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These queer newlyweds are modeling Jewish joy for LGBTQ youth

(New York Jewish Week) — The table at the center of the room, set for 16, was festooned with a rainbow tablecloth and sparkles, and surrounded by about a dozen college-age guests. At its head were two chairs decorated with rainbow necklaces and flags and set for the guests of honor: Both place settings came with a headband with the word “bride” written across the top.  

The group had come together last week for a sheva brachot, a Jewish celebration in which loved ones and community members gather in the week following a wedding to bless the newlyweds over a festive meal. The celebrations are common among observant couples.

But for many of the celebrants, even those who had attended other such festive meals, the dinner was still a milestone: It was their first time attending a sheva brachot for an LGBTQ couple, Rachael Fried and Henna Warman, who were married on Sept. 3.  

The dinner was hosted by Jewish Queer Youth, and for one of the brides, Rachael Fried, it was more than just a celebration of her marriage. It was also a step forward for the cause she champions: supporting Orthodox LGBTQ youth and showing them that they, too, can live full lives despite Orthodox Judaism’s traditional rejection of LGBTQ relationships. 

The festive dinner was part of JQY’s “Share your simcha” initiative, meant to show young Orthodox LGBTQ teens what their futures can look like. (Abbie Sophia)

While some Orthodox communities have tried to make space for LGBTQ members, the vast majority of Orthodox rabbis, citing prohibitions in traditional Jewish law, do not conduct LGBTQ weddings. Orthodox LGBTQ Jews have said they feel marginalized and discriminated against in the communities where they grew up, and recent manifestations of that discrimination have catalyzed JQY’s work. 

“Queer youth from Orthodox homes don’t really get to celebrate or see a lot of communal happiness or shared queer joy today,” Fried, 36, who is JQY’s executive director, told the New York Jewish Week. “It can also be really hard for a lot of JQYers to envision a future for themselves.”

JQY serves Orthodox youth ages 13 to 23, and the celebration was part of a larger initiative the group is launching called “Share your simcha,” a Hebrew term connoting a lifecycle celebration. The initiative invites queer Jews celebrating various life events to share their experiences with JQY members so that the young people can see a world in which they, too, can celebrate traditional Jewish milestones and other joyous moments.  

“When you hear about queer life experiences, you usually hear lots of negative ones — you don’t really hear about the positive ones,” said Shlomo Satt, who attended the sheva bracha with his fiancé, Mattan Rozenek. “There’s certainly no frame of reference for queer joy or queer simchas. How many gay weddings as a teenager did I see? Zero. We’ve never been to a gay wedding and we’re getting married.”

Satt, who grew up in a Haredi community in Far Rockaway, Queens, said that he chose to join JQY for a sheva brachot by “putting myself in the perspective of the young queer person.”

“It would have meant the world to me to realize I don’t have to sacrifice anything. I can have a life. I don’t need to lose anything,” he said.

JQY’s entire membership was invited to Thursday night’s celebration, which took place in Times Square at the JQY “Drop-In Center,” a space where members can meet with social workers and psychologists, eat snacks, participate in support groups and hang out with fellow queer Jews. 

The meal carried many of the hallmarks of a standard sheva brachot, and a few differences. It took place five days after the wedding and guests ate a sumptuous dinner of baked ziti, sushi, salad and cupcakes. 

But instead of the seven blessings traditionally recited at the end of the meal — a repetition of the blessings said under the chuppah — guests went around the room offering personalized blessings for the couple’s marriage and future.

Amid those blessings, one JQY member shared a memory of when Fried helped them navigate a stalled subway after a JQY meeting late one evening. They wished upon Fried and Warman that “even when taking unexpected paths, they will always find their way back home.”

Others wished the couple “a lifetime of happiness” and to “appreciate the mundaneness and the quiet moments of living every day with your soulmate.” 

Fried and Warman meant online during the pandemic; they were married in Connecticut on Sept. 3. (Abbie Sophia)

Fried and Warman, a 32-year-old psychiatric nurse practitioner, also offered to answer any questions about the logistics — and emotions — involved in planning and executing a queer Jewish wedding. 

The two met on the Jewish dating app JSwipe at the beginning of the pandemic. Both grew up in traditional Orthodox communities — Fried in Fairfield, CT and Warman in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Flatbush. 

One attendee asked them why they decided to switch the words of one of the seven blessings from “chosson v’kallah” — bride and groom — to “Rachel v’Henna,” their names. They said it was a friend’s idea and that it made the blessings feel more natural and personal. 

Another asked what the biggest surprise of the wedding was, and a third what they felt most unprepared for. 

“The biggest surprise was that, for all the stress of worrying about who would come and who wouldn’t come from my family, it didn’t end up mattering at all once the wedding was happening,” Warman said. “It was just such a happy day, I really couldn’t notice or care.” 

And when it came to what they were least prepared for, the answer could have come from any newlywed: “Keeping up the stamina of dancing the whole night,” Fried said. 

Those answers could be of use to Satt and Rozenek, the engaged couple at the dinner, who said they hope to host a sheva brachot with JQY when they get married next month. Rozenek said he wished he had been able to meet queer, observant couples earlier in life — not just so he could see his identity reflected, but for help answering the kinds of questions asked by attendees at last week’s event.

“It’s like networking, so to speak,” Rozenek said. “Once you know somebody [queer] who is getting married, you can say to yourself, ‘If and when I have a wedding, I know where I can turn to.’ We want to continue that train and help people realize: you are not the first person to ever do this,” he said. 

The “Share your simcha” initiative was something Fried and other JQY staff had been formulating in recent years as a way to “bring Jewish queer joy to our community,” Fried said. She added, “The tagline for this initiative is to ‘celebrate Jewish queer joy today and picture a queer Jewish tomorrow.’ That is exactly what we’re trying to do.”

JQY decided to expedite the program in June, when the wedding of two Orthodox women went viral in Orthodox Whatsapp groups and on Twitter, where users lambasted the ceremony. In light of that, JQY wanted to show their support and joy for the couple, who had been members of the organization in the past, Fried said. 

The launch of the initiative also follows what has been a busy year for the organization, which has been involved in an ongoing legal battle against Yeshiva University, the Modern Orthodox flagship, over its refusal to recognize an LGBTQ student group. After a judge ruled that the university must recognize the club, called the YU Pride Alliance, the university temporarily suspended all student clubs at the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year. JQY responded by offering funding and event space to any student club affected by that decision. (The Pride Alliance later put its demands on hold pending the legal appeals process, and the school’s student groups were reinstated.)

Fried and Warman’s celebration was the fourth hosted by JQY since June as part of the “simcha” initiative. There have also been two other weddings, as well as an upsherin, a ceremony held at a boy’s third birthday in which his hair is cut for the first time. The boy’s two mothers were previously members of JQY.

In addition to being a way to showcase queer joy for younger Jews, Fried and Warman said it was a treat to be celebrated by a community that can relate to their identities. 

“As much as this is for the youth, it’s also for the people who are celebrating,” Fried said. “I don’t really get to have a celebration where it is just the queer community celebrating my simcha, so it’s cool to have this queer space for this queer simcha.”


The post These queer newlyweds are modeling Jewish joy for LGBTQ youth appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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London Anti-Zionists Convicted of Terrorism Charges

Illustrative: Demonstrators protest in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in London, Oct. 28, 2023. Photo: Reuters/Susannah Ireland

A London judge convicted three British women of terrorism charges on Tuesday, the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) announced in a press release on Tuesday.

The verdict’s rendering concluded an investigation that began on Oct. 14, when three women — Heba Alhayek, 29, Pauline Ankunda, 26, and Noimutu Taiwo, 27 — brandished images of a paraglider while marching in an anti-Israel demonstration held in London just one week after Hamas’ massacre across southern Israel, which resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths, abductions of the young and elderly, and numerous sexual assaults of Israeli women.

In one of the most reported on atrocities of that day, Hamas fighters paraglided into an electronic dance festival and proceeded to slaughter hundreds of the young people, many of whom they burned alive, attending it. It is believed that the women displayed the images to celebrate Hamas’ violent killing of the innocent, and in the United Kingdom, it is illegal, per the Terrorism Act, to behave in any manner which suggest that one supports terrorists.

According to The Independent, photographs and video of the women parading the offensive symbol went viral on social media, outraging the London Jewish community and drawing scrutiny from MPS. Initially, when interrogated by MPS, two of the women, Ankunda and Alhayek, denied that they had equipped themselves with the images. In court, The Independent reported, an attorney representing them argued that they believed they were promoting “a well known nationalist symbol of peace.”

“This was a unique case examined in detail by a senior judge, and the case built by officers has led to guilty verdicts,” MPS Counter Terrorism detective chief superintendent Hayley Stewart said in a statement on Tuesday. “In the context of the pro-Palestine protests we have seen in London, we have always been clear that showing support for a terror group is a criminal offence, and anyone who does this faces arrest and prosecution.”

Despite convicting the women of violating the UK’s terrorism laws, the judge who presided over their case, Tan Ikram, emphatically stated during their sentencing that he does not believe they are supporters of Hamas. Ikram sentenced the women to a conditional discharge of 12 months, a penalty which, for now, is effectively not a punishment although it will be documented in their criminal records. However, should they be convicted of another offense in the next year, they could be sentenced for both the new charge and the old one.

“I do not find a reasonable person would interpret the image merely as a symbol of freedom,” Ikram said. “I want to be clear, there’s no evidence that any of these defendants are supporters of Hamas or were seeking to show support for them.”

Judge Ikram is at odds with Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) head of Special Crime and Terrorism Division Nick Price, who insisted in a statement issued after the sentencing that the women’s actions amounted to expression and encouragement of support for Hamas.

“All the women knowingly displayed the images of paragliders in central London, therefore arousing suspicion that they were supporting Hamas,” Price said. “The fact that these images were being displayed in the context of a protest opposing the Israeli response to the Hamas attacks demonstrates a glorification of the actions taken by the group. Displaying these images could be viewed as celebrating the use of paragliders as a tactic the breach the Gaza/Israel border, and creates a risk of encouraging others to support Hamas.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

The post London Anti-Zionists Convicted of Terrorism Charges first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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The Israeli Military Made Strategic Mistakes Before Oct. 7; Here’s How to Fix It

Israeli soldiers operating in the Gaza Strip. Photo: Reuters/IDF Handout

Until the 1980s, the occupation of territory and the transfer of warfare to enemy territory for the purpose of removing the threat of infiltration were central components in the IDF’s perception of warfare. But combat against guerrilla warfare in the security zone in Lebanon, and against terror and guerrilla warfare in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, caused a shift in this perception. The holding of conquered territory that contained an enemy population prepared to conduct guerrilla warfare was perceived as a liability rather than an advantage.

The transition of enemy behavior to a pattern of reciprocal firing, and the development of an Israeli response of counter-fire and active defense implemented in limited “cycles” in Gaza, almost completely removed the occupation of territory from Israeli military and public discourse. This diminished the IDF’s focus on maintaining the military capability meant to implement occupation: the land maneuver.

This trend can be seen in IDF strategic documents over the years. In the IDF Operations Concept document of Chief of Staff Dan Halutz (2006), for example, an emphasis was placed on developing the capability of systemic fire against armored fighting vehicles as an alternative to the strategy of occupying territory. Occupation was perceived as an unacceptable burden because of the guerrilla warfare to which occupying IDF forces would be subjected.

The prolonged influence of the IDF’s experience in Lebanon is evident here. In the IDF Strategic Concept document of 2015, written almost a decade after the Second Lebanon War, a return to land maneuver capability was stressed, but with two non-occupation-focused components: the “focused maneuver” against key political and authoritative centers and the “distributed maneuver” against enemy artillery fire and dispersed warfare infrastructures. Occupying territory to be used as a diplomatic bargaining chip was not defined as an objective.

The victory perception of Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi had three pillars: engagement in firefights, land maneuver, and defense, with an emphasis on “neutralizing capabilities” — in other words, maneuvering for the purposes of disrupting artillery firing capabilities, stopping enemy operatives, and destroying warfare infrastructure, but not for the purpose of occupying territory.

Israel’s operations in Gaza clearly illustrate the IDF’s preference for firing and defense activation. The maneuver was activated during Operation Protective Edge to neutralize the threat of the attack tunnels. Ever since the Second Lebanon War, the IDF has immediately withdrawn from every territory it conquered, forfeiting any achievement provided by the occupation of territory. In all documents and operations, occupation was meant to neutralize artillery fire or tunnels but was not viewed as an objective unto itself.

This is a narrow view, as occupying territory serves multiple purposes on all levels of warfare. On the tactical level, it can be used to capture advantageous positions from the enemy. On the operational level, it can disrupt enemy formations. On the strategic level, the enemy’s capital can be occupied for the purpose of regime change. On the diplomatic level, occupied territory can be a bargaining chip for negotiation.

There are three reasons why it is a serious mistake to devalue the achievement of occupying territory.

The first reason is at the diplomatic and strategic level: It’s the land, stupid. Losing territory is a painful loss for Israel’s enemies. Hamas in Gaza wants to “return” to Jaffa, Ashdod, Ashkelon (Majdal), and indeed the rest of the State of Israel, either through direct occupation, by exhausting Israel until it collapses, or by exerting enough political pressure to force the “right of return.” Hezbollah is fighting for the Galilee foothills, and the Rashidun force wanted to conquer the Galilee. Territory remains as important to Israel’s enemies as it ever was. Israel’s occupation and holding of enemy territory thus constitutes a serious loss for those enemies.

Holding territory is also a bargaining chip in diplomatic negotiations. This was the case with Egypt and Syria in the agreements on the separation of forces at the end of the Yom Kippur War, and later in the framework of the peace agreement with Egypt, which insisted on the complete return of Sinai.

This will always apply when Israel occupies territory. Hamas’ claim that it will return the captives as long as the IDF withdraws from Gaza’s population centers proves that occupied territory is once again a diplomatic bargaining chip.

The second reason is at the operational level: The occupation of territory gives the IDF a clear asymmetrical advantage. This is about military thinking that exploits enemy vulnerabilities and maximizes the IDF’s strengths. Only the IDF can occupy territory, clear it of the enemy, defend it against counterattack, use it to reduce the threat of infiltration, and hold it as a bargaining chip for diplomatic negotiations. None of Israel’s enemies can occupy territory and hold it for more than a few hours.

This asymmetry is especially important when it comes to firepower. Though the IDF is reluctant to admit this, a sort of symmetry has emerged between Israel and Hezbollah. Hezbollah has built a vast arsenal containing statistical rockets, short-range rockets, precision missiles, 120mm mortars, and drone-delivered explosives. The IDF has a highly sophisticated air force with precise intelligence-guided targeting capabilities on a world-class scale. The problem is that a symmetry has emerged. Both sides are capable of inflicting significant damage on the other, and victory in this operational space will be on points.

It has been argued for many years that occupying territory is not worth the price it will cost in terms of heavy casualties and exposure of IDF troops to guerrilla warfare. The “Iron Dome” war demonstrates that both these risks are limited in scope. It appears that with adjustments, territorial occupation can be restored during a future war in Lebanon. This can be done with relatively low attrition ratios (harder to achieve in Lebanon than in densely populated Gaza) and with the evacuation of the local population from the battlefield area (easier to achieve in Lebanon than in Gaza).

Territory captured in a future war must be cleared of warfare infrastructure. Residents should not be allowed to return until Israel’s desired diplomatic arrangement is achieved, even if this means the IDF stays for months or years in the enemy’s security zone. I stress that preventing the return of the population is not for the purpose of punishing them. Rather, it is for the same reason that they were evacuated before the war: to minimize the chances of their being harmed. Territory captured during ground combat will remain largely destroyed and will lack any basic electricity or water infrastructure, and it will be filled with ruins and explosive remnants. Fighting is also likely to continue to occur in the area, even if only sporadically.

The third reason is that warfare changes constantly, both globally and regionally. Unlike advanced science, which progresses forward, the phenomenon of warfare sometimes returns to old motivations and patterns. When Israel was perceived as the stronger side against Hamas, the limitations placed upon it were severe. The Western world expected Israel to defend its citizens solely with active defense systems and counter-fire, without resorting to ground action. In terms of internal legitimacy, the cost of occupying territory was believed to outweigh the benefits when each round of conflict ended with relatively minor damage.

But on October 7, 2023, both Israel’s and the world’s understanding of the conflict with Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran changed completely. In response to Hamas’ brutal, genocidal massacre and mass hostage-taking, the State of Israel declared a comprehensive war. After a long period of “wars of choice” in which Israel was the stronger side, the Jewish State has returned to an era of “no-choice wars.” In a comprehensive multi-front war, which will include fighting against Hezbollah and Iran and possibly other elements, Israel will have to utilize all means at its disposal to defend itself. This includes occupying and holding territory.

Occupying territory in Lebanon — for the fifth time

Without attempting to broadly speculate on how the next war in Lebanon will unfold, we will consider a situation in which Israel has decided to enter Lebanon on the ground. In such a scenario, a defensive zone would be established and held as a security belt to protect the northern border settlements from surface-to-surface fire and ground attack until a diplomatic arrangement is reached. The conquered territory would remain “sterile,” with neither an enemy presence nor returned local residents, in order to protect those residents from the fighting that is likely to continue in the area as the enemy attempts to reconquer the territory or attack IDF forces.

Israel has a great deal of experience in Lebanon. During Operation Hiram in October 1948, the IDF captured 14 villages in the eastern sector. Israel withdrew half a year later as part of an agreement with the Lebanese government, but in Operation Litani in 1978, the villages were recaptured. In the First Lebanon War in 1982, they were captured a third time; in the Second Lebanon War in 2006, they were captured a fourth time. If we were to capture them a fifth time, as well as other areas along the border for a fourth time, we will need to ensure as much as possible that that will be the last time they pose a threat to the border settlements.

The way to do this, given the history I have described, is to gain internal and international legitimacy by turning these rural areas into a security zone under Israeli control. They should remain under Israeli security control until an agreement is reached that ensures that if Israel withdraws, the areas will no longer pose a threat.

Brigadier General (res.) Dr. Meir Finkel is head of research at the Dado Center and its former commander. He has written a series of books about the IDF’s senior headquarters: the Chief of Staff (2018), the General Staff (2020), Air Force Headquarters (2022) and Ground Headquarters (2023). A version of this article was originally published by The BESA Center.

The post The Israeli Military Made Strategic Mistakes Before Oct. 7; Here’s How to Fix It first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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October 7 Proved Now Is Not the Time for a Palestinian State

An aerial view shows the bodies of victims of an attack following a mass infiltration by Hamas gunmen from the Gaza Strip lying on the ground in Kibbutz Kfar Aza, in southern Israel, Oct. 10, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Ilan Rosenberg

The Biden administration and several Arab allies are working on a plan for an immediate “two state solution,” according to an article in The Washington Post on Thursday.

These talks, which don’t include either Israelis or Palestinians, reportedly aim to complete a full proposal prior to Ramadan, which begins on March 10. According to the Post, “The elephant in the planning room is Israel, and whether its government will acquiesce to much of what is being discussed.”

It is true that Israel is not likely to agree to any arrangement that endangers its safety, yet there is a much larger and totally overlooked “elephant in the room”: polls show that most of the Palestinian people don’t actually want a two state solution at all, on any terms, or in any borders.

Hamas leader Khaled Mashal summed up the prevailing Palestinian attitude in a recent interview, “…especially after October 7, there’s a renewed dream of the hope of Palestine from the river to the sea, from the north to the south … we reject [a two state solution], because it means you are required to recognize the legitimacy of the Zionist entity [Israel]. This is unacceptable. [This is] the position of Hamas as well as the majority of the Palestinian people.” (emphasis added).

Though Hamas’ leadership is not typically a source of reliable information, in this case, Mashal appears to be correct: according to Arab research sources, 74.7% of Palestinians desire a Palestinian-only state that entirely supplants Israel, while 72% support the October 7 massacre, which, to be clear, included burning Israeli babies, beheading, mass rape, mass murder, and large scale kidnapping.

The Palestinian Authority government (the presumptive leader of a future Palestinian state) has publicly committed to spending at least 2.8 million dollars per month out of its national budget as a cash reward to the individuals (including the terror operatives) who carried out the October 7 massacre. Palestinian support for the total annihilation of Israel and of all its people is, therefore, not limited to Hamas, nor would such support automatically disappear in a post-Hamas world.

To ask Israelis to entrust their safety to the Palestinian Authority, a government that both supported and has committed to funding perpetrators of the October 7 massacre, would be inappropriate and dangerous. To provide such a government with significant resources, including increased funding and international legitimacy, will both plant and water the seeds of more October 7 style massacres in the future.

The West has a long history of willful blindness in the Middle East.

For example, the 1990s saw widespread Israeli and Palestinian support for the Oslo peace process, but there was a critical difference between the two sides. Whereas Israelis envisioned the peace process as bringing an end to the conflict, both Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat as well as over 72% of Palestinians did not. To the contrary, the prevailing Palestinian vision at the time was to accept the benefits and resources provided by the Oslo process, but without any intent of actually ending the conflict.

Despite this data being readily available, Western nations, with Israeli support, initiated a massive influx of funding, resources, weapons, training, and international legitimacy, in the naive hope of somehow changing Palestinian priorities. Nonetheless, much of these resources flowed to a variety of Palestinian terror organizations, thus vastly increasing the power and destructiveness of those groups, right up to the present day.

Since that time, decades of academics have sought to explain why Oslo failed, often placing blame on Israel and the West for not providing even more resources, offers, and concessions than they already had. However, history shows that a peace agreement cannot possibly work if one of the sides does not actually want peace. That was the case with respect to the Munich Agreement with Hitler in 1938, a mistake of historic proportions that empowered and emboldened the German war machine.

Some might ask, is there any way at all to ensure a better future for Israelis, Palestinians, and the world at large?

Aggressive dictatorships rarely ever transform into peaceful and prosperous democracies, but there are at least two historical examples: post-war Germany and Japan. Both cases began with complete defeat of the regimes that initiated war, followed by total and unconditional surrender. During post-war “reconstruction,” the pre-existing governments were completely dismantled. Local populations were made to understand, unequivocally, that any dreams of achieving victory through violence would have no possibility of succeeding, ever. Only as these processes began to truly take root, over the course of years, did Germany and Japan gradually rejoin the international community as functional and prosperous independent states.

Less thorough efforts, such as in Afghanistan and Iraq, have resulted in disaster. It is notable that Iran played a role in undermining stabilization efforts in those regions, just as it is presently doing in Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, and Gaza, and attempting to do throughout the Red Sea shipping lanes and within Israel.

What kind of future does the international community envision for Palestinians? A future resembling modern day Germany and Japan, or alternatively, Afghanistan and Iraq? If the world desires the former, history and common sense demand we take the same steps that achieved it: including total dismantling and reconstruction of Palestinian governing institutions, accountability for all Palestinian leaders who have supported terror, justice for Israeli and international victims of that terror, and an unequivocal demonstration to the Palestinian people that the goal of supplanting Israel and the tool of violence stand absolutely no chance of success. Of course, none of this vision will be possible without first defeating or at least massively deterring Iran and its proxies to the point that they no longer hold any influence whatsoever in the Middle East. This may sound like a tall order, but anything less will result in a danger to Israel, an ongoing threat to the world, and a disaster for the Palestinian people.

Daniel Pomerantz is an expert in international law, an adjunct professor at Reichman and Bar Ilan Universities in Israel, and the CEO of RealityCheck, an nonprofit NGO dedicated to clarifying global conversations with verifiable data. Daniel lives in Tel Aviv, Israel, and can be found on Instagram at @realitycheckresearch or at www.RealityCheckResearch.org.

The post October 7 Proved Now Is Not the Time for a Palestinian State first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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