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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

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Rooms of the Heart: The bridge between Yom HaShoah and Yom Hazikaron

April 19, 2010 4 comments

 

Mendel Flaster

 

 By Toby Klein Greenwald

GUSH ETZION, Israel — In his official Memorial Day speech at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu described how, as a young soldier, two of his fellow soldiers, 19 years old, were killed during a lethal military operation, and how one of them, David Ben Hamu, died in his arms in the army car on the way to the closest hospital.  The Prime Minister had been a member of the elite Sayeret Matkal unit, the same unit which his brother Yonatan, led during the Entebbe rescue, during which Yonatan died.

Netanyahu described how, years later, when he went to visit Ben Hamu’s parents in Beer Sheva, his mother showed him David’s room. It was exactly how it looked the day he fell in battle, she said. Not one detail had been changed, not one item moved.

I remember once staying overnight at the home of a friend in another town, a friend whose son had also died in a battle against terrorists. She now uses his bedroom as the guest room. Her hospitality was effusive and generous, but I hardly slept all night. I was surrounded by army medals, photographs, items that had belonged to the courageous young soldier.

As I heard Netanyahu speak, and as I remembered the room of the son of my friend, and the rooms of so many other soldiers who die in battle and whose families maintain their bedrooms as shrines, where they are young forever, all I could think of were the words, “rooms of the heart”.

In English, the four different parts of the heart are called “chambers”. In Hebrew, they are called simply “rooms”.

The week that is, every year

Holocaust Remembrance Day and Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen soldiers, and for those who have died at the hand of terrorist, come exactly one week apart. It is a week fraught with emotion and a deep clutching at the internal and collective spirit of the Jewish people in Israel. The two days are inexorably linked, for the event of the first day reminds us why we must have an army of our own, so a shoah will never happen again.

This year, on Yom Hashoah, I invited  Mendel Flaster of San Diego, who was visiting in Israel, to speak to the 9th grade class I teach in Yeshivat Makor Chaim in Gush Etzion. Many of the students have brothers who have been in the army, or fathers or grandfathers who have fought in Israel’s wars, or family members who endured the Shoah, or grandfathers who fought with the Allies during WWII.

Mendel, who is 90 years old, is lucid and articulate. He described how, as a 19-year-old, in 1939, he was taken to a Nazi labor camp in Poland. He eventually endured 14 camps in six years, the last one being Auschwitz-Birkenau.

When he was liberated, he was recruited by the American army to work for the CIC and the CID, organizations that tracked down and gathered information to prosecute Nazi war criminals. Mendel helped send 30 Nazi war criminals to prison. Twelve hours of his testimony were recorded for the project of Steven Spielberg, who also wrote him several personal letters.

Mendel’s scores of stories are replete with descriptions of the camps – onerous labor, hunger, filth, cruel punishments, debasement and death, and what the inmates did, not only to survive, but to maintain their personal dignity. The stories are numerous, chilling and inspiring, and hopefully one day will fill a book.

He told five especially mesmerizing stories that I’d like to relate, as they seem so unbelievable, given the context in which they occurred.

One was how Mendel galvanized around him a group of young men in one of the labor camps who, with him, went “on strike” and refused to work after their shoes had fallen apart and they had no other shoes to wear. They struck for several weeks, in spite of severe deprivations and punishments, knowing that they could be executed for their rebellion. Yet they held out, and eventually a truck arrived full of shoes, and they returned to work.

A second story was about how he did everything to keep a modicum of religious observance. He befriended and made deals with one camp cook so that, on Pesach, he could trade the portions of bread for potatoes, for himself and others. He described how he led the davening of Kol Nidre in their “barracks”, with the participation of all of the inmates, even though they knew that if the Nazi guards chose that moment to walk in, they would all be killed.

In a third story, he described how they would do anything in order to see their families, who were hours away. He used to sneak out and walk seven hours each way each week, , through forests and over mountains, in order to – surrealistically – spend Shabbat at home. Every time he reported back to the camp for work, he received 25 lashes, but he bore them bravely each week in order to see his family. When he was in yet another camp, several years later, and the time came that he and the other inmates knew the villages of the area would be sent away to their death, he arranged with a somewhat sympathetic Nazi guard that he and a group of his friends, be allowed to visit their families one last time. He had to explain to the men that if any of them used the opportunity to escape, all the rest would be executed.

He worked out a schedule, and the guard arranged it so that trucks that delivered goods in the area would take detours in order to drop the men off for short visits with their families, who were subsequently sent to their deaths. He left his own visit for the end. “As the leader,” he said, “I wanted to go last.” But there were no more deliveries, so he snuck out. When he arrived at his family’s home, at 1 o’clock in the morning, he didn’t want to knock on the locked door, so as not to awaken neighbors who might report him; rather, he just touched a window and his mother opened it immediately. “I’ve been waiting for you,” she said, and took him immediately into the home. An hour and a half later he left to return to the camp. He never saw anyone in his family again.

In a fourth story, Mendel described how the first two fingers of his left hand got caught in a machine and the tips were cut off. When he recuperated in the infirmary, he did everything to help people who were in a worse state than himself. When Mengele sent everyone from the infirmary to the gas chambers, the staff asked that Mendel be spared, as they needed his help.

Lastly, when Mendel was in the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, he was asked to stay behind and help close the camp when all the others were sent on the infamous death march. But he refused to leave his comrades, even though he knew it could mean almost certain death. “Wherever they go,” he said, “I will go with them.”

Those who stayed behind were eventually shot. Mendel survived.

“All I did,” he told my students, “was try to help others, to not be selfish.”

“Be kind to each other.”

Just before he left the classroom, I photographed him with the boys. He looked them in the eye and said, “You are all good boys. Daven, learn Torah, and be kind to each other, because G-d loves that.”

When I asked the students to write what they received from Mendel’s talk, they wrote about faith, and human dignity, and the importance of not being selfish. One wrote, “Yom Hashoah was always a far nightmare…Mendel made my Yom Hashoah something deeper…Mendel describing his last moments with his family made me cry. Mendel describing Jewish people getting killed, in all kinds of ways, released a rope that was tied to my heart.”

We all hold someone special in the rooms of our heart. And some of those rooms are occupied by holy men and women who died for Kiddush Hashem.

Every year, for one week, in Israel, the entire country allows itself to tiptoe into those rooms, hand in hand, sit down quietly in the corners, weep, and remember.

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The writer is a teacher, editor and educational theater director.

A short overview of Holocaust commemorations

April 12, 2010 Leave a comment

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–The Holocaust leads all other tragedies in the extent of its commemoration. Numerous countries have an annual observance on January 27th, the anniversary of the day in 1945 when the Soviet Army liberated the largest Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz. Some of them also commemorate Israel’s observance in the Spring. It comes a week before the Memorial Day for soldiers and civilian victims of terror, and then Independence Day, i.e., a week to mark disaster and salvation.

The Holocaust has not entered Israel’s collective memory easily, or uniformly. For many years is was a subject to avoid. Individuals were ashamed of those  led quietly to slaughter, and a people so despised as to have no one to help them. Children born to survivors found their parents unwilling to speak about it. The State of Israel created a Memorial Day and established Yad Vashem, and included in the formal observance a reminder of rebels who resisted the Nazis. Nevertheless, the emphasis continues to be on overwhelming power. Those who opposed deserved heroic stature, but they did not accomplish much.

The figure of six million is an estimate, reflecting other estimates of Jewish populations before and after the Nazi conquests. The figure has entered into ritualistic expressions about the Holocaust, although some researchers cite other numbers that they have calculated.

The Holocaust is not the only case of mass slaughter or attempted genocide in history, but it stands above all others in the extent to which it is commemorated in national memorials and museums, and incorporated into school lessons.

Jews in Israel and elsewhere emphasize their own views of what they think is important to remember.

For some, the Holocaust is a story of Jews who aided the Nazis. They included individuals who served as police in the ghettos, helping the Nazis control or round up Jews for killing, and those who cleaned the gas chambers and crematoria. Israelis continue to debate whether such individuals had any choice, and cite the fate of most collaborators: killed when they could no longer serve.

One of Israel’s few instances of political murder was that of Israel Kastner, a Hungarian who negotiated with Adolph Eichmann for a train load of Jews sent from Budapest to Switzerland. For some he was lionized, but for others he was a scoundrel who favored relatives for places on the train. He was shot on a Tel Aviv street in 1957.

One of my neighbors cannot hear the name of Franklin Roosevelt without comparing him to Hitler for his failure to save the Jews of Europe.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews who have yet to recognize the legitimacy of Israel tend not to honor the Memorial Day that the State has declared. While other Jews stand quietly when the sirens sound in mid-morning, they may continue to walk. Ultra-Orthodox rabbis have a biblical explanation for their people’s suffering: God’s punishment for sin. In this case, the sin was the apostasy of Reform Judaism, which developed in Germany during the 19th century.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8615319.stm
The media begins to report on Holocaust stories several days before the annual commemoration. There may remain several hundred thousand survivors still living in Israel, and the coverage emphasizes their memories. But now there is substantial attention to what their children remember about growing up in a family marked by tragedy, school groups visiting the death camps, the failure of Israeli programs to care for the needs of aged survivors, or to return resources to those with claims. This year the principal program on public television, immediately after the telecast of the national ceremony at Yad Vashem, featured a conversation between Shlomo Artzi, one of the country’s most popular singers, and Yair Lapid, one of its most prominent newscasters. They spoke about their fathers, both successful politicians, who survived the Nazi regimes in Romania and Hungary, respectively.
For several years now, the Knesset’s session on Holocaust Memorial Day has been devoted to “For everyone there is a name,” with Members reading from the list of individuals who perished. This year Shimon Peres read the names of his relatives burned alive while seeking refuge in a synagogue.

Leftist Jews and others accuse Israel of imposing a Holocaust on the Palestinians, or using the Holocaust as an excuse for occupation and other persecutions.

The Holocaust may be a drawing card for traveling Israeli politicians, but it generally does not figure in policy discussions. More important are simpler concerns to defend against the violence of Palestinians and other Arabs, and frustration at their repeated rejections of what most Israelis perceive to be decent offers.
In recent years, however, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has elicited parallels with Hitler’s intentions as expressed in Mein Kampf for his denial of the Holocaust, obsession with nuclear power, and predictions of Israel’s destruction.  The costs of attacking Iran are well known, but officials and others have also spoken about the costs of not dealing with Ahmadinejad’s threat.

It has become conventional to ridicule the bombast, waffling, and delays associated with Barack Obama’s assertions that Iran must not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons, as well as his ritualized commitments to Israel’s defense. This year’s Holocaust Memorial Day has been an occasion for returning to these themes, as well as remembering, and politicians’ promise of “Never again.”

We’ll see.

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Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University

Holyland scandal continues to dominate Israeli headlines

April 9, 2010 Leave a comment

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

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

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

Where is Ehud?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University.

Why some are tired of hearing about the Holocaust

April 9, 2010 1 comment

Bruce Kesler

By Bruce Kesler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stop supporting the United Nations’ platform for tyrants.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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