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Pig’s head at Lithuanian synagogue door enrages community

August 24, 2010 Leave a comment

KAUNUS, Lithuania (WJC)–Jewish organizations in Lithuania have strongly condemned an apparent neo-Nazi attack in which a pig’s head was left Saturday at the entrance of a synagogue in the city of Kaunas.

“The Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Religious Community of Lithuanian Jews judge this as Nazi provocation aimed at insulting the ethnic and religious feelings of Lithuanian Jews,” the heads of the two organizations, Simonas Alperavicius and Chief Rabbi Chaim Burstein, said in a joint statement.

Simonas Gurevicius, executive director of the Lithuanian Jewish community, told the news agency AFP that the incident should be treated as an attack on all believers, not only Jews. “We hope that Lithuanian society will not be impassive, as this act of a few anti-Semitic vandals does not reflect the attitude of Lithuanian society.”

Kaunas police have launched a formal investigation but there are no suspects so far, according to the ‘Baltic News Service’. 

Lithuania was once home to a 220,000-strong Jewish community, and Vilnius was a cultural hub and world center for the study of the Torah, also known as the ‘Jerusalem of the North’. At the end of the 19th century, there were over 100 synagogues in Vilnius. During the Holocaust, 95 percent of Lithuania’s Jews perished at the hands of the Nazis and their Lithuanian collaborators.  

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Preceding provided by World Jewish Congress

Educational and patriotic thoughts about American music

July 22, 2010 Leave a comment

By David Amos

David Amos

SAN DIEGO–Earlier this month we celebrated our Independence Day. My thoughts brought me to the importance of American music, and the shameful neglect we have allowed music education to be. Part of this was stimulated by an article in the editorial section of the San Diego Union-Tribune by John M. Eger, on July 8.

But first, let me share with you a sensitive, meaningful poem by an anonymous music teacher, circa, well….anytime:

WHY I TEACH MUSIC:

Not because I expect you to major in music.

Not because I expect you to play or sing all your life.

Not so you can relax or have fun.

But…

So you will be human,

So you will recognize beauty,

So you will be closer to an infinite beyond this world, So you will have something to cling to, So you will have more love, compassion, more gentleness,

 More good….in short, more life!

Of what value will it be to make a prosperous living

Unless you know how to live?

On American and modern music: We have been conditioned to believe that if it is called “modern music”, or if the name of the composer is unknown to us, it is probably ugly and not worth our attention. Yes, there is a natural tendency to dislike the unknown, but in music, sadly, we do not even give it a chance to redeem itself. Even the late Karl Haas (from the enormously popular radio program “Adventures in Good Music”) told me that he sometimes received fan letters which warned him that if he as much as mentions the fact that he was about to play music from the Twentieth Century, the radio would be turned off immediately. This is tragic; it is cultural suicide.

I remember sadly an evening of music played by the San Diego Symphony, maybe fifteen years ago. In the first half was music by Robert Schumann, and after intermission, the conductor programmed the fabulous Concerto for Orchestra by Béla Bartók. The latter is to me one of the greatest compositions ever. Period. You can imagine my disappointment, pain, and frustration to see more than half of the audience trampling its way to Symphony Hall’s exits, just to avoid listening to Bartók in the second half! In retrospect, the program order should have been reversed.

The fact is, that there is a vast amount of modern music, a lot of it composed by Americans, which is accessible, enjoyable, even at a first hearing, and very melodious. In other words, it is what I call “listener friendly”.

After being so involved with the subject of American orchestral music (I gave a lecture on the subject to the music faculty of Hebrew University in Jerusalem), I have had many a talk with musicians, critics, and music lovers. One salient fact stands out: The American public has an inferiority complex about its own music. We tend to believe that if it originated in Europe, it is probably better, and if it is from the U.S., it will be lacking in depth and lasting value. Only history will eventually resolve this, but I have noticed in my various travels and conversations that most natives from other countries support and proudly believe in their own heritage, whether it be historic or contemporary. Audiences and musicians alike enthusiastically program and attend concerts of their own composers in Canada, Poland, Denmark, England, Mexico, and the former Soviet republics. I am sure that it is the same in many other places; but don’t get me started on Israel!

Curiously, when I was invited to guest conduct in Lithuania in 1992, when working out the repertory to be performed at the concerts, I was politely asked to “please not bring any Copland, Gershwin, or Bernstein”. At first, I was surprised and a bit annoyed, already thinking of several hidden implications from that request. But after directly asking the director of the Lithuanian Philharmonic as to “why”, the answer was surprising: “We don’t want you to bring us music from these composers, because we program them too frequently, and they are very popular here. We want you to bring to us some different American music”. So, I brought them Paul Creston, Alan Hovhaness, Norman Dello-Joio, Gian Carlo Menotti, and Ernest Bloch. After the fact, the musicians told me how much they enjoyed playing the music of these composers, and the audiences seemed responsive and enthusiastic, in both Vilnius and Kaunas.

As an aside, I was told by a cellist of the Vilnius orchestra, “We are glad that you brought us the music of Bloch. During the Soviet regime, we were not allowed to perform his music, just because he was Jewish”. He also proudly showed me a printed program for later in the month, where he was performing Bloch’s Schelomo, the Hebraic Rhapsody for Cello and Orchestra.

Getting back to our American heritage, it is best to quote the words and spirit of one of our greatest composers, Charles Ives. He not only preached, but practiced the concept of “Wake up, America! The culture and traditions of Europe are fine, but stand up, support, and enjoy your own wonderful music”.

I fully endorse that. Let us strive to discover and enjoy totally unknown and lesser known treasures of our past and present. Be careful, you may enjoy what you hear.

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Amos is conductor of the Tifereth Israel Community Orchestra and a guest conductor of professional orchestras around the world

Book Review: With so many recipes, where’s one for taiglech?

July 18, 2010 Leave a comment

Jewish Home Cooking by Arthur Schwartz,Ten Speed Press, $35

Jewish Holiday Cooking by Jayne Cohen, John Wiley and Sons, $32.50

By Marc Yaffe

Marc Yaffe

BETHESDA, Maryland–The two Jewish cookbooks that are being reviewed here were both runners-up for the 2009 James Beard Awards in their individual categories.  Clearly I am guilty of a certain hubris for selecting volumes that have already been declared among the best of the best, but I defend myself on the basis that my reviewing criteria are probably not among those applied by the selectors of the James Beard Foundation.

It is almost 40 years since I read –and saved for future reference– an article in the Arts Section of the Sunday New York Times by the noted music critic and essayist, Nat Hentoff.  In his article Mr. Hentoff wrote of his interview of Al Cohn, a noted jazz saxophonist of the day.  He quoted Mr. Cohn as saying:  “It’s what you listen to when you’re growing up that you always come back to.”  Hentoff then added:  “. . . Cohn’s Law is essentially valid in that we do not forget what brought us the most pleasure when we were younger and what most won our respect.”  It is no great stretch to apply Cohn’s Law to the foods that gave us most pleasure as children, and even today evoke the same pleasurable memories of our youth.

So when I pick up a Jewish cookbook the first thing I do is search out the recipes that my Grandmother, who emigrated from Kovna, a small village near Vilna, made regularly, especially those that graced our Passover table.  One of the first recipes I look for in the Index is Brisket.    Of course, my Grandmother used Nyafat for frying the onions and braising the brisket, and, to be sure, she salted and soaked the meat.  I can’t criticize Mr. Schwartz for employing Canola Oil, but I cannot excuse him for baking his brisket after having braised it, and not adding a small amount of water to kick-start the gravy-making process.  About midway through the cooking my Grandmother would add some par-boiled potatoes and cut up carrots.  What a joy:  Tender, juicy meat with gravy infused potatoes and carrots. 

What it all boils down to (pardon the pun) is Mr. Schwartz’s heritage:  Galitzianer or Litvak?  Clearly, when he refers to the recipes he inherited from his Mother he is a Litvak.  And while his Mother is to be excused for not coming from the same stetl as my Grandmother, her recipes, as interpreted by her son, do evoke many mouth-watering recollections.  But where is her recipe for Taiglech?  To my mind, a very serious omission.

Unlike Mr. Schwartz’s work, Jayne Cohen’s 575-page collection of recipes draws from every corner of the diaspora.   If you are ever inclined to introduce new items into your traditional holiday menu, this is the source book for you.  While it must be quite evident how much I relish my Grandmother’s pot roast, I confess to a strong curiosity to try Ms. Cohen’s Aromatic Marinated Brisket with Chestnuts.  Her Syrian Stuffed Zucchini in Tomato-Apricot Sauce, a dish for Sukkot, is suitable for any occasion.  As is her recipe for Iranian Grilled Chicken Thighs.

What Ms. Cohen offers is choices, a multitude of choices.  Are you thinking about making latkes?  She gives you not one recipe, but eleven.  There are ten recipes for matzo brei, and a like quantity for kugel.  And so on.  For most of her dishes she does have basic recipes, introducing variations subsequently.  Ms. Cohen’s work is a rich compendium of holiday fare, which, if you are inventive, can lead you to producing your own variations.

But as abundant is her collection of recipes, she, too, has omitted one for taiglech!

Kidding aside, it must be said that there is an important difference between these two volumes.  The first, Mr. Schwartz’s tome, is truly a cookbook.  It has a point of view and it tells its own story; about the foods that his family holds dear, and that he is drawn to as we are drawn to the music we heard as children.  Ms. Cohen’s work is simply a compendium of recipes.  That they are tied together by the thread of their Jewish origins there is little doubt.  I do believe, however, that her work would have been considerably more meaningful had she sought to trace the evolution of all those recipes as they made their way into the diaspora.

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Yaffe, based in Bethesda, Maryland, travels the world in search of culinary creations to compare with his bubbe’s.

Immigration: Our family’s three-continent trek

July 13, 2010 Leave a comment

By Franklin Gaylis 

SAN DIEGO — Several thousand years of Jewish history has been extremely well documented. What about our personal family’s history over the past few hundred years?

This is the question I asked myself when our children were born in the USA after my wife Jean, and I emigrated  in 1982 from South Africa. Suddenly the importance of knowing our family’s history became  a priority in my life. A visit to the Kotel in Jerusalem made me think more about our family’s history in the diaspora, over the past 2000 years. That is when the following questions evolved:

Where did the family live prior to their emigration to South Africa? How did they get to South Africa? Who came first and why? What would I tell our children about their family’s past?

I knew so little, however, I quickly learned that most of my family, even the seniors whom I questioned, knew little more than I did.

All that was known were a few names of the shtetls in Lithuania and Latvia where our family had once lived. My grandmother’s sister, Aunti Cilla, attempted in vain when I was a young medical student to tell me the family’s history in Lithuania. The memories of how she had saved her sisters from the eventual annihilation of Lithuanian Jewry suddenly resurfaced in my mind.  This amazing woman who lived to 102 years of age saved many members of our family and in doing so paved the path to South Africa. She also selflessly returned to the family’s shtetl Kruk, in Lithuania to save her sisters, including my grandmother.  How I wished that someone had listened to her stories and acknowledged her courageous actions during her lifetime. Was it possible there were any family members remaining, I asked? Fortunately, we hadn’t lost any family in the Holocaust, or so we thought.

My quest for information prompted extensive research on the Jews of Lithuania and together with family we planned a  trip to the old country. Jean and I together with four cousins (Lorraine, Richard, Uncle Dave and Jill) visited the family shtetls in Lithuania and Latvia hoping to find any relic from our family’s past: a home of one of our great grandparents, a tombstone or anything that could possibly connect us to our past. Lithuanian and Latvian Jews had migrated to these areas 700 years prior and we knew absolutely nothing about our family’s history in these countries,  other than the names of a few shtetls.

During our week visiting the shtetls with the help of local and national guides, we were fortunate to find surviving family in Ludza (Latvia), which had been my great grandfather’s home. It was  currently inhabited by Mrs Lotzov ( my grandfather was Frank Lotzof). A family tree from the Riga archives detailed seven generations starting in the early 1800s. I learned that I had been named Franklin after my grandfather Frank Lotzof, however, it was clear from the family tree that his name originally was  Afroim and this Yiddish name must have been changed to Frank in South Africa ( My Hebrew name is Ephraim). In Ludza we found a desecrated shul, a shtiebl, with an Aron Kodesh, a Bimah, hundreds of rotting machzorim, a shofar, and breast plate from a Torah as well as many other religious artifacts.

In the Ludza forest we saw the memorial to the 833 Jews who were murdered by the Nazis and local accomplices in August 1941. A prominent memorial to six Lotzof cousins, murdered and buried in the Jewish Cemetery answered this question: about whether we had lost family in the Shoah.

In Kruk we learned that one of the five sisters, Sossa, had never left for South Africa and had been killed with her five daughters. I was greatly saddened to learn of these members of our family who have never had the Kaddish prayer recited for them. They had never been remembered. We were fortunate that Aunty Cilla and my grandfather Frank Lotzof returned  to bring out many of the family prior to the Second World War. I felt some comfort that we were finally piecing together some of the family’s recent history.

Our parents, the next generation were born in South Africa. They lived good lives, were successful professionals (doctors, lawyers, businessmen….) in contrast with their parents who had acquired little formal education. My grandmother Mina who spoke only German, was chaperoned to South Hampton in England at the age of 16 or 17 years. Then she was sent to South Africa by boat never to see or speak to her parents again. What prompted them to send a young daughter on her own to a distant land never to see her again? I could only imagine how difficult life must have been for Jews in the Baltics. They obviously envisaged a better life for her in South Africa.

Several years later during  a trip back to South Africa with my parents, I was again impressed how little knowledge we had of our family’s past: Anti-Semitism was rife in Heilbron where my mother Rhoda Gaylis  (nee Lotzof) was born. Afrikaners who  were supporters of the Nazis in the war, created similar fascist groups like the  Ossewa Brandwag and Greyshirts. They had every intent in doing the same as the Nazis to the Jews of South Africa when Hitler prevailed in Europe. The fact that none of the family were aware of details of our past was perplexing  to me. When interviewing my mother who was a gifted pianist and musician, she recalled an Afrikaner family who were fond of her as she played songs for the Christians in their church. At the age of six they told her, “Rhoda, when Hitler comes we will hide you in that little chest” When she replied with “ What about my mammie and pappie?” they said “Only you Rhoda.”

How fortunate we are as a family that Frank and Cilla and their parents had the foresight to do what they did. Similarly,  my parents encouraged my wife and I to emigrate to the USA in our early 20s to provide a safer future for our children. What will be the future of our children? Will  there be a fourth continent that we move to in just over 100 years? At present we are fortunate to have almost 70 family members living here in San Diego. We meet regularly once a year for Shabbat at the La Jolla Cove. The valiant efforts of some family members to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our family indicates an ongoing  core commitment to Judaic values and principles. The same values and principles continue to maintain the family bonds here in San Diego.

This experience researching our family’s past has given me a greater appreciation for:

  • the secular and religious freedoms we have in the USA
  • the importance of family
  •  the need as Jews to be ever vigilant
  •  the central role Israel plays in our lives.

I believe the freedom and  prosperity  that we Jews have enjoyed over the past 60 years is directly related to the establishment of the state of Israel.

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Gaylis is a physician based in San Diego.  He will tell about his travels and genealogical research in a presentation called “From Shtetl to Shtetl” at 7 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 19, in the Astor Judaica Library at the Lawrence Family JCC.

New York senator calls for better preservation of Jewish cemeteries in Europe

June 4, 2010 Leave a comment

(WJC)–Kirsten Gillibrand, the US senator for New York, has asked the Obama administration to investigate reports of neglect and vandalism at Jewish cemeteries in Europe. Gillibrand, a Democrat, listed three examples, provided by Rabbi David Niederman of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg: Plans in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius to expand a sports complex over an ancient Jewish burial place; reportedly unauthorized digging at a cemetery in Krakow, Poland; and ancient catacombs in Rabat, Malta left in disarray, with some remains removed.

“We must preserve these historic cemeteries and ensure they are neither neglected nor forgotten,” Gillibrand said in a statement announcing that she was writing a letter about the matter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose Senate seat she inherited. “Moving or destroying these cemeteries would be an affront to family members of those buried there and would erase Jewish remnants from that time.”

Officials at the US Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, an independent government agency that deals with Jewish properties in Europe among other issues, said they were aware of the cases and were pursuing them. Building at the Vilnius burial ground has been frozen for the time being after representations on behalf of the commission.

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Preceding provided by World JewishCongress.

US lawmakers press Eastern European countries over Holocaust restitution

May 28, 2010 Leave a comment

(WJC)–Leading US lawmakers have called on Eastern European nations to advance Holocaust-era property reclamation processes. The call comes a year after the Prague Conference on Holocaust Era Assets, which declared that “every effort be made to rectify the consequences of wrongful property seizures, such as confiscations, forced sales and sales under duress of property, which were part of the persecution of (victims of the Holocaust), the vast majority of whom died heirless.”

The Helsinki Commission, the congressional branch of a multinational grouping of parliamentary human rights groups, heard testimony Tuesday from Stuart Eizenstat, the special adviser to the U.S. secretary of state on Holocaust issues. “Implementation remains very uneven,” Eizenstat said of the post-communist nations. Western European nations had for the most part resolved such issues by the time the Iron Curtain collapsed.

“Corruption, processing delays, difficulty in obtaining basic documentation and inconsistent information about the application process have marred property restitution in too many countries,” he said. “In some instances, basic legislation is still lacking. No country has been exemplary in this field, and many have been quite the opposite.”

Eizenstat singled out Poland, Romania and Lithuania as nations “where we are awaiting long overdue improvements.” Commission members pressed the faltering nations to accelerate the claims process. “Every major political party in Poland has supported draft legislation on property compensation, and I hope that the prime minister will be able to carry through on his stated commitment to see a general property law adopted,” said commission chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.). “In Lithuania, the 1995 property law is needlessly restrictive. I hope the government will fulfill its promises to revisit that law and ensure that communal properties, including schools and places of worship, are returned to their proper owners. Making amends for such crimes and atrocities cannot and should not drag out for yet another generation.”

Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), Cardin’s co-chairman, called on the nations to retreat from applying standard inheritance laws on such exceptional cases. “There is something terribly perverse about applying the normal rules of inheritance to the extraordinary and tragic circumstances created by the Holocaust,” he said. “It is just wrong that a government can prevent a man from retrieving his own uncle’s artwork because a law says that uncle has no direct heirs. When whole families were murdered in the Holocaust, I would think such an exception should be made a part of the law.”

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Preceding provided by World Jewish Congress.

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

 

The Jews Down Under… Roundup of Australian Jewish News

April 19, 2010 Leave a comment

 

Garry Fabian

Compiled by Garry Fabian

The Zentai saga rolls on

PERTH 13 April – The Federal Court in Western Australia will next month begin hearing an appeal from Perth man Charles Zentai against his
extradition to Hungary to face war crimes charges.

The court has postponed the start of a judicial review into the case to April 27; it was supposed to begin last month. A review favourable to
Zentai is widely seen as his final opportunity to avoid extradition.

Earlier this month, lawyers representing Zentai and Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor met inFederal Court over the defendant’s right to see a full version of the documents used by O’Connor in reaching his decision to green-light the extradition.

Zentai is accused of playing a role in the murder of Peter Balazs, a young Budapest Jew who was beaten to death in November 1944.

Zentai, who was arrested in 2005 on a Hungarian warrant, denies the charges.
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Remembering Six Million

MELBOURNE, 12 April – Commemorations for Yom Hashoah, Holocaust remembrance day, were held around Australia on Sunday, April 11 and Monday, April 12.

In Melbourne, survivors from the “Buchenwald boys” lit memorial candles at a memorial at
Monash University’s Robert Blackwood Hall.

Sydney’s Jewish community hosted a number of functions, including a name reading ceremony at
the Sydney Jewish Museum in Darlinghurst. More than 300 people, including consul generals from
Germany, Austria, Poland, Lithuania, Costa Rica, Britain, Croatia and Romania, joined school
children, many of them from non-Jewish schools, at Sunday’s moving commemoration.

Moriah College hosted a Yom Hashoah event, with a keynote speech from Israel Embassy deputy Eli Yerushalmi, while Masada College had scheduled its own commemoration for Monday night.

Yom Hashoah memorials were also held in Perth, where Associate Professor Mark Baker was keynotespeaker, and in Canberra, where diplomats,politicians and representatives of various faiths
came together to remember the Holocaust.

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Goodby to politics but not Jewish Community

SYDNEY, 12 April – After years of involvement, Malcolm Turnbull said his resignation as
Wentworth MP will not see him cut ties with the Jewish community.

Speaking the day after announcing he would not contest the next election, the former Liberal
leader called the local Jewish community “the heart and soul” of his electorate.

“I don’t intend to stop my association with the Jewish community just because I am out of
Parliament. I’ve loved my involvement at so many communal events and just having so many friends in the Jewish community.”

Using the new social medium Twitter, Turnbull announced on Tuesday he would not recontest the
inner-eastern Sydney seat come the next election.

The decision was made, he said, following his loss of the Liberal Party leadership to Tony
Abbott by one vote in December last year. The catalyst for that vote was the emissions trading
Bill, which Turnbull continues to strongly support, but which much of the Coalition opposes.

But he never had trouble keeping the Jewish community on his side ­ even those who weren’t
Liberal voters held Turnbull in high esteem because of his commitment to the community.

It was Chanukah parties that Turnbull highlighted as some of the best memories during his time in
office. “I really enjoyed Chanukah celebrations, whether it was the event at Double Bay that Yanky
Berger does, or the Russian ceremony,” he said, adding he once gave a memorised speech in
Russian, which “amused some of the older attendees”.

One organisation that Turnbull has had a strong involvement with for the past three years is
Sydney’s Montefiore Home, where he is the ambassador.

This week, Montefiore vice-president Gary Inberg said he hoped Turnbull’s role as the home’s
“ambassador, supporter and friend” would continue. “Our residents are always delighted to
see Malcolm and we have enjoyed hosting him at the home on numerous occasions. It is a pleasure
and an honour to be associated with him,” Inberg said.

Executive Council of Australian Jewry president Robert Goot also paid tribute to the politician.

“We regret, but understand, Mr Turnbull’s decision. He was a most effective advocate for a
variety of matters of concern for the Jewish community,” Goot said.

In terms of a successor, the Liberal Party has opened nominations for a new candidate to contest
the increasingly marginal seat.

A number of Jewish names have been suggested ­ including party bigwigs Richard Shields and
Julian Leeser, as well as former Turnbull staffer Anthony Orkin and current local councillor
Anthony Boskovitz. The vote is expected to be held within a month.

Turnbull weighed in on the speculation of his successor, but in a non-partisan way.

“People often assume, in a somewhat patronising way, that the Jewish community will always vote
for a Jewish candidate. I think there are a lot of people in the Jewish community who would make
great candidates for Parliament, but ultimately it is the quality of the candidate that matters,” he said

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Push for closer diplomatic ties

CANBERRA, 13 April – Ronen Plot, director-general of Israel’s Ministry of Public Diplomacy and
Diaspora Affairs, was in Australia this week in what is seen as part of a larger effort to
cultivate a better relationship between the local community and the Jewish State.

The director-general, who also spent time liaising with Jewish community leaders in Hong
Kong and New Zealand as part of his regional sweep, said that his trip had a dual purpose: as
a fact-finding mission to learn more about Diaspora communities and develop a working
relationship with their leadership, while also looking for opportunities for new collaborative
projects in education and other spheres.

Speaking in Hebrew, Plot said that his visit was considered essential in order to carry out the mission of his department.

“You can’t have a situation where you have an office of Diaspora affairs and run it exclusively
from Israel,” Plot said. “It’s extremely important to meet and get to know people in the
Diaspora communities themselves.”

Dr Ron Weiser, past president of the Zionist Federation of Australia and current committee
member of the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency, was one of the many communal officials
who met with Plot during his Pesach visit.

Dr Weiser said that Plot’s visit represents the beginning of a long-term process to change the
relationship between Jerusalem and the Diaspora. He recalled the words of former prime minister Ehud Olmert in a speech to the Jewish Agency Board of Governors. “[Olmert] said, for the past
60 years, Israel has been the project of the Jewish people. For the next 60 years, the Jewish
people will need to be the joint project of Israel and Jewish communities around the world.”

The current visit is the latest step in that process, Dr Weiser said.Plot dismissed speculation that his trip had any connection to recent allegations that Israel had forged Australian passports.

His visit, he said, was planned well in advance of the scandal and had very clear objectives far
removed from such controversies.

Plot added that, at any rate, there has been no proven link between Israel and the forgeries.

In related news, Plot could not confirm the accuracy of a report in The Jerusalem Post last
Thursday that PM Binyamin Netanyahu’s former bureau chief Ari Harow may accept the position of
deputy director-general of the Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Ministry.

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Passport report in, but no action to date

CANBERRA, 15  April – Foreign Minister Stephen Smith has said he will not rush his response to
an Australian Federal Police (AFP) report into the alleged misuse of four Australian passports
in the assassination of Hamas terror chief Mahmoud al-Mabhouh .

The AFP investigation, which saw three officers travel to Israel, was completed recently, with
Smith receiving the findings last Friday. The Foreign Minister said he had looked at the
report, but was not ready to make any decisions.

“I haven’t yet had the opportunity of very carefully considering that, but it’s clear from a
preliminary assessment of that report that I need to get further advice and see further work and
have further discussion with other agencies,” he told Channel Nine.

He said he would be discussing the report with Australia’s two premier security agencies ­ the
Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and the Australian Secret Intelligence Service ­ before making any decisions.

“When that work has been done, and I’ve had the chance to fully consider, not just the AFP
report, but also that further work and advice from other agencies, then I’ll make the detail of
the government’s deliberations about this matter public.”

Responding to whether the Australian investigation was taking too long, Smith said he
wanted to be sure of the facts.

“I need further work done by our intelligence agencies and I’m going to get this right rather
than rush it in any way. It’s a very important issue. It has very significant ramifications for
use of passports and our relationships with a number of countries, and I’m not proposing to be
rushed. I want the exhaustive work to be done carefully and properly.”

The investigation was launched in late February after forged passports in the names of
Australian-born Israelis were discovered by Dubai police. Fingers were pointed at Israel’s Mossad
secret service, with Smith calling Israel’s Ambassador to Australia Yuval Rotem to Parliament
for an explanation and asking for his cooperation.

Last month, Britain expelled an Israeli diplomat after completing its own investigation into
forged passports in the names of British-born Israelis

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Rabbis reach out to youth

MELBOURNE, 15 April – Local Orthodox rabbis are this week launching a range of programs in a bid
to relate better to younger Jews and to become more professional.

Tonight (Thursday), the Rabbinical Council of Victoria (RCV) will unveil a number of projects
at a gala reception in the presence of Victorian Government ministers, community dignitaries and young people.

Speaking in the lead-up to the event, RCV president Rabbi Yaakov Glasman said the rabbis
are hoping to offer their expertise to the community in different ways.

“The RCV hopes to work in collaboration with other communal organisations and believes the
Victorian rabbinate has a wealth of knowledge and experience to offer the Jewish, and indeed, wider community,” the North Eastern Jewish Centre rabbi said.

One way it hopes to do this is through the “Mashpia” or mentoring program, which will link rabbis with young Jews.

“The purpose of this initiative is to encourage young Jewish adults, particularly in their latter
formative teenage years, to feel comfortable thinking and speaking about matters relating to
spirituality and religion, which some may feel naturally inhibited to do because of societal norms and expectations,” he said.

Those older than school age will also be catered for, with Rabbi Glasman hinting at a program that
will help young adults entering the workforce find a place in their busy lives for religion.

Some of the community’s most prominent businessmen are being engaged to assist.

The other area the RCV is pushing into is professional development. “We want to be
professional, we don’t want rabbis to deal with crises en route,” the president said.

These initiatives are currently being sponsored by the Victorian Multicultural Commission, but
Rabbi Glasman said the community will also be called upon to assist.

“We want communal donors to recognise that investing in the rabbinate is worthwhile.”

*
Limmud Oz back for another year

MELBOURNE, 15 April – Planning for Limmud Oz, the festival of Jewish learning and culture, is
currently underway, with the conference returning to Melbourne for the Queen’s Birthday long weekend in June.

Held annually ­ this year over three days ­ Limmud Oz gives participants an opportunity to
engage with and learn topics of Jewish interest.

“It will take you another step further in your Jewish journey,” Limmud Oz committee member
Sylvia Urbach said. “It will have some appeal to all people regarding any aspect of Jewish life
and Jewish thought ever considered.”

A host of international presenters are already on board, including executive director of the Israel
Religious Action Centre and Women of the Wall participant Anat Hoffman, Israeli professor of
political studies Efraim Inbar and Dr Aaron Rosen, a research fellow in Jewish history and culture at Oxford University.

Diverse local speakers will also feature on a broad range of topics ­ including Adam Goodvach’s
analysis of Australia’s closest neighbour Indonesia, Victor Majzner talking about art and a
discussion with Lionel Sharpe, one of the community’s foremost genealogists.

“There is a wide array of Jewish topics and speakers from religious to secular in every way,
shape or form,” Urbach said. “What’s important is that it is non-denominational and inclusive, with
subjects and speakers relevant to all Jews.”

*
Artistic memlories of a bleak place
<http://jewishnews.net.au/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/jma_page.jpg>
Detail from the Jewish Museum of Australia’s newest exhibition.

Detail from the Jewish Museum of Australia’s
newest exhibition. Photo: Peter Haskin

MELBOURNE’– Jewish Museum of Australia launched its latest exhibition, titled Theresienstadt:
Drawn From the Inside, last week in the presence of MPs including Victorian Arts Minister Peter Batchelor.

More than 20 years ago, Holocaust survivor Regina Schwarz donated a battered suitcase containing 142 watercolours and drawings created in the Nazi concentration camp at Theresienstadt by her husband Paul and fellow artist Leo Lowit.

The rare collection of artworks was exhibited at the Jewish Museum of Australia in 1990, but has
remained in the museum archives since then.

A year ago curator Mera Brooks started sorting through the collection to select 90 works for the museum’s latest exhibition.

Paul and Regina Schwarz and Leo and Jindriska Lowit arrived in Theresienstadt in December 1941,
among 6000 Jews who arrived at the camp by rail transport from Prague that month. Paul, Leo and Jindriska were killed in Auschwitz in October 1944. Regina survived Auschwitz and settled in
Melbourne after World War II where she died in 1987.

The Theresienstadt: Drawn From the Inside exhibition is at the Jewish Museum of Australia
from April 11 until March 13, 2011.
*
Nonagenarian still an active athlete
MELBOURNE, 19 April–90 years young and still as active as ever – Simon Shinberg, you are an inspiration! When ‘Friend of Maccabi’, Simon Shinberg called the office this week to RSVP to the upcoming Friends of Maccabi Luncheon, he told me that he was very much looking forward to hearing motivational Special Guest Speaker, Brian Rabinowitz, as Brian was Simon’s Spinning
instructor! I had to find out more…..

Simon Shinberg not only takes 45 minute Spinning classes 4 days a week, he also does a couple of
hours of gym 4 times a week too!

Simon has been involved in sport for as long as he can remember. He was a member of the first
AJAX Athletics Club, focussing on sprints, high jump and shotput. He represented Victoria at both
the 1937/38 Carnival in Melbourne and the 1938/39 Carnival in Sydney, where he won the High
Jump.  He also played soccer for Hakoah when he was 18 years old.

During the many years of running his successful clothing manufacturing business, Simon went for a
run at 6am every morning, keeping him energised for the remainder of the day.

And Simon has no plans to slow down now, saying that keeping active and his wonderful friends
both from Maccabi & other walks of life is what keeps him going each day. Simon Shinberg, you are an inspiration!

*
Agitating for change at Yeshivah

MELBOURNE, 19 April –  Yeshivah Centre members in Melbourne have called for more democracy in the 52-year-old organisation after accusations the facility’s dayan, Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Telsner, censored their newsletter.

The Pesach edition of the publication included three articles discussing the value of removing
or retaining the controversial “Yechi” sign on the wall of the main shul. But by the end of
Pesach, the two pieces calling for a vote on its presence had been deleted from electronic and paper copies. When asked for confirmation, Rabbi Telsner said he knew “nothing about it”.

However, in a letter to Rabbi Telsner, congregant David Werdiger claims that during a discussion
they had had, the dayan admitted that he had instructed their removal.

Werdiger said he objected to the censorship and would, after 40 years, stop praying at the main
Yeshivah shul. “It is sad and ironic that this has happened in our community, many of whose
founders lived under an oppressive regime in Soviet Russia where there was a standard method
for dealing with dissent,” Werdiger said.

The sign, according to an article by YeshivahGedolah head Rabbi Binyomin Cohen, implies that
the late Lubavitcher Rebbe is the messiah and that he never really passed away.

Despite the sign being up for some years, its presence came to the fore in January when Rabbi
Telsner excised a small group of people – the “Moshiach Men” – from the community.

A number of Yeshivah members called for the sign to be removed, claiming it was divisive and
promoted disharmony. Despite securing more than 100 signatures, Rabbi Telsner and the va’ad
ruchni, or committee, ignored the request.

Articles in the recent newsletter continued the debate about the Yechi sign. In the piece that
was retained, Rabbi Cohen argued in favour of leaving the sign because that is what the late
Yeshivah director, Rabbi Yitzchok Dovid Groner, wanted.

“There should be enough room for all of us, and no-one should feel that his emunah [faith] is
going to be somehow compromised by davvening [praying] together with another Jew who sees
things very differently,” Rabbi Cohen wrote.

Another congregant and one of the organisers of the petition, Yudi New, argued in the original
newsletter that the shul was alienating members of the Jewish community, against its own
philosophy. He called the sign a “slogan” and said there was no room for slogans in a place of
worship, adding its benefits had not been made clear.

On a more general note, New implored the centre’s leadership to welcome mature debate among
members. “Whatever course the leadership and community charters, we must concede that Yeshivah has become a shell of its former self.”

Another member, Pinchas Henenberg, also had his say before the newsletter was censored. “The
issue is not going to go away by itself – responding ‘no comment’ to the public and
instructing mispallelim [congregants] to ‘listen to your leaders and put aside your own thoughts
and concerns’ simply exacerbates the issue,” he wrote, before calling for a public members vote.

*
Fabian is Australia bureau chief for San Diego Jewish World

The Jews Down Under

March 15, 2010 Leave a comment

Compiled by Garry Fabian

A new slant on Dubai killing.

MELBOURNE,10 March – The article below was written by Paul Howes, National Secretary of the Australian Workers Union, who has always been a strong supporter of Israel.

It’s fascinating how one word can change so dramatically the meaning of one sentence.

Since the allegations emerged surrounding the use  of Australian passports in the assassination of  Hamas arms smuggler Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai
it’s interesting to read how different Australian  journalists have referred to the man.

Some journalists and commentators have taken to  referring to al-Mabhouh as a “Palestinian  militant” implying therefore, that he, and indeed Hamas, as a whole are some kind of national liberation movement – not unlike Fretilin in East
Timor or the American revolutionaries of 1776.

It’s unfortunate that so few of them seem to have  sat down and read Hamas’ own weird, extreme conspiracy theory, fascist racist charter.

Amongst other things, the charter repeatedly  names the Freemasons, Lions and Rotary clubs as Zionist fronts, saying that all are actually spying outfits using Jewish money to take control of the world and make movies and create other PR
events to, amongst other things, undermine the  morality of the good Muslim woman!

So categorising al-Mabhouh and Hamas as  “militants” or “national liberation fighters” is not just plain wrong, it provides a cover for  Hamas to hide the reality of this ugly  Islamo-fascist terrorist organisation under the cloak of international law.

Let’s be clear: the death of al-Mabhouh is a  positive outcome for those who believe in peace and justice.

Yes, I accept that a liberal conscience will  worry about the compelling moral arguments against extrajudicial killings.

But we’re talking about a man who has turned  Palestinian children into human bombs to murder  and terrorise Israeli civilians, not to mention  the terror Hamas has waged against Palestinians  who are deeply worried about Hamas’ fundamentalism being imposed by authoritarian diktat.

Al-Mahbouh and his Damascus military faction are  said to be responsible for undermining the  negotiations between Israel and Hamas to release
the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

The question of the use of Australian passports  in the operation in Dubai raises many issues for the Australian Government.

Traditionally, Australia has been a loyal friend  of Israel, no matter which party is in
government. This is something that should make us all proud.

Some have argued that if Israel has illegally  used Australian passports, this is not the action of a friend. Maybe.

But in my view, friends stand by each other in  the good times and the bad, and a friend is  someone who lends a hand when the going gets tough.

That’s why I’m proud that our nation has played a small, and accidental role, in the removal of the terrorist al-Mabhouh from our planet.

Many may say that’s to be expected of a  pro-Israeli. But it should be clear that
al-Mabhouh’s death is quietly welcomed by the  vast majority of the moderate Arab world.

Al-Mabhouh will be mourned only in the capitals  of the despotic Middle East regimes such as Iran and Syria.

Many anti-Israel activists around the world, and  in Australia, have seized on the passport issue  to develop a new front to push their anti-Israeli  propaganda. That, too, is to be expected.

But Australians shouldn’t fall for the giant lie  they are pushing. Israelis are actually allied  with a clear majority of the Arab world fighting a war against the forces of anti-democratic Islamo-fascism.

The world defeated Nazism. Now the world must  support those countries fighting Islamo-fascism.

It is a war that is being fought on the streets of Tehran, where democratic forces battle that Islamic dictatorship; it’s being fought on the streets of Gaza, after Hamas launched their coup there; it’s being fought in Lebanon against  Hezbollah and in the mountains of Afghanistan against the remains of al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

The fighters had a small victory in a Dubai hotel.

The Australian Government has a responsibility to protect Australian interests abroad and while some may say the possible illegal use of  Australian passports in the Dubai operation is against our national interests, I say they are wrong.

It is in our nation’s interest and the interests  of the world as a whole, to ensure democracy, liberty and freedom thrives.

It is in our interest to ensure that a free, secular and healthy democratic Palestinian state is created.

It is in our interest to ensure that when private citizens leave their homes and go to work or school that they don’t have to fear suicide bombers will kill them.

This is not an easy war to fight, or to win. It has to be fought in many different theatres.

But it is in our interest to ensure that all human beings regardless of their sex, race,
religion, sexual orientation and political belief can live their lives free from persecution or harassment.

Hamas and al-Mabhouh stand against all these values – values we hold dear.

Therefore, it is in our nation’s interest to do whatever we can to remove these vile people from power – by any means necessary.

*
Paul Howes is national secretary of the Australian Workers’ Union

*

Fourth Australian identity in Dubai assassinationMELBOURNE, 9 March – Interpol yesterday named the  27th suspect in the case – Joshua Aaron Krycer – as they issued arrest warrants over the January murder.

An arrest warrant for the person pretending to be  Joshua Krycer was issued – he was the only “new” person added to the 26 suspects already named by Dubai police.

The real Joshua Krycer lives in Israel, having  moved from Melbourne three years ago.

He works at one of Jerusalem’s largest hospitals,  the Shaare Zedeck Medical Centre, where he is a certified speech therapist.

The hospital’s website says Mr Krycer is an  expert in speech therapy and swallowing difficulties and offers diagnosis, treatment, follow-up and recommendation for continued care after discharge from the hospital.

*
Tackling the injustice of agonot

MELBOURNE, 10 March – Orthodox rabbis have met  with Jewish women’s rights advocates to discuss  the anomaly of agunot– ­women whose husbands will
not grant them a Jewish divorce.

The meeting was held in Melbourne last week  between the Rabbinical Council of Victoria (RCV) and the National Council of Jewish Women of Australia (NCJWA) – and the person who brought them together was Israeli lawyer Sharon Shenhav,
an advocate for women’s justice within Jewish law.

Following the meeting, Shenhav  said she was pleased that local rabbis are taking the plight of agunot seriously through the recent introduction of pre-nuptial agreements.

“Agunot are absolutely still relevant and a problem,” she said of the phenomenon, which has lasted for centuries.

She heard from the rabbis, who represented Chabad, Mizrachi and modern Orthodox congregations, that the pre-nuptial agreements ­ which must be strongly recommended to all couples married by an Orthodox rabbi in Victoria ­ have
been issued more than 600 times already, with only one couple expressing disagreement with the document.

During her trip to Australia as NCJWA scholar-in residence, Shenhav met with people who are or who know an agunah, including one woman whose husband disappeared 57 years ago.

Shanhav said pre-nuptials are an important step forward, but that Australia is behind the times in bringing them in. Israel has had them for more than two decades, mainstream Orthodox American couples have been signing them for 20 years and they have been in place in Britain for at least a decade.

“It’s nothing new, but I am delighted Australian rabbis have taken to it.”

At last year’s RCV AGM, former president Rabbi Meir Shlomo Kluwgant advocated for pre-nuptial agreements to become compulsory. He was defeated though, largely by some of the older rabbis.

However Shanhav was unwilling to blame the older generation for dragging their feet on agunot.

“It [the meeting] crossed all age groups and all showed genuine concern about the problem.”

Current RCV head Rabbi Yaakov Glasman spoke compassionately of women who find themselves unable to break free of a troublesome marriage.

“It is our sincere hope that the women who are suffering as a result of this issue will be freed without further delay, and the RCV is working hard to pre-empt such cases occurring in the future,” he said.

*
Cycle club gets star recruit

MELBOURNE, 11 March – Matt Sherwin is in the top handful of club cyclists in Victoria. He hasconsistently been at the peak of the A-grade competition in recent years, and is a walk-up start at any club in the state.

So his choice to saddle up for the fledgling Maccabi Cycling Club (MCC) is remarkable.

His decision wasn’t based on the standard of cyclists at the Maccabi club — there are few riders that can go with him — nor was it a choice based on prestige or resources.

MCC is a club on the move. It is one of the fastest-growing Maccabi clubs and while it has been developing exponentially since its inception late last year — thanks to an explosion in the sport’s popularity among Melbourne Jews — it is
still very much in its infancy.

In fact, Sherwin’s motivation for choosing Maccabi isn’t really based on competition at all.

“Cycling offers so much more than a competitive element,” Sherwin said.

“It offers a lot of social interaction andcamaraderie. Then there’s the fitness element .there’s so many benefits for such a wide range of people. Cycling’s not confined to the racing element.”

Time and again, Jewish athletes have abandoned the Maccabi movement as they approach the elite level, but as a proud member of Melbourne’s Jewish community, this was not a consideration for Sherwin, who is dedicated to growing the sport at the grassroots level.

Prior to joining Maccabi, Sherwin was racing for the Carnegie Caulfield Cycling Club, the biggestclub of its kind in Australia and one of the biggest in the world. In 2007, he spent a year in the US, racing for professional team Sakonnet Technology.

“It was a bit of a decision to move across, but supporting the community was a big motivator,” Sherwin said during a recent interview

“I wanted to help promote the club because it’s a very tough market out there. I wanted to give abit of exposure to the club to help get it off the ground.”

Maccabi Cycling was launched in August last yearand caters to all riders. It will launch a juniordevelopment team later this year and already has around 80 members. Late last month, the club rodefor a charity event through Marysville to help raise money for victims of the Black Saturday bushfires.

In Maccabi colours, Sherwin is a near-permanent fixture in the top five and, in January, wasasked to compete in the Jayco Bay Criterium Series – one of the fastest criterium races in the world – as part of a team comprising riders from Canberra and Victoria.

Sherwin has now turned his attention to making the jump from club level to open level, and plans to compete overseas again.

“I’m probably at a level in between the professionals we have in Australia and the restof the world and club level. The next step is very difficult because you’re racing against professional riders a lot, but it’s a step I’m in the process of taking at the moment,” Sherwin said.

*
New Settlement plan not Helpful – Australian Foreign Minister

CANBERRA, 11 March –  Foreign Minister Stephen Smith has criticised Israel’s decision to allowthe building of more homes in Ramat Shlomo, an
ultra-Orthodox neighbourhood of Jerusalem.

Speaking to Sky News on Thursday, Smith called the decision, made on Tuesday, a “bad” one.

“I share the view that this is a bad decision at the wrong time,” he said. “It’s not a helpful contribution to the peace process. It’s not a helpful contribution to the very hard work that’sbeen going on behind-the-scenes, including from the United States, to try and get Israel and thePalestinian Authority together for so-called proximity talks.”

Approval for 1600 additional houses in the burgeoning area –  where media reports put the average household at seven or eight people – was given by Israel’s Interior Ministry. It iscontroversial because the building would be beyond the Green Line, but the Netanyahu Government said it never agreed to halt construction in Jerusalem.

The approval followed closely on the heals of United States Vice President Joe Biden’s express support for new, indirect peace talks during a visit to Israel this week. That support is basedon the cessation of settlement building in the Palestinian territories.

Smith said Australia continues to support a freeze on Israeli buildings beyond the Green Line, including East Jerusalem.

“Issues of settlement and East Jerusalem andJerusalem can be part of a final agreement,” Smith said.

“What we are very, very desperate to achieve inthe Middle East is a long term enduring peace where Israel has the right to exist as a state in
a context of peace and security, and thePalestinian people have their own state as well,also existing in a context of peace and security.”

He said the announcement was “not helpful” in promoting the peace process.

*
Jewish radio to hit the airwaves

MELBOURNE, 12 March – The local  Jewish community is set to have its very own radio station after a temporary licence was granted to Melbourne Jewish Radio.

But it has been no easy feat for the station, named Lion FM, with the founding committee having engaged in a long and arduous application process
with the Australian Communication Media Authority (ACMA).

“The application process was extremely difficultand many times people probably counted us out. I have a belief that nothing worthwhile in life comes easily and sometimes you need to dig in and fight for something,” Melbourne Jewish Radio secretary Stephen Fennell said.

“Some 18 months after we began this process, herewe are about to begin our maiden broadcast. Thisis such a great achievement for the community.”

Expected to be broadcasting full time within the next six weeks, Lion FM will cater to differentlistening groups. It will include a mix of news and current affairs, light entertainment, music and special interest programs.

As with the nature of the programming, the Lion FM team is also a mix of people from different sectors of the community.

“People from all walks of life have joined us  over the journey and many more come on board every day. We have established subcommittees to implement the requirements for the station, which is all voluntary at this point,” Fennell said.

Among the volunteers is lawyer and Glen Eira councillor Michael Lipshutz, who holds the position of station president.

Lipshutz believes the station will play an important role in bringing more Jewish news andinformation to Jews and non-Jews alike.

“Jewish audiences want more media. Particularly with Israel always on the back foot and the Jewish community on the back foot because of anti-Semitism, we need to reach out to the general public as well as the Jewish community,” he said, adding that it is particularly pertinent for younger generations who are becoming “less
associated with the Jewish community”.

To be transmitted on 96.1 FM, the station must construct its own antenna to carry the signal,and will test broadcast for a few weeks as per its ACMA requirements. Once official broadcasting begins, Melbourne Jewish Radio must prove to the
ACMA that it is able to successfully run the station before a permanent licence is granted.

Lipshutz said the group is seeking community support to raise $300,000 to ensure the success of the station.
*

Anti-Semitism unlikely to go away

SYDNEY, 10 March – A final peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians would not eliminatethe rising levels of western anti-Semitism, according to pre-eminent Holocaust scholar Professor Yehuda Bauer.

Speaking at Sydney’s Mandelbaum House last Thursday, he told the audience, including University of Sydney chancellor and NSW Governor Marie Bashir, that a multi-pronged approach is required to battle anti-Semitism, including the
use of mass communication channels to present the “facts on the ground”.

“Analyses show reasonably clearly that what is being attacked is Israel as a Jewish state, not just as another state, and that the current conflict serves as a trigger that releases people from a politically correct attitude of opposing anti-Semitism,” the academic said in Sydney last week.

The reason for this, he said, is because anti-Semitism is not only a prejudice, but also a “historically ingrained cultural phenomenon” in the Christian-Muslim world that exists latently and can be aroused by a conflict such as the current one in the Middle East.

Prof Bauer, a past winner of the prestigious Israel Prize and professor emeritus of Holocaust studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is currently touring Australia. He will be the keynote speaker at Monash University’s upcoming
Holocaust Aftermath Conference on March 14 and 15.

An elaborate mix of ideological campaigns is also called for, he said, to battle anti-Semitism in the Muslim world, where radical Islam is growing and outspokenly anti-Semitic messages are increasingly gaining acceptance with the mainstream.

“This is very clear in Pakistan, for instance, where there is not a single Jew,” he said.
There are competing, non-radical interpretations of Islam, he stressed, and it’s up to a “non-patronising western stance” to support those voices “willing to enter the fray”.

“Anti-Semitism is a global scourge, and it’s directed against all civilised societies. That ishow it should be seen,” Prof Bauer said.

*
Kosher label review “cautiously welcomed

MELBOURNE 12 March – Kosher authorities have “cautiously welcomed” a federal
government-sponsored review of kosher labelling.

Currently being conducted by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), the review is part of a sweeping evaluation of food labelling laws sparked by consumer concerns over inaccurate and inconsistent food labels.

A recently released issues paper by the COAG committee stated that there is “consumer desire for clarification of the terms”, including “kosher”.

Starting this week, the committee will kick off its consultation process, inviting submissions and conducting public meetings in capital cities across Australia and New Zealand until May 7. A final report is expected by early December.

Kashrut authorities were this week tentatively optimistic about the review.

NSW Kashrut Authority’s (KA) rabbinic coordinator, Rabbi Moshe Gutnick, stated that, in principle, government assistance in defining what is labelled kosher could help stamp out, what he called, kosher fraud.

“It’s a good thing, but we need to work out how it’s going to happen,” Rabbi Gutnick said.

“Of course, the government is not qualified to determine what is kosher – this must be determined by the rabbinic kashrut bodies of the various states,” he stressed.

“Perhaps ‘kosher’ for the purposes of legislation would mean something supervised as such by an independent rabbinic body, not the manufacturer themselves.”

Rabbi Meir Shlomo Kluwgant, the kashrut committee chair of the Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia (ORA), said he could also see “significant benefits” coming from such a review in regards to fraudulent advertising, but he also remained cautious.

“The matter does need careful consideration, and I do question the driving force behind this particular initiative,” he said. “I think the kashrut authorities will share a measure of concern about it.”

Regarding plans to make a formal submission to the review panel, he added: “It’s certainly something ORA should be considering, and I’ll bring it up with the committee and see what their responses are.”

Executive Council of Australian Jewry president Robert Goot also said he would be liaising with kashrut authorities and ORA on how to proceed with a submission “consistent with Jewish religious practice”.

*
Shabbat in Antarctica

A “Real Cool Story from the ends of the earth” – In a small chapel overlooking a frozen sea inlet, Dick Heyman leads a tiny congregation in a Shabbat-evening service. “Blessed are you, endless one, who makes the evenings fall,” he
says, opening the Ma’ariv service with an English rendition of the prayer Asher Bidvaro.

“Oh, wait,” Heyman says, pausing. “We can’t say that here.”

Heyman is right. This January Shabbat service — the first ever in Antarctica to the knowledge of anyone present — is taking place in a dimly lit chapel. But it’s bright as day outside, and it has been that way for nearly six months.

Here, on the McMurdo Sound near the Antarctic coast, the last sunrise was in August, and the sun won’t dip below the horizon again until the end of February. Few things are black or white, but Antarctica is one of them. Save for a brief
transition in March, the continent enjoys either 24-hour darkness or 24-hour light.

The stubborn sun presents some secular challenges to the scientists and staff here: sunglasses are a must, even at midnight. But the odd solar schedule may also have implications for Shabbat, the timing of which is determined by the coming and going of the sun and stars.

“Part of lighting Shabbat candles is to have light in the darkness,” Heyman explains to his congregants, “but we don’t have darkness until February”.

In this multipurpose chapel, a small hodgepodge of staff members – Jewish and non-Jewish, the committed and the idly curious, including two Christian chaplains – listen respectfully to Heyman. At McMurdo Station, a research outpost
with the largest community in Antarctica – around 1100 summertime residents – he is effectively the chacham, or knowledgeable communal leader.

Heyman, a child of German Holocaust refugees, grew up a Reform Jew in the Forest Hills section of Queens in the US. In Antarctica, he works 50-hour weeks as a network engineer, connecting the remote base to the rest of the world. He has
been in information technology for 25 years, but this is his first season on the ice. His four-month stint is the longest he has been away from his family of four in Fort Collins, Colorado. So, though he describes himself as “not especially religious” and recalls that he had his bar mitzvah in a Presbyterian church, Heyman
decided to hold a Shabbat service to remind him of home.

With the help of rabbis from Congregation Har Shalom in Fort Collins, Heyman printed out prayer booklets, planned an oneg – an informal Friday night Shabbat service – and baked a challah for the occasion. The 64-year-old estimates that
there are upward of 20 Jews on the base, but only eight congregants besides himself have shown up to enjoy the festivities, plus myself, a non-participating reporter. Only six participants are Jewish.

The others, including the two Christian chaplains, are among the curious. “I’m from the Judeo-Christian tradition,” says Reverend Philip Gibbs, a 62-year-old New Zealander. “So when something Jewish is going on, I want to see it.”

Even some of the Jews present admit to little inthe way of Jewish background, leading Heyman to punctuate the service with frequent commentary
and explanation as he moves along.

As it turns out, Heyman is not the first to ponder the problem of Shabbat in the face of a non-setting sun. In the 18th century, the Vilna Gaon suggested that ambiguous cases should followthe solar calendar of Jerusalem, a proposal accepted today as law.

But according to Rabbi Michael Paley, scholar-in-residence at the Jewish Resource
Centre of UJA-Federation of New York, the law extends only to land masses contiguous with Israel, making Antarctica something of a halachic no-man’s-land.

When the situation is uncertain, Rabbi Paley explained, the precise timing of Shabbat could become a community decision. Fortunately, Rabbi Paley’s psak, or ruling, is consistent with Heyman’s intuitions.

“There’s never been a Jewish pope,” Heyman says, “so there can be some interpretation”.

The engineer-cum-chazan decides to follow a custom of referring to the sundown of the nearest community – in this case, the ironically named Christchurch, New Zealand. Christchurch is home to the nearest off-continent base of the United
States Antarctic Program, and McMurdo Station – which is located at nearly the same longitude as New Zealand’s Milford Sound but much further
south – runs on Christchurch time, allowing Ma’ariv to begin around dinnertime instead of 10hours later, as it would on Jerusalem time.

But as soon as one problem is solved, another arises. Following the custom of facing towards Jerusalem to pray, Heyman instinctively instructs his congregation to turn east, as do Jews who live in the West.

“Grid east or true east?” Philip Fitzgerald asks.

The 33-year-old carpenter and Jew from Juneau, Alaska, has a point. At McMurdo, a few hundred miles from the geographic South Pole, cardinal directions are skewed. Almost everywhere one turns is geographically north. This has led
navigators to develop an artificial “grid” system for designating directions in Antarctica.

For someone standing at or near the South Pole, “grid north” is defined as facing in the direction that aligns with the prime meridian – the longitudinal line that passes through the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England. “Grid south” aligns with the International Date Line, running through the opposite side of the globe, in the Pacific Ocean.

“Grid east” passes through Bangladesh between India and the Gobi Desert, and bears no relation to Jerusalem. But neither does true east, which simply makes a short lap around the South Pole before looping back to McMurdo.

So where to face? Heyman and his congregation settle on true east, concluding that thinking of Jerusalem is what counts.

Rabbi Paley thinks they could have found Jerusalem on a map and simply faced that way.

“But the world is round,” he said. “Eventually you’ll get there.”

For Heyman, the spirit of his Shabbat service trumps the details: during kiddush, accompanying the challah and wine are some tasty (if untimely) latkes, made from roasted potatoes he had been hoarding from the cafeteria.

For Kenneth Iserson, 60, the sight of the Shabbat candles brings him back to his Conservative Jewish upbringing outside Washington. Now professor emeritus at the University of Arizona, Prof Iserson came to Antarctica to serve as the
lead physician on the research base.

“Those are the first candles I’ve seen lit at McMurdo,” he says.

Heyman adds that he doesn’t know if another Antarctic Shabbat service is on the horizon. But if he does hold the service again, he says he’ll take extra care to scour the base for more congregants.

“I’m happy with the turnout,” Heyman says. “But there have got to be more than six Jews in Antarctica.”

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Fabian is Australia bureau chief for San Diego Jewish World

Movement to equate communist rule with Holocaust seen as an attempt to marginalize latter

January 27, 2010 1 comment

JERUSALEM–Holocaust scholars have criticized a growing tendency in central and eastern Europe to equate the Shoah with Communist oppression, a trend which they consider “the gravest threat to preserving the memory of the Holocaust” as it served to exculpate populations complicit in the extermination of their Jewish minorities, according to a report by the Israeli newspaper ‘Haaretz’.

Professor Yehuda Bauer of the Hebrew University called equation attempts “campaigns to marginalize the Holocaust.”

According to a number of leading experts on the Holocaust, the state-sponsored equation of Nazi crimes with Communist brutality in central and eastern Europe is the most serious threat to preserving the memory of the Holocaust. This phenomenon was especially prevalent in Lithuania but also existed in certain circles in Poland, said Laurence Weinbaum of the World Jewish Congress, who specializes in Polish-Jewish relations.

He was quoted by the newspaper as saying: “In the Baltic states, especially Lithuania and Latvia, the campaign to consign the victims of the Holocaust and of Communism to the same basket is a transparent attempt to blur Baltic societies’ wholesale complicity in the murder of their Jewish populations.”

In August, the prime ministers of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania signed a joint declaration supporting a call to make 23 August European day of remembrance for victims of both Stalinism and Nazism. “In Lithuania, equalizing Stalinism and Nazism is a ruse to delete the stain of massive collaboration,” Professor Dovid Katz, a Vilnius-based researcher, told ‘Haaretz’: “Instead of facing the past, the state deletes the Holocaust as a category and buries it in another paradigm.”

Weinbaum noted that “Polish society as a whole cannot be seen as a perpetrator-nation, as can be the Lithuanians.” While some Poles were complicit in the murder and despoliation of Jews, he noted, “others rescued them.” He said that in Poland, some circles, especially Polish Holocaust scholars, “vociferously oppose” a combined commemoration date while others supported it for nationalistic reasons. “To be sure, no one can or should minimize the untold suffering caused by Communist tyranny, of which Jews were also victims, but common commemoration will only serve to disfigure memory and history.”

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Preceding provided by World Jewish Congress