How I came to understand Israel’s elections

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I just finished reading an article about the Israeli elections in the Friday issue of The Jerusalem Post and, for the first time, I finally understood it.

Although I have previously tried to comprehend how Israel’s election process works, it wasn’t until today that something finally clicked. It could be that it was because on Thursday night a member of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s staff explained it to me during a dinner conversation and Friday I attended a panel discussion about the elections that included Jerusalem Post Editor-in-Chief Steve Linde.

Both of these took place during a press trip to Israel through the American Jewish Press Association. As I write this, I am still on this incredible journey that was sponsored by the Israel Ministry of Tourism and El Al.

During this trip, we have visited many popular tourist destinations – Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to Jewish victims of the Holocaust; The Israel Museum, which includes the Book of the Shrine that houses the Dead Sea Scrolls; the City of David National Park, where we toured a site believed to be King David’s Palace and walked through an underground tunnel; the Kotel and the Old City; and the Mahana Yehuda fruit and vegetable market that was bustling with pre-Shabbat activity. In the next few days, I’ll be visiting sites in the Northern Galilee, while others on the tour visit Masada and Eilat, and then we’ll all meet in Tel Aviv.

Participating in a panel discussion about Israel's elections are, from left, Abraham Diskin, professor emeritus of the department of political science of Hebrew University; Jerusalem Post Editor-in-Chief Steve Linde; and Uri Dromi, executive director of the Jerusalem Press Club.

Participating in a panel discussion about Israel’s elections are, from left, Abraham Diskin, professor emeritus of the department of political science of Hebrew University; Jerusalem Post Editor-in-Chief Steve Linde; and Uri Dromi, executive director of the Jerusalem Press Club. Photos by Leisah Woldoff

There were a few special additions for this press trip, including a tour of the headquarters of Yad Sarah, the country’s largest volunteer organization, and the panel discussion mentioned above, which also included Abraham Diskin, professor emeritus of the department of political science of Hebrew University, and Uri Dromi, executive director of the Jerusalem Press Club. The goal of the newly established Jerusalem Press Club is to present a personal side of Israel to members of the foreign media – both those who are stationed in Israel and those who are temporarily covering breaking stories, according to Dromi. On Jan. 25, the 23 AJPA press trip participants received a tour of the facility, which is currently being renovated and is scheduled to open in June.

The facility is located in Mishkenot Sha’ananim, a neighborhood that was built more than 150 years ago by Sir Moses Montefiore of Britain and is the first Jewish neighborhood in modern-day Jerusalem, according to the Jerusalem Foundation. Earlier this year, the Jerusalem Foundation received a $2.5 million grant from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust to establish the press club.

Dromi, whose background includes serving as director of the Government Press Office, where he was the chief spokesman for the Rabin and Peres governments, also writes a column about Israel in the Miami Herald. During the tour, he described his vision: The Jerusalem Press Club will be a place where journalists will have a home-away-from-home that includes a working station, a lounge, a briefing room where they can hold interviews, and a state-of-the-art studio. Journalists covering Israel will have a place to stay and mingle with Israeli, Palestinian and international sources, Dromi said, and the press club will also arrange home hospitality visits. This will help the foreign press get to know the personal side of Israel, Dromi said, rather than just its politics, and gain an in-depth understanding of life in Israel. Future plans also include programs for student journalists and for groups of journalists who cover specific topics, such as arts, agriculture, wine or science.

Uri Dromi, executive director of the Jerusalem Press Club, right, gives a tour of what will be the new facility’s restaurant.

One dream of Dromi’s is to someday pick up a newspaper at any airport in the world and see articles that reflect the positive contributions of Israel to the world. I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to visit Israel and experience it firsthand, rather than just through the pages of our newspaper, and hope all who wish to also get the opportunity someday.

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Phoenix doctor wins Potamkin Prize

Mazel tov to Dr. Eric M. Reiman of the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute here in Phoenix for being one of three researchers to receive the 2013 Potamkin Prize for Research in Pick’s, Alzheimer’s and Related Diseases from the American Academy of Neurology. (Watch Jewish News for a deeper article about the award and his work in an upcoming issue.)

He will share the $100,000 award, along with Dr. William J. Jagust of the University of California, Berkeley and Dr. Michael W. Weiner of the San Francisco VA Medical Center at the academy’s 65th annual meeting, scheduled for March 16-23 in San Diego.

The academy announced that Reiman was being recognized for his efforts to characterize some of the earliest brain changes associated with the predisposition to Alzheimer’s disease, accelerate the evaluation of promising prevention therapies and help establish the Alzheimer’s Prevention Initiative .

“I am grateful for the opportunity to help launch a new era in Alzheimer’s prevention research and seek treatments to end this devastating disease without losing another generation,” Reiman was quoted as saying in the academy’s announcement. “It has been a privilege to work with my research colleagues, collaborators and other outstanding individuals in the pursuit of our shared goals.”

The Potamkin Prize is named after the Potamkin family of Colorado, Philadelphia and Miami, which has provided more than $2.5 million to fund the prize. The prize is meant to help attract the best medical minds and most dedicated scientists in the world to the field of dementia research. The Potamkin family has been the Academy’s single largest individual donor since 1988, providing more than $2.5 million to fund the Potamkin Prize. Learn more about Pick’s, Alzheimer’s disease and related diseases at the American Academy of Neurology’s site.
The academy is an association of more than 25,000 neurologists and neuroscience professionals, those with specialized training in diagnosing, treating and managing disorders of the brain and nervous system such as Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, migraine, multiple sclerosis, brain injury, Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy.


Valedictory moment

Bob Silver joked that at the end of the second annual meeting of the Jewish Community Association of Greater Phoenix he would have the most coveted title in the organization – immediate past chairman.

Indeed, while the Jan. 16 event held at Congregation Beth Israel in Scottsdale was held to honor many volunteers – Berry Sweet, who received the Medal of Honor; Debbie Berkowitz, who received the Lee Amada Young Leadership Award; Hillel Jewish Student Center at ASU, which received the Belle Latchman Community Service award for its Pink Friday breast-cancer awareness event; and Roslyn Vinnik, who received the Valley of the Sun JCC’s Volunteer of the Year Award – the evening was a victory lap for Silver, who had the reins of the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix and its successor the association through a turbulent financial crisis and eventual consolidation with the VOSJCC.

During his tenure as chairman of the federation/association, Silver has exemplified the theme of the event – “The Power of You,” the power of a single individual to improve things in this world. He deflected such praise by acknowledging the help he had through the federation’s financial meltdown and the rebuilding effort that led to the association’s establishment last year: “There were so many people who gave. I asked and they gave.”

Yet his successor, Joel Kramer, who now takes the reins, praised Silver succinctly and pointedly: “People told me, ‘You’re going to have some big shoes to fill.’ … A volunteer should never, ever, ever, ever be expected to sacrifice like Bob did.”


Rally recap

If there was any conclusion to be drawn from the Jewish community’s Rally for Israel this evening, it was that Jewish organizations around the Valley are united in their support of Israel.

More than 60 Jewish organizations sponsored the rally, which filled the gym at the Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center in Scottsdale.

As Stuart Wachs, president and CEO of the Jewish Community Association of Greater Phoenix, said during his closing remarks, despite the cease-fire, “Israel remains at extreme risk.” The rally was called before the cease-fire.

Several speakers, including Dana Erlich, Consul of Public Diplomacy with the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles, emphasized that Nov. 29 was the date 65 years ago that the United Nations approved the partition plan that led to the establishment of the State of Israel. Now, in 2012, the U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly approved the Palestinian Authority’s bid to be recognized as an observer state. Erlich was adamant that this move was not a road to peace and that peace (and Palestinian statehood) could only achieved through negotiations between Israel and the PA. There was a big impromptu round of applause for that statement.

An audio-video segment allowed the mayors of Kiryat Malachi (where three died in a rocket attack last week) and Hof Ashkelon to send thank you messages for American support — particularly support from the association through its TIPS partnership. (TIPS stands for Tucson, Israel, Phoenix and Seattle, with the Jewish communities of the American cities giving financial support to social programs in Kiryat Malachi and the Hof Ashkelon region.) In addition, former community schlicha (emissary) from Israel Sharron Topper-Amitai provided an audio message recalling her years here, when she stood with the local community at a similar rally when Israel was embroiled in Operation Cast Lead.

Rabbi Darren Kleinberg read passages from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s “Israel: An Echo of Eternity,” which described how our tradition views bloodshed as an abomination and offered a vision of Israel as a bountiful place that could be shared if all parties pursued peace.

Rabbi Pinchas Allouche tied Operation Pillar of Defense to Hanukkah, noting that when the rabbis of the Talmud asked, “What is Hanukkah?” The answer wasn’t the military victory of the Maccabees over King Antiochus but the miracle of the oil that lit the Temple for eight days. “What about the military victory? Isn’t that much more important?” No, he said, the rabbis emphasized the supernatural, the soul. “This is what connects us (to Israel). It is this soul that we must ignite and celebrate.”

As Wachs, the closing speaker, stressed, “(Israel) is part of all of us.” If there were no Israel, he asked, “Where would our people have the experience of being in a Jewish country?”

Wachs’ speech was followed by a prayer for Israel led by at least a score of rabbis and cantors, and a Pardes Jewish Day School students who sang “Oseh Shalom” and “Am Yisrael Chai.” The Jewish people live indeed.


See you at the Rally? Join the conversation

The Jewish News editorial staff will be covering the Jewish community Rally for Israel tonight at the Ina Levine Jewish Community Campus in Scottsdale. (For details on the event, click here.)

One of our perennial problems when we worked exclusively in “old media,” publishing a weekly newspaper, was how to cover events that took place shortly after our paper went to press. We could only write up events that happened on Wednesday or Thursday in the paper that came out on Friday of the next week. In the era of the 24-hour news cycle, such a long lag between event and publication seemed not only old-fashioned but made our coverage of timely events seem irrelevant.

Tonight will be different. Our staff will be there to gather comments, photos, details and impressions — all the usual stuff of journalism — but we’ll also be tweeting about the rally in real time as the night goes on using the hashtag #PhxIsraelrally — and we invite you to join the conversation using that hashtag.

My Twitter feed is @scaputophx and my tweets will also be posted at www.facebook.com/CaputoJewishNews.

I also plan to post here as soon as I can after the rally.

You can follow my colleagues as well.

Leisah Woldoff’s Twitter is @LeisahPhx and her Facebook page is www.facebook.com/LeisahJewishNews.

Marilyn Hawkes’ Twitter is @hawkesphx and her Facebook page is www.facebook.com/HawkesJewishNews.

We are very excited to have these new options for coverage at a time when community solidarity is so critical. Am Yisrael chai.


Thanksgiving and Gaza

As you know, we’re a small media organization and we’re pretty much taking off from this afternoon through the weekend from our job of covering news that’s crucial to our community.

This morning, two breaking news stories — one on a cease-fire in the Gaza conflict and one about a bus explosion in Tel Aviv – came in, but we’ve already put our Friday paper to bed.

As you’ll see when our newspaper reaches your door and/or when the latest stories go live at our website at jewishaz.com, we have many local connections in Israel whose lives are endangered by the rocket fire and other acts of terror.

We offer a link to jta.org where JTA News & Features will post the latest breaking news on the conflict, and to JNS.org, which does the same. For news directly from Israel, if you don’t already know, Jerusalem Post and Ynet offer a range of perspectives. Feel free to comment on our Facebook page to let readers know which sources you’re consulting.

With any luck a cease-fire will hold while we enjoy our Thanksgiving holiday, but we know there are no assurances, so that’s why we offer these tips for keeping abreast of what’s happening.

May you have a wonderful Thanksgiving day and let us give thanks for even a momentary silence in the conflict. Shalom.


Update on Bulgaria bombing and how to help

ZAKA volunteers examining the scene of the terror attack on the Israeli tour bus at the Sarafovo Airport in Burgas, Bulgaria on July 18. Photo courtesy of ZAKA.

We were horrified to hear about the barbaric bombing in Bulgaria yesterday that took the lives of innocent people. If you want to help the surviving victims and the families of those killed, the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Fund for the Victims of Terror is accepting donations.

The fund will provide financial assistance to Israelis wounded in the attack in Bulgaria and to the families of those killed.  The assistance, made possible by a contribution from The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), is meant to help those affected by the attack address supplemental needs not covered by Israeli government bodies.  Any family that experienced the loss or injury of a loved one in the attack may request assistance from the fund.

One of the survivors shared his account of the tragedy here.

Jewish Agency Chairman of the Executive Natan Sharansky said that the assistance provided by The Jewish Federations of North America demonstrates the solidarity of Jews around the world with the terrible pain of those Israelis wounded in the attack and with the deep mourning of the families of those killed.

The Jewish Agency’s Fund for the Victims of Terror, established in 2002, provides financial assistance to victims of terror in Israel.  Since its establishment, the fund—which is sustained by contributions from Jewish federations, philanthropic foundations, and donors around the world—has enabled The Jewish Agency to provide thousands of terror victims and their families with assistance at a scope of more than NIS 100 million.