…At, 92 he is one of the world’s oldest living journalists.
By: JTA Staff; jta.org
(JTA) — As a prisoner in Auschwitz, Noah Klieger narrowly escaped death through sheer audacity: Selected for the gas chamber on account of his pneumonia, Klieger managed to talk himself out of the sentence in a personal encounter with the Nazi doctor Josef Mengele. Later, he faked his way on to a boxing squad at Auschwitz that enjoyed better meal rations.
After liberation, he arrived in prestate Israel aboard the Exodus ship and fought in the 1948 War of Independence. Klieger went on to a storied career in journalism, authoring several books and a longtime column in the Israeli daily Yediot Acharonot.
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opened an exhibition on Jerusalem Thursday to reinforce Israel’s claim to the historic city as the Jewish people’s “eternal capital” — and rebuke over 125 countries that support Palestinian claims to east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
Netanyahu’s U.N. visit follows President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December. The U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly soon afterward, denouncing the U.S. announcement and declaring Trump’s action “null and void.”
The Israeli-sponsored exhibition traces Jews in Jerusalem back centuries before the Christian era, and Netanyahu said it clearly shows the city’s long history “cherished” by Israelis and friends of the Jewish people and “friends of truth.”
This “is being denied by those seeking to erase the history of our people, our connection to our lands, and our connection to our eternal capital Jerusalem,” he said.
The Israeli leader noted a disclaimer sign at the entrance to the exhibition that says: “The content of this exhibit is solely the responsibility of the sponsors. The holding of the exhibit in U.N. premises does not imply endorsement by the United Nations. Please direct any queries to the organizers.”
Hitting back at the U.N., Netanyahu responded: “Of course it doesn’t represent the United Nations. It represents the truth, and we’ll continue to tell the truth and speak the truth everywhere, including the United Nations.”
“This exhibit would not have been possible 10 years ago,” he added. “And this exhibit will be unnecessary 10 years from now. We are changing the world. We are changing Israel’s position in the world, and above all we are making it clear that we fight for the truth and for our rights. We also fight for security.”
The photos and replicas at the exhibit, titled “3000 Years of Jews in Jerusalem,” include ones of the Tel Dan Stela from 8-9th century BC, which has the first known historical evidence of King David from the Bible, and a seal with the Hebrew inscription “To Netanyahu son of Yaush” from the 7th century BC.
Netanyahu met with U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley before viewing the exhibition and praised her strong support for Israel at the U.N., saying: “We call her hurricane Haley.”
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the Israeli prime minister did not ask to meet with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
“Sometimes leaders come in for a very quick visit,” Dujarric said. “The secretary-general and his senior officials are often in contact with the Israeli government. There’s nothing to read into it.”
Netanyahu came to New York after meeting in Washington with Trump and leaders of Congress. He said most of his week in the U.S. capital was devoted to Iran, which he said wants “to extinguish our history” and “our presence.”
A strong opponent of the nuclear agreement between Iran and six major powers, Netanyahu said, “The best way to prevent the nuclearization of the Middle East is to either fully fix the Iran deal or fully nix it.”
He added, “There is a newfound alliance in the Middle East between all those who recognize that the greatest threat we face is a nuclear Iran and an aggressive Iran.”
As for the Palestinians, who are furious at Trump for overturning decades of U.S. policy and recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Netanyahu said: “We have not walked away from peace negotiations. The Palestinians have.”
In speeches to fellow Jews around America, I often point out that many American Jews are experiencing cognitive dissonance. The institution Jews most admire — the university — turns out to be the most significant source of Israel hatred in America and the rest of the West. At the same time, the people many Jews most distrust — Christians (especially evangelical and other conservative Christians) — turn out to be the Jews’ and Israel’s best friends.
Given that these two facts are undeniable, how do many American Jews deal with this dissonance? They largely ignore the Israel hatred on campuses, and they dismiss the authenticity of the Christian support. They dismiss it by denying it is genuine. Christians who support Israel, they (and non-Jews on the left) argue, do so for two deceptive reasons.
One is they seek to convert Jews.
That Christians seek to convert non-Christians is, of course, true. The primary aim of Christianity, after all, is to spread belief in Christ. But why would anyone think supporting Israel will convert Jews? Does anyone think that Christians who support Israel’s enemies are making Muslims convert to Christianity? The fact is there isn’t a shred of evidence that Jews have converted to Christianity, because of Christian support for Israel. Indeed, the Jews who most support Israel are either the most religious or the most strongly identifying secular Jews. Neither is a candidate for conversion.
Another way Christian support for Israel is belittled is by claiming that Christians support Israel in order to hasten the Second Coming of Jesus. But pastor John Hagee, head of Christians United for Israel, the largest pro-Israel organization in America, has said countless times nothing a Christian can do will hasten the return of Jesus; only God will decide when that happens — and in His own good time.
Moreover, even if this were the reason Christians support the Jews and Israel, why would it disturb Jews? It would mean that Christians would support them until Jesus returns. What’s wrong with that?
Having spoken at numerous churches’ “Night to Honor Israel” events, I know how genuine this support is. But last week in Nashville, I witnessed a particularly convincing example of the sincerity of this support. I spoke before thousands of Christians at the National Religious Broadcasters Convention when they gathered one evening solely to express their support for Israel. Maybe five Jews were present. Isn’t thousands of Christians devoting an entire evening to express support for Israel — with essentially no Jews in attendance to witness it — about as convincing a proof of the authenticity of this support as one could imagine?
So, why do Christians support Israel? They believe in supporting American allies and supporting countries that share their moral values. And, unlike the left, they have moral problems with Islamism, not with Zionism.
But the primary reason virtually every Israel-supporting Christian gives is the biblical verse from Genesis in which God says to Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you.” These Christians believe (as does this Jew) God blesses those who treat the Jews decently and curse those who seek to harm the Jews.
You don’t have to be a believer in the God of Abraham or the Bible to accept this proposition. All the Jews’ ancient enemies disappeared from history. And look at what happened to Spain after it expelled its Jews in 1492. One of the greatest powers of the world became largely irrelevant to history within a couple of generations. As for Germans, the perpetrators of the Holocaust, they endured a staggering amount of death and suffering as a result of their support for the greatest Jew hater in history; and their country was divided in half for the next half-century. Likewise, the countries today that most curse the Jews — Arab and other Muslim countries — are among the most benighted countries in the world. If they were to devote to building their countries the money and energy they devote to attempting to destroy Israel, they would be in far better condition morally, socially, economically and politically.
Meanwhile, the country that has most blessed Israel and the Jews is America. No country in the modern period has treated its Jews as well as America has, and no country has stood by Israel as much as America has. And America has been almost uniquely blessed.
These American Christians know something that the secular and left-wing elites do not: The day America abandons Israel will be the beginning of the end of America as we know it.
(JTA) — Thirty years ago, Jews in the Soviet Union were not allowed to study Hebrew, eat kosher food, talk about Zionism, go to a synagogue or, most important, leave the country. If they tried to emigrate, they would almost certainly be refused, lose their jobs and be blackballed in their professions. They would then be put on trial and imprisoned for being unemployed.
Thirty years ago, American Jews understood that if Soviet Jews were being silenced, American Jews would have to be loud.
On Dec. 6, 1987, some 250,000 American Jews got very loud. They gathered on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to protest the plight of their Soviet brethren on the eve of a U.S.-Soviet summit. Organizers weren’t sure the demonstrations would work – and there was real worry that a small
demonstration would do more damage than no demonstration at all. But after 25 years of tireless activism, American Jews gathered in huge numbers and used their voices to change history.
I came of age under a regime that barely tolerated and actively persecuted me, my family and my friends because of our heritage. The pre-summit protests showed the world that my community was not alone. The power of unified action won for us our fundamental freedoms.
Speaking at the event, then-Vice President George H.W. Bush called on Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev to “let these people go.” The next day, President Ronald Reagan confronted Gorbachev with news of the protest, and the U.S. government began to focus on the plight of Soviet Jews in its exchanges with Soviet authorities. Reagan regularly carried lists of refuseniks into meetings, insisting that their circumstances be addressed. Slowly but surely the gates of Soviet Russia began to open, all the result of resolute advocacy by the American Jewish community. It is not exaggeration to say that the American Jewish community set my people free.
Many Jewish families can trace their presence in the U.S. directly to that day on the National Mall: PayPal co-founder Max Levchin, actress Mila Kunis, singer-songwriter Regina Spektor and Olympic gold medalist Lenny Krayzelburg, among others. The scale of the eventual exodus from the Soviet Union to the U.S. was vast. Today, former Soviet Jews and their offspring account for 10 to 15 percent of the Jewish population in North America.
As a Jew brought up in Lvov in Ukraine, my gratitude toward the American Jews and the pride I feel in their accomplishment is immense. In 1987, Soviet Jews were only 40 years away from one of the worst genocides in world history – the Holocaust, whose scale and unfathomable cruelty in the
countries of the former USSR are not yet properly documented to this day. Many of us still carry the scars of that horror, as well as from Stalin’s purges and other violent anti-Semitism in many corners of the world.
Were it not for the 1987 march in Washington, whole families would have been lost, American society would have not been as enriched, and the world would have lost untold technological and cultural advances. None of this would have been possible had Jewish people and their leaders in America
decided instead to play it safe.
The struggle to achieve religious and cultural freedom has defined and shaped all of human history. Every generation, whether Jewish or not, must confront humanity’s bloody history and fight to achieve and maintain the freedoms that are rightfully ours. The world learned 30 years ago that it is
those choices that make the difference.
The lesson I carry with me on this anniversary is a powerfully uplifting one: When we unite behind the common good, when we stand up to danger, and when we join hands to take action, great things can happen. The Jewish community across the world, no matter where they or their grandparents
call home, should look back to the 1987 march on Washington with pride and a renewed sense of purpose. Together we called on the world to let our people go – and our people were freed.
(JTA) — In the aftermath of a second anti-Semitic attack this week in southern Sweden, the spokesman for a local watchdog group said the Jewish community must be vigilant but will not go underground.
Willy Silberstein, spokesman for the Swedish Committee Against Anti-Semitism, spoke to JTA on Monday hours after an incident in Malmo in which police said they discovered traces of a flammable fluid near a Jewish cemetery that they suspect had been targeted by arsonists.
“There is a wave of anti-Semitic attacks right now, and I suspect this won’t be the last incident,” Silberstein said.
A spokesman for the Swedish police said there were no suspects in custody in connection with the incident.
On Saturday night, several men hurled firebombs at a synagogue in the nearby city of Gothenburg hours after hundreds marched through the city in protest of the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on Wednesday in a White House announcement by President Donald Trump. Three arrests were made.
Notwithstanding the incidents, the capital of Stockholm will have a public lighting of a Hanukkah menorah in a central square on Wednesday, Silberstein said.
“People are advised to be vigilant but normal life continues, even under increased police protection, which we received this week,” he said of the centers of the Jewish community of Stockholm, where some 18,000 Jews live.
Swedish police reportedly have tightened security near Jewish sites throughout the country in the wake of the two attacks.
Silberstein said wearing a kippah in Stockholm is relatively safe, “but there are some areas of Malmo where I wouldn’t advise it.”
Following the attack in Gothenburg, some observers, including the Simon Wiesenthal Center, linked the incidents to the Swedish government’s perceived hostile attitude toward Israel. Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom last year said that killings of Palestinians who attempted to carry out terrorist attacks against Israelis were “extrajudicial executions.”
But Silberberg rejected the claim, saying authorities have done much to protect Swedish Jews from attacks, whose perpetrators are often Arab or Muslim.
“Maybe more could have been done,” he said, “but generally speaking the Swedish authorities have taken necessary measures.”
The attacks in Sweden followed a violent assault on a kosher restaurant in Amsterdam Thursday and chants in Arabic about killing Jews that were heard in Vienna, London and Berlin, as well as in Malmo at protest rallies against U.S. recognition of Israel’s capital. In France, the boycott of Israel was promoted at two protest rallies, in Paris and Lyon. The rally in Paris featured calls to free Palestinian terrorists in Israeli prisons on murder charges, who were celebrated at that rally as “heroes.”
The Amsterdam attack ended with the arrest of a 29-year-old Palestinian waving his national flag who smashed the eatery’s windows, broke in while staff was inside and took out a flag of Israel that was hanging in the restaurant. Two police officers who watched his actions with passers-by arrested him as he exited the restaurant.
Ronny Naftaniel, a board member of the CEJI organization for education against hatred and a former director of the Dutch CIDI watchdog on anti-Semitism, criticized the Dutch judiciary for a draft indictment of the man, who admitted the actions attributed to him, because it did not contain a reference to his actions as a hate crime. He is to be charged with vandalism and theft, according to the Dutch media.
“When you enter a kosher restaurant, break in and take the Israeli flag, you are not committing a break-in,” Naftaniel wrote Monday on Twitter. “You are committing a hate crime.”
“And almost two-thirds could not name 1944 as the year of the D-Day landings. One in 10 even had no idea Adolf Hitler was involved in the war.”
Another survey released in April coducted by Onepoll.com on behalf of the History Channel found that of 2,000 respondents many had a poor understanding of the history of the Vikings.
“Almost four in 10 admit they believe the Vikings were just like the stereotype of ferocious raiders with blonde hair and big beards, but more than one in 10 aren’t convinced the Vikings even existed,” the Mirror reported last spring.
“One in four were also unaware the Vikings raided the U.K., with more than one in 20 believing they targeted south America instead.”
The 65-year-old Damkani was in Tupelo, Mississippi, last week as part of his first trip back to the States in eight years, conducting interviews and promoting A New Spirit, a recently released movie adaptation of his life story.
Damkani is warm and intense, with a resonant baritone voice, a thick gray beard and curly hair. Compact and vigorous, he begins his days back home with a 5 am swim in the Mediterranean Sea.
As a young adult, he moved from Tel Aviv to Brooklyn, New York, and lived in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community before moving to Asbury Park, New Jersey, where he ran a gift shop.
“I got to be friends with Bruce Springsteen. It was before he became a big deal. He’d play at the Stone Pony, and we had a few conversations,” Damkani said in an interview from the studios of American Family Radio in Tupelo.
It was while living in New Jersey that Damkani made a profound shift in his beliefs, a shift that led him from Asbury Park to Woodland Hills, California – home to a religious community called Last Days, led by popular Christian recording artist Keith Green, who died in 1982.
Damkani lived in the community and studied under Green for a year in 1978, in the waning days of the Jesus Movement. A casual observer would say he became a Christian, but the keenly intelligent Damkani, never at a loss for words, whether in Hebrew or English, put a finer point on his change of heart.
“Wait a minute. When we say ‘Christian’ we think of another religion,” he said. “But the idea that Jesus came to establish a new religion is far from the truth. Jesus never intended to bring a new religion, and the church has to understand that Jesus is the natural continuation of God’s promises made to Israel. Men made a new religion of it, and the Jews will not accept a new religion. That is the obstacle for the Jews. I didn’t become a Christian if that means following a new religion. If it means a follower of Messiah, then OK, I’m a Christian.”
Damkani left the States and moved back to Israel in 1981, with his heart set on bringing this message to his people, and on helping others – especially Gentile believers – do the same. In 1984, he established Trumpet of Salvation to Israel. For 34 years, the group has been teaching Gentile believers how to reach Israeli Jews in a culturally sensitive and effective way.
Damkani said part of the challenge is helping non-Jewish believers understand the Jews’ natural resistance to Christianity.
“The mind of the Jews doesn’t see Christianity as followers of Messiah, but as a new religion; one that betrayed the God of Israel and Israel as a people,” he said. “When it comes to my people, Christianity is just another religion – the enemy of the Jews who have persecuted them all the way from the Crusades to the Inquisition to the pogroms and the Holocaust. Hitler is associated with Christianity, and Hitler quoted Martin Luther a number of times.”
Damkani said it can be a daunting task to train Gentile Christians to see Western Christianity from a Jewish perspective – a task which requires some deprogramming from the “replacement theology” taught in many churches.
“You cannot really blame the Jews for their hostility,” Damkani said. “For 2,000 years the church told them they aren’t relevant anymore. It’s all based on replacement theology, which is big in the church: the idea that God has sent the Jews away and now Christianity is for the Gentiles. The church has been blind to the place of Israel in the glorious final salvation and the kingdom to come on earth. Messiah didn’t come to replace Israel, he came to open the door, to reconcile all men to God, first to the Jews and then the Gentiles.”
If Western Christians are to make inroads with Israeli Jews, Damkani said they must first acknowledge the part the church has played in alienating them.
“The tragedy is the Gentile world, the church, has done everything it can to do away with Israel and to take Jesus for themselves. Gentiles need to say, ‘Please forgive us for what we have made of Jeshua, for making a blonde, blue-eyed Jesus and for turning the feasts that he celebrated into Easter and Christmas. He had nothing to do with that,” he said.
When Damkani finishes his American visit, he’ll return to Tel Aviv, and to the work he has devoted the past 34 years to, a work he describes as “a double-edged sword.”
“The task we have now is to open the eyes of the Jews to accept Jesus for who he is,” he said, “and to open the eyes of the Gentiles – the saints from the nations – to their calling to Israel.”
In new HBO documentary about his life, Steven Spielberg discusses his Jewish upbringing, his illustrious career and the movie that changed his life forever.
You can’t discuss film directing without mentioning his name.
Over his illustrious 50-year-career, Steven Spielberg has created some of the most iconic, beloved and critically acclaimed films ever made.
And now he has taken a turn on the other side of the camera lens, sitting for hours of interviews as part of the new HBO biography and documentary Spielberg.
Documentarian Susan Lacy has pieced together interviews with the director himself, his siblings, parents and colleagues over the years, interspersed with film footage and behind the scenes videos to create a comprehensive look at Spielberg’s life. The result is a two-and a- half hour glimpse into the director’s Hollywood career, from his first professional job at age 21 to his numerous box office hits and critical successes. It is telling of the breadth of his career that 150 minutes doesn’t serve as enough time to touch on dozens of his films.
The 70-year-old is a congenial interview subject, discussing the highs and lows of his career as well as his childhood and personal life with ease.
A who’s who of Hollywood – after all, who hasn’t worked with Spielberg – weighs in as well, including his close friends and compatriots Martin Scorsese, JJ Abrams, George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola. Actors Richard Dreyfus, Tom Hanks, Leonardo Dicaprio, Drew Barrymore, Liam Neeson, Dustin Hoffman and Daniel Day Lewis all show up to discuss their time on set with the legendary director.
The lengthy but jam-packed documentary weaves its way through Spielberg’s illustrious career, from his first big hit with Jaws, to the iconic E.T. and Jurassic Park and the critically-acclaimed The Color Purple and Saving Private Ryan. While Spielberg has been one of the most respected filmmakers in Hollywood, he didn’t shy away from creating feel-good box-office friendly franchises, like Men in Black (which he produced but didn’t direct) and Indiana Jones.
While for many years Spielberg shied away from his Jewish identity, he has long since embraced it as part of his life and his work.
“I don’t search for films consciously that have a spiritual core,” he said of his 1977 science fiction film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. “There’s a spiritual part of myself that happens to bleed over into the work,” he added, saying he often “will find things that inherently have something of a belief system that’s beyond our understanding.”
In the interview with Lacy, Spielberg said he believes in God, and reflected on the role faith had in his upbringing.
“I was raised Orthodox, and tradition has been a huge part of my family – religious studies and Hebrew school and bar mitzvas and bat mitzvas,” he said. “But we always lived in neighborhoods where there were no Jews and there was a real cultural divide in those days.”
The director said while growing up he “certainly experienced being excluded and picked on and discriminated against.” Those experiences, he said, led in part to him beginning to “deny his Jewishness… deny everything that I had accepted as a child.”
But when he married his second and current wife, Kate Capshaw, who converted to Judaism before the wedding, he underwent a return to the faith of his childhood.
Certainly career-wise, however, there was no film that connected Spielberg to the Jewish people more than the iconic 1993 Schindler’s List.
“It was, emotionally, the hardest movie I’ve ever made,” the director recounted.
“Nothing could prepare me for my first visit to Auschwitz… I knew this couldn’t be just another movie, and it couldn’t be like anything I’d ever directed before.”
The film left more than just an indelible legacy – and Spielberg’s first Academy Award – it spurred the director to set up the Shoah Foundation.
That organization, founded with the profits of Schindler’s List (“I couldn’t take any proceeds from the film”), created an archive of filmed testimony by Holocaust survivors.
But the impact it had on Spielberg’s own life was also immeasurable.
“The experience of making Schindler’s List made me reconcile with all of the reasons… I hid from my Jewishness,” he said. “And it made me so proud to be a Jew.”
More than a decade later, the director tackled another – more controversial – film with 2005’s Munich.
That movie told the story of the Mossad’s secret plot to avenge the deaths of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre.
After 11 Israeli athletes were murdered at the games by PLO terrorists, Israel embarks on a mission to kill the 11 PLO operatives involved in the murders.
“I knew it would be controversial from the very get-go,” Spielberg said. He noted that the film explored the ideas of revenge and its justification, leaving viewers with murky feelings on the morality of retribution.
“Munich is a prayer for peace,” he said. “But peace the hard way, peace by discovering within yourself your moral high ground.”
Spielberg airs in the United States on Saturday October 7. It will be available on YesVOD and HOT VOD starting October 8 and air on October 13 at 10 p.m. on YesDocu and October 14 at 10 p.m. on HOT HBO.
(JTA) – As Yom Kippur approaches, Jewish baseball fans hark back to the fall of 1965, when Dodgers ace Sandy Koufax said he would not take the mound in Game 1 of the World Series against the Minnesota Twins.
Mind you, this was no ordinary pitcher. Koufax dominated on the hill that season for Los Angeles and would be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Koufax, now in his early 80s, and his choice would go down in Jewish lore, to be recalled annually on the Day of Atonement – or perhaps whenever his coreligionists have a tough call to make.
“There was no hard decision for me,” he would say later in an ESPN documentary released in 2000. “It was just a thing of respect. I wasn’t trying to make a statement, and I had no idea that it would impact that many people.”
Learn more about Koufax’s story in the video above.