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Varied exhibits, speakers and activities marked Israeli Independence celebration in San Diego

April 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Rabbi Wohlgelernter and Israeli shelich Shoshi Bogoch stroll grounds of Israel Independence Festival at San Diego Jewish Academy

Donald H. Harrison

SAN DIEGO—Israeli song, Israeli dance, Israeli politics, Israeli geography, Israeli foods,  Israeli merchandise, Israeli trips… they all  were components on Sunday, April 25, of the Israel Independence Festival held on the grounds of San Diego Jewish Academy.

Shoshi Bogoch, Israeli shelicha who helped organize the festival, estimated that perhaps 2,000  San Diegans toured the multi-level Carmel Valley campus which had been transformed to a festival area with a blue and white balloon arch,  booths, games, exhibits, and an entertainment stage.

Nearly every Jewish organization and synagogue of San Diego County was represented at the one-day fair, and out-of-town Jewish organizations seeking to meet local Jews also were on hand for the 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. event.  In total there were 65 booths where information and merchandise were dispensed by vendors and community organizations.

Kolot, an Israeli singing group, entertained at festival held Sunday April 25

Among the performers was “Kolot,” (Voices), a group of Israeli civilians  who came together as a band while they were serving in the  Israel Defense Forces.  At one point, during their concert, audience members Rick Kamen, Nurit Yeshua and Miriam Plotkin, among others, broke into spontaneous Israeli dance.

Sponsored by the Israel Center of the United Jewish Federation, the Yom Ha’Atzma’ut celebration provided an opportunity “to have the whole community in one place to celebrate Israel together, to learn about Israel and to be able to meet friends from the Jewish community whom you don’t get to see every day,” Bogoch said.

Adults who brought their families were able to “educate their kids that it is important to go to an Israeli event and be part of the community,” the shelicha (emissary) added.  “ If you don’t have enough money to go to Israel, you can taste it for one day!”

Birthright alumni Michael Verga, Michael Nitzani and Rebecca Gearty in a Bedouin Tent

Among popular exhibits was a Bedouin tent erected by the Birthright/ Taglit program, which offers free ten-day trips to Israel for Jewish youth between the ages of 18 and 26 who have never taken an organized trip there before.  Three alumni of a San Diego group that made a Birthright trip in January  answered questions and told why the experiences of visiting Israel for the first time were meaningful to them. 

For Michael Verga, a high point was visiting Ha Kotel (also known as the Western Wall) and “getting the chills there.”  He said since returning to San Diego, he has been visiting various congregations, trying to decide which one might be right for him.

For Rebecca Gearty, attending a Shabbat service in a Jerusalem synagogue was moving.  In that the service was conducted entirely in Hebrew, “I had absolutely no idea what was going on, but it was so beautiful and so touching to see all this tradition and history come together.”  While not particularly interested in affiliating with a congregation at this point of her life, she said she feels a deeper connection both to Israel and to Judaism.

And Michael Nitzani said the visit was a personal revelation for him.  He explained that his mother had been divorced from his Israeli father when he was only 5, so the trip helped satisfy a long-standing curiosity about what his father’s country was like.  “It helped me rekindle a connection with my father,” he said.

Not far away, two local kosher caterers—The Place and Schmoozers—served up various grilled items, including shawarma, an Israeli/ Arab delicacy of thinly sliced meat and vegetables served inside a pita pocket.  

On the upper level, one could see items of Judaica for sale, including umbrellas bearing blue Stars of David.

Bogoch said the Israel Festival celebrating 62 years of Israeli independence had more participation of Orthodox congregations than previously, despite the fact that Yom Ha’Atzma’ut comes during the period of the counting of the Omer, traditionally a period when people refrain from merrymaking.

To accommodate those who felt the need to separate themselves from the singing and dancing, festival organizers created a “quiet area” inside one of the San Diego Jewish Academy’s buildings where lectures were featured.

Rabbi Jeffrey Wohlgelernter of Congregation Adat Yeshurun was among those who lectured on Israel, choosing as his topic the spiritual aspects of the cities of Hebron and Jerusalem.

He said that Hebron comes from a Hebrew word meaning “attached” and there is a tradition in Judaism that the Machpelah – the Cave of the Patriarchs—is where the physical and spiritual worlds of Judaism are attached.

Recalling the Torah account of three visitors advising Abraham that he and Sarah, notwithstanding their advanced age,  would have a child, Rabbi Wohlgelernter said when Abraham searched for a cow to slaughter for these holy visitors, he came across the cave, where he found the bodies of Adam and Eve – who, though dead, were not decomposed and were surrounded with candles.   In such a way, he said, the tradition links the notion of eternity – from Adam and Eve to the future generations that would be born to Sarah and Abraham.

In Hebrew, Machpelah refers to “double tombs” and those buried in the  Holy Cave, by tradition, are such biblical couples as  Adam and Eve, Abraham And Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah, the rabbi said.

The name “Jerusalem,” said the rabbi, invokes two concepts.  One is that of a place of completeness; the other that “God will be seen.”

He recalled that there were three festivals in which residents were enjoined to visit the Temple in Jerusalem — Pesach, Succot and Shavuot–and said when those who came from Hebron stopped in Talpiot, the area of Jerusalem today dominated by the Haas Promenade, they could see a magnificent view of the Temple complex with a pillar of smoke rising from the area at the Holy of Holies.

This pillar, the same as the one that had led Moses and the Israelites from Egyptian bondage, went straight up into the sky like a column, no matter how forceful the winds or the rains, said Wohlgelernter.  In such fashion was God seen, the rabbi said.

Israel's Deputy Consul General Gil Artzyeli holds informal discussion about Israel and the Palestinians

Another speaker was Gil Artzyeli,  Israel’s deputy consul general in Los Angeles.  In an informal question and answer session with attendees, he contrasted the physical deterioration of Gaza with the economic growth in the West Bank under Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.  When Israel withdrew from Gaza, he noted, it left behind working greenhouses which could have been utilized by the Palestinians the very next day for the export of vegetables to Europe.  In Ramallah, on the other hand, he said Fayyad is proving himself the first Palestinian leader who wants to improve the lot of the Palestinians and not simply battle Israelis.

Although the government in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza are bitter rivals, which makes creation of a single Palestinian state problematic, it is assumed someday the two portions of Palestine will be united.  How can the two be contiguous without severing Israel, the diplomat was asked.   He responded that one likely scenario is a “very fast bullet train” that could speed Palestinians through Israeli territory without stopping.

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Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World

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San Diego celebrates Israel independence with Sunday festival

April 20, 2010 Leave a comment

SAN DIEGO (Press Release)–San Diego’s largest attended one-day Jewish community building event, Yom Ha’atzmaut takes place on Sunday, April 25 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the San Diego Jewish Academy, 11860 Carmel Creek Road, San Diego. Admission is free, and the event is open to the public. Parking is available for $5 at the Marriott Del Mar, 11966 El Camino Real, San Diego, CA 92130. Free shuttle service is provided.

Sponsored by the Israel Center of United Jewish Federation of San Diego County, Yom Ha’atzmaut this year will feature 60 shops, Jewish community organizations and kosher foods, and fun and educational activities for children, teens and families not to be missed. The annual celebration of Israel’s Independence Day provides a festive conclusion to a month of holidays: Passover, which focuses on freedom, Yom Hashoah, commemorating all who died in the Holocaust, and Yom Hazikaron, honoring those who died fighting for the State of Israel and terror victims.  This year’s event is designed to help participants connect with Jewish community in celebrating Israel.

Children can ride on the “Middle East Peace Train” from “Jerusalem” to “Cairo”, play on a climbing wall and bounce house, relive history as they dig up ancient coins, tiles and other artifacts in an archeological dig presented by the Agency for Jewish Education, or get balloon creations of their choice as part of the festivities. Adults may practice their Hebrew, Spanish and French in a series of “Cafés” offered by Kef Li – Tarbuton, appropriate for this holiday because Israel exemplifies diversity as the largest immigrant-absorbing nation on earth. Attendees also may wish to hear Israeli Deputy Counsel Gil Arzieli present the latest news on U.S – Israel relations or learn about “Gifts Israel Gave the World,” from J.J. Surbeck, Executive Director of T.E.A.M, Training and Education About the Middle East.

Teens and adults can initiate their travel plans at “Experience Israel – Just Go,” co-sponsored by MASA and the UJF Israel Center. MASA, the Hebrew word for journey, consists of 150 programs in Israel for those ages 18 to 30, from 5 months to one year. The UJF Teen Trip to Israel is San Diego Jewish community’s annual summer trip, connecting teens to Israel and their local Jewish community through travel and post-trip volunteer activities. This one-stop center for journeys to Israel can save travel enthusiasts many hours preparing for their dream trip.

Young adults also can experience “Bedouin Hospitality” enjoying complimentary tea in Birthright NEXT’s Bedouin tent, while learning more about Birthright trips and ongoing social connections. New to Yom Ha’atzmaut this year also is a quiet area for those who observe Sefirat Ha’Omer, the 49-day period between Passover and the beginning of Shavuot (May 19-20) which counts the days from physical redemption/physical slavery to spiritual redemption when the Torah was presented at Mt. Sinai.

Israeli music and dancing at the main stage will be led by Kolot, a band comprised of former Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldiers. For more information on this day of fun, celebration and learning, please contact the Israel Center at 858.571.3444 or israelcenter@ujfsd.org.

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Preceding provided by United Jewish Federation of San Diego County

Root Causes In Middle East: What if there wasn’t an Israel?

April 20, 2010 Leave a comment

Bruce Kesler

By Bruce Kesler

ENCINITAS, April 20–Today, modern Israel’s 62nd birthday, is a good time to ask the question, “What if there wasn’t an Israel, would things be different in the Middle East?”

The world would still be dealing with and suffering from MidEast extremists: First of the Soviet proxies, but without Israeli intelligence penetrating them and its military defeating them, exposing the Soviet Union as an unworthy sponsor; Then of the Islamist haters suppressing its peoples and fighting each other while harboring attackers of the West, but without Israel’s development and democracy serving as an unavoidable contrast to the potentials of freedom and sanity and its military and technology exposing the fundamental weakness of their self-created backwardness.

No one in the Middle East takes seriously that the Arab-Israeli or Palestinian-Israeli conflicts are the primary, secondary, tertiary or lesser cause of MidEast instability or its threats to the West.

Outside the Middle East, however, we have the core delusion among many of those raised on the puerile pap created by the Left that the modernity and successes of Western civilization somehow oppress the natural decency and advancement of Third World countries.

President Obama is the poster boy.  But he is not the cause.  He is merely the product.  He and those who follow him, thus, fall back on the false premise that Israel is the problem.

No, the problem is their core delusion that we can escape history by denying it, even reversing it, though that still would leave the real root cause of MidEast instability, regional petty satraps, backward hatefulness, and those outside powers – from the EU to Russia to China – who benefit from retaining rule or access to oil.

If the initial thrust of President Bush’s strategy of spurring democratization in the Middle East proved hollow, then our subsequent neutralization of Iraq’s WMD potential and funding of terrorists and our struggling effort to retrieve Afghanistan from being ruled by  as much a threat is at best a holding action.  We, as Secretary of Defense Gates admitted, lack a strategy toward even containing Iran, its imminent nuclear armaments, its support for those who kill our soldiers and Iraq’s and Afghanistan’s and their peoples.

The exaggeration by Saddam Hussein of his own WMDs was to counter Iran.  The US and initial allies entering Iraq missed the proper focus then as we do now.

Weakening Israel is not a strategy for peace in the Middle East but another abdication of what could reduce the dangers of the Middle East.  The US administration and apologists are blaming the “salamis” for the failure to ice the botulism.

President Obama and followers are not the root cause of Israel’s current dilemma.  They are the natural extension of the escapism that infects Western thought, that undermined President Bush’s brash, perhaps fruitless, but correct focus that peace can only come from shattering Middle East excuses and delusions and providing more fertile ground for the emergence of rulers more concerned with the betterment of their own peoples’ lots.

Israel shows the way, not the barrier. The barrier is the purposeful misfocus, the dangerous inanity, of the avoiders of truths. Isn’t 62 years enough time to prove that if modern Israel didn’t exist the catering to Middle East tyrants would still be the core cause of dire oppression there and threats to the West’s security and prosperity?

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

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.

Memorial honors Jewish victims of terror abroad

April 19, 2010 Leave a comment

Jean Goldie Orta and Natan Sharansky

JERUSALEM (Press Release)–The Jewish Agency for Israel held a special ceremony on Israel’s Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers Monday (April 19) to honor the memory of Diaspora Jews murdered in terrorist and anti-Semitic attacks abroad, as well as Jewish Agency emissaries killed while serving abroad.

Lighting this year’s torch in memory of the fallen was Jean Goldie Orta, daughter of the late Norma Rabinowich, who was murdered in the terror attack on the Chabad House in Mumbai in November 2008. Rabinowich, a Mexican citizen who had been traveling in India, had applied with the Jewish Agency representative in Mumbai to immigrate to Israel, where she planned to join her daughter.

“Both we and our enemies know that our strength comes from the Israel Defense Forces — and from the entire Jewish people who identify with the State of Israel,” said Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky at the ceremony. “In the war against the State of Israel and the Jewish People there are no boundaries. Our enemies attack us not just in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, but in Argentina, France, Britain and Mumbai.”

In all, some 200 Diaspora Jews were murdered in anti-Semitic attacks abroad since the founding of the State.

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Preceding provided by the Jewish Agency for Israel

Those tugs of loyalties reemerge under Obama administration

April 19, 2010 1 comment

By Bruce Kesler

Bruce Kesler

ENCINITAS, California–I came into this world a few months before Israel; we’re both 62. I’ve had a life thankful to the security in the United States for my and my immediate family who escaped Europe’s persecutions and murders, and the opportunities in the US.  I’ve relied upon my exertions to give back in service and sacrifice, in appreciation and selfish preservation of these conditions.

Similarly has Israel.  From Israel’s intellectual and military might the world benefits in the sciences, in inventions, and in manning the front-lines against the avowed armed enemies of the West and modern civilization.

Tomorrow, April 20, 2010, is Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel Independence Day, the day in the Hebrew calendar that corresponds to May 14, 1948.  It fittingly begins the moment that ends Israel’s Memorial Day, Yom Hazikaron, Remembrance Day for Israel’s Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terror.  The two are that interlinked.

In my youth in the early 1950’s, it was a common question whether American Jews owed first loyalty to the US or Israel.  As bigotry declined in the US and Israel was seen as our firm ally during the Cold War, that question evaporated.  Until a new bigotry arose among the extreme Left, viewing the elimination of Israel as another way to deteriorate the West, and the extreme semi-isolationist Right, viewing Israel as no longer worth the alliance in the new Cold War against Islamist terrorism and its national bases.

Many American Jews, incubated within accustomed safety and advancement in the US, have lost sight of their essential link to Israel, viewing it as remote from domestic – mostly liberal — priorities and respect for their position in American society.  There is some awakening due to the open hostility toward and undercutting of Israel by the Obama administration.  But, the pain of an open break has thus far been only hinted at  from the perversion of their caring liberalism by Obama’s imposed statism and his administration’s abdication of the US’ priority traditions of international morality and security – of recognizing the difference between an ally and an adversary.

Hillary Clinton’s best wishes to Israel on its Independence Day notably breaks with UN Resolution 242 that Israel is entitled to “secure” borders, instead calling only for “recognized” borders, which to Israel’s foes and weaklings in the West means retreat to the 1967 lines that Henry Kissinger called the “Auschwitz Line” because they  leave Israel so imperiled

So, I’m actually glad to resurrect the question from my youth of whether my first loyalty is with the US or Israel.  It is inextricably to both, and the weakening of Israel is the weakening of the US, and vice versa.  I’m not loyal to any administration but to my and our security, here and there and elsewhere. Period.  Any thing else is irresponsible sophist escapism that will only create the worst consequences for the US and Israel.

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Kesler is a freelance writer based in Encinitas.  This column also appeared on the Maggie’s Farm website

Jewish refugees from Arab lands may be a factor in overall peace settlement

April 18, 2010 Leave a comment

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–This is the time of Israel’s Memorial Day and Independence Day. Appropriate to the season, I’ve received two e-mails with items that some may see as a bit too assertive for their taste. Yet they tell important elements of the Israeli narrative. It is not the whole story of the Middle East, but it is one that is as worthy of consideration as any Palestinian narrative. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0nwI2hzPjrA          part one 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GBHc0yvtrDw        part two

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hp5_LddyVys       part three

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VyaF0dXJdOE      part four

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4TJfEf5UMSI          part five

http://new.ba-bamail.co.il/View.aspx?emailid=1318&memberid=687147

The five chapters of youtube deal with Jewish refugees from Arab lands. It’s a story of unknown weight in the unresolved disputes between Israel and Palestine plus other Muslim countries. Jewish refugees get far less attention than Palestinian refugees. Some may wonder if their story is nothing more than a chorus of the disaffected, like African-Americans who demand compensation for slavery. 

Should the suffering of Jewish refugees be ignored only because they have become integral to Israeli society, with countless stories of success, as well as comprising some 50 percent of the population (a statistic that is increasingly difficult to calculate due to substantial intermarriage)? If Jewish refugees are largely ignored, why not also ignore the claims of Palestinians who call themselves refugees? Does the failure of Arab countries to absorb them justify political prominence and their continued weight on the budgets of international aid organizations?

The production of these chapters is dated by the snippet devoted to the Iranian-born President of Israel, Moshe Katsav. Here he is presented as what became of an impoverished refugee. The less attractive Katsav story was yet to be told. 

The second item deals with the disproportionate treatment given to allegations about Israeli violations of human rights. No less instructive than the speaker representing United Nations Watch is the response of the chairman of the UN Human Rights Council. He considers the young man’s accusations to be nothing more than an intolerable insult against the fine work of the UNHRC.  

Some Jews want the return of assets that had to be left behind elsewhere in the Middle East. Many want only a recognition of the injustice done to communities that existed for as long as 2,500 years in places that came to be dominated by Muslims. Some want to cancel the obligations owed to Jews as the equivalent of canceling the obligations said to be owed by Israel to the Palestinians.   

Memorial Day and Independence Day will provide the Israeli government more of a respite before answering the renewed demands of the White House and State Department for responses about negotiations with the Palestinians. The Americans want to hear about easing the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, West Bank settlements, and Jerusalem. 

As I wrote this note, I was hearing the rehearsal in the elementary school yard next door for the evening ceremony that begins Memorial Day. These are days that prompt some Israelis to harden their postures with respect to Arabs, and others to insist even more forcefully on the need for an accommodation. 

Justice will be elusive. The strengths of competing narratives may prevent any accommodation now, as they have for more than a century that has seen occasional spurts of intense debate, and longer periods of international indifference. Neither Barack Obama’s well measured reasoning, nor Hillary Clinton’s screeching may accomplish  what has eluded generations of their predecessors.  

Ed Koch and several other prominent Americans have weighed in against what they perceive to be the White House’s disproportionate pressure on Israel. A common message is that the administration has insulted a friend while coddling those who support terror.  

http://www.worldtribune.com/worldtribune/WTARC/2010/ss_israel0229_03_22.asp

A month ago, General David Petraeus was quoted as saying that Israeli intransigence was endangering American troops in Asia. Either he had an epiphany, or he got a message from here on earth. More recently he has said that “the men and women who walked or were carried out of the death camps, and their descendants . . . helped build a nation that stands as one of our great allies. The survivors have, in short, made our country and our world better, leaving lasting achievements.”

http://www.centcom.mil/en/from-the-commander/gen.-petraeus-remarks-at-the-holocaust-memorial-museum-national-day-of-rememberance-commemoration.html

Perhaps we are ratcheting down from intensity, and heading for  indifference.
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Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University