Monday, March 24, 2014

Israel Matzav: Ode to a terrorist

It's the kind of 'reporting' we've come to expect from Israel's Hebrew 'Palestinian' daily. 

On Saturday, the IDF killed Hamza Abu al-Haija, whom it described as aticking time bomb, who was being directed to carry out a mass terror attack against Israelis in Judea and Samaria. Abu al-Haija was the son of Sheikh Jamal Abu al-Haija, the Hamas Sheikh in Jenin, who has been held in an Israeli jail since Operation Defensive for 12 years. Jamal was sentenced to nine life sentences for his role in sending a suicide attacker to the Meron junction in August 2002 to carry out an attack that killed nine Israelis. The IDF came to arrest the son, Hamza, but Hamza came out firing from his hiding place and was killed. Haaretz's Gideon Levy turns Abu al-Haija into a martyr
Hamzi didn’t act like a wanted man. He was spending the day in his family home, acting normally; he wasn’t armed nor did he betray any signs of the nervousness typical of men on the run that I’ve met over the years. Wearing sweats, he was playing with his little niece and joined the conversation we were having with his mother. He smiled a lot and said he was not afraid.

He told us that on the evening of December 18 soldiers had come to his home to arrest him while he was celebrating the birth of a nephew with friends. They heard suspicious noises from the street and at first thought it was a force from the Palestinian Authority, which has also been trying to arrest Hamas men in the camp. Only when he and his three friends ran to the roof and looked down did they realize it was the Israel Defense Forces.
Hamzi managed to escape by fleeing over the roofs and through the alleys, but his friend, Nafaa Saidi, was shot and killed by the soldiers. In the three ensuing months, no one tried to arrest him and Hamzi continued with his routine; during the day he would stay in his family’s home, but at night he would sleep elsewhere.
Of course, he didn't act like a wanted man. He just happened to be on the run all the time. But don't let that stop Levy from trying to humanize him.
I first met Hamzi in June 2003. He was 11, with both parents and his oldest brother in jail, and the five remaining children, all of then young, were forced to fend for themselves. I described Hamzi then as a scared and quiet boy. His mother, Asmaa, was placed in administrative detention (arrest without trial). She spent nine months in prison, all the while suffering from a brain tumor. The family home was destroyed in 2002 by a missile fired by an Apache helicopter, but was rebuilt and is now roomy, pleasant and well-tended, with pictures of the father and his sons on a large poster in the living room. Two of Hamzi’s brothers, Abed and Amad, are also imprisoned in Israel.
Ater hearing that her son had been killed Saturday, Asmaa was hospitalized. When we parted from him two weeks ago and told him to take care of himself, he told us, “There’s nothing to worry about.”
I'm sure there was no reason - no reason at all - for that home to be destroyed or for Israel to try to arrest the son. /sarc But in fact, there weremany reasons
According to the IDF, Israeli security forces surrounded Abu al-Hija’s house, where he barricaded himself. After refusing to come out, soldiers stormed the hideout where a shootout took place. Abu al-Hija was the only person in the building after everyone else evacuated.
When he attempted to escape, Abu al-Hija opened fire first on an army dog sent inside the building and then on troops. The IDF returned fire and shot Abu al-Hija dead.
Abu al-Hija was “wanted for numerous shooting and bombing attacks as well as planning future acts of terrorism.” The Palestinian Ma’an News agency reported that an IDF bulldozer was used to demolish part of the house where Abu al-Hija was hiding.
IDF Spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner confirmed that Abu al-Hija opened fire on security forces while attempting to escape. Lerner said that Abu al-Hija was a “ticking time bomb,” waiting to carry out numerous terrorist attacks against Israel.
Abu al-Hija’s father, Jamal Abu al-Hija, is a famous Hamas leader who was arrested in 2002 by Israel. Sentenced to nine life sentences, Jamal Abu al-Hija took part in at least six known terrorist attacks, including the Jerusalem Sbarro pizza shop bombing in 2001 that killed 15 people.
In a statement from prison, Jamal Abu al-Hija extolled his son’s “heroism” and “blessed his confrontation with occupation forces until his last bullet.” He added that he had been praying for his son’s martyrdom from prison.
What nice people. Just give them a mistake, and I am sure that they will stop trying to murder everyone around them. /sarc.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Elder Of Ziyon - Israel News: Hamas MP: "We Must Massacre Jews"

In a recent address, Hamas cleric and MP Yunis Al-Astal said that the Koran indicates that “we must massacre [the Jews]... to prevent them from sowing corruption in the world.” Al-Astal further said: “We must restore them to the state of humiliation imposed upon them... They must pay the jizya security tax while they live in our midst.” The address was aired on March 6, 2014, on the Hamas-owned Al-Aqsa TV, broadcasting from Gaza.

Following are excerpts:

Yunis Al-Astal: In today's show, we will discuss the demand that the Palestinian people recognize [Israel] as a Jewish state, so that the occupation will graciously hand them out scraps. I would like to begin by quoting what Allah said about them: "The worst of beasts in the sight of Allah are those who disbelieve. They are the ones with whom you made a covenant, but they break their covenant every time."


The obvious question is: What is the solution to this gang of people? The Al-Anfal chapter of the Koran provides us with the answer. After He said: "They are the ones with whom you made a covenant, but they break their covenant every time," Allah added: "If you gain mastery over them in a war, use them to disperse those who follow them that they may remember." This indicates that we must massacre them, in order to break them down and prevent them from sowing corruption in the world. They are the ones who still spark the flame of war, but Allah has taken it upon Himself to extinguish it.


We must restore them to the state of humiliation imposed upon them. They should be dhimmi citizens. This status must be imposed upon them by war. They must pay the jizya security tax while they live in our midst.


However, in Palestine, where they are occupiers and invaders, they cannot have the status of dhimmis.
The next to last paragraph is actually very important. While Muslims like to claim how well they treated second-class dhimmis over the centuries, al-Astal is admitting the truth: the entire point of dhimmitude is to impose a state of humiliation on Christians and Jews.

Which is why Muslims will never accept Israel. The idea that the weak, dhimmi Jews are more powerful than Muslims - in the middle of the Muslim world - is the worst humiliation that can be imagined. They can sort of accept that 2 billion Christians have a lot of power outside Muslim geographical centers, after all, that's been the status quo for 500 years. But 6 million Jews building a country that a billion Muslims cannot destroy? That cannot be accepted, no matter what. 

And this is why these Jews in Israel are not even accorded dhimmi status, according to al-Astal. Their humiliation of Muslims is so egregious that the Koran itself must be interpreted to demand that they be massacred. 

But the West still thinks that a couple of Muslim national leaders signing a piece of paper can change the entire Islamic psyche overnight or in a few years.
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NO, YOU SHOULDN'T HAVE VISITED ARAFAT'S GRAVE Dear Harvard College Israel Trek 2014 – #Israeltrek2014 participants,

As you well know by now, your current trip to Israel has drawn international attention and media coverage.  While a group of college students traipsing through the Jewish State is probably not worthy of such focus, your visit to Ramallah and specifically your smiley group photo at the grave of Yasser Arafat, the father of modern-day terrorism, has drawn condemnation from many (myself included).
At the same time your organizers on the ground in Israel, as well as your sponsors back in Boston including Hillel and the CJP (Combined Jewish Philanthropies, under the umbrella of the US Jewish Federation system), have vociferously defended your itinerary, and have made a point to attack those who have come out against your visit, labeling them/us as fringe extremists.
I have read all of your explanations, justifications, clarifications, etc. for the smiley gravesite photo, and frankly I’m just not impressed.
While you claim to be fully aware that Arafat was behind countless Israeli deaths, I want to go over his abridged resume of mass murder just one more time to be sure you have the facts. Also, since you are representing a US institution, it’s important to note how many American citizens are dead as a result of Arafat’s murderous ways.
As chairman of the PLO, Arafat was responsible for (or linked to):
·         The murder of 12 Israeli Olympians during the 1972 Munich games
·         The murder of the United States ambassador to the Sudan, Cleo Noel, in 1973
·         The bombing of the United States Marines barracks in Beirut in 1983 that killed 241 people
·         The hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship in 1985 and the murder of hostage Leon Klinghoffer
·         The Oslo War (2nd intifada) that claimed the lives of over 1,000 Israeli civilians and soldiers, including US citizens
But you probably knew all that, right? If not, you do now.
Nevertheless, your organizers say that the visit was:
“about creating an honest conversation regarding some of the most contentious issues facing both Israelis and Palestinians today… Whether we like or not, Yasser Arafat is important to the Palestinian narrative, and as educators committed to an honest exploration of these issues we could not afford to deviate from Trek policy that encouraged students to document and share their experiences with their respective communities.”
So my question for you is this: if you were looking for an “honest conversation,” HOW WAS YOUR EXPERIENCE CONVERSING WITH A DEAD TERRORIST?
I’m assuming it was pretty one-sided.
If that’s not the case, my sincerest apologizes for misunderstanding.
Perhaps what you meant was that you spent your day in Ramallah hearing that “narrative” you were seeking from LIVING ‘Palestinian’ leaders.
I highly doubt though that the PA officials you met with spoke about the town squares throughout the PA  named after suicide bombers. I also doubt they gave you a glimpse into the PA’s official educational system or media which daily incites against the State of Israel and the Jewish people.
I’ll save what was missing from your visit for another discussion, and give you time to explore that reality here. 
But back to the Arafat smiley.
The bottom line is whether you like it or not, whether it was your intention or not – a smiling group photo at the grave of someone who led a life of pure terror, murder, and evil, DOES in fact honor his memory, and does serve as a statement of approval.
I have no doubt that the current social media explosion over your photo is delighting the Palestinian Authority leadership to no end.  I’m sure they won’t hesitate to use it for their public relations purposes in the near future if they haven’t already done so.
Since you are students of Harvard, I don’t doubt your intellectual abilities, but I leave you with a piece of advice – next time, perhaps be a bit smarter.

Alarmed by anti-Semitism, French Jews consider flight More French Jews immigrated to Israel last year than US Jews, and Israel expects ever more of the French to make the move in coming years. One of their prime motivations to settle in the Jewish state: anti-Semitism.

A man wearing a yarmulke gazes upon a Jewish grave defaced by graffiti
"I am French, born in Paris, says Salome Roussel. "I'm thinking about moving to Israel, because French people are more and more against Jews. They say we are a lobby, that we are the masters of the world, and it's not so!"
Roussel, 38, is not alone. Growing numbers of French Jews are not just thinking about starting a new life in Israel: Record numbers of them are taking action. Last year 3,120 French Jews moved to Israel, according to the Israeli Immigration Ministry, a jump of 63 percent on the previous year. They even outnumbered US immigrants to Israel.
Anti-Semitism and poor economic prospects were the most cited reasons for leaving.
Around half a million Jews live in France, so those 3,120 only make a tiny dent in the population. But they are indicative of a "bad climate for Jews in France" propagated by extremists, Roger Cukierman, president of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (CRIF), told France Info.
Though they make up only 1 percent of the French population, Jews are the object of 40 percent of hate crimes. Figures released recently by the Jewish Community Protection Service (SPCJ), which logs anti-Jewish acts of aggression, show that Jews are far more likely than anyone else in France to be the objects of verbal abuse or harassment. The SPCJ logged 423 anti-Semitic acts, 318 "threats," 49 acts of violence, 52 acts of vandalism, 3 arson attacks and one attempted homicide last year.
That is at least an improvement on 2012, which saw a 58-percent rise in anti-Jewish acts. That year three Jewish schoolchildren were shot dead by the Islamist terrorist Mohamed Merah in Toulouse. The incident is still fresh in many minds.
Anti-system or anti-Semitic?
Cukierman pointed to the Dieudonne affair as making the first months of 2014 "very worrying."
Courts in January banned a series of performances by the Franco-Cameroonian comic Dieudonne M'bala M'bala after a state television channel broadcast hidden camera footage shot at one of his shows, called "Le Mur" (The Wall), in which he "joked" that he regretted that a prominent Jewish radio presenter hadn't died in the gas chambers.
Dieudonne M'bala M'balaDieudonne has a huge following though he has outraged many
Dieudonne, a successful film actor and much-admired stand-up comedian, has been found guilty on several occasions of inciting hatred against and insulting Jews in the past. On one occasion he even invited on stage his friend Roger Faurisson, a historian who denies the Holocaust, dressed as a concentration camp prisoner.
"I am worried the Dieudonne affair will lead to a new spike of anti-Semitic acts," said Cukierman, one of the Jewish leaders Dieudonne attacks in his shows.
The banning of "Le Mur" led many thousands of Dieudonne supporters to join government opponents, including far-right militants, royalists and traditionalist Catholics, for a march and rally in Paris, called "Day of Anger," in late January.
Marching through the streets of Paris, some of the demonstrators chanted obscene slogans against "Zionists" and made the 'quenelle,' a gesture invented by Dieudonne that looks like a lowered Nazi salute.
Two young men make the 'quenelle' gestureSome say the 'quenelle' is anti-system, others say anti-Semitic
Dieudonne says it is nothing but an 'up yours' gesture and has no anti-Semitic overtones.
It has become a fad for Dieudonne supporters to post pictures of themselves on the Internet doing the 'quenelle,' sometimes in front of Holocaust memorials or Jewish schools.
French Jews find it unsettling, apparently with good reason.
'Difficult to be a Jew'
Salome Roussel cites a recent incident on the Paris metro as being illustrative of the pressures Jews face in France. A man sitting in front of her on the train smiled at her and caught sight of the Star of David she wears on a pendant around her neck. As he was getting off the train, he made the 'quenelle' gesture at her.
He did it because "I've got a Star of David, and I'm a Jew," says Roussel, adding: "I'm not the system!"
Her consternation resonates with lawyer Arno Klarsfeld.
"It is obvious that if the incitement [of hatred] against Jews continues, the Jews will leave. Most Jews have already left the suburbs, because the climate isn't very good for the Jews in the suburbs," says Klarsfeld, the former head of the French Sons and Daughters of Jewish Deportees Association and son of the so-called Nazi-hunters Beate and Serge Klarsfeld, who were responsible for a string of arrests of people who collaborated with the deportation to the Nazi death camps of some 80,000 French Jews during World War II.
"Some - at least Arabs - are very much against the Jews," Klarsfeld told DW. "There's violence at schools. Jews who wear the yarmulke in the suburbs will not last very long!
Arno KlarsfeldKlarsfeld himself holds both French and Israeli citizenship
"When a teacher speaks about the Shoah [the Holocaust] in class, a certain number of pupils of Arab descent are not happy and make derogatory remarks. So in certain parts of France it is difficult to be Jew. Most of the Arabs are not anti-Semites, but a certain percentage is, and with shows like Dieudonne's they have the tendency of becoming more and more so," Klarsfeld says.
Others warn against exaggerating the phenomenon. Francois Pupponi, the mayor of the poor Parisian suburb of Sarcelles, says that the large Jewish population there - one of the biggest in France - lives in peace alongside a large Muslim population, even though many in the Jewish community wear yarmulkes in public.
Other problems in a Jewish state
Nevertheless, the feeling of insecurity appears to be strong among many French Jews. A survey published in November of Jews in eight EU countries by the European Agency of Fundamental Rights showed that 70 percent of French Jews worried about insults or harassment and 60 percent about physical aggression due to being Jewish. The European averages were 46 and 33 percent respectively.
And even if only a minority of the French are openly anti-Semitic, they have poisoned the air, according to Salome Roussel. Israel could offer relief to Jews like her, she says: "Because it is a Jewish state, so you can be Jew, no big deal! You have other problems, but not this one."

Saturday, March 22, 2014


 Rabbi Sidney Schwarz, a senior fellow of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership (CLAL), and author of Jewish Megatrends: Charting the Course of the American Jewish Future (2013) is someone I deeply respect. However, his latest opinion (“Limiting Debate on Israel Will Only Hurt Us” The Jewish Week, Feb. 4), is a perspective, if acted upon, that has the potential to actually hurt our community.
     In his desire to encourage more open dialogue on Israel, Rabbi Schwarz would like the college campus organization Hillel to reform its guidelines and allow overtly anti-Israel groups the opportunity to speak under the Hillel banner. Otherwise, Schwarz believes that by preventing such contrarians to talk will actually drive young Next Gen Jews away from us. 
     Such a notion is not only unbelievable, it is just plain irresponsible!
     While I can understand the rabbi’s ongoing challenge of engaging and retaining the faithful, perhaps what we need from our spiritual leaders is a clearer understanding of identity and community to market to Next Gen Jews in the era of the Internet.
     One of the ideals I am most proud of as a citizen in our democracy is having the ability to freely speak on any topic, including Israel. It is in our very nature as Jews to question, discuss, debate, opine and challenge. The comedian Jackie Mason will tell you in no uncertain words that we are an opinionated people.
     Yet, when we talk about opening our Hillel chapters to include debate from groups extremely opposed to Israel, what sort of debate are we talking about?  Should Hillel chapters be used as a forum for others to express agendas and positions that are antithetical to our basic beliefs? 
     As leaders we have a moral imperative to stand by our religious tenets and customs to preserve our heritage and community, not create more avenues to splinter it.     
     I was raised in a very liberal household where great emphasis was placed on progressive issues. Today, I consider the home I have made with my wife and children equally liberal and also guided by strong concern for social justice. Yet, some far reaching and impactful statements by ‘leaders of the left’ drive me crazy. 
     Hillel has been a safe haven for Jewish students on both friendly and unfriendly campuses for decades. Its core principles and mission remain the same: to be “a place that welcomes Jewish students of all backgrounds and fosters an enduring commitment to a Jewish life of learning and Israel.” It is not intended to be an extension of the college where it is located as merely an organization (like so many others) that offers minority students a place to socialize and enjoy the academic experience.
     Why then, should Hillel provide for speakers unsympathetic to Israel to promote the politics of destruction and tear down our Next Gen Jews under the roof meant to safeguard them?  Such diatribe would not be intelligent honest debate and only open the doors for more negative anti-Israel propaganda to be fostered.  Thankfully, Hillel’s agenda is clear, and beating up Israel is not part of it.        
     As a member of CLAL, Rabbi Schwartz usually brings great wisdom to American Jewry.  If he’s in search of a new social experiment to promote greater interaction between the faiths, perhaps he should bring a speaker to his synagogue to preach on Christianity and Jesus Christ and open the floor to debate?  To draw a good crowd I suggest he host the forum during Shabbat services. Sounds foolish and offensive, right?  Of course it does.  Likewise so does the notion of a Jewish organization sponsoring anti-Israel lectures. When held successfully, inter-religious councils, be they local community-based or on college campuses, bring people together to share their commonalities, not facilitate hostility by stressing what makes them different.    
     Nor should Hillel allow for “Open Hillels” as he recommends. I have witnessed time after time, speakers that condemn Israel do so without being properly vetted and fact- checked. Often listeners absorb every word as though it were based on facts when it is nothing more than biased opinion and misinformed rhetoric.  Many of the websites representing the face of such groups to the public make statements that are unfounded, unchecked, extremely prejudicial, and purely meant to mislead viewers. Quite simply, they promote an agenda of hate by craftily “wordsmithing” speeches and utilizing social media tools to cast negative stories and images of Israel and her people.
     Similarly, I’m not fooled when anti-Israel groups feign concern on social justice. Where are those same groups to comment when:  
·         Israel physicians treat Syrian civil war casualties in Israeli hospitals? Is that not social justice? 
·         IsraAID helps people around the world during times of extreme crisis.  Is that not social justice? 
·         A Palestinian fish farmer brings food home to the family table because of water technology developed in Israel. Is that not social justice? 
     A hallmark of democracy, free speech is a right, but it does have great personal responsibility attached to it, especially when it violates the civil and constitutional rights of others.  The thought of promoting speech that would tear down rather than build up is a formula for disaster.  Instead, let’s share the wonderful experiences of our Jewish nation with our young people. Our roles as leaders are best used when we manage to create better and stronger connections to Israel, and highlight the strength of our Jewish community for today and tomorrow.
     There is historical evidence that supports how championing Israel abroad has made us stronger at home. Prior to 1967, Jewish life in America was floundering.  Since then, with the revitalization of the current Zionism movement and our growing connection to and investment in Israel, we have grown JCC’s throughout the country, built new synagogues and strengthened Jewish communities throughout the United States. Rather than being excluded from formerly elitist country clubs and considered undesirable in many neighborhoods, we are now sought after to be included. Our Jewish identity and connection to our community, local synagogue and Israel is stronger today because we embraced Israel, not because we spoke out against the State. Smart, responsible and forward thinking leadership guided that. 
     Each year 50,000 students go to Israel on Birthright missions. Witness the growth of Jewish day schools and people speaking Hebrew, all happening now because we have embraced working for and with Israel as part of our unique identity. The fact that more people make Aliyah from North America in greater numbers than ever before is testament to  Israel being a desirable place to settle down. Indeed, the “megatrends for the future” are about this positive, strong connection, interwoven in our Jewish life. 
     Yes, there are blemishes. We all have them. However, that is not the issue here. To promote true dialogue, let’s talk about how Israel makes the world a better place for everyone.  Let’s embrace our heritage with a sense of pride, strength and a winning attitude.  That is the megatrend for our future. 

If you like Israeli music from the 50s and 60s


Friday, March 21, 2014

Pharrell Williams - Happy in Jerusalem

Gym faces lawsuit over Muslim head covering

  • Tarainia McDaniel is photographed in front of Planet Fitness in Albuquerque, N.M., March 2, 2014.  The Albuquerque Planet Fitness refused to let McDaniel a New Mexico Muslim woman,  wear her religious head covering when she tried to work out, according to a new lawsuit. An attorney for McDaniel, 37, recently filed the lawsuit in a New Mexico district court stemming after a 2011 clash that prevented McDaniel from using the gym, even though court documents said another Planet Fitness had previously let her. Photo: Adolphe Pierre-Louis, AP / ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL
    Tarainia McDaniel is photographed in front of Planet Fitness in Albuquerque, N.M., March 2, 2014. The Albuquerque Planet Fitness refused to let McDaniel a New Mexico Muslim woman, wear her religious head covering when she tried to work out, according to a new lawsuit. An attorney for McDaniel, 37, recently filed the lawsuit in a New Mexico district court stemming after a 2011 clash that prevented McDaniel from using the gym, even though court documents said another Planet Fitness had previously let her. Photo: Adolphe Pierre-Louis, AP

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A gym in Albuquerque refused to let a Muslim woman wear her religious head covering when she tried to work out, according to a new lawsuit against the company.

An attorney for Tarainia McDaniel, 37, recently filed the lawsuit in a New Mexico district court stemming from a 2011 clash at a Planet Fitness that prevented McDaniel from using the gym while wearing the head covering, even though court documents said another Planet Fitness in the area had previously let her do so, the Albuquerque Journal reports (

McDaniel joined the New Hampshire-based gym chain Planet Fitness in Albuquerque on a two-year contract and later transferred to another location, according to the lawsuit.

On Oct. 3, 2011, she was turned away at her new gym and was told the informal head covering didn't meet its dress code, the lawsuit states. The gym had a sign that said "no jeans, work boots, bandanas, skull caps or revealing apparel."

McDaniel said she asked to be allowed to wear the informal head covering to accommodate her Muslim faith, and she even asked if she should come back wearing a formal head covering known as the hijab, according to the lawsuit.

But the gym denied her requests, the lawsuit states.

Planet Fitness attorney Erika Anderson said the head covering violates the gym's dress-code policy. "My client's position is that they didn't know the head covering was for religious purposes," Anderson said.

Anderson said she could not comment further on pending litigation.

In a statement, the company said gyms take into account members' religious affiliations. "At Planet Fitness, our policy is, and has always been, that members are allowed to wear head scarves for religious reasons in our clubs," the company said.

McDaniel's civil lawsuit, filed under the New Mexico Human Rights Act and the Unfair Practices Act, alleges that Planet Fitness illegally based the decision to deny her access upon her religion, or alternatively upon her race — she is African-American — and that the gym had no legitimate reason to deny her entry.

Planet Fitness, in its formal answer to the claims, denies violations of either the Human Rights Act or Unfair Practices Act. It says McDaniel failed to participate in good faith and that the company has legitimate business reasons for its practice as well as measures to prevent discrimination.

Planet Fitness has run into other controversies about its rules.

The KTVU TV station in Oakland, Calif., reports that a woman on Wednesday was asked to cover up while working out at a Planet Fitness in Richmond, Calif., because her body was too intimidating to others at the gym. A Planet Fitness spokesperson told the station that the company "strives to make everyone feel comfortable" and says the dress code is at the discretion of the staff and manager.

In 2006, Albert Argibay of Beacon, N.Y. was escorted by police officers from a gym for grunting, which is against Planet Fitness' rules for maintaining a non-intimidating atmosphere.

According to McDaniel's deposition, she said the Quran "is pretty specific on covering your hair" and dressing modestly in clothes that fit loosely.

In the deposition, Anderson asked if McDaniel recalled the sign posted at Planet Fitness that said "no jeans, work boots, bandanas, skull caps or revealing apparel."

According to the transcript, McDaniel acknowledged seeing the sign. But she added, "I already (had) made it known before I signed the contract that I covered my hair. I had on (what) I call a head covering. I guess for the sake of the record, they're referring to it as a head covering."

When Anderson asked if she told them she was Muslim, McDaniel replied, "I sure did."

In 2013, a federal appeals court dismissed claims by an Oklahoma Muslim woman who said she was not hired by retailer Abercrombie & Fitch because her headscarf conflicted with the company's dress code. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleged in a lawsuit that Samantha Elauf, then 17, wasn't hired in 2008 at an Abercrombie store in Tulsa's Woodland Hills Mall because her hijab violated the retailer's "Look Policy."

But the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Elauf never told Abercrombie she needed a religious accommodation, even though she was wearing the headscarf during her interview.

The Ohio-based company changed its policy four years ago. It recently settled similar lawsuits in California.

Zionists increase tension again over historic Muslim holy place


Orthodox Jews protest Zionist policies in Israel outside the White House.
UNITED NATIONS ( - Heads of the Arab League, the Non-Aligned Movement, Organization of the Islamic Cooperation and the Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour recently complained Israeli extremists, including government officials, have increased threats and tensions over an important Muslim mosque in Jerusalem, repeatedly breaching protocols for the holy site and using troops to storm the grounds.
The Palestinian ambassador said a “red line that cannot be tolerated” was crossed while describing Israeli actions at a press conference flanked by the other leaders.
The chairmen of the groups present want to meet with UN offi cials to present their case against Israeli authorities and pressure Israel to abide by international law, which they say protects the site as an Islamic holy place.
“I doubt the Israelis would take the considerable risks of formally seizing control of Al-Aqsa. However, by threatening such a takeover, it distracts from Israel’s ongoing refusal to respond favorably to U.S. peace initiatives and its ongoing violations of a series on UN resolutions addressing the occupation,” said Professor Stephen Zunes, an International Relations scholar specializing in Middle East politics at the University of San Francisco in an e-mail to The Final Call.
“There also may be a desire to provoke Palestinian Islamists into some kind of violent response, thereby giving the Israelis the excuse to put the focus on ‘terrorism’ rather than the moderation and compromises put forward by the Palestinian Authority,” Prof. Zunes noted.
Pushed by right-wing hardliners in the Knesset, the Zionist state’s parliament, has debated taking over the mosque compound since Jews cannot pray on the site. Israelis call the site the historic home of Jewish temples. In late February, Israeli police battled Palestinian protesters before the Knesset discussion started Feb. 25. The compound has also been a flashpoint in the past.
The chairmen of the UN groups told reporters illegal measures are being used by Israel to erase the Palestinian, Arab and Muslim identity, presence and history, particularly in Jerusalem, but would not succeed.
Just a week earlier, the UN Department of Political Affairs reaffi rmed during a meeting on the Middle East that the “sanctity of holy sites of all faiths must be respected.”
Talk in the Israeli Parliament about taking over Al-Asqa Mosque prompted Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss of New York-based Neturei Karta International to condemn the action in a YouTube video sent to The Final Call March 10.
During his commentary, the religious leader quoted from a 1929 Truth and Peace letter from leading Jewish rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnefeld. “The Jews do not want in any way to take that which isn’t theirs. And they certainly do not want to contest the rights of the other inhabitants to the place held by them which they regard with honor and consider holy. There is no foundation that the Jews want to acquire the Temple Mount. On the contrary, from the time that, because of our sins, we have been lacking the purity required by the Torah, it is forbidden for any Jew to set foot upon the grounds of the Temple Mount,” the letter said.
“We want the world to know that we have no right to Al-Aqsa!” declared Rabbi Weiss after reading the letter. The mosque is recognized as the third holiest site in Islam and is the subject of a night journey by Prophet Muhammad that is important to the faith.
Rabbis from Neturei Karta protested in Washington the White House visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the convention of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israeli lobbying organization. Some observers say the Al-Aqsa mosque controversy is tied to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s attempts to placate the right wing of his political coalition.
In late February, the Rabbinical Council of Neturei Karta issued a statement condemning actions by Israeli leaders. “The Zionists are now demanding that the Palestinians recognize the State of Israel as ‘a Jewish state’ and ‘the nation state of the Jewish people.’ But authentic Torah Jews around the world declare that the State of Israel is a Zionist state, not a Jewish state, likewise, the name ‘Israel’ is a false and high jacked name,” said the Jewish group.
“May we live to see true peace under Palestinian state, in which Jews and Palestinians live side by side in harmony as they did in centuries past,” the rabbis added.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Who are the Torah Giants (Gedolei haTorah)? From Rabbi Eliezer Melamed

Occasionally, people from the hareidi community question or attack my articles. Even though they are well aware that I strive to follow in the path of Maran Harav Kook zt”l, nevertheless they argue: “Why don’t you accept the authority of theGedolei haTorah (eminent Torah scholars)?” The simple answer is: I don’t consider them Gedolei haTorah.
They definitely are important talmidei chachamim (Torah scholars) whose fear of sin precedes their wisdom, educate many disciples, and it is a mitzvah to respect them. But they are not Gedolei haTorah.
Gadlute beTorah (Torah greatness, eminence) necessitates an all-embracing, fully accountable handling of serious issues facing the generation, including: the attitude towards Am Yisrael in all its diversity and various levels – both religious, and non-religious; the attitude towards mitzvoth of yishuv haaretz (settling the Land) and the on-going war which has surrounded it for over a century; the attitude towards science and work, and the contemporary social and economic questions.
Technical Questions as Opposed to Fundamental Questions
It is important to note that merely addressing these questions is not sufficient, because it would be easy to settle for trivial answers offering technical ways in which an individual Jew could survive the changes and revolutions facing the nation and world in modern times. To accomplish this necessitates expertise, and the more complicated the situation, the greater the amount of competence required. But this does not demand gadlute beTorah.
The type of expertise leaders and public figures already possess is quite adequate; if they are loyal to the path of Torah as taught by their rabbis, and understand the social realities before them, they can find creative solutions to problems faced by different sectarian groups (hareidi or dati, Ashkenazic or Sephardic). This is presently the type of expertise required of Knesset members, ministers, and mid-level theorists. Clearly, they can take advice of rabbis who are familiar in this field, but this does not necessitate significant Torah input.
However, true Gedolei haTorah are required to deal with fundamental questions, in order to provide significant and important answers to the perplexities of the generation. They need not offer detailed plans for immediate implementation, but they must set a vision, thoroughly analyze the events and phenomena confronting them, distinguishing between the positive and negative points, and offer direction wherein the positive can triumph over the negative, and even rectify it.
What is Gadlute beTorah?
How this is determined is a weighty and important question indeed. Obviously, the mere fact that a person decides to tackle the important questions does not entitle him to the designation of gadol baTorah as long as he lacks the competence to do so. Likewise, it is clear that it is not determined by the degree of proficiency. Throughout all the generations there were talmidei chachamimfamous for their great erudition, but nevertheless, their knowledge did not place them in the top row of gedolei haTorah, because that is determined by the degree of comprehension and penetration into the roots of the matter.
In very general terms, there are three levels of Gadlute beTorah:
The first level includes those who merit understanding the root of the svara (rational inference) of every individual halakha or agadah they learn – these are the regular talmidei chachamim.
The second level includes those who merit delving deeper, understanding the inner svara which clarifies several halakhot collectively, and thus know how to resolve various questions. For example, rabbis who present the important lectures in yeshivot, who are able to explain numerous sugiyot (issues in the Talmud) along the lines of one concept, and are great in lamdanut (erudition).
They can also be important poskim (Jewish law arbiters) who, out of their profound comprehension, understand numerous halakhot, and know how to contend with new questions, and usually are gedolim in a some fields of halakha. Some of those on this level merit comprehending the inner svara which clarifies various matters of aggadah, and they are gedolim in machshava (Jewish philosophic thought) and emunah (faith).
The third level includes those who delve deeper into the inner roots of the svarot, both in halakha, aggadah, and pnimiyut ha’Torah (the deepest aspects of Torah). Consequently, they understand the general rules of the Torah more profoundly, and as a result, the details of halakhot and midrashim are clearer to them; they know how to give comprehensive instruction and guidance in matters concerning the affairs of the clal (general public) and the prat (individual), the spiritual, and the practical. These are the true Gedolei haTorah. Naturally, there are also numerous intermediate levels, according to the extent of profound thought and inner orientation in the various areas of Torah.
Maran Harav Kook zt”l – The Gadol of Recent Generations
Maran Harav Kook zt”l was one of Israel’s unique Gedolei haTorah. He was gifted with tremendous natural talent and by means of his extreme diligence, righteousness, and virtue, merited delving into all areas of Torah to an inconceivable extent, particularly in general issues comprising both halakha and aggadah collectively, clal and prat, sacred and secular.
God performed an enormous act of kindness to His nation Israel, and the entire world, by sending us such a great and holy soul to illuminate our path in these extraordinary times – generations filled with highs and lows, tremendous scientific achievements and terrible moral confusion, the revealing of individual talents and the decay of national, societal, and family values.
In generations where all orders of life are shifting, it is essential to delve deeply into the Torah so as to instruct, correct, and redeem all that is continually revealed. In order to contend with such types of challenges, regular gadlute baTorah is not sufficient – not even of the third level. What is called for is the type of greatness of Moshe Rabbeinu and Ezra the Scribe.
Torah Scholars Who Do Not Understand the Teachings of Rav Kook
Needless to say, someone who does not understand the teachings of Maran Harav Kook zt”l cannot be considered one of the Gedolei haTorah of the generation. He can be an expert and well versed in numerous details from the technical side of halakha and aggadah. But he cannot truly be Gadol baTorah.
Even among those who understood Rav Kook’s teachings, there are two main distinctions. There are those who accepted his general instructions regarding the importance of Eretz Yisrael in our times – the generation of kibbutz galyiot(Ingathering of the Exiles) and atchalta degeulah (beginning of the Redemption). Also, they agree with his teachings in relation to science and work, and the fundamental attitude towards Jews who abandoned Torah but identify with the values of the nation and the Land, or universal values. Owing to their identification with his teachings and luminous character, such talmidei chachamim merit being spiritually connected to the third level.
And then there are a select few who delve deeper in understanding the ideas, which genuinely illuminate life, and pave a path to redemption via the light of Torah guidance.
It should be noted that among the elder rabbis of the previous generation, whom the hareidi community consider as Gedolei haTorah as well, there were many who were significantly influenced by Maran Harav Kook zt”l. And although they did not follow his path of public leadership, they accepted some of his ideas, remained admirers, and honored his image all their lives. Among them: Rabbi Frank zt”l, Rabbi Aeurbach zt”l, Rabbi Eliyashiv zt”l, Rabbi Wallenberg zt”l, and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, shlita, may he live a long life.
The Words of Rabbi Charlop
Similarly, Rabbi Kook’s great disciple, Rabbi Yaacov Moshe Charlop zt”l, wrote in his book “Mayanei Hayishua” (Chap. 9), that at the present time, Gedolei haTorah must engage in the general rules of the Torah.
In that chapter he explains that the prophets dealt with general rules for life, because when the general rules are set right, all the details fall into place. However, as a result of Israel’s transgressions, the general rules deteriorated and the Holy Temple was destroyed; consequently, our main task in galut (Diaspora) was rectifying the details themselves. But when the beginning of salvation occurs, and as the world gradually recovers, the longing for the general rules increases (and when the general rules from the source of the Torah are not provided, consequently, they are sought after in alien places, and chutzpah (audacity) and lawlessness intensify).
“Israel’s gedolim must be deeply aware of this yearning, and pay heed to speak inspiringly, at length and in brief, about rectifying the general rules. In a way that not only will speaking about the general rules not obscure the details, but rather, will add force and strength, yearning and enthusiasm for the details and their rectification…”
“At that time, if narrow-minded people come forward, assuming to hasten the final redemption by speaking only about rectifying the details alone, failing to speak favorably about correcting the general rules, they fall into the category of ‘a student who has not reached the level of teaching, but nevertheless teaches’, disarranging all the spiritual conduits, because the hidden light is best revealed through illuminating the general rules, and uplifting the worlds.
"It is appropriate to make vigorous efforts against such thoughts. The true gedolim wrap themselves with might and strength to stand at the head of the nation, guide them in the correct path, and know that truth and God are with them.”
The Chief Rabbinate
As a continuation to the vision of revealing Torah in its greatness, Rav Kook viewed the establishment of the Chief Rabbinate as a nucleus from which a significant and united Torah leadership could develop. However, after Rav Kook zt”l passed away, the independent status of the Chief Rabbinate steadily deteriorated. From a rabbinate which presented a vision emanating from a totally autonomous position, devoid of subordination to public institutions or to public circles, the rabbinate grew to be a subordinate public institutions, subject to the present legal establishment.
No longer was the focus on offering a comprehensive vision, but rather finding halakhic solutions for presented situations, shaped by public and political leadership. Even the attempt of Rabbi Herzog zt”l to suggest an alternative constitution for the State of Israel, was not an effort to propose an all-inclusive constitution, rather, to find ways to ‘kasher’ the norms of the country’s leaders, within the framework of halakha.
Still the Chief Rabbis and the members of the Rabbinical Council were for a long time,  the greatest talmidei chachamim of the time in Israel. Gradually, this status eroded, with the rabbinate recently becoming a supervisory department for a handful of religious matters, such as marriage, conversions, and kashrut.
In such a situation, although the rabbinate plays a very important role in managing these affairs, we are no longer talking about a supreme, moral, and spiritual Torah authority of mara d’atra (lit. “master of the house,” i.e. Israel's authority in Jewish law). Rather, the role of the Chief Rabbi became at best similar to that of a director of religious affairs, and at worst – the spokesperson for religious affairs.
This  underscores just how much we must continue studying, delving, and identifying with the great vision of Maran Harav Kook zt”l, in order to increase and glorify the Torah and elevate the status of its bearers, so the light of the redeeming Torah can illuminate the entire world.

This article was translated from Hebrew weekly Besheva.


Rabbi Wein’s Weekly Blog

 I received a great deal of comment about my last week’s article on the mental and social regression of a large section if Israeli society. Most of the comments were neither complimentary nor critical but were rather requests for more specifics about the need for change in the mindset of much of Orthodox Jewry here in Israel and in the Diaspora as well.
Still under the influence of Purim and therefore perhaps a little too foolhardy, I will attempt to explain my position more specifically in this article. I think that we can all agree that the two main events in the Jewish world of the past century were the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel. These two cataclysmic events changed the present Jewish society radically if not even permanently. Yet much of Orthodoxy inexplicably ignores these two events as though they never happened.
They occupy no space or time in many Orthodox schools and days of commemoration of these events are absent on school calendars. Instead there is a mindset that hunkers back to an idyllic Eastern European world of fantasy that is portrayed falsely in fictional stories, hagiographic biographies and omissions of uncomfortable facts and doctored photographs – to a world that never was
An entire talented and vital society is doomed to live in the imagined past and disregard present realities. And if the view of the present is unfortunately shaped by historical and social disconnect and denial then certainly the longer and equally vitally important view of the future will be distorted and skewed. Sooner or later, reality must sink in and when it does the pain, anger and frustration over past distortions and failures will become very difficult to bear.
The great struggle of most of Orthodoxy in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries against Zionism influenced all Orthodox thought and behavior. As late as 1937, with German Jewry already prostrate before Hitler's madness and Germany already threatening Poland, the mainstream Orthodox rabbinate in Poland publicly objected to the formation of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel on the grounds that the heads of that state would undoubtedly be secular if not even anti-religious.
They were correct in that assessment but, since the Holocaust was then an unimaginable event in their worldview, they continued in their opposition to Jews leaving Poland to settle either in the United States or in Israel. Because of this past mindset, the Holocaust is more unsettling – theologically, at least – to Orthodoxy, then perhaps to any other group in the Jewish world.
Much of Orthodoxy chooses to ignore the issue or to contrive very lame excuses and causes for this catastrophe. In my opinion, there is no human answer to the event itself but the event cannot be ignored. One of the consequences of confronting it is naturally an admission that great and holy men can be wrong in their assessment of current events and future occurrences. Much of Orthodoxy is so hagiographic about its present and past leaders that it cannot bring itself to admit that. As such, the past cannot truly help to assess the present. A false past is almost as dangerous as having no past at all.
Dealing with the State of Israel is an even more vexing issue for much of Orthodoxy. The creation of the Jewish state, mainly by secular and nonobservant Jews, and by political and military means was not part of the traditional Jewish view of how the Land of Israel would again fall under Jewish rule.
Since it occurred in the “wrong” way and was being led by the “wrong” people it again shook the mindset of much of Orthodoxy. One of the great and holy leaders of Orthodox society in Israel stated in 1950 that the state could not last more than fifteen years. Well, it is obvious that in that assessment he was mistaken. But again it is too painful to admit that he was mistaken and therefore the whole attitude of much of the Orthodox world is one of denial of the present fact that the state exists, prospers and is the largest supporter of Torah and Jewish traditional religious lifestyle in the world.
It is again too painful to admit that our past mindset regarding the State of Israel is no longer relevant. As long as large sections of Orthodoxy continue to live in an imaginary past and denies the realities of the present, such issues as army or national service, core curriculums of essential general knowledge for all religious schools, entering the workforce and decreasing the debilitating poverty and dysfunction of so many families, will never be able to be addressed properly.
The solutions are difficult and they cannot be dictated or legislated no matter how popular such steps may appear to be. But the change of mindset to the present must certainly and eventually occur. The Jewish people have always been up to this task and I am confident that we will be able to do so now as well.
Shabat shalom
Berel Wein

Neturei Karta Response To Pro Israeli Protesters - Purim 2014

Elder Of Ziyon - Israel News: Boston Jewish organizations sponsor student trip to Arafat's grave

The Boston Jewish community sponsored a tour of Israel for Harvard University students called Israel Trek:
The inaugural Harvard College Israel Trek (Spring Break, March 14th- 23rd) will bring 50 Harvard undergraduate students to Israel in hopes of facilitating a nuanced first encounter with the country, its history, narratives, culture, politics and people. Student participants represent diverse religious, national, and cultural backgrounds, and are all leaders in various capacities on campus.

The Trek is being led by a dynamic team of Israeli undergraduates, and will draw on the narratives of its participants and leaders, placing a special emphasis on fostering meaningful personal relationships. This component will add a unique and personal dimension to this particular Israel experience.

Students will learn about Israeli history, culture, and politics. Some of the topics explored will include the hi-tech industry, the emerging cultural landscape, questions regarding religion and state, the peace process and Israel’s geopolitical position in the region.

Israel Trek is made possible by the generous contributions of a number of family foundations and Boston’s Combined Jewish Philanthropies. The Trek is supported byHarvard Hillel.
Sounds great, right? It is wonderful to give students the opportunity to see the side of Israel that they wouldn't otherwise be exposed to. The students are led by Israelis - Arabs and Jews - who know the country. The students who are on the trip are a very diverse group of undergraduates. 

So why the hell did this trip, sponsored by Jewish organizations and Harvard Hillel, take the students to pose at the grave of a mass murderer of Jews?

Its wonderful to expose people to both sides of the story, but it is stupid to embrace the side of the story that wants to see you gone.  Israel Trek could have arranged for a few hours with an Arab tour guide in Judea and Samaria, or they could have given students a free day, or any number of other options. But to have supposed Jewish organizations arrange for a visit to a terrorist who was responsible, directly or indirectly, for the gruesome murder of thousands - and to take a photo of students smiling in the presence of such disgusting filth - is beyond belief.

News bulletin: People respect you more when you have some self respect. Telling the students that they are free to do what they want, but that the leaders of the trip find the idea of  paying respects to a terrorist is repugnant, is far preferable to promulgating the "all narratives are equally valid" idiocy that passes for enlightened opinion nowadays.

This is a sickness.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Rabbi Marvin Hier, Hollywood’s Oscar-Winning Rabbi Takes Jewish History to the Stars Hier's office may be the only office in America to contain both a shas and an Oscar. Saul Austerlitz

Since its inception in 1995, Moriah Films, run by executive producer Richard Trank and dean and founder Rabbi Marvin Hier, who in his other job is head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and one of the most prominent Jewish leaders in the United States, has made it its mission to produce a film library devoted to the Jewish experience in the 20th and 21st centuries. “This is a very serious undertaking. It is not an undertaking that is flimsy,” said Hier. “I consider it to be one of the greatest outreach programs of the world Jewish community.”
Hier is head of three organizations: Moriah, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and the Museum of Tolerance, which are interrelated but subtly different: The center combats global anti-Semitism; the museum, while concentrating on the Holocaust, also devotes space to other forms of intolerance; and Moriah is solely about the Jewish experience. At the same time that Hier is meeting with the pope, Moriah is promoting a film about the early years of the state of Israel and the Simon Wiesenthal Center is putting out a statement castigating the American interim deal with Iran about their nuclear program. Occasionally this multiplicity of titles creates a sense of confusion, but mostly it just generates fruitful overlap. (“You [just] have to change the yarmulkes,” Hier said of his multiple roles.)
Along the long wall flanking his desk, a bookshelf holds numerous sets of the Talmud and books about the Holocaust with titles like Nazi Gold. On the wall facing him, a glass case contains Hier’s two Academy Awards and a picture of him accepting his award for The Long Way Home from Robert De Niro. Scattered about the room are pictures with Margaret Thatcher, Warren Beatty, Simon Wiesenthal, and Frank Sinatra presenting Genocide alongside Elizabeth Taylor. This may be the only office in America to contain both a shas and an Oscar.
With his gray pinstripe suit, blue tie, rimless glasses, and black velvet kippah, Hier seems more like the well-dressed businessman at your local synagogue than a major Hollywood macher. A movie buff as a young rabbinical student, Hier used to see movies at the Palestine Theater on Clinton Street in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, preferring Westerns starring Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. He received his rabbinic degree from the Rabbi Jacob Joseph yeshiva and served as a pulpit rabbi in Vancouver, B.C., before heading out to Los Angeles in the late 1970s to start the Simon Wiesenthal Center, named after the famous Nazi hunter, which elbowed aside the Martyrs Memorial Museum, then being put together by local Holocaust survivors.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center was intended to combat global anti-Semitism and included what was then a small museum devoted to the Holocaust. Hier was putting together a permanent exhibit on the Holocaust and was planning to use 13 or 14 slide projectors to display relevant images. Screenwriter Fay Kanin (Teacher’s Pet) came by and saw them at work and had a suggestion: “Why don’t you do a film?”
“He’s like a high-rent, ethical version of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton”
From the very outset, Hier’s Hollywood contacts were influential in establishing a toehold for the Wiesenthal Center and for Moriah, which got off the ground with the assistance of Hollywood insiders like Jeffrey Katzenberg and Ron Meyer; the Kennedy Center premiere of Genocide was chaired by Frank Sinatra. Hier and Moriah have since become significant players in the film industry with their ever-growing slate of documentaries, leaning on a glittering array of stars to help promote their films. Moriah’s latest film, The Prime Ministers: The Pioneers, is no slouch in this department, with an array of A-list stars brought in to provide the voices for Israeli leaders: Michael Douglas does a turn as Yitzhak Rabin, two-time Oscar winner Christoph Waltz is Menachem Begin, and Sandra Bullock plays Golda Meir.
Many of Hier’s encounters with Hollywood have a certain madcap glow, as if the rabbi’s presence is a walking setup and everyone is only too glad to provide the punchline. Hier remembered his first trip to the Academy Awards, for Genocide. “I’ve got an Oscar, and am wearing a yarmulke. Jack Lemmon says to Walter Matthau, ‘Walter, they changed the rules. When you and I went to school to get one of these you had to go to a good acting school. Now you have to go to a good yeshiva!’ ”
Hier’s remarkable success is, in fact, the primary cause of his detractors’ dissatisfaction. “He’s like a high-rent, ethical version of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton,” said Luke Ford, a Los Angeles blogger who covers the Jewish world and has written about Hier. “A fantastic hustler. He knows how to work with the goyim, he’s a master of it, he knows how to do it in a way that brings status to him and to the Jews.” For his part, Hier has heard all the queries and complaints before and often jumps in to answer them—even before they have been asked. “Some of the critics say, ‘Why do you use stars?’ ” he told me. “Well, who should we use? We could say like this: Chaim Bernstein is narrating the first film, Shoshana Feldman is narrating the second film. That won’t go anywhere.”
Hier’s films may rarely make it to the multiplex—although The Prime Ministers is opening in more than 70 cities across the country—but he talks business like an old-school studio mogul, with one crucial difference. “If you want to send a message, use Western Union,” Samuel Goldwyn once famously said. Hier prefers to use his films to disseminate his message, seeing them as serving as cinematic ambassadors for Jewish history and the Jewish state.
Moriah’s house style can best be described as Jewish Ken Burns, employing dramatic music cues, artfully framed still photographs, and archival footage in the service of straightforward, no-frills storytelling. The birth of Zionism and the foundation of the Jewish state are presented as nothing less than miracles. “It’s an unbelievable story,” Israeli President Shimon Peres gushes at the start of It Is No Dream: The Life of Theodor Herzl. Given the Wiesenthal Center’s roots in fighting prejudice, Moriah’s films also often center around anti-Semitism; Herzl’s burgeoning interest in a Jewish state is grounded in the Dreyfus trial, the Jew-hating Viennese mayor Karl Luger, and anti-Semitic graffiti in the streets.

Hier and director Clint Eastwood, November 2010, in Los Angeles, Calif.(Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
To promote Hier’s from-the-gutter-to-the-stars narrative of Jewish history, Moriah not only attracts top-flight talent but gets them free of charge. Moriah has never paid its celebrity narrators. Hier mostly demurs from answering the question of why stars like Bullock and Douglas would choose to spend their valuable time narrating documentaries for Moriah. Many performers are themselves Jewish, or have emotional attachments to Jewish causes. Hier somewhat farcically credits Sandra Bullock with taking the role of Golda Meir because her mother and grandmother were public-school teachers, like Meir had been in Milwaukee before immigrating to Palestine. Genocide narrator Elizabeth Taylor, who was married to Jewish film producer Mike Todd, had converted to Judaism. Orson Welles, who narrated Genocidealong with Taylor, thought of himself as part-Jewish. Add to this the perception that doing good works for Jewish organizations might be a career boost in a still-very-Jewish industry, and you end up with wonderful oddities like Dustin Hoffman reciting the words of Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveitchik.
And some observers see Moriah’s appeal as even more directly linked to Hier. “Jews dominate Hollywood, and this guy is an authentic Jew. He’s Orthodox. So, he’s the real deal,” said Ford. “And so if you work for free for him, you’re doing the real thing for the Jews, and you’re enhancing your status in Hollywood. There’s no downside to it. You network with other powerful people in Hollywood, and it’s just win-win-win.” Ford argues that working with Moriah is a means of building one’s Hollywood cachet. “It’s like the opposite of saying anything bad about Jews,” said Ford, who mentions Mel Gibson’s tirades as an example of a career-ending anti-Semitic faux pas. “It shows how cool you are. It’s the ultimate fashion statement. And you’re doing it for someone who’s got a really good brand.”
Down the hall from Hier’s office is a suite of state-of-the-art sound and editing equipment. On the morning I visited in November, a pair of sound editors were working on footage of Hier’s recent meeting with Pope Francis. Trank, who co-produced, directed, and wrote The Prime Ministers, had approached Hier in 1996 with a proposal to update an Avid editing system, jettisoning the time-consuming approach of physically cutting film. The cost was eye-popping—roughly $250,000—but gave Moriah the flexibility to make its films entirely in-house. “Jeffrey Katzenberg and Ron Meyer gave us the advice. They said, if it’s a one-shot deal, then retail is not a bad idea,” said Hier. “If you’re going to do this regularly, you have to set up your own studio. Don’t come to us, because it will be too costly, and it won’t be fair. This way you have your own equipment, your own sound studio, your own Avid and everything. And it’ll be much cheaper.”
Moriah’s documentaries, which typically cost around $1 million each to produce, are paid for through donations from supporters. Trank is the house writer and director, having spent more than three decades working for the Wiesenthal Center and Moriah. He was hired in 1981 after having interviewed Hier and Rabbi Abraham Cooper for a radio show. At first, Trank worked on Holocaust survivors’ oral histories, before branching out to short videos, and eventually to feature-length documentaries. Trank was a producer on the Wiesenthal Center’s second film, Echoes That Remain (1991), and Liberation (1994), which had initially been intended as an exhibit for the Museum of Tolerance. “And then we realized that something like that is a temporary exhibit. You’re investing a huge amount of money. It’s in one place. It would make much more sense to do it as a film. It could have an endless platform,” said Trank.
Hier said he spends most Thursday afternoons with Trank and the Moriah team, looking at footage and discussing potential changes. Speaking to the filmmakers responsible for Hier’s two Oscars, though, provided a different take on his involvement in the artistic process. “We met a little bit at the beginning, but he had very little to do with the film,” said Mark Jonathan Harris, the director of The Long Way Home and currently a filmmaker and distinguished professor at the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California. “Very little indeed,” said Arnold Schwartzman, the director of Genocide, about Hier’s day-to-day involvement in production. “The rabbi in fact has received two Oscars [for work] which quite frankly, in terms of creative input, is virtually nonexistent.”
Hier’s best-known film, for which he received one of his Oscars, was Genocide—a project he got creatively involved with when Simon Wiesenthal grew agitated over, of all things, an illustration of Raoul Wallenberg that was set to appear in the film. Wallenberg, Wiesenthal insisted, would never appear with a hat. Hier pleaded with Schwartzman for months to remove Wallenberg’s hat until photographic evidence, brought back by Hier’s colleague Rabbi Abraham Cooper from a Helsinki tribunal on Wallenberg’s mysterious postwar fate, demonstrated incontrovertibly that the Swedish diplomat had, indeed, worn a hat.
The Wallenberg dispute was merely a warmup for the conflict between the director and Hier over credit for Genocide. Hier called Schwartzman and told him that the board had suggested he receive a cowriter’s credit. Schwartzman argued that historian Martin Gilbert had written the bulk of the script, but after Hier convinced Gilbert to share the credit, the director agreed to the change. Later, Hier would also successfully claim a producer’s credit—the one that would enable him to receive an Oscar for the film.
A filmmaker and graphic designer who was a protégé of Saul Bass, Schwartzman gaveGenocide more verve than its successors. This is in no small part due to Welles, whose Charles Foster Kane voice conveys just the right tone of sneering incredulity at the failings of Western governments to prevent the slaughter of the Jews of Europe. Schwartzman treats the screen like a blackboard, covering it with dynamic graphics and panning across still photographs. The breaking glass at a wedding ceremony becomes the breaking glass of Kristallnacht, and a graphic shows a man putting on tefillin made of barbed wire.
“There was no state of Israel then,” Welles offers as part of the explanation for why no other countries extended a helping hand to the Jewish people, underscoring the fundamental point of Moriah’s future films: that the state of Israel is the Jews’ protection against future Holocausts. “No one is responsible?” Welles asks near Genocide’s conclusion, incredulous and appalled. “It just happened? A freak accident along the road of history?” Wiesenthal himself appears in response at the film’s end, placing a slip of paper in the Western Wall that reads, “I AM MY BROTHER’S KEEPER.”
Despite having directed the film, Harris received no Oscar for The Long Way Home. Harris is philosophical about the contretemps, but Schwartzman, who was then chairman of the Academy’s documentary executive committee, changed the rules after The Long Way Hometo ensure that one of the two Oscar recipients for Best Documentary must be the film’s director.

Director of the Museum of Tolerance Liebe Geft, actress Sharon Stone, and Rabbi Marvin Hier in Los Angeles, December 2010.(Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images For PFI)
After the success of The Long Way Home, Harris signed on to make a film for the 50th anniversary of the state of Israel. “I said, if we did a film about this, we have to really try to look honestly at Israel, and the rabbi said, ‘warts and all.’ He agreed. But in the end, they didn’t like the warts,” said Harris. The initial goal for the film, titled A Dream No More, was to avoid the traditional spokesmen for Israel—the politicians and generals—and find unique voices like novelist David Grossman. According to Harris, Hier was nonplussed by the proposed film treatment: “What is this, twenty no-name Jews? Where’s my Paul Newman?”
Hier and Moriah were displeased with the first cut of A Dream No More and wound up firing Harris from the film. Harris chalks up his firing to the uncertain political climate in which his film was made. “It was two years after the assassination of Rabin,” said Harris. “It was a difficult time in Israel. People were still in mourning for Rabin. We tried to do an honest film looking at what Israel had accomplished in 50 years and some of the challenges that remain.” Harris believes that his film would have been entirely uncontroversial in Israel, but that the American dialogue about Israeli politics remains more closed-lipped. Ultimately, Moriah released In Search of Peace instead, covering the period from 1948 to 1967. “There was never a second film. Because the problems started in 1967,” said Harris. “I think they were afraid of alienating [then-prime minister Benjamin] Netanyahu. That’s my take.”
Harris went on to make another Academy Award-winning film, Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport, and bears no ill will toward Hier or Moriah. “I’m grateful for the fact that they hired me to do The Long Way Home. And I’m grateful for the fact, even though A Dream No More was never released, it gave me, personally, a chance to see and experience Israel and meet people I otherwise would never have had the chance to do. I don’t regret that experience at all.”
Hier believes in film as a method of reaching unaffiliated Jews who otherwise might not be aware of their cultural and historical heritage. Making movies is merely the latest iteration of a millennium’s worth of technological adaptation on the part of Jews in the name of preserving their intellectual treasures. Hier gestures at his Schottenstein edition of the Talmud—handsome burgundy volumes that feature the traditional layout of the Talmud with a matching English translation on the opposite side of the page.
“Now look what happened to the Shas,” said Hier. “It was all in Hebrew and Aramaic, and the message to the Jewish community was, you either know those two languages, we’re happy to produce for you books, if you want to learn the Talmud, but if you’re insisting on English and notes, get lost. [Of course, the Talmud was originally written in Aramaic because it was the English of its day—the vernacular language most Jews spoke.] Then we changed our attitude. What do you mean, get lost? If they get lost, we get lost! So, they better not take that attitude. So, they said, let’s do it in English, with comprehensive notes.”
He went on. “The same thing about film. The Pew Report tells the following story. The good news is, we got, more or less, a million Jews that know they’re members of a shul, they pay their dues. The rest, they’re wandering somewhere. And they begin wandering right after their bar and bas mitzvahs. Who’s going to reach them? We live in a new generation where the Internet and the computer are dominant. Media is dominant. People are watching films. Who’s going to reach them with our story?”
These stories are not intended only for Jews, but for the world’s vast non-Jewish majority. “How can 14 million Jews compete with China? They’ll tell us there are 14 million Chinese people in a village,” said Hier. “We need friends! The reach of Moriah Films, telling our story, which is quite a story, is about trying to make friends.”
It is Hier’s belief that Jews are at peril, always running the risk of being maltreated, exiled, or worse: He conceives of his films as a uniquely flexible tool for advocacy, an analog to, and PR campaign for, world Jewry’s most precious insurance policy—the state of Israel. “One of the most important things that Israel has to do is it has to have friends in the world who’d be willing to understand that there ought to be room on this planet for a Jewish state, because look what happened when there wasn’t any room,” said Hier. “We believe if something ever happened to the state of Israel, God forbid, Diaspora Jewry would be finished.”
Moriah tells the story of the Israeli miracle in order to protect the state’s rights and emphasize its unique role in the formation of the postwar Jewish spirit. “Jews started to walk taller. We didn’t need a chiropractor,” said Hier. Israel “is the chiropractor of the Jewish people.”
Yet other Jewish leaders remain concerned about the particular messages Hier and Moriah choose to emphasize. “The easiest way for Jews to make common cause with others is on the issue of anti-Semitism. And it doesn’t require appearing too Jewish,” said one prominent Jewish leader in Southern California who asked not to be named out of a desire to avoid conflict with Hier and the Wiesenthal Center. “Everybody agrees that we should fight discrimination and that the Holocaust was a catastrophe, a travesty. There’s no demands that are made on you.” The Jewish leader has no qualms with the stories Moriah (and the Wiesenthal Center) tell, only on their “over-emphasis” and “prioritization” over other kinds of Jewish stories. “They’re salesmen, and they’re selling a product,” he said. “He’s selling an angle. And he means it! He believes in it. But he’s selling an angle.”
Hier and Moriah are, fairly or unfairly, viewed as the poster children for what is seen as the Academy’s fixation on Holocaust-themed documentaries. Hier’s second Oscar, for The Long Way Home, came during a stretch between 1995 and 2000 when four of the six Academy Award winners for Best Documentary were about the Holocaust. Hier is unapologetic about his desire to tell the story of the Holocaust, but his affiliation with the Museum of Tolerance notwithstanding, Moriah is interested in more than just the Holocaust, having branched out in recent years to make films about Herzl, Winston Churchill, the fate of survivors in the years before Israel’s establishment, and the early years of the state of Israel. Some topics seem a strange fit with Moriah’s stated mission; what particular connection with Jewish history does Walking With Destiny, a hagiographic account of Churchill’s World War II years, have?
Moriah’s latest cinematic effort extends and continues its recurring interest in Israel-themed films. After two decades and two Oscars, Moriah is an established brand in the world of documentary film, its stories professionally and efficiently told. The Prime Ministers fits snugly with Moriah’s earlier films, its Zionist triumphalism emphasizing Israel’s successes and downplaying its missteps. Adapting Yehuda Avner’s memoir, the film expects its audience to be familiar with the rough outline of Israel’s first two decades, preferring to offer a handpicked selection of anecdotes involving the country’s first prime ministers, from David Ben-Gurion to Golda Meir.
Its time frame is notably similar to an earlier Moriah film, In Search of Peace, which similarly touches on controversial topics, but only gently. The credits indicate that In Search, which covers the years 1948 to 1967, would be the first of two films, but no sequel ever emerged. In Search does discuss the forced Palestinian exodus during the war of 1948, quoting a shopkeeper in Jerusalem’s Greek Colony who fled, convinced that “next week, or 10 days’ time, we are going back to our houses.” We hear a Palestinian girl’s eyewitness testimony from the massacre at Deir Yassin and Ashkenazi chief rabbi Yitzhak Herzog’s issuance of herem (excommunication) for those responsible for the massacre.
The bulk of the film, though, is a hopscotch through the first two decades of Israeli history with an emphasis on the triumphant. Certain topics, like Golda Meir’s travels abroad and the fierce fight over accepting reparations from Germany, recur here and in The Prime Ministers. Moriah prefers triumph and uplift to nuance and controversy; In Search of Peaceends with the Six Day War and the return of the Old City to Israeli sovereignty, only lightly touching on the occupation that ensued.

Producer Rabbi Marvin Hier, Oscar winner Sandra Bullock as the voice of Prime Minister Golda Meir, and Director/Producer Richard Trank. (Moriah Films)
Hier received a copy of The Prime Ministers from a board member and was struck by it. He passed it along to Trank, who was also impressed. Hier asked his son Avi, who lives in Israel, to call Avner and express their interest. “He said, ‘Yehuda, you never told us about this!’ ” said Hier. “He put me on the phone; I said, ‘Yehuda, we’d like to do the film.’ He couldn’t believe it, that we were interested. He said, ‘Nobody called me!’ ” Moriah ended up beating out a number of other suitors for the rights to The Prime Ministers and called on Avner to narrate the film adaptation of his book. “I was nervous because I didn’t know what he’d be like on camera,” said Trank. “As soon as we sat down, I knew.”
Adapting Avner’s book has turned into Moriah’s most complex project yet. Avner’s 700-page book, chock-full of personal anecdotes about Israeli leaders the author had known, offered a wealth of material. Trank began editing together a rough cut and showing it to Hier at their weekly meetings. “Every week we were watching, cutting, rabbi’s very happy, my editor’s very happy, I’m very happy,” remembered Trank, “and we get to a certain point where an hour and 35, hour 40 minutes into the movie—” “According to the book, we’re only on page 148,” Hier said with a chuckle. “At this point, we’ll be on The Prime Ministers for five years!” Hier and Trank conferred and ultimately decided to split the book into two separate films, with the first, subtitled The Pioneers, concluding shortly after the Yom Kippur War of 1973.
Much like In Search of PeaceThe Prime Ministers mostly bypasses the more complex or traumatic aspects of Israeli history in favor of an uplifting, if occasionally bittersweet, story of triumph. The Prime Ministers ends on a downbeat note, with Meir’s resignation after the Yom Kippur War, but leaves the strong impression of an unbroken chain of forward-thinking and fundamentally decent Israeli leaders.
The Israeli occupation of the West Bank, mostly absent from In Search of Peace and The Prime Ministers, is more present, yet still underplayed, in Trank’s finely wrought short documentary Beautiful Music. The film follows a blind, autistic Palestinian woman named Raja, raised by Christian missionaries on the West Bank, who flourishes under the care of an Israeli piano teacher named Devorah Schramm living in nearby Gilo. Raja, who cannot speak, discovers music as a lifeline. The film takes a darker turn when the second intifada, in 2000, keeps Raja from making the journey from Beit Jala to Schramm’s home in Gilo. Will Raja be able to make it to her piano recital? Beautiful Music is tender and touching, with Schramm concluding by saying that “if we look deeply at another person, we see another person. When we look at headlines, we see generalities. All of us need to look at people.”
Hier’s often-expressed hawkishness—Tom Segev refers to the Wiesenthal Center’s “neoconservative, universalist worldview” in his biography of Wiesenthal—undoubtedly colors some of Moriah’s films and their approach to recent Middle Eastern history. The Prime Ministers is a look at Israeli history that only lightly engages with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Trank said that the second installation will take up the subject, but one wonders whether Hier views Moriah as another form of advocacy for his own constricted version of history.
Hier sees his political ideology as a product of the teachings of Rabbi Soloveitchik. The Rav argued that “every Jew should be in the entrance of his tent,” engaged with the world and contributing to mankind, and Hier is the embodiment of that belief—perhaps to a fault. He is in the entrance of his tent, inviting the world in, and sometimes his voice may drown out other, potentially dissenting voices. “I think people look and they’re very proud,” Trank said of Hier’s image in the Southern California Jewish community. “I’ve been on planes with Rabbi Hier where a non-Jewish flight attendant is like, ‘You’re Rabbi Hier!’ A lot of that has to do with what we’ve done in the entertainment world.”