August 20th, 2014

Alleging bias, Israel keeping distance from U.N. probe

Conclusions of the latest investigation will not be legally binding on Israel, but could further ratchet up international criticism


TEL AVIV (JTA) — The United Nations probe into the Gaza conflict hasn’t even begun, but Israel already is convinced that it won’t end well.

In a resolution adopted by a vote of 29-1 with 17 abstentions, the U.N. Human Rights Council moved last month to establish a commission of inquiry “to investigate all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.” The United States cast the sole vote against.

Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized the council for choosing to investigate Israel rather than nearby crisis zones such as Iraq or Syria, and implied he would not cooperate with U.N. investigators.

A Palestinian child amid the rubble of homes destroyed by Israeli airstrikes in the northern Gaza Strip on Monday. (Photo: Emad Nasser / Flash90)

A Palestinian child amid the rubble of homes destroyed by Israeli airstrikes in the northern Gaza Strip on Monday. (Photo: Emad Nasser / Flash90)

“The report of this committee has already been written,” Netanyahu said following a meeting with visiting New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “The committee chairman has already decided that Hamas is not a terrorist organization. Therefore, they have nothing to look for here. They should visit Damascus, Baghdad and Tripoli. They should go see ISIS, the Syrian army and Hamas. There they will find war crimes, not here.”

Israel has been down this road before. Following the end of the last Gaza conflict, in early 2009, its government refused to cooperate with a U.N. investigation led by the South African jurist Richard Goldstone. The probe, dubbed the Goldstone Report, alleged that Israel had intentionally targeted civilians, though Goldstone later personally retracted that allegation. Israel rejected the original report as inaccurate and biased.

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August 20th, 2014

Barrage of rockets strikes Israel again

(JTA) — Hamas claimed responsibility for a barrage of rockets fired on southern and central Israel, including Tel Aviv.

More than two dozen rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip between the hours of 10 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Two rockets landed in an empty area in the greater Tel Aviv area, according to the Israel Defense Forces, and at least two were reported intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system. At least four rockets also landed in Beersheba and three in Sderot.

Iron Dome intercepted at least one rocket over Jerusalem, Israel’s Channel 2 reported. A Code Red warning was heard in Beit Shemesh, located west of Jerusalem.

Rockets were fired from Gaza beginning on Tuesday afternoon in contravention of a 24-hour cease-fire extension agreed to late Monday night just as a five-day cease-fire was expiring.

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August 20th, 2014

After rabbi’s murder, Miami Jews on edge

Police say no evidence has emerged that anti-Semitism was a motive in the crime, but the murder has raised fears in the Jewish community


(JTA) — The streets of North Miami Beach look different since the murder of Rabbi Joseph Raksin. At Northeast 175th Street and 8th Court, in the heavily Orthodox neighborhood where he was killed, a memorial of candles is arranged in a Star of David that the community keeps lit. Police officers have stepped up their patrols, filling the streets at all hours.

Raksin, a member of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic sect who was in town from Brooklyn, N.Y., to visit his grandchildren, was shot on the morning of Aug. 9 while walking to synagogue on the Sabbath. Though police say no evidence has emerged that anti-Semitism was a motive in the crime, or that the killing was linked to several other recent hate crimes, Raksin’s murder has raised unsettling questions about security in the Miami Jewish community.

In North Miami Beach, Fla., a makeshift memorial was created near where Rabbi Joseph Raksin was shot and killed on Aug. 9. (Photo: Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

In North Miami Beach, Fla., a makeshift memorial was created near where Rabbi Joseph Raksin was shot and killed on Aug. 9. (Photo: Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

It also has the community contemplating security measures already common at Jewish institutions throughout Europe and South America.

“We don’t know if Rabbi Raksin’s murder was a hate crime or not,” said Jacob Solomon, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation. “We do know that it followed local anti-Semitic incidents. We do know that it happened in a climate of a worldwide dramatic increase in anti-Semitic behavior. It happened in a climate of peak concern about anti-Semitism.”

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August 15th, 2014

Seeking teen advocates for Israel

An informational event for the Israel Leadership Fellows Program, which will begin its second year at the Talmud Torah of Minneapolis, will take place on Sept. 7

By ERIN ELLIOTT BRYAN / Community News Editor

In a blog post for the Times of Israel, Sally Abrams relayed an e-mail exchange with a student in the class Abrams teaches as part of the Israel Leadership Fellows Program, at the Talmud Torah of Minneapolis (8-16-13 AJW). The student had forwarded a video to Abrams, which “portrayed Israel in a very unflattering light.”

Abrams, co-director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas’ (JCRC) Speakers Bureau and an architect of the Israel Leadership Fellows Program, tried to offer the student some context for what she saw in the video.

Polly Lehman visited Israel for the first time this summer as part of a USY pilgrimage. She credits her experience with the Israel Leadership Fellows Program for inspiring her to go on the trip.

Polly Lehman visited Israel for the first time this summer as part of a USY pilgrimage. She credits her experience with the Israel Leadership Fellows Program for inspiring her to go on the trip. (Photo courtesy of Polly Lehman)

“The exchange ended with [the student] writing: ‘This video made me realize that I usually think of Israel as a perfect place, but really it has problems just like any other country. Although, because it’s Israel, I feel like the problems are always blown up to shine a negative light on Israel.’”

“What Israel has achieved in just 66 years, sitting in the most hostile of neighborhoods, should inspire awe, gratitude and a sense of shared destiny,” Abrams wrote. “But first that foundation must be established. Only then will the young person be able to grapple with the reality that Israel is not ‘perfect.’ No place is.”

And establishing that foundation is exactly what Abrams and her colleagues are attempting to do with the Israel Leadership Fellows Program. Its goal is to train the next generation of young people to be strong and capable advocates for Israel.

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August 13th, 2014

Our annual Peter Himmelman story

Renowned singer-songwriter returns Sept. 14 to headline Herzl Camp’s ‘Music & Musings’ event


Peter Himmelman understands that his role will be that of “featured entertainer, performer, facilitator,” for the Sept. 14 Herzl Camp benefit, “Music & Musings at the Mercaz.” (The mercaz is the amphitheater at the camp.)

The event, which will be held at the summer camp in Webster, Wisc., “is going to have a little bit of a Big Muse aspect to it,” says Himmelman, 54, referring to the creativity seminar he developed and has presented to a variety of groups across the country (11-8-13 AJW).

Peter Himmelman: I sat down at the piano, and the piano had a song for me.

Peter Himmelman: I sat down at the piano, and the piano had a song for me. (Photo: Jim Hershleder)

During a recent phone interview with the Jewish World from his home in southern California, the St. Louis Park native talked about the Herzl Camp gig; his new album, The Boat That Carries Us, on the Himmasongs label, which features rock legends Jim Keltner on drums and Lee Sklar on bass; and his first “war song,” a recent tune titled “Maximum Restraint,” which was inspired by widespread criticism of Israel’s war in Gaza.

The publicity for the Herzl Camp benefit mentions that Himmelman will also be playing some of his “greatest hits” from his days with Sussman Lawrence, a popular Twin Cities rock band of yore.

“I don’t know if there are too many of those,” he replies modestly. “There’s a couple songs that I do play. Not all of them made it through the pinhole of time.”

Regarding how the “Big Muse method” will fit into the show up in Webster — “I’m not going to give away the magic sauce of this” — Himmelman says that he might do something to help the audience “focus in a fun and unique way on their personal connections to their Judaism… and that’s the oblique way I’m going to describe what may go on there.”

And, of course, there will be lots of songs and stories — the always entertaining stuff of a Himmelman concert. Keep reading →

August 13th, 2014

Benjie Kaplan’s ready to lead at Hillel UMN

The Mendota Heights native is returning home to foster engagement between Jewish students and the local Jewish community


Hillel at the University of Minnesota has hired Benjie Kaplan, a leader in the local Jewish community, to serve as director for its developing program.

The 33-year-old Kaplan, who was raised in Mendota Heights, has always been involved in the Jewish community. Experiences attending Herzl Camp, participating in Temple of Aaron’s USY chapter and his membership at Beth Jacob Congregation serve as just a few examples.

Benjie Kaplan: There is so much potential on our campus.

Benjie Kaplan: There is so much potential on our campus.

Kaplan’s inspiration to be deeply involved came from family members who were active in the community. His grandfather was president of many boards throughout his childhood, and Kaplan’s mother — who “volunteered everywhere she possibly could to lead by example for her family and show us what it means to be involved” — played a big role.

“In terms of the Jewish community in Minnesota, I was a little bit of everything,” Kaplan told the AJW in a recent interview. “It just kind of came natural to me to be a community developer, a community leader.”

When Kaplan transitioned from Henry Sibley High School in St. Paul to college at the University of Kansas, he did not let his passions for leadership and Judaism dwindle. As president of Alpha Epsilon Pi, a Jewish fraternity, Kaplan stayed involved and even gained some experience with the Kansas Hillel when it hired a new director during his senior year.

Upon graduation, Kaplan was unable to get a job in public relations or marketing to complement his journalism degree. Instead, the Kansas Hillel director steered him towards a yearlong Hillel program called the Jewish Campus Service Corps (JCSC) Fellowship.

The JCSC Fellowship brought Kaplan to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he worked to incorporate students within the Greek system into the Hillel community. After some major successes and an inspiring visit to Israel as the group leader of a Birthright trip, Kaplan was inspired to consider Jewish communal work as a career. Keep reading →

August 13th, 2014

Editorial: Searching for a light out of the dim

The Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas (JCRC) issued a press release on Aug. 6, which congratulated Israel for extending a 72-hour cease-fire in Gaza. The JCRC also thanked congressional representatives in Minnesota and the Dakotas who voted to authorize $225 million in supplemental funding for Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system.

Further, the JCRC took the unprecedented step of rebuking a member of Minnesota’s congressional delegation for his vote against the Iron Dome funding measure:

We also express our profound disappointment with Representative Keith Ellison’s vote in opposition to additional funding for Israel’s ‘Iron Dome’ anti-missile technology. Without ‘Iron Dome,’ Israeli civilians would be defenseless against the thousands of rockets fired by Hamas and Hezbollah since 2006.  Both entities are terrorist organizations dedicated to Israel’s destruction and are proxies for Iran.  The necessity of the ‘Iron Dome’ has been underscored by Operation Protective Edge, which has intercepted scores of rockets heading towards Israel’s population centers.  Notably, Rep. Ellison was one of only eight members of Congress to vote no. To vote against ‘Iron Dome’ in the midst of the current conflict is seemingly an expression of opposition to Israel defending its citizens — Arab and Jew alike — from terror.

So, I checked this week with JCRC officials; I asked them the following question: “Regarding the JCRC’s ‘profound disappointment’ with Rep. Ellison’s vote against Iron Dome funding, has the JCRC previously called out a member of the Minnesota congressional delegation in this way?”

Rep. Keith Ellison

Rep. Keith Ellison

As the AJW was going to press, I heard back from the JCRC. They were not able to find any such denunciation of a member of Congress from Minnesota. Why this unprecedented attack on Rep. Ellison?

It should be mentioned that the Senate passed the Iron Dome funding on a voice vote; in the House the vote was 395-8. Ellison cast one of the eight “no” votes, in the landslide passage of money for Iron Dome. Keep reading →

August 13th, 2014

Solving crime in Tel Aviv

A Possibility of Violence, by D.A. Mishani, 282 pages, Harper, $26.99

Reviewed by NEAL GENDLER

D.A. Mishani’s catchy crime novel doesn’t begin with a murder — although we learn that one has occurred — and doesn’t end with a clever police detective perfectly and easily solving what develops into two cases.

It’s also interesting that this policeman, Avraham Avraham, is suffering from the trauma of a child-death case in which he performed rather poorly. That was in The Missing File, the first of what’s planned as an Avraham Avraham series by Mishani, an Israeli literary scholar specializing in the history of detective literature (8-2-13 AJW).


In A Possibility of Violence, Mishani’s second book, Avraham has returned from a long, recuperative vacation in Europe in which he found a new love in Brussels. Still officially on vacation, he visits his Tel Aviv-area station to find he’s the only detective available to investigate a fake bomb left near a child care center followed by a threat that it’s “only the beginning.”

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