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Divide Over Kotel Prayer Highlights Racism of Palestinian Authority and Muslim Waqf

old har habayit
Jewish communities might be fighting about fair access to the Kotel, but what is missing from the discussion is Jewish use of holy places in Jerusalem. The Muslim Waqf and the Palestinian Authority’s opposition to the Kotel compromise demonstrates their intense racism. Instead of infighting, the Jewish community needs a bold and unified approach regarding access to the holiest Jewish sites and exposing injustice.

A newly released compromise for access to the Kotel calls for development of the Southern part of the Kotel wall for the creation of a mixed prayer area. The plan faces many hurdles. However, it is considered by many to be a fair solution to what seemed not long ago to be an intractable situation. Hopes are high around the world that those who most vehemently seek representation of their religious beliefs, and respect for their prayer choices at the Kotel, will accept the plan.

Even if there is a brokered settlement between opposing Jewish factions, there is a fundamental and historical challenge ahead. The most contentious front against the compromise at the Kotel will be from the Muslim Waqf and the Palestinian Authority which regularly launch protests against any development of Jewish access to places near the Temple Mount.

Jews may be able to reach a compromise, but the Waqf and the PA will not. The PA and Waqf will wage an international campaign claiming Jews are trying to destroy the Temple Mount just as they have alleged in the past. Whatever solution is eventually created, the Waqf and Palestinian Authority will decry it as encroachment on Muslim holy sites.

PA religious affairs minister said recently [http://www.jpost.com/Diplomacy-and-Politics/PA-objects-to-Israels-Western-Wall-construction-plans-316375] that that creating a Southern Kotel Plaza in order to add an egalitarian/mixed section may “push all of us to new conflicts”. Clearly these statements are intended to be threatening. He is promising a violent and organized reaction against Jewish access to our holy site, and Israeli sovereignty.

Instead of proposing a plan to create the mixed prayer plaza, Israel needs to start negotiations about a Jewish presence on the Temple Mount itself and development of access to the Temple Mount for Jewish worshippers. Jewish worship on the Temple Mount is currently illegal. In May a group from Canadian B’nai Brith, hardly a radical or religiously extreme organization, were met with intense racism, cries of “Allah hu Akbar,” and harassment when they tried to visit the Temple Mount.

“You don’t have to send delegations to Hungary to witness raw antisemitism,” said Frank Dimant, a man known for diplomacy and moderation, “Jews are treated as second-class citizens in the Jewish state.” Ironically one of the leaders of the mission to Israel, Eric Bissell, president of B’nai Brith Canada, was also a delegate to the Global Forum on Anti Semitism taking place that same week in Jerusalem.

The problem of Jewish access to the Temple Mount is of paramount importance to the future of Jewish access to other holy sites of Jerusalem some of which, like the Temple Mount and the Kotel, are clearly outside of pre-1967 borders. A future Palestinian State might make Jewish prayer there illegal. Successive Israeli governments have refused to address this racism over desires to avoid a provocation. The Kotel compromise negotiations have drawn this conflict out in the open and presents an ideal opportunity to bring to the world’s attention the intense racism of the Waqf and PA.

The Israeli position could be spelled out clearly for the West:

Israel seeks to provide all their citizens freedom of religious practice— something that the PA and Waqf are clearly against. Israel stands for tolerance of different religious beliefs and unhindered religious practice. Religions can live side-side and Muslim and Jewish worshippers deserve equal access to the Temple Mount. Israeli proposals could include a Jewish prayer area which does not encroach upon the two mosques on the Mount.

The promised outcry from the PA will present the Jewish community with the undeniable fact that they do not control the destiny of their holiest places.

If the Waqf and the Palestinian Authority succeed in making those hard won plans for compromise and fair access to the Kotel obsolete through their threats of violence, the Jewish community in America, and Israel will face a serious test.

Therefore it is in Jewish and Israeli self-interest to reach a compromise over prayer at the Kotel. Israel and Jewish communities abroad need to stand together in solidarity to ensure fair access to the all Jewish holy places like Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb, rather than be bogge

d down in intense infighting over mixed prayer at the Kotel. Energy needs to expended upon fair prayer and fighting racism not denominational antipathy. Dueling over who decides what is authentic prayer distracts Jews from historic milestone of unfettered access to the Kotel denied for so many generations by successive occupying powers. It was not so long ago that no Jew could pray at the Kotel at all.

The debate must be change from the narrow question of fair access to a universal one – from “who prays where” at the Kotel, to “who prays where” in Jerusalem.


The Economics of Generosity: A Homeless Man’s Advice to Restaurateurs

Cross Posted from HuffingtonPost.com

If you want your restaurant to prosper, give free food to the homeless. This is according to the anecdotal evidence put forward by my homeless friend Yehuda. Yehuda has been on the streets for five years in Los Angeles and can can’t shake a heroin addiction. He lives on small change from kind souls … and restaurants. Yehuda once had a thriving window dressing business and a million friends. Today he depends on people’s leftovers and meals from generous restaurants for his fare.

Yehuda taught me this important lesson when a recently opened, kosher-certified, national franchise shut down, much to the surprise of the neighborhood. The story followed an arc that Yehudah had seen before.

Yehudah began approaching the new fast-food sandwich shop that had opened on his regular stretch of road. They were generous with Yehuda, offering him a sandwich as much as once a day. The food went a long way to sustaining him, and a few other homeless Jews who call Pico-Robertson home.

The new gleaming store was packed the first few months. But as time went on, the crowds became thinner. Eventually, the free sandwiches became less and less frequent. The worse business got, the more they resented him. Soon they stopped giving him food. Within months the restaurant had closed its doors. A successful national franchise, on a popular restaurant block, with special kosher certification, was now a thing of memory.

If this were one isolated case, it would not prove anything. But it was not.

Over the course of these five years, Yehudah has seen other restaurants come and go. The same pattern of generosity followed by hostility accompanied the downfall of all those restaurants. There was one place that chased him out with a broom — they were closed within a month. It didn’t matter that Yehudah warned them against treating the homeless this way. He warned them that their tight fist, would be their downfall. But who is going to listen to a junkie homeless man for business advice? Nobody it seems.

One of the businessmen that didn’t treat Yehudah well, who subsequently opened a new shop after his latest one failed, began to see that Yehudah had a point. He started giving Yehudah food every day. Whenever Yehudah stopped by, he was sure to walk away with something fresh to eat. Yehuda said the business was booming.

I went to check this out for myself.

Passing by this establishment for the last six months, I can attest that the place is thriving. Customers line up for food. They run out of product all the time. The owner is happy, and the business, even in these times when small restaurants are really hurting, is thriving.

Restaurants often chase the homeless away, instead of inviting them to the backdoor for a warm meal. We, the customers, loathe their pan-handling when we are trying to have a coffee with friends. We resent them for interfering with our plans to go and get something to eat, and for making us feel guilty. Let someone else give them a hand, I have heard said too many times.

Prosperity is not deserved, but is a blessing bestowed by God. The Torah teaches that when a person puts out his or her hand, it is a commandment to fill it. Therefor it is not surprising that the Torah’s economic principles can be a lesson to us all. Generosity begets blessing.

Hopefully, someday soon, our MBA students will learn about the economics of generosity, and restaurants that want to have a fighting chance, will adopt Yehuda’s simple business plan.

Follow Rabbi Yonah Bookstein on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RabbiYonah

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Thou Shalt Unplug Thyself – Reboot Your Week On Shabbat

San Francisco-based conceptual artist Jessica Tully designed this cell phone bag as a way to resist the temptation of the distracting electronic glow of our cell phones and cameras.  Limited  Edition, 4″ x 6″ Hemp with soy based ink. Logo design by Lucie Kim. (Out of stock!)

San Francisco-based conceptual artist Jessica Tully designed this cell phone bag as a way to resist the temptation of the distracting electronic glow of our cell phones and cameras. Limited Edition, 4″ x 6″ Hemp with soy based ink. Logo design by Lucie Kim. (Out of stock!)

Unplugging from the wired world sounds ideal, but impossible. We have never been more connected than we are now, and taking a break even for a nano-second can seem unconscionable. But now, fresh from creative minds at Reboot, and the feature of a popular NY Times article is the Sabbath Manifesto – a clarion call to those caught up in the face paced, hectic world, to observe the ancient call of the Day of Rest:

And the Children of Israel observed the Sabbath, to make the Sabbath for their generations an eternal covenant. Between Me and the Children of Israel it is a sign forever, that in six days did HASHEM make the heaven and the earth,and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.’

Ok, that was not the Sabbath Manifesto, per say, it is a passage from the Torah, recited during prayers Friday Night and Saturday, and recited during the ritual blessing of the wine on Saturday afternoon.

The Reboot Manifesto is right now: 1. Avoid Technology, 2. Connect With Loved Ones, 3. Nurture Your Health 4. Get Outside 5. Avoid Commerce 6. Light Candles 7. Drink Wine 8. Eat Bread 9. Find Silence 10. Give Back

Reboot are far from being Luddites. These are hyper-connected folks. Rather they are advocating one day of keeping the Sabbath as a means to better our lives (and make Bubbe proud.)

Join us in fighting back against the tidal wave of technology taking over society and our lives. Are you sick of having conversations with people with their noses buried in an iPhone? Are you that person?

Put down the cell phone, stop the status updates on Facebook, shut down Twitter, sign out of e-mail and relax, as part of our National Day of Unplugging.


With the huge success of the getting the word out about the Sabbath Manifesto – I really do hope that tens of millions of people join – I would like to recommend that Reboot take on some addition modern issues with ancient Jewish ideas.

To heal monotonous, romance-less marriages, create a project advocating marital abstinence one or two weeks a month to help rekindle that missing spark: MikvahManifesto.org

To feed the poor, protect the widow and orphan, cloth and shelter the homeless, create a project advocating tithing ten-percent of our net earnings for donations to the poor. See the tzedakahmanifesto.org

That is just for starters – we can do a lot to help improve our lives, and those around us, with some of that Torah stuff.

We will be making a L’Chaim to Reboot tonight. Shabbat Shalom!


Rose Bowl Rabbinic Rivalry

When Oregon and Ohio State take the field tomorrow in Pasadena at the Rose Bowl, there will be more going on than meets the eye.

Enter Rabbi Drew Kaplan, newly appointed head of Jewish Student Services and SoCal Campus Rabbi at Long Beach State, and across Orange County. Rabbi Drew is loves Torah, his family, and Buckeye Football. A native of Ohio Drew will be praying for a Bucks victory at the Rose Bowl.

Then there is me, past head of Jewish Student Services and a SoCal Campus Rabbi, and now Director at JConnect. I love Torah, my family, and Duck Football. I am a native of Michigan, and will be praying for a Ducks victory in Pasedena.

Now both of us being Shabbat observant Jews, our passion for our respective college football teams could not help but be tempered by the reality that we cannot watch any of these games live. The only times I seem to ever see the Ducks play football is in a Bowl Game. And this is a big deal — Ohio State (10-2) hasn’t played in the Rose Bowl since 1997, while Oregon (10-2) hasn’t made it since 1995.

If measured in Jewish students, Ohio State has a clear edge. With 3,200 Jewish students approximately, it is the 16th largest concentration of Jewish students at a public university in the country. Oregon, has perhaps 1,000 Jewish students, and doesn’t even rank in the top 30.

The Ducks have a famous Jewish alum who plays now for Dallas, Igor Olshansky. Ohio State has John Frank, who also was part of the Israeli Bobsled team!

We were going to set out and go together to the game. The moment that this matchup was announced, we realized the monumental nature of this contest, and the ramifications for Jewish life in California and beyond.

I had dreams of a kosher tailgate party, where Jews from both sides of this contest, could break bread together, and enjoy harmony before the war of roses.

I imagined the scene of praying mincha at half-time, one part of the minyan in Duck colors, the other in Buckeye colors. Jews, divided by geography, and allegiances, could lay down their vocal weapons and for a moment give thanks to the almighty. I imagined a harmonious moment that could usher in the Messianic age.

But then we realized that this game was being played on Erev Shabbat. I frantically contacted Drew and we began thinking of plans. We could try to get rooms (unlikely) staying at a hotel near the stadium, in case the game was still going on when Shababt arrived. We contemplated making a Shabbat Tent in the Rose Bowl parking lot, but management doesn’t allow overnights.

This once-in-a-life-time contest would have to be watched from the comfort and affordability of home. When the dust settles on the field, we will get back to planning Jewlicious Festival.

Go Ducks, Go Buckeys, Go Shabbos!
A side note — both teams are staying in five-star hotels down the street from our offices on Avenue of the Stars. They arrived on Monday from the airport with police escorts in four large tour buses.