indicated that he would be considering the future of W-Class trams, saying they would most likely eventually end up servicing only the city circle.

“I don’t think anything is forever (and) I don’t think they are designed for large-scale commuter transportation any more,” he said.

“I think people want a more modern, more comfortable tram these days, and so I think the W-class tram, their use will be confined to (the city circle).”

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Country music with a slice of kugel

TAMWORTH, NSW. 21 January – Every year at about this time, country music flows down the streets of Tamworth just about as freely as the cold beer
flows from the taps of their pubs.

It’s the Tamworth Country Music Festival in the city that’s described as the Nashville of the Southern Hemisphere.

It’s also the city home to musicians who go by the curious names of 8 Ball Aitken and Bird.

“Come on in, we’ve made a kugel for you,” 8 Ball Aitken says when we meet at his home. The Queensland native, who sports a long bright red beard and speaks in a soft voice, performed at the festival, which ran until January 24

Aitken has led an interesting life. The Golden Guitar nominee went from picking mangoes and bananas, to picking the strings on his guitar. Though not Jewish himself, his fiancee and manager Bird Jensen are, and Judaism has come to influence his music.

Aitken is a welcome friend at Brisbane’s Beit Knesset Shalom Progressive Synagogue; he has played at synagogue functions and filmed part of a music video there.

Over the past six years, he’s released three albums and toured in towns all over Australia as well as 15 countries.

“[His music] is not strictly country,” Jensen says. “It’s part blues, folk, country and indie rock,” she explains.

The pair’s hard work has finally paid off. “We earn our living through our own original music,” Jensen says. “A lot of people can’t do that.”

Many artists in Australia, including Aitken, are partially supported by the Australian Business Arts Foundation (ABAF).

To get more funding, business-minded Jensen even  makes her own “8 Ball shmattehs” — T-shirts and other tour merchandise — and says she is willing
to go the extra mile in ways other managers probably never considered.

“If anyone [donates enough money to get 8 Ball  Aitken back into the studio], I’ll personally make them a shabbat dinner in their home,” Jensen enthuses, “and it will be good.”

8 Ball Aitken performed at the Tamworth Country Music Festival through January 24.

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Fabian is Australia bureau chief for San Diego Jewish World

ADL: Egypt’s leaders have blind spot for anti-Semitism

December 7, 2009 Leave a comment

NEW YORK (Press Release)– At a time when the United States is looking to Egypt to play a critical role in bringing about a new era of reconciliation and partnership between the Muslim world and the West, an attitude of “business as usual” persists among Egyptian leaders toward the incessant drumbeat of anti-Semitism in the media and society, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).


In a report on Anti-Semitism in the Egyptian Media, issued today, the League cites a “culture of permissiveness” that enables anti-Jewish and anti-Israel sentiment to flourish in Egyptian society “without a single world of condemnation or criticism from political or civic leaders.”

The ADL report was delivered last week to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and copies are being shared on Capitol Hill with members of the Obama administration and key congressional leaders.

“President Mubarak’s government continues to engage in business as usual when it comes to blatant expressions of anti-Semitism in the media, which seep into Egyptian society,” said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. “These alarming manifestations of anti-Jewish attitudes undermine the attempts by the U.S. administration to deliver on the promise of better relations between the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds in President Obama’s Cairo address, and present a major obstacle to his vision of truly normalized relations between Israel and Egypt, and Israel and the other Arab countries.”

Daily newspapers and television shows in Egypt routinely propagate age-old anti-Semitic themes, with Jews portrayed as stooped, hook-nosed and money hungry, fighting for world domination. These and other manifestations of anti-Jewish attitudes show the pervasiveness of anti-Semitism in Egyptian society:

Offensive editorial cartoons depicting Jews as controlling international financial systems and the American government routinely appear in the Egyptian press.
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Claims of Jewish exploitation of the Holocaust; articles and statements diminishing the history of the Holocaust; and comparisons of Israeli leaders and others to Nazis are common in the media.
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These expressions lead to overt acts of anti-Jewish discrimination in society, such as the Egyptian government’s attempt in October to exclude Israeli doctors and scientists from an international conference on breast cancer; and the anti-Semitic diatribe delivered by Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosni following his loss of the UNESCO chairmanship to a Bulgarian diplomat in September.
In a letter to President Mubarak accompanying its report, ADL said anti-Semitic expressions and actions in Egypt are rarely, if ever met with public condemnation or censure, despite repeated attempts by Jewish community leaders and Israeli officials to raise awareness of the problem with his government over the last decade.

“On numerous occasions, ADL officials have met with you and members of your government to urge Egypt’s leadership to speak out against such anti-Semitic expressions and to make clear that the demonization of Jews is unacceptable in Egyptian society,” the League wrote to Mr. Mubarak. “To our disappointment, such condemnations have been rare, and all too often we have heard representatives of your government justify these examples of hate as understandable expressions of anger toward Jews.”

The ADL report highlights 58 editorial cartoons from mainstream Egyptian newspapers — including the mass circulation dailies Al-Ahram, Al-Gumhuriyya and Akhbar Al-Yawm — that portray Jews and Israelis using vicious anti-Semitic stereotypes and motifs, or imply Jewish control of the U.S. government and world leaders.

The report also includes excerpts from articles in the Egyptian press claiming, among other themes, that Iraqi and Palestinian girls “are being really and truly raped day and night by the Americans and the Israelis;” that Israel is polluting Palestinian drinking water with “microbes, dirt and atomic garbage;” and that “Jews control the American Media.”

The full report is available for download at
http://www.adl.org/anti_semitism_arab/Egyptian-Media-Report.pdf (2.5 MB).

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Preceding provided by Anti-Defamation League