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April 17, 2014 / 17 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘American Jews’

Mendelevich: ‘Educating Young Jews Is at the Core of my Being’

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

In Unbroken Spirit: A Heroic Story of Faith, Courage and Survival (Gefen Publishing), the newly released English translation of his memoir, internationally renowned former Soviet refusenik Rabbi Yosef Mendelevich tells a compelling story of struggle and victory. He spoke to The Jewish Press during his recent U.S. book tour.

The Jewish Press: You’d already published your memoir in Hebrew years ago. Why an English version at this particular time?

Rabbi Mendelevich: A group of American Jews who were involved in the struggle to free Soviet Jewry came up with this idea about a year ago. Pamela Cohen, the president of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews from 1986 through 1996, called and asked me why I never published my book in English. She and others like her saw my life as more than a simple story. It is the story of a young boy struggling to find his Jewish identity in a spiritual wasteland and of a young man challenging the draconian dictates of the Communist monolith in a struggle for freedom.

She came to the conclusion that my story published in English would inspire young and often alienated Jews searching for their own identity.

Describe your life as a young child in Stalinist Russia.

I grew up as an atheist. My parents were not interested in me having a Jewish education. My father was involved in the Communist underground in Riga, but both my parents spoke Yiddish and I was taught Jewish history. Back then in the Soviet Union Jewish tradition did not exist but Riga was the center of the renaissance of the Jewish movement. Before World War II, books were published in Russian about the great Revisionist Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky.

In the 1960s an underground movement of Jews supporting Israel began to take hold. One could tell the difference between life under Stalin and life under Khrushchev. You could sit in jail forever under the Stalin government for learning about Jewish culture, language and thought. In 1963, the first book on Jewish vocabulary was printed and many books on Hebrew poetry served as a catalyst for Jews to become closer to their identity. It was like a miracle.

When did you take an interest in activism on behalf of Israel and Jews?

While still a teenager, I gravitated toward activism in 1964. I attended a technical college for four years and studied electronics and computers. I worked as an engineer in a big plant in Riga, and in terms of technology it was advanced. The moment I became an engineer, I wanted to leave the Soviet Union and go to Israel. I had a big decision to make. If I obtained my degree I would have to stay in the Soviet Union forever, so I sacrificed my career by not getting the degree. It boiled down to either staying in the Soviet Union or living as a free man whose destiny is in his hands.

Where was your life heading after you finished your studies?

In 1968 I was fired from my job as an engineer for inquiring about emigrating to Israel. At that juncture I was also heavily involved in various Zionist organizations and in 1969 I assumed the position of editor of a national journal on Jewish issues. Everything had to be top secret so we met clandestinely in forests or perhaps in someone’s apartment. I was in charge of deciding what to write and what articles to publicize, and it was sent all over the Soviet Union. We had only published two issues before my arrest.

Why did you hijack a plane in 1970?

Soviet antipathy toward Israel continued to increase in the years following the 1967 Six-Day War. Israeli soldiers were called hooligans in the Soviet press but we in the Jewish underground only yearned for the freedom to go to Israel, study in yeshiva and be part of the Zionist dream. We decided to hijack a plane to the West to spotlight our plight, even though we knew how risky it was. While undertaking this action, we dreamed about fighting in the Golani Brigade in Israel. We also wanted to counter the incessant Soviet propaganda that told the world there was no Jewish issue in Russia and that Jews were very happy to be proud Soviet citizens. We wanted the world to know there was a growing number of Jews who wanted to connect to their Jewish heritage, to study Hebrew and dedicate themselves to studying Torah.

Happy Birthday, My Other Home Country!

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

I love America.

Having arrived at JFK in September of 1975, I remained on a small Island next to mainland USA for 37 years, most of my adult life.

I’m not sure I could take life in the U.S. itself, in, say, Kansas City, or Chicago (brrrr…) or even Los Angeles. But in Manhattan I found just the right combination of a relatively civilized life and enough Mediterranean color to keep me happy.

I love the poetry of Baseball.

I am one of the few Israeli born men who actually understands Football. It had to do with too many hours spent in bars with fellow taxi drivers.

Ah, yes, I totally fit the stereotype, I actually drove a yellow cab in New York City, for two and a half years.

I’m a registered Democrat, which is a bit unusual in a publication like the Jewish Press, but we don’t have Republicans on the Lower East Side. We ate them during the blizzard of 1978.

I thought Jimmy Carter was a terrible president, but I also believe Reagan is to blame for much of the evil America and its friends are facing today. Reagan practically invented the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, and at the same time took major steps to bankrupt the Soviet Union, the only policeman in the region with the will and the means to keep them down.

I have no idea why so many Americans idolize Reagan. I think our economy started to die when he took over. From facing double-digit inflation, which, granted, threatened our stability, we moved, over two decades, to facilitating the shipping of our industries to China and impoverishing millions at home. It can all be traced back to Reagan. What a loser.

But I’m digressing. I often do. This column is about how I love America.

In all the world I haven’t met a nicer bunch of goyim. The best goyim in the world, many of them my personal, dear friends. I don’t believe we ever experienced such a reality before, being loved by our gentile neighbors.

I’ve traveled by car across much of the country over the past three and a half decades, and I know first hand how decent Americans are. Sweet and honest and friendly. Even when they spot my New York State license.

I’m awed by the American democratic system. Nothing like it in the world. The best that the human mind could conceive, despite all the myriad accidents of cheating and thieving and crookedness – it’s still the most resilient and reliable system of government in the world.

Having said all that, I’d love to see my fellow American Jews come here, to Israel, where I’ve returned to stay some six months ago. I think they’ll have a ball. I think Israel would become a Garden of Eden if it were flooded by, say, two million American Jews.

Jews who understand a policeman is there to serve them, not the other way around.

Jews who know how to make businesses work.

Jews who are not ashamed to drop everything and engage in spiritual pursuits.

Jews who are genetically polite.

Jews who drive their cars simply to go from point A to B, not as part of a morality play.

Jews who demand that someone freaking bag their groceries at the checkout counter.

I’m far from thinking that America is a bad place for Jews. I only know that Israel is by far, and I mean by many miles, better.

You can stay in my office until you find a place of your own. Rents are relatively cheap. I’ll give you fresh coffee and a danish in the morning.

The Silence is Killing Pollard

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

Upon his being knighted by United States President Obama with a dubious award for being a good Jew (a Jew who is always ready to give up huge chunks of the Holy Land), Shimon Peres had the decency to ask Mr. Obama to finally free Jonathan Pollard. True to long standing US policy, the White House refused.

But now that Shimon Peres, the symbol of Jewish Recognition and Acceptance, has been so accepted and embraced by the President of America, you would think that the Jews of America would finally raise their long silent voices and scream out for his release.

But no, the silence continues, deafening in its fright.

Let’s face it – most Jews in America are terrified of seeming to harbor dual loyalties.

Yes, they will lobby for Israel on certain issues, and stand by Israel when we’re at war, but come to bat for a fellow Jew convicted of spying for Israel? Except for some polite and well-mannered requests to free Pollard by less than a handful of American Jewish organizations, that’s too much to expect of the Jews of America.

After all, Pollard stole top secret American documents and passed them along to the Israelis.

It doesn’t matter that the United States had signed a pact with Israel to share all secret information regarding Israel’s security. It doesn’t matter that the information that Pollard gave the Israelis probably saved hundreds, and maybe thousands of Israeli lives.

The fact is that as an American citizen, Jonathan Pollard betrayed America, and that’s something which American Jews don’t dare identify with, even if the poor fellow has served nearly thirty years of a life sentence (a sentence unheard of for handing over secrets to an ally); even if he never received an honest trial; even if his health is in grave danger; even if the government of Israel has requested his pardon, none of this matters to American Jews.

Why?

Because American Jews are terrified of seeming to be un-American. They are terrified of making waves, lest they appear “too Jewish,” and thus make the real Americans notice of them and remember that Jews are not real Americans at all – but rather foreigners with America passports.

The Jews keep silent about the terrible injustice in the case of Jonathan Pollard because they don’t want the Americans to remember that they are strangers who don’t belong in America, just as Jews never really belonged in Spain, or Germany, or Russia, because, as everyone knows, Jews have their own Jewish Land which G-d gave them.

So the American Jews keep silent regarding Jonathan Pollard, praying that the Americans won’t notice that there are lots of Jews in their midst and suddenly remember that the Jews don’t belong in America at all. The Jews keep quiet, even though a true Jewish hero may be dying, terrified that if they raise their voices too loudly, the Americans may remember that the Jews of the United States are really once-upon-a-time Israelis who could all very well be spies for Israel too, just like Pollard.

And Jonathan Pollard suffers in prison, his health failing, his faith in his fellow Jews all but lost. And the silence of the Jews in America threatens to kill him. And nobody cares.

Obama Celebrates Jewish Petitioning of Government

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

President Obama celebrated the values of communities petitioning government at a White House reception honoring Jewish American Heritage Month.

“We don’t just celebrate all that American Jews have done for our country; we also look toward the future,” he said. “And as we do, I know that those of you in this room, but folks all across this country will continue to help perfect our union; and for that, I am extraordinarily grateful.”

Obama focused a large portion of his remarks on the 150th anniversary of an order that was issued by General Ulysses Grant, which expelled Jews “as a class” from the military department of Tennessee.

“It was wrong. Even if it was 1862, even if official acts of anti-Semitism were all too common around the world, it was wrong and indicative of an ugly strain of thought,” Obama said.

He went on to note that American Jews protested the order.

“What happened next could have only taken place in America,” he said. “Groups of American Jews protested General Grant’s decision.”

He described how a Jewish merchant from Kentucky who met with President Abraham Lincoln and following the meeting, the order was revoked.

“Like so many groups, Jews have had to fight for their piece of the American dream,” Obama said. “But this country holds a special promise: that if we stand up for the traditions we believe in and in the values we share, then our wrongs can be made right; our union can be made more perfect and our world can be repaired.”

The order by Lincoln to revoke Grant’s order was on display during the reception, as were letters from two Jewish groups asking for the revocation.

Years later, as president, Grant stated that he recognized his mistake and would apologize for the order, and a receipt for contribution to the Adas Israel congregation – which still exists – after attending an 1876 service was also on display.

President Obama opened his remarks by thanking Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren for “his work representing our great friend, the state of Israel” before emphasizing the significance of the U.S. commitment to Israel.

“Beyond our borders, we have to stand alongside our friends who share our commitment to freedom and democracy and universal rights; and that includes, of course, our unwavering commitment to the State of Israel and its security and the pursuit of a just and lasting peace,” Obama said in his remarks.

A number of Jewish members of Congress were present at the reception, including Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, Howard Berman (D-Calif.), Shelley Berkley (D-N.V.), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Susan Davis (D-Calif.), Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Sander Levin (D-Mich.), Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.), and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).

J Street Leader: Our Job is to “Move Jews” to Support Washington Politicians

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

Carinne Luck, J Street’s Vice President for Campaigns, and the person who sent out the mass email announcing the new J Street political initiative , is on video explaining to J Street members that what “the Administration” and people “on the Hill” want from J Street is for them to “move American Jews” towards their views, and so that is what J Street spends most of its resources doing.

Got that? The goal of J Street is not to represent American Jews on the left, but is instead “to move American Jews” to the left and to the Administration’s/friends on the Hill’s point of view, and to “provide them with cover.“  And so J Street is “spending the bulk of its resources” doing that. See the video here. There are a few other nuggets, but we think admitting they take direction from elected officials, and that they are field operatives instead of constituency representatives, clears up the debate about who and what they are.  The video was taped and put on YouTube by J Street, but was later removed from that site by them when Pro-Israel Media recognized what it really meant and began to share it.

AJC Survey Shows Jewish Support for Obama Dropping, But Few Favor Romney

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

A new AJC survey of American Jews shows President Obama would win a majority of the Jewish vote in a contest against Gov. Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee. Obama would gain 61 percent and Romney 28 percent, with 11 percent undecided.

Obama won 78 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008.

The national survey reveals certain indicators of Jewish voting behavior. Probed for the first time, for example, is the link between religious activity (based on frequency of synagogue attendance) and voting behavior:

Among the 14 percent of American Jews who attend religious services one or more times per week, 52 percent would vote for Obama and 34 percent for Romney. By comparison, 67 percent of those who never attend religious services – 31 percent of respondents – would vote for Obama, while 21 percent would vote for Romney.

The survey also found that more Jewish women (67 percent) than men (55 percent) would vote for Obama, while Romney is favored by 34 percent of American Jewish men and 22 percent of women.

The AJC survey also explored Jewish identity and attachment to Israel.

“Our survey confirms a politically active, and yet diverse, American Jewish community that has strong views on the pressing issues confronting the United States,” said AJC Executive Director David Harris.

Asked for the most important issues in deciding their vote, 80 percent of American Jews cite the economy, 57 percent health care, 26 percent national security and 22 percent U.S.-Israel relations.

More than half — 57 percent — approve of the way President Obama is handling the economy. Sixty-two percent of those voters who cite the economy as a top issue in the election prefer Obama to Romney, who would win 28 percent of those voters.

Nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of American Jews who cite health care as a top concern would vote for Obama if the election were held today against Romney, while Romney would win 19 percent of their votes.

But among Jews who are more focused on national security concerns or U.S.-Israel relations, only 42 percent would vote for Obama. Forty-four percent of those who cite national security and 45 percent of those who cite U.S.-Israel relations would vote for Romney.

Almost one in five respondents to the survey identify themselves as Republican (19 percent), more than half as Democrat (52 percent), and about one-quarter as Independent (26 percent).

On the current state of U.S.-Israel relations, 58 percent approve and 40 percent disapprove of President Obama’s handling of the relationship. By comparison, 70 percent approve of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s handling of U.S.-Israel relations and 28 percent disapprove.

Iran’s nuclear program continues to concern American Jews.

89 percent are concerned about the prospect of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons, and 11 percent are not concerned.

If diplomacy and sanctions fail, 64 percent would support, and 34 percent oppose, U.S. military action against Iran, while 75 percent would support, and 25 percent oppose, Israeli military action.

Regardless of how the respondents intend to vote, 60 percent think the Democratic Party is more likely to make the right decision in dealing with Iran’s nuclear program. Thirty-seven percent choose the Republican Party.

On the Arab-Israeli peace process, the survey found that 37 percent think that prospects for peace have decreased since a year ago, 7 percent think they have increased, and 55 percent think prospects for peace have stayed the same.

In a series of questions about relations between American Jews and Israel, the survey found that a majority of U.S. Jews – 59 percent – have never visited Israel, 19 percent visited once, and 21 percent have visited two or more times.

Among those American Jews who have never visited Israel, 48 percent say they have never had the opportunity to go, 32 percent say it is too expensive, 13 percent say they are afraid to go, and 31 percent say they are not interested.

And, nearly nine out of ten (87 percent) of those Jews who never attend religious services have never been to Israel, while only 26 percent of religiously active American Jews (those who attend services at least once a week) have not traveled to Israel.

At the same time, 71 percent of respondents believe that caring about Israel is a very important part of being a Jew.

The AJC survey of 1,074 American Jews was conducted by Knowledge Networks, March 14 – 27, 2012, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.8 percent. The full survey, selected highlights and methodology are available at www.ajc.org.

Some Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Jewish Major Leaguers

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

Nearly all fans of baseball history have heard of Hank Greenberg. Most have heard of Al Rosen. But fewer have heard of Cal Abrams, and hardly any, it’s safe to say, have heard of Lou Limmer. All four are members of a compelling team – American Jews who played Major League Baseball.

Why should we care about Jews who played in the Major Leagues?

Baseball helped American Jews feel at home and helped non-Jewish Americans feel comfortable around them. For instance, there’s the famous Greenberg story of sitting out a game on Yom Kippur in 1934. The actions of the slugging Tigers’ first baseman along with his home runs made him a hero to Jews and non-Jews.

The conundrum of whether to play on Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, has resurfaced for many players, from Sandy Koufax deciding not to pitch in the first game of the 1965 World Series to, more recently, outfielder Shawn Green, both of the Dodgers. Every time a star player rests on the High Holidays, it generates national headlines and fosters Jewish pride. Of course, non-stars have to make the same call.

The story of Jews in baseball goes beyond the well-trod turf of the “High Holidays dilemma.” Rebutting anti-Semitism and fighting hecklers was not uncommon for Jewish players, even when the hecklers were on the opposing bench. In particular Rosen, a former amateur boxer, wasn’t shy about taking on hecklers.

Racial awareness is another theme. Most Jewish players understood some of the prejudices faced by black players. Some, like Abrams, felt a special bond with their black teammates.

“I associated with them because we had a rapport about being with each other,” Abrams said of his black teammates on the Brooklyn Dodgers, including Jackie Robinson. “We kibitzed around with each other, but I didn’t go out with them. I mean, I wouldn’t go into the end of town to go dancing with the black people, but whenever we could we were together clowning around and kidding around.”

Jewish pride is a recurrent trope, too. Ron Blomberg made many New York Yankees ushers happy when he made his debut for the team in 1967.

“Most of them were Jewish, with names like Hymowitz or Lichstein, and three or four of them told me they never thought they would ever see a Jew play baseball in Yankee Stadium,” Blomberg recalled. “They had tears in the eyes and said to me, ‘You little Yid, you’re someone I can look up to now.’ ”

Pride in being Jewish is one thing, but being actively Jewish is another – most Jewish players, like most American Jews, weren’t observant. Many were raised Orthodox but none seemed to have maintained this level of observance as adults. It makes sense: Eating kosher food and maintaining any sense of Shabbat would be impossible while pursuing a professional baseball career.

The collective accomplishments of Jewish Major Leaguers likely would surprise most people. Jews, who made up about 3 percent of the U.S. population during the 20th century, made up just 0.8 percent of baseball players from 1871 to 2002, the latest year for which the nonprofit organization Jewish Major Leaguers has complete figures. But Jewish players on the whole have fared better than average. They hit 2,032 homers — 0.9 percent of the Major League total, and a bit higher than would be expected by their percentage of all players. Their .265 batting average is 3 percentage points higher than the overall average.

Jewish pitchers are 20 games above .500, with six of baseball’s first 230 no-hitters (four by Sandy Koufax, including a perfect game, and two by Ken Holtzman). The group ERA is 3.66, slightly lower than the 3.77 by all Major Leaguer hurlers. With the recent influx of top-flight Jewish Major Leaguers, the statistics even may have improved since 2002.

The stat in which Jews have fallen short is stolen bases, with a total of 995 through 2002 – many fewer than Rickey Henderson stole all by himself. Apparently, Jewish players have observed the Eighth Commandment: “Thou shalt not steal.”

Of the 141 Jewish-identified Major Leaguers as of 2002, 122 were born into families in which both parents were Jewish and 13 had one Jewish parent (seven with a Jewish father and six with a Jewish mother). Six players – including Elliott Maddox, an African American – converted to Judaism. Sixty-eight players hailed from New York or California, and the rest were born in 21 other states, as well as Russia, France, Canada and the Dominican Republic. Ten players changed their last names, all but one of them before Greenberg played.

Lou Limmer, by the way, was a slugger who played for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1951 and 1954.

Peter Ephross is the editor of the recently published “Jewish Major Leaguers in Their Own Words: Oral Histories of 23 Players,” from which this was excerpted.

Author A.B. Yehoshua: American Jews are ‘Partial Jews’

Sunday, March 18th, 2012

Noted Israeli author and Israel Prize Laureate, A.B. Yehoshua, delivered a lecture on Friday in which he stated that American Jews “are partial Jews while I am a complete Jew.”

“In no siddur is there a mention of the word ‘Jew’ but only ‘Israeli’,” Yehoshua asserted. “In no way are we the same thing – we are total and they are partial; we are Israeli and also Jewish.”

Speaking at the HaKatedra Strategic Friday lecture series, under the auspices of the Land of Israel Museum, Yehoshua said that living outside Israel “is a very deep failure of the Jewish people,” and lamented that immigration numbers from the United States are “minimal” and “embarrassing.”

He challenged American Jews to assume a ‘complete’ Jewish identity: “If Judaism is important to you, then come here, receive it in full and be part of it. But it is important that you understand: ‘they’ and ‘us’ are not the same thing. Do not make do with texts.”

He also accused American Jews of being generous with pronunciations of support but infrequent travelers to Israel: “They should come here more often. All the love they have for Israel, but they were here for barely a five-day visit…barely 20 percent of them [American Jews] have ever been in Israel.”

Yehoshua did not restrict his criticism of diaspora Jewry to Americans, and also took aim at the large Israeli ex-patriot communities living abroad: “There are about 500,000 Israelis abroad who can easily glide into their Israeliness, which they consider only citizenship and not identity … there is nearly no home without a convertible outside. I know these homes, who are well off. Why? Because they cannot find jobs here? The Swedes, too, don’t have work in high technology like they would want, but you will not see so many Swedes in the United States.”

Known more for his outspokenly dovish stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Yehoshua is no stranger to controversy when it comes to Shlilat HaGolah (Negation of the Diaspora). In a 2006 speech in the US at the centennial symposium of the American Jewish Committee, he said “Judaism outside Israel has no future. If you do not live in Israel…your Jewish identity has no meaning at all.” Suffice it to say, his hosts were less than impressed with his choice of words and the forum in which he chose to express them. In 2003, he was quoted by the Jerusalem Post as saying that “diaspora Judaism is masturbation. Here [Israel], it is the real thing.”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/israel/a-b-yehoshua-american-jews-are-partial-jews-israelis-are-complete/2012/03/18/

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