The lights dim. The camera rolls. A roaring male lion fills the screen. All is quiet except for the sound of crunching popcorn, the shlurping of soda and the soundtrack of the movie starting on the screen.
90 mins of sci fi hell as we are glued, fixated and sitting on the edge of our seats. The credits roll, shoulders relax, and we hear a common sigh of relief. It is over. It was just a movie. It was not real.
Except it is.
It is real and we are living it, breathing it, experiencing it …….. every day and in every corner of our earth.
Covid-19. The corona virus that has spread its way across the entire globe and has changed our lives and our realities. It has brought with it fear, panic, distress, suicide, cruelty, dishonesty. It has reduced the world to latex gloves, a ridiculous amount of alcohol gel and all sorts of masks of varying types and qualities. It has crippled business and left many unemployed and unable to provide for their families. It has separated neighbourhoods, communities, families and people. It has left a trail of many dead.
What the hell is going on?
How on earth did this happen?
What does this mean now? What will this mean in the future? Will we ever understand it? What can we learn from it? How can we stop it? What can be done to prevent it? How do we flatten the curve? How do we kill the graph completely? How do we eradicate this virus from our world?
I am an observant Jew. I believe in G-d and I believe everything happens for a reason. But there are some things that I don’t think I will ever understand. And Covid-19 is one of them. Is G-d trying to tell us something? Is G-d punishing us? Is G-d trying to help us put an end to pollution and save our environment? Is this G-d’s way of culling, of controlling population? Is G-d giving us a lesson to learn? What is G-d thinking?
I am desperate to find some meaning, some understanding, some clarity in this terrifying chaos. And I keep replaying the idea that these emotions and questions are not just pertinent to now. History is overflowing with records of atrocities, of cruelties, of war, of disease, of death.
There are some incredible people out there doing amazing work. Giving of themselves, sacrificing time with their families, sleep, rest and so much more to do whatever they can to help. The medical teams are putting themselves at risk in order to help save those already infected. People are reaching out to others to support where they can, to donate what they can and help where they can. There is many a shining light amongst us, who make the choice to turn on their torch in full.
And yet, this feeling of loneliness is overwhelming. Overwhelming for me who has a husband and children with me at home, overwhelming for me who is surrounded by an incredible network of really amazing family and friends who are constantly in touch, supporting me and being supported by me. And still, I feel so alone. Days on end of not leaving the house, of very little human touch, of keeping distance. Zoom is still just a picture on a screen, WhatsApp video is just another variation on a different device. And as much as I am so grateful for this technology which makes a huge difference to our communication and our being in lockdown, it still does not replace human contact, human touch and face to face conversation.
I don’t know what the lesson to learn is, what the takeaway should be. And maybe I never will. But one thing Covid-19 has highlighted in bold with flashing lights is that we are us. There is no distinction. There is no discrimination. There is no privilege. There is no advantaged and no disadvantaged. Covid-19 does not care if you are black, white, yellow, green or purple. Covid-19 does not care if you pray to G-d, Hashem, Allah, Buddha, a totem pole, the Sun God or to nothing at all. Covid-19 does not care if you are straight, gay, bi-sexual or transsexual. Covid-19 does not give a damn if you have millions in the bank, are just getting by, struggling to put food on the table or living on handouts. Fame and Fortune mean nothing at the end of the day.
Covid-19 has humbled me.
Covid-19 has reinforced my belief that the only thing that counts is the way you behave, the way you conduct yourself, the way you treat others and the way you relate to others. Ego, arrogance, importance, high and mightiness is a waste of time, of emotion, of your time on this earth. We need to focus on what counts. On what brings value. On what creates meaning. And on what really makes a difference in this lifetime of ours.
is how we shine and make a mark on this world מצוות שבין אדם לחברו
A few weekends ago, I participated in Inspired TLV’s journey to Poland. Visiting the sites of some of our darkest moments in Jewish history has been something I have wanted to do for a long time, but never quite found the right moment to do it. Most likely because making that decision is hard enough. How do you convince yourself to spend a weekend in a place that you know will be so emotionally trying? And if planning a weekend abroad, why not book a ticket to somewhere exciting like Florence or Paris and go indulge in all that these beautiful cities have to offer?
I am going to start off by saying, that this trip was a lot harder than I could have possibly imagined, and I came back feeling utterly devastated, heartbroken – and to some extent, traumatised.
The book of Hasidim talks about how physical places absorb the energy of events that occur in them. If something positive happened, a place will always feel joyous, but if something terrible happened, it will be doomed with energies that reek of pain, suffering or sadness. On moments during the trip, when I could not stand to look anymore, I would close my eyes hoping that my mind would show me something more positive and give me the boost of strength I so badly needed to process what I was seeing. However, closing my eyes didn’t make things go away; it’s not like watching a scary movie and covering your eyes just as something terrible is about to happen and when you open them it’s over. With my eyes closed, my senses were heightened and from deep within, I felt just how dark, cold and evil the ground was beneath my feet. There was no silence, only the distant, soul-wrenching sounds of screaming, weeping, and unanswered prayers.
“Feeling” was even more terrifying than “seeing”.
Day 1 – Majdanek
Majdanek is positioned in the city of Lublin; residents drive by daily on their way to work and this former concentration camp is in plain sight for all to see. It is the most well-preserved of the camps and remains today pretty much as it did in 1944 when it was liberated by the Soviet Army. While Majdanek is less spoken about than Auschwitz, it was in no way less horrific. It is estimated that 360,000 people were murdered there, 125,000 of them Jewish and the remainder Poles or Soviet prisoners of war.
The barracks housing rows of triple layer bunk beds, the showers that either released ice cold or scorching hot water to ensure there was absolutely no pleasure in taking a shower, and the room filled with thousands of pairs of shoes – mans’ most personal item, are just a few of the spine chilling things one will find at Majdanek. When walking into the gas chamber, my breath immediately caught in my throat. The gas chambers were not rooms that by default were filled with gas. They were meticulously thought-out and designed with the sole intent to kill as many as possible as fast as possible, right down to the smallest detail. One of the first things you will notice is that the door opens outwards instead of inwards, as human instinct had frantic victims trying to break the door open when they realised what was about to happen and resulted in piles of corpses next to the door making it extremely difficult to open from the outside. The low ceilings of the gas chambers are not found anywhere else in the camp. The gas chamber inter-leads with the crematorium, complete with an en-suite bathroom where Nazi officers often bathed next to burning corpses as this was considered by far the warmest place during the winter.
As we exited the crematorium, we were confronted by a large concrete monument which houses a monstrous pile of ash. Here lie the remains of our dear brothers and sisters, their bodies reduced to mere ashes. Stripped of their dignity, clothes, hair and teeth; robbed of their possessions, forced into slave labour, forced to watch their relatives die and children torn away from them, and at the very end not even afforded a decent burial. They lie there on display for all to see – and all we could do was say Kaddish (the prayer for the dead).
Day 2 – Belzec
There is very little that remains of this Extermination Camp – in fact there wasn’t a whole lot to begin with. Jews were transported by freight trains and traveled for hours or even days under intolerable conditions. Many died en-route. Upon arrival, they were told that they had arrived in a transit camp in order to be disinfected and showered. Men and women were separated; all were told to remove their clothing and were forced to hand over their valuables. Thereafter they were sent straight to the gas chambers. The whole process took between 60 and 90 minutes. 600,000 Jews were murdered at Belzec, and there are only two known survivors who managed to escape into the surrounding woods. Had they not escaped and given their testimonies, we would never have known about the atrocities committed. One of the most powerful moments of this entire journey was walking down the snow-filled pathway to the memorial wall at Belzec singing somberly and unanimously:
– גם כי אלך בגיא צלמות לא אירא רע כי אתה עמדי –
“Though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no harm, for You are at my side”
We grappled a lot with the concept of faith in G-d during the Holocaust, finding it harder by the moment to believe how Holocaust victims who lived through the worst degradations and pain retained theirs. A German prison guard was asked how he knew when everyone in the gas chamber was dead, to which he responded, “It was when I stopped hearing the words Shema Yisrael“.
Motzei Shabbat – Buczyna Forest
After an uplifting and inspiring Shabbat (Sabbath) filled with song, stories and a walking tour of the Jewish quarter of Krakow, we were instructed to dress warmly and get on to the bus for a night activity. 1.5 hours later we arrived at what appeared to be a very affluent Polish neighbourhood and started walking through its streets until we eventually arrived at a forest. It was pitch dark, bitterly cold and wolves could be heard howling in the distance. We walked down a dirt path and then finally turned left into a field and arrived at a sectioned off area decorated by balloons, candles and an Israeli flag.
We were then told that we were standing next to a mass grave where 800 children from the nearby town of Tarnow were brutally murdered in the middle of the night at the hands of Germans soldiers – hearts hardened against the children’s humanity by years of incessantly messaged hate. We stood there teary eyed and shaking from the cold, picturing young children, perhaps siblings, holding hands. Helpless. Scared. Crying for their mothers. In that forest. In that very spot. We could do nothing but pray for their souls. This was undeniably the most disturbing aspect of my entire experience, but powerful beyond imagination and speaking volumes about the importance of Jewish continuity.
Day 3 – Auschwitz-Birkenau
We were told of a story about a how a survivor of the Holocaust who was transported from Majdanek to Auschwitz, got off the train and kissed the ground upon arrival at the camp. At a first glance, I could understand why. The former military compound, in stark contrast to Majdanek, is organised into clear sections with sturdy structures, a post office, kitchen and medical barracks. Undoubtedly the largest and most notorious of all the Nazi death camps, Auschwitz was equipped with several extermination facilities and 1,100,000 Jews were murdered by means of Zyklon B gas. In its museum today, you will find 100,000 pairs of shoes, 12,000 kitchen utensils, 3,800 suitcases and 350 striped camp garments and millions of items of clothing that once belonged to men, women and children. One of the most harrowing sights is a room containing 6,350kg of human hair that had been destined for factories where it would have been woven into fabric for carpets, work clothes and for car seats.
Visiting Birkenau isn’t like a museum. You are mostly left on your own with your thoughts. Left to take it all in and try to make sense of what took place here. It is vast – spanning over nearly 2 Kilometres with over 200 buildings, and honestly too much to possibly comprehend. Most of its structures lie in heaps of bricks as buildings were torn down, blown up or set on fire, and records were destroyed by Nazis desperately trying to hide evidence of their crimes pending the end of the war. But it is increasingly evident that this place is an emblem of evil, a site of historical remembrance and a vast cemetery.
Although there is a lot more I still want to share, I am going to end this post by saying that this experience changed my life. I am in complete awe how anybody survived those places under the most untenable conditions, and I have nothing but admiration for the resilience of our precious Holocaust survivors who walked through hell and emerged to tell their stories in order to ensure that the world will never forget. I am still processing a lot of emotions, fighting off bouts of anger, uncontrollable sadness and teary moments, but I am immensely thankful for the opportunity to have experienced this with an amazing group of young professionals from all over the world, led by Rabbi Avi Hill, Rabbi Ilan Segal and Rabbi Raphael Raiton who took us to the darkest of places and showed us the most beautiful light through their love for Judaism, Torah and song. They always had a positive message to lift our spirits, teaching us to value and appreciate life through the hardest of lessons. The impact of embarking on this journey with a group, as opposed to alone was immense and I urge anyone with enough courage to join the next Inspired TLV journey to Poland for a truly meaningful and life-changing experience.
About the Author:
Stephanie Hodes made aliyah from Johannesburg in 2011 with a background in Journalism, Jewish communal leadership. Today, she lives in Tel Aviv and runs a hi-tech recruitment company focusing on placing English and foreign language speakers in Israel with top Israeli companies.
How Israel went from zero to hero in the fight against human trafficking
By Rolene Marks
One of the lesser known facts about Israel is that this tiny country is leading the battle against international human trafficking. Many I am sure are wondering, how does Israel even feature in the same sentence as human trafficking? But in addition to the Jewish state’s many achievements, is going from zero – to hero – in the fight against human trafficking.
In fact, Israel is considered a top tier country in this battle that is becoming more and more prevalent around the world.
Gender based violence and women’s issues like parity, equality and suffrage are on the agendas of many countries. And so is the fight against the trafficking of women and children.
In the past, Israel had an abysmal record when it came to catching the pimps and purveyors of vulnerable men, women and children. In 2001, Israel was considered a Tier 3 country and not responsive to dealing with the issue at all. Women from Africa and Eastern Europe were easily smuggled through the Sinai Peninsula and sold into prostitution or cheap labour. Israel’s rating was so low that the country was on a par with Somalia and the Sudan.
This changed in 2001. The US State Department toughened its stance on global human trafficking and held back aid on the basis of each country’s record. The US State Department had put Israel on a blacklist because of the country’s dire record. Realising the veracity of this issue, Israel started the process of fighting the flesh trade.
Israel started the process that would result in the country becoming a leader in the fight against the human trafficking. The first order of business was giving police more jurisdictions over arresting perpetrators. Following this, an administrative body was set up at the Ministry of Justice which changed the way that victims were treated. Victims would no longer be treated as sex workers but as victims who deserve help.
In 2006, the Knesset, spearheaded by the Committee on the Status of Women, passed a law which would see offenders sentenced to 20 years for human trafficking violations. This was followed up in 2007 with further legislation in a campaign to end forced labour and an increased number in convictions for sex offenders.
What is the status for victims?
Israel started to give victims of human trafficking shelter, legal aid and protection assistance. In fact, it is the rehabilitation of victims that has contributed greatly to Israel’s record as the top tier country. A former head of the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women says, “When we formed our committee, I met with a government worker who worked with the trafficked women. It was a step by step process and we started out by going to speak to the women who had been rescued from the Sinai or Egypt and were in shelters or in a prison facility. Their stories were heartbreaking – many, including children and young boys have been sold into slavery and prostitution. Rape is a common occurrence for these victims. We took the media into these facilities and this really contributed in highlighting and bringing attention to their awful situation. The first law that was legislated was the creation of “no- man’s land”.
“Pressure was put on the government, judges and the police and as a result, Israel is now a country that leads the global fight against human trafficking,” she continues.
The remarkable strides that Israel has made in the fight against human trafficking has resulted in US State Department ranking the country as Tier 1.
In 2019, Israel topped the rankings for the eighth straight year, while Germany, Italy and Denmark lost theirs.
Some of the achievements that Israel has racked up include:
More shelters opened and the construction of a barrier constructed in 2013 between Egypt and Israel, has helped close a primary route for traffickers.
In February 2013, Ha’aretz newspaper successfully sued the Tel Aviv District Court to reveal the name of a major sex trafficker who became a police informer.
The success of various government departments working together is also something that can be applied to other socio-economic areas within the state.
The most notable achievement is that Israel is the only country in the world to sponsor a year of rehabilitation for victims that have been trafficked and this is paid for by the government. A comprehensive training programme that includes personnel from the police services, hospitals and health workers who take care of victims has been successfully implemented.
Government and NGO’s (non-governmental organisations) work in partnership and this has helped Israel become a first tier country. Israel has instituted a policy of “safe return” which entails skills training as well as physical and emotional therapy for victims. If a person is unable to return to their country of origin for whatever reason, Israel will grant asylum.
Every year, three awards are given out to individuals from NGO’s, government or industry for excellence in the fight against human trafficking.
The selling of women into prostitution has virtually disappeared and it is illegal to advertise or distribute cards or pamphlets selling sex.
There is still so much to do to combat this international scourge. Israel can share how the successful models and legislation implemented help win the battle for the flesh trade.
Israel has once again proved that although the country is tiny in size, it packs a mighty punch in the fight for justice and rehabilitation of the victims of human trafficking. From zero to hero – Israel has proven a leader in yet another field.
Role ‘Model’ – A Must Watch
A voice for Israel’s fight against sex trafficking – Kadi Keikiliani
Few would today believe that fashion model Kadi Keikilani from Hawaai was not too long ago a sex slave who was raped “thousands upon thousands of time”. She reveals her horrifying experience in 2017 to a select committee against human trafficking at the Knesset in Jerusalem. Apart from addressing the Knesset, Kadi, as part of JIJ’s project Not Objects Anymore (NOA), spoke at several public events and high schools. She expressed strong support for Israel’s Bill to Criminalize the Buyers of Sex Services.
By sharing her own story of recovery as a survivor of sex trafficking she has empowered women and youth throughout Israel.
Deadly disease “Made in China” and Israel responds
By David E. Kaplan
Dominating the news theses days is a mysterious virus emanating out of China that has a passenger ship quarantined, flight routes suspended, international conferences cancelled and people panicking – where is it going to strike next?
Most disquieting is the ‘surprise factor’ – that something unknown one day, can be so feared the next. While there have been no reported cases so far in Israel – although three Israeli passengers on the ‘Diamond Princess’ cruise ship docked in Japan have been diagnosed with coronavirus – the first US citizen to be diagnosed with the illness died in Wuhan, China, where the mysterious respiratory ailment began.
As the world grapples with this crisis, and in particular to find an antidote, joining the proverbial cavalry is an Israeli startup, Sonovia Ltd.,that says it may have a solution to help stop the spread of the new deadly coronavirus “through novel technology for an anti-pathogen, anti-bacterial fabric.” It has sent the product over to labs in China for testing, notably the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and a medical lab in Chengdu.
The co-founder of the Ramat Gan based Sonovia that was founded in 2013, Shay Herscovich, explains:
“We have identified the methodology to determine the fabric’s ability to eliminate viruses and bacteria. We sent a number of fabrics to China and it would require a few days to colonize the coronavirus on the fabric and evaluate if our technology can destroy it.”
Infusing metal oxides nanoparticles into textiles, Sonovia’s patented technology was developed as protective gear – to see if the textiles would prove highly effective blocks against bacteria and fungi. Upbeat with the positive results following tests at laboratories at Israel’s Bar Ilan University, the relevant question today is whether Sonovia’s bacteria-fighting fabric can protect against the spread of coronavirus?
According to the company, the technology can be used on masks, protective clothing, hospital bedding and gowns, and other apparel to stop hospital-acquired infections. The enhanced textile “is able to maintain its anti-pathogen activity at up to 100 washes at 75° Celsius (167 Fahrenheit) and 65 washes at 92° Celsius (197 Fahrenheit),” says Sonovia scientist Dr. Jason Migdal.
The company, says Migdal, has tested the fabrics against a variety of infections, notably a pilot study in a European hospital that showed that when the textiles were used in protective clothing, there was a significant reduction in infections.
Migdal firmly believes that the same technology could be used to block viruses and potentially stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
In a company statement sent out to newsrooms Migdal said “In response to the global concern regarding the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCOV) in China, which has since spread to several other countries, we would like to accelerate the development of our technology.”
Now it is in the hands of the Chinese who according to Migdal, will follow a European protocol to test the fabric’s anti-viral activity.
A further advantage of the ‘face masks’ are that they are designed for repeated use and “could be distributed effectively where they are needed most in China,” says Migdal, “as well as being more sustainable to the environment.”
At the time of writing, there were officially 67,192 Coronavirus cases – the vast majority in China – and 1,527 deaths.
More people have now died from the coronavirus than during the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak in 2002-2003.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the outbreak a global emergency and has warned governments to prepare for “domestic outbreak control” if the disease were to spread in their countries.
Last Flight To China
As China grapples with the current outbreak – over and above the efforts of an Israeli start-up like Sonovia – there are other Israeli non-profit organisations responding to the region’s request for aid by donating sanitary masks, medical supplies, and protective gear.
Israel’s Magen David Adom (MDA) national emergency network has contributed 2,000 masks and 200 full protection kits to help prevent the spread of coronavirus in China.
Also, the humanitarian aid organization IsraAID sent a shipment of emergency medical supplies and protective gear to the Chinese Ministry of Health on the last flight from Tel Aviv to mainland China. This project was done with partners Israel-China Chamber of Commerce, INNONATION and David Ashkenazi of ICCB Capital.
Yotam Polizer ,the Co-CEO of IsraAID, said his organisation “will continue to monitor the situation and may launch a secondary response including Mental Health and Psychosocial Support for humanitarian aid workers and first responders working in the area, focusing on stress relief.”
The late Israeli humanitarian, peace activist and founder of the ‘Voice of Peace’ Abie Nathan would be impressed. I recall in an interview with him in the late 1990s when he said, “My aim is that whenever there is a humanitarian crisis in the world, I want an Israel team there among the first to bring relief.”
Today, Israel has a heightened sense of humanitarian awareness and responsibility with aid teams and private enterprise poised to respond to natural or man-made disasters anywhere in the world.
Israel is proud to respond to the call from China.
Nano Textile fights against infections during hospitalization by providing a revolutionary solution in the production of antibacterial factories which prevents the spread of bacteria between patients and staff.
From the 2020 World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem to the protest against Lithuania in Tel Aviv 24 hours later
By David E. Kaplan
As world leaders from some 50 countries descended on the capital of the Jewish people for the World Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, on the 23rd January 2020, marking 75 years since the “gates of Hell” were opened at Auschwitz, one commentator on i24NEWS remarked:
“This conference is about education,” to which another in the panel skeptically responded:
“Yes, but young people in Europe today not only know nothing about the Holocaust; they also don’t want to believe it. They deny it!”
And this is Europe where the largest mass murder in history occurred? Where the majority of its Jews today lie beneath its surface while above the horrific truth is obscured, denied, ignored, equated or “they had it coming”?
And with a world increasingly directing the “new antisemitism” on the ‘collective Jew’ – Israel – it was only fitting that the World Holocaust Forum was held in the centre of the Jewish people – Jerusalem – Israel’s eternal capital since King David over 3000 years ago.
If a world – and in particular one where its young generations – need to hear the truth, who better to hear it from than the President of Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier who addressed the memorial forum with:
“Seventy-five years after the liberation of Auschwitz, I stand before you all as President of Germany – I stand here laden with the heavy, historical burden of guilt.”
He confessed his country’s guilt to the world with:
“Germans deported them. Germans burned numbers on their forearms. Germans tried to dehumanize them; to reduce them to numbers; to erase all memory of them in the extermination camps.”
No less important for the world to hear was Steinmeier’s admission that Germans had not learned the lesson of the Holocaust as Jew-hatred was not disappearing but growing and that despite different times, the “same evil” prevails today. And while the German State President wished he could say that Germans had learned from history, he felt compelled to admit that “I cannot say that when Jewish children are spat on in the schoolyard; I cannot say that when crude antisemitism is cloaked in supposed criticism of Israeli policy,” and “I cannot say that when only a thick wooden door prevents a right-wing terrorist from causing a bloodbath in a synagogue in the city of Halle on Yom Kippur.”
Beginning and ending by reciting in Hebrew the Jewish blessing of “Shehehiyanu”, Steinmeier told the world there remains only one answer:
To ensure – “Never again! Nie wieder!”
But who was hearing in order to remember?
Even with Prince Charles representing the United Kingdom, President Emmanuel Macron representing France, Vice President Mike Pence representing the USA and President Vladimir Putin representing Russia, I switched TV channels to notice there was hardly a mention on CNN , Sky, BBC or RT of the event. The exceptions were France 24, i24NEWS and Israel’s Hebrew channels that gave live coverage.
Far more important than for Israelis to hear – Jews know what happened – it was for the billions across the world, in particular, the Europeans to listen, and to hear from their national leaders.
Did these international news networks not believe there was any interest despite the gathering of world leaders in Jerusalem? When these very same leaders were in Davos only a few HOURS before for the 50th Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum, there was continuous news coverage.
Even over news content, global economics trumps Jewish existential anxiety so are we surprised that antisemitism is here to stay?
For this writer, it was poignantly ironic and telling that only one day after the World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem titled ‘Remembering the Holocaust, Fighting Antisemitism” initiated by the President of the European Jewish Congress Dr. Moshe Kantor, that there was a demonstration of Jews of Lithuanian descent outside Lithuania’s embassy in Ramat Gan in the district of Tel Aviv.
While I was there covering the event for Lay Of The Land it was also personal, and I had helped draft the invitation notice in English:
And why did over 200 people brave the freezing cold and rain to protest? They came to register their opposition to Arūnas Gumuliauskas, chairman of the Lithuanian parliament’s Commission on the Fight for Freedom and Historical Memory, who intends to propose a parliamentary resolution declaring that:
“Lithuania has no responsibility for the murders and extermination of Lithuanian Jews during the Second World War because it was occupied by Soviets and then by Nazi Germany.”
The proposed resolution is to absolve Lithuania and Lithuanians of involvement in the Holocaust for the murder of 95% of Lithuanian citizens because it was occupied successively by Russia and Germany!
The protestors knew the truth and could relate stories of members of their families who were killed. Etched in the memory of this writer, was my visit to Lithuania in 1992 when I met for the fist time a cousin who had survived the war by escaping into the forest and joining with the partisans. Alexander Judelis related the only reason he had not perished in his Shtetl of Riteva with his family was, “that my father had sent me to a Yeshiva in the north only a few weeks before the Nazi invasion. In fact, I did not want to go because I was not religious, but he saved my life.” Judelis further related that , “the day before the Nazis entered Riteva, local Lithuanians in our village, people who we knew all our lives, wanted to impress the Nazis before they came and went on a rampage of murdering most of the Jews,” which included members of his family.
There are few Jews in Lithuania today. The Holocaust in German occupied Lithuania resulted in the near total destruction of Lithuanian Jews (Litvaks) and as all who stood shivering in the cold outside the Lithuanian embassy knew, their forebears who died in peacetime were the lucky ones lying beneath simple gravestones. Those that came after them have no gravestones – they were dragged out of town, marched into the woods and shot to death in front of mass pits.
Many watching them dig their own graves before pulling the triggers of the submachine guns were their fellow Lithuanians. To the rat-a-tat soundtrack of gunfire, they gloated while murdering their neighbours, impressing their smiling German invaders.
This is the horrendous visual truth that Gumuliaskas wants to conceal by parliamentary legislation!
And this is what the shivering protestors outside the Lithuanian Embassy were determined not to permit – not without a fight.
Law is designed to reveal the truth not to hide it!
As chairman of the Association of Lithuanian Immigrants in Israel, Arie Ben-Ari expressed at the protest that “In the first months of the Nazi occupation, most of Lithuanian Jewry was annihilated by Lithuanians, and that from published information, over 22,000 Lithuanians participated in and carried out the murders in 214 places in Lithuania. Many of them advanced and subsequently served the Nazis as guards and murderers of Jews in concentration and extermination camps, including in Auschwitz.”
Yes, the very Auschwitz which in Jerusalem the day before, the world leaders assembled not only to commemorate its liberation 75 years earlier but to impress upon the world the words:
Conspicuous by his absence at the World Holocaust Forum was the President of Lithuania, Gitanas Nausėda, who declined to attend. He joined the Polish President Andrzej Duda who also did not come. Setting aside their issues with Putin, Duda too is introducing a law in Poland imposing fines and jail time on anyone who refers to Polish complicity in the Holocaust.
Instead of trying to conceal their nefarious past by introducing laws, had both presidents attended the World Holocaust Forum, they would have heard the wise words of former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, Yisrael Meir Lau, a Holocaust survivor who 75 years earlier, was liberated as a 7-year-old from the Buchenwald concentration camp.
Drawing a parallel of the world leaders before him together in one tent in Jerusalem with Noah’s ark where all the animals of the world – many of them too natural enemies – proved no threat to each other. With arms outstretched and looking at the world leaders in front of him he posed the question:
How did the snake and the lion share the confined space with the lamb and the dove? The answer was they feared a common enemy – “the flood”.
The “flood” today is poverty, disease, war, and antisemitism. “You as world leaders have the power to work together against these threats to mankind”.
But the presidents of Poland and Lithuania were not present to hear these words. While world leaders were all expressing “Never Again”, Lithuania had another use of the word “never” – that Lithuanians were “never” involved in the mass murder of its fellow Jewish citizens and that future generations must “never” hear again of Lithuanians mass murdering Jews.
The banners at the protest outside the Lithuanian embassy included with the wording “Lithuania – take responsibility for the Holocaust”, “Zero Tolerance For Antisemitism” and “Gumuliaskas – no law can wash away Jewish blood’.
And when the rain poured, the umbrellas went up and the protestors stayed at their posts.
Moderated by Zohar Cheskov, other speakers included Chairman of the Vilnius Association Mickey Cantor, the CEO of the Wiesenthal Center Dr. Ephraim Zuroff, Holocaust historian and researcher Remi Neiderfer and 91-year-old Holocaust survivor from Kovna (Kaunas) Rosa Bloch, who said Lithuanians “started to kill the Jews even before the Germans arrived.”
Since I was in Lithuania in 1992, the country has come a long way in confronting her wartime past.
However, maybe again, and possibly emboldened by the recent path of Poland’s leadership, does Lithuania too want to rewrite history and erase its ugly history of Nazi collaboration?
The message from the protestors outside the Lithuanian Embassy on the 24th January 2020 in Tel Aviv is a call for protest not only by Jews of Lithuanian descent; but all decent people around the world to join together against the rising “flood” in Lithuania and oppose the despicable resolution of Arūnas Gumuliauskas.
75 years after Auschwitz – The importance today of educating medical professionals on the Holocaust
By Dr. Tessa Chelouche
On the 27th of January the world commemorates the 75th liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In the past few years, the world has witnessed violent and disturbing antisemitic attacks in many countries. One of the ways to combat antisemitism is to educate on the Holocaust. The medical profession has a major responsible role to play in perpetuating this education because unlike other instances of genocide that the world has witnessed, the Holocaust was a medically sanctioned genocide. The greatest stain on the record of medicine in the 20th century was the role played by German physicians during the Nazi period.
When the Nazis came to power in Germany, medicine there was among the most sophisticated in the world. German medicine had contributed to, and shaped, academic and clinical medical practice worldwide. Despite its preeminence, however, German medicine became enmeshed in the Nazi ideology and broadly complicit in the conceptualization and promulgation of the Nazi racial and social programs. The engagement of the medical profession was extensive and was led by the active involvement and support of the academic establishment. Medicine was not alone in its support of National Socialist policies, but the medical profession differed from the other professions in its explicit commitment to an ethical basis, to a humanitarian stance and to a 2000-year-old Hippocratic Oath that placed the sufferer first.
German physicians began to elevate service to the state above medical ethics well before the Holocaust – the term used for the genocide of the Jews – occurred. In the early years of the 20th century, German physicians promoted policies of racial hygiene and eugenics in their eagerness to limit the reproduction of people believed to have hereditary disorders: the disabled and the chronically ill who were considered as a burden to society. Between 1939 and 1945 they sterilized an estimated 400,000 Germans with mental and physical disorders. Following this, German physicians designed and implemented the notorious T-4 “Euthanasia” program, where they performed medical murder on their mentally, physically and socially handicapped patients with the goal of producing a pure Aryan race. This policy was ethically sanctioned by the Nazi medical profession in Germany. Traditional medical ethics was adapted and altered to suit the policies of National Socialism. Nazi physicians did not abandon medical ethics as is usually perceived, but rather replaced traditional fundamental universal medical ethics with selective medical ethics. The disabled and the chronically ill, the feebleminded and the “unproductive” members of society were perceived as living “lives unworthy of living” and as such did not deserve to be treated according to the regular medical code. This new ethical code was taught at every medical school in Nazi Germany and a special textbook was required reading for this compulsory course. More physicians were members of the Nazi party than any other free profession. They were not forced but joined of their own free will and they joined early on. In this manner, German medicine became an arm of Nazi state policy. Nazi physicians failed to see themselves as physicians first, with a calling and an ethic dedicated to healing and caring for the well-being of human beings. Instead they believed that the welfare of the state was to take precedence over their individual loyalty to their patients.
The above-mentioned medical programs of sterilization and “Euthanasia” became enmeshed with the policy of virulent antisemitism, and as such were the forerunners for the Holocaust – the genocide of the Jews at concentration camps like Auschwitz-Birkenau and many others. The ‘medical murders’ that began in the hospitals in Germany and Austria, culminated in the murder of the Jews and other minorities in the camps, as the extermination of millions of people was considered as “treatment” for the state. The same professionals who were involved in the T4-“Euthanasia” program, among them many physicians, were consulted when the camps were built and were the medical experts who were consulted in the design and activation of the gas chambers.
Although the subject of ‘Medicine and the Holocaust’ usually brings to mind the cruel and barbaric experiments, medicine was involved long before the infamous experiments were performed at the various camps, hospitals and clinics. In 1946 one of the first post war trials to be held was the “Nuremberg Doctors’ Trial.” For the first time in history, physicians were tried for crimes against humanity for their participation in murderous and tortuous experiments conducted in the Nazi concentration camps. In the final judgment, the court articulated what is known as the “Nuremberg Code”, the first international code for human experimentation. In fact, it was in the ashes of the Holocaust, through the formulation of the Nuremberg Code that modern medical ethics, known as bioethics, was born. All contemporary bioethical codes are based on what transpired in the profession in the years preceding and during the Holocaust. Every ethical issue under consideration today – among others: the value of human life, disability care, equity in medical care, genetics, public health, research ethics, health system economics, reproductive medicine, abortion, military medicine, refugee care, death and dying – includes inquiry influenced by the Nazi medical crimes.
Medicine is a powerful profession and was especially so under the National Socialist regime. The questions that need to be asked are:
How did a professional group that was internationally respected, scientifically innovative and ethically advanced, evolve an understanding of their social, ethical and scientific obligations only to lead them to use their advanced medical knowledge and professional ethics to justify committing cruel and heinous medical crimes against humanity?
How did healers become killers?
It was precisely the success and power of the profession in Nazi Germany that led to its hubris and collusion with a racist political regime. These physicians were not peripheral actors in the attempt at collective regeneration. Rather, they were central and crucial to the running of Auschwitz and the other camps as well as to the evolution and fulfillment of broader extermination policies.
Medicine was abused then and is constantly in danger of being abused today. It is not enough just to say, “Never Again.” As medical professionals, we have a responsibility to act so that this does not happen again, certainly within our profession. Education on ‘Medicine and the Holocaust’ can contribute significantly to professional identity formation of healthcare students. This history can help to instill a moral compass in future generations of healthcare professionals. Learning from the past can provide them with a way of reflecting and discussing inherent medical challenges in the present. Using this lens, we can encourage the aversion to racism and overt prejudice. But in addition to the value that this discourse can have on the next generation of medical professionals, the inclusion of education on the Holocaust in today’s world can also do much to vanquish the evil that is antisemitism.
75 years after Auschwitz the time has come to teach!
Dr Tessa Chelouche, born in South-Africa, is a Family Physician in Israel. She is the Co-chair of the Unesco Deaprtment for Bioethics and the Holocaust, Unesco Chair of Bioethics, Haifa and the Co-director of the Maimonedes Institute for Medicine, Ethics and the Holocaust.
*Feature Picture: Nazi Medicine: In the Shadow of the Reich & The Cross and the Star (1997) – studies the step by step process that led the German medical profession down an unethical road to genocide. It graphically documents the racial theories and eugenics principles that set the stage for the doctors’ participation in sterilization and euthanasia, the selection at the death camps, as well as inhuman and unethical human experimentation. Director John J. Michalczyk
Cries from Australia’s wildlife heard in Jerusalem
By David E. Kaplan
Turn on the news on TV these days and the screen flares up in shades of bright orange, with men in protective fighter-fighting garb trying to douse roaring flames.
Australia is in the grip of one of its worst wildfire seasons on record with the human death toll standing at 27 and over 2,000 homes destroyed across more than 10 million hectares of land — an area larger than Portugal.
Caught in this nationwide inferno are Australia’s endearing but vulnerable wildlife, and it is estimated that already 1 billion wild mammals, birds and reptiles have perished. Blessed with a unique eco-system, many species however are now threatened with extinction.
Pictures of koalas with charred feet and kangaroos hugging their human rescuers have through social media and television brought tears to the eyes of people the world over. Many are responding.
The ‘cries’ of these animals were heard in the Israeli capital’s internationally renowned Jerusalem Biblical Zoo that is responding by donating veterinary medical supplies to be used in Victoria’s East Gippsland region.
The Jerusalem Biblical Zoo understands only too well the danger of animals facing extinction, which explains why the zoo’s primary focus is on species from the land of Israel mentioned in the Bible but roam no more!
The zoo projects this history revealing the animals that roamed this region at the time of the forefathers of the Jewish People.
While so many of the world-renowned archeological sites around Jerusalem are a reminder of what life was like in the ancient city, the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo – officially known as the Tisch Family Zoological Gardens – is a ‘living’ reminder of what animals roamed this region in biblical times.
One of the many in Israel watching the human and animal tragedy unfold on her TV was the Biblical Zoo’s International Manager,Rachael Risby Raz, who grew up in Melbourne, and who still has family living there.
Understanding with professional clarity the devastation befalling the flora and fauna of her native Australia, coupled with her position at the JerusalemBiblical Zoo meant that Raz was well placed for her response to be meaningful and effective.
She knew instinctively what the animals most urgently required and quickly put together “a wish list” of veterinary supplies that included: burn creams, milk formulas, teats for bottles, wound sprays, hydration concentrates, syringes, disinfectant, feeding bottles and more. She then followed up by launching a fundraising campaign to raise money to purchase the equipment online and have it sent directly to the rescuers on the ground. Within 24 hours of launching her appeal, she raised thousands of dollars as more and more heart-wrenching reports of the plight resonated globally.
“It went viral,” she told local media. “Even though we’re so far away – more than 6,000 miles – people are nevertheless so moved and stressed by what’s happening in Australia.”
According to the Biblical Zoo’s press statement, “The supplies will be purchased in Australia and sent directly to the volunteers on the ground,” notably the volunteers working with the East Gippsland Fire Wildlife Support Team.
Although over “6,000 miles” away, The Jerusalem Biblical Zoo felt what was unfolding was close to home as the zoo has a special section dedicated to animals from Australia. “We have a colony of kangaroos who, at the moment, are experiencing a baby boom,” said Raz, “as well as fruit bats which came from Sydney.” They had been rescued after they were injured “and we had a whole group of them come and they live here at our zoo.” The area dedicated to the Down Under also includes a cheeky kookaburra, a bettong, bearded dragons, blue tongue lizards and cockatoos. “This is why it’s probably extra distressing. I look out the window of my office and see kangaroos we know by name and love and then see pictures of their peers in Australia burned – it’s heartbreaking!”
While Raz understands that it’s going to be an uphill struggle and that “the situation is just beginning and going to have consequences that can go on for months, even years,” she sees hope in the overwhelming response from people so far removed geographically from the disaster. After all, these are people who have never even visited Australia and may never visit, but their hearts pour out for these defenseless animals.
In a profound sense, the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo was a ‘natural’ to respond.
Viewing the situation through a biblical prism, Raz asks “What is the role of the zoo?” and then answers herself that “the zoo is like a modern Noah’s Ark. The animals that we have here at the zoo are basically being looked after for the next generation.”
This sentiment is all too evident in the many animals that roamed in the region in the time of the Bible and today no longer do.
This is not something that should be allowed to befall the animals of Australia.
Elsewhere in Israel, Tel Aviv too is galvanizing support for Australia. Fashion model Abbiemay Doré, is one of thousands of Australian ex-pats residing in Israel. Originally from Wodoga, Victoria, the model is helping organize an Australian-themed trivia night at a bar in Tel Aviv to help raise awareness and funds.
While she reveals that she has “never really organized something like this before,” these are extraordinary times in Australia.
“Armageddon Is Here” have read headlines in Australia giving an indication how bad the situation is and how much worse it can still be!
While humanitarian groups like the Tel Aviv-based IsraAid are watching developments closely and considering about different ways in which they can be of assistance, on Instagram, Israel’s ‘Wonder Woman’, Gal Gadot asked her 34 million followers to donate to relief efforts down under. “Nature is so beautiful and powerful and fragile all at the same time,” she wrote. “I’m so devastated.”
“Devastated” is the operative word!
For Israelis the devastation is brought all the more home when one realizes that the area so far devastated is more than double the size of Israel.
From Wonder Woman to the wonderful people of Israel and around the world, may the collective support bring this tragedy to a speedy end and that the animals Down Under don’t themselves go down under.
In the first week of January 2020, five nurses from the Gaza Strip, joined eleven fellow Palestinians from the West Bank who arrived in Israel for four days of intense but innovative medical training.
It was conducted by Israeli physicians through a collaboration between Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHR) and the Medical Simulation Center (MSR) at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer.
The training programme proved a revelation to all sixteen participants, particularly to those from Gaza. “It’s different than I thought,” Akram Abu Salah, a nurse from the Gaza Strip told The Jerusalem Post. “The people are very nice. You have Jews and Palestinians working together. It minimizes the gaps between us.”
Clearly, there is no substitute for direct contact as Salah reveals.“I could not imagine how this country would be or how it works.”
While there has been collaboration between MSR and PHR for a number of years training Palestinian physicians and ambulance drivers, this was the first time that training was extended to nurses.
The sixteen participating nurses learned new practices in the field of primary medicine, focusing on skills they might require in emergency situations such as how to stop bleeding, intubation – the placement of a flexible plastic tube into the trachea to maintain an open airway – and chest drains. A special session was held on advanced cardiovascular life support.
This ‘life-saving’ training would end each day at 5.00pm whereafter in the evenings, the Palestinians engaged in social activities with their Israeli counterparts.
Four out of five of the Gazan participants had never been outside of the Gaza Strip, so the trip had been quite an experience.
All were amazed by the size of Sheba and the sophisticated training available through MSR.
The 2,400-square-meter Medical Simulation Centerwas founded in 2001 to lead a nationwide effort to introduce new standards and innovative approaches in health care training and patient-safety education for the benefit of the people of Israel. A press release on the center describes the facility “as a virtual hospital” that “encompasses the whole spectrum of medical simulation modalities – from role-playing actors for communication and clinical-skills training to cutting-edge, computer-driven, full-body mannequins that enable team training for challenging and high risk clinical conditions.”
It was “action stations” – close to real live situations. Teamwork is essential. One of the participants carefully placed an oxygen mask on the $100,000 blonde-haired dummy while another started to perform CPR as a third set a pulse oximeter around the dummy’s finger.
Communicating in English to each other, the Palestinian nurses continued to attempt to resuscitate the mannequin, as their Israeli instructor observed them. Minutes later, the “patient” woke up from ‘its’ cardiac arrest – ‘its’ condition stabilized.
Exposure to this kind of intense and innovative simulated training is invaluable.
Amitai Ziv, the founder and director of the Center for Medical Simulation, said that the courses at the facility aim to allow the health professionals to learn in a safe atmosphere.
With a third most common cause of death worldwide being medical errors – estimates show 250,000-400,000 people die annually in American hospitals because of them – Ziv, a former pilot in the Israeli Air Force, explains:
“The message embedded in the programs here is let us err and reflect on our errors in a safe environment.”
“I am very happy for the chance to attend this advanced trauma course. In Gaza, we have plenty of problems, and there is so much we can learn from Israel,” said Abu Salah.
He was clear that the Gazan Ministry of Health “wants to me to absorb this experience in Israel and bring it back to Gaza.”
Salah reveals that hospitals in Gaza are often understaffed and lack basic necessities and medications, including chemotherapy drugs.
However, because of the fluid security situation, it is quite a complicated mission bringing the participants from Gaza into Israel. It takes persistence and perseverance.
Despite advanced application and pre-approval, the Gazan nurses were nevertheless delayed entry for a day for reasons of security.
Abu Salah only received the call at 11 p.m. from the Gazan Ministry of Health the night before he was granted entry and told, “tomorrow, you will travel to Israel.”
He was sleeping when he received the call, “but I packed my bag and prepared to go,” he told local media. “My wife knows I am here, but my extended family does not know. I can only tell them when I get back.”
While Salah said in Israel his visit was supported by the Hamas-run health ministry, he admitted to being unsure how he would be received upon his return and uncertain of the questions he might be asked by Hamas officials.
Going To Gaza
However, its not only Palestinian medical professionals coming to Israel but Israelis professionals traveling to Gaza.
Israeli president for Physicians for Human Rights Israel, Prof. Rafi Walden, reveals how nearly every month he helps arrange missions of Israeli doctors to Gaza to perform advanced surgery and provide training to Gaza physicians by Israeli experts in the realms of gastroenterology, oncology and more.
“It’s appalling,” Walden said of the situation in Gaza. “Just terrible conditions. The main hospital in Gaza has empty shelves; they are missing critical medications. There was a time they did not have the liquid needed to clean the skin before surgery. Everything is missing. It is a real humanitarian disaster there.”
Walden believes that despite the challenges, PHR is creating “a microcosm of goodwill and understanding in this crazy situation of conflict. Beside the medical aspect of the work, another aspect no less important is the opportunity to meet with people and establish common ground. It’s a peace building activity – and a little light and the end of the tunnel.”
Physicians for Human Rights Israel covered the costs of the programme as well as the attendees’ expenses including hotel rooms, transportation and meals. Ran Goldstein, the executive director of the organization, said the total cost was approximately NIS 90,000 ($26,000).
Ziv explains that while the courses for the Palestinian health participants aims to substantially upgrade their standards of professionalism, there is also the invaluable benefit of building bridges between Israelis and Palestinians.
“Since Israelis and Palestinians often meet on the killing and battle front, we strongly believe it is important that they meet on the health and education front,” he said, adding that he holds that “professional relationships among human beings can bring about trust and friendliness.”
One 42-year-old nurse from Nablus, Farid Mustafa, said that medicine is a field that transcends political and national divides.
“It does not matter who you are — an Israeli or Palestinian, Jew or Muslim, local or foreigner,” he said. “In health, we see and treat everyone as a human being. We take this approach in our interactions with sick persons and our colleagues here and elsewhere.”
Supporting his sentiment, Farid recounted an incident when he had personally provided first aid to Israelis involved in a car crash near Ramallah in the West Bank two years earlier.
“I saw that two vehicles had collided. I pulled over to the side of the road and helped them,” he said. “When I did that, the identity of the injured persons made no difference to me. All I saw were people in need of aid.”
So too for Ayman Ibrahaim Amaya, a 43-year-old nurse from Qalqilya , who said he hoped he would be able to return to the Center for Medical Simulation in the future.
“This is my first time doing a training in Israel and it has been very beneficial,” he said. “So I wish that it will not be the last.”
Future lives depend that “it will not be the last.”
With the goodwill of people on either side of the divide, it will not be.
While focus on the Palestinian refugees of 1948 has remained steadfast, there has been scant global interest of the massive plight of Jewish refugees. There were over 850,000 Jews living in Arab countries and Iran at the time of Israel’s independence. Some scholars even think the number is closer to one million and yet few in the Arab world talk about why Jews suddenly left lands they had lived in for over 2500 years.
One Muslim Arab who talking about it, is Sarah Idan (Arabic: سارة عيدان), an Iraqi beauty queen who represented her country at the Miss Universe pageant in 2017. A self-described “secular Muslim”, Idan received death threats after she posted a selfie with Miss Israel, Adar Gandelsman, and then had her citizenship revoked.
On the 4th December 2019, the former Miss Iraq spoke at the United Nations headquarters in New York City about Jewish refugees from the Middle East “being largely forgotten”, and that there needs to be more awareness of their plight. The UN event was held in coordination with JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa), and was attended by ambassadors from around the world and UN officials.
“It’s about time,” Idan told JNS. “That decision should have happened many, many years ago. We always talk about Palestinian refugees and other countries, but we never talk about the Jewish refugees.”
Idan’s native Iraq once boasted a large community of Jews having lived there for over 2600 years. That came to a tragic and traumatic end with the exile of 135,000 Jews during the 1940’s and 1950’s. Few outside the Jewish community recall the violent riots known as the Farhud that erupted in June 1941 – mainly in Bagdad – targeting the Jewish population. Dejected soldiers of a failed coup took advantage of a power vacuum and swarmed into Jewish communities together with a bloodthirsty mob, murdering 179 Jews, injuring more than 2,100, and leaving 242 children as orphans. This act of violence was celebrated across the Arab world and in Nazi Germany.
Similar tragedies unfolded across Muslim lands over the same period , which Idan was bold enough to speak about and at the very forum that perennially attacks Israel – the UN.
While familiar with the plight of the Palestinians, it is doubtful that the esteemed diplomatic representatives to the world body are as familiar that in the North African region:
– 259,000 Jews fled from Morocco
– 140,000 from Algeria
-100,000 from Tunisia
– 75,000 from Egypt
– 38,000 from Libya
Or that in the Middle East, apart from the 135,000 Jews exiled from Sarah Idan’s Iraq:
– 55,000 fled from Yemen
– 34,000 from Turkey
– 20,000 from Lebanon
-18,000 from Syria
– 25,000 from Iran
In most of these country there were pogroms resulting in the mass murder of Jews.
In her speech, Idan, spoke about the history of Iraqi Jewish refugees, the kinship she has always felt for them, and how she could personally relate to the struggles they faced by being expelled from Iraq.
She also spoke about her trip to Israel in 2018, where she met Iraqi Jewish refugees in Jerusalem and connected with them. She said they welcomed her “with open arms and with so much love, even though my country treated them unfairly.”
“When I saw Iraqi government stamps on their passports saying, ‘one-way exit—not allowed to return,’ I started crying,” she said.
“I told them I was utterly ashamed. Not because of dirty politics, which led to the ethnic cleaning of 135,000 Jews from Iraq, but by my own people, who watched this happen and didn’t have the courage nor sympathy to stand with the Jewish community.”
She also stated how antisemitism paved the way for the expulsion of Jews from Iraq.
“As an Iraqi, I learned so much from parents and grandparents about how the Jews played a pivotal role in the development of our country. What I always heard from my family was that they had such good hearts, were well educated, respected and loved. Sadly, a 3,000-year chapter of Jewish life in Iraq, along with the larger Middle East and North Africa, came to an abrupt and traumatic end — and much of this is the result of antisemitism.”
The Baghdad-born model and human-rights activist concluded by saying:
“It is only by recognizing and facing the historical injustice endured by the 1 million Jewish refugees from North Africa and the Middle East that we can move forward to a better place of humility and healing.”
Correcting The historic Injustice
Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon announced that Israel will submit a resolution to formally recognize Jewish refugees from Arab countries. He aims to “put Jewish refugees in the right place in history and change the narrative so in the future, one day, when the issue of the Palestinian refugees will be brought up, we will be able to bring our issues as well.”
The ambassador is all too familiar with the history as his late father, Joseph Danon had been a Jewish refugee from Egypt who moved to Israel shortly after the establishment of the Jewish state.
During the 1948 War of Independence, thousands of Egyptian Jews were put into internment camps, forced from their jobs, and arrested. Jewish synagogues, homes, and businesses were bombed, and many Jews were killed and wounded. Between 1948 and 1958, more than 35,000 Jews fled Egypt. Danny Danon’s father arrived in 1950.
Like the Iraqis that Idan met in Jerusalem, Joseph Danon was among the 850,000 Jews who were expelled or fled from their homes in Muslim lands during the mid-20th century.
Recognising that Jewish communities existed in Arab countries for more than 2,500 years, Ambassador Danon lamented that “Every time the U.N. talks about the refugees of Israel’s war of Independence, they speak only of the Palestinian refugees!”
What about the Jewish refugees?
The ambassador emphasized that Jewish refugees should not be forgotten; denying the rights of Jewish refugees and attempting to erase them from the narrative is an antisemitic historic injustice. “We must work to correct the historic injustice that has left the Jewish refugees out of the narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” he said.
From Iraq With Love
Kudos to Sara Idan in speaking out at the UN despite the threats to her life and those of her family who today live in the USA. She remains undaunted.
When snapping and posting online the first photo with Miss Israel, Adar Gandelsman at the 2017 pageant in Las Vegas, Idan added the caption:
“Peace and Love from Miss Iraq and Miss Israel“.
But some people in Iraq did not see it that way and sent her death threats.
“When I posted the picture, I didn’t think for a second there would be blowback,” she told CNN at the time. “I woke up to calls from my family and the Miss Iraq Organization going insane. The death threats I got online were so scary.”
The intimidation did not stop the beauty queen reuniting with Gandelsman the following year in Israel, when she again posted fresh pictures online. Idan posted a photograph and a video on her Instagram page, with the caption: “Sisters reunion“
Despite the pressure from the Miss Iraq organisation, a defiant Idan refused to remove the selfie, and added a follow up post saying:
“I would like to apologise to anyone who considered the photo to be offensive to the Palestinian cause as this was not the aim behind the post, it was merely a call to peace and hope for a solution to the crisis.”
Like most visitors to Israel, Idan toured Jerusalem’s famed Mahane Yehuda Market where she was warmly received.
“It actually felt weird,” she wrote. “The people look like my people. And the city looks like Damascus, like Syria, and I’ve been there, so everything seems familiar to me.”
She believed that “there are a lot of Iraqi people who don’t have a problem with Israel or with the Jewish people. There are a lot of Iraqi people on my side, and I believe they are happy I am here.”
If only the sisterhood developed between the former Miss Israel and Miss Iraq could evolve into a brotherhood of their respective countries.
*Feature Picture: Miss Iraq Sarah Idan—recently designated as an Ambassador for Peace by UN Watch, which invited her to the United Nations—took the floor at the United Nations to support peace with Israel. Following two speeches to the UN’s highest human rights body, the Iraqi Parliament’s Security and Defense Committee reportedly called for her Iraqi citizenship to be revoked, labeling her advocacy a “crime.”
Entitled “Men Talking Men“, the Men’s Hotline Conference held on December 2 at the Jerusalem Cinémathèque was the first ever of WIZO’s Men’s Hotline, a support line for men seeking to extract themselves from the cycle of domestic violence. The conference featured a wide variety of male experts from all walks of life raising awareness so that men needing help can get it.
“For a long time I have known that I needed help, but I didn’t have the strength to call. My crying came out as shouting. But finally I am speaking. I never shared with anyone what was going on inside of me.”
The statement above, from an anonymous caller to WIZO’s Men’s Hotline, a support and counseling hotline for men seeking to extract themselves from the cycle of domestic violence, is an all too familiar one.
The hotline, which received 1000 calls in the last year alone, is both totally anonymous for callers and operated solely by men, making the conversation more comfortable for the men calling who seek help, The hotline is sponsored by WIZO USA, with the generous additional support of the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation.
“The WIZO Men’s Hotline helps men who desperately need the tools to deal with their anger in a non-violent way,” explained Malka Genichovsky, Director of the Center for the Treatment and Prevention of Violence at WIZO.“It is the only helpline of its kind in Israel to assist violent men in taking responsibility for their actions and getting the help they need. WIZO firmly believes that it is possible to reduce domestic violence, by treating the violent person himself.”
“The anonymous nature of the hotline allows men to call without the fear of stigma,” said Avi Mor, Coordinator of the WIZO Men’s Hotline. “It is staffed by trained male volunteers who provide support and encouragement in a non-judgmental way towards a violence-free future. What makes this unique is that often when it comes to domestic violence, talking about the men is considered taboo. WIZO, by creating this much needed hotline, is helping to prevent further acts of violence from occuring.”
“WIZO, as the leading non-profit in the field of family violence treatment and prevention, sees the Men Hotline’s vital activity as a reflection of the world view that the men in the cycle of violence are not just a major part of the problem, but are also a major part of its solution!” said WIZO Israel Chairperson Ora Korazim. “The WIZO Men’s Helpline is just one of many projects of WIZO Israel focused on treatment and prevention programs for all members of the family affected by the violence. With the continued support of our dedicated volunteers and supporters in Israel and around the globe we will continue providing vital projects like this.”
“Men debate with themselves whether to go get treatment or not,” explained social worker Gil Tamir. “Partly because of their difficulty in expressing and sharing their feeling with regards to personal hardships and difficulties and also due to their fear of how their environment will judge them.Many times men will turn to treatment because of extrinsic motivation or severe stress.In the field of domestic violence, most requests for help come from women. The role of the society in changing this reality is significant and very valuable.”
“It’s very important that the change of discourse also take place among women,” Mor said. “We must understand that one of the key factors behind men’s violent behavior is society’s attitude towards men, which is NOT to speak! “Talking” is presumed to be a “woman’s thing”. So what will happen if I as a man am having a rough time and things are bad for me? Instead of “talking”, I’ll “talk violently”. We must change this.”
First Such Conference
Focusing on “Why Some Men Seek Treatment and Others Don’t”, the conference included a combination of professional and clinical content with a fascinating series of short TED style talks by a diverse group of speakers including a rabbi, a judge, a journalist and a police officer who each shared their unique perspectives on the issue of men caught up in the cycle of domestic violence.
Rabbi Rafi Feuerstein, President of the Feuerstein Institute and co-chairman of the Zohar rabbinical organization, shared his unique challenges dealing with violence as a community rabbi. Retired family court judge, Menachem Cohen spoke about the view of domestic violence from his years on the bench. Jerusalem’s Deputy Mayor, Ofer Berkowitz gave the perspective of the police and Yuval Bango, the welfare reporter for Maariv, urged the social workers in the audience to engage in an open, yet discrete, dialogue to bring their important cases to the attention of the public. The program also featured a special musical program by social worker Tamir Ashman, Director of the Men’s Studies Forum at Tel Aviv University, who showed what popular songs about men reveal beneath the surface.
Testimony from a WIZO Men’s Hotline Volunteer
During one of the conference’s breaks, Micha, one of the hotline’s dedicated volunteers, shared his experiences helping male callers in dire situations receive the help and support they need.
Don’t Give Up On Them – or Us!
“The goal of this conference is to increase the legitimacy of society and professionals to encourage men to express and give room to their emotional world,” saidGenichovsky. “We must raise awareness of the world of men, release social and personal barriers in addressing and referring men to treatment and support frameworks.Our hope is that by bringing together social, community and public opinion leaders along with different professionals, we can change the social discourse. We want to expand the concept of masculinity in relation to emotional and concrete needs and to empower and support. Our message is: Don’t give up on them – and don’t give up on us!”