Highlights of AJC’s Global Forum 2014

The ACCESS Summit flowed seamlessly into the 2014 Global Forum, which gathered nearly 2,000 people from 70 countries outside the U.S. My two favorite speakers were Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s Minister of Strategic and Intelligence Affairs responsible for International Relations and the inimitable Hillary Clinton, most recently Secretary of State under President Obama. Here are some favorite points from both:

  1. Yuval Steinitz:
    1. In his remarks about Iran, he juxtaposed the two major agreements between the U.S. and nuclear threshold countries from the last decade: Libya and North Korea in 2003 and 2007, respectively. The agreement with Libya stipulated that the country completely dismantle its nuclear weapons factories and infrastructure whereas the agreement with North Korea simply called for the country to freeze its nuclear activity. In other words, Steinitz articulated, North Korea was allowed to keep its factories and did not need to dismantle any aspect of its program so long as it ceased activity. Today, looking back, Libya does not have nuclear weapons and yet, North Korea, he said, has about 10 atomic bombs.

      Minister Yuval Steinitz

      Minister Yuval Steinitz

    2. Among the most dangerous likely outcome of a bad deal is the proliferation aspect: if Iran is allowed to remain a nuclear threshold country, its possession of nuclear arms will undoubtedly spark a Sunni-Shia arms race across the region. “It will be impossible to tell Egypt or Saudi Arabia, ‘it’s okay for Iran to have them but you’re not allowed/entitled to do the same.'”
    3. On the flip side, it is possible to compel the Iranians to make the right choice by presenting a dichotomy between sustaining (indeed saving) their economy versus obtaining nuclear weapons. “They’ll make the right choice,” Stieinitz told the audience.
    4. Notably, he made the important distinction between nuclear power and nuclear weapons: they can have civilian nuclear power for energy and medical purposes, but that doesn’t require even a single centrifuge for uranium enrichment.
      1. Put differently, a good deal means Iran can have nuclear power but without heavy water reactors or underground secret facilities.
    5. Israel prefers a diplomatic solution with Iran provided it will be a comprehensive and trustworthy solution that puts Iran years – not days or weeks or months – away from getting the bomb.
    6. Echoing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “no deal is better than a bad deal.”
    7. About the peace process, Steinitz underlined the need for a real and genuine peace, and that anything less just don’t cut it.
    8. “We will survive, develop ourselves, come what may [no matter how long peace takes].”
  1. Hillary Clinton:
    1. Clinton also reviewed the interim deal with Iran and touched on the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.
      1. Regarding Iran, she emphasized her work during her Secretary of State tenure to forge the space to negotiate with the Islamic Republic, but stated that “Tehran has not yet lived up to its obligations or the concerns of the international community.”
        1. Paraphrasing her remarks: Regardless of whether a deal is reached over nuclear weapons with Iran, its state support for international terrorism remains an enormous threat.
    2. About Israel-Palestinian negotiations, she stressed the United States’ rock solid defense of Israel but also mentioned the “hard choices” that lie ahead that are necessary to achieve “a just and lasting peace.”

Other notable speakers included The Wall Street Journal‘s Bret Stephens, who debated The New York TimesRoger Cohen about the interim deal with Iran. The debate was a follow-up to their inaugural debate at the 2010 Global Forum featuring the same topic. This time, four years later, the two outspoken journalists discussed the heated topic on the same stage, only this time much had happened in the long and winding Iranian nuclear saga. While Cohen lauded the negotiations that the U.S. spearheaded between the P5+1 over the last year, Stephens juxtaposed today with 1938 on the eve of World War II and the Holocaust. He recalled British Prime Minister Churchill’s response to Neville Chamberlain in September 1938 after he signed The Munich Agreement with Hitler: “You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor and you will have war.” Stephens ended with a powerful plea: “Let’s not choose dishonor.”

Bret Stephens debates Roger Cohen about the Interim Nuclear Deal with Iran

Bret Stephens debates Roger Cohen about the P5+1 – Iran nuclear deal’s efficacy

Finally, Stephens summed up an important point that sometimes gets lost amid all the chatter on this topic: Regarding Iran, we’re not trying to win an argument … We’re trying to stop a tyrannical regime from getting nuclear weapons.

All in all, these two conferences were excellently put together and provided a terrific forum to explore some of the most pressing and intriguing topics facing the Jewish people in the U.S., Israel, and around the world.

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Takeaways from AJC’s ACCESS Summit 2014

This week I was fortunate to attend both flagship conferences of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) in Washington, DC. At the first, ACCESS Summit, nearly 500 young professionals from across the U.S., Israel, and around the world gathered to network and engage in some of today’s most critical issues. Summit attendees this year represented 40 countries: Colombia to South Africa, Sweden to Ukraine. The combination of thought-provoking and articulate speakers and the connections I made with others between breakout sessions and plenaries made it a phenomenal experience. This year’s ACCESS Summit was among the best, if not the best, conference I have ever attended. Here are the main points I took away from the two-day event:

  1. Stan Bergman, AJC President:
    1. African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, do it together.”
    2. AJC excels at “friend-raising,” a necessary complement to traditional fundraising
    3. Mahatma Gandhi: “The future depends on what you do today.”
    4. Nelson Mandela: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
  2. Rachel Azaria, Jerusalem’s Deputy Mayor and councilwoman representing the Yerushalmim Party and an outspoken Orthodox feminist:
    Washington, DC (May 10, 2014)

    Jerusalem Councilwoman Rachel Azaria addresses AJC ACCESS Summit attendees

    1. We have so much power and can make such a big difference. We just need to come together. Find the common denominator. That’s what we need to do. “When we create solidarity, the sky is the limit.”
    2. She shared a pithy anecdote from the Yom Kippur War to illustrate the power of perseverance: In the Golan Heights, an IDF commander said to his troops, “I can’t go on any longer.” They told him, “just when you feel like that, your enemy is in the same situation – if you can endure for just another few moments, another minute, ten minutes, an hour and then one day, you will have won.”
    3. “Never, ever, ever underestimate the power of a small group of people to change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” (Azaria’s paraphrasing of a quote attributed to American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

      Israel’s Consul General to New York Ido Aharoni

  3. Ido Aharoni, Israel’s Consul General in New York:
    1. Shimon Peres used to say that Israel is the land of milk and honey but not of oil and money. That is changing!
    2. Human creativity is just one of the major reasons to be optimistic about Israel’s future. Israel is the world’s top producer of conceptual products, holds more patents per capita than any other country, and its citizens author more scientific papers (1 per every 10,000 people) than any other nation.
    3. 66 years after its independence, Israel reached self-sufficiency with water production: it is now producing 60% of drinking water and is on its way to being a water exporter.

      Washington, DC  (May 11, 2014)

      Meeting Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

    4. Ours is the first generation of Diaspora Jews who see Israel through the prism of opportunity rather than problems.
  4. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, the UK’s Chief Rabbi for more than 20 years
    1. Rabbi Sacks spoke about global anti-Semitism and issued a call to action for our generation.
    2. “Anti-Semitism is always a sign that Jewish power is on the wane – the sad, difficult, dangerous truth.”
    3. “Jews must not be left to fight anti-Semitism alone. The hated cannot cure the hate and the victim cannot cure the crime.”

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Hanukkah Playlist

This year, for the first time since Abraham Lincoln declared the celebration of Thanksgiving in 1863, the first day of Hanukkah coincides with Thanksgiving on Thursday, November 28. Because the Jewish calendar is (mostly) lunar and the Gregorian calendar is solar, the two holidays will not coincide for another 77,798 years. In honor of the festival of lights, I’ve prepared a playlist of some of my favorite Hanukkah-themed tunes. By the time the next “Thanksgivikkah” rolls around, I’m perhaps there will be Thanksgivikkah-themed playlists floating around. Each song has a YouTube video linked.

  1. The LeeVees – How Do You Spell Channukkahh
  2. Adam Sandler – Chanukah Song
  3. Matisyahu – Miracle
  4. Barenaked Ladies – Hanukkah Blessings
  5. Kenny Ellis – Ocho Kandelikas
  6. Peter, Paul and Mary – Light One Candle
  7. Technion students – Maoz Tzur Rock of Ages
  8. Kol B’Seder – Mi Y’maleil (Debbie Friedman’s version)
  9. Kol Sasson – Maoz Tzur (a cappella)
  10. Laurence Juber & Craig Taubman – Maoz Tzur (clip)

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A Couple of Cousins: Planning for Partition

I recently heard Gadi Taub’s satisfyingly honest perspective about the State of Israel and the Jewish People’s story in modernity. The Hebrew University public policy professor and novelist – who looks like a sabra rock star poet (then again, aren’t they all?) – spoke about the need for Israelis to get back to the roots of Zionism ultimately for the sake of self-preservation. He ended his engrossing history of ideas with a projection of the future of the relationship between Palestinians and Israel, in effect presaging an end to the decades old conflict between Israelis and Palestinians: “We need another partition,” Gadi said. History repeats itself, I thought, envisioning the halls of the United Nations in November 1947. I, like Gadi, consider myself a political centrist and know that Israel needs to draw a line, and soon.

There are already red lines and a green line; but this prolific Israeli’s message was that Israel needs to – unilaterally if/when necessary – end the talking and stalling and political posturing by taking a decisive, inherently risky move about its future with whatever Palestinian entity will live in part of what is now the West Bank and/or the Gaza Strip. His talk crystallized for me that Israel needs to change its relationship drastically with the Palestinians (excluding those under Hamas rule in Gaza): from a deeply dysfunctional bond to one more akin to allied yet separate and distinctly independent cousins.

Cousins may be close or distant, in touch every week or speak once every five years at the big family reunion, yet they have and always will be related. They share a similar heritage, usually a language (or more), certainly memories; but, as they age, cousins grow up and to the degree that is necessary to be individuals, apart.

Negotiations might lead to a piece of a peace but as the weeks of meetings pass into months, then years and fade into memories of lost possibilities, Israeli and Palestinian children are coming of age in the midst of a deeply dysfunctional relationship between an independent state and a people greatly divided – by land, policies, ideologies, and lifestyles. Meanwhile, there are significant divisions within the Jewish Israeli population, as well. As New York Times’ Jerusalem Bureau Chief Jodi Rudoren characterized Israeli sentiment, “a dissonance exists in Israeli public opinion, where a strong majority supports two states, but only along parameters the Palestinians have roundly rejected.”

The latest round of talks have come to a standstill and the ever-unfolding tragedy in Syria gets more coverage than dissipating roundabout talks between cousins near Jerusalem.  Iran, too, is routinely – directly or indirectly through Syria and global terrorist plots – in the news more than “the” peace process. The reasons for stalemate could easily populate the length of the next month of your to-do list pad. And yet, there is always an opportunity even in the most seemingly hopeless scenarios. In Greek mythology, Caerus (Καιρός) is the personification opportunity. He was god of the “fleeting moment” when occasions appear and disappear.

There is a similarly lengthy list of reasons why the current borders and lack of an independent Palestinian state is untenable long-term, and without going into the gritty details, I think that Israel – as the regional if not global power it is – has an opportunity to make a beneficial change. There’s no telling how long this window will be open what with all the mishegas in the revolving door of Middle East madness, and as Rabbi Akiva put it, “if not now, when?”

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October 9, 2013 · 4:47 PM

Israeli Music 101

Four years ago I spent one of the best and most memorable summers of my life in Jerusalem. Mid-way through that trip, I sat in on a top-notch introduction to Israeli music from the 1970s to today. Yossi Klein Halevi, esteemed scholar whom I am privileged to call my friend,  gave an overview of the major players in the music scene. The next day, I went to a famous little music shop in town where my friends and I divided and conquered: after scouring the aisles for the artists and bands that Yossi recommended, and sampling songs here and there, we each bought 3 CDs. We must have spent at least two hours there, a magnificent use of time. Knowing that we’d either lose the CDs in transit back to the states and all of us wanting the entirety of each CD, we imported them onto our respective computers. The following is my “Top 10” list of my all-time favorite Israeli songs (in no particular order), with links to the songs on YouTube. I limited this list to 10 even though I’ve many more Israeli songs that I would recommend any day. Let me know in the comment section if you’d like me to write up the full list. 5, 6, 7, 8…

  1. Mika Karni – “Mi Zot” | “מיקה קרני – “מי זאת
  2. Eviatar Banai – “Aba” | “אביתר בנאי – “אבא
  3. Arik Einstein – “Uf Gozal” | “אריק איינשטיין – “עוף גוזל
  4. Shlomo Artzi “Laolamim” | “שלמה ארצי – “לעולמים
  5. Shotei Hanevua – “Kol Galgal” | “שוטי הנבואה – “קול גלגל
  6. Yehuda Poliker – “D’varim Sh’Ratziti Lomar” | “יהודה פוליקר – “דברים שרציתי לומר
  7. Ivri Lider – “Bo” | “עברי לידר – “בא
  8. HaDag Nachash – “Shirat HaSticker” | “הדג נחש – “שירת הסטיקר
  9. Gaya – “Shir La Ahava” | “גייה – “שיר לאהבה
  10. Noa & Mira Awad – “There Must Be Another Way” (Israel’s 2009 Eurovision song; in English, Hebrew, and Arabic)
Image

Mika Karni & Kol Dodi performing at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, May 2013

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Israel Among the Top 10 Happiest Countries

I once heard about a conversation between an Israeli journalist and a new immigrant from Russia to Israel that went like this:

Journalist: How was life for you in Russia?
Russian: Couldn’t complain.
Journalist: Did you like your job there?
Russian: Couldn’t complain.
Journalist: How was the school system for your children?
Russian: Couldn’t complain.
Journalist: So, you were happy in Russia?
Russian: Couldn’t complain.
Journalist: Well, if you couldn’t complain then why did you move to Israel?
Russian: Because here I can complain!

In the last two years, the United Nations’ inaugural World Happiness Report and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development ranked Israel in the top 15 happiest countries. The UN report ranked Israel at 14th place and according to the OECD, Israel is the 8th happiest nation on the planet. Considering other factors that typically correlate positively with national happiness rankings, this positive data is somewhat surprising.

OECD Israel 2013

I remember the first time I traveled to Israel, for six weeks during the summer of 2005 on an artsy program for American and Israeli teenagers called Nesiya. I remember being flabbergasted by the zest for life I encountered among my Israeli peers. They were all relatively close to graduating from high school and heading off to serve in various branches of the Israel Defense Forces. If I were in that position, I thought at the time, I would not be as happy. But they joked, sang, laughed, cried, hiked – did everything the Americans on the trip did, but there was a unique fervor that my new friends exhibited. It was contagious.

We traveled the country – hiking through the ravines in the Galilee, swimming in the oases like Ein Gedi south of the Dead Sea, climbing around the Ramon crater in the Negev desert, and exploring the cosmopolitan areas of Tel Aviv and the historic holy sites of Jerusalem. It was exhilarating.

Israel was preparing that summer to evacuate 8,000 of its citizens from the Gaza Strip in mid-August, the day after we left the country for our hometowns across the U.S. I was getting ready to enter my junior year of high school while one of my Israeli friends left the program early so her family could move elsewhere in the country, following the “land for peace” deal that Israel made with the Palestinians. (I wrote this article when I returned home right before the disengagement.)

One would think that with all the negativity in its neighborhood including the daily threats of terror and destruction, de-legitimization campaigns around the world – to name just a few of the realities of life in Israel – that Israelis would be less than ecstatic with life. In spite of everything, though, Israelis are by and large content. Everything is relative, even on the scale of national happiness.

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One Nation-State in Particular

The Promise of Israel: Why Its Seemingly Greatest Weakness Is Actually Its Greatest Strength by Daniel Gordis

Publication Date: August 1, 2012
ISBN: 1118003756
Page count: 256 pages
Publisher: Wiley

Last night I finished reading a fantastic non-fiction book by my former internship coordinator at the Shalem Center and one of the most thoughtful and insightful writers about Israel out there today. Daniel Gordis’ The Promise of Israel, published last August, is highly accessible and eye-opening. It lends a fresh perspective on the universalism vs. particularism debate, an argument from time immemorial that is imbued with significance through this excellent guide. Using sources stretching from the the Tower of Babel biblical tale to contemporary scholarly debates between figures in the fields of sociology, history, and politics, Gordis skillfully paints the picture of the continued need for the nation-state.

Through this masterful account of a very old conversation, Gordis sheds light on relevant discussions and paves the way for a new conversation centered on the endangered idea and reality of the nation-state and all that it encompasses. By exploring issues of identity, community, history, memory through the story of the Jewish State, he illustrates that Israel represents a model for other disenfranchised groups of people, not least of all the Palestinians.

Eliezer Ben-Yehuda Israeli Postage Stamp

Examples abound and demonstrate the many benefits of particularism when it comes to statehood, as opposed to universalist experiments such as the Soviet Union and the more recent invention of the European Union. The history of two languages tell the same story: Ludwig Zamenhof created Esperanto, meant to be a new universal language that heralded a new society along the lines of Immanuel Kant. In contrast, Eliezer Perlman (who later changed his name to Ben Yehuda, “son of Judah”) modernized  ancient Hebrew into a vibrant language that today has more than five million more native speakers than Esperanto. The history of these two tongues embodies the ongoing debate between, as Gordis writes, “those who assert that the nation-state is key to human flourishing and those who see [it] as a source of great evil … ” (p. 61) He rightly points out that the debate is often centered on Israel.

A worryingly and increasing group of people worldwide are trying to erode Israel’s legitimacy by eroding the idea of the ethnic nation-state that underlies it. These individuals attempt to group Israel, the Zionist project, into the pile with failed enterprises like apartheid and communism. Precisely because of this popular trend, those who care about the continued prosperity of the Jewish State need to renew the discussion. Talk about the relationship between the nation-state and human diversity, which leads to that between the nation-state and human freedom, Gordis writes (p. 71).

Finishing the book left me inspired and equipped with the new knowledge I had gained. But also with a sense of urgency because Gordis talks about Israel potentially not existing 50 years from now if wave of Israel detractors continues and grows stronger. To ebb this flow of anti-Israel animus, supporters of Israel  – of all ages, faiths, races, and nationalities – need to shift the debate from Israel to the nation-state in all that it represents.

Finally, Gordis’ book was touching. The sense of a heartfelt personal relationship of the writer to Israel and all it represents really comes across in The Promise of Israel, especially in the part I found most moving. Towards the beginning of the book he talks about the esprit de corps he experienced while sitting in traffic listening to the radio reporter read the letter that the parents of Gilad Shalit wrote to their teenage son, not knowing whether he would ever read it. (Shalit is the Israel Defense Forces soldier whom Hamas took captive in a deadly assault on his troop in June 2006, who returned to Israel in October 2011 and has since begun reintegrating himself into Israeli society.) The entire country was waiting for the boy to return home, and Gordis looked to either side of his car and saw his fellow Israelis also wipe tears from their eyes. Reading that passage brought a tear down my cheek as well, and as I waited for the train to arrive, I knew that what I felt was more than a sense of empathy from reading an emotional paragraph in a book. I, too, felt that sense of human belonging – in my case to the Jewish People, that universal sense of belonging that is yet another reason on the long list of why particularism in the form of nation-states makes so much sense.

On top of being a terrific overview of this age-old debate, this book is a must-read for anyone concerned about Israel’s prosperity in the modern world and the values, peoples, and history it stands for, and the future of the nation-state for all the potential it holds for other peoples the world over.

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In the Marathon of Life, Keep Running

After the tragedy of Monday’s bombings near the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon, I am reminded of what Winston Churchill said: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” In the depths of the sorrow and chaos wrought on the celebration of athletic prowess where thousands of athletes and their supporters gathered, it is difficult but necessary to remain steadfast in the quest to continue living our daily lives. Fear, as security expert and author Bruce Schneier wrote in The Atlantic, plays into the hands of the perpetrators.  Once it became chillingly clear that the explosions were the work of terrorists, my thoughts immediately turned to the global threat of indiscriminate violence that rages on in city centers from war-torn Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, to places where terror has struck in recent years: Tel Aviv, Mumbai, London, and now Boston.

Lydia Depillis wrote in The New Republic that events like marathons are by nature impossible to secure 100 percent, which makes fear and doubt even tougher to conquer. It is inevitable that such attacks will continue as long as ideology drives people to hate others. The sad yet realistic truth is that these harmful terrorist attacks will continue to shake the communities they impact, both directly and in indirect ways. In spite of the difficulty preventing such senseless acts of violence designed to destroy, 

116th Boston Marathon (2012)

debilitate, and wreak havoc, these trying moments are stark reminders of the need to trek on, no matter what challenges lie in the road ahead. I am reminded of what Frank Sinatra said: “The best revenge is massive success.” The method to beat the deep-seated hatred that fuels people to commit terrible actions like Monday’s is to keep going, just like Churchill said. His words ring strikingly true especially on dark days like yesterday. After the horror struck, strangers in Boston showed incredible kindness toward one another. That is a surefire way to begin winning the battle against those who want to maim and kill.

A marathon is really an apt metaphor for life; and Monday’s attacks represent a severely unfortunate interruption of what should have been a festive occasion through and through. Let us channel the anger, frustration, and immense sense of loss – both of the precious and innocent lives lost and those disrupted, and the temporary loss of safety – into support for each other. A solid example of admirable camaraderie is the Google doc that Boston.com set up in the aftermath of the attack for people in need of a place to stay or those who have space to offer others unable to get back to their hotels or fly out of Boston. 

President Obama’s resounding  first address to the nation just hours after the attacks was a shining reminder of the character of these United States. “[Marathon Monday is] a day that celebrates the free and fiercely independent spirit that this great American city of Boston has reflected from the earliest days of our nation. And it’s a day that draws the world to Boston’s streets in a spirit of friendly competition.” Acts of senseless violence might test our patience and cause us to grieve, but they will not break our spirit.

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The Things We Remember

Today, April 8, 2013 or the 27th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan, marks the anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising (April 19 – May 19, 1943), as Holocaust Remembrance Day or Yom HaShoah*. As more and more survivors of that tragic period of Jewish, and indeed, world history, pass away, it becomes increasingly necessary to continue to document the crimes against humanity committed during those years, and to ensure that current and future generations know what happened. As Ankie Spitzer, the wife of one of the eleven Israeli athletes murdered in 1972 at the Munich Olympics, said at a commemorative ceremony in September 2012, “those who honor the past will have the future.”

I recently watched Schindler’s List, Steven Spielberg’s 1993 award-winning movie about Oskar Schindler, the Catholic, ethnic German born in what is today the Czech Republic. Schindler, a Nazi Party member, continually bribed SS officials in order to make a profit by employing Jewish Poles in a factory producing metal parts that the Germans could utilize for the war effort. The true story took place in and outside of Kraków Ghetto. The film depicts the madness of SS Lieutenant Amon Goeth, who oversaw construction of the Płaszów concentration camp. The list of over 1,100 Jewish people whom Schindler managed to save from extermination at Auschwitz can be found at Yad Vashem’s website here.

The story reminds the world of the goodness of random strangers who found it in themselves to risk their own lives to save those persecuted Jewish residents of their neighborhoods in Nazi-occupied countries. The Righteous among the Nations, as they are now called, include the names of dozens of individuals like Raoul Wallenberg (Sweden) and groups of people such as the Danes who saved 95% of Denmark’s Jewish population in a miraculous boat trip across the Øresund Strait to neighboring Sweden.

On days like today, we observe moments of silence around the world to remember those who perished and to honor their legacy. As the chorus of the song “Memories” goes, let us cherish the memories of those who are no longer with us and commit ourselves to ensuring that future generations know what happened:

Think of the grandfather you’ve never kissed
All of the relatives that you have missed
Raise up your voice, and then raise your fist
And tell the world never again.

In fact, today ought to be a wake-up call for the world, including those European countries whose Jews lost their property and many of them, their very lives during the Shoah, to take care of the rapidly-aging survivor population. Many are sadly living in poverty, in need of medical treatment and interaction with others. Last week, the Israeli government pledged at least 50 million shekels ($14 million) to care for this elderly population living in Israel, who have served in many of Israel’s wars over the years after WWII. Let today remind us of the importance not only of caring for our elders, those who kept the flame of the Jewish people’s history and faith alive during that dark period of human history. May their memories be for a blessing.

A reminder of the work that still needs to be done are the number of genocidal regimes that have committed sweeping murders of their own and other peoples since the Allies liberated the concentration camps in April of 1945. In the last 30 years alone: the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s; Rwanda in 1994; the ongoing Darfur genocide that began in the early 2000s; and the Syrian authorities’ massacre of its own population that started in 2011 ago and has already claimed the lives of 70,000 and displaced millions of others. Today can be a wake-up call to educate the world of the potential extent of hatred, so that “never again” finally becomes a reality, not just a dream.

*I much prefer the term “Shoah” rather than “Holocaust” because Shoah in Hebrew means catastrophe; Holocaust comes from the Greek word for sacrifice. The Nazi genocide of the more than six million Jewish people (and over five million others deemed unfit for life by the Nazi ideology) was not a sacrifice; rather, it was the singling out, humiliation, torture, murder, and attempted annihilation of the entire Jewish population of Europe (and those millions of others). That is an important and necessary distinction and underlines the significance of the words we choose to use.

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The Oldest Hatred: Europe

Economic woes lead people to search for scapegoats. This fact, to which history has borne witness time and again, is happening again, much like it did in the years after the Great Depression. There are two sides to this coin: when economic troubles hit a country, people tend to designate a particular group of people as responsible for the downturn. Such an act displaces the burden from the national identity onto an outside (or merely portrayed as an outside) group. That group, as happened in Nazi Germany during the late 1920s and then across Europe, is the Jews, and the blame game is happening across the continent yet again.

In places like traditionally homogeneous and historically tolerant Scandinavia, Jewish communities are experiencing unprecedented levels of hatred. Similarly, French Jews have seen an astonishing increase of fifty-eight percent in 2012 over the previous year.Image

In Denmark, it is increasingly dangerous to walk the streets in some parts of town (such as the largely immigrant neighborhood of Nørrbro, just north of Copenhagen’s city center) wearing a yarmulke or any other outward sign of being Jewish. In that country of some 8,000 Jews living among 5.3 million, there are almost 300,000 Muslim immigrants from North African and Middle East countries.

In neighboring Sweden, the hate against Jewish Swedes has already reached intolerable proportions and much of that country’s population has emigrated elsewhere. “The Jews of Malmö, a community of about 1,500 in a city of 300,000, are living through a new form of anti-Semitism,” one observer wrote in Tablet Magazine last year. This new type of Jew-hatred is a component of the waves of immigrants from the same countries that are settling in Denmark. Assaults on Jews in the streets to attacks of synagogues have led many Jewish Swedes to leave their centuries-old homes for Stockholm, Israel, or the United States, community leaders report.

To the west in Norway, where the Jewish community numbers at fewer than 900 people, a 2012 study by the Center for Studies of Holocaust and Religious Minorities showed that 38 percent of Norwegians agree that Israel acts towards the Palestinians in the same way that Nazis acted toward the Jews. The previous year, an Oslo Municipality study revealed that 1/3 of all Jewish high school students are verbally or physically harassed at least two to three times per month.

Surely, one would hope, this uptick in anti-Semitism is not indicative of the majority of citizens in these places. Or are they? Here are some recent polls on the subject for perspective:

Anti-Semitic propensities (meaning who answered yes to 6+ of the Anti-Defamation League’s 11 index statements (see page 16 of this report) has risen by 3 percent from 2009 to 15 percent in 2011 in the United States. That may seem like a low level, but it is nearly one-fifth of the American population. That means that for every ten people, close to two of them harbor pernicious attitudes towards Jewish people.

In Europe, the numbers are even higher. Here is the breakdown from a February 2012 ADL poll. The following are what percentages of people surveyed in each country answered “probably true” to at least 3 of the 4 of the traditional anti-Semitic stereotypes:

Hungary: 63%
Spain: 53%
Poland: 48%
Austria: 28%
France: 24%
Germany: 21%
United Kingdom: 17%

These troubling qualitative and quantitative measurements of the levels of hatred against Jews cover only Europe. I have not even begun to extrapolate conclusions from similar evidence in the Muslim world, where such hatred is more often than not bred into children from an early age in many societies in that large corner of the world.

On the flip side, the economic boom happening throughout Latin America means that Jewish life in that part of the Southern Hemisphere is enjoying unprecedented growth and prosperity (with the large exception of Venezuela). What is known as the catch-up effect in economics has resulted in expert predictions that 2013-2020 will be a period of relatively “low-growth for industrialized economies while it will display dynamism in emerging economies,” the Economic Committee for Latin America and the Caribbean said.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency chronicles a surge in programs for Jewish youth in countries like Argentina; growth in the Jewish community at large in Panama; and the inauguration of a new synagogue in Sao Paulo, Brazil. In fact, there are so many  students who want to study at the Aleph School in Sao Paulo that when they opened their doors last year, there were over 100 students on the waiting list. What an excellent and welcome forecast on an otherwise depressing subject, and something to look forward to for everyone who appreciates the growth of Jewish life.

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