Monthly Archives: July 2012

Israel’s Highless Marijuana

by Daniela Enriquez

A new oxymoron is born. After non-alcoholic beer and decaf coffee, the world is finally ready to welcome “highless” marijuana. Israeli scientists working at Tikkun Olam–the first and largest medical cannabis cultivator in Israel–created a new variant of the plant capable of easing patients’ pain without getting them high. All of this happened recently near Tsfat and, let me say, there couldn’t have been a better place for it. Located in northern Israel, Tsfat is the birthplace of kabbalah, Jewish mysticism.

Two questions arose in my mind when I read about the news. How did they do it–and why?

Let’s start with the second question. Like many, I thought that the high produced from cannabis was the reason why it is used with terminal patients and people suffering from terrible pain. Apparently, this is just partially true. Cannabis has more than sixty constituents, called cannabinoids, two of which are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiolol (CBD). In spite of their extremely long, highly scientific-sounding names, their goals are quite simple.

THC is the component that affects the brain’s receptors and thus, is responsible for the well-known “high” effect caused by smoking marijuana. On the other hand, CBD is the component with anti-inflammatory effects. Scientists at Tikkun Olam realized that, by taking out the THC from the cannabis plant and enriching it with CBD, they could obtain a “highless” marijuana, also known as Avidekel.

I talked to Zach Klein, head of development at Tikkun Olam, to find out more; below is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.

When did your team start its work on Avidekel?

About three years ago. The work we do is based on agriculture and cross fertilization of plants—that is the basic process we are working on. One reason why we started to work on medical highless marijuana was the pressure we received from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. They really wanted the CBD plants.

Can you explain in a few words the different uses of CBD and THC?

CBD can be used much more as a medical instrument for therapy; THC is also therapeutic, but has an immediate effect on symptoms, which CBD doesn’t have. So, there is a big difference.

Why bother creating a marijuana plant without the high effect?

When I heard about the idea of creating Avidekel, a CBD plant without THC, I thought, “Why?” Since then, I followed the scientists’ research–for example, now I am in Germany waiting for the opening and welcome reception of the ICRS Conference, the International Cannabinoid Research Society. I followed the conferences and the scientists to see and hear what they learned and what they knew about this plant. In the last few years they talked a lot about CBD, about cannabidiol, and it is very interesting. However, whatever I heard was almost exclusively theory: All the research had been done on animals, and only in laboratories, despite the fact that cannabis was already known as a good thing to use for medical purposes.

A year and a half ago, we started a project in a nursing home. We made cannabis available for the institution to give to their patients. Of course, they are not people that want to smoke in order to get high; they do it as part of their medical treatment. We were using a very high THC plant with almost no CBD. For the patients in the nursery, it was sometimes so much THC that they couldn’t cope with the mind-altering effect. Some of them couldn’t use the medicine, the cannabis, at all. When we started using CBD, the picture changed. Patients who couldn’t stand the effect of THC were able to use this cannabis with CBD. One of the things cannabidiol is capable of doing is lowering the psychoactive effect of THC. Used by itself, CBD is an anti-inflammatory and lowers pain when it comes from an inflammation: Lowering the inflammation enables a lower level of pain.

Why should someone use Avidekel rather than a normal pain killer?

Some painkillers have side effects: They can cause addiction and are poisonous for the human body. Patients with kidney-related problems can’t use the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. On the contrary, Avidekel has no known side effects.

Why should someone use Avidekel rather than a normal pain reliever?

The first question to ask is, “Why should someone use cannabis, at all?” and not just why Avidekel. Why should we use cannabis for medical purposes since it is considered a drug? Despite that, for some reason, some governments in the world, among them the Israeli government, decided that cannabis is a good thing to use in medical situations where nothing else can be of any help. That is the first reason why we started to use marijuana: When everything else didn’t work, we tried to use it and thought, “Maybe this can help.”

Have you already tested Avidekel on humans? If not, when are you going to start?

We have tried it on a few people and we got good responses. It is not the same kind of response as the one obtained from normal marijuana. It doesn’t have the dramatic immediate effect caused by THC, but after 10 days or two weeks, people start to feel better. We are now approaching clinical trials with Avidekel. Of course, it is going to take a few months, but we already have the initial approval by the Ministry of Health and the physicians who would work on it.

Should patients be free to choose between tradition marijuana and Avidekel?

Of course, they should have the right to choose. We don’t offer just two different strands of medical marijuana. We have several kinds of plants with combined percentages of CBD and THC. In this way, patients can try different typologies and choose the best for them.

What kind of patients benefit from either regular cannabis or Avidekel?

People who use medical cannabis and Avidekel come from several different kinds of diseases. Pain can have many different causes.

Patients with inflammatory bowel diseases, like Crohn’s disease, have a very difficult life. When they use medical marijuana, with THC, they can feel the difference but sometimes the psychoactive effect makes it impossible for them to have a normal life. If we make them feel better but they are unable to work or leave their houses, we have only accomplished half of our goal.

Now, we are able to give them a high-CBD, low-THC plant that can give them relief, without a high psychic activity and bring them back to their normal lives.

Klein told me that the best success while studying medical marijuana was with Holocaust survivors stricken by nightmares of Nazis and concentration camps. Cannabis helped them to sleep again: “The Nazis and nightmares are all gone—and with them the fear. This is one of the most exciting aspects of what we do.”


An Israeli Olympics

by Daniela Enriquez

The build-up to the Olympics is always a busy one for those participating. The athletes need to be in good shape and well prepared in order to succeed, the flag-bearers for the opening ceremony have to be chosen and heads of state are called to take photos with their national teams.

As with other countries, Israel’s July was full of “Olympic” contingencies and problems to solve. First of all, the decision to hold the opening ceremony on a Friday night led Shimon Peres to remain home, refraining from flying to London in order to respect Shabbat. The decision made by the Israeli president is admirable and well represents the culture of his country; I wonder whether we will follow his example and abstain from watching the opening ceremony this Friday evening…

Thumb up for President Peres!

The second issue regards the initial decision made by the BBC Olympics 2012 website, to list Jerusalem as the national capital of Palestine, rather than of Israel, leaving a blank space under the name of the Israeli capital. Requests for an explanation came from all over the country, including from the press and politicians. Bewildered by the BBC’s decision, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used Facebook to launch an appeal to all supporters of “Israeli Jerusalem.” This social network campaign is called “Jerusalem is the Capital of Israel,” and already has almost 20,000 fans. After this protest, BBC Olympics 2012 decided to move Jerusalem to Israel, living a blank where Palestine has formerly had a capital city. Complicating the situation, the BBC website located Israel in Europe, while Palestine remained in Asia.

Definitely, thumbs down for BBC!


However, the most serious problem relates to the 40th anniversary of the Munich massacre, in which 11 Israeli Olympic athletes and coaches were taken as hostages and killed. The International Olympic Committee is refusing to observe a one-minute silence, requested by the state of Israel, in honor of the people who lost their lives in that terrible event. Israel has not given up on this, and the quarrel over whether or not there will be a moment of silence remains open, with many public figures–including Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney and NBC sportscaster Bob Costas–joining the call for a moment of silence. Iranian athletes let the world know that, in the event that the Committee decides to respect the Israeli request, they will keep the silence along with the rest of the world.

I am holding my thumbs on this, and await Friday!

In the meantime, still shocked by the terrorist attack in Bulgaria, Israeli and British forces are working together to assure the highest level of security for all athletes at the games.

Before checking out the Israeli Olympic team of 2012, let’s have a look at how Israel did in past games. Israeli athletes seem to be especially good at canoeing, judo and sailing. In the last event, they won two bronze medals in 1996 and 2008 and a gold in Athens in 2004. In 1992, the Israeli team earned one silver and one bronze medal in judo, and another bronze in 2004. Finally, during the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Israel took the third spot in canoeing. To summarize, overall they have won one gold, one silver and five bronze for a total of… medals.

Come on Israel, you can do better! I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you!

This year’s Israeli team is composed of 37 members, 19 men and 18 women, who are set to compete in several fields. Among these are badminton, artistic gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics, judo, sailing, shooting, swimming, synchronized swimming and Tennis.

Two members of the Israeli team have unusual stories: Donald Sanford and Zohar Zimro, two athletes with very different stories but two things in common–their love of sports and an acquired Israeli citizenship.

Sanford was born in the United States and his Olympic journey started at Arizona State University. As a student there, he met Danielle, an Israeli girl from Ein Shemer, a kibbutz in northern Israel. The two fell in love and got married. Even though Sanford was not raised as a Jew, he got to know the religious traditions and culture of Israel through his wife’s family. Sanford eventually decided to make aliyah, obtaining an Israeli passport and citizenship. After beginning his career in the 1500-meter dash, Sanford soon switched to the 400-meter dash, in which he will compete this year.

Zohar’s story is different from Sanford’s, but similar to those of other Africans who, as he did, emigrated from Ethiopia to Israel in the late 1980s, following their Zionist dream. The marathon runner described his life as a “Cinderella story” which brought him closer than ever to fulfilling his biggest dream: “achieving something historic at the Olympics” in order to be remembered forever in Israel.

What to say? Yalla, Zohar! Yalla!

The most famous character of the Israeli Olympic team had a bit of drama: Baby Bamba, the vetoed Israeli mascot. The cartoon was initially chosen to be the mascot of the 2012 team, but in March, it was removed from the list of mascots. Its fault? Looking too similar to the logo of a popular children’s snack.

But Israelis aren’t the only ones with “Olympic” problems. July is the month of Ramadan–so it won’t be easy for all the Muslim athletes who will need to compete on an empty stomach.

Six Figures for a Thirteenth Birthday

By Lily Shoulberg

Growing up in New York City, I’ve always had plenty of Jewish friends, gone to public schools with significant Jewish populations, and, in turn, attended my fair share of lavish bar mitzvahs.  I think most Jewish New Yorkers can attest to the fact that when seventh grade rolls around, the fancy envelopes start pouring in and the schedule becomes filled with saved bar and bat mitzvah dates.  The parties usually feature at least one ice sculpture, and would not be complete without a photographer to capture embarrassing images of all the awkward pre-teen guests.

But what, really, should a bar mitzvah entail?

The bar mitzvah is supposed to occur at the time of the Jewish child’s (traditionally, only Jewish boys) thirteenth birthday.  He reads a section from the Torah, and in doing so, proves that he would be prepared to lead the congregation in a service.  Additionally, there is generally a tzedakah component, wherein the bar mitzvah contributes to a charity of his or her choice.  The significance of a bar mitzvah originally was that it symbolized the coming-of-age and manhood of a Jewish boy.

Today, however, many bar mitzvahs more accurately represent social standing and financial status than religious devotion.  Most of my peers who went through the entire process feel very little connection to their Jewish identities and ultimately regret the exorbitant sum that was spent on a single night of loud music and mediocre food.  Furthermore, very few of them maintained any knowledge of Hebrew and went on to assist in services at their synagogues.

I think I have a unique perspective on the issue.  I attended a number of very fancy bat mitzvahs and certainly felt the societal pressure to follow suit, but had been given quite a bit of freedom and independence by my parents, who felt that I could make the decision for myself.  I attended a year of Hebrew school when I was nine, before deciding that it wasn’t for me.  My parents, as usual, supported my decision.  When seventh grade rolled around, I naturally became envious of my peers and their larger-than-life celebrations, and decided that I would get a private tutor and cram for a bat mitzvah so I could have a fancy party of my own.  Luckily, this decision didn’t even make it past my mind to my parents’ ears.  I realized, not several hours after making this resolution, how fundamentally flawed it really was.  I felt very little religious fervor at the time, my Jewish identity was entirely cultural, and my motivation was completely attributed to societal pressure.

Of course there are Jewish children who feel that their bar mitzvahs signify their religious identities.  Some parents raise their children with the expectation of this rite of passage.  My mother grew up attending Hebrew School and had a bat mitzvah without a big party afterwards.  I expect that this greatly contributed to her religiosity and spirituality as she got older.  Because of my mother’s example, I see no problem in raising your children with religion and expecting them to pursue a bar mitzvah for the purpose of instilling them with a spiritual identity.  That being said, it should go hand in hand with actual interest in religion.  The fact that I will have to pursue an adult bat mitzvah of my own volition means that I’ll first have to establish a religious identity, which, to me, is more significant than being motivated by social pressure.  I know that my parents have had their doubts about being so lenient when it came to religion, but I’m glad that it went the way it did.  They clearly did something right if I realized that my superficial desire for a bat mitzvah was for all the wrong reasons.

Is the New York Times More Jewish than Moment?

By Rebecca Borison

For the past couple of months I’ve been mastering the skill of finding Jewish-related news. I follow the Jewish blogs and sites—Jewcy, Jewlicious, JTA—and the Israeli newspapers—JPost, Arutz Sheva, Haaretz. But my favorite articles are
those found in non-Jewish sources. I love going to the New York Times homepage to see an article about making kosher cocktails. Or the article about playing gaga at Jewish Summer Camps. Or the one about how Haredim cope with the summer heat.

You always hear questions like, “If there are so few Jews in the world relative to other religions, why do we keep winning Nobel prizes?” As of 2011, Jews make up around 0.2 percent of the world’s population, and yet 22 percent of Nobel recipients between 1901 and 2011 were Jewish.  Maybe my fellow intern Lily Shoulberg can help us out with that one. But what I’d like to know is if there are so few Jews in the world, why do we keep popping up in the news?

Granted, major newspapers aren’t going to be able to choose whether or not to write about the conflict in the Middle East and Israel’s relationship with Iran, but I’m talking about the more quirky articles. Like Mark Oppenheimer’s column on a kosher Starbucks website.

In Oppenheimer’s column, he profiles Uri Ort, a Jewish New Yorker who started a website that tracks the kashrut status of Starbucks products by labeling the various drinks and snacks with a green light for “recommended” and a red light for “not recommended.”

When I asked Oppenheimer how he came up with the topic, he replied, “I was in a Starbucks, and I saw an Orthodox fellow, and I had noticed this same man at a different coffee shop in New Haven, and I got curious about it.” He tweeted about it, asking if Starbucks was kosher, and someone responded with the Chicago Rabbinical Council official document on Starbucks’s kashrut. After searching some more on Google, Oppenheimer stumbled upon Ort’s website.

But Oppenheimer doesn’t think that he writes about Judaism more than other religions. “I never do columns thinking am I going to satisfy a religious constituent; I just want to write a good story.”

He does admit that perhaps Jews are over-represented in the media, but, he says, “Jews also do a lot of interesting things and have interesting arguments. There’s a lot more interesting controversy within American Judaism than within say the Methodist Church in America.” And Oppenheimer explains this phenomenon with the fact that Judaism is decentralized. “If you want to know what the Lutheran church believes, they have a general assembly that passes resolutions about what Lutherans believe. With Jews, every rabbi can teach something different which gives rise to controversy and argument.”

So what it all comes down to is the fact that Jews don’t agree on much of anything. Ever since the Jews fought the Seleucid Greeks in the second century B.C.E., the Jewish People was divided into different sects or movements. At first we had the Essenes, Sadducees, and Pharisees. Then came the Karaites. About a thousand years later, Judaism gave rise to the first modern movements—the Chasidim and the Mitnagdim. Today, the number of Jewish sects is endless: Ultra-orthodox, modern Orthodox, Conservadox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Humanist, Renewal, and the list goes on and on.

Even though Jews make up only a small percentage of the world’s population, the Jewish gamut is so incredibly wide and diverse that it automatically gives rise to newsworthy stories. As Oppenheimer puts it, “You could write an interesting column about American Judaism every week.”

The (True) Myth of the Jewish Democrat

By Daniela Enriquez

Elections are around the corner and once again the question presents itself—are Jews by nature Democrats? That American Jews tend to lean left is not news. After all, 74 percent of Jews voted for President Obama in 2008; the only group that voted more heavily for him was African Americans. However, the November elections are going to be quite interesting from this point of view. On one hand, Republicans keep saying that Jewish support for President Obama will decrease over the coming months. On the other hand, the GOP candidate, if elected, would become the first Mormon president and it’s hard to know whether this would impact “new world” Jewry and its relationship with Israel.

In the latest issue of Moment Magazine, we analyzed the most famous—and infamous—Jewish myths of all times; that got me thinking, so I decided to look around the latest political commentary to find out if there is any news regarding Jewish voters that could support or debunk the myth of the Jewish Democrat.

What I found is not exactly a scoop; it was, however, quite interesting.  In fact, a newly released report by the North American Jewish Data Bank, “Jewish American Voting Behaviour 1972-2008,” upends the claim that Jewish voters are starting to swing to the right, showing that Jews are still voting overwhelmingly for Democrats, and that their support for liberal candidates is actually increasing, not decreasing.

The study shows that between 1972 and 1988, Republican candidates won 31 to 37 percent of the Jewish vote, and that in later decades, between 1988 and 2008, Jewish support for Republicans dropped to 15 to 23 percent. The report also shows that Jewish support for Democratic congressional candidates is even higher than for presidential candidates. According to these researchers, these numbers not only demonstrate that the majority of Jews have been, and will continue to be, liberal, but also that they tend to be more Democratic than all other Americans.

Despite this trend, some polls show that Jewish support for President Obama may be slipping. Right now, the president would receive 64 percent of Jewish votes, compared to 29 percent of Mitt Romney’s.

After reading through the report, two questions occupied my mind—if true, why is the number of Democratic Jews is declining? And how much does “Israel” matter in terms of political voting decisions?

For one, as Dr. Rafael Medoff writes, the relationship between the GOP and American Jewry has changed over the past few decades. When Jewish immigrants arrived, they where scared by what they considered a “WASP-only country clubs” Party, and found common values with the Democratic Party. But the situation has changed. The Republican Party has abandoned much of its old anti-Semitism, and is moving toward many Jewish values and needs. Now, not only do many Jews vote Republican, but several prominent American Jews are giving considerable amounts of money to Republican campaigns. One important example is the donations given by Sheldon Adelson to Restore Our Future, a Super PAC supporting Mitt Romney’s campaign.

According to Dr. Gilbert N. Kahn, writing in New Jersey Jewish News, every year many American Jews decide not to register for any party. They prefer to define themselves as liberals or independents rather than Democrats, and don’t want to be affiliated with any political institution. This means that in the states where it is necessary to register with a party in order to vote for its primary, many are not allowed to vote. Thus, statistics on Jews voting in Democratic primaries show that Jewish participation is decreasing. And that is the reason why the number of American Jews who vote for Democrats seems to decline!

Continuing to read Mr. Kahn’s article, I found the answer to my second question. According to an April 2012 poll by the Public Religion Research Institute, Israel and its relations with the United States are not the most important issues that American Jews think about when choosing a candidate to vote for. Just four percent of the Jewish population put Israel at the top of their political priority list. The majority prefers to give more importance to the issues of health care and the economy.

To summarize, American Jews are still overwhelmingly Democrats—although many prefer to be called liberals, and don’t always register officially as members of the Democratic Party. However, many Jews are still Republicans and willing to help the GOP to win the elections. Thus, the race for the November presidential elections is still quite open, and Jews are an important part of the equation!

L’Chaim in Lithuania

by Ellen Cassedy

Waving at me from across Castle Street was Violeta, a middle-aged woman with a broad, fair face and blond hair, her solid body squeezed into a tight, fashionable jacket and matching skirt.

We sat down at a checkered tablecloth and ordered a decidedly un-Jewish meal of shrimp salad, then raised our wine glasses.

“L’chaim!” I said, offering the traditional Jewish toast. To life!

“I sveikata!” she responded in Lithuanian. To health!

I’d come to Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, to study Yiddish and explore my Jewish family’s past. In so doing, I felt in some ways as if I was stepping into enemy territory. I knew that the Holocaust had been especially swift and thorough in this Baltic land. Some of my own family members were among those herded into ghettos or marched into the woods to be shot.

Growing up, I’d been taught to distrust–even hate–Lithuanians. “They were among the worst,” I was told.

A friend had connected me to Violeta, who was neither Jewish nor a professional history-confronter. Just an ordinary citizen. I’d written and asked if she’d talk to me about how her country was engaging with its 20th-century history, and she’d responded warmly, eager to help.

I took out my notebook. “Growing up in the Soviet era after the war,” I asked, “what did you learn about what happened to the Jews?”

She squeezed her eyes shut and furrowed her brow. “We knew about Auschwitz and Buchenwald,” she said. “We learned in school that many Jews died.”

“Did you learn about the pits in the forests where the Jews were shot and buried?” I asked. “The mass graves?”

Yes, she had learned about this, too. She looked away, then met my eyes. “But,” she said, “no one taught us in school how many Lithuanians were sent to Siberia by the Soviet power. Pregnant women and children–they died in Siberia!”

I knew something about the deportations Violeta was talking about. Before the German invasion, Red Army tanks rolled into Lithuania, and tens of thousands of people–Jews and non-Jews alike–were sent into exile. A knock at the door, and entire families–men, women and children–were ordered to pack what they could carry, herded onto freight trains and resettled in the east.

Violeta’s voice grew louder. “Many Jews were involved in the Soviet system,” she said heatedly. “The Jews were the ones who sent my people to Siberia!”

Now it was my turn to look away. At nearby tables, other city residents were talking and eating. No doubt some of them were also seething with such feelings.

I, too, was seething, I found. “The Jews” had sent her people to Siberia? How could she say that?

In the turbulent time before the German invasion, and again after the war–when Lithuania became a republic of the Soviet Union–a small but significant number of Soviet administrative posts were occupied by Jews, I knew. Although Jews were a small minority of government officials, and although only a small fraction of Jews were Communists, they stood out in the eyes of non-Jews.

I struggled to focus on what Violeta was saying. It was hard for me to listen to her as she placed the massacre of my people alongside the suffering of hers. It was hard for me to hold in my head the reality of non-Jewish suffering side by side with Jewish suffering. I hated hearing my people blamed for the suffering of hers.

This must be what people meant, I realized, when they said that half a century under two regimes had turned Lithuania into a cauldron, bubbling and boiling with competing martyrologies.

Now Violeta was slicing the air with her hand. “I want to say,” she declared, “that the Lithuanian people throughout history have loved other nationalities.” She paused. “That is, normal Lithuanian people loved others. The local men who helped round up Jews in 1941 were not normal people.

“But,” she said, “every nationality has some abnormal people. Lithuanians as a whole should not be blamed for the actions of a few.”

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, I’d heard, buried truths about both the Soviet era and the Nazi era were beginning to be exhumed. Educational initiatives were beginning to blossom. A new discourse had begun.

In fact, my conversation with Violeta was a part of that discourse. And if the conversation was not easy, I reflected, I was nonetheless glad to be having it.

To understand the land of my forebears, I had no choice but to open my ears. To do my part in preventing future genocides, I had to seek out ways to listen, to respond, to move forward from the fears and hatreds of the past.

So I turned back to Violeta. The dialogue was beginning.

Ellen Cassedy is the author of We Are Here: Memories of the Lithuanian Holocaust.

No Gaga Here: Extreme Summer Camps in the Middle East

By Rebecca Borison

While I grew up at a Jewish summer camp playing Gaga, kids growing up in slightly (read: very) different areas than me are partaking in slightly (read: very) different activities in summer camp. The Times of Israel recently published two separate articles on Extreme Summer Camps. The first article discusses a Hamas-run Gaza summer camp, where “activities include walking on knives, cleaning beaches and experiencing life as a security prisoner in an Israeli jail.” Five days later, the Times of Israel released a second article about a right-wing camp in Ramat Migron, where the girls learn “self-defense techniques, how to construct temporary dwellings and basic agriculture.”
So we have two camps representing the extremes of Israelis and Palestinians. But let’s take a closer look at these camps.

We’ll start with camp “We will live honorably” in Gaza. Now that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) no longer runs summer camps in Gaza, “We will live honorably” is the only option for kids in Gaza. This Hamas-run camp attracts around 70,000 kids from across the Gaza strip.  According to one of the camp directors, Omar Aql, the camps try to “strengthen the importance of volunteer work and create a clean social environment.” For example, campers participated in a campaign to clean the Nuseirat beach.

But then there are some disturbing camp activities as well. Campers are introduced to a model of an Israeli security prison in order to “reenact the daily suffering of Palestinian prisoners,” according to the Palestinian Maan news agency. The “prison” consists of an investigation room, a detention room, a confession extortion room, a solitary confinement room, a courtyard and an infirmary.
At Camp “Hilltop Youth,” the campers partake in some disturbing activities as well, learning krav maga in order to fight against any Arabs that may happen to attack them. The girls are also introduced to extreme living arrangements, spending four days without electricity or running water.  Unlike the “We will live honorably” camps, the “Hilltop youth” camp is one of many summer camps available in Israel. An Israeli child can have a normal camp experience at Camp Kimama or Camp Tapuz.

Both camps promote the immense value of devotion to one’s people. A camper from Gaza named Abdulaziz A-Saqa explained, “We learned that Palestinian prisoners suffer greatly for the Palestinian people.” One of the campers at Ramat Migron named Esther told the Israeli Newspaper, Ma’ariv, “Whoever comes here isn’t looking to go to a luna park (amusement park), rather to fight on behalf of the State of Israel.”

Both campers have been taught to devote their lives to their nation. They are instilled with a great sense of patriotism—to the extent that they will fight no matter the cost.

While Gaza camp counselor Abdul-Ghafour denies that the camp is training future Hamas militants, it definitely appears to be a strong possibility. Why else would these campers need to learn how to “slide over thorns using his elbows for propulsion” and run and jump through flaming hoops? According to the Washington Post, the campers are “told to fight Israel to liberate Palestine.”

According to Ma’ariv, the goal of the “Hilltop Youth” camp “is to train and recruit the next generation of warriors to settle the hills.” They even bring in speakers from the settlement movement, such as MK Michael Ben-Ari and Itamar Ben-Gvir.

Yes, that sounds just as extreme as training Gaza youth to be Hamas militants, but there is one crucial difference between the two: the camps’ relationship to their nation. The camp in Gaza is organized by Hamas. As the ruling power in Gaza since 2007, Hamas is not only condoning such camps but is funding and running them. The camp in Ramat Migron, on the other hand, is run solely by extremists. According to Ma’ariv, “security forces came to the outpost tens of times and destroyed the wooden shacks that the youth had built,” but each time the youth return to rebuild it. The State of Israel is not supporting extremists. They are trying to stop them. In fact, Ramat Migron is scheduled to be evacuated by August 1.

You can make an argument that likens these two camps, and you could make an argument that contrasts the two.  What it comes to at the end of the day is does the camp represent an extremist minority or an extremist people.

TIAA-CREF Divests from Caterpillar

By Julia Glauberman

In recent weeks, TIAA-CREF, a leading financial services organization that manages nearly $500 billion in assets, has announced that it will remove Caterpillar, Inc. from its socially responsible investment portfolio and to sell Caterpillar’s shares, which are worth around $73 million. Like the company’s move to divest from companies with business ties to the Sudanese government three years ago, this decision comes after much contentious debate on the subject.

Caterpillar has recently been the target of criticism for selling bulldozers to the IDF, which uses the machines to demolish Palestinian homes in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. However, TIAA-CREF’s public relations department has avoided citing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the source of its decision, instead pointing to Caterpillar’s recent downgrading in MSCI’s Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) ratings index.

TIAA-CREF’s apparent desire to distance itself from this decision and any related controversy is not surprising. Prior to MSCI’s revision of its ESG index, TIAA-CREF released a statement in response to calls to divest from Caterpillar that included the following: “While TIAA-CREF acknowledges participants’ varying views on Israeli and Palestinian policies and the Gaza Strip and West Bank, we are unable to alter our investment policy in accordance with those views.” But unlike TIAA-CREF, MSCI has acknowledged the conflict as one of three “key factors” that led to the ESG index revision.

Since TIAA-CREF’s announcement of its decision to divest, groups like Jewish Voice for Peace, BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions), and the Rachel Corrie Foundation are claiming the divestment as an indisputable victory. Whether or not the MSCI and TIAA-CREF decisions resulted directly from the actions taken by these groups, advocates of divestment surely have reason to celebrate. This is especially true for Craig and Cindy Corrie, parents of the late Rachel Corrie and creators of the foundation that bears her name. Rachel Corrie, a college student from Olympia, Washington, was killed in Gaza in 2003 after putting herself between a bulldozer and a Palestinian home.

Since Rachel’s highly publicized death, the Corries have brought lawsuits against both the State of Israel and Caterpillar. While they are still waiting on a decision from the Haifa District Court, which will be handed down in late August, their case against Caterpillar in the United States has already been dismissed, appealed and dismissed again. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s decision on the basis that, among other things, the judicial branch cannot and should not make rulings that affect foreign policy.

The decision also noted that even if the court possessed the power to make such rulings, Caterpillar could not be held accountable on the charges of aiding and abetting war crimes or violating any other international laws because the corporation is not a “state actor.” Furthermore, Judge Wardlaw, the author of the final decision, points out that the case is further complicated by the fact that all of Caterpillar’s contracts with the IDF have been approved and financed by the U.S. government as far back as 1990.

Despite the clearly controversial nature of Caterpillar’s involvement with the IDF and the potentially massive negative impact of the downgrading in MSCI’s ESG index, Caterpillar seems to still be faring well financially. Recent reports from Bloomberg, Forbes, and the Wall Street Journal point to impressive risk-adjusted gains, high dividend payouts, and increased global sales. Nevertheless, it should be interesting to see how the ESG downgrading, as well as the divestments by more firms like TIAA-CREF that may follow, will impact Caterpillar and its involvement with Israel.

Jewish Intellectualism

By Lily Shoulberg

It is no secret that Jews value education.  Just as I was raised with the culture, prayers and foods that have come to define my Jewish heritage, I was raised with the expectation that I would attend college.  In fact, I didn’t even realize, until embarrassingly late in my life, that college was not legally mandatory.  I was further disillusioned upon finding out that less than 30 percent of Americans attend college, while the rate among Jewish Americans is above 60 percent.

To what can this disproportionality be attributed?

The cultural origins of Jewish intellectualism can be traced back to the period from about 800 to 1650 C.E.  Jews in Europe were restricted from many areas of work, and had to turn to the fields of finance and trade, which required more cognitive mathematical abilities than did, for example, farming. There is also rudimentary record of a majority of Ashkenazim during this time in France who made their living in banking.  This almost exclusively Jewish niche was something of a reaction to a Christian belief against the lending of money for return with interest.  In a society where Jews could basically only take up the trade of banking, they had to become masterful.  Obviously this meant that only the most adept mathematicians, shrewdest negotiators and most clever businessmen would be successful. Naturally, Jews who didn’t possess these skills fell between the cracks, not allowed to pursue farming and craft, not allowed to own land and not able to succeed in the one area they were permitted.  Thus began a distinct custom wherein Jews were forced to value education and intelligence over physical strength, endurance or any of the other traits necessary for the work from which Jews had been restricted.

The culture that this phenomenon cultivated is a likely explanation for the disproportionately high rates of wealth, Nobel Prize winners, college attendance and exceptionally high IQ in the Ashkenazi Jewish community. I attribute these statistics to the stigma that has come to surround Jews and education.  I think it is also likely that the immigrant mentality and societal and familial expectations have caused so many Jews to pursue college degrees. Many of the Ashkenazi Jews in America have parents, grandparents or great grandparents who came to America with no money, seeking economic success, and were instilled with the belief that education, intelligence and diligent effort were the way to attain success. These values permeated their families and have been passed along through the ages.  I think many of my Jewish friends who will be applying to college next year alongside me will agree that there is a level of expectation in our families that we attend prestigious universities and go into “intellectual” fields like medicine and law. Though my lovely and supportive parents would never demand this, I know that many Jewish parents do, and I put a certain level of pressure on myself to attain these goals, simply because of cultural expectations.

Of course, because Judaism is a diverse body of people from all walks of life, there are some exceptions and anomalies that seem to run opposite to these assumptions about Jewish intellect.  The highest concentration of Jews, after Israel, resides in New York City, and according to the Jewish Community Study of New York: 2011, conducted by the UJA Federation of New York, the fastest-growing group among them is the Haredim (or ultra-Orthodox). According to Haredi custom, secular education ends around age 16, and higher education is not typically pursued. Though this may be a fringe group, the Haredim have a birth rate at least three times as high as that of non-Orthodox Jews, and therefore cannot be overlooked in conjectures about the Jewish population.  That being said, they are a fundamentally isolated and self-contained group.  They inherently do not have a direct impact on the larger Jewish community, and I don’t see their customs posing any kind of threat to the aforementioned expectations about Jewish college attendance.

On the whole, this result of Jewish intellectualism seems to bode well, but there is, of course, a detrimental effect also.  There is a thinly veiled (and distinctly Jewish) notion that intellect precludes utility. The idea of picking up a vocational trade after high school that will be highly useful and likely more financially viable than pursuing higher education is undeniably frowned upon by many Jewish parents.  On a personal level, I find that it encourages a level of competition with my peers, and an amount pressure that can’t be good for a teenager.  There is also the double-edged sword that comes with any “positive” assumptions about people.  The idea that Jews had a particular advantage in educational environments (combined, of course, with old-fashioned anti-Semitism) has historically led to the setting of rigid Jewish quotas at colleges and universities.  Yale, Harvard and McGill, in particular, remain notorious for their discriminatory policies, with Yale’s remaining in place until well into the 1960s.

Despite outliers and adverse circumstances, I see, very clearly, the Jewish mentality about education today. Whether it is a result of a bottleneck effect in the 9th century Ashkenazi gene pool, or simply a cultural phenomenon perpetuated by expectations and stereotypes, there seems to be no denial of the fact that Jews are overwhelmingly high achieving and college educated. And self-righteous? Maybe a little…

A Jewish Tunisian Dinner in Italy

by Daniela Enriquez

Tunisian couscous

What is the first thing I think about when I go back home to Sicily? A Tunisian family dinner, of course. As the daughter of a Tunisian Jew and a Sicilian Catholic, I inherited an eclectic culinary tradition, and when I go home, it’s my aunts’ couscous, my father’s briks and fricassees and my cousin’s honey cookies I look forward to the most.

Picture this: the 31 of us all together, father and mother, 4 aunts and an uncle all with their respective husbands and wives, 12 cousins with partners and offspring and Luigi, my cousins’ son and the latest addition to the family. We are all dressed in kaftans–in order to create an atmosphere, rather than a regular family tradition. Perhaps this is a way of feeling closer to those Jews who remained in Tunisia, and now live under precarious conditions. The language spoken is Italian, with some Sicilian influence. The location is definitively Mediterranean: a villa in the mountain from which you can see the sea.

The plates, authentic Tunisian ceramics, are on the table and everyone has their own glass of mint lemonade. We are all quite starving–thanks to the usual latecomer–when the first dish, the briks, arrives. This is a deep-fried triangular envelope of filo dough, stuffed with tuna fish, mashed potatoes, capers and harissa, a traditional Tunisian condiment made with peppers, garlic and spices like coriander and chili powder.

Crunching sounds start everywhere, as do attempts to save the fried crumbs from inexorably falling on the floor. The mix of potatoes and tuna fish is delicious, and melts into the mouth perfectly. But someone has already turned to the second dish, the fricassees.

This short sandwich is probably my favorite. You can stuff it with several Mediterranean ingredients: olive; home-made mayonnaise; vegetables; and spices. The Tunisian Jewish tradition in my family is to grab a warm fricassee panini, and, with bare hands, open and stuff it with a mix of tuna fish and harissa (again!), boiled potatoes and a tomato-cucumber salad. The fresh salad wakes you up and is amazing mixed with the hot ingredients. Some advice for those who want to try it? Be sure that everybody’s hands are clean before you start the stuffing part!

After this festival of Sephardi food, we all take a break. The men go smoking, my cousins and I discuss the latest scandals, the kids play with the cats, and my aunts go into the kitchen to be sure that the main entrée is turning out perfectly.

After 15 minutes, everyone is back in their chairs looking at each other with expectation. Then, it arrives: the huge couscoussiere with its contents. There are several ways to make couscous: you can stick with boiled vegetables, in the event that you have some vegetarian guests, or you can add beef or fish. You could even prepare meat, fish and vegetables, and put them on different plates so that all are free to choose.

My aunts don’t leave room for compromise. Couscous has to be made in the way my grandmother taught them, back in the days when they used to spend summers at the family house in Tunis. So it will be couscous with vegetables, chickpeas and meat.

Now the situation starts to get difficult. If you’ve ever had Tunisian couscous,  you know it’s spicy. The biggest mistake  is to drink cold water in order to cool the spices’ effect. Why? Because couscous, in contact with water, enlarges and makes your belly swell, leaving you feeling over-satiated. It seems almost like a horror movie scene. But trust me: if you can manage not to drink, it is an amazing dish, easy to prepare and suiting all tastes.

While fricassees are my favorite dish, the moment I enjoy the most is the conclusion of the dinner. While eating honey cookies and drinking hot mint tea, the older ones tell stories of their life in Tunisia and we, the young generation, are all ears in an effort to discover traces of our Jewish Tunisian origins in our Italian souls.

To read more about the Tunisian Jewish community, pick up a copy of our July/August issue, in which The Washington Post‘s Marc Fisher reports on the state of Jewish life in the North African country.