(JTA) — I spent July 4, 2017, at Trump Tower protesting the ban on travel from Muslim countries, enacted earlier that year. For me, standing side by side with Muslim, Christian and other faith leaders to fight discrimination was the best possible way to celebrate America’s independence.
This month, Israel marks the monumental occasion of its 75th anniversary. There is much to celebrate: The establishment of the State of Israel is, without doubt, one of the greatest accomplishments of the Jewish people in the last century. The country has provided safety for millions of Jews fleeing oppression, helped revive Hebrew language and culture, and allowed Jews access to our most sacred historical sites.
And there is much to mourn and protest, beginning with the 56-year-old occupation that violates the human rights of Palestinians every single day; the ongoing discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel, Mizrahi and Ethiopian Jews, asylum seekers and foreign workers; and, this year, the all-out attack on democracy perpetuated by the current government.
For the last four months, hundreds of thousands of Israelis have been in the street every week protesting the efforts by the current government to eliminate the power of the High Court to serve as a check on legislation that violates Israel’s Basic Laws, the closest thing the country has to a constitution. And yet the response by too much of the American Jewish community has been more or less business as usual. While many legacy organizations have issued tepid statements criticizing attempts to destroy the judiciary, these groups have not rallied American Jews to actively oppose this coup or taken actions that would put direct pressure on the Israeli government.
Following President Donald Trump’s inauguration, millions of Americans took to the street — many for the first time — to protest his administration’s attacks on democratic institutions and on immigrants and minorities. We did so not out of hatred for the United States, but rather out of love, and out of a commitment to build a multiracial, multifaith, multiethnic democracy for the future.
Those of us who care about the future of Israel, and who dream of a state rooted in democracy and human rights, must mark this 75th anniversary by fighting for that vision.
This anniversary comes at an inflection point for the country’s democracy. What happens this year will determine whether Israel has a chance at living up to the values enshrined in its declaration of independence, or whether it becomes a fascist theocracy that codifies discrimination against women, LGBTQ people, Palestinian citizens and other minorities and that permanently occupies another people.
On Sunday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Knesset Member Simcha Rothman, the architect of the judiciary coup, will address the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly meeting in Israel – despite calls from Israeli Jews for JFNA to cancel their appearance. Many Jewish communities have announced Yom Haatzmaut plans that pretend that nothing is amiss — falafel, Israeli music and dancing, and celebratory visits to Israel. And in June, the Celebrate Israel parade — which bans any political signs — will proceed down New York City’s Fifth Avenue as though nothing is amiss.
I also love a good falafel, but this moment calls for much more.
Since the new Israeli government took power, I have stood on the street in New York and Washington, D.C., with hundreds of Israeli Americans and American Jews who came out to protest Finance Minister Betzalel Smotrich speaking at an Israel Bonds dinner, the (temporary, as it turns out) firing of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and the ongoing attacks on the High Court. As someone who has been working for human rights in Israel for decades, I am thrilled to see more and more American and Israeli Jews join these protests.
But we have not yet seen a call to the streets from most of our legacy organizations or synagogues. Nor has JFNA altered its regular General Assembly programming to instead take 3,000 American Jews into the streets of Tel Aviv — or even host protest organizers or civil society leaders, rather than the leaders of the coup.
Why are American Jews so terrified to protest Israeli actions, even when the country is being taken over by people whose values are anathema to most of ours?
Yeshayahu Leibowitz, an influential and prophetic 20th-century Jewish thinker, warned of the danger that the nascent state of Israel would become an object of worship. “The state fulfills an essential need of the individual and the national community,” he wrote, “but it does not thereby acquire intrinsic value — except for a fascist who regards sovereignty, governmental authority, and power as supreme values.” In a 1991 lecture, he went so far as to call any religious Jews who supported occupation and settlement “descendants of the worshippers of the Golden Calf, who proclaimed ‘this is your God, Israel.’ A calf doesn’t necessarily need to be golden; it can also be a people, a land, or a state.”
In Israel, the religious settler movement that Leibowitz disparaged three decades ago now runs the state, and — as he warned — its agenda puts the occupation of land first, and the treatment of people second.
Many Jews in the United States find it hard to see that reality because the State of Israel has become an object of worship, rather than a real country where real people live, and where fascist-leaning politicians are working to fundamentally change its government and culture into something unrecognizable and dangerous. American Jewish conversations about Israel too often become conversations about Jewish identity, a slippery slope that makes it easy for criticisms of the State of Israel — a political entity subject to international human rights standards — to be misinterpreted as attacks on Jews more generally. It is easier to celebrate a fantasy with no hard edges than deal with the reality of a beloved, but flawed state.
According to the Torah, Abraham was 75 when he left his parents’ house and set out on his own. At 75, Israel is a strong, modern country, more than able to stand on its own on the international stage and healthy enough for vibrant debate about its future. Real celebration of Israel demands fighting for it to live up to the highest ideals of democracy, dignity and human rights for all.
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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