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Saying Psalms in a Mosque: A Jewish, Muslim, Christian Collaboration

In an era of increasingly incendiary divisions  —  creating bridges becomes even more important.

Marking the twenty-fourth anniversary of the Khojaly massacre, a group of Jews, Muslims and Christians gathered at a local mosque to offers prayers and words of consolation over a tragedy that occurred half-way around the world. We did so to show solidarity with the victims, survivors and the people of Azerbaijan and to demonstrate that religion can be a powerful force for compassion and healing.

The event, jointly sponsored by the King Fahad Mosque, Pico Shul Synagogue and Azerbaijan’s Consulate in Los Angeles, marks the second annual event in Los Angeles commemorating Khojaly. The first event was held last year at Pico Shul Synagogue. We were honored to have the participation of Christian, Jewish and Muslim leadership including Bishop Juan Carlos Mendez of the Centro Cristiano Bet-El, Father Eamon Kelly, L.C., Vice Chargé at the Pontifical Institute Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center, Hypin Im, President and CEO of Korean Churches For Community Development; Rabbi Mel Gottlieb, President Emeritus of the Academy Of Jewish Religion; Steve Gilliland, Director of Interfaith Outreach for the Church Of Later Day Saints; Reverend Oliver E. Blue of Holman United Methodist Church; Rabbi Dov Cohen, Veterans and Prison Chaplain; and Imam Abdul Hafiz, Federal Muslim Chaplain of the Society to offer Prosperity & Peace. This remarkable collection of leaders and personalities is thanks to the dedication, friendship, and devotion to tolerance of Azerbaijan’s Consul General in Los Angeles Nasimi Aghayev and Mahomed Khan of the King Fahad Mosque.

Seated left to right: Rabbi Yonah Bookstein, Bishop Juan Carlos Mendez of the Centro Cristiano Bet-El and Mahomed Khan.

Seated left to right: Rabbi Yonah Bookstein, Bishop Juan Carlos Mendez of the Centro Cristiano Bet-El and Mahomed Khan.

Standing in the mosque and reciting Tehillim, Psalms, I looked out at a large crowd assembled in the sanctuary. The diverse group included dignitaries from elected officials, Consul Generals, Honorary Consuls, FBI and LAPD representatives, as well as members of various ethnic communities.  There were Jewish and Muslim children whose parents want them to see that they should not fear diversity, but respect other’s religions.

The facts of the Khojaly massacre are tragic. On February 26, 1992, Armenian armed forces attacked the town of Khojaly in Azerbaijan’s Karabakh region. Witnesses and survivors have described in details the massacre, during which six-hundred unarmed civilians, including women and children were murdered. It was the largest massacre in the conflict. To this date, none of the perpetrators of this massacre of civilians have been tried, and even some hold positions of leadership in Armenia.

After hearing from a survivor of the event Ansar Usubov and watching a filmed interview with Durdane Aghayeva, another survivor, we stood together in silence and then prayer. I recited a Hebrew pr

ayer in memory of the victims standing together with a Bishop, Imam, and a Catholic Priest.

After the event, we sat down together for a meal in the mosque’s social hall. One table with a Halal dinner and another table with Kosher catering. We dined and discussed the event and strengthened our resolve to speak out against intolerance and hate, and work towards forging ties of peace and harmony.

While we can never bring back those who were gone, hopefully this event will help prevent future tragedies and bring healing to Azerbaijanis and the world.

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A Twitter Yizkor: Memorial for Israeli Victims of Terror Launched on Twitter

The double murder of Rabbi Yaakov (44) and Natanel Litman (18) on Friday, November 13th, was quickly overshadowed by the immense and horrific massacres across Paris later that night.

But even without the massacre, the names and stories of Israelis murdered in the past few months get lost behind the next group of names of victims.

Four more Israelis were killed in terror attacks today.

Inspired by the @ParisVictims Twitter account, created by Mashable to publicize the lives of each one of the 129 people killed in the horrific attacks on November 13th, 2015, we have launched @israelivictims to memorialize Israelis killed in terror attacks.

The @parisvictims account has quickly amassed more than 44,000 followers.

If you would like to help with this effort, just contact rabbi @ picoshul.org.

We pray to God that we don’t have to add any more names, and for a quick recovery of all the victims.

May God comfort all the mourners, and Hashem yikom damam.

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Rabbi Yaakov (44) a gifted teacher and Natanel Litman (18) a volunteer paramedic HY”D were murdered on Friday, November 13, 2015.

The Litmans were driving to pre-wedding Shabbat celebration for one of their daughters, Sarah Tihyeh. The family car was ambushed by Shadi Ahmed Matawa of Islamic Jihad, and maybe others, near Otniel in the hills south of Hebron.

Five other members of the Litman family were lightly wounded in the shooting, including Noa, three daughters aged 5, 9, and 11, and a 16-year-old son. On Saturday, Noa said an ambulance from the Palestinian Red Crescent Society stopped at the scene of the attack before Magen David Adom paramedics arrived, but left without offering assistance. Dvir, the 16-year-old son, called MDA and also said the Red Crescent ambulance left the scene.

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UNESCO Sponsors are Complicit in Erasing Jewish History

prayering kotel

  • UNESCO corporate and governmental sponsors need to publically distance themselves from UNESCO as it erases Jewish history
  • Sponsors include Google, Panasonic, A&E, Germany, Smithsonian, EarthWatch and others (list of UNESCO World Heritage Partners)
  • Hijaking of UNESCO’s agenda undermines the legitimacy of it’s noble mission — and continued support of UNESCO means supporting authoritarian, un-democratic, and anti-Semitic governments and institutions

UNESCO unilaterally called on Israel to “stop agression” against Palesinians, and made no mention of terrorism against Israeli citizens, in a resolution that referred to the Western Wall, Temple Mount, Cave of the Patriarchs, and Rachel’s Tomb, solely in Muslim terms. France, Spain (who wants Jews back) and Italy all abstained in the vote:

The vote in Paris was 26 in favor, six against and 15 abstentions. The US, Germany, United Kingdom, Estonia and Netherlands, Czech Republic voted against the resolution while a number of other European countries such as Albania, Austria, Ethiopia, Angola, Spain, France and Italy were among those that abstained.

Originally, UNESCO’s resolution, prepared by the Palestinian Authority and introduced by six Arab states, designated the Kotel or Western Wall as part of al Aqsa Mosque and the tomb of Rachel as the burial place of Bilal Ibn Rabah, a companion of the prophet Mohammed.

The finished draft declared the Cave of the Patriarchs as a Muslim shrine and an integral part of Palestine. Zero mention of it’s Jewish roots.

In addition to exposing the farcical role of UNESCO, the vote proves that those who care about the future of Israel and Jewish connection to the Holy Land must vigorously advocate to upend this travesty. 

This initiative is part of a long process led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that seeks to deny the existence of the Jewish Temples and to erase any Jewish and Christian ties to Jerusalem’s holy sites.

Mr. Abbas has made his intentions veryclear by delcaring that the Temple Mount and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre “are ours”.

It is imperative that those concerned about the situation react by calling, emailing, Facebooking, and Tweeting about this to every UNESCO sponsors – which include Google, Smithsonian, A&E, German Gov – and all mainstream media sources. Other governements that support UNESCO, and those that abstained from voting, need to hear that they are complicit in erasing Jewish history.

It is important that those who care for the future of Israel contact the companies and countries that support UNESCO. They may support good work in some areas – but their public association with UNESCO and continued financial support, means that UNESCO will never change.


Here is some more background info:

At a meeting of ISESCO in Amman in 2011, the motion was introduced that the Western Wall also be called Al-Boraq’s Wall, named for Mohammad’s horse. From time immemorial the site was called the Western Wall/Wailing Wall (Kotel Hamaaravi) and was known to be the outer retaining wall for the site of the Temple. The Palestinians now want to take it a step further by seeking to gain UNESCO recognition of the Wall as part of the Al Aqsa Mosque which was built many centuries after the destruction of the Second Temple in the year 70 CE. This claim of exclusivity to the holiest sites of the Jewish people and revered sites of Christianity, central to tenants of both religions, is an outrage that would not be tolerated in any other circumstance.

At UNESCO’s World Heritage Council meeting in Bonn, Germany in July 2015, President Abbas advanced the same ideas. The automatic pro-Arab majority in virtually every UN body assures automatic passage of even the most ludicrous and counterproductive proposals. We hope that every nation that respects religious freedom, historical truth and seeks to foster mutual understanding among religious groups, will reject this outrageous resolution. Palestinian leaders have been engaged in incitement claiming in public statements, sermons, broadcasts, media reports, that al Aqsa was “under siege” and calling on Palestinians to rally to its defense. Mr. Abbas also spread this message into neighboring Arab countries. The resulting violence has taken almost 50 lives with many more injured in recent days. By inciting passions over the Temple Mount and fomenting disputes these religious sites, Mr. Abbas is turning a political conflict into a religious war.

The UNESCO Executive Council is expected to take the matter up on Wednesday and it may go to the full plenum, where Palestine is a recognized member state. The resolution declares the Western Wall and Mughrabi Gate are part of al Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount. The resolution then goes on to condemn the excavations in the Old City despite UNESCO decisions approving them. It condemns “Israeli aggression and illegal measures against the freedom of worship and access of Muslims to al Aqsa Mosque and Israel’s attempt to break the status quo since 1967”. The litany of condemnations includes accusations of attacks by extremists on the mosque, and opposes the building of a cable car in east Jerusalem, and attacks actions by Israel and the IDF in Jerusalem. These charges and the Palestinian drive to de-Judaize Jerusalem and deny the Christian attachment to the holy places, should be the subject of condemnation. Passage of this resolution will be seen as a reward for terrorism and violence of recent days and further exacerbate any chance for meaningful negotiations.

It should be noted that the only desecration of the Temple Mount was as a result of Palestinian actions which destroyed vast archaeologically significant sections. More than 400 tons of debris were taken off the Temple Mount as the Waqf expanded an underground mosque in Solomon’s Stables. For ten years, volunteers have been sifting through the debris and finding many important antiquities.

People to contact include:

  • CEO of UNESCO, Ms. Irina Bikova at i.bokova@unesco.org and Ms. Marie Paule Roudil, head of the UNESCO Liasion Office to the UN at mp.roudil@unesco.org.

Some prominent partners of UNESCO include;

  • Panasonic USA, @panasonicUSA, is a leading partner.
  • The History Channel, @history, part of A & E, partners with UNESCO
  • Smithsonian, Director is Cristián Samper, (202) 633-1000, @smithsonian
  • German Government supports UNESCO. The embassy number is (202) 298-4000 @germanydiplo
  • Google also partners with UNESCO +1.650.930.3555 @google
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5 Ways to Keep the Spiritual Momentum of the High Holidays

The High Holidays and Sukkot have ended. This marathon of Jewish holy days earned many of us an increased spiritual awareness, sensitivity, and commitment. But how can we maintain that growth throughout the year? Here are five suggestions for maintaining the momentum of the High Holidays:

1 – Honoring Shabbat

Shabbat is a weekly opportunity to unplug and stay in good spiritual health. Meals with family and friends, communal worship, connecting with community, and creating time to rejuvenate are critical elements to Shabbat, and to keeping the High Holiday growth going during the year ahead. What you do to honor Shabbat, will reward you spiritually and materially.

2 – Creating time for daily Torah study

A person who is not engaged in daily Torah study is depriving themselves of the nutrients they need to stay in good spiritual health, nurture their soul and develop a stronger connection with God. I suggest a Chevruta – learning with a partner. While attending classes is important, it’s often passive learning. The real impact of Torah learning on your life comes from having a study partner. Even 5 minutes a day.

3 – Acquire for yourself a Shul Friend

Our sages teach us in Pirkei Avot, “Acquire for yourself a friend”. Be in regular contact with people you spent the holidays with. This is a natural group of people to help you maintain your spiritual strength this year.

4 – Volunteer for Tomchei and other chesed projects

My last Dvar Torah of the holiday season was about the importance of doing someone a favor. You cannot underestimate the power of helping others — both on how it will positively influence your life and those you are helping.

5 – Paying your pledges

Many people make pledges of tzedakah / charity during the Holidays. Whether in memory of someone during Yizkor, or a misheberach after an honor, an auction, it is critical to pay your pledge for the impact in the world to take place.

May you continue to grow and learn, and be blessed with an outpouring of divine favor!