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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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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.

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.

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

San Diego Jewish community to memorialize those who fell defending Israel

April 15, 2010 Leave a comment

 LA JOLLA, California (Press Release)–Yom HaZikaron, the day Israel remembers its war dead and victims of terror, will be observed at 7 p.m., Sunday, April 18, at the Lawrence Family JCC, 4126 Executive Drive, La Jolla.

The free public event is sponsored by the Israel Center of United Jewish Federation of San Diego County.

During this somber day the entire nation of Israel and Jewish people in many corners of the world, remember and express their eternal gratitude to sons, daughters, parents and dear friends who gave their lives for Israel’s independence and its continued existence. 
 

In Israel, Yom Hazikaron begins with the sound of sirens proclaiming a two-minute silence in which all activity, including traffic, ceases. Flags are flown at half mast and memorial ceremonies are held all over the country at cemeteries, memorials, public places, schools, youth movements and others.

 
In San Diego, this year’s theme, bravery, will be highlighted in every aspect of the ceremony. Del Mar resident, Yaron Abed, who recently returned after serving in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), will present  personal stories of soldiers who died in the line of duty. The program will also feature two heart-wrenching films, three local choirs and several members of the community sharing their personal connection to Yom Hazikaron and speaking about their fallen loved ones.

The films are two short documentaries on the lives of IDF soldiers. A Hero in Heaven tells the story of Michael Levin, an American who immigrated to Israel to join the IDF and made the ultimate sacrifice for the Jewish State and the Jewish people. With All Your Soul is the story of Major Roi Klein who died sacrificing himself to save his soldiers, leaping onto a hand grenade in the second Lebanon war in 2006.

The choirs featured are The Women’s Choir of Beth El, the Beth Am Choir and the San Diego’s Havorat Hazemer.

This year, the theme of bravery extends even beyond soldiers of the IDF to San Diegans and all Americans who have died fighting for Israel. A special effort has been made to involve members of the San Diego Jewish Community who may never before have commemorated Yom Hazikaron.

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Preceding provided by the United Jewish Federation of San Diego County