FASHION ALERT: In U.S., SS Guard uniforms “aus;” in Israel, KKK “glory suits” “in”

You may have seen the controversial photos released this past week: patrons of a German restaurant in Minnesota decked out in SS Guard uniforms; Harel High School students in Mevasseret Tzion parading in Klansmen “glorysuits” before an Ethiopian absorption center.

"Nazi Party" at Gasthof zur Gemütlichkeit (photo credit: City Pages)

Whereas the local city council did nothing official to condemn the high school students who on Purim masqueraded as members of the KKK for such an egregious display of racism, a group of local Minnesotans banded together to express their disappointment and hurt at the Minneapolis restaurant’s shocking display of insensitivity in hosting the now-notorious annual “Nazi Party.”
More »

Summer Literary Seminar in Lithuania

By Zachary Solomon
Zachary Solomon is a freelance writer in Brooklyn. (David Levy)
The relationship between Jews and literature is as indelible as the very concept of narrative. For thousands of years, Jews have sought to explain their heritage through story-telling, to reconcile their victories and tragedies by making sense of the world through the written word.

A self-contained supplement to Summer Literary Seminars’ Lithuania program, and set in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius, Jewish Lithuania seeks the same. Designed for anyone with a keen interest in Jewish life, personal and historical narrative, and Litvak culture, SLS-Jewish Lithuania aims to become absorbed in the past, present, and future of what was once the cultural, philosophical, spiritual, and intellectual center of pre-Shoah Jewish life in Europe. Through deep relationships with Vilna’s Jewish community, richly consisting of Jewish and Holocaust museums, historians, and lecturers, our Jewish Lithuania program probes at the heart of the city, still beating resolutely throughout the same streets that once comprised the Vilna Ghetto. Beyond Vilnius, Jewish Lithuania explores many other nearby sites of great significance to Jewish history, such as the cities of Žagarė, Kaunas, and Ponary, the site of the Ponary massacre.

Featuring a robust faculty consisting of, among others, talented writers whose work engages with Jewish identity, politics, and life, Jewish Lithuania understands the meaningful, paramount importance of story. Some of those writers that we have brought to Lithuania include Ed Hirsch, Phillip Lopate, Steve Stern, Lynn Tillman, Ariana Reines, Robin Hemley, Peter Cole, Adina Hoffman, Linor Goralik, Vitaly Komar, and Sergei Gandlevsky, among others.

The program runs from July 13 – July 26, 2014. For a chance to win a full-ride to the program, please be sure to enter our 2014 SLS Literary Contest (deadline: February 28, 2014), featuring fiction, poetry and non-fiction categories, and judged by world-renowned writers. The deadline to apply for SLS-Jewish Lithuania is June 15, 2014.

Please be sure to forward this to any interested parties. And, of course, if you have any questions, please contact Zachary Solomon at

See you in Vilnius!

A Palestinian, and Israeli, and a German Walk into a Malmö Theatre….

So a small group of Palestinians, Israelis, and Germans –all in their 30s–are having drinks in Malmö, Sweden with a bunch of Jews, Muslims, Christians and other people of all ages who don’t identify with any religion.

That is not a joke. It happened a few days ago. I was there.

The group was the ensemble cast of Third Generation: “work in progress,” a brilliant performance piece conceived by Israeli playwright and director Yael Ronen (who was also there) and developed as a joint project of Berlin’s Schaubuhne and the Habimah National Theatre of Israel.

At the start of the show, Niels Bormann appears alone in front of the curtain; dressed in grey sweatpants, a red t-shirt emblazoned with 3G in large black letters, and a kefiya.  He introduces the play with one apology after another: He is sorry that the costumes are not more sophisticated, but the show was developed in the Middle East, not Europe. He is sorry for making that politically incorrect statement. He is especially sorry for the role that Germany played in the murder of so many diverse groups of people. He polls the audience;

“Are there any Jews here?” Many hands go up. He apologizes.  More »

Giggles and fear: One day more as a Jew in Malmö

I believe that journalist Patrick Kelly’s heart was in the right place when he donned a kippah to experience life as a visible Jew here in Malmö, then wrote about it for the on-line magazine that features “Swedish News in English,” The Local.

Kelly wished to understand the experiences of, and to offer support to, our mutual friend Shmuel Goldberg and other kippah-wearing Jews here (especially Rabbi Shneur Kessleman) who have been threatened repeatedly. Unfortunately, however, Kelly’s nuanced article has been cut and spliced by several careless American Jewish writers who, in their rush to paint my adopted hometown—and perhaps the entire country of Sweden, and sometimes all of Scandinavia or even northern Europe as a whole—as dangerously anti-Semitic, do an injustice to Goldberg’s experiences, and to Kelly’s desire to honor rather than exploit them.

A few nights after Kelly’s piece appeared in The Local, I had a long talk with Shmuel. He does not enjoy being stared at, pointed to, or threatened when he walks around Malmö wearing a kippah. At the same time, he thinks that a) the number of people who behave like this is small, compared to the number of immigrants and other minorities in Malmö who also receive unpleasant treatment; that b) more useful than moaning about anti-Semitism in Malmö would be if the community held a “Jewish pride” type cultural festival and that c) if something good can come out of these negative experiences, it might be this:

Sweden is a very secular society; Shmuel and I both know several non-Jews who wear their religion on their head, or around their neck, and are also mistreated or teased. He has spoken with devout Christians and Muslims who do not feel safe declaiming their faith in public. According to Shmuel, the freedom to express one’s religion should, along with the freedom to be out as gay, or the freedom to celebrate one’s ethnicity, be part and parcel of the open society that Sweden aspires to be.

The Middle East Peace Orchestra performed in Malmö last week.

Fortunately, several initiatives that address the many nuanced issues of celebrating diversity in this place that was, until recently, quite homogeneous, are currently under way here.  Just last week, Copenhagen’s Middle East Peace Orchestra performed together with the Malmö Symphony Orchestra. Musicians and audience members included Jews, Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Bahais,  and people who do not identify with any religious group. Songs were song and stories told in Yiddish, Hebrew, and Arabic as well as Danish and Swedish. Watch this space for more information on such initiatives and events in the months to come.

Will Israel make it to the World Cup?

On a lighter note, as a diversion from all the more serious news in the world, today Israel’s national soccer (or “football”) team faces off against Portugal in a qualifying game for the 2014 World Cup. You may be wondering: Does Israel have any chance of advancing to the World Cup?

Short answer: Yes, but the odds are slim.

Long answer: The last (and first) time Israel went to the World Cup was 1970, when it lost one game and tied two. Even though Israel is in the Middle East (aka “West Asia”), for soccer purposes it competes as part of the Union of European Football Associations.

With two games left to play in the current round of the qualification, Israel is in third place in its group, behind Russia and Portugal. At the end of the day, the first-place team in each group automatically goes to the World Cup, and the second-place team has a chance to fight over a limited number of additional spots against the other second-place teams. Third prize is you’re fired.

What would it take for Israel to jump into first or second place? At minimum, Israel has to win today against Portugal, and win its final game next week against Northern Ireland.

But that’s not enough – it depends what happens in Portugal’s last game (against Luxembourg), and Russia’s two games (against Luxembourg and Azerbaijan).

  • If Portugal loses to Luxembourg, and Russia loses both its games: Israel is tied for 1st with Russia. Ties are broken by the total goal difference for all games, and Israel is currently behind Russia by 6, so Israel needs to score high to make it into 1st. Otherwise Israel ends up in 2nd, and still has a chance.
  • If Portugal loses to Luxembourg, and Russia wins or ties either game: Israel finishes in 2nd.
  • If Portugal ties with Luxembourg, and Russia loses both games: There is a 3-way tie for 1st, settled by total goal difference. Israel is currently behind Russia by 6, and behind Portugal by 3.
  • If Portugal ties with Luxembourg, and Russia wins or ties either game: Israel is tied for 2nd with Portugal.
  • If Portugal beats Luxembourg, and Russia loses both games: Israel is tied for 2nd with Russia.
  • If anything else happens: Goodbye, Israel. Better luck in 2018.

Israel’s neighbors Jordan and Egypt are also still in the running (to represent Asia and Africa, respectively), so if everything aligns, it could end up being a block party. But one thing is certain: next week, Israelis across the political spectrum will be cheering for Luxembourg.

From Berlin on Tisha B’Av: Commemorating Racist Violence

A Jewish friend who used to live here once commented that, in Berlin, it is impossible to walk more than a few blocks without bumping into another Holocaust memorial. This year, on the 80th anniversary of the Nazi rise to power and the 75th anniversary of the Kristalnacht pogroms,  the entire city is part of a “theme-year”;a memorial to the lethal seeds that were planted here.


“Diversity Destroyed. Berlin 1933-1938-1945. A City Remembers” is the way in which Berlin is teaching its residents and visitors precisely how the diversity and democracy of Weimer Germany so quickly gave way to the rise of the brutal fascism that led directly to ghettoes, concentration camps, and extermination centers. In addition to the permanent Holocaust memorials, there are temporary exhibitions, lectures, films and other programs. These are publicized all over the city on kiosks, in subway stations, in the newspapers. It is impossible to avoid them.

More »

We Do Need More Heroes—on Yom Hashoah

Everyone calls it Yom Hashoa, Holocaust Day, but the official Hebrew name translates as Memorial Day for Martyrs and Heroes. A cursory glance at my Facebook feed makes clear what we all know: Jews are very good at remembering our martyrs. There are yellow stars, yahrtseyt (memorial) candles, photos of concentration camp prisoners, and a gut wrenching riff on the Pesach haggadah stating that each of us is obligated to feel as if we ourselves had been unable to leave Germany.

My own post was no different. I have martyrs enough in my own family, including the great-grandmother for whom I am named. But what I had not known until perestroika and glasnost allowed me to become acquainted with my cousins in Moscow, is that I also have a hero in my family.

Jewish Red Army hero explaining what his many medals mean

Vidya, my mother’s first cousin, was a liberator of Auschwitz. That was one of countless heroic acts that he undertook with his Red Army tank battalion. I have become close with him over the past two decades, and in the process I have come to understand that hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews—women and men—risked their lives in order to defeat the Germans. It is one of the great ironies of our era that many of these Red Army veterans, like Vidya, now live in Germany. On some of my frequent visits to Munich, I have had the privilege of accompanying him to the Jewish community center, where these veterans gather for coffee and conversation.


I am in awe of these people, who were truly forced from the frying pan into the fire. After recovering from his third serious wound, which punctured his lung, Vidya had no real home to which to return. His father had been sent to a gulag and his mother—the only one of my grandmother’s siblings to survive the war—followed her husband there. Vidya was one of thousands of Red Army veterans who learned that their loved ones had either been killed by the Nazis or been imprisoned by Stalin’s increasingly brutal regime. Far too often, both were the case.


Growing up in the 1970s, knowing that I had relatives in Moscow that I had not yet met, I attended every Save Soviet Jewry demonstration. I wore a prisoner of conscience necklace. Our family ”adopted” recent immigrants and helped them adjust to life in Chicago As a member of Hashomer Hatzair, I learned about the young heroes of the Warsaw and Vilna Ghettos, who fought back against the Nazis in any way possible. But due to Soviet policies, I never learned about the many Jewish heroes who fought in the Red Army, only to have their identities disappear at the end of the war.


In school we were taught that the Americans were the good liberators, and the Russians were the evil ones. Reality, as always, is far more complex. Thanks to the VETERAN ORAL HISTORY PROJECT of the Blavatnik Archive Foundation, which is systematically archiving the testimonies of Jewish Red Army veterans and creating books, DVDs, and impressive traveling exhibits of these materials, it is possible for us to get a glimpse of these heroic women and men.

If you do not have time to explore this material for Yom Hashoa, you can do it on the date that the Red Army veterans observe: May 9, or Victory in Europe Day. As Vidya always tells me, though, every year there are fewer and fewer veterans at the May 9 commemoration. So don’t wait.

Sweden’s Jews Say, “I’m a learner, not a fighter!”

Filmmaker Alexander Bodin Saphir presents on the rescue of the Danish Jews at OresundsLimmud 2013

On March 5, our almost-a-minyan who comprise the steering team of  Limmud Oresund 2013 was holding the penultimate meeting prior to our second annual Limmud day of Jewish learning and culture. Over 160 people had pre-registered, and we were concerned about logistics: Would there be enough space for a Limmud that had doubled in size since last year? Had we ordered enough food for lunches and snacks? Did Folkuniversitet, an adult education school that was again openomg its facility to us free of chage, have a room large enough for all participants to close out the day together with singing, learning, thanking the volunteers, and tasting the cholent made during a morning session?

Imagine my surprise, then, to find my various in-boxes filled with messages from concerned friends all over the world. I had posted here on Jewschool about last September’s explosion at the Jewish community center of Malmö, where I live, so the Tablet Magazine artical entitled “Swedish Jews Continue Their Fight: In Malmö, kippah walks are part of a resurgence of identity” had them worried.
More »

Please Come to Malmö in the Springtime*


Somebody threw heavy stones followed by an explosive device at the Jewish community center in Malmö, Sweden late Thursday night.  Contrary to the headlines in the world Jewish press, though, the blast did not “rock” the building. I live on the fifth floor, and my houseguest and my dog both slept through the event. I had been awake, and  heard a repetitive pounding followed by single loud bang. “Firecracker” was my first thought. There were no further noises, so I did not investigate it.

By morning, I had forgotten about it.  Around 9 AM a friend texted me a one-liner from Stockholm: “Are you OK?” I had no idea what she was referring to; perhaps the Yom Kippur services I had led?

My visitor and I had been schmoozing over a slow breakfast so we had not heard the news yet. Something about that text message still unnerved me, so I asked,  “Do you think something happened, maybe even something major, and we just haven’t heard about it yet?”

That is when we learned that someone had set off a very week blast at the front door of the community building, likely preceded by stones thrown at the glass.  The Jewish center  houses several apartments, the offices of the Jewish community, Chabad House, a Jewish pre-school, and a kosher caterer. Nobody had been hurt. The only real damage was the glass at the front door. By the time we got downstairs, it had been cleaned up, the window sealed with special tape. The pre-school was operating as usual and the ground floor smelled of baking challah, as it does every Friday. Apart from the taped up door, the only evidence of criminal activity were the two police offers stationed in front of the building.

Messages of concern began pouring in, but I had not anticipated the notice from Malmo’s Network for Faith and Understanding.  A solidarity vigil was already planned for 6 PM that evening. Rebecka H, the organizer, called to say that she wanted to hold the vigil immediately and on site, but she also wanted to respect Shabbat. She understood many Jewish people might be at home preparing;  her intention was to bring the community together to show their support and concern for us.

Indeed they did. About 70 women, men and children gathered in front of the building with large candles. Leaders of several Christian churches, two Muslim groups, and other spiritual and social organizations offered speeches, all brief and moving. Rebecka herself sang a poignant tune, accompanied by musician on a small drum. Journalist Barbro Posner represented the Jewish community. Rebekah  invited me to speak, but I had nothing to add to the absolute rightness of the moment.

Rebecka ended the vigil just prior to Shabbat, requesting that the crowd be aware that the Jewish Sabbath was beginning.  After many hugs and a few words with the local press, I went upstairs to finish preparing dinner. My friend from London, who doesn’t understand Swedish, was moved to tears.

The real jolt came after Shabbat, as I read the Jewish press. That ubiquitous hyperbolic headline about the blast “rocking” our building irritated me, but the articles were essentially accurate. I was disappointed that nobody had followed up with a story about the multi-faceted vigil. Readers all over the world who have been following the story of anti-Semitic hate crimes in Malmö should also learn about our concerned neighbors who literally rushed to our side. What made me explode, though, was that the Jewish Journal of LA had the chutspa  to publish a Reuter’s photo of the vigil next to an  indefensible rant  by the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Abraham Cooper.

Rabbi Cooper has already declared Malmö an unsafe travel destination for Jews. Now he suggests that those of us who live here might soon need to flee for Israel or elsewhere. “Ayn Soamchin Al Haness—we cannot rely on miracles to secure the safety of Jewish children. Clearly time is running out for Malmö,” he writes, along with other overstated claims. Rabbi Cooper must know that it is dry season in the Jewish blogosphere. Pamela Gellar, she of the Isalmophobic ads on New York City busses,  borrowed from Cooper’s screed to come to the offensive conclusion that “Malmo has become as bad for Jews as Berlin at the height of the WWII. With its very large Muslim population, Islamic attacks against the Jews are part of the social fabric in Malmo. It’s pure hell.”  Such mendacity desecrates the memory of those Jews who died in Berlin and dishonors those who survived. She cynically uses their name to buttress her anti-Muslim fabrications, which have zero to do with the Jewish community of Malmö.

Time has not run out for us. On the contrary, while the bursts of hate are anonymous and cowardly, the eloquent expressions of support are said aloud by well-known community leaders and residents from all over the region. It is time for Cooper and Gellar and the countless Jewish bloggers who quote them to stop crying wolf.

Yes, there are hate crimes against Jews here. Yes, the mayor has repeatedly exacerbated this problem with odious speech of his own. It is understandable that some Holocaust survivors and their children have been traumatized and felt the need to leave.  A  rabbi who has been the victim of countless incidents of verbal and physical attacks to his person and his property feels that he and his family are under siege, and I have great empathy for them.  Yet he always encourages me to be “out” as Jewish everywhere, especially among my Arab and Iranian classmates at my Swedish for Immigrants school.

Jewish communal leaders who declare that the municipality and the Swedish government must provide Malmo’s Jews with a more robust security program, including at the building in which I live, are correct.
But Jews should not feel chased out of Malmo. Rather, the Wiesenthal Center should remove the absurd Travel Advisory that it slapped on my adopted hometown, and instead encourage more Jews to visit.  Anyone who does will see that Malmö is a diverse city with all of the joys and challenges that this brings.


*Maybe for  Limmud Oresund 2013.

We’re Here. We’re Jews. Get Used to It.

Last month, while attending a workshop in Israel, I introduced myself as a new resident of Malmö. Before I could finish my next sentence, I was interrupted by a man with a kipa and a North American accent.

    “Why on earth did you move there? It’s the most anti-Semitic city on the planet!”

I tried to deflect the disruption with humor, but he wouldn’t shut up until the facilitator intervened.

Ironically, this was during a “listening circle,” designed to create a mood of awareness and attention to other people’s stories. The goal of this session was to encourage Palestinians, Israelis, and international visitors to listen closely as each participant shared a single, brief story that would allow us to understand something about her or him.

I thought about that experience last Shabbat, as I joined hundreds of people—Malmö residents and visitors, Jews and non-Jews, politicians and neighbors, religious and secular people of all ages—on a “kipa-walk” through the streets of Malmo. It was a significantly larger, very highly publicized version of the Shabbat afternoon walks that have been occurring almost monthly since December. Those walks were all low-key strolls attended by 15 to 30 people, Jews and some allies wearing kipot and other Jewish symbols. The “kipa-walks” are in response to the increased anti-Semitism that has emerged in Malmö over the past few years. A local rabbi and his wife have even been physically attacked in broad daylight on several occasions, and a peaceful Jewish demonstration was assaulted by a mob. Most of the aggression has been verbal, however, and these walks have most emphatically been a positive, prideful response to countless dim-witted, ignorant comments made by Malmo mayor Ilmar Reepalu following these attacks. More »

Meet Csanad Szegedi, Your New Favourite Jewish Anti-Semite

Csanad Szegedi was enjoying a fine career as a politician in Hungary’s nationalist Jobbik Party. The 30-year-old Hungarian helped market Hungarian nationalist merchandise online, acted as an EU lawmaker, and did not skimp on the Jew-bashing in his public speeches.

Csanad Szegedi, your new favourite Jewish anti-Semite

This all came to screeching halt upon his recent discovery that his maternal grandmother was a Jew who survived the Holocaust.  Shortly after learning of his Jewish ancestry, he resigned from his positions in the Jobbik Party.

That’s right  ladies: Mr. Szegedi is a Jew by halakhic standards. And he’s available.


This is almost as good as if the recently-declared U.S. Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan would suddenly find out he’s really a woman.  Almost.

Friday Challenge: Can You Match These Musicians to the Jewish Day Schools They Attended

Indie Rocker and Jewish Day School Alumna Regina Spektor

As those of you who have been following this season’s America’s Got Talent and/or have read my previous post know, one of the most promising contenders in the show is a religious Jew who is a singer. Not only that, but he is an incoming freshman at the Jewish high school I attended. Curious if any ICJA alumni before have ever enjoyed success and fame as popular musicians, I did some searching but could not find anything. To my knowledge, the only music icon to have graduated from ICJA was Disturbed front man David Draiman  (who first spent some time at the Wisconsin Institute of Torah Study, WITS, and Torah Valley High in California).

I then expanded my search to include alumni rockers from any major Jewish day school in the U.S., the U.K., Canada, and Australia.  (Incidentally, this search revealed volumes about the institutional identities of the individual schools. While some schools mention Nobel Prize winners and Rhodes Scholars among their graduates, others mention only male ‘notable alumni,’ and some only rabbis, major Jewish community leaders, and mega-machers.  And some even mention convicted murderers. I’m looking at you, Charles E Smith Jewish Day School.) Interestingly, the rock star Jew-school grads hail disproportionately from Orthodox day schools.  Care to interpret?

Anyway, on to the challenge (answers after the ‘more,’ but no peeking!):

which of these famous musicians attended which of these Jewish Day Schools?                                                                                                              Hint: two or more may have attended the same school

1. Ari Gold                                                       a. Jews’ Free School (London)

2 Mike Gordon (Phish)                            b. Moriah War Memorial College (Sydney)

3. Jay Kay (Jamiroquai)                            c. Ramaz School (New York)

4. Ben Lee                                                         d. Salanter Akiba Riverdale Academy

5. Coby Linder (Say Anything)               e. Shalhevet High School (LA)

6. Achinoam Nini (aka Noa)                   f. Solomon Schechter Day School

                                                                             of Essex and Union (West Orange, NJ)

7. Kathleen Reiter                             g. Solomon Schechter Day School of                                                                                                                  Greater Boston (Newton, MA)

8. Gabe Saporta (Cobra Starship)     h. United Talmud Torahs of Montreal

9. Regina Spektor

10. Juanita Stein (Howling Bells)


More »


Ah, Sweden. Birthplace of Ikea. Home of Abba. Case-study in government use of social media gone terribly wrong.

Curators of Sweden

It seems that the Swedish Tourism Board thought that turning over the official @Sweden Twitter Account to regular folks from around the country would be a great way to expose the rest of the world to all the country has to offer. I’m not sure how long the Curators of Sweden program has been running, but it got a boost of publicity this morning when the current curator, Sonja Abrahamsson, tweeted the following:


I can’t be the only one reminded of Henry Blodget’s similar question on Business Insider at the end of last month, although there’s clearly a difference between tweets from someone who self-identifies as an under-educated woman from a little isty-bitsy village and the CEO of a respected publication. But I’ve got to wonder myself if there’s something about this moment that’s bringing “the Jewish question” back into public discourse.

From Malmo on Yom haShoah

Malmo Synagogue

Following is a guest post by Rabbi Rebecca Lillian, current resident of Malmo, Sweden.

In early March, when I was asked to write a column about Jewish life in Malmö, I began like this: Google “Jews in Malmö.” Most of the results will be about the rise in anti-Semitism, the hostility between Muslims and Jews, the anti-Semitic rants of the mayor, and the number of Jews who are fleeing Sweden’s third largest city.

Six weeks later, you can skip the Google search. The Jewish media have their eye on Malmö, thanks to the most recent spewing of idiotic, anti-Semitic rants by mayor Ilmar Reepalu. This time, he tried to claim that the Jewish community of Malmö had allowed itself to be infiltrated by the white supremacist Sweden Democrat party in order to attack Muslims. When confronted, Reepalu admitted that his accusation was baseless. Dominos have begun to fall since then. The leader of his Social Democrat party scolded the mayor, and word has it that Reeplu might even be open to hearing from Jewish citizens.  It remains unclear whether there will be any real impact on Reeplalu’s mayorship.

Yet, although Malmö’s Jews do face anti-Semitism from some hateful, even violent neighbors as well as from the mayor, things have changed since 2010, when the Forward published an article titled, “For Jews, Swedish City is a Place to Move Away From.”  In fact, last month I used that title as a foil, declaring Malmö to be a delightful place to move to.  The Jewish community here is undergoing a true renaissance and, on this Yom Hashoah,  many members look toward the future with hope.

More »

More Jedis than Jews in the Czech Republic?!

Hilarious and amazing. This might be one of the greatest things I’ve read in quite some time. Apparently, there are just under 3000 Jews in the Czech Republic; however, according to the most recent census data, those in the Czech Republic who voluntarily filled in their religion as “Jedi” numbered over 15,000.

I hate to have to ask this, but would a Jewish Jedi be a Jew-di? Terrible, I know — forgive me.

The Other Israel Film Festival: The Promise, Episode One

The Promise is a 4 part BBC miniseries portraying, in the words of producer David Aukin, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict “as it is seen through British eyes.” Each episode is divided between the point of view of Erin, a young woman from Leeds spending the summer in modern day Israel/Palestine, and  the flashbacks of her grandfather, Len, a soldier in 1945 British Mandate Palestine. The first episode was shown Wednesday, November 16th at the JCC in Manhattan as part of the Other Israel Film Festival.

I’m sure Claire Foy, who plays Erin, gets this all the time, but she looks like a cross between of Rory Gilmore and that Kirsten Stewart person from the Twilight movies. Moving on. The episode begins with Erin’s discovery of her grandfather’s diary, kept during the British Mandate, in his apartment. Her mother tells her to throw it away, but Erin keeps it, and after informing her mother that she’s going to Israel for the summer with her friend Eliza, who’s beginning her army service, she begins reading it on the plane, starting with his account of liberating Bergen Belsen. Then we see a lot of black and white  footage from the camp. Or rather, the audience did. I kept my head down and scribbled. “I wish everyone could see what I’ve seen,” writes Len.

Eliza, Erin’s friend, has dual Israeli/UK citizenship, and her parents live in Caesaria, in a crazy house with glass everything and a giant pool. They take a walk on the beach wearing white and drinking wine and the whole thing makes me think of folks who own houses in the  Hamptons or Martha’s Vineyard. “It’s like paradise,” Erin tells Eliza. “It’s not what I expected.” “You thought we lived in bomb shelters,” Eliza says. Cue a montage of Eliza and Erin cavorting in the streets of what looks like Tel Aviv-shopping, sitting in cafes, Erin gawking at the sight of a soldier’s gun, and then, in a night club, where Erin passes out and has a seizure.

Meanwhile, in British Mandate Palestine (BMP), Len is told by an army commander that “These Jews see returning to be this place as the fulfillment of the promise of Gd,” but that the Arabs see things differently. The goal of the army is to get both parties to live together peacefully, “like the meat in a sandwich.” (The creepiest simile ever used to refer to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict?)

A moving scene follows of Jews jumping from an arriving ship into the water, and being greeted and pulled to shore by British soldiers. There’s a woman with a skeletal face, her wet hair clinging to her head, slogging towards land. The camera lingers on her for a minute too long, or maybe I just imagine that. We learn that there is a quota on Jews entering the country, and when Len tries to smuggle a woman through, he’s reprimanded.

Erin and Eliza, clad in her IDF uniform, drive to her army base to begin training. The front entrance is blocked by Peace Now protestors. As they drive to the other entrance, Eliza tells Erin that her brother is one of them. “I know you think it’s idyllic, but it’s total bullshit,” she says, admitting that she’s terrified of being the army. Erin proposes that if she really can’t take it, she’ll bail her out and they’ll run for the border. (Things I would love to see happen in a future episode.)

BMP: Len  is in some kind of swanky club, with other soldiers and  ladies and lots of alcohol, and he meets Clara, prompting me to worry that we’re going to see some sex really soon. (Spoiler: we do not.) Clara tells him that this is all propaganda, that she and many other women are being paid to entertain soldiers, and that “100,000 soldiers equals 100,000 opportunities,” and that he’ll undoubtedly write letters home to his family telling them about how well he’s being treated by the Jews of Palestine.

Len has a look of perpetual torture, which only gets worse when he’s ordered to attend a rally against the Jewish quotas, a project that Clara and her father are involved in, in civilian clothes. “Be a Jew for a day,” his commander tells him, urging him to get information on any insurgency the Jews might be planning. Clara, in the meantime, confesses to him that her mother met another man while in the concentration camp. “Not every concentration camp story has an unhappy ending,” she says.

Bon Iver. Bikini. Swimming pool. Erin floats around on a raft until she’s surprised by Eliza’s “insane” brother, Paul, who’s visiting his parents. Erin tells him about her grandfather, Paul tells her that his grandfather fought in the Irgun. Over dinner, things get a little American-Jewish community when we learn that Paul is an anti Zionist who believes Israel is a military dictatorship. Fight with parents about the occupation ensues. Eliza shows up in her IDF uniform and gun. Everyone stares. Later, Eliza tells Erin that once,  Paul was very hard core about the army, before he went to Hebron.

BMP: Len  attends the anti quota rally, and a man is killed whom the British believe to be an instigator. Later, some of his friends are killed in a shooting. It’s unclear who’s responsible, but in a move that I can only regard as insanely ironic, the remaining solidiers break into an Arab home in pursuit of the actual shooters. Clara’s father tells Len that he’s no longer welcome in their home, even after Len assures him that he’s on their side. “We may be stateless,” says her father, “but we are not stupid.” In the stairwell, Clara and Len embrace secretly.

That’s the end of the flashbacks. Erin and Paul travel to Ramle so she can see the graves of Len’s friends, and she freaks out when she sees the graves of two who aren’t dead in the journal yet. And then we’re in Paul’s car driving into the Territories. “I thought it was dangerous,” Erin says. “You’d rather be back by the pool?” Paul says, and she doesn’t answer. In Nablus, Paul speaks at a Combatants for Peace meeting, along with Omar, a former member of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. Erin watches, enraptured. She’s surprised to learn later that Omar is an Israeli Arab, and watches, horrified and confused, as Omar is stripped searched and detained at a checkpoint after confronting a solidier about his treatment of a Palestinian woman. “Welcome to Israel,” Paul says, as they drive away from the checkpoint after Omar has asked them to leave him there. “Isn’t it to stop the terrorists?” Erin wonders. Paul responds by showing her the separation barrier and explains that the goal of the checkpoints and the barrier is to force Palestinians off their land and into such a state of despair that they leave all together. He yells a lot. Erin looks confused and scared.

At the entrance to a cafe, a bewildered Erin gets searched by a security guard. She and Paul drink beer. She says she loves it in Israel, he says it’s because she lives in the safe world of his parents, who, he admits, are lovely people. He tells Erin that when he was little, his father took him to a border and pointed out the difference between Jewish and Arab land. “Look what they’re done with the land in 2000 years and look what we’ve done in 50,” his father said. Paul: “He was telling me that they aren’t as deserving as we are.”

On the way out of the cafe, Erin’s glance lingers on a couple coming in. Paul realizes that he’s left his wallet inside when they get to the car and tells Erin to wait. And then there’s a explosion in the cafe. End of episode one.

Are you still reading? Good. After the episode, there was a q/a in the Speakeasy cafe with Liel Leibovitz and producer David Aukin. The idea of the series began with a letter from a solidier who served in Palestine during the British Mandate, which inspired Aukin to portray the conflict through a British perspective. The series was shot on location in Israel/Palestine and the crew represented a cross section of Israeli society, which, according to Aukin, resulted in very real tensions and arguments.

In response to an audience member’s question about the source and prevalence of Britain’s anti-Israel boycotts, Aukin said, “There is no memory in the current British narrative about the Mandate. It doesn’t exist anymore. If anything, this film is anti-British. What we’re dealing with now are the seeds of what the British left behind.”

In case you’re wondering what happened at the end of episode one of The Promise, you can see the second episode this coming Monday, November 21, at the JCC in Manhattan at 7 pm. Episodes three and four will be show on Wednesdays, November 23-December 7th. For more information, visit

The Global Jewish Voice: Home of the international Jewish student conversation

Above, the Chilean Federation of Jewish Students protests discrimination.

Over at New Voices Magazine (my day job), we launched a new blog this week that Jewschoolers might be interested in. It’s called the Global Jewish Voice and it’s a way to jump-start a wider conversation that we normally have at New Voices. While New Voices is normally American or Israeli (and occasionally Canadian) in scope, the Global Jewish Voice is a fully international conversation about the lives of Jewish students and young adults.

The blog is staffed by 10 writers reporting on their lives on campus, in the workplace and at home. They are writing in from every corner of the globe, including Israel, the US, Chile, Spain, China, Canada, the UK and–no joke–Serbia. The blog’s student editor is based in Portland, Ore. There’s also an open submission policy.

A few highlights so far:

Reporting from the West Bank, Liran Shamriz describes the constant dilemma of being an army soldier and same-time sociology student:

This could quickly turn to riots – we need to get the hell out of here. We don’t even have bulletproof vests – any jerk in the street can knife me and disappear. I started to walk toward the trucks and my phone blinks again, this time from a Facebook message: “Shlomo gave us grades! I got a 91! I think he is good after all, he probably didn’t even check that well… how much did you get?”

Meanwhile in Chile, sometimes the struggle is more symbolic of living Jewishly in a non-Jewish world. University student Maxamilliano Grass is on the vanguard of Jewish student activism and pro-Israel work in a country with 75,000 Jews—and over 400,000 Palestinians: More »

Throw the Jew down the well

Every once in a while, somebody accuses Jewschool contributors of ignoring or belittling anti-Semitism. For those who found Borat to be a hilarious take-down of the haters, here’s a reminder from JTA of why some of us actually found Barron-Cohen’s shtick just a bit offense:

Bones found in a medieval well in England are probably the remains of Jews murdered in the 12th century, forensic scientists say…. The scientists, who along with archaeological investigations also work on contemporary crime-scene forensics, have speculated that the individuals were thrown into the well — victims of Jewish hatred that was rampant at the time.

A whole Jewish family. Still think its funny? Funny as the murdered Fogel family, I’d say.