Archive | November, 2019

The ins and outs of host and guest, Jewish style

Posted on 20 November 2019 by admin

Thanksgiving is the time for visiting friends and family — either you go to them or they come to you. As you prepare, a very good Jewish value is Hachnasat Orchim, hospitality or welcoming guests. There is a skill to welcoming guests and to being one (whether in someone’s home, a hotel or an amusement park). There is a little learning, a little thinking and then a lot of doing. Here is a little learning:
Hachnasat Orchim is about extending hospitality to guests and it is an important standard for Jewish behavior. One of the favorite stories about this mitzvah is about Abraham taking care of the three visitors who came to his tent. He said he would give a little food and then made a major meal — and so set the standard for doing even more. The ancient rabbis were also very concerned about hospitality. It was an important mitzvah to welcome anyone who traveled or who was new or alone. The rabbis came up with specific guidelines for host and guest. Here are a few:
Rules for the host
·Always be happy when you are sitting at your table and those who are hungry are enjoying your hospitality. —Derech Eretz Zuta 9
·Do not embarrass your guests by staring at them. —Mishneh Torah
·It is the obligation of the host to serve at the table. This shows his/her willingness to personally satisfy the guests. —Talmud, Kiddushin 32b
Rules for the guest
·A good guest says, “How much trouble my host goes through for me.” —Talmud, Berachot 58a
·A good guest complies with every request that the host makes of him. —Derech Eretz Rabbah 6
·Guests should not overstay their welcome. —Talmud, Pesachim 49a
·Good guests leave food on their plates to show that they have been served more than enough. —Talmud, Eruvin 53b
Thinking
·Make up rules that you can use when you visit somewhere.
·Have you ever invited a new family in your neighborhood for dinner? What plans might you put in place to make them feel welcome?
·How can you be welcoming to a new friend whether you meet them at your home or some place you are visiting?

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Judaism’s formula for happiness? Choose joy!

Posted on 20 November 2019 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I have been challenged finding joy in life given my present situation. My former financial standing has been considerably lessened by the recent downturn, putting my retirement in question. On top of that some physical issues, and some more with my kids. Does Judaism have a formula for happiness?
Bob J.


Dear Bob,
A great Chasidic master, R’ Nachman of Breslav, was famous for his statement which formed one of the key the foundations of his Chasidic court: “Mitzvah gedolah li’hiyos b’simcha tamid,” or “It is a great mitzvah to be joyous at all times.”
How can Simcha, joy, be a mitzvah? Either we feel happy or we don’t! We aren’t in control of our feelings! If a mitzvah is a commandment, how can one be commanded to do so, especially “at all times”? Let us focus on the Mishna, which states “Who is a rich man? One who has joy in his portion” (Mishna Avos 4:1). This is a very new definition of wealth. The rabbis are saying it’s not defined by what’s in your bank account, rather it’s a state of mind. If one has joy in her stock portfolio, even if it’s way down, she is, according to the Mishna, rich.
Let’s go a step further: The Mishna does not say “one who is satisfied with his portion,” rather “has joy in his portion.” If the “portion” is not so significant, what is the source of that joy?
The answer to this is twofold:
•First, it is predicated upon the core Jewish belief of Bitachon, or Trust. Bitachon teaches us that whatever our situation is, monetarily and otherwise, at any given time, is exactly what we’re supposed to have at that moment. It is the belief and trust that the Al-mighty is constantly watching out for us and giving us, or withholding from us, exactly what we’re due. This foundational Jewish belief brings one to a state of inner peace and calm. Those feelings are the underpinnings of simcha, joy. Worries and fears are the antithesis of joy; tranquility and serenity are its basis.
•Second, is the focus upon the myriad blessings which are contained within life itself. The Jewish sages of old wrote entire treatises, focusing upon the myriad blessings which occur every moment of our existence — things we take for granted due to their everyday commonness and familiarity. This is one of the reasons Jews make 100 blessings every day (Talmud Menachos 43b, Shulchan Aruch O’Ch 46:3), to literally “count our blessings” and take joy in the many amazing gifts we do have, rather than focus upon what we don’t. To be truly cognizant of all of one’s blessings in life will bring joy into whatever portion we have, because there is, indeed, so much to be joyful about!
These concepts allow us to build up within ourselves reservoirs of simcha which can take us through the more difficult times, like a canteen of water in the desert.
This brings to mind my grandmother, of blessed memory, who was never a well-to-do woman. In her final years, she would look upon a picture of her grandchildren and exclaim, “See that, there’s my million dollars!”
I’m presently reading a beautiful book, “Holy Woman” (Shaar Press), on the life of Rebbetzin Chaya Sara Kramer. Despite experiencing the hellish hardships of Auschwitz, she was always full of joy. She learned from her mother that joy is not the result of a particular life situation, rather the cause of a well-lived life. Joy is a choice, not an outcome. Rebbetzin Kramer was the only one left alive of all her siblings to be used by the sadistic Dr. Mengele for his inhuman experiments, leaving her barren. When asked by the author how she could always be happy despite not having the children she so craved to mother, she replied “What! I should be both barren and sad?!”
The German Jewish psychiatrist Victor Frankl used his experiences in Auschwitz to pioneer a new field of psychology, logotherapy. (In fact, Dr. Frankl writes that he discovered logotherapy before the war, and the camps became his laboratory to test and further develop this now-renowned theory of psychology.) In his “Man’s Search for Meaning” he outlines the subhuman conditions and barbarism of the camps, and saw in some of the inmates, including himself, that how one reacts to those conditions is a choice. All life, even that of the lowest “quality,” has meaning given that one looks for that meaning. These two Jews, Kramer and Frankl, embodied in many ways the Jewish concepts of joy. If Rebbetzin Kramer and Victor Frankl could find meaning and joy in the abyss of hell on earth, certainly we can do so even if our finances or other life situations are less than perfect!
Itzhak Perlman, the violin virtuoso, once made his slow ascent to the stage, dragging his polio-stricken legs to the chair for his concert. When he began, one string snapped. Everyone knows one can only play a violin with four strings, so the audience braced themselves for the slow reattaching of his leg braces and off the stage to have his instrument fixed and return. After a moment’s contemplation, Perlman suddenly exhibited his genius by playing his piece, somehow compensating for the lost string. When he finished, there was a shocked, prolonged silence in the room, followed by a thunderous standing ovation. Perlman raised his hand to silence the audience, saying, “Sometimes you need to play with what you have left.”

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Ring, ring: now hear this

Posted on 20 November 2019 by admin

I have tinnitus. It’s something that puts strange sounds in the way of normal hearing.
Nobody knows the cause. Long exposure to loud noises is often cited. Or an explosion. But I haven’t experienced any of those things, and still I have tinnitus.
Generally, tinnitus is known as ringing in the ears. But mine is like the ocean, consistently lapping at the edge of hearing, wiping out what’s normal. Sometimes it almost, but not quite, resembles buzzing. Sometimes it sounds like operatic music. When I can actually identify my favorite aria from “The Pearl Fishers,” I know it’s my brain behind all this.
People ask me, “How long has this been going on?” I have no answer. It seems like I’ve had it forever…
And there’s no cure. I now have new hearing aids that make sounds designed to block out the tinnitus, and they do help me hear much more clearly. But the sounds they make by themselves — like ring tones — are constant, and annoying in themselves. I have broken the bank to get aids that offer peace and quiet along with two types of ring tones — loud, and louder.
Does all this bother me? Of course! But what bothers me even more is how the name of this malady is pronounced. As a word person, I want the correct answer! I have always called it TINNitus, emphasis on the first syllable. That used to be standard in the medical field. But in recent years, tinnEYEtus — with emphasis on the middle syllable — has become the vogue. When I consult with a hearing professional these days, there’s an unspoken battle going on: Neither of us will back down and change the way we say the name of the problem we’re discussing. And I’ve been seeing a lot of those professionals recently, as the problem is growing worse, sometimes reaching the point where my watery sound blocks out everything else.
But — guess what? The word person I am renders me almost as concerned about the problem’s name as I am with the problem itself. Doctors out there — not just audiologists: Please tell me what you say these days!
Now, as winter approaches, I’m also trying to put my question into the context of the coming Jewish holidays. How do you pronounce the name of our eight-candled menorah celebration? CHUNakah, maybe? Or HUNakah? Maybe you are old and Orthodox or young and Reform, but those affiliations don’t seem to cause differences in pronunciation; I know people in each of the above groups who say the word in each of the above ways. Dropping that difficult-for-some guttural sound in favor of the easier “hun” is a choice, and so, I guess, is that between tinEYEtus and TINNitus.
Or how about our modern-day drift from Good (or Gut) Shabbos to Shabbat Shalom? I don’t argue about these; I’m almost afraid to approach discussion of them. Maybe there’s something going on similar to what I often did in college: give back-of-throat “CHA” lessons to my non-Jewish friends who were finding it a necessity to know German as a prerequisite for getting into medical school.
Maybe next year I’ll try focusing on ShavuOTE vs. ShavVUus, or SimchaS vs. SimchaT Torah. I think the linguistic battle lines were drawn somewhere between old Eastern European Yiddish and modern Israeli Hebrew. That’s an easy answer to my questions about us. But for that bothersome other question of how the non-Jewish world says our Jewish words, it’s more like that old song: You say toMAYto, and I say toMAHto, and never the twain shall meet. I remember once tuning into a Christian radio broadcast that turned Hanukkah into ChaNOOKa. And Yom KippUR became a herring: Yom Kipper. But I guess a lot of us say it that way, too, don’t we?
My own problem’s name, no matter how it’s pronounced, comes from the Latin verb tinnire: “to ring.” And now, I have that with ring tones!

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Jewish doctor, son of Nazi, shares journey to peace

Jewish doctor, son of Nazi, shares journey to peace

Posted on 20 November 2019 by admin

Photo: Karen Garfield
Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger shared his upbringing and his conversion process at an event presented by the Southwest Region of Israel Bonds and the Jewish Federation of Fort Worth and Tarrant County Nov. 13 at Beth-El Congregation in Fort Worth. From left, SWJC Executive Director Susan Myers, Fort Worth Chapter of Hadassah President Debby Rice, Israel Bonds Dallas Chair Dr. Zev Shulkin, Beth-El Congregation Rabbi Brian Zimmerman, Wollschlaeger and Jewish Federation of Fort Worth and Tarrant County Executive Director Bob Goldberg.

By James Russell
Special to the TJP

Bernd Wollschlaeger’s Nazi father deserves a lot of credit for putting him on the path to becoming a Jewish advocate for acceptance and justice.
The Florida physician told his story to a crowd of 150 people Wednesday, Nov. 13, at Beth-El Congregation in Fort Worth at an event which was co-presented by the Southwest Region of Israel Bonds and the Jewish Federation of Fort Worth and Tarrant County. His journey to self-discovery and eventually Judaism was spurred by a string of events beginning in his childhood in Bamberg, Germany, in the middle of the 20th century. His father was strict, a Catholic and an alcoholic. He barely described his mother, other than that she was doting, Protestant and fearful of her husband.
World War II had been over for a decade by the time he was born in 1958. The city in East Germany looked untouched by the war, as if nothing had ever occurred there. The past, he said, was never discussed.
“The sense of history was off. No one talked about the past, just the present,” he said.
When the past was discussed at home, his parents shared dueling narratives. His father described a story of glory, how he was awarded some of the most prestigious awards by the “Fuhrer.” His mother’s was more painful, about a difficult time in the country’s history.
He learned more about German history, and his family’s, from an unlikely source, his landlady, Nina Schenk Gräfin von Stauffenberg. She knew the Nazis well. Her entryway was a portrait of her late husband, Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, who led a failed attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler.
His father dismissed the late general and called him a coward. When teachers taught about the Holocaust, his father said his teachers were lying Communists and the S.S. was acting within its authority to exterminate 6 million Jewish people. But when his father had no remorse for the 11 Israeli athletes and a West German police officer who were killed by a Palestinian group during the 1972 Munich Olympics, Wollschlaeger was done with his father, and, eventually his Christian faith, too.
He soaked up all the information he could about the Jewish people and Israel. He discovered what that yellow star above a building in town represented. He learned about the Holocaust.
He was 18 years old when he met a group of Israelis visiting one of his Catholic teachers, who led interfaith dialogue sessions. Among them was a young woman whom he would eventually follow to Israel.
Wollschlaeger hitchhiked from Germany, across Italy, and took a ferry to get to Israel to see her. But as the son of a well-known, decorated Nazi general, he was nervous he would be turned away. He was welcomed with open arms by the young woman’s family. Her father, who showed him his Auschwitz tattoo, showed him the Holocaust museum Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.
“How can my father hate these people?” he remembers thinking.
When he returned to Germany to study medicine, he acquainted himself with members of the local synagogue.
Inside, a man showed him another memorial. “Who are these people?” he asked his guide.
“They died in the Holocaust,” he said.
That’s it, Wollschlaeger thought. He was going to become a Jew.
He worked for months as the “Shabbos goy” (a Gentile who turns lights on and off and performs other duties for those who are shomer Shabbos) for the community of survivors, studying the faith and preparing for his conversion.
His relationship with his family was strained. His father eventually cut him off after he ditched Christmas for the Sabbath. The small community of survivors became his adopted family and even paid for his medical education.
When he went before members of the German beit din in 1986, they only had one question for him.
“How does the son of a Nazi become a Jew?” he recalled. “Guilt doesn’t count.” (Not feeling guilt is sort of hard for a Catholic, he quipped.)
He made his case and passed. He moved to Israel and served in the Israel Defense Forces for a year. He then moved to Aventura, Florida, to practice medicine and raise a family.
But he still felt guilty about his past.
The guilt became public when his son, who inspired him to tell his story, told his Jewish day school classmates about his Nazi grandfather. The rabbi summoned Wollschlaeger, concerned about this news. He told his story to the rabbi in his office. Then to his son. Then, he said, he was encouraged to speak to anyone who would listen to his story.
“I stepped out of the shadow. I made sure I learned my lessons and could go on forward,” he said. He was his father’s son but not responsible for his father’s sins.
Decades later the burden was finally lifted.
In addition to Israel Bonds and the Federation and host Beth-El Congregation, community partners for the event were Chabad of Fort Worth, Chabad of Southlake, Congregation Ahavath Sholom, Congregation Beth Israel, Congregation Beth Shalom, Fort Worth Chapter of Hadassah, Isadore Garsek Lodge of B’nai B’rith, Jewish War Veterans and Southwest Jewish Congress.

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Ex-white nationalist, Orthodox Jew speak

Ex-white nationalist, Orthodox Jew speak

Posted on 20 November 2019 by admin

Photo: Alexandra Lang
Discussing the importance of understanding and human dignity are, from left, DHHRM CEO Mary Pat Higgins, Derek Black and Matthew Stevenson Nov. 12 at the new museum.
DHHRM dialogue highlights concept of understanding

By Alexandra Lang
Derek Black, a former white nationalist, and Matthew Stevenson, an Orthodox Jew, addressed members of the Dallas-Fort Worth community Nov. 12, discussing their unlikely friendship and Black’s transformation.
Black explained to the crowd at the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum that he was raised by a family with deep ties to the white nationalist movement. His godfather was former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, who once referred to Black as “the leading light of our movement.”
His father founded Stormfront, a white nationalist website. As a child, Black created the Stormfront for Kids page and publicly championed his family’s political views.
When Black enrolled at New College of Florida, he tried to keep his beliefs secret, knowing he would encounter and hope to befriend people who belonged to the very groups he had been raised to believe were inferior.
“I had this ideology that, on an individual level, I couldn’t predict anything about people, but that didn’t mean that white nationalism about large groups didn’t have the right world view,” he said. “I just tried to keep that dichotomy. I tried to tell myself that it wasn’t contradictory…it was much more contradictory than I anticipated.”
While he tried to keep his past hidden during college, Black said he had known even then that his politics would eventually become public. That fateful day arrived during his second semester while he was studying abroad in Germany. A student posted about his background on a schoolwide message board, known as the forum.
“All of the relationships I’d built just melted away because people felt betrayed that I didn’t tell them about this part of myself, [and because] their identities were threatened by [my] worldview,” Black said.
While most students shunned Black, Stevenson, the only Orthodox Jew at New College, invited him to attend his weekly Shabbat dinners.
“One of the most central concepts that was drilled into me growing up was the concept of human dignity,” he said. “That I have the ability and the right to disagree with people, to protest against what they’re doing, but I don’t have the right to treat somebody without human dignity.”
Before the first dinner, Stevenson was careful to warn the other attendees about Black’s past. While most were critical of the decision and chose not to attend, some people still decided to go to the dinner.
Stevenson hoped that by inviting Black, the latter would start to question his views.
“I was absolutely of the hope that by forming these connections, it would become increasingly difficult to advocate for real or perceived violence against Jews, people of color, etc.,” he said.
Over time, Black’s conversations with the people attending those dinners caused him to question his beliefs.
“One by one, these bits of evidence over the years, each one didn’t break my worldview. But after two years…there is no evidence left,” he said.
But in addition to the “evidence,” Black also said the relationships he formed with people of different backgrounds catalyzed his change.
He asked, “How can you be friends with somebody and say that’s an individual decision, and also say that [it doesn’t matter what happens] to their family, their friends, their neighborhood, their community?”
Texas Christian University Hillel brought a delegation of students to hear the men speak.
Sarah Davis, a senior and active student at TCU Hillel, said the men’s friendship taught her how people can have important discussions about tough issues.
“It might not look like inviting a white supremacist over to Shabbat,” she said. “It could be as simple as starting a conversation. Or being gracious and friendly without an agenda.”
Julia Murray, a junior who went to the event with TCU Hillel, said she connected with the two men’s calls for communication and empathy.
“Ultimately, our goal should be understanding,” she said. “For if we understand one another, we are one step closer to finding truth, whether it be within or outside of ourselves.”
Alexandra Lang is the president of TCU Hillel. This article first appeared on the Hillel international blog at www.hillel.org.

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Fred Klein receives French Legion of Honor award

Fred Klein receives French Legion of Honor award

Posted on 20 November 2019 by admin

Photo: Angela Klein
“I was born in the region that was liberated by this division and, with my countrymen, am forever grateful for the contribution to peace,” said the consul general of France in Houston, Alexis Andres, who provided Fred Klein with the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur — the Knight of the French Legion of Honor — medal. “Frederick and his men were nothing less than heroes.”
French Consul General thanks 94-year-old for his service

By Deb Silverthorn
Kol hakavod, brava honneur and great honor to Dallas resident PFC Frederick “Fred” Klein, who on Nov. 11, Veterans Day, received the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur — the Knight of the French Legion of Honor — medal. Decorated with the award by French Consul General Alexis Andres, Klein stood among family and community at Dallas City Hall.
“Seventy-four years ago World War II ended and I hope nothing like it will ever occur again,” said Klein, who turns 95 on Dec. 20. In addition to this honor, Klein has received the Bronze Star, European African Middle Eastern, Good Conduct and World War II Victory medals. At the ceremony, the City of Dallas gave Klein a commemorative coin marking the 75th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy. “I appreciate this award and know we helped bring freedom to the French people as well as to many others in Europe,” Klein said
For Andres, presenting the award is one of the greatest joys of his role. Klein is one of 300 Texans in the last 10 years to receive the honor. “Frederick was very young when he was sent to war and most of those young men had never traveled, never been abroad, never been to Europe,” said the consul general of France, based in Houston. “I was born in the region that was liberated by this division and, with my countrymen, am forever grateful for the contribution to peace. Frederick and his men were nothing less than heroes.”
The Légion d’Honneur award is an order of distinction, established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802, to honor extraordinary contributions to France. The award is given only to veterans still alive, and to those who meet a strict criterion of application, including fighting in either the liberation of France, Normandy, Provence/Southern France or Northern France.
A native of the Bronx, New York, Klein is the son of Jeanette and Jules Klein and younger brother of Florence and Leonard, all of blessed memory.
After graduating from high school, Klein was drafted and began basic training in June 1943, his Military Occupational Service, the Infantry Scout 761. In January 1944 he left for England, where he was trained in combat intelligence to plot maps for the powers that be to determine their course of action. With the 83rd Infantry Division, he joined the fight in Normandy, France.
In August 1944, Klein’s unit moved to the Brittany Peninsula, overtaking the Germans in many towns including the capture of the Fortress Paula on Hill 48. The division then moved to the Loire Valley, Luxembourg, Hurtgen Forest, Ardennes, Rhineland, Heart of Germany and Elbe River crossing.
After returning to the United States, and receiving an honorable discharge, Klein attended and graduated from Long Island University’s Brooklyn College of Pharmacy, following in the professional footsteps of his father. In 1954, Klein, his brother and father opened Lister Pharmacy while he also worked as a pharmacist for a vitamin company.
Klein left the family pharmacy, then developing the first national mail-order prescription program as a benefit sponsored by unions, companies and state and federal governmental agencies. He retired in 2003.
Klein and his wife, Marcia, moved to Dallas in 2006 and recently celebrated 66 years of marriage. They were first introduced by a mutual friend. The couple are the parents of Jody (Barry) Klein-Saffran and Marc (Angela) and the grandparents of Adam and Debbie Klein and Alex and Jay Saffran.
“The whole family is very proud of Dad, and this ceremony and honor are both well-deserved and incredible to be a part of,” said Marc. “It is nice to have the memories to share, and the legacy that he has lived noted. His example to our family, and to everyone, is very special.”
World travelers, the couple have been to 104 countries, to each continent, and they’ve seen the Seven Wonders of the World. “I’ve always enjoyed traveling, except of course in the case of my service — that wasn’t ‘traveling,’” said Klein. “I wanted to see as much of this world as I could before I leave it.”

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Special Needs Partnership honors influencers

Special Needs Partnership honors influencers

Posted on 20 November 2019 by admin

On Thursday, Nov. 7, the Special Needs Partnership at Jewish Family Service of Greater Dallas hosted its third SNP Honors Event, highlighting influencers and role models in the community.
Two Jewish organizations, Temple Emanu-El and Community Homes For Adults, Inc. (CHAI), were recognized for their work that has positively impacted so many families and individuals with special needs.
Lisa Brodsky, CEO of CHAI; Rabbi Amy Ross, director of Learning and Innovation at Temple Emanu-El; and Jessica Frank, learning specialist at the Early Childhood Education Center at Temple Emanu-El, all accepted awards and shared inspiring moments and information about their respective special needs programs. Director of the Special Needs Partnership and Programs Lorraine Friedman shared how vital it is to create meaningful relationships with both the families and institutions to better serve our community.
The Special Needs Partnership’s goal is for individuals with special needs to have the opportunity to reach their highest potential socially, emotionally, behaviorally and academically. For more information, visit www.jfsdallas.org/SNP or contact Lorraine Friedman at lfriedman@jfsdallas.org.

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Everything you need to know about Israeli settlements and the Trump administration’s announcement

Everything you need to know about Israeli settlements and the Trump administration’s announcement

Posted on 19 November 2019 by Sharon Wisch-Ray

Tekoa, an Israeli settlement of nearly 4,000 people in the West Bank’s Gush Etzion bloc, is shown in 2019. (Laura Ben-David)

By Laura E. Adkins, Ben Sales

(JTA) — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced this week that the United States will no longer consider Israeli Jewish settlements in the West Bank to be illegal.

Here’s an explainer about what the settlements are, how they are viewed in Israel and around the world, and what this announcement might mean.

What are the settlements? How many Israelis live there?

In the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel captured large swaths of territory from neighboring countries. Israel took the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip from Egypt, the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria.

Israel later withdrew from the Sinai and Gaza, and annexed eastern Jerusalem and the Golan. It still controls the West Bank, a territory between Israel and Jordan, but has not annexed it. This means that the West Bank is not legally considered a full part of the country under Israeli law, though many Israelis believe it to be so.

Israelis began establishing civilian settlements in these areas soon after the war, mostly in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem. Eastern Jerusalem contains the Old City, which is home to the city’s holiest sites for Jews, Christians and Muslims, including the Western Wall and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Approximately 200,000 Israelis and 370,000 Arabs now live in eastern Jerusalem.

Some 405,000 Jewish Israelis live in the West Bank, which Israel’s government refers to as Judea and Samaria, alongside 1.9 million Palestinians, who are not citizens of Israel.

There are approximately 130 West Bank settlements, ranging from small villages of 100 people near Arab towns, to the college town of Ariel with a population of 19,000, to the haredi Orthodox enclave of Modiin Illit, located just across the boundary from Israel proper, which has 70,000 inhabitants.

On the Golan Heights, where Israel borders Syria, approximately 22,000 Israelis live alongside 26,000 Druze. Israel annexed the territory and thus does not consider these residents to be settlers, though much of the international community rejects the claim. In March, President Donald Trump recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan, the first country to officially do so.

Israelis had also previously settled in the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula, but settlements there were evacuated when Israel withdrew from those territories.

What does international law say about settlements? 

Eastern Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Golan Heights are all widely considered to be illegally occupied under international law.

In 2004, the International Court of Justice issued an advisory position that Israeli settlements were established in breach of international law. Israeli settlements are also widely considered to be a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits an occupier from “transfer[ring] parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” Both Israel and the United States ratified this convention.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry contends that settlements do not violate international law because they sit “on legitimately acquired land which did not belong to a previous lawful sovereign” and are in many cases modern incarnations of historical Jewish villages.

What does Israeli law say about the settlements?

It’s complicated. Legally, Israeli settlements are treated differently than cities and towns in Israel proper. Israel’s government — in particular, a section of the Defense Ministry called the Civil Administration — must approve additional construction in the settlements before new homes can be built.

But in practice, settlements look and operate much like any other small town in Israel — down to identical street signs and public transit. For example, Ariel in the northern West Bank is connected to Tel Aviv by a major highway and boasts Ariel University.

Settlements that are not authorized by the Defense Ministry are known as “outposts” and generally are smaller and located farther from the border between the West Bank and Israel. Many have been built on private Palestinian land, and the Israeli Supreme Court has occasionally issued rulings requiring that they be demolished. A 2017 law aimed to retroactively legalize some of these settlements, though its implementation was blocked in court.

Pompeo said in his announcement that the U.S. recognition would not extend to settlements that Israel’s courts deem illegal. He also said the new position does not prejudge the status of the West Bank in any final peace agreement that Israelis and Palestinians might someday reach. Speaking of which …

What is the significance of the settlements for the peace process?

Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have been moribund for more than five years, so at this point, Pompeo’s announcement has only a theoretical impact on a future Israeli-Palestinian agreement.

But in the past, peace talks have largely been predicated on the understanding that a Palestinian state would eventually be established in the West Bank. Because there are settlements in that territory, many peace proposals have called for the large settlement blocs on the Israeli border to become part of Israel and for the rest to be evacuated.

Palestinians, in addition to viewing the settlements as a violation of international law, see them as both physical and ideological obstacles to peace. Besides taking up the territory of a would-be Palestinian state, Palestinians see settlement expansion as a signal that Israelis are not sincere about withdrawing from the territory. Palestinians have also protested violence on the part of settlers.

Israeli opinion on the settlements is split. According to a 2018 poll from the Israel Democracy Institute, 47% of Jewish Israelis support a two-state solution, which would presumably require the dismantling of at least some settlements. And a poll this year from the American Jewish Committee found that half of Jewish Israelis believe no settlements at all should be dismantled as part of a peace agreement.

Settlers consider the West Bank the geographical center of the historical Land of Israel, and many religious Jews value it as the place where many of the Bible’s events are thought to have occurred. Some Israelis also believe that control of the territory enhances Israel’s security.

Other Israelis believe Israel’s presence in the West Bank is unjust, or that controlling a large population of the Palestinians harms the country’s security, moral standing or Jewish demographic majority. Arab Israelis largely oppose the settlements and favor the establishment of a Palestinian state.

How have Israeli and Palestinian leaders reacted to Pompeo’s announcement? 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu applauded the move — as did Benny Gantz, his political rival who is in the final hours of trying to cobble together a governing coalition in the Knesset.

The announcement could help Netanyahu, who vowed this year to annex parts of the West Bank should he remain in office. Gantz has been more vague about his position on the West Bank.

Arab-Israeli leader Ayman Odeh criticized the announcement, saying, that “no foreign minister will change the fact that the settlements were built on occupied land on which a sovereign Palestinian state will be established by Israel’s side.”

Saeb Erekat, a longtime Palestinian diplomat and negotiator with Israel, said in a statement that “with this announcement, the Trump administration is demonstrating the extent to which it’s threatening the international system with its unceasing attempts to replace international law with the ‘law of the jungle.’”

And though the announcement came from the Trump administration, so did a note of caution about the policy change. The U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem issued a travel warning for Americans, saying they could be targeted by “individuals and groups opposed to the Secretary of State’s recent announcement.” U.S. government employees are prohibited from visiting the West Bank and the Old City of Jerusalem.

Marcy Oster contributed to this report. 

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Ukraine asked Alexander Vindman to be its defense minister, and other takeaways from his impeachment testimony

Ukraine asked Alexander Vindman to be its defense minister, and other takeaways from his impeachment testimony

Posted on 19 November 2019 by Sharon Wisch-Ray

UNITED STATES – NOVEMBER 19: Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, director of European affairs at the National Security Council, arrives to testify during the House Intelligence Committee hearing on the impeachment inquiry of President Trump in Longworth Building on Tuesday, November 19, 2019. Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, also testified. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

By Ben Sales

This is a developing story. 
(JTA) — Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the Jewish National Security Council staffer whose firsthand account of the July phone call between President Donald Trump and the president of Ukraine is at the center of the impeachment inquiry, is testifying in the impeachment hearings on Tuesday. Here are the biggest takeaways from his testimony to the House Intelligence Committee.
Vindman was thrice offered the position of Ukrainian defense minister. He rejected the offers.
This minor bombshell has not yet been reported. Steve Castor, a Republican staff attorney, asked whether Oleksandr Danylyuk, then Ukraine’s national security adviser, offered Vindman the post.
“Every single time, I dismissed it,” said Vindman, a Ukraine native. “Upon returning, I notified my chain of command and the appropriate counterintelligence folks about the offer.”
Vindman later said the offer would be “a great honor” but declined because he is an American.
“I’m an American, I came here when I was a toddler, and I immediately dismissed these offers, did not entertain them,” he said. “The whole notion is rather comical that I was being asked to consider whether I would want to be the minister of defense. I did not leave the door open at all. But it is pretty funny for a lieutenant colonel in the United States Army, which really is not that senior, to be offered that illustrious a position.”
He mentioned his Jewish family’s immigration story in his opening statement.
The statement concluded with Vindman retelling his family’s immigrant story and an expression of appreciation for U.S. democracy in contrast to Russia’s authoritarian government. Vindman’s family was among a group of Soviet Jewish refugees that was allowed to immigrate to the United States in 1979. He and his brothers have served in the U.S. military.
“In Russia, my act of expressing my concerns to the chain of command in an official and private channel would have severe personal and professional repercussions, and offering public testimony involving the president would surely cost me my life,” he said in the statement. “I am grateful for my father’s brave act of hope 40 years ago and for the privilege of being an American citizen and public servant, where I can live free of fear for mine and my family’s safety.”
Vindman also addressed his father personally in the statement, telling him not to fear retribution because of the testimony.
“Dad, my sitting here today, in the U.S. Capitol talking to our elected officials, is proof that you made the right decision 40 years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here to the United States of America in search of a better life for our family,” he said. “Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth.”
He pushed back against attacks on his loyalty to the United States. 
Some Trump supporters have claimed that Vindman, a career U.S. Army officer who was injured in battle in 2014 and awarded a Purple Heart, is more loyal to interests in his native Ukraine than to the United States.
During his testimony, Vindman defended himself against those attacks.
“I’m in uniform wearing my military rank,” he said. “The attacks that I’ve had in the press, on Twitter, have kind of eliminated the fact — marginalized me as a military officer.”
He said he’s definitely not a “Never Trumper.”
Asked directly in the hearings by Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., if he were a “Never Trumper” — something that Trump called Jennifer Williams, the other person testifying Tuesday, in a tweet on Sunday — Vindman had a pithy response that’s sure to make the rounds on social media: “I’d call myself never partisan.”

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The decorated officer set to testify in the impeachment probe is a Jewish refugee from Ukraine

The decorated officer set to testify in the impeachment probe is a Jewish refugee from Ukraine

Posted on 19 November 2019 by Sharon Wisch-Ray

Lt. Co. Alexander Vindman testifies in the impeachment probe Tuesday, Nov. 19 (Photo: Screenshot).

By Ron Kampeas

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council staffer set to deliver dramatic testimony confirming that President Donald Trump sought dirt from Ukraine on a political rival, is a Jewish refugee from that country when it was part of the Soviet Union.

“I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government’s support of Ukraine,” Vindman, an Army officer and the top NSC official handling Ukraine, says in testimony posted Monday evening by The New York Times, which he is set to deliver to congressional investigators on Tuesday.

Trump has denied that he sought a quid pro quo in a July phone call with Volodymyr Zelensky in which he asked the Ukrainian president to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination. Trump simultaneously was withholding nearly $400 million in congressionally approved defense assistance to Ukraine. Trump released the assistance last month and has insisted that it was not held back as a means of pressuring Ukraine to find damaging information about the Bidens.

Vindman, who listened in on the conversation in his official capacity, would be the first whistleblower to have firsthand knowledge of the call.

“I realized that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma, it would likely be interpreted as a partisan play which would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing the bipartisan support it has thus far maintained,” he said in his prepared testimony.

Burisma is a mining concern that for a period employed Biden’s son Hunter. Allegations by Trump and others that Biden and his son were engaged in corrupt behavior have not been substantiated.

Vindman earned a Purple Heart for bravery when he was wounded in Iraq by an IED. He graduated from Harvard with a degree in Russian, Eastern European and Central Asian studies.

An online album by Carol Kitman, a photographer, documents the life of Vindman and his twin brother, Eugene, who also served in the military, since she spotted them in 1980, then 4 years old, strolling in Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach with their grandmother. They had arrived from the Soviet Union in 1979, according to Kitman.

His mother had died in Ukraine, and his father brought the twins and an older brother to the United States for a better life along with their maternal grandmother, who would care for them. A 1985 photo of the twins and their grandmother sitting on the boardwalk in Brighton Beach, known as “Little Odessa” because of the influx of Jews from Ukraine, featured in a Ken Burns documentary on the Statue of Liberty.

“Upon arriving in New York City in 1979, my father worked multiple jobs to support us, all the while learning English at night,” Vindman says in his written testimony. “He stressed to us the importance of fully integrating into our adopted country. For many years, life was quite difficult. In spite of our challenging beginnings, my family worked to build its own American dream.”

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