By Hamida Ghafour - Tuesday, October 30, 2012 - 0 Comments
Later this year, the country’s Jewish population will hit six million—the same number of Jews killed by Nazi Germany
They look like typical senior citizens at any drop-in centre as they gather around small tables and drink tea, occasionally chuckling at a joke or observation. They are dressed formally, as people of their generation often are, the women in blouses and tasteful makeup and the men in suit jackets.
There is nothing obvious that gives away the fact that they are among the last living witnesses to perhaps the greatest crime in history, the Nazi genocide of European Jews. Survivors such as Freddie Knoller, 91, have dedicated a large part of their lives to testifying against what happened to them during the Holocaust when approximately six million Jews were murdered.
Yet the gas chambers, death camps and mass deportations offered another lesson for Austrian-born Knoller. “What kept me alive was optimism,” he said, sipping a cup of tea in a simply furnished room inside Jewish Care’s Holocaust Survivors Centre in London. “I was an eternal optimist. I knew I would get out.”
Knoller’s parents died in Auschwitz, he survived Nazi-occupied France, and he watched prisoners eat dead bodies to stay alive in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Physical scars also remain. He rolls up his left sleeve to show the faded blue numbers 157103 tattooed on his forearm.
By Emma Teitel - Tuesday, July 17, 2012 at 3:03 PM - 0 Comments
Remember Sarah Silverman’s Great Schlep? It was the year 2008 and the Jewish comedian implored her people—the American ones, anyway—to prove that Jews are in fact, the “scrappy, civil-rightsy” types they claim to be, by making the schlep to Florida (where old Jewish people are known to hibernate) and convincing their grandparents to vote for Barack Obama.
Apparently it worked. In 2008, Obama won Florida 51-48 per cent against Republican hopeful John McCain.
But things are different this time around. Obama is currently trailing competitor Mitt Romney by three per cent in the Sunshine State. And there’s a substantial amount of Republican politicking going in Florida Senior —Israel—a country with an American expat community roughly the size of Fort Lauderdale. The Republican Jewish Coalition has been very busy in the Holy Land, most likely trying to convince its brethren that the man who orchestrated the murder of Osama Bin Laden is soft on foreign policy, especially when it comes to Israel. No doubt Zionist casino magnate and Republican Daddy Warbucks, Sheldon Adelson feels this way: the eighth richest man in America has pledged to shell out $100 million to the Romney campaign.
Which means his grandchildren must have already made the Great Schlep and failed, because Silverman has ditched the schlep strategy in favour of another one: offering Mr. Adelson her body (though not all of it, she’s a “good girl”) in exchange for a $100-million donation to Obama instead of Romney…
So what’ll it be, Sheldon? Protect the Jewish state from neighbouring terrorists and a socialist president, or be the only major Republican donor to get scissored by a bikini-clad Jewess with big naturals?
It turns out not even billionaires can have it all.
By Michael Petrou - Thursday, January 19, 2012 at 9:40 AM - 0 Comments
Almost all of Macedonia’s Jews died in the Holocaust. Now a new museum is keeping their memory alive.
The fate of Macedonia’s Jewish community during the Second World War was unique only in the thoroughness of its destruction.
Just after midnight on March 11, 1943, Bulgarian troops occupying the Yugoslav republic surrounded the three cities containing large Jewish populations. “Following what had become the standard system, this operation was carried out at a single stroke with great cruelty,” writes Leni Yahil in her seminal history of the Holocaust. More than 7,000 Jews were rounded up and sent to the Treblinka death camp. Twelve lived.
Of a pre-war population of approximately 8,000, some 300 Macedonian Jews survived the war. Some joined the partisans. Others departed to Albania or were detained in less murderous camps than Treblinka. About 1,000 fled Bulgarian occupation to live with relatives in northern Greece, which until 1943 was occupied by Italians who declined to implement Hitler’s final solution. But this escape was temporary. The Germans took over the occupation when Italy capitulated, and the Macedonian Jews sheltering in northern Greece were sent to Auschwitz.
By Jaime Weinman - Friday, December 2, 2011 at 6:07 PM - 16 Comments
The Israeli government pulls a controversial ad campaign warning Israelis in the U.S. their Jewish identity is at risk
We expect the Israeli government to warn its citizens against the dangers of intermarriage. But the Netanyahu government has been warning Israelis against marrying or associating too closely with other Jews–American Jews. One of the 30-second television ads, pulled from U.S. TV after an outcry among American journalists and bloggers, shows a young Israeli woman living in a U.S. city with a man who is implied to be Jewish-American. The guy, an American hipster if there ever was one, doesn’t understand why his girlfriend is sad on Yom Hazikaron, the Israeli memorial day. “They will always remain Israelis,” the announcer says in Hebrew. “Their partners may not understand what they’re talking about.” Steven Weiss, who first reported on the campaign for The Jewish Channel, summed up the message as “Marrying American Jews could make Israelis lose their sense of identities.” Or as the Netanyahu government sheepishly put it when announcing the cancellation of the project, they “clearly did not take into account American Jewish sensibilities.”
After receiving tips from viewers across the U.S., Weiss collected together several of these ads last month, announcing that “a concerted effort is targeting Israeli expatriates in at least five cities to convince them that their heritage will be lost if they don’t soon leave America to go back to Israel.” The campaign, created by the Israeli Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, uses every technique imaginable to make Israelis feel that their identity is in danger. One billboard urges people to leave America before their children start calling them “daddy” instead of addressing them in Hebrew. In another TV commercial, an Israeli couple is appalled to discover that their American-raised granddaughter thinks that she’s supposed to celebrate Christmas. The message is clear: Jews born and raised in America might just as well be goyim.
The Atlantic’s Israel specialist Jeffrey Goldberg, who translated some of the ads for his blog, was appalled at finding an anti-American message emanating from official Israeli productions. “I don’t think I have ever seen a demonstration of Israeli contempt for American Jews as obvious as these ads,” he fumed. But Sofa Landver, the minister who runs the department responsible for the ads, thinks that American critics are showing “foolishness” by taking offense, and that the response has been great from its target audience of expatriates: “We managed to touch all the right emotional buttons,” she enthused.
Talking to the Jewish Journal of Greater L.A., Landver said that she has “the highest respect” for American Jews, but that the campaign had nothing to do with Jewishness. “Minister Edelstein is the one who needs to communicate with the Jewish Community,” she said, referring to the Minister of Information and Diaspora. “I’m in charge of returning Israelis.” In other words, these ads aren’t saying that American Jews are less Jewish than Israelis; that’s someone else’s bureaucratic department. They’re just saying, as Landver put it, that “Israelis who linger too long in the Diaspora risk losing their Jewish roots.”
But some observers find it ironic that at the same time the Netanyahu government demands maximum American cooperation and respect, it is signing off on advertisements that portray America as an alien country, sapping the uniqueness of Israelis. “The message is: Dear American Jews, thank you for lobbying for American defense aid,” Goldberg wrote, “but, please, stay away from our sons and daughters.”
By Kate Lunau - Wednesday, November 2, 2011 at 1:10 PM - 1 Comment
An Israeli computer science professor is trying to prove that several different people wrote the Torah together
To Jews and Christians, Moses was the author of the first five books of the Bible, also known as the Torah. But an Israeli computer science professor is trying to prove that several different people actually wrote them together. Working with a team of collaborators, including his son, Tel Aviv University’s Nachum Dershowitz developed computer software that searches a text for hints like word preference—using “said” instead of “spoke,” for example—to divide it up according to how many people probably helped write it.
To test out the algorithm and make sure it was working, the team deliberately mixed up passages from the two Hebrew books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, then had the computer separate them. It did so with 99 per cent accuracy. The software still can’t decipher exactly how many people worked to write the Bible, but it can flag transition points, where one voice shifts to the next.
Experts say the algorithm could have all sorts of applications, such as shedding new light on other mysterious or very old writings, like the nature of Shakespeare’s collaborations, for example. Dershowitz said that providing new detail to Biblical scholarship was gratifying in and of itself.
By Emma Teitel - Monday, September 26, 2011 at 11:58 AM - 19 Comments
Emma Teitel on how a York University student makes Jews look bad—and why that’s a good thing
There’s an inside Yiddish expression used by Jews to describe other Jews behaving badly in the public sphere: “shanda for the goyim” — shanda meaning “shame” and goyim denoting “gentiles” (non-Jews). The phrase is most commonly employed by Semitic seniors, when the modern media informs them that Jews can in fact be lechers (Dominique Strauss-Kahn), alcoholics (Amy Winehouse); unsuspecting nudes (Scarlett Johansson); and now, thanks to one 22-year-old Toronto Jewish girl, dangerously obtuse.
The woman in question—with whom I share at least one mutual Facebook friend (I am also a 22-year-old Jewish girl and it’s very possible we crossed paths, maybe at B’nai Brith summer camp, or perhaps in the annual United Synagogue Youth Limousine Sukka Hop)—is a York University senior named Sarah Grunfeld, who last week made shanda-esque headlines when she put her social science professor’s career in jeopardy over an anti-Semitic remark that turned out to be—well—not. The statement “All Jews should be sterilized,” Professor Cameron Johnston explained in the introductory lecture to his class, was an example of an invalid and dangerous opinion; his point was that in academia especially, opinions must be reasonably qualified. Grunfeld failed to catch that qualifier, though, perhaps because before the prof had a chance to offer it, she had stormed out of class and enlisted the on-campus Israel-advocacy group, Hasbara (Hebrew for “Explanation”), to call for his immediate resignation.
Word of Johnston’s so-called racism exploded virally online by way of what National Post columnist Jonathan Kay has dubbed the “Bubbie-net” (Jewish grandparents frantically emailing their kin with fresh findings of alleged anti-Semitism); at the same time widely-respected Canadian Jewish civil rights association, B’nai Brith (Children of the Covenant), leaped in with equal gusto to champion Grunfeld’s claim. Then came the big reveal: Ms. Grunfeld had made a mistake. Not only was professor Johnston not an anti-Semite, he was a Jew. To borrow a more accessible Yiddish phrase, political correctness at York University had effectively schtupped itself. Not to mention Sarah Grunfeld.
The maligned university student has since “qualified” her accusations against Johnston with claims twice as ludicrous as the original. “The words, ‘Jews should be sterilized’,” she told the Toronto Star recently, “still came out of his mouth, so regardless of the context I still think that’s pretty serious.”
A lot of Canadian Jews are embarrassed and ashamed by this kind of doublespeak, and so was I, until I re-examined the root of my disquiet. There’s a reason why this particular shanda—and not, let’s say, Woody Allen’s marriage to his adopted daughter, or Garth Drabinsky’s defrauding of his shareholders, or The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart’s changing his name from John Stewart Liebowitz—ignites such fierce indignation in the Jewish community: Because Grunfeld doesn’t simply make us look bad (like the guys above); she makes us look stupid, and in doing so debunks the cultural stereotypes of intellectual superiority that we sometimes not-so-secretly enjoy.
Jewish American author Michael Chabon explored the seductiveness of this stereotype to Jews themselves in the New York Times last year in considering the calibre of the discussion following Israel’s botched raid of the Gaza bound Turkish flotilla, Mavi Marmara, in which nine activists died at the hands of Jewish soldiers (a debacle Diaspora Jews had trouble reconciling with our supposed “cultural” cleverness):
“I would look around the Passover table, say, at the members of my family, and remark on the presence of a number of highly intelligent, quick-witted, shrewd, well-educated people filled to bursting with information, explanations and opinions on a diverse range of topics. In my tractable and vainglorious eagerness to confirm the People of Einstein theory, my gaze would skip right over—God love them—any counterexamples present at that year’s Seder.”
Sarah Grunfeld—God love her—is one such counterexample. But we’d be wrong to let our gaze skip right over her, because there’s another, more disturbing lesson to be drawn from the Grunfeld affair and it’s this: as Jews, we hold the moral high ground to call out anti-Semitism. That’s why, in part, Grunfeld’s accusation had the legs it did, and why, perhaps, it got the backing from the Jewish infrastructure organizations such as B’nai Brith, which still hasn’t distanced itself from Grunfeld or denounced her fallacious claim, but has instead published her unapologetic letter blasting Professor Johnston for a sin he didn’t commit, with a logic even more addled than before. And there lies the biggest shanda of all: Grunfeld’s false allegations and the group’s uninformed decision to support her are bad mistakes, but both parties’ inability to own up to those mistakes renders them inexcusable. Because when we cry wolf —especially on one of our own—serious apologies are in order.
But it’s doubtful that apologies of any kind will be made, and B’nai Brith will continue sniffing out anti-Semitism where there may not be any, all the while undermining cases where there is. If anything good does come from this debacle, however, it’s that our enemies and unsolicited friends (Glenn Beck comes to mind) may think twice before attributing all things grave and glorious to the “People of Einstein.” Because if public representatives of the Jewish faith continue to make exceedingly stupid mistakes, then the various calumnies the conspiracy theorists like to heap on all of us—the blood libel, the plague, AIDS, the Iraq War, and our obvious plans to take over everything from Saturday night TV to the World Bank—start to ring kind of hollow. After all, with Sarah Grunfeld leading the way, for what exactly can they blame us?
By Brian Bethune - Friday, February 11, 2011 at 7:00 AM - 36 Comments
From evolution to safe sex, Benedict revealed himself to be a surprisingly activist Pope
In this story first published in 2011, Brian Bethune considered the ways Pope Benedict XVI was changing the Catholic Church:
It wasn’t supposed to be this way, not according to confounded Vatican watchers. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was already 78 years old when he became Pope Benedict XVI in 2005. He was widely seen as the arch-conservative doctrinal enforcer, the sharp spear point wielded by his charismatic rock star predecessor—Joshua to Pope John Paul II’s Moses, in the words of one Jewish scholar. The consensus opinion was that Benedict would provide a quiet, business-as-usual continuance of John Paul’s 27-year reign and, given his age, a brief pontificate that would allow the 1.1 billion-strong Roman Catholic Church time to catch its breath and consider its future options.
No one, it seems, asked Benedict what he thought of the caretaker idea.
From inflaming the Islamic world by quoting medieval anti-Muhammad remarks to welcoming disaffected Anglicans into the Roman fold, becoming personally embroiled in the clerical sex-abuse scandal, endorsing the (sometimes) use of condoms, writing a passage in his newest book exonerating Jews from the charge of killing Christ, and a host of less headline-grabbing initiatives (including a casual acceptance of the theory of evolution), Benedict—as he celebrates his 84th birthday and sixth anniversary as Pope (April 16 and 19, respectively)—continues to be far more active, innovative, and outright newsworthy than expected.
By Martin Patriquin - Wednesday, April 14, 2010 at 12:34 PM - 61 Comments
A long-brewing fight over accommodating Hasidim turns ugly
Pierre Lacerte rarely leaves his house without a sense of righteous indignation, and never without his point-and-shoot camera holstered on his belt. When he walks through his neighbourhood of Outremont in Montreal, he may take a picture, or seven, of garbage-strewn yards, illegal construction, parking infractions, oversized buses, unlicensed gatherings and any other infraction allegedly committed by the area’s Hasidic Jewish community.
The pictures are fodder for his blog, a mean-spirited take on his Hasidic neighbours and the politicians he says “are on all fours in front of the Hasidim.” Liberal politician Martin Cauchon becomes “Martin Kosher”; Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay is blasted for courting the Hasidic vote during the last election, or “electorah.” Lacerte also attends municipal council meetings with near-religious fervour out of a sense of “exasperation” with the Hasidim, who he believes are making Outremont unbearable for the goyim. “I’m determined, not obsessed,” he said recently from a croissanterie near his home. “They’re a small minority, and already it’s a mess. What’s it going to be like in 15 years when they have doubled in size?”
Lacerte’s diatribes are indicative of the mood in Outremont. The arrondissement of choice for Quebec’s cultural and political elite is synonymous with sidewalk cafés and quiet power. Yet it has in recent years been the scene of a debate over how much leeway should be given to its religious minorities. Many residents think they know the answer: not much. Not any, actually. “Some people just want to make life miserable for the Jews,” says Alex Werzberger, the Hasidic leader frequently parodied on Lacerte’s site.
By Andrew Coyne - Friday, November 27, 2009 at 10:15 AM - 93 Comments
If the issue is who has been the stauncher supporter of Israel, there’s no question that it’s the Tories, not the Grits
There are many diversions in this carnival world—canasta, bubble wrap, Donald Trump’s hair—but none so entertaining as a politician trying to persuade us the emotions he puts on for a living are real. Michael Ignatieff may profess bemusement, in interviews with the foreign press, at the “theatricality” of it all, but your average pol would never concede the point. They are like those movie co-stars who must pretend to be dating in real life.
Mind you, it doesn’t take much to persuade us in the media. We are as invested as they in the pretense that, when the Member for Diddly-squat is observed to be “shaking with rage” or “visibly distraught,” he is actually experiencing something like the named emotion. Hence the readiness of so many media outlets to advertise the Liberals’ hurt feelings at those Tory pamphlets accusing them of anti-Semitism.
They don’t actually accuse them of anything of the kind, you understand. But, next to being the subject of a vicious personal attack (“you can say what you want about me, but leave my family out of it”), there is nothing a politician lives for more than to be unjustly accused of something—even if he has to levy the charge himself. The opportunities to play the victim are too tempting. Continue…
By Barbara Amiel - Thursday, October 29, 2009 at 9:00 AM - 46 Comments
More than three-quarters of U.S. Jews voted for Obama. Only four per cent of Israel’s Jews support him.
Remember when there were seats to lie down on in airports? Now everything has fixed arms, a barrier to anything but stern upright positions. A 10-hour delay last Saturday in Fort Lauderdale airport was quite a stretch with naught to stretch on except two tiny units of armless seats coveted by 154 stranded passengers.
Happily, I had just purchased a jolly good book. Less fortunately, it had a flypaper title: in bold large letters on a white background it read Why Are Jews Liberals? Continue…