(JTA) — For years, the Hanukkah llama has been a corny cliche that skeptics of the big-box Hanukkah industrial complex love to hate.
What does a South American animal have to do with a holiday commemorating a Jewish miracle in the Middle East? Is a not-quite rhyme enough to justify “Happy Llamakah” sweaters and socks? Just why are the aisles of TJ Maxx and other stores hawking holiday merchandise filled with Hanukkah llama items, alongside “Oy to the World” dish towels and gnomes decked out in blue and white?
“Llamas are particularly adorable, and they’re easy to dress up in Hanukkah fashion, whether it’s sweaters or scarves, or kippot,” offered Rabbi Yael Buechler, a designer of Jewish holiday merchandise and a keen observer of the Jewish marketplace, as a reason for the enduring and befuddling mashup. “And they also have wide backs, so that serves as great storage space for dreidels, hanukkiot.”
In 2020, the trend expanded to include a picture book about a family of llamas celebrating Hanukkah written by a Jewish children’s book author. And now, for the first time, a professional Jewish educator has given the Hanukkah llama a deeply Jewish backstory, in an effort to endow a kitschy character with substance.
“I think a lot about what engages learners and how we engage learners,” said Sara Beth Berman, the author of a 32-page miniature book released last month by Hachette Press. “And so taking a piece of the zeitgeist and attaching it to a story that is meaningful, I think is great.”
Berman was recruited to add a story to a toy that lacked one. The team at Running Press Minis, a division of Hachette Book Group, was gearing up to create the company’s first Hanukkah product in more than two decades.
Running Press puts out tiny “kits” — a toy and a companion text — that make for ideal gifts. The company has put out multiple Christmas kits, and even a “holiday armadillo,” a reference to the “Friends” episode where Ross Geller is dismayed not to find Hanukkah costumes to make the holiday more interesting for his son, who is mesmerized by Christmas. But since “The Little Book of Hanukkah” in 2000, which predated the toy pairing, Running Press hadn’t tackled Hanukkah.
The company knew it wanted to produce a tiny llama with an accompanying book, but it didn’t have an author lined up. Jordana Hawkins, Running Press’ licensing manager, was friendly with Berman’s husband, knew her reputation as an educator and reached out.
“I wanted a Jewish writer to write it and she has a really great sense of humor,” Hawkins told JTA. “She has a really great style and she’s a great writer. And I thought she would be a great fit for it.”
The book is a modern retelling of the Hanukkah story, with Lex Lexabee, the “llama constabulary” of Jerusalem who is acquainted with Mattathias and his sons, including Judah Maccabee, the hero of the Hanukkah story. Lex wears sunglasses, a menorah throw blanket, a blue winter hat, and a scarf with yellow pompoms. Judah Maccabee is the leader of the “Holy Llamas of Jerusalem” — a city that, in this version of the story — is surrounded by snow-capped mountaintops. The story begins in 168 B.C.E., when the Syrian Goat Greeks, led by the mountain goat version of King Antiochus, take over the holy llamas’ place of worship, the Holy Temple of Jerusalem.
Berman, the director of youth and family education at New York’s Temple Shaaray Tefila, was determined to pack seriousness into a 32-page, 3-inch book meant as a gag gift. She was particularly determined to show readers how Jews count time, by introducing, from the very beginning of the book, the years in BCE, and not the Christian BC.
“In Jewish academia, calling it ‘Before the Common Era’ and ‘Common Era’ is the way,” Berman explained. “But most of the people who are like, ‘Oh look, a Hanukkah llama’ — the vast majority of the population isn’t familiar with how academics talk about how our calendar works. So I was really nerdily excited to get that in the book.”
Berman also uses the actual story to explain the “shamash,” the word used for the “helper” candle of the menorah, when Lex officially becomes Lex Lexabee as he turns into Judah Maccabee’s “number one support llama” during the fight to take back the Temple.
The book includes Hanukkah songs and activities, but no blessings. And the accompanying figurine plays one of those songs aloud to what the company says is “a toe-tapping beat.”
“I want people to experience Judaism through joy when they can,” Berman said. “The more joy the merrier. I want Jewish people to feel seen and if this is a small way that people manage their feelings around the holiday season, I’m glad to be a positive part of it.”
For Buechler, just knowing that a seasoned Jewish educator had a hand in the kind of product she might otherwise shake her head about is exciting.
“What we’re seeing here is a Jewish educator authoring a book and a mainstream Hanukkah toy. And that’s significant, because it marks a new model for Hanukkah merchandise,” Buechler said. “This is a new path towards bringing modern merchandise that is well-educated into the Hanukkah market.”
The post How a Jewish educator took the Hanukkah llama from TJ Maxx meme to teachable moment appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
PA Daily: Hamas Shouldn’t Release 130+ Israeli Hostages Without Release of All 9,000 Terrorist Prisoners
The official Palestinian Authority (PA) daily is calling on Hamas not to release the more than 130 kidnapped Israeli hostages unless Israel releases all the 9,000 imprisoned Palestinian terrorists.
The PA daily editorial is demanding Hamas insist on the release of all the mass murderers, which includes terrorists like Abdallah Barghouti, the Hamas bomb builder responsible for the murder of 67 people, and Abbas Al-Sayid, who is serving 35 life sentences for planning the suicide bombing at the Passover Seder in Netanya in 2002, and others who together have killed thousands of Israelis.
According to the PA daily, to release the more than 130 Israeli hostages without the release of all these terrorist murderers, whom the PA calls “prisoners of freedom,” would be a crime.
All members of the Israeli government and all Israeli negotiators have ruled this option out. Many of the 1,027 terrorists released by Israel in exchange for Israeli soldier hostage Gilad Shalit in 2011 went on to murder again, and others became the leaders of Hamas who planned and executed years of terror including the October 7 atrocities. The Israeli army is fighting to destroy the Hamas leadership in Gaza. It will all have been for nothing if Israel releases the imprisoned Hamas terrorist murderers who will become the new leaders and will rebuild the terror organization.
Unfortunately, the greater the public pressure from Palestinians on Hamas to insist on the release of 9,000 terrorists from prison, the harder it will be for Hamas to compromise and release the Israeli hostages for a smaller number of terrorists.
The PA daily may be pressuring Hamas to demand what Israel cannot agree to, in order to undermine negotiations. Any successful exchange that releases a significant number of Palestinian prisoners will raise Hamas’ popularity. It is possible that the PA daily is warning Hamas that it will be a “crime” not to have 9,000 terrorist prisoners released for the hostages, because it knows that this demand is not achievable.
The following is from the editorial in the official PA daily.
This [prisoners’] front … necessitates raising our voices for the immediate release of all the prisoners [i.e., imprisoned Palestinian terrorists]. Those who are conducting negotiations for prisoner exchanges [i.e., Israel’s kidnapped hostages in exchange for Palestinian terrorists] must not compromise on the release of all the prisoners of freedom without any exception. And if it should happen that someone from among the resistance wings, and especially the Hamas Movement, who claims that he wants to release all [the prisoners] for all [the hostages], should concede, he will commit a crime against the prisoners of freedom.
[Omar Hilmi Al-Ghoul, Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Feb. 8, 2024]
The article’s author, Omar Hilmi Al-Ghoul, is also a former PLO Central Council member.
The author is the founder and executive director of Palestinian Media Watch, where a version of this article first appeared.
UNC Professors Are Indoctrinating Students with Anti-Israel Rhetoric and Coursework
Nadia Yaqub, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), emailed campus leadership and colleagues on Oct. 14 to inform them that the Oct. 7 atrocities Hamas committed were “provoked” by Israel, in her view.
Yaqub also chastised then-UNC Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz for issuing a campus statement the day before in which he wrote, “The senseless acts of terror in Israel by Hamas are horrifying. I condemn this terrible violence.”
Yaqub told the Chancellor that she was “disappointed and discouraged by what you wrote.” Yaqub continued, saying she had “warned” the Chancellor a week before about issuing such a statement.
On Nov. 28, I attended an event at UNC titled “No Peace Without Justice: A Round-Table Talk about Social Justice in Palestine.” A speaker — Rania Masri — boasted that Oct. 7 was a “beautiful day.” In January, Yaqub spoke at a UNC Faculty Council meeting to oppose a resolution, titled “Condemning Antisemitism on Campus,” that sought to rebuke Masri’s remarks. To the dismay of the Jewish community and many UNC faculty, the resolution did not pass.
Yaqub told Inside Higher Ed that she did not believe that Masri’s comments were “objectively antisemitic,” and that “what actually happened on that day [Oct. 7], and who actually committed what, is still very unclear.”
A source sent me the first page of what appears to be Yaqub’s current syllabus for ARAB 151 — Arabic Literature Through the Ages. The syllabus states, “In light of the extraordinary violence being brought to bear against Palestinians living under Israeli occupation since October 7 and the shockingly callous position the United States government has taken vis-à-vis that violence, it is incumbent on us to educate ourselves about all aspects of the Palestinian condition.”
It seems Yaqub intends to use an Arabic literature class at a public university to focus on condemning Israel and the United States.
I requested a copy of the full syllabus from UNC using a public records request. My request was declined, saying the syllabus is Yaqub’s “intellectual property.”
Reviews posted at Rate My Professors state that Yaqub “presents Israel as this cartoon-ish villain … and basically says ‘Israel bad, Palestine good,’” and that she “has a notable bias towards Palestine.”
In other UNC news, a campus panel titled “News Media Frameworks for Israel/Palestine” is scheduled for Feb. 16. All five speakers are well known anti-Israel activists.
Four speakers — Amahl Bishara, Dina Matar, Rebecca Stein, and Helga Tawil-Souri — signed a 2021 statement pledging to promote the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel “in the classroom and on campus.”
The fifth scheduled speaker — Michael Palm — signed a 2021 statement saying, “We acknowledge our complicity in Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians,” and “express our solidarity with the Palestinian people.”
Five UNC departments and institutes are sponsoring the event: the Institute for the Arts and Humanities, Departments of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies and Communication, and the Curriculums in Global Studies and Peace, War, & Defense.
In the Asian & Middle Eastern Studies Department, three top administrators signed the 2021 statement condemning Israel’s “oppression” of the Palestinian people: Chair Morgan Pitelka, Associate Chair Robin Visser, and Director of Graduate Studies Yaron Shemer. Two administrators in the Curriculum in Global Studies also signed the statement: Chair Banu Gökariksel and Director of Internships & Diversity Liaison, Michal Osterweil.
This planned event raises a simple question: Are multiple UNC departments planning to defy North Carolina law that requires the university to be institutionally neutral “on the political controversies of the day”?
In November, UNC’s chancellor and provost issued a statement reminding the campus community of the university’s supposed commitment to “institutional neutrality.” Yet it seems that multiple campus departments and institutes are ignoring or spurning this reminder.
In October, UNC’s Department of Women’s and Gender Studies published a “Solidarity Statement” with Palestinians, which was condemned and eventually removed from their website for lacking institutional neutrality. The notorious Nov. 28 event featured a panel of anti-Israel activists without a single pro-Israel or even neutral voice. The upcoming Feb. 16 event appears to promise more of the same.
It seems that university department heads and professors have forgotten or are unaware that UNC also signed a Resolution Agreement with the US Department of Education Office of Civil Rights that it will “take all steps reasonably designed to ensure that students enrolled in the University are not subjected to a hostile environment.”
The UNC Charlotte website explains, “The goal of institutional neutrality is to promote the open exchange of ideas on campus by ensuring that schools don’t inhibit dissenting opinions.”
At the Nov. 28 event, not only were all the speakers anti-Israel activists, but the audience was not permitted to ask questions. Dissenting opinions were not invited, included, or allowed.
Why are so many UNC departments afraid to offer students and the community institutionally neutral events where speakers respectfully discuss and debate complex issues from different perspectives?
Instead, UNC is training and indoctrinating generations of students that Israel is evil. When will the legislature and the university demand that UNC departments adhere to institutional neutrality and obey both the law and the agreements for which they are legally liable?
Peter Reitzes writes about issues related to antisemitism and Israel.
The post UNC Professors Are Indoctrinating Students with Anti-Israel Rhetoric and Coursework first appeared on Algemeiner.com.
Media Distort Israeli Rejection of ‘Over the Top’ and Unacceptable Hamas Demands
On February 8, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he had rejected the deal proposed by Hamas for a ceasefire to the current war between the Jewish state and the Gaza-based terror group.
Hamas’ proposal was in response to a long-term truce framework that had been crafted in late January by the United States, Qatar, Egypt, and Israel.
The return of Israeli hostages in exchange for thousands of Palestinian prisoners (including those serving life sentences for violent crimes involving blood on their hands).
The withdrawal of Israeli troops from populated areas of the Gaza Strip and ultimately the Strip itself.
An increase in aid to Gaza and the return of Palestinians to all parts of the Strip.
While the core principles of Hamas’ far-reaching ceasefire demands (leaving it in control of the Gaza Strip and the release of hundreds of dangerous Palestinian terrorists from prison) are anathema to many Israelis and have been deemed “non-starters” and “over the top” by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and President Joe Biden, several media outlets presented a skewed picture of Israel’s response to Hamas’ demands.
Several headlines portrayed Israel as the sole obstacle to a cessation of hostilities in the region, while some reports even went so far as to diminish Israel’s acceptance of the original negotiating framework.
“Netanyahu Rejects Ceasefire”: Headlines Skew Israel’s Response to Hamas’ Demands
Headlines set the context of a story.
In the case of Israel’s response to Hamas’ ceasefire proposal, the most vital information is that it was a Hamas proposal and that Hamas’ demands were in response to a proposal that Israel had agreed to.
For example, The Wall Street Journal’s headline neatly summarized these points, reading “Israel’s Netanyahu Rejects Hamas’s Response to Cease-Fire Proposal.”
However, several mainstream news outlets failed to properly convey these points, leaving their readers misinformed and with a poor understanding of Israel’s ceasefire stance.
The Washington Post, Newsweek, The Times of London, and The Guardian‘s headlines all failed to mention that Israel was responding to a ceasefire proposal presented by Hamas. Thus, the takeaway appears to be that Israel is a belligerent party that is opposed in principle to any ceasefire.
The Washington Post:
The Times of London:
For their part, The New York Times (first below) and NPR (second) did include the fact that it was a Hamas proposal that Israel rejected. Yet, the tone conveyed by their headlines still made Israel appear to be the uncooperative and belligerent party in this conflict.
In addition, the titles of several news organizations’ video reports portrayed Israel as an uncooperative and belligerent state while simultaneously presenting Hamas in a sympathetic light.
For example, ABC News (Australia) gave the false impression that Hamas was negotiating in good faith with its headline “Israeli PM Netanyahu rejects Hamas’s offer of a ceasefire and hostage release.”
The title of American outlet ABC News’s video short omitted the fact that it was a Hamas proposal that Israel had rejected, making it appear as if Israel was against a good faith hostage deal.
This false portrayal of Israel as uncompromising and belligerent was also conveyed by the title of Channel 4’s video report, “Israel-Gaza: Netanyahu says no ceasefire and pledges ‘total victory’ over Hamas.”
Similarly, South African SABC News’ video title omitted the necessary facts, simply stating “Netanyahu rejects ceasefire proposal.”
Media Miss Context on Hamas’ Ceasefire Demands
For some media organizations, it wasn’t only the headlines that presented a false impression of Israel’s ceasefire stance and Hamas’ demands.
Several news outlets either diminished or completely ignored the fact that Hamas’ proposal was a response to a negotiating framework that had already been accepted by Israel a week earlier.
For example, in The New York Times’ report, the opening paragraph accuses Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of “dashing hopes” that a ceasefire might be close, seemingly placing the onus for continued hostilities on Israel. It’s only 24 paragraphs later that it mentions the fact that Hamas was responding to a framework agreed upon by Israel, the United States, Qatar, and Egypt.
Similarly, in its report, The Guardian opened with a condemnation of Israel’s rejection, writing that “Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected the terms of a ceasefire in Gaza proposed by Hamas and rebuffed US pressure to move more quickly towards a mediated settlement to the war…”
Any reader would immediately be left with the impression that Israel is being uncompromising and not interested in a cessation of hostilities. They would have to read through 13 more paragraphs before discovering that Hamas’ demands were in response “to a proposal drawn up by the US, Israel, Qatar and Egypt.”
NPR omitted entirely the fact that Hamas was responding to an Israeli framework, leaving its readers woefully in the dark as to Israel’s true intentions and portraying the Jewish state as intransigent, while simultaneously depicting the Islamic terror organization as more flexible and open.
By not accurately reporting on Israel’s rejection of Hamas’ “over the top” ceasefire demands in either their headlines or pieces, these media outlets are not only misinforming their audience but are also playing into Hamas’ propaganda tactic of falsely portraying Israel as bellicose and the terror group as a peace-seeking organization.
The post Media Distort Israeli Rejection of ‘Over the Top’ and Unacceptable Hamas Demands first appeared on Algemeiner.com.