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New Zealand stays restrictions on kosher slaughtering

August 9, 2010 Leave a comment

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (WJC)–Jews in New Zealand have won a temporary exemption from a new legal requirement  that animals must first be stunned before being slaughtered. Representatives of the Jewish community last week filed legal proceedings against Agriculture Minister David Carter and on Monday said said a Wellington court had ordered a temporary exemption until the case is decided next year.

Carter had announced in May that he was requiring pre-slaughter stunning for all commercial killing of livestock. About 300 lambs and 2000 chickens were commercially slaughtered according to ‘shechita’ last year. The minister later apologized to the Jewish community for any offense caused when he told veterinarians: “We may have upset a relatively small religious minority, and I do appreciate their strong feelings for this issue, but frankly I don’t think any animal should suffer in the slaughter process.”

More than half New Zealand’s sheep are killed by halal slaughtermen for the Islamic market, by cutting the throats of electrically stunned animals. However, shechita slaughter requires the trachea, oesophagus, carotid arteries and jugular veins to be cut using a sharp blade to allow the blood to drain out. The animal cannot be stunned or unconscious.

The New Zealand National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee first recommended a dispensation for the kosher slaughter in 2001, but most recently said it would prefer there were no exemptions from the requirement that all animals slaughtered commercially were first stunned. It said there was evidence calves which simply had their throats cut experienced pain, and it had the “strongly held” view that the cattle, sheep, goats and possibly poultry would experience similar pain.

Wellington Jewish Council Chairman David Zwartz predicted the case would be argued on the grounds that the Bill of Rights allowed for freedom of religious practice, and the requirement for stunning was an infringement of the right of Jews to observe their religion.

Other countries to ban shechita include Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland, and the European Parliament earlier this year voted in favor of a new regulation which could lead to kosher meat being labeled as “meat from slaughter without stunning”.

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Preceding provided by World Jewish Congress

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The Jews Down Under~Roundup of Jewish news of Australia and New Zealand

June 6, 2010 Leave a comment

Garry Fabian

Compiled by Garry Fabian

Shechita outlawed in New Zealand

WELLINGTON, New Zealand , May 28 — he days of a Jewish mother making the traditional chicken soup for the family Friday  night Shabbat dinner have come to an end for New Zealanders.

The country has issued a new Animal Welfare Commercial Slaughter Code which stipulates that commercially killed animals must be stunned before slaughter.making halachic slaughter impossible. The new regulations take immediate effect.

Whereas Kosher beef will be able to be imported into New Zealand, the country clearly stipulates that the importation of chickens is banned.

Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence of Sydney’s the Great Synagogue was formerly spiritual head of the Auckland Hebrew Congregation.

He told J-Wire: “There is a strong body of veterinary and animal welfare research which continues to confirm shechita as a humane method of slaughter of the highest standard. Further, the NZ government and its animal welfare advisors have failed to answer substantial challenges by scientists of international repute to the research and the premises on which its recent determination has been made.  Significantly, tests have not been done on animals under shechita conditions.”

The National Animal Welfare Advisory Council (NAWAC) report on which the minister made his decision recognised “that the rights of the New Zealand Jewish community to practise its religious beliefs accorded by the Bill of Rights Act must be balanced against animal welfare considerations.”

It stated that there were alternatives short of an outright ban on shechita available to the government.  Nonetheless, the minister has chosen the most extreme option.

“There is no balance.  A deliberate decision has made to override the Jewish community’s acknowledged rights.  This is a case of misplaced values, bad science and bad legislation.”

John Hellstrom, the Chairman of the National Animal Welfare Advisory committee said: “The Code sets out general principles and recommendations for best practice, ensuring animals do not suffer unreasonable or unnecessary pain and distress when they are killed.”

He told J-Wire that in New Zealand Halal meat for the Muslim community is not affected as the animal is stunned before being slaughtered.

There is no direct appeal against the decision which is effective with 24 hours of publication but there could be an opportunity for a judicial review to consider if the banning of Shecita is contrary to New Zealand’s Bill of Rights.

The chicken soup the Jewish community grew up with will be no more.at least in a Kosher format.

Hellstrom said: “Whereas there is no problem with importing beef there are a couple of diseases which concern New Zealand with respect to chickens. The only chicken meat which is imported has been processed but unprocessed chicken cannot be brought into the country.”

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry told J-Wire that “the MAF understands that commercial Shechita of poultry has not taken place in New Zealand for some years due to a lack of interest.”

“Not true” says Sydney-based Rabbi Moshe Gutnick who is the acting President of the Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia.

In his role as Rabbinic Administrator of the Kashrut Authority of Australia and New Zealand, Rabbi Gutnick has made many trips to the New Zealand city of Invercargill where the kosher ritual killing has taken place for years. He told J-Wire: “We send shochtim from Sydney on a regular basis and I can assure you that chickens were slaughtered as well as meat-producing animals. This decision by the New Zealand Government, one which has a Jewish Prime Minister, is outrageous. We will be doing everything possible to get this decision reversed. One of the last countries I would have expected to bring in this blatantly discriminatory action would have been New Zealand.”

David Zwartz chairs the Wellington Jewish Council. He told J-Wire: “I am sure there will  objections made that this action is an
infringement of the right of Jews to observe their religion.”

For New Zealand’s Jewish mothers and grandmothers who have added love to the Shabbas chicken soup with its giblets there will be only a simple and far less involved procedure.  Hellstrom added: “Kosher chicken soup cubes are obviously processed so there will be no problem importing them.”

Shechita is banned in Iceland, Norway and Sweden.

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Ethics or religion in schools

SYDNEY, 3 June  A debate over religious education has flared, as 10 public schools piloted an ethics course as an alternative to religious instruction this term.

Although many children remain enrolled in special religious education (SRE), some students opt out of these classes, wasting time at school because of no secular alternative.

While this program is still in a trial phase, Jewish SRE provider Academy BJE expressed concern.

Meanwhile, representatives of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies (JBD) and Jewish schools met NSW Education Minister Verity Firth on Monday to discuss how students were recruited to the course. Firth was reportedly supportive of the community’s concerns.

“Our position is that Jewish children should not be targeted to leave their SRE classes and invited to opt for the ethics classes instead,”
JBD chief executive Vic Alhadeff said.

“The default position should be that Jewish children automatically attend SRE classes, and that the only way they can choose the ethics course is through their parents expressly requesting in writing that they do so.

Alhadeff said the JBD supports the initiative, but their “concern is to protect and preserve Jewish continuity”.

At the moment, it is only proposed to offer ethics lessons to students in years 5 and 6 who are not already receiving religious instruction.

Close to 50 per cent of Jewish children in NSW are taught by Academy BJE, according to principal Rachele Schonberger, but she is worried that with an ethics program, Jewish students might miss out on learning about their heritage.

“We want to give them access to the beauty of Judaism,” she said, adding that ethics classes have nothing to do with Jewish morals, history or spiritualism, which “distinguishes a Jewish child from one that is not”.

Lesley Holden, a parent at Crown Street Public School in Surry Hills and the pilot coordinator of the school’s community group, told The AJN she believes that students who are not involved in SRE classes are essentially discriminated against because they are not engaged in any meaningful activity at that time.

Holden said that, as a parent, she was “quite upset that there was no meaningful alternative for her son while scripture classes were on”.

In a media statement, Firth said ethics classes are intended to encourage students “to think and talk about things like fairness, honesty, care, rights and responsibilities”, rather than introduce a competing theology.

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Melbourne Communal Appeal abandoned

MELBOURNE, 3 June – Plans  to introduce a Victorian Jewish communal appeal have been scrapped after research revealed the Melbourne community raises more money than Sydney.

New South Wales’ Jews have raised funds to support communal endeavours via the Jewish Communal Appeal (JCA) since the 1960s and for decades, discussions have raged whether its southern neighbour should follow suit.

A subcommittee of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) was set up in 2008 to explore the prospect of a communal appeal in Melbourne. In March this year, the subcommittee was given a push by some of the Jewish community’s most generous donors, led by David Smorgon.

Smorgon, together with other donors, funded the appointment of a top consultant to speak to 14 community organisations and confidentially go through their finances.

The results were announced to the JCCV and donors last week.

“Our funding is pretty much on par with NSW funding, therefore there doesn’t seem to be a great need to go to a communal appeal,” JCCV president John Searle said. “A communal appeal would not raise more money. In fact, it might raise less money.”

The example Searle gave was that if 10 organisations call the same household during the course of the year, they may raise $100 each, but if a Victorian communal appeal were to call, it is unlikely to receive a $1000 donation from the same family in one lump sum.

He admitted “there is a fair bit of surprise coming out of this report. It is shattering all the myths.”

Smorgon added he was pleased to “once and for all get the facts” and that the idea of a Victorian communal appeal can now be “put to bed”.

“The findings are reassuring because they show the strength of the community,” he said.

David Balkin, the president of the NSW JCA, indicated the report was not as clear-cut as it appears.

“They say they raise slightly more than we do, but Melbourne has a much richer community than us,” Balkin said. “They have far more billionaires than we do and they are a bigger community. We shouldn’t be the benchmark because if Melbourne had a JCA like we do, they would raise more than they do today.”

Despite answering one question, the report raised a number of other issues.

Smorgon said it revealed that the fundraising burden was not being spread around. “We’ve still got too many people who don’t give.”

Searle listed other concerns, including that the next generation of philanthropic families will not support the Jewish community like their parents and grandparents have done; the substantial fundraising struggle faced by smaller community organisations and schools; the future of bequests; and how to go about central communal planning without having control of the purse strings.

Balkin certainly agreed with Searle’s final point.

“I’ve seen the report and I can understand what they are saying, but they are missing out on the planning,” he said. “Donors give us money as an intermediary because they think we know what the needs of the community are better than they do.

Balkin also took a swipe at the JCCV, indicating Sydney’s equivalent, the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, benefits from increased funding.

“Clearly the most obvious example of the consequence is our JBD, where we have a well-respected and well regarded advocate for our
community at the state level and Victoria has always struggled with that.”

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Celebrating eight decades

MELBOURNE, 3 June – With Temple Beth Israel (TBI) celebrating its 80th birthday this week, the emphasis is on youth, as the synagogue looks ahead to its next eight decades.

Australia’s oldest Progressive congregation works closely with the Leo Baeck Centre, Bentleigh Progressive Synagogue and Kedem, the three other congregations of the Victorian Union for Progressive Judaism (VUPJ), and is a major voice on the Union for Progressive Judaism (UPJ), which serves Australia and the region.

But in an era of membership turnover across Melbourne’s synagogues, and a proliferation of smaller minyans, long-established shuls of all stripes are struggling to hold the interest of congregants and to draw in new worshippers.

Finding tomorrow’s leaders can be a challenge that begins in the cradle, and TBI’s leadership team are doing all they can to meet it.

Rabbi Fred Morgan, TBI’s senior rabbi, harked back to the recent Shavuot morning service, and a ceremony celebrating the beginning of the life cycle. “We invited all babies born over the previous year onto the bimah for a special blessing with parents and grandparents, under a tallit, which was a really beautiful event,” he said.

In the words of TBI’s executive manager Art Feinman, the shul’s Matan program, for children who do not attend a Jewish day school, is a place “to plant the seeds”.

Feinman also spoke about “leadership born out of music” through Junior Chazzanim, a group of teens who provide musical Shabbat accompaniment once a month.

Dana Bar-Zuri, shaliach of the VUPJ and Netzer in Victoria, said sending 21 Melbourne youngsters to Israel for a 10-month leadership program – among a total of 33 nationally – is a record.

Jerusalem-born Bar-Zuri arrived last year to take up her role. In coordination with Beck Fiala, Netzer’s Melbourne head, she runs educational programs, including twice-yearly seminars on Jewish and Zionist issues, and monthly forums on “hot topics” in Israel.

“I try to bring them a lot about the Progressive community in Israel and to see what type of issues they are dealing with, and compare it to the issues the Progressive community in Australia, especially in Melbourne, are dealing with,” Bar-Zuri said. Bar-Zuri said TBI teens relate strongly to projects promoting tikkun olam (repairing the world), and to topics such as the conversion bill
controversy and Women of the Wall.

“As Australian Jews, they feel very comfortable being Progressive, but they really want to know what it’s like to be a Progressive Jew in Israel – it’s very different.”

Max Gross, who has been appointed VUPJ youth activities coordinator, focuses on congregants and prospective congregants aged in their 20s, organising a mix of activities including Shabbat dinners, Zohar discussions and social outings. He also arranges youth groups to attend services.

With his Australasian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS) background – he was president of AUJS at La Trobe University – his aim is to attract and hold an age group that congregations find difficult to keep interested. Gross has identified “a very positive trend in
more young people coming to synagogue services”.

Feinman sees work with teens and 20-somethings a foundation for “a growing interest and real involvement in TBI in the 30s and 40s age group”.

On a more formal level, TBI president Brian Samuel believes in succession planning. He pointed to young professionals such as Dr Fairlie Wayne, David Marks and Ian Moore on the TBI board, as “people we can come back to in later years and ask to take a senior role”.

The addition of Rabbis Gersh Zylberman and Rayna Gevurtz to the team some years ago attracted young newcomers, and with the couple’s departure for the US, Samuel said a search committee will seek a new, young associate rabbi.

According to Rabbi Morgan, the cumulative focus on teens, young adults and people in their 30s and 40s is a sound basis for future development.

“We have exceptional leadership at present on the board, and teams working in social justice, pastoral care and hospital visiting,” he said.

He also noted that the TBI Friendship Club, a social group for those on the other side of middle age, is now 10 years old and welcoming
more than 100 people each session. “That’s the future too.”

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Jewish students brace for negative reactions

MELBOURNE, 3 June – An escalation in tension around Australian university campuses is expected in the wake of the Gaza flotilla raid.

Australasian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS) vice-chairman Glen Falkenstein warned students need to be aware and report any incidents.

“If a student is harassed or intimidated on campus, then we encourage them to contact their campus AUJS president or their equity and diversity unit.”

Falkenstein said there has already been increased activity on campus. Meanwhile, in order to best confront verbal attacks or hostile conversations over the flotilla crisis, the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies has emailed background information and interview
transcripts to community members.

The information provides legal background, indicating that “Israel is currently in a state of armed conflict with Hamas” and as such
“maritime blockades are a legitimate and recognised measure under international law”.

Israel exercised its right to enforce its blockade after passengers on the boats provided “clear intention to violate the blockade by means
of written and oral statements”.

They have also circulated transcripts of official Knesset press responses from Israeli Government spokespeople.

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Marching on Melbourne’s streets

MELBOURNE, 3 June – Australian cities became marching grounds for anti-Israel rallies this week in response to the Israeli navy’s raid on a flotilla attempting to break the Gaza blockade.

In Melbourne, about 300 protesters waved placards and brandished Turkish flags in a peak-hour demonstration on Tuesday night.

Protesters were continually warned off tram tracks by police, with some waving posters bearing slogans such as “Boycott Israel” in front of tram windows.

The demonstration, organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), was flanked by a heavy police presence, and eventually ended at the State Library.

Rather than officially attending the protests, members of the Australasian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS) spent the evening calling
talk-back radio stations and writing to newspapers to counter the negative media in the wake of the crisis.

National chairperson Liam Getreu said the organisation decided they would “rather influence public opinion in the media than put up posters that will just be torn down”.

“We wanted to be smarter and rather arm people with facts,” he said

Warned by police not to attend the protest, Betar members in Sydney opted to hold a vigil outside the Turkish consulate in Woollahra. They held signs with slogans such as “Enough support for terrorism” and “Floating guerrillas not a peace flotilla”.

“It was a spontaneous protest in support of Israel and against the lies being spread about Israel’s intentions,” Betar’s Ari Briggs said.

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Cross-border kosher contention

SYDNEY, 7 June New South Wales Kashrut Authority (KA) administrator Rabbi Moshe Gutnick has moved to diffuse tension between Melbourne and Sydney rabbis.

But he was adamant he does not regret distributing a letter, signed by 10 rabbis and the organisation’s director, in response to
rumours that Sydney’s Adass Israel community would not accept the kosher status of meat prepared in the Harbour City and plans to establish a breakaway authority.

Tensions flared after, for the second time in recent months, an ultra-Orthodox Sydney family employed a Melbourne caterer under the supervision of the Melbourne-based Adass Israel Rabbi Avrohom Zvi Beck.

An Adass representative told The AJN that the family did so because catering was cheaper than Sydney kosher catering.

He added that Sydney Adass Rabbi Shalom Silberberg had agreed to oversee the food once it arrived in Sydney, although it was to be prepared in Melbourne using Melbourne kosher meat.

This sparked a cross-border war of words, with the KA responding to unconfirmed claims that the Adass family had gone with a Melbourne caterer because it did not accept the kosher status of Sydney meat.

In addition, there was talk that Rabbi Silberberg was establishing another kosher authority.

However, the Adass rabbi refused to confirm whether that was the case, saying only that his work is in “its infant stages at the moment”.

“I really don’t want to comment,” he said. “I don’t know what is going on and I don’t want to embarrass anyone.”

Melbourne Adass Israel member Benjamin Koppel said he too was unaware if Sydney was establishing its own kosher authority.

“We only know what is in the public domain,” he said, adding that while the communities carry the same name in both states, they are autonomous.

However, this did not stop the KA examining in explicit detail the different shechitah (ritual slaughter) practices used in Sydney and in Melbourne in its letter. They quoted a review prepared by an American rabbi into a Melbourne’s kosher meat practices.

“The OU [Orthodox Union] shechts at a maximum of 750 birds an hour per shochet, some require as low as 600 birds an hour. In Melbourne, the rabbi found the amount being shechted was 1000 per hour!”

It said the rabbi also found chickens in Melbourne are being soaked in water at the wrong temperature.

But Koppel, who saw the rabbi’s report, said “he was very satisfied with all he saw”.

“He suggested a small number of enhancements and cost-saving measures.”

While Eric Silver from Melbourne’s Solomons Kosher Butchers – the only producer of kosher chickens in Victoria – would not comment
publicly -, other rabbis said the KA letter misquoted the report.

Rabbi Meir Shlomo Klugwant, the head of the Organisation of Rabbis in Australasia kashrut subcommittee, said he found the situation “most disturbing and extremely disappointing”.

But Rabbi Gutnick said the KA’s letter had been taken completely out of context. “There should be absolutely no tension between Melbourne and Sydney,” he said. “The letter was crystal clear that we hold the Melbourne rabbinate in the
utmost respect. On behalf of the rabbinate of the KA, we eat the Melbourne shechitah when in Melbourne.

“The sole purpose of the letter was to point out that those who are trying to suggest that the Sydney chickens are inferior are simply incorrect.”

He called those who have misinterpreted the KA’s letter “mischievous and misrepresenting our position”.

“Perhaps those whose agenda it is to try and say that our shechitah is not good are trying to deflect from the essential issue by fomenting discord between Melbourne and Sydney.”

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Fabian is Australia bureau chief of San Diego Jewish World

The Jews Down Under … Roundup of Australian Jewish News

April 26, 2010 1 comment

Garry Fabian

Compiled by Garry Fabian

Aid for orphans in Cochin, India

MELBOURNE, 22 April –  A year 9 community service project at Bialik College grew into something  bigger after a group of students raised more than  $3000 for an Indian orphanage. Under the leadership of Jewish Aid Australia, the  class was divided up and each group received $10.  The challenge was to turn that $10 into a charity  windfall for the cause of their choice.

One group of students ­ Joel Rabinov, Joshua  Hanegbi, Jessica Worth, Joel Kuperholtz, Nathan Hanegbi and Steven Gringlas ­ developed a  strategy for their chosen charity, Emmanuel Children’s Home in Cochin, India.

Using their $10 to purchase lollies, which they  sold at school to make $60, the team then used  the profits to buy more lollies, successfully  making $140 in preparation for their final major fundraiser: a sausage sizzle at the school’s senior sports carnival.

“The sports carnival was a beautiful day. The sun  shone, the kids shlepped and organised,
cooperated and cooked . the atmosphere was pure  goodwill and fun,” Sharon Kuperholtz, the mother  of fundraiser Joel, said. “By the end of the day,  the team had managed to turn $10 dollars into $907.”

Meanwhile, Kuperholtz held an event at her home,  to raise additional funds for the orphanage, bringing the total to more than $3000.

The Kuperholz family then visited  the orphanage  on a recent trip to India to personally deliver the cheque. They also took over toys, games,  dress-ups, make-up, cricket sets and stationery.

The response from the orphanage director was  “full of gratitude and blessings”. The money
enabled the purchase of two computers and a washing machine.

“The children will benefit enormously from these  purchases. Our children will benefit just as much from being empowered to do something wonderful  for a community that may now enter their thoughts  and conscience,” Kuperholz said.

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Jewish themes at German film festival

MELBOURNE–Of all of the countries in Europe, it is not  surprising that Germany is the one whose filmmakers most consistently attempt to deal with Jewish concepts and themes.

This can be seen again in this year’s Audi  Festival of German Films, which opens this week in Australia.

Three of this year’s films have significant Jewish themes and two more include key Jewish characters.

It is often said that truth is stranger than  fiction, and the events that are dramatised in
the film Berlin 36 serve to remind us that  stories of Jewish survival are fantastically varied.

This film tells the true story of Gretel Bergmann  (played by a very luminous Karoline Herfurth), a champion German-Jewish high jumper during the  period of the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

Although Bergmann has already migrated to Britain  and become a star athlete there, she is coerced by the Nazis to return to Germany to participate  in the German Olympic team trials in the lead-up to the 1936 Games.

Under pressure from the International Olympic  Committee and a threatened American team boycott, the Germans need to be seen to be including a  Jewish athlete, so an extremely reluctant Bergmann participates in the team.

When her sympathetic coach is replaced by a  bullying Nazi, her life  becomes almost unbearable.

The film also introduces a second fascinating  (and true) complicating story: Bergmann ‘s
roommate, fellow high jumper Dora Ratjen, turns  out to be a man, recruited by the Nazis.

The film includes a short interview with the real  Gretel Bergmann, who survived the war and moved  to the US, revealing even a more astonishing  sequence of events in the following years.

The Mein Kampf film appearing in this year’s  festival is not the 1960 feature documentary with  the same name, which was reportedly the first  comprehensive documentary on the Nazi era to be widely shown in Germany at the time.

Instead, the film was made in 2009 and is a dark  comedy based on a play written by the late
Hungarian Jewish avant-garde playwright, George Tabori.

The bizarre plot of this film – which has had  only a limited cinema release outside Europe –
takes place in Vienna in 1910, when a young  painter named Adolf Hitler rents a room at a
homeless shelter, finding his roommate to be an older Jewish bookseller named Shlomo Herzl
(surely an intentional reference to Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern political Zionism).

When the young Hitler fails at painting, it is the older Jewish man who recommends that he
enters politics, and assists in the creation of his signature moustache and facial look.

Resonating Charlie Chaplin’s 1941 classic The Great Dictator (one of the few films that
successfully satirised Hitler) and out of the tradition of Life is Beautiful and Train de Vie,
this German-Swiss-Austrian co-production is recommended for those whose tastes run to European fabulism.

An interesting side note is that the “mein kampf” of the film refers not to Hitler’s notorious
anti-Semitic tract, but to the book that Shlomo Herzl wants to write. The satire may be obvious, but no less cutting.

A retrospective screening of the award-winning 1999 Golden Globe-nominated Aimee & Jaguar is also included in the festival.

Again based on a true story, this film tells the story of a German housewife and mother who falls  in love with a hidden Jewish woman during the war.

Two other festival entries feature key Jewish characters: the international Emmy Award-winning  mini-series The Wolves of Berlin charts six key characters (one of them Jewish) living in Berlin from 1948 to reunification in 1989. This four-and-a-half hour production provides a great history lesson for those fascinated by the trials of that besieged city.

And John Rabe (based on a true story of an Oskar Schindler-like character in Nanking, China) slips in star actor Daniel Bruhl (Inglourious Basterds) as a German-Jewish diplomat.

There is a great irony in John Rabe as the main character – a nominal Nazi – becomes the saviour  of many thousands of Chinese, at one point shielding them from Japanese warplanes under a large Nazi flag.

The Audi Festival of German Films has grown in popularity since it was first launched in
Australia in 2002, with more than 19,000 attending the festival last year.

It runs for two weeks in Melbourne and Sydney, with shorter programs in Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth.

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Israel at last for Aussie marchers

WARSAW, Poland, 22 April – Australia’s March of the Living (MOTL) contingent finally took to the skies on Wednesday (April 21), five days after it was scheduled to arrive in Israel.

Stranded in Poland following the closure of airspace as a result of an ash plume, which was
caused by the eruption of Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull, the 95-strong year 11 students
and 25 staff missed Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations in the Holy Land.

“They were very low but spirits are now very high. They just want to be in Israel,” MOTL
Australia director Sue Hampel said in a phone interview as the group were on route to Budapest  airport. “It has been a roller-coaster ride.”

While the contingent was tentatively booked on a number of flights — one on Friday afternoon
before Shabbat, another on Monday morning, which was later pushed back to the afternoon — all were cancelled as Polish airspace remained closed.

Late on Tuesday night Australian time (April 20), a decision was made to move the group via a 10-hour bus trip to Budapest, where a chartered El Al plane would fly them to Israel.

While slightly delayed, the aircraft finally departed at 4.30am local time on Wednesday, and
was scheduled to arrive in Israel that same morning.

“They were absolutely exuberant and over the moon that the plane was coming,” Hampel, who did not go on the march, said from Australia on April 23.

“We made the right decision because Polish airspace remains closed.”

While all the other MOTL contingents flew out of Poland late last week, the Australian and Turkish  groups had their flights cancelled.

However, they awoke to news that airspace over Europe was closed indefinitely due to the ash in the atmosphere.

“They have been beyond exemplary. They accepted the situation and made the most of what they  could do,” Anita Baker, whose husband and daughter are on the trip, said. “Sue has been
outstanding; if not for her, nothing would have happened. She has been on the phone day and night to Poland, Israel and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.”

Hampel commended the efforts of MOTL International, saying that board member Aharon
Tamir remained in Poland with the Australian group, while executive director Yossi Kedem “did everything possible” from Israel, including extending accommodation, food and tours.

She also praised the students, their parents, the madrichim and logistics coordinator Sam Rosenberg who accompanied the contingent.

The group will now spend four “action-packed” days in Israel, before flying home as originally scheduled on Saturday night.

Hampel said she was very proud of the efforts and the ultimate outcome.

“It’s been mad and brilliant,” she said.

While not as they had hoped and expected, the group spent Yom Hazikaron with the Polish-Jewish community and celebrated Yom Ha’atzmaut at a barbecue with members of the Turkish contingent and the local community.

Meanwhile, the travel chaos also forced the Chief Rabbi of Poland to cancel a six-day trip to
Australia. Rabbi Michael Schudrich had been due to attend various synagogue, school and charity  engagements in both Victoria and New South Wales during his visit, including tonight’s (Thursday)  launch of Magen David Adom’s 80th anniversary humanitarian aid appeal in Melbourne. The charity said it was hoping to reschedule the event for later in the year.

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Fabian is Australia bureau chief for San Diego Jewish World.  He is based in Melbourne.

Reflecting on Israel’s national mood and dilemmas

April 20, 2010 Leave a comment
By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–National holidays are occasions for reflection. The linkage of Memorial Day and Independence Day was designed to focus on the miseries and hopes of being Jewish and Israeli, so there should be no surprise that they work on our emotions, this year as in the past.

Memorial Day is heart wrenching stories of husbands and sons who did not return from duty, and the struggle of survivors to keep going. Independence Day begins in the evening with boring speeches, music and dance that ranging from local amateurs to world class artists, and then fireworks. Daytime is an occasion for family picnics, cheek by jowl with other families and the smells of too much broiling meat. 
Analysts argue the merits of what was done at crucial points in the past, and what must be done at this year’s confluence of opportunity and danger.
Shlomo Avineri wrote about the prospects of a Palestinian declaration of independence, and Ethan Bronner described Israel’s “dark mood.”
Bronner is the New York Times correspondent who kept his Jerusalem assignment despite his son’s recruitment to the IDF. He reports on Israel’s prosperity–approaching Germany’s level of personal income–along with international isolation and an unsympathetic White House. 
Avineri has been a colleague and friend for three decades, served for a while as Director General of the Foreign Ministry, and is widely known for his insights. In this article he considers what might happen if Prime Minister Salam Fayyad actually does declare Palestine’s independence. 
A unilateral declaration  would free Israel from all of its agreements. Then a positive scenario would range to Palestinian maturity in controlling its extremists and positive Israeli actions, allowing meaningful negotiations about final borders and shared spaces. A negative scenario could involve  Israel sealing its border between with Gaza, and stopping the flow of  food, fuel, electricity, the closing of the West Bank except for Israeli troops concerned to protect Jewish settlements, and whatever would then come from Palestinians and others.  
Also in the air are questions about the Obama White House. Does the President’s musing about excess American commitments signal an exasperation with Israel, or simply an admission that he should minimize  involvements in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere? http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/15/world/middleeast/15mideast.html
Perhaps enough prominent Jews and others have convinced the White House that coddling dangerous states while beating up a close ally is not the best kind of foreign policy. Or the White House may only be pausing for Israel’s holidays before renewing its pressures.
For good things to happen in the next year or so, people with major roles in Palestinian and Israeli politics will have to take risk leading their people away from fear and toward accommodation, rather than giving into the easy courses of staying with immediate self-interests. They will also need cooperation from outsiders.

This means Iranians, Syrians and  Hizbollah foregoing what they have been doing, and going along with moderate Palestinians. It would help if overseas Jews stopped fomenting and financing Israelis afraid of losing what they think is theirs, and demanding to live where they are not wanted. 

American and European officials could help by keeping out of the way, rather than stimulating the worst sentiments among Israeli and Palestinians by their awkward efforts to settle someone else’s problems.
In short, politicians and political activists in several places would have to stop acting like politicians and political activists. 
Those hopeful of this Messiah equivalent should not look to American politics for indications that salvation might be possible. 
If the reform of health is any indication of pursuing the public good, then we should all tear our clothes and cover ourselves with Icelandic ash. The self-interest pursued by insurance companies, HMOs, state governments, members of the House and Senate, and assorted ideologues has produced even more complexity, and perhaps greater expense in what was already a world leader in its capacity to frustrate the delivery of medical care.
Israel will go back to work after the holidays, but no one should expect an early resolution of the big questions. 
It will be a smaller issue that is attracts most attention. The police have identified former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as the key suspect in Jerusalem’s real estate scandal. We are wondering if he will be ordered to house arrest, with or without access to telephones, e-mail and all the rest, or maybe even confinement in the house of the police. And what else will we learn about those bribes that allowed the construction of our city’s monstrosity?
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Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University.

American Wealth and International Affairs

February 3, 2010 Leave a comment
By Ira Sharkansky
 
JERUSALEM–Money, money everywhere, but not enough. That’s the message from the massive deficit already apparent and projected for the United States. It comes from too many wars, too many tax cuts, too many entitlement programs, and too much exploitation by highly paid capitalists who forced the government into unprecedented bail-outs. Who’s to blame is problematic. Any quest for responsibility will produce a political dog fight that worsens the chances of getting cooperation to deal with it.

A newspaper headline captures the strategic threat, “Huge Deficits May Alter U.S. Politics and Global Power.” http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/02/us/politics/02deficit.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

At stake is the war on terror, health reform, tax and spending leverages to increase employment, along with prosaic domestic programs that are suffering on account of financial problems among states and localities. There is also a prospect of Chinese influence on American policy due to government bonds they have acquired from selling consumer and industrial goods to Americans, Europeans and others. The same changes in international commerce have also brought about the closing of factories throughout countries where shopping is a favored pastime.

It is too early to write finish to the power of North America and Europe. The Chinese cannot unload their bonds without reducing their value, and hurting themselves along with the United States. America and Europe are wealthy, and may be wise enough to avoid disaster. Yet signs of trouble include the interruption of medical evacuations from Haiti to the United States due to arguments as to which institutions would pay for treatment, and the president’s comments that the country could not afford an endless war in Afghanistan, a country his experts warned was unrepairable.

The dismay over deficits may be more important for the prospect of health reform than the loss of a Massachusetts Senate seat. The country with the best medical facilities in the world may continue to have them unavailable to much of its population. Large numbers will get only emergency treatment in public hospitals, and others who think they have paid for decent care will suffer the stinginess of insurance companies.

While avoiding the temptation of indicating which president or which bloc of Congress has contributed what portion to the deficit, it is useful to identify some traits of the United States that contribute to its problem.

The financial problems of the United States (national, state, and local governments) suffer from taxes that are lower than those of other western democracies, as well as from the costs of its overseas commitments. Americans concerned to deal with their deficits should not focus on their domestic programs, which generally are less generous than those of other democracies.

Wealth may be the single most important factor responsible for American prominence in international conflicts. Resources per capita in the United States are lower than in Luxembourg, Norway, Switzerland, Ireland, Denmark, Iceland, The Netherlands, and Sweden, suggesting that the average individual in those countries is better off than the average American. However, the American population is larger, and the overall wealth of the United States is greater than those countries. This gives the American government leverage not possessed by others. Military power derives from the total wealth of the United States, as well as its being the greatest surviving western power at the end of World War II, and then one of the two major players in the Cold War.

Being the lone superpower left standing in 1990 invited endless appeals for assistance, and made the United States the most attractive target for those whose targets are capitalism, individualism, the rich, and the non-Muslim. The World Trade Center fell as a result of the second attack on the icon of all that was viewed to be evil. The Gulf War of 1991 was a prelude to major military investments, largely American, in the area from Iraq eastward and southward. Iran’s animosity to the United States dates from intense opposition to the friends of the Shah and the hostage taking of 1979-81. It does not seem to be diminishing under the Obama effort at engagement.

The prominence of the United States, as opposed to that of Britain, France, Germany, or Russia in international politics is not only a product of wealth and military power. The structure of American government also has made its contribution to the role the country has chosen for itself. The separation of power, and the competition between Congress and the presidency adds to the heroic defense of national values not so apparent in the parliamentary regimes of Europe. The unity between executive and legislature may facilitate the willingness to accommodate hostile forces, most apparent in going along with Muslim and Third World demands in the United Nations, or abstaining alongside American nays.

Somewhere in the American mix is the power of the Jewish lobby. One must be careful of exaggerating. It is far from dominant. Insofar as Israel is often a target of Muslim and other Third World countries, however, Jewish influence in Congress and the White House is among the factors responsible for United States vetoes in the Security Council, and votes against resolutions in the General Assembly and other UN organs where European governments are generally not as outspoken.

While on the subject of Jews, it is appropriate to continue with the advantages of a country that is beleaguered, but also small and limited in its responsibilities. Israel devotes three or four times the percentage of its resources to security as the United States, and has suffered perhaps 10 times the casualties on a proportional basis since World War II, but it has advantages that the American giant can envy. While American troops fight from bases on every continent but Australia and Antartica, Israel’s military operations are restricted to a couple of hundred miles from the center of its country, plus the occasional operation further afield. The cultures and languages of America’s  enemies are beyond the ken of its intelligence capabilities, while Israel has operated throughout its history with agents in places not so foreign to those who direct and analyze the gathering of intelligence. Israel can get credit for the quick dispatch of a few well trained people, with appropriate equipment to Haiti and other disaster areas. The United States starts slower, but does the heavy lifting of prolonged care and the refurbishing of infrastructure. Israel’s airport and national airline led the world in security, but they deal with a smaller number of flights than those at a sizable American or European airport, and need not bother with inflated demands to treat every passenger as posing the same risk. Israeli security personnel pay less attention to aged Jews than to young Arabs.

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Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University