Observations and insights in chilling documentary about 2016 terrorist attack in the heart of Tel Aviv

By David E. Kaplan

It was 6 o’clock on Day 3 of the 21st  World Summit of Counter-Terrorism at Reichman University in Herzliya, Israel. The morning session had been intense – a comparative panel discussion on the subject of ‘Terrorism Negotiations’ comparing Israeli and American modalities. Both countries have long histories of tough dealing with hostage-taking.  The price one pays can lead to painful consequences. Israel knows this only too well.

The afternoon session hardly lightened up  with ‘Perspectives from the United States” on how they are countering domestic terrorism.

With potential mass killers motivated by ideology, religion or frustration coupled with easy access to firearms, ordinary US citizens pose targets in schools, workplaces and places of worship. Once thought hallowed and safe – synagogues today remain only hallowed. They are no longer safe!

So, while  Israel and the USA may share common values; its people also share something else in common today – FEAR!

So leaving these existential issues behind as I stepped out from the auditorium – cerebrally drained – I was already fantasizing about throwing back at home a well-earned soothing scotch when my eye suddenly caught on the information board something  for the die-hards – pun intended!  It was an invitation for a viewing of  a new documentary on a deadly terrorist attack called “Closed Circuit” to be followed by a panel discussion moderated by the Founder and Executive Director of the Institute of Counter-Terrorism at Reichman University Prof. Boaz Ganor.  The panelists included Tal Inbar, the director of the film, Shalom Ben Hanan, a former senior official from the #Shabak, and Hagi Klein, a survivor and hero who attempted to stop the attackers and was injured in the process.

Close Encounters. Following the showing of the documentary “Close Circuit” on the 3rd day of the World Summit of Counter-Terrorism at Reichman University, Prof. Boaz Ganor  (left) moderates a riveting discussion with panelists (l-r) Hagi Klein, a survivor and the hero of the 2016 terrorist attack in Tel Aviv, Tal Inbar, the director of the film, and Shalom Ben Hanan, a former senior official from the Shabak (Israeli Security Agency also known as the Shin Bet). Photo: David E Kaplan.

The scotch would have to wait….

If the conference until then had been theoretical, what followed next, felt like the student in Counter-Terrorism’s  “practical” as one transited from the “Ivory Tower” of academia to a real tower –  the ground floor of a  high-rise  in Tel Aviv. This was  the 2016 setting of terrorist attack in the city’s upscale Sarona Market and the locale of the documentary that I was about to experience as much as view

Serenity at Sarona. The tranquil setting prior to the terror attack that left four dead, many physically injured and ever more whose lives were shattered.

In introducing “Closed Circuit”, Prof. Ganor  began with the analogy of how people of a certain age would know where they were, “when they first heard the news of the assignation of President John Kenney” or earlier “the Japanese attack on People Habour” or more recently “the attacks on 9/11,” so too Israelis, particularly residents of Tel Aviv when the news broke of this attack. I recalled when Breaking News came onto all the Israeli TV channels that evening of the 8 June 2016, it was believed that some terrorists were still at large. It was uncertain how many terrorists were involved. The appeal from law enforcement to stay indoors to allow the police to search the city and to not open front doors until you were certain who was there, only contributed to the panic.

The city that never sleeps” was living up to its reputation but for different reasons.

All these recollections came back to me as the movie rolled.

Directed by Tel Aviv-based award-winning independent filmmaker Tal Inbar, the documentary uses security camera footage – much of it taken on the night of the 2016 terror attack. It captures the two Palestinian gunmen dressed in suits and ties, who soon after they sat down at a table at the chocolate restaurant ‘Max Brenner’ in the Sarona Market, got up and opened fire on the patrons, killing four and injuring over twenty. I felt I was not only watching this movie but was in the movie – being part of the terrorist attack. The viewer is constantly confronted with how he or she would have reacted when the first shots were fired. There was one crazy scene when someone ran out still carrying his uneaten chocolate pancake, and when he met up with his friend, believing they were safe, asked:

 “What shall we do?,

The friend incongruously replied, “Let’s eat the pancake!”

The comment in the audience behind me was, “Israelis!”

People laughed; they could just as easily have cried.

We know of the pancake response, because interspersed with the chilling security camera (CT) footage, survivors of the attack are interviewed at the very scene of the attack. They take you back six years earlier revealing why they were at Max Brenner that night; what followed, their thoughts during the attack and how all these years later, how their lives were affected. No on in the attack from patrons to waiters were unscathed.

There is 22-year-old Lihi Ben Ari, who was fourteen at the time of the attack who went with her father to Max Brenner that evening. Her parents were divorced and while her mother had argued “with my dad to postpone our outing, he was persistent in taking me out.”  When the shooting started, he pushed me to a safer place but it cost him his life. He took a bullet in the back. As the events of that evening came back so rolled the tears.  She no longer had a father!

Death and Destruction. Israeli policemen at Max Brenner chocolate restaurant in Sarona in the aftermath of the 2016 terror attack (Reuters/Baz Ratner)

Then there was the hero, Hagi Klein, who fought back instinctively by grabbing a chair and smashing it over one of the terrorist. In this way, he slowed the attack and saved many lives. Klein makes an interesting observation to a question from Prof. Ganor in the panel discussion that, “often in such terror attacks in Israel, the terrorist shouts Allah Akbar (God is great) to explain and justify their action. Here, they just started shooting. There was no warning.”

Honouring a Hero. Following the watching of the unnerving documentary “Closed Circuit”, Prof. Boaz Ganor (left) presents Hagi Klein with a special citation from the ICT for his brave conduct and quick action during the terrorist attack in 2016 at the Sarona Market in the heart of Tel Aviv. Injured as a result of gunfire, Klein’s action saved many lives. (Photo: David E Kaplan)

There is a message here – while there are profiles and patterns, every terrorist attack is different with its own characteristics.

Then there is the cop who unknowingly saves one of the terrorists who being dressed in a suit, thought him to be a patron.  Restaurant workers – who are both Arab and Jewish – are interviewed and reveal how their lives were changed forever by their sudden encounter with death.

Breaking the Ramadan fast that fateful evening was an Arab family.

The father sadly recounts the events and the “complicated” feeling of being Arab caught up in a terrorist attack perpetrated by Arabs.  No members of his family were lost that evening but he did lose his marriage. “My wife said I changed;  I was never the same.”

What this documentary exposes is the complex anatomy of a terror attack. For one thing, don’t characterize a terror attack only by the number of fatalities – in this case  four.  The ‘survivors’  remain forever haunted. Some survive with scarred bodies, others with scarred souls.


I did have my scotch later that evening. It was hardly soothing. I reflected on the discussions at the Conference up to that day, on how effectively countering terrorism required countries around the world to come together and agree on what constituted terrorism. After all, how does one devise counter terrorism strategies if you have ambiguity on what terrorism is and who the terrorists are. There has to be a consensus definition.

The Killers.  Appearing on Facebook the day after the attack, Palestinian terrorists Khaled Makhamra on a visit to the Temple Mount (l) and Muhammad Makhamra. 

The perpetrators in the 2016 attack at Max Brenner were Khalid al-Muhamra and Muhammad Ahmad Moussa Mahmara, 21-year-old cousins from the West Bank who by their own admissions, had been inspired by Islamic State  propaganda videos. Their attack actually began in Beersheba where they intended to catch a train to Tel Aviv and start shooting passengers. Their admitted reasoning was that there would be no escape on a train thus maximizing the carnage. Deterred by the visibly strict security at the Beersheba railway station, they switched plans and took a cab arriving at HaShalom Railway Station in Tel Aviv where they asked locals:

Where are there good places to eat where there are lots of people?”

They were directed to Sarona. On arrival, they gravitated to the popular and crowded Max Brenner.

Shortly thereafter, the area was chaos with four people dead and many wounded.

Yes, this was obviously a terrorist attack but not so obvious to the world media if one goes by their initial headline reportage.

CNN on its Facebook page had in its its headline the word “terrorists” in quotations, as if the explanation for the carnage was up for academic speculation. Adding insult to injury, CNN failed to mention terrorism even once in the article reporting the ordeal.

Similarly, the British news network SKY also neglected to use the word “terror” or “terrorism” in their report of the attack at Sarona.

In keeping with not offending Arabs at the expense of Israeli sensitivities, the BBC‘s headline read:

 “Tel Aviv shooting: Three killed in attack in shopping centre attack”.

Could the perpetrators be disgruntled shoppers unhappy with the customer service?

The BBC report markedly avoided the keywords that would have factually characterised what had horribly happened in the heart of Tel Aviv.

Clearly a pattern was all too evident.

Not to be outdone, The Telegraph as well as The Guardian also labeled the terror attack as “shooting” incidences in their headlines.

While CNN later – following a public outcry – issued an apology via Twitter calling their use of quotation marks around the word terrorist in their news headline “a mistake” and admitted in a subsequent press release that “The attacks were, without question, terrorist attacks,” the damage had been done.

Chaos to Comforting. A man and woman comfort each other following the 2016 terrorist attack at Sarona in Tel Aviv. (photo credit: REUTERS)

I look forward to future World Summits on Counter-Terrorism that see media personalities from top TV news network and senior correspondents from influential papers not merely covering the Conference but participating in the discussions. They need to be part of the conversation.

Afterall, the “mistakes” admitted to in 2016 still happen too frequently to be “mistakes”.

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

Poland & Lithuania

A sad tale of two countries

By Stephen Schulman

I am extremely fortunate in being able to write these words. In fact, I am extremely fortunate in being here at all and I owe it all to my grandparents on both sides who over a hundred years ago had the foresight, took the initiative and seized the opportunity to leave Eastern Europe and immigrate to the West.

Like many Litvaks (Jews originating from Lithuania) they eventually wended their way to South Africa to seek their fortune in a new land that was free from oppression, persecution and pogroms. Growing up  as a 2nd generation South African, the Holocaust was certainly part of my education and consciousness but it never touched me personally as, to the best of my knowledge, my extended family on both sides had long moved to the West.


Coming to live in Israel radically changed my perspective of and my closeness to this unprecedented genocide in the history of mankind. Many survivors have made their home here and the Holocaust is seared into the nation’s psyche. Yad VaShem, the National Holocaust Institute located on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, with its extensive archives and comprehensive museum, is a revered institution and the moving state memorial ceremony that takes place there on the eve of the annual Holocaust Day is broadcast nationwide.

Nevertheless, fortunately in not having been affected personally, I felt a certain insulation that in the course of events changed when I met and married Yona. After the war, she had been born in a DP (Displaced Persons) camp situated in Germany where her parents Tsila nee Bastomski and Meir Perey both Holocaust survivors had met and married. In 1949, not long after the birth of the nation, her parents, with her a baby, came to live in Israel where, like many other survivors, permanently scarred but with fortitude and resolution they rebuilt their lives. Many other Holocaust survivors were less fortunate: crippled both physically and/or in spirit, they were incapable of shaking off the traumas of the past.

Post War DP Camp. Jewish displaced persons receive food aid from the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) at the Bindermichl displaced persons camp in the US zone. Linz, Austria. It was in such a camp – but in Germany – that the writer’s wife, Yona, was born to parents, Tsila and Meir, both Holocaust survivors who had met, married and immigrated to Israel.

Tsila was forthcoming about her past and her wartime experiences and so fortunately in the course of years before she was crippled by illness, I was able to record all that she recounted to me. Sitting listening to her and Meir‘s story, I was filled with humility and awe at the strength of the human spirit to endure and overcome so much suffering and with the greatest of respect for my parents in law.

Tsila and family had lived in a settlement near Vilna (Vilnius) where, the family by dint of enterprise and hard work had built up a successful business supplying the local countryside. With the invasion by Nazi Germany, expelled from their home and possessions they were herded into the local ghetto. There, her father Israel, with all of them forced to witness, was publicly executed for attempting to sneak out to try to obtain food for his family. Tsila’s eldest brother Joshua, serving in the Polish army was murdered as a Jew. Whilst remaining in the ghetto, an older brother Yitschak managed to procure false documents for the remaining family and one night they made their escape, fleeing to a small village where posing as Christian Poles, Tsila, her mother Bunia, brothers Yitschak and Yehuda and elder sister Gessia lived for the duration of the war. Tsila and Gessia worked as seamstresses, Yitschak was an altar boy and Yehuda would walk at the head of funeral processions carrying a cross. Tsila, as was the custom, not forgetting to cross herself before all the road side shrines along the way, regularly walked to church barefoot carrying her shoes in hand to be put on before entering.

In the village itself, life was far from easy as the family lived in constant terror of their true identity being discovered; all too often they had to concur with the villagers’ antisemitic opinions and hear their glee concerning the fate of the Jews. The only times they felt relatively safe were during stormy nights when nobody ventured from their homes. She clearly remembers that when one night, her mother delirious from a high fever started to babble in Yiddish, the terrified family could not call for a doctor.

Meir was more reticent and rarely spoke about his family. Hailing from Bialystok and conscripted into the Red Army in 1939, he served at the front, narrowly losing a leg in battle and after recovering, working as a medical orderly on army hospital trains. Returning home after the war, he discovered that he was the sole survivor as all his immediate kith and kin: parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, nephews and nieces had been murdered in the Holocaust.

What had caused Meir, Tsila and family to flee from the land where their families had lived for generations to a distant country to seek shelter in a displaced persons camp? After all, the war had ended and hostilities had ceased. Why had they not returned to their birthplaces? What influenced their decision – and of so many other Holocaust survivors – to irrevocably leave their homes and all behind?

Saul Friedlander and Jeffrey Veidlinger amongst others have documented the anti-Semitism rife in the Baltic States, Ukraine, Eastern Europe and the Balkans with the Christian churches in many cases either acquiescing or fanning the flames. Indeed, since the beginning of the 20th Century, intermittent pogroms had not only diminished but increased with generations of bystanders and/or perpetrators.

Consequently, Poland of 1945 as before the war was far from being a hospitable home. In the 1930’s formal anti –Semitic legislation had gradually increased and in 1936 there had been widespread pogroms with the murder of hundreds of Jews. In post war 1945, omnipresent ant-Semitism openly erupted making Poland a dangerous place for a Jew to live in. The historian Jan T. Gross ably records the fate of post WW II Jewry where many Holocaust survivors were murdered, the pogrom at Kielce being the most infamous incident.   

Meir, upon returning to Bialystok found his former neighbours, now comfortably ensconced in his family abode, most unpleasantly surprised by his appearance and informed him that if he valued his life, he should permanently put as much distance as possible between himself and his old home. Tsila, her mother and siblings, in the dead of night, packed their meager belongings onto a cart and silently fled the village. They were well aware that if their true identity were now revealed, the odds were that they would not remain alive. For them, Meir and other survivors, the only safe recourse was fleeing to the west.

Next Door Killers. On July 10, 1941, in Nazi-occupied Poland, half of the town of Jedwabne brutally murdered the other half – 1,600 men, women, and children, all but seven of the town’s Jews. In this shocking and compelling classic of Holocaust history, Jan Gross reveals how Jedwabne’s Jews were murdered not by Nazis but by people who knew them well―their non-Jewish Polish neighbors.


Family records show that my maternal grandfather Hirsh Wolf Edelson born in Sedova (Shadova), in 1909 had married Chana Etel Chaitovitz hailing from nearby Grinkishok (Grinkiskis) before immigrating to South Africa a few years later. Most fortunately, I also discovered that an industrious and indefatigable relative living in Jerusalem had compiled an extended family tree tracing my grandfather’s roots in his home town back to 1811. With my interest aroused, I delved into the proud history of Lithuanian Jewry and discovered one that is both tragic and horrific: how in 1941, Lithuanians from all walks of life, with few notable exceptions, in widespread cooperation with the German authorities and with their scant urging, ruthlessly and with the utmost zealous barbarity butchered and murdered their Jewish fellow citizens. This was executed with such efficaciousness that within a relatively short period of the Jewish community of 220,000 souls, 95 to 97 percent were no longer alive – one of the highest genocide rates in Europe. Their murderousness was equally matched by their avarice and rapaciousness in plundering the possessions and occupying the homes of former friends and neighbours whom they had known well, often for generations.

Shadow over Shadova. General view of the shetl of Shadova where the writer’s maternal grandfather Hirsh Wolf Edelson was born and in 1909 married Chana Etel Chaitovitz before immigrating to South Africa a few years later. In August 1941, the Jews of Shadova were murdered in a nearby forest.

On the 22nd June 1941, the Nazis occupied Lithuania and three days afterwards Seduva. Less than a month later on the 22nd July, the town’s Jews were incarcerated in a ghetto. On August the 25th, all 665 ghetto occupants were murdered in the Liaudiškiai forest. A few “privileged” Jews who had fought in the War of Independence of 1918 and who optimistically underwent public baptism were not included in the roundup. However, their reprieve was short lived, for a few weeks later they were driven to Panevėžys and shot dead with just one survivor who had been hidden by the priest. There exists a long list of the local shooters all of whom somehow did not recall the names of their victims but remembered in meticulous detail the loot they received for their participation.

Unveiling the Hard Truth. Famous Nazi hunter, Dr. Efraim Zuroff teamed up with the descendent of Nazi collaborators, Ruta Vanagaite on a journey to uncover Lithuania’s horrifying Holocaust secrets.

In their murderous diligence, no community however small was overlooked: My grandmother’s Grinikishok (Grinkiskis) was not exempt. At the end of August 1941, armed Lithuanians led the entire town Jews  – all 20 families! – to the nearby town Kriukai and there on September 2, 1941, murdered them together with the local Jews. All the other Lithuanian Jewish communities shared the same bitter fate. Dr. Efraim Zuroff and Ruta Vanagaita, in their book recording their painful journey visiting Lithuanian Holocaust massacre sites, noted that while Jedwabne in Poland was infamous for its inhabitants murdering their Jewish neighbours, there were over 220 such towns in Lithuania.

Following the Facts. The co-writers of ‘Our People,’ Ruta Vanagaite (left), who was threatened in Lithuania for exposing the truth of Lithuanian complicity in the Holocaust with Dr. Efraim Zuroff.

The bestiality and barbarism of the Lithuanians shocked even the hardened Nazis, one of whom had witnessed and photographed in Kaunas a townsman proudly standing holding his club with the bloody corpses of 45 Jews behind him. He was surrounded by an enthusiastic and laughing crowd of men, women and children who had cheered and applauded every time he slaughtered a victim. The Nazi bystander recorded that after the “Death Dealer” had finished, he stood on the pile of bodies and to the approbation of the onlookers proudly played the national anthem on his accordion. Lest it be thought that this was an isolated incident, instances of similar atrocities were recorded in many locations. The lists of rape, torture and murder go on and on…….

About the writer:

Stephen Schulman is a graduate of the South African Jewish socialist youth movement Habonim, who immigrated to Israel in 1969 and retired in 2012 after over 40 years of English teaching. He was for many years a senior examiner for the English matriculation and co-authored two English textbooks for the upper grades in high school. Now happily retired, he spends his time between his family, his hobbies and reading to try to catch up on his ignorance.

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

107 Years Late for Dinner: How I Uncovered My Grandmother’s Lost Identity

By Grant Gochin

(*First appeared in the “Lithuanian Jewish Community” blog)

Dinner between cousins was scheduled for Shabbat on Friday, May 14, 1915. How was I to know that the Shabbos meal never took place? Without warning, Russian forces launched a genocidal mass deportation of Baltic Jews into the depths of Russia. Families were torn apart, lives were destroyed, and communities of Jews devastated.

The first inkling I had was on my grandmother’s deathbed. Her final lucid words to me were: “I wish I knew my name. I wish I knew who my family was.” We thought we knew her name – Bertha Lee Arenson. We were wrong.

My grandmother had been adopted. She had a genetic brother and maternal cousins. I knew her youth had been traumatic; nothing more. A deathbed plea for her own identity from a beloved grandmother is nothing a grandson can turn away from. The search for my grandmother’s identity became my life’s mission. It was the only act I could still perform on her behalf. There were clues to her real identity, but in a then-pre-internet age, they were not viable.

Throughout the years-long research, MyHeritage was critically important in tracing the family connections.

Uncertain country of origin

My grandmother had not known her country of birth. At times, she had claimed she was born in Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and even Russia.

I hired 6 different researchers in five different countries.

Her date of birth had been randomly imposed upon her, yet she remembered her mother’s first name had been Sirella, her father Jankel, and their last name approximated Novosedz. Novosedz just means “new settler” in Russian – it was not a hint of any value. I had little to work with.

 Jankel and Sirella Novosedz. (personal archive)

The discovery of my grandmother’s identity was accidental, a series of random searches where the puzzle pieces fit. Sirella was the diminutive of Sire Elke.

Jankel was the abbreviation of Iankel Ber. Novosedz was Lithuanian. Bertha Lee was actually Brocha Leya. Her fictional date of birth, December 7, 1912, was actually July 10, 1911. My grandmother was Brocha Leya Novosedz, born in Birzai Lithuania, to Sire Elke Garrenbloom and Iankel Ber Novosedz. The Garrenblooms and Novosedz families were both well-established, prosperous families, living in Lithuania for hundreds of years. It was a good marriage!

Birth record for Brocha Leya Novosedz

Lankel, my great-grandfather, worked for Baron Von Fredrichshof on the Fredrichshof estate in Riga. Sirella’s family, the Garrenblooms, were a prosperous family in Raguva, Lithuania. The children were well cared for, education was primary.


Jankel, Sirella, and all of their relatives were deported into Ukraine in a mass deportation of Jews from Lithuania and Latvia on Saturday, May 15, 1915. The Russian-instigated deportations were sudden and brutal. Immediately, and sometimes even before the Jews were forcibly removed from their homes, Lithuanians plundered their possessions. Ordinary people’s lives were utterly destroyed simply because they were Jews.

From being a wealthy successful family, they were placed on cattle cars and transported into the Russian hinterlands without food or means of survival. My grandmother was 4 years old. Her younger brother Moshe was two. Criminals indeed! The Shabbat dinner obviously never happened.

In Ukraine, Sirella, her sister Sonia, and their mother Esther sold candy at the roadside trying to eke out pennies to survive. Sonia (mother of the South African national hero Esther Barsel) swept the cemetery, begging for crumbs.

Pogroms and prison

These were the times of massive pogroms in Ukraine. Jews were forbidden from trading in grain. They were not allowed to possess food, they were not allowed to trade food, they were not supposed to remain alive. Jankel was thrown into prison for the crime of trying to feed his family. He was beaten and starved. He contracted typhoid in prison from the torturous and filthy conditions in which he and other Jews were held. On the very morning of his death, prison guards threw his almost lifeless body outside of the prison so they would not have to deal with yet one more dead Jew. He died that same day.

Pogroms against Jews in Ukraine were considered a “national good.” They were planned with the approval of local authorities. Often Jews would know their intended date of murder and rape. They were helpless against the hordes and officials that sought their eradication.

Sirella died of deprivation and illness while Jankel was imprisoned. Brocha and Moshe were made orphans, fending for themselves, living with their Aunt Sonia and their grandmother Esther. They were exhausted, starved, and persecuted. How could children understand that they were made orphans just because they were born Jewish?

Sonia and Esther took the children and relocated to Kharkov where Sonia met and married a Ukrainian Jew, Joseph Levin.


Stalin and Lenin imposed their first Holodomor on Ukraine in 1922. There was no intention that disposed Jews should survive. Sonia and the children somehow made their way back to Lithuania in hopes of survival. There is no trace of Esther.

Officials in the newly independent Lithuania cared just as much for Jewish wellbeing as Stalin. The newly created Lithuanian government tried to prevent the return of Jews. Nonetheless, Sonia and her wards reached Raguva to live in the old Garrenbloom home.

Sirella’s siblings Sarah, John, and Abraham had previously emigrated to South Africa. Sonia reached out to Sarah. She told her that she could no longer care for their sister’s children, and to send rescue.


Sarah’s husband, Abraham Arenson, was dispatched to Lithuania to collect the children. This was simultaneous with the Ochberg Orphan rescues (the rescue of Jewish orphans from the Ukrainian pogroms who would otherwise have starved to death).

When the Novosedz family was deported in 1915, a Lithuanian friend entered their home in Birzai and removed Esther’s gold watch (see the photo above), and some silver serving pieces. They held these few remnants in safekeeping on the slim hope the Novosedz family would survive.

While Lithuanian officials did not want Jewish children inside Lithuania, they also did not want Jewish children to survive anywhere else. Abraham had to smuggle the children out of Lithuania. Along with the children, he packed Esther’s gold watch and chain, and the silver saved from the Novosedz home. Abraham stated that when he found the children in Lithuania, they were starving, wearing only rags, and were living on the streets.

South Africa

Abraham brought the children to the safe haven of South Africa. Abraham and Sarah transformed my grandmother, Brocha Leya Novosedz, into Bertha (Bee) Lee Arenson. Her relationship to the Garrenbloom family remained. The Garrenblooms knew nothing of Sirella’s husband’s family, Novosedz. That connection was destroyed. The Arenson family was poor. At age 14, Brocha was removed from school and sent out to work. Russians and Lithuanians had ensured her life opportunities were taken from her.

Esther Garrenbloom with her grandson Moshe (Morris) and granddaughter Brocha. Photo taken in Ukraine in about 1919. (Source: personal archive).

Traumatic memories

Brocha and her brother Moshe’s memories were so horrific that they psychologically blocked them out. Their adoptive parents tried to protect them by reinventing their identity. All memories of Lithuania and Lithuanians were so traumatizing that Sarah and Abraham forbade Lithuania from ever being mentioned in the home (PTSD was unknown at that time). It was only on my grandmother’s deathbed that she referred to her past for the first time. When she expressed her terminal losses, I was simply unable to not try to discover her identity.

There had been Novosedz survivors from the 1915 deportations, but they too were murdered by Lithuanians during the Holocaust. No Jews were intended to survive in Lithuania, they were supposed to be completely eliminated, and so the ethnic cleansing by Lithuanians was almost total. Just 0.04% of Lithuanians rescued Jews during the Holocaust, a miniscule number. The only reason any Jews survived in Lithuania was because Lithuanians hadn’t reached them yet. Had my grandmother not been smuggled out of Lithuania as an orphaned child, Lithuanians would have murdered her also.

Cemeteries ransacked

For decades I searched for clues. The Garrenblooms had been from Raguva, the cemetery in Raguva Lithuania should have offered clues. After WWII, Lithuanians dug up the cemetery in Raguva looking for gold fillings on “rich Jewish skeletons.” They stole the Jewish gravestones for use as building materials. Thus, there were no clues coming from the dead.

 Brocha Leya Novosedz became Bertha Lee Arenson who
became Bee Smollan. Born July 10, 1911, in Biržai, Lithuania.
(personal archive)

Birth record

It was an accidental search that led to the discovery of my grandmother’s birth record and began to unravel the mystery of her descent. The Novosedz family was a storied family from Birzai, Lithuania with a traceable history back to the 1700s. Even before the arrival of Nazis into Birzai, Lithuanians chopped off the heads of rabbis and displayed them in storefronts for the entertainment of the local population. Lithuanians raped Jewish girls, and murdered Jewish families, leaving only scraps for Nazis to finish off. Lithuanians ended the known survival of the Lithuanian Novosedz family.

Upon her death, my grandmother entrusted to me with her grandmother Esther’s gold chain and watch. She gave me the napkin rings and cutlery taken from her childhood family home in Birzai.

Through MyHeritage DNA testing, I found a Novodesz cousin — Cantor Daniel Singer of Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in New York. His Novosedz family came to America before Lithuanians, Russians and Nazis seriously began to murder Jews.

On July 10, 2022, Daniel Singer and I met in person. Two Novosedz cousins breaking bread on Shabbat, 107 years and 7 weeks late for dinner. We used the cutlery last used by the Novosedz family in Birzai in 1915. The table décor included the Novosedz napkin rings. The candles in the candelabra were given to Brocha as a wedding gift by Sirella’s sister, Sarah. July 10, the day of our reunion, is both Daniel’s birthday and my grandmother’s Brocha Leya Novosedz birthday. It is also Daniel’s grandfather William’s birthday.

Despite the annihilationist efforts of Lithuanians, Nazis, and Russians to eliminate all Jews, two remnants of the Novosedz family remain alive to represent our Jewish people. Today, Lithuania celebrates the murderers of our Jewish families as their national heroes. A simple dinner between myself and Daniel proves they did not have a total victory. 3.6% of us survived and have gone on to bring incredible benefit to the world.

My grandmother has her name back. Her family is now known. I have given her back some of what was so brutally taken from her. Dinner is ready. There is life and joy and family at our Shabbat table. They tried to murder all of us. Lithuanians and Nazis did not win. Let the Shabbat dinner begin.

About the writer:

Grant Arthur Gochin currently serves as the Honorary Consul for the Republic of Togo. He is the Emeritus Special Envoy for Diaspora Affairs for the African Union, which represents the fifty-five African nations, and Emeritus Vice Dean of the Los Angeles Consular Corps, the second largest Consular Corps in the world. Gochin is actively involved in Jewish affairs, focusing on historical justice. He has spent the past twenty five years documenting and restoring signs of Jewish life in Lithuania. He has served as the Chair of the Maceva Project in Lithuania, which mapped / inventoried / documented / restored over fifty abandoned and neglected Jewish cemeteries. Gochin is the author of “Malice, Murder and Manipulation”, published in 2013. His book documents his family history of oppression in Lithuania. He is presently working on a project to expose the current Holocaust revisionism within the Lithuanian government. Professionally, Gochin is a Certified Financial Planner and practices as a Wealth Advisor in California, where he lives with his family. Personal site: https://www.grantgochin.com/

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).


The day  – 80 years ago this week – my great grandfather ‘died’

By Jonathan Feldstein

The reality is that my great grandparents didn’t just die, they were murdered. They were two of six million Jews murdered by the Nazis and their willing accomplices throughout Europe. And it wasn’t just the two of them, but their children and grandchildren, and scores of cousins, nieces and nephews, and neighbors. They were lined up and shot in a communal grave on the outskirts of Kańczuga, the Polish town in which they lived and raised their families for generations. Their murder took place 80 years ago this week.

Painfull Portrait. The writer’s great grandparents, Shalom Yaakov and Dreizel Birnbach who 80 years ago this week were – together their children, grandchildren, and rest of their family murdered in Poland during the Holocaust. (Family collection).

We know what happened from the testimonies and writings of some who had escaped, or those who were deported earlier and survived. Survivors communicated with their neighbors years later. My great aunt told me she would write to the mayor of Kanczuga after the war, sending along care packages as a bribe for him to provide information, any information, about her parents, siblings, and nieces and nephews. Even if what he said was partly fabricated as the historical record seems to demonstrate, it gave her some sense of closure. 

When the war ended, some survivors came back to Kańczuga to look for other survivors, and try to start their lives over in the only place they knew as home.  Several Jews who returned were murdered by their Polish neighbors in a pogrom that took place in April 1945, after the war officially ended. I knew the three young men who buried the victims and extricated the survivors to safety from their Polish neighbors threatening to finish the job. As old men, they shared vivid details with me. Willie Kramberg, with whom I became close, was always “happy” to do so, but prefaced that he won’t sleep for three days as a result of reliving the horrors.

Jewish Life Deleted. The Dzikower Synogogue at the intersection of Sawicki and Wegierska streets in Kańczuga in 1941 (top) and a store in 2019 (bottom). (Courtesy Collection of the Switalski Family)

I have written and spoken about my family’s life, and death, in Kańczuga many times.  I heard stories from my grandmother and great aunt, about their parents, siblings, and nieces and nephews. Though I have never been there, Kanczuga is part of my family’s history, but in the distant rear-view mirror. I have a sense of nostalgia for this place which I have never visited, in which my family lived for generations, yet no urgent desire to do so. 

I am grateful that my great grandparents had the sense to begin to get their children out of Poland in the 1930s.  But now, as a grandfather, close in age to that of my great grandparents were when they were murdered, I look back and weep at how painful it must have been not to be able to save everyone much less themselves.  They knew they needed to get their families out of Poland, that time was running out even before the Nazis arrived, but didn’t know when that time would be. Until that last Shabbat, when the Jews of Kańczuga were rounded up and massacred, I suspect they did everything they could to save their family.

Futures Denied. Some six years later, most of these happy faces of Jewish youth taken in Kańczuga in June 25, 1934 would be no more. (Laufer family collection)

Shabbat is a joyous day to celebrate surrounded by family. The sense of helplessness that must have overcome them in those last hours, on their last Shabbat, is incomprehensible as I think about what happened that Saturday 80 years ago. 

The Jewish community had been rounded up and crammed into one of the synagogues.  A hot August day with many times more people packed in than the building was built for. I don’t know if they were told they were being “deported” and given any hope, or not.  I just know how they perished.

While the bullets were German, the jeers from the those lined up to celebrate, or just watch, were Polish. If they were close enough to the Poles, no doubt my relatives saw neighbors they had known all their lives. The Nazis needed wagons and the like to move the Jews from the synagogue in the center of town to the communal grave that the men had been forced to dig outside the town. The Nazis didn’t just bring in their trucks and buses to deport Jews when they invaded. In many places they were forced to walk kilometers to their death, or carted out of town as it might be too “unpleasant” to massacre hundreds or more people too much in public. Where vehicles were needed, they were borrowed or requisitioned from the local Poles, often with the Polish “driver” leading his own horse to carry away his neighbors to their death.

From a Symbol of Life to a Symbol of Death. The ‘Great Synagogue’ – also known as the ‘New Synagogue’ – that was in construction before the outbreak of World War II was a source of great pride to the Jewish community of Kańczuga, until it was transformed into a symbol of Jewish extermination. Around 200 Jews were rounded up in the synagogue before their execution in Siedleczka in August 1942. One wonders what lessons have been learned seeing the antisemitic graffiti on the wall.(Courtesy Laufer Family Collection)

I met Benny Schanzer decades ago. He was a teenager when he was being deported 80 years ago.  He shared with me that my great grandmother, Dreizel, saved his life by telling him simply, “You’re too young”.  I don’t know if my great grandmother had any hope for herself or any of her family being saved even at those last horrible moments. She knew the end was near. Benny understood, escaped, and survived to tell me the story decades later.

Before the war and the Holocaust, Kanczuga had about 1000 Jews, representing between a third to half of the population.  There were instances of Jews and the mostly Catholic Poles getting along including attending school, doing business, even serving in civic capacities together.  Antisemitism existed as it did throughout Europe, largely but not exclusively due to Catholic teaching about the Jews.  That sowed the fertile ground in which antisemitism thrived. My grandmother used to me that the ground was soaked in our blood.  She did not mean it metaphorically. Antisemitism didn’t always involve overt persecution, but it was pervasive to the degree that at least my great grandparents had the sense and ability to be able to get four of their children out of Poland. And that when the Jewish community was being deported to their death, local Polish neighbors celebrated, and then took the homes and property of the Jews who once lived next to them.

As a result of four children surviving then, I am here. Including my brothers, our wives, children, and grandchildren we are 22 people. 80 years is not that long ago, but it feels like ancient history.  It’s a significant milestone we cannot let pass without remembering our relatives who were murdered, and honoring the survivors, thanks to whom we are here. 

A Relic of Jewish Life. Following their mass murder, a reminder of a vibrant Jewish life is revealed in these sad remains of a Kańczuga Jewish newspaper.

This year dozens of descendants of the former Kanczuga Jewish community will gather virtually from at least three continents, to remember.  We represent one very small group of descendants of one very small Jewish community, in one very small Polish village.  And my family, a few dozen within that one small town, whose matriarch and patriarch did everything possible to have their children survive. On that level, the incomprehensible number of six million becomes real. 

It’s the sum of hundreds of thousands of entire families, like mine.

You’re invited to join the memorial for the Jewish community of Kanczuga, Monday, September 5 at 9:00pm Israel time, 2:00pm Eastern/11:00am Pacific (US), to remember the victims and honor the survivors who suffered so much but thanks to whom we are here.

About the writer:

Jonathan Feldstein ­­­­- President of the US based non-profit Genesis123 Foundation whose mission is to build bridges between Jews and Christians – is a freelance writer whose articles appear in The Jerusalem Post, Times of Israel, Townhall, NorthJersey.com, Algemeiner Jornal, The Jewish Press, major Christian websites and more.

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).


The long arm of Iranian injustice takes out famed writer’s eye

By David E. Kaplan

Be warned – those that stab you in the eye will have no compunction to stabbing you in the back. This is the cautionary message to those participants in the Iran nuclear deal from the murderous attack on Sir Salman Rushdie!

Marked Man. Living with a bounty on his head since 1989, Sir Salman Rushdie was stabbed onstage multiple times as he was about to give a public lecture in 14 August 2022 at the Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua , New York. [File: Charly Triballeau/AFP]

There is no time limit on an Iranian threat to inflict harm; whether on an individual or a country. This is why Israelis are observing the ongoing Rushdie affair through a microscope and not rose-tinted spectacles. They understand clearly the razor sharp message delivered on August 12, 2022,  in a place few outside the USA have ever even heard of –  Chautauqua, New York and they worry about allowing a menace state to get hold of menacing weapons. Particularly when the intended recipient of Iran’s venom is the world’s only Jewish state. For a people that failed to heed the warnings in the 20th century are not going to make the same mistake in the 21st century. Jews today take it very seriously when Iran bellows “DEATH TO ISRAEL”, exhibits the Star of David on its paraded missiles and is HELL-bent on acquiring nuclear weapons.

The Writing is on the Missiles. What could be clearer of Iran’s intentions when “Death to Israel” is plastered on its Islamic Revolution Guards Corps’ missiles?

While much of the ‘civilised’ world was horrified at the stabbing of Indian-born British-American novelist Salman Rushdie on a public stage, what was Iran response? Afterall, the attempted murderer, 24 year-old Hadi Matar, was specifically carrying out the fatwa (religious edict) delivered on the 14 February 1989 by the then world’s most prominent Shi’a Muslim leader and the Supreme Leader of Iran. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The edict  called for the death of Rushdie and his publishers. 

Words Kill. Born in the US to Lebanese parents who emigrated from Yaroun, a border village in Hezbollah-controlled southern Lebanon,  Hadi Matar arrives for an arraignment in the Chautauqua County Courthouse in Mayville, N.Y.(Gene J. Puskar / AP)

Iran blamed the victim – Rushdie! He had it coming; he deserved it.

Extensively commenting on the attack, Iranian media were calling the attempted murder “divine retribution“, while the state broadcaster daily, Jaam-e Jam, highlighted the news of Rushdie might losing an eye with this tasteless admonishment:

an eye of the Satan has been blinded“.

It was a play on words following Rushdie’s famed novel ‘The Satanic Verses’.

Matar’s Mug Shots. Facing charges of attempted murder and assault of author Salman Rushdie, Hadi Matar is reported in a New York Post interview saying that “I respect the Ayatollah. I think he’s a great person”.

So while Rushdie – widely regarded as one of Britain’s finest living writers – was knighted for his contribution to the arts in 2008 by Queen Elizabeth II by the traditional placing of a sword on his shoulder, the long arm of Iran instead inserted a knife into the esteemed writer’s eye.

Despite Iran’s fingerprints found glaring at the scene of the crime in Chautauqua, the Islamic republic not only denies any culpability but  accuses the victim and his supporters. Is this a country we are seriously believing will engage honestly regarding the nuclear deal that has existential ramifications for Israel, the region and the world?

Marking the country’s first public reaction to the Rushdie attack, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said the following In a televised news:

Regarding the attack on Salman Rushdie, we do not consider anyone other than [Rushdie] and his supporters worth of blame and even condemnation.”

Dead Set to Kill. Iranian women are seen on February 17, 1989, holding banners reading “Holly Koran” and “Kill Salman Rushdie” during a demonstration against British writer Salman Rushdie in Tehran. (Norbert Schiller/AFP)

Kanaani should have been reminded that on 14 February 2006, the Iranian state news agency reported that “the fatwa will remain in place permanently”. The following year, Rushdie reported that he was still receiving a “sort of Valentine’s card” from Iran each year on 14 February letting him know the country has not forgotten the vow to kill him.

It was a vow they kept – thankfully not successfully –   on August 12, 2022, and Rushdie is thought likely to lose sight in one eye as well as suffering nerve damage in his arm and liver.

Is Iran’s theocratic leadership ever to be believed and trusted, particularly as the country wants to make good on its promises, not only to kill Rushdie but to wipe out Israel?

Rogues Gallery. A view of banners depicting Iran’s late leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Lebanon’s Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah in the Lebanese town of Yaroun, where the parents of the attempted killer of Rushdie emigrated to the US from. (August 15, 2022. REUTERS/Issam Abdallah)

Since being elected Supreme Leader in 1989 – taking over from Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini – Ayatollah Sayyed Ali  Khamenei has made it crystal clear he wants Israel – as a country – to disappear.

On December 4, 1990, he expressed:

Regarding the Palestine issue, the problem is taking back Palestine, which means disappearance of Israel. There is no difference between occupied territories before and after [the Arab-Israeli war of] 1967. Every inch of Palestinian land is an inch of Palestinians’ home. Any entity ruling Palestine is illegitimate unless it is Islamic and by Palestinians. Our position is what our late Imam [Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini] said, “Israel must disappear.”

Doubling down on Iran’s commitment to hasten the demise of the Jewish state, Khamenei on August 19, 1991, expressed:

“. . . Our view regarding the Palestine issue is clear. We believe the solution is destroying the Israeli regime. Forty years has passed [since establishment of the state of Israel], and if another forty years passes, Israel must disappear, and will.”

Iran’s obsessional determination to expunge  Israel from the map has persisted unabated.

In the opening speech to an international conference in support of the Palestinians’ Intifada on April 22, 2001, Khamenei endeavours to mobalise the Muslim world to the mission of destroying “the Zionist regime”:.

He tells his listeners:

 “rest assured that if even a portion of the Islamic world’s resources is devoted to this path [Intifada], we will witness the decay and eventual disappearance of the Zionist regime.”

“Israel must Disappear”. Ayatollah Khamenei has made it crystal clear he wants Israel to disappear having expressed: “Any entity ruling Palestine is illegitimate unless it is Islamic and by Palestinians. Our position is what our late Imam [Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini] said, “Israel must disappear.”

A decade later in a Friday prayer sermon on February 3, 2012, the Supreme Leader addressing past and future Iranian involvement in anti-Israel activities, expressed explicitly that Israel must not be allowed to survive:

“We have intervened in the anti-Israel struggle, and the results have been the victories in the 33 days war [the 2006 war with Hezbollah in southern Lebanon] and the 22 days war [Israel’s attacks on the Gaza strip in December 2008]. From now on we will also support any nation, any group that confronts the Zionist regime; we will help them, and we are not shy about doing so. Israel will go, it must not survive, and it will not.”

When it comes to ending Israel, there is no letup in warning signs. If the Nazi imagery of the Jew was that of the rodent, for the Iranian leadership it is a “cancerous tumor” that “must be removed”. Speaking at a meeting on June 4, 2013, about the steadfastness of his predecessor Ayatollah Ruhhollah Khomeini – the man who issued the apostasy fatwa against Salman Rushdie, the present Ayatollah said:  

our magnanimous Imam is the person who never changed his mind about the Zionist regime; that ‘the Zionist regime is a cancerous tumor that must be removed’.”

For Iran’s leadership, there will never be an acceptance of the Jewish state. It is in their words, “a tumor that must be removed.”

Is it any wonder that Israelis are warry of the future when they read recent headlines in The New York Times:

Some Glimmers of Optimism About Iran Nuclear Deal.

You won’t find too many Israelis feeling positive about an Iran that is as dead set on ending the existence of Israel as it is dead set on possessing nuclear weapons.

Iran Calling the ‘Shots’? Iran wants compensation if US pulls out of nuclear deal again.

And what is the current status of the deal that at best is little more than kicking the can down the road to confront a nuclear Iran later?

Well, instead of iron clad assurances from Iran, what is apparently holding up the deal is not a worried world seeking assurances but a Tehran seeking guarantees that it will be compensated if a future US president pulls out! For Iran it is all about resuscitating its economy and that means the removal of the sanctions regime.

Hadi Matar in court accused of attempting to murder Salman Rushdie

However, in the wake of the US withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear Accord, Iran has increasingly violated the agreements it made under the deal and expanded its nuclear programme.

If Iran wants these sanctions lifted, they will need to alter their underlying conduct; they will need to change the dangerous activities that gave rise to these sanctions in the first place,” the State Department spokesperson, Ned Price, said at a recent briefing.

Does anyone really believe that Iran will “change its dangerous activities”?

Would love to get Salman Rushdie’s take on this!

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).


Accusing Russia of rewriting the Holocaust for its current propaganda is fair – but not when you’ve always whitewashed the Holocaust for your own purposes

By Dr. Efraim Zuroff

(First appeared in The Times of Israel)

Several days ago, I was shocked to learn that five heads of state from Lithuania, Romania, Estonia, Latvia, and Poland, all post-Communist Eastern European countries, had recently beseeched the leaders of the European Union to step up efforts to “preserve historical memory.” It was addressed to the European Council president, European Commission president, and the Czech prime minister, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency.

Participating in Ponary. Lithuanian collaborators guard Jews before their execution at Ponary, Lithuania, June–July, 1941.YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, New York

For the past three decades since their transition to democracy, these countries have excelled in grossly distorting their own respective histories of the Holocaust. Yet the quintet of leaders now maintains that the Kremlin “is seeking to rewrite history and use it to justify its aggression against sovereign states.” Thus, they urge the bodies of the EU to take a leadership role in “preserving historical memory and preventing the Russian regime from manipulating historical facts.” They contend that this concern “is particularly relevant in light of Russia’s intensive use of history for propaganda purposes in the context of the war in Ukraine.”

These heads of state know how to deal with this problem of rewriting history. They recommend the following four steps as the means of taking corrective measures:

  • the promotion of “European Remembrance narratives across the whole EU” through national educational programs;
  • providing adequate political and financial support to the Prague-based Platform of European Memory and conscience;
  • completing the project for a memorial to the victims of totalitarian regimes in Brussels;
  • stepping up the fight against disinformation.

Romania’s ‘Homegrown’ Holocaust. In the final days of 1941, Romanian authorities massacred 40,000 Jews in a chapter of the genocide in which 420,000 Jews were killed in ‘broad daylight’ with collaborators’ help.

These steps constitute a renewed effort to establish a false historical narrative as the “accurate/universally accepted” narrative of World War II and the Holocaust. Particularly ironic, coming from these five countries, is their statement: “Without an accurate, honest, and comprehensive assessment of the past, we will not be able to effectively prevent future crimes on our continent or investigate the current ones in Ukraine.”

Butchery in Bucharest. The Bucharest pogrom of January 23, 1941 was initiated by Romania’s Iron Guard who modeled itself on the Brown-shirts in Germany. Living up to its promise to defeat “Rabbinical aggression against the Christian world”,  the Romanian pogrom lasted for three days during which Torah scrolls in synagogues were desecrated and 127 Jews were murdered. (Public domain)

Each of these countries has produced its own false narrative of the events of the Shoah, either extremely minimizing or completely erasing the highly significant role played by their own local Nazi collaborators. It must be noted that only in Eastern Europe did collaboration with the Nazis include participation in the systematic mass murder of Jews. None of them is ready to admit the full scope and significance of their complicity and culpability.

There is, of course, no doubt that the Russians are manipulating history to justify the invasion of Ukraine. Nevertheless, a plea by these leaders to “preserve historical memory,” is the height of hypocrisy and chutzpah. Before making demands on the EU, let them begin to practice what they preach at home.

Estonian Complicity in Mass Murder . An execution site where members of Einsatzgruppe A and Estonian collaborators carried out a mass execution of Jews in September 1941. Kalevi-Liiva, Estonia, after September 1944. (DIZ Muenchen GMBH, Sueddeutscher Verlag Bilderdienst)

With the exception of one case in Poland, not a single Holocaust perpetrator has been convicted and punished in any of these countries since independence. They are reluctant to return Jewish property and compensate survivors. In short, they have totally failed to confront their crimes, and have failed in every aspect of dealing with the Shoah.

Unsettling Denialism in Poland’s ‘National Remembrance’ Law.  German Order Police assisted by the Blue Police (Polish police during WWII)  at Kraków in 1941. Wikicommons/ Bundesarchiv.

Indeed, in the Baltic countries, they have glorified anti-Communist fighters, even if they were Holocaust perpetrators. These figures include active participants in the murders of Jews, such as Lithuanians Jonas Noreika and Juozas Krikstaponis and Latvians Herberts Cukurs, Voldemar Veiss and Vilis Tunkelis, among numerous others. They continue to promote the canard of equivalence between Communist and Nazi crimes.

Killers on the Coast. Members of Latvian self-defense unit assemble a group of Jewish women for execution on a beach near Liepāja, 15 December 1941.

Brussels should therefore put pressure on these countries to begin telling and teaching the truth about the Holocaust and the role played by local collaborators in their own countries, instead of complying with the requests in the letter of the quintet.

The Jewish people have two foundational narratives about our history in the 20th century: the Zionist narrative of our return to Eretz Yisrael, the land of Israel, and the chronicle of the Holocaust. When the Palestinians deny the former, we respond strongly, but Israel has failed to respond forcefully to the Eastern European distortions regarding the Holocaust that have been on offer ever since these countries obtained independence. The letter of the quintet should be a wake-up call for Israel as well.

We were Friends, I thought” – until they turned into our murderers (To watch – click on the PIcture or the caption).

About the writer:

Dr. Efraim Zuroff is the chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the director of the Center’s Israel Office and Eastern European Affairs.

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).


By Rolene Marks

(*This article appears in theJewish Report“)

The site of the Iron Dome stood upon a hill in Modiin is both comforting – and yet fills me with dread. Israelis know that when Iron Dome batteries are rolled out across our cities, that we will face the now all too familiar barrages of rockets and mortars, fired by terror entities in the Gaza strip.

Rockets launched from Gaza Strip towards Israel is seen as rocket by Iron Dome anti-missile system is fired to intercept them near Modiin

Last Friday, the IDF launched Operation Breaking Dawn, preemptively striking, with pinpoint precision, Palestinian Islamic Jihad targets in the Gaza strip. Following the arrest of PIJ leader, Bassam al Saadi during counter-terror operations in Jenin in the West Bank, military and security officials had received intelligence that the terror group was planning on launching attacks on Israeli civilians. The IDF moved quickly – shutting down access roads to the Gaza border, locking down communities and shutting off train services between the city of Ashkelon and Sderot, the most bunkered town in the world.

A Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist stands guard during a funeral in Jenin following clashes with Israeli forces, Aug 2, 2022 (Photo: AFP/ Jaafar Ashtiyeh)

Israelis waited for the storm that would inevitably follow the tense calm.

The storm started with barrage after barrage of rockets fired at Israel’s southern communities. Over 1 500 000 of us who live within an 80 kilometre radius were advised by the IDF Home Front Command about the dangers of incoming rockets. City after city opened their public shelters and families prepared their personal shelters for any inevitability.

Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system fires to intercept rockets launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, in Ashkelon southern Israel, Sunday, Aug. 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

The sirens wailed, the booms from Iron Dome interceptions followed and the cycle continued. My peaceful Shabbat reverie was interrupted on Saturday by the wails of our siren, sending my husband and I (and our very disciplined cat) running into the shelter. A boom followed. An explosion was reported just outside the city that left a small crater in the ground. The obligatory “are you guys okay?” What’s App messages soon circulated amongst everyone.

I am not embarrassed to share that sirens scare me. The warning wail of an air raid siren makes me anxious – a feeling shared by many of us. Despite working in the media and being particularly busy during these times of tension, I still feel anxiety and tension.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad would continue to pound our Southern communities but would also fire rockets as far as Tel Aviv, Beer Sheba in the Negev desert and Jerusalem, a city holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims. They fired their weapons of destruction towards Jerusalem on Tisha B’Av, a day of fasting, reflection and mourning for our holy Temples that has been destroyed.

More than 1100 projectiles were fired at Israel from Gaza.

At 23h30 on Sunday night, an Egyptian brokered ceasefire had gone into place, ending 66 hours of fighting. The IDF claimed it has achieved all of their aims and it believed PIJ, pressured by Hamas who stayed out of the fray (for a variety of reasons but don’t be fooled into thinking they are going soft!) to accept. By the end of the weekend 1 100 rockets had been fired by PIJ, 47 Israelis injured,  95% of incoming rockets  intercepted by Iron Dome systems (thank G-d for our “Domey’s”) and over 200 misfired rockets falling in the Gaza strip, killing 16 out of 27 civilian casualties. This has been acknowledged by Gaza media as well as PIJ who have offered compensation to the families of the victims. Will they pay from their swollen Iranian-backed coffers?

Living on the frontline are Israel’s southern communities. You couldn’t meet more extraordinary people. I visit the south often, taking groups or individuals to visit our rocket proof WIZO daycare centres and to meet with the staff who work at our centre that helps the people of Sderot and surrounds cope with the profound trauma they have experienced for several decades.

WIZO rocket proof daycare centre in Sderot

The people of Israel’s south are exceptional and a true inspiration. They have a fierce spirit of Zionism and community and are determined not only to stay put and not be chased out of their homes and their towns; but they experience trauma few of us can understand. Over the last two decades, through countless attacks, children have grown up with the all to-familiar sound of “Tseva Adom” (Red Alert) being called out from speakers. Sirens do not wail because that is far too scary for many. There are teenagers who still wet the bed, small children who can recite exactly what they need to do when they hear “Tseva Adom” and parents who feel the strain of helping their children deal with their PTSD while coping with their own.

Just before the Covid pandemic, I had the privilege of leading a WIZO delegation on a visit to the south that included visiting our rocket-proof daycare centres, trauma centre, a terror tunnel with an exit point in the middle of a sunflower farm as well as a visit to Kibbutz Netiv Ha’asara, located just metres from the wall that divides Israeli sovereign territory from the beleaguered strip.

The residents have buried several of their own over the years, who have been killed as a result of rocket attacks. It is this kibbutz that in 2014 reported “strange digging noises beneath us”. WIZO evacuated the entire kibbutz, hosting residents in our projects further up north. This past weekend, my heart sank every time I saw the alerts for the incoming rockets and mortars.

The ever-growing Peace Wall Mosaic at Kibbutz Netiv Ha’asara. Photo: courtesy

The residents have fought back in the most Israeli way possible. They have started a project called “Path to Peace”. Visitors are encouraged to choose a small tile from the collection made on the kibbutz and place it on the “peace wall” that divides Palestinians and Israelis, in the hope that the message of peace will someday manifest into reality. They have hope. Hope is the greatest weapon against hate. Israelis carry that hope in our hearts. Make no mistake, we will defend ourselves with everything we have but will stubbornly pursue hope with everything we are.  

This resilience is the spirit of the south, it is the character of Israel and it is why try as hard as they might, terrorists will never defeat us. Am Yisrael Chai !

The writer places a tile on the wall of peace between Gaza and Israel in 2020 (Photo: Rolene Marks).

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).


The United Nations seems to be unable to loosen its grip on anti-Israel obsession

By Rolene Marks

The mere mention of two words is guaranteed to raise the blood pressure of Jews around the world. United Nations.

The United Nations was founded in1945 after the Second World War by 51 countries committed to maintaining international peace and security, developing friendly relations among nations and promoting social progress, better living standards and human rights.

In recent years, the once venerated institution has become a mockery of its original mandate. The United Nations, created to honour and protect the sanctity of human rights has become a political football, kicked around by various blocs seeking to promote their political agendas.

In the theatre of the absurd, some of the world’s worst protagonists and human rights offenders, chair commissions and committees on women’s rights, human rights and more. China, who has imprisoned over a million Uyghur Muslims in concentration camps and Cuba, currently sit on the UN Human Rights Council, where Afghanistan will be admitted to various bodies and an obscene amount of resolutions are passed against Israel – at the expense of real human rights violators like Iran, Venezuela or Syria.

One could say that the United Nation has become rife with institutionalized antisemitism.

Year after year, successive Israeli envoys to the UN, supported by allies such as Australia, the USA, the United Kingdom and others have voiced their concern and discontent at the disproportionate to the point of obsessive focus that the UN and its various agencies, namely the Security Council, UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), UNRWA, UNESCO and others have had with the Jewish state.

Concerns have ranged from UNESCO’s denial of Jewish connections to holy sites like the Temple Mount through to UNRWA’s perpetual incitement in textbooks in Palestinian schools through to the UNHRC’s forming of a “Commission of Inquiry” to investigate the May 2021 conflagration between Israel and terror groups in the Gaza strip. Have we seen the formation of similar commissions to investigate conflicts in other parts of the world? Don’t hold your breath!

It is this Commission of Inquiry (CoI) that has become cause for great concern over recent weeks.

Sitting on the three person panel are investigators Miloon Kothari, Cristopher Sidoti and Navi Pillay. Pillay had come up for particular scrutiny because she has a history of anti-Israel activity including signing petitions supported by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) accusing Israel of being an Apartheid state, supporting terrorist Leila Khaled infamous for hijacking an aircraft, and more recently, supporting her co-panelists obscene antisemitic comments.

Prejudiced Panel. All three panelists, Navanethem Pillay (center right), chair of the United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and Israel, Miloon Kothari (right), and Chris Sidoti  (centre left) are not only openly anti-Israel but have consistently expressed antisemitic sentiments.  (UN Photo/Jean Marc Ferré)

Christopher Sidoti has accused Jews of “flinging the accusation of antisemitism like rice at a wedding”. Hmmmm.

But it is Kothari who has come in for the most global opprobrium. Speaking on a podcast recently that was hosted by Mondoweiss (a vehemently anti-Israel platform), Kothari made inflammatory, antisemitic comments that included “the Jewish lobby” controls social media and that “a lot of money is being thrown in to try to discredit us.” He also questioned “why Israel is even a member of the United Nations”.

Unashamedly Antisemitic. UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Israel member, Miloon Kothari, sparked outrage after he was quoted alluding to a “Jewish lobby” as well as questioning whether Israel deserved its UN membership. (UN Photo/Jean Marc Ferré)

Pillay defended her co-panelist saying his comments were “taken out of context”. There was absolutely no mistaking the context.

The backlash was immediate. Israel’s Prime Minister, Yair Lapid wrote to the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, calling on the comments to be condemned and the CoI to be dissolved.

It was clear that these three panelist cannot fulfill the requirements of neutrality that is needed to conduct such investigations.

Closed Mind, Open Hostility. How does South African Navi Pillay who is on record calling Israel an “apartheid state,” has campaigned to boycott and sanction Israel, and signs statements lobbying governments to punish the Jewish state qualify to chair the U​.​N.’s Israel Inquiry?

Global condemnation followed with over 20 countries condemning the comments as antisemitic and UN officials including the President of UNHRC, High Representative of the UN Alliance of Civilizations, Miguel Moratinos, former Special Rapporteur, Ahmed Shaheed, Secretary General Guterres and the Special Envoys for Antisemitism from the USA and Canada.

Kothari (most likely as a result of international disgust and not a sudden surge of good consciousness) wrote this non-apology of an apology:

Last Friday, the IDF launched Operation Breaking Dawn, preemptively striking, with pinpoint precision, Palestinian Islamic Jihad targets in the Gaza strip. Following the arrest of PIJ leader, Bassam al Saadi during counter-terror operations in Jenin in the West Bank, military and security officials had received intelligence that the terror group was planning on launching attacks on Israeli civilians. The IDF moved quickly – shutting down access roads to the Gaza border, locking down communities and shutting off train services between the city of Ashkelon and Sderot – the most bunkered town in the world.

Israelis waited for the storm that would inevitably follow the tense calm.

The storm started with barrage after barrage of rockets fired at Israel’s southern communities. Over 1,500,000 of us who live within an 80 kilometre radius were advised by the IDF Home Front Command about the dangers of incoming rockets. City after city opened their public shelters and families prepared their personal shelters for any inevitability.

Antisemitism UNaddressed. Reporting his findings on the growth of antisemitism to the UN General Assembly, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Ahmed Shaheed cautioned that it is “toxic to democracy” and poses “a threat to all societies if left unaddressed”. (UN Photo/Manuel Elías)

Israel was under fire from a terror entity that has effectively been proscribed as such by the EU, USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Canada and others.

Most countries (with the vocal exceptions of Russia, Iran and South Africa) supported Israel’s right to defend her citizens but somehow the UN Security Council managed to convene quicker than one could say “out-of-office, on vacation”.

Guterres called for restraint on both sides.

Siding with the terrorists, UN Special Rapporteur for the Palestinians, Francesca Albanese tweeted “Palestinians’ right to resist is inherent to their right to exist as a people,” she tweeted. “An unlawful act of resistance does not make the resistance unlawful. An unlawful act of an unlawful occupation makes the occupation more unlawful (and the list on the desk of the [International Criminal Court] Prosecutor longer).”

This has largely been seen as not only whitewashing terror but actually supporting deadly rocket attacks on Israeli civilians. Albanese conveniently forgot that at least a third of Palestinian civilian casualties, namely 16 out of 27, were as a result of PIJ rockets that misfired or landed short.

UN bodies have stated over the last couple of weeks that they are dedicated to fighting antisemitism wherever it occurs and that there is NO place for it in the work of the institution. Perhaps they better start cleaning house – the sooner, the better.

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).


Reflecting on the impact of a Russian Jewish pilot’s plot to hijack a Soviet plane to freedom

By Jonathan Feldstein

I’m relaxing on the beach in Tel Aviv reading a book that I’ve been enjoying. More than enjoying, it’s an important piece of our history as a people, specifically related to the struggle to free the Jews of the Soviet Union of which I was active in my teens and early adulthood, and which is so important to remember.

Hijack for Freedom” is the memoir of Mark Dymshits. Unlike other memoirs with the writer’s intention to be published, Dymshits’ writing was only discovered after he died, and only then published.

Made his Mark. Mark Dymshits’ writings were discovered after his death and published as a memoir.

Mark Dymshits was a former Soviet Air Force pilot who, discriminated against as a Jew, sought to leave the USSR which was nearly impossible in 1970. He and others planned to hijack a plane and fly themselves out of the USSR to freedom, eventually to be able to go to Israel. It’s a compelling read.

Unlike many of the most prominent refusenicks and Soviet Jewish activists of the time who became a household names, Dymshits’ personal history  was different.  From being a loyal Soviet citizen he would in time resent the increasing discrimination until he realized that the Soviet Union was not his true homeland and could never be. This pilot ‘plotted’ a course of action that went beyond a flightpath and would change the course of how Soviet Jews looked at their own identity.  Unlike many others, Dymshits did not spend years learning or teaching Hebrew in secret, studying or practicing Judaism, nor was he particularly involved with any of the Zionist groups and leaders at that time. He only wanted to leave the USSR and immigrate to Israel.

Breacher of the Iron Curtain. Soviet pilot Mark  Dymshits whose brave plan inspired a generation of Soviet Jews to set their sights on freedom in Israel.

As a pilot, he spearheaded a plan – “Operation Wedding” – to hijack a small plane that would be filled with other Soviet Jews, and fly himself and them to the west and freedom. Perhaps, because he didn’t spend years hiding his identity as a Hebrew teacher or live the lives of other Jewish or pro-Israel activists, he was less sensitive to the dangers of h the KGB and how it had effectively infiltrated these groups. Dymshits and his co-plotters were caught, arrested, and tried and in December 24, 1970, a Leningrad municipal court sentenced former military pilot Mark Dymshits, age 43, and a dissident Eduard Kuznetsov, age 30, to death by firing squad. Seven defendants, ages 21 to 30, were sentenced to 10 to 15 years in labor camps, with two receiving shorter sentences. With two exceptions, all the defendants were Jews.

‘Mark’ed Man. KGB file on Mark Dymshits.

This case of the “Leningrad hijacking plot” caused an uproar in the west, and was a catalyst for other Soviet Jews to begin their own ‘flight’ to freedom. In a way the Dymshits case was not unlike that of the case  Alfred Dreyfus  that had such an impact on Theodor Herzl to “hijack” the complacency of Jews in “enlightened” countries and set a goal to establish a Jewish state.

From Plight to Flight. Aeroflot’s An-2, the same plane the Dymshits–Kuznetsov group tried to hijack.

Fifty years after Herzl, the dream of establishing a Jewish state was realized and 50 years after Dymshits and the others involved with “Operation Wedding”, the majority of Jews who wished to leave the USSR were able to do so.


As I wiggled my feet in the soft sand, I became aware of a family speaking Russian behind me, clearly three generations: grandparents, their children, and their grandchildren. I understand some basic Russian from teaching myself in order to get by on my own in the USSR back in the 1980s. One of the little boys had a unique way he rolled his ‘R’s which I attributed to his growing up in Israel but speaking Russian at home among his immigrant family.

At one point as they chatted behind me, I read the following passage related to Dymshits’ arrest, trial and imprisonment and how in many ways that was a catalyst in the USSR to inspire Jews to try to leave, and a catalyst in the west to advocate on their behalf.

He wrote:

The KGB had a choice to make between (charging us with violating Soviet laws of) article 83 with short prison terms, or article 64 with long prison terms and even execution. If the KGB had chosen article 83, and given us prison terms of up to three years, they would have made themselves look humane in the world’s eye. After serving our short sentences, we would have gone off to Israel without causing a fuss, but without a fuss there would have been no large scale aliyah. They would have given exit visas to a few thousand Jews, and everything would have gone quiet for a few years.”

Rising Tide against Soviet Russia. A protest rally is held against the death penalty in Russia at Kikar Malchei  – today Rabin Square – Israel in Tel Aviv.

As I’m reading these words and hearing the Russian behind me, I see Dymshits’ vision being fulfilled. Eventually, the Jews of the Soviet Union would have come home. But if the high-profile nature of the bold plan, then the trial, and subsequent protest of the verdict had not taken place, it is indeed possible that at that point there would have not yet been a large scale movement, or exodus, of Soviet Jews.

Welcome Home. In the years following, Jews emigrated en mass to Israel as seen here with then Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin shaking hands with new Russian immigrants on their flight from Russia to Israel. 27 April 1994.

Friends who are former Soviet Jews who live in Israel have articulated what a hero and how pivotal Dymshits was. His book is a personal memoir, much about his early life and leading up to the hijack plan, and then the imprisonment, trial, sentence, and serving his time in successive prisons.  Spoiler alert, he was not killed. The sentence was commuted to fifteen years in a Gulag, and he was free after nine years thanks to an American-Soviet prisoners exchange in 1979. He then emigrated to Israel where he lived until the age of 88.

As much as Dymshits and the other defendants were pivotal in changing the dynamics, I’m sure that if I had asked the Russian speaking family sitting behind me on the beach who Mark Dymshits is, they’d probably have no idea.

We have a lift off. Jewish emigration from USSR to Israel ‘takes off’.

Today, it is not uncommon to see planeloads of new immigrants landing in Israel from different parts of the world. It’s important to know and never forget that only 50 years ago the Jews of the Soviet Union were prohibited from leaving and discriminated against. It is the heroism of people like Dymshits who changed the paradigm.

Especially as this week, I celebrate my 18th anniversary of making aliyah, thank God we’re all home.

Hijack for Freedom. The Memoirs of Mark Dymshits: Soviet Pilot, Jew, Breacher of the Iron Curtain

Gefen Publishing

About the writer:

Jonathan Feldstein ­­­­- President of the US based non-profit Genesis123 Foundation whose mission is to build bridges between Jews and Christians – is a freelance writer whose articles appear in The Jerusalem Post, Times of Israel, Townhall, NorthJersey.com, Algemeiner Jornal, The Jewish Press, major Christian websites and more.

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).


Two perceptions of a campus bombing

By David E. Kaplan

Just how far apart Israel’s leadership is from Palestinian leadership is reflected in two divergent reports on the same issue appearing in the same The Jerusalem Post – 1st August 2022 edition.

On page 2, its reported that Israel’s Security Cabinet voted to deduct 600 million from tax and tariffs collected for the PA as it is legally entitled to do annually so long as the Palestinian Authority (PA) pays terrorists who attack Israelis. The PA’s policy of paying terrorists or their families has been nicknamed “pay for slay”.

On the same day on the internet edition of The Jerusalem Post an article’s title reads in bold:

PA raises salary for terrorists who killed 9 at Hebrew U

Was  it a coincidence or was it literally rubbing salt it into the wound – in this case ‘wounds” – that on the exact date of the 20th anniversary of that horrendous bombing of the Frank Sinatra Cafeteria on the Mount Scopus  campus at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on the 31 July 2002, the PA chose to announce the raising of the “salaries” of the four terrorists responsible for the bombing  by 14.29%!

Over the past 20 years, the PA has paid Wael Qassem, Wassim Abbasi, Alla Aldin Abbasi and Muhammed Odeh  – all members of an eastern Jerusalem Hamas cell – over NIS 8 million (over $2.5 million) for their role in what has become known as the “Hebrew University Massacre”. Their monthly payments are set to increase from NIS 7,000 ($2,251) per month to NIS 8,000 ($2,572). They are reported to receive an additional NIS 300 shekels (£73) each month because they were residents of Jerusalem prior to their imprisonment.

Four other terrorists convicted for taking part in the attack receive a salary from the PA as well.

Deadly Defiant. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says that the PA will never stop payments to the killers of Israelis. “If we are left with one penny, we will spend it on the families of the prisoners and martyrs.”

The increased payments of 14.29 % is well above the 4.47 % rate of inflation in Gaza and the West Bank hence it begs the question:

What message is the PA sending – that not only is killing Jewish Israelis acceptable – it is rewarded.

This is tantamount as a state sanctioned – “License to Kill”!

Nine people – four Israelis and five foreign nationals – were murdered with a further 85 injured, 14 of them seriously. Most of the injured were between the ages of 18 and 30.

Death & Destruction. Workers clean the inside of a cafeteria on July 31, 2002, hours after a bomb exploded at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, killing nine, four of them Americans, and wounding more than 70. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)

Though classes were not in session, students were taking exams at the time of the blast, and the cafeteria was crowded with diners. There were also numerous students in the building registering for classes for the coming school year.

The Frank Sinatra Cafeteria was also near the Rothberg International School, where about 80 pupils from the US and other Western countries had arrived to prepare for the fall semester.

The explosion gutted the cafeteria. It also gutted the lives of so many families both in Israel and abroad.

Cries on Campus. Bodies are taken away following an explosion at the busy cafeteria in east Jerusalem’s Hebrew University July 31, 2002. (credit: FLASH90)

One recalls on the 10th anniversary of the massacre, the words of Dr. Katherine Baker, a Penn State University microbiologist whose son, Benjamin Blutstein, was one of the victims.

I don’t think time ever heals this kind of loss. There are days I can’t get through the day without crying, there are a couple of days in a row I can do it. But it’s extremely hard.”

Blutstein and his classmate Marla Bennett were both enrolled at Hebrew University’s Rothberg International School and at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem.

These were two wonderful young people, preparing for a career as teachers of Jewish studies in North America.”

One can only imagine now on the twentieth anniversary of the massacre what the families of the murdered must be feeling when they read  that the PA are increasing their monthly “salaries” for murdering their loved ones!

This is only one drama of a conflict playing out but it is a microcosm of the chasm that separates two people. Is there ever a meeting place when one people see  it as “pay for slay” and the other side as a “”martyrs fund”?

While the names of the four murderers or “martyrs” as the PA refer to them are making the news  because of their increased “salaries”, it is important to remember and honour the names of the innocent victims:

Benjamin Blutstein – Age 25, from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Ben was a student in the two-year graduate students’ program in Jewish Education at the Rothberg International School and at the Pardes Institute. While a religious young man who by day studied Judaism, Gemara and Chumash at night worked as a disc jockey.

Marla Bennett – Age 24, from San Diego, California, Marla was a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley and a student in the two-year graduate students’ program in Jewish Education at the Rothberg International School and at the Pardes Institute.

Revital Barashi – Age 30, Revital was the youngest of 13 children of a Jerusalem family. Revital worked in the secretariat of the Faculty of Law, and she was involved in assisting the academic and administrative staff and in guiding new employees.

David Gritz – Age 24, from Paris, David had completed his undergraduate studies and his first year of graduate studies in Philosophy at the University of Paris, where he was an outstanding student. David had registered for the Rothberg International School’s summer ulpan, which he never got to begin.

David Diego Ladowski – Born in Argentina in 1973, David immigrated to Israel in 1992. David was about to finish his master’s degree in Public Policy at the Hebrew University, and was due to start his first diplomatic job in the Israeli Embassy in Lima, Peru.

Janis Ruth Coulter – Age 36, from Boston, Massachusetts, Janice had a master’s degree in Jewish Studies from the University of Denver. She was the senior program coordinator at the Rothberg International School’s New York office.

Plane Horror. U.S. Airport workers prepare to load August 1, 2002, the coffins of Benjamin Thomas Blutstein, 25, and Jansin Ruth Coulter, 36, at a terminal of Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv to be shipped to the United States for burial. Both American students were killed in a bombing at the Hebrew University. (credit: REUTERS/HAVAKUK LEVISON)

Dina Carter – Age 38, Dina was born in North Carolina, and immigrated to Israel in 1990. She worked as a librarian and archivist in the Publications and Archives Department of the  University’s Jewish National and University Library. Dina was also a talented artist who painted and sculpted.

Levina Shapira – Age 53, Levina was born in Jerusalem. She worked at the Hebrew University for 30 years and worked her way up to the senior position of Director of the Student Administration Authority.

Daphna Spruch – Born in Tel Aviv, Daphna worked as a systems coordinator in the Student Administration Authority for close to 30 years, and was one of its most senior and experienced workers. She had been studying for her master’s degree in Comparative Religion.

Had former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir been still alive in 2002 during the 2nd Intifada when the bombing took place, she may have reflected on her words:

We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us

Illuminating the Dark.  An unidentified Israeli lights candles at a memorial at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem Thursday August 1, 2002, a day after a bomb blew apart the university’s Frank Sinatra International Students Center cafeteria, killing seven people, five of them Americans (AP Photo/Enric Marti).

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).