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MKs: New peace initiative to rely on international law

Knesset members — one a Druze — in Englewood

Two Israeli parliamentarians and a political activist told some 35 people last week at a gathering in Englewood of their concerns about attempts to delegitimize Israel.

Ayoob Kara, deputy minister for development of the Negev and Galilee and deputy minister for regional cooperation, is a Druze member of the Knesset for the Likud Party. (The Druze, an Arabic-speaking religious community, serve in the Israel Defense Forces.)

Rabbi Nissim Ze’ev is a member of the Knesset from the Shas Party, which he cofounded in 1984. He spoke to the attendees in Hebrew; his address was summarized in English by Karen Pichkhadze, executive director of the National Organization for Political Action, which sponsored the event at a private home.

The MKs were with Shoshana Bekerman, director of the Jerusalem-based Knesset Caucus for Judaism and Global Ethics. They plan to present the Jerusalem Initiative for Peace in the Middle East to Congress and the United Nations. The brainchild of Ze’ev, who chairs the caucus and who worked on it in cooperation with Kara, it seeks to combat the delegitimzation of Israel.

Speaking at the home of Irene and Robert Gottesman, Bekerman said that the delegitimization campaign started in Europe and has spread to the United States. The fight against it, she said, “is a tougher battle that any of the wars we have had to face.”

For Orthodox Jews, she said, the right of all Jews to Israel is based on the Torah, but today “you have to talk the language of international law, as our claims have to be based on international law,” which has given Jews legal instruments throughout history to make their case.

Some of those documents are from the 1937 Peel Commission, which suggested the partition of Palestine, and the 1923 British Mandate for Palestine, which favored the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” there.

The latest document is the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Bekerman said, which was adopted by the United Nations in 2007 after 20 years of formulations. One hundred and forty-four countries voted for it and four against it, including the United States. Israel did not participate in the formulations.

The declaration purposely did not define the term indigenous, she said, but the United Nations does have a “working definition” of it.

According to that definition, indigenous people have a connection to the land through religion, history, language, culture, and economics.

“We definitely fit that description,” said Bekerman.

However, she added, Palestinians have been claiming their rights as indigenous people but Jews have not made use of the declaration because they lacked knowledge about it.

That lack, she said, was also evident among the politicians the MKs and Bekerman visited in Washington during their trip, Reps. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), who told them they had never heard about the document before.

Calling Israel an “occupying power” is a misuse of the term and manipulation by groups that have received money from leftist and Muslim organizations, Bekerman said, and also historically, morally, and legally wrong.

The Jerusalem Initiative, on the other hand, bills itself as “an innovative proposal presented within the framework of the two-state solution announced by Prime Minister Netanyahu and is intended to bridge the gap between the Israeli government, the Quartet, and the Saudi Initiative.”

It urges the Quartet to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital based on the indigenous right of Jews to the city and calls for maintaining the status quo regarding its population. It also accepts that an eventual Palestinian state may have its parliament in the Arab sector of the city.

The document asks the Quartet to recognize the rights of Jewish settlements, which should not be uprooted without the consent of the “indigenous Jewish inhabitants of the settlement.”

According to the project, the issue of refugees from the Middle East must be resolved in a way that includes recognition of the rights of those displaced from Arab countries, including Jews, Christians, and other groups.

Kara, the Druze MK, was critical of several of Israel’s past policies and said the Oslo accords “gave the criminal Palestinian leadership that was in Lebanon and Tunisia the legitimacy to be leaders in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza.”

Peace in the region is far off, he said, as Israel has not found a partner or someone to lead an eventual Palestinian state.

Ze’ev said that his ancestors came to Israel from 10 different Middle Eastern countries, “leaving behind everything they had, leaving empires behind to come naked to our country, where we didn’t demand everything.”

But now, Ze’ev said, “we are fighting against people who are coming to the country demanding everything they can possible get for something they did not work for.”

According to Ze’ev, Israel needs members of Congress to understand the position it is in and the fact that “you can’t negotiate with enemies; it is impossible to do so with someone who believes you should not exist.”

Asked about the Jerusalem Initiative, Ben Choauke, NORPAC’s president, said, “You need every tool available to increase the standing of Israel before world opinion and the United Nations itself.”

The Initiative was presented in Paris in July and will be presented at the European Union Parliament in the near future.

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From left are Knesset members Ayoob Kara and Rabbi Nissim Ze’ev, and NORPAC President Ben Choauke. The MKs spoke at a NORPAC gathering in Englewood last week. Daniel Santacruz
 
 

Art of the chazzan revived by Teaneck synagogue

A master of parts

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Cantor Netanel Hershtik

Born in 1978 in London, where his father served as a cantor of the Fichley Synagogue, Netanel Hershtik grew up in Israel and began singing at age 5 in his father’s synagogue in Jerusalem, along with his older brother, Shraga.

“My first solo was only a word, then I sang a sentence, and then much more. My father gave me confidence,” he said.

As a child, he toured Australia, the United States, and Europe with his father, whom he called his “biggest influence.” Hershtik said he is the 14th member of his family to be a cantor. Among them is his uncle, Chaim Eliezer Hershtik, who lives in Israel.

Hershtik graduated from the Tel Aviv Cantorial Institute in 2004 and trained under Chayim Feifel and Raymond Goldstein, among other renowned cantors. He has appeared with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, and the Symphonet Ra’anana, and performed at such venues as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Sydney Opera House, and the Casino de Paris. He appeared at the Tel Aviv Opera House in January, where he sang the aria “Che Gelida Manina” from Puccini’s “La Boheme.”

His two studio recordings, “Umusafim Kehilchatam,” a tribute to the traditional Shabbat Mussaf service, and “Tzad Bet’ (Side B), a fusion of jazz, bossa nova, and traditional styles, were produced in 2005.

Hershtik served as combat paramedic in the Israeli army, has a law degree from Sha’arei Mishpat College of Law in Hod HaSharon, Israel, and recently completed his master of law degree at the University of Miami School of Law. He is preparing for the New York State Bar.

The Friday night service will begin at 5:20 p.m. and will feature compositions by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. The Saturday morning service will begin at 9 a.m. and will include, among other works, Leib Glantz’s “Sh’ma Yisroel,” Moshe Gantchoff’s “Retze,” and Sol Zim’s “Avinu Shebashamayim.”

 
 

Art of the chazzan revived by Teaneck synagogue

Cantor, choir will bring harmony to Shabbat services

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Cantor Netanel Hershtik performs a Puccini aria at the Tel Aviv Opera House in January. He will sing at a Shabbat Chazzanut in Teaneck on Shabbat. courtesy Netanel Hershtik

One of the youngest stars in the small universe of cantorial music, or chazzanut, wants to change how people relate to synagogue music and prayer. And he wants to demonstrate it this Shabbat at the Young Israel of Teaneck with the Hampton Synagogue Choir at a Shabbat Chazzanut.

This may be the first-ever of this kind in the township and in Bergen County.

Netanel Hershtik, a member of YIOT and a township resident since the fall of 2009, is the cantor of the Hampton Synagogue Choir in Westhampton Beach, N.Y., where he spends most of his summer weekends.

Six members of the choir are coming and will be hosted at congregants’ homes. The choir is directed by Uzbekiztan-born Itzchak Haimov, in whose all-male, Israel-based choir Hershtik sang. Haimov founded the Hampton Synagogue Choir seven years ago at the invitation of Rabbi Marc Schneier, the synagogue’s founder and spiritual leader, whom Hershtik credits for his rapidly growing career.

The son of Naftali Hershtik, chief cantor of Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue from 1981 to 2009, Hershtik and his wife, Tamira, settled in the United States in 2005, the same year he was hired as cantor of the Hampton Synagogue Choir.

Hershtik said that what he and the choir are trying to do at YIOT this Shabbat is “to move people [during prayer], not perform or show off. We will try to show how music can elevate prayer and what it can do for a service.”

He said he is very excited about the event “because Teaneck needs it.” He thanked Mark Zomick, YIOT’s president, for taking the initiative and praised the synagogue¹s rabbi, Pinchas Weinberger, for his support. “I am sure that what Mark is doing, spending money on a choir, has raised a few eyebrows,” he said.

The event is being sponsored by several congregants.

“Since Netanel moved into the community we have never asked him to daven [for the congregation],” said Zomick. “He spends few Shabbats in the shul and I didn’t want to ask him to perform, but when he offered, we jumped at the opportunity.”

His role as a cantor, Hershtik said, is to inspire congregants and “to be the center of davening [prayer] because when the devening of everyone is focused in one place, it is elevated upwards to Shamayim [Heaven].”

Hershtik is critical of religious services in most synagogues today, both locally and worldwide, calling them “dry.” Synagogues, he feels, should strive to beautify services because “it’s a tradition that requires an investment of time, thought, and money, and people must understand that they need not only rabbinical leadership but musical leadership too.”

He added, “In every community there are a few good baalei tefilot [the people who lead the services], and the congregations should embrace them, have them lead the services as frequently as possible, and they [the leaders] should also know that they have a responsibility.”

Although a synagogue doesn’t have to have a choir, Hershtik considers it important, because a choir “is the colors that accompany the chazzan.”

He added, “I am not saying there has to be a chazzan with an operatic voice; [rather], we must add every artistic element to Jewish life to make it more beautiful.”

Hershtik believes there is both a decline and a revival of cantorial music. The decline, he said, can be seen in the lack of interest of synagogues in incorporating a regular cantor or a baal tefila in the service. The revival, on the other hand, is evident in the increasing amount of concerts of cantorial music in concert halls around the world, which frequently feature a star-studded lineup of cantors such as Dudu Fisher, Pinchas Cohen, Benzion Miller, Moshe Shulhoff, and Yitzhak Meir Helfgot, known as the “Jewish Pavarotti.”

On kosher cruises like Kosherica, world-renowned cantors share the spotlight with scholars-in-residence and rabbis.

Charlie Bernhaut, co-creator of Cantors World, a site devoted to cantorial music and host of a two-hour Internet program that features one hour of cantorial music every Monday night, said in an e-mail that “Netanel Hershtik is one of the finest young cantors on the chazzanut scene today and the Hampton Synagogue Choir is excellent and unique [and] works wonderfully together with Cantor Hershtik.”

Asked if Shabbat Chazzanut is gaining in popularity, he said he wasn’t sure but, rather, the issue is that most synagogues have financial difficulties and don’t want to spend money on a chazzan.

Also, he said, a synagogue may be dominated by members who either have no appreciation for chazzanut or “don’t have the patience to be inspired by the wonderful, soul music of a chazzan (and choir, if accompanying).”

Many people, he added, just want “to do a perfunctory, quick, uninspiring davening and run to a kiddush or quickly run home, and thus forgo the inspirational experience of being uplifted by true soul music.”

 
 

Muslims come to Paterson with message of peace

Englewood physician among the activists handing out brochures

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Muslims for Peace volunteers at Sunday’s event. Photos by Daniel Santacruz

With the sound of salsa in the background, some 15 activists from the northern New Jersey chapter of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA brought a campaign to downtown Paterson on Sunday called Muslims for Peace. Aimed at showing a kinder face of Islam, the campaign’s slogan is “Love for All, Hatred for None.”

Englewood physician Kashif Chaudry was among them.

At the intersection of Market and Main streets, the activists — some dressed in blue shirts with the logo of the campaign, a white dove on the front and the crossed-out word “terrorism” on the back — handed out about 2,000 glossy, four-page brochures in an hour and a half. The brochures show a phrase from the Koran, “Whosoever killed a person … it shall be as if he had killed all mankind,” as well as a toll-free number, a website and a picture of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, founder of the Ahmadiyya community in India in 1889.

About half of the brochures were in English; the others were in Spanish.

The campaign started with ads on buses in New York City in July, two months after a bomb scare in Times Square in which Pakistani-born Faisal Shahzad, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Connecticut, tried to set off a car bomb. It has also included ads in the Washington, D.C., subway system, billboards in several cities, and hand-distribution of 500,000 brochures in public places all over the country.

According to Chaudry, a doctor at Englewood Hospital and one of the volunteers at the intersection, after the Times Square incident, “we decided to go out to the streets and debunk the myth that Muslims don’t stand for peace. We wanted to show that in true Islam there is no place for hatred,” he said.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA was established in Philadelphia in 1920 and calls itself the first American-Muslim organization. Headquartered in Silver Springs, Md., it claims to have about 15,000 members and 71 chapters nationwide.

Born in Pakistan and a New Milford resident, Chaudry said there are about 1,000 Ahmadis in New Jersey, with some “400 to 500” in the northern part of the state. The community has mosques in Willingboro Township, Old Bridge, and Clifton.

The Ahmadiyya community bills itself as a “dynamic, reformist, and fast-growing revival movement within Islam.” Ahmadis consider the community’s founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, “the long-awaited messiah.” It also engages in missionary activities and claims to have some 165 million members in 198 countries, including Israel, where it built a mosque in Haifa in 1931.

Chaudry, also president of the Youth Association of the northern New Jersey chapter, said the Ahmadiyya community is the “only Muslim group speaking up against violent jihad and the first to have condemned any acts of terrorism committed in the name of Islam anywhere in the world. Members of the other two mainstream branches of Islam, Sunnis and Shiites, are afraid of radical clerics or aren’t very vocal.”

“Silence is not an option,” he added.

Shahzad, also known as the Times Square bomber, and Mohamed Osman Mohamud, a Somali-born teen — and U.S. citizen — arrested in November for allegedly plotting to carry out a car bomb attack at a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony in Portland, Ore., are good examples of the racist teachings that have misled some young American Muslims, said Chaudry.

Many Muslims consider Ahmadis to be non-Muslim because of several of their beliefs, especially about Jesus, and about jihad.

“Sunnis and Shiites believe in violent jihad against others, such as Christians, Jews, and Ahmadis,” Chaudry said. “But we believe that jihad is an inner struggle, and in love for all, hatred for none.”

Another Pakistan-born activist, Ammar Khokar, secretary of community outreach of the northern New Jersey chapter and a volunteer on Sunday, said that American Ahmadis get along well with the other branches of Islam in the United States and reach out to them.

The chapter will host a large interfaith event in November, Khokar said. It also plans to continue the Muslims for Peace campaign in Englewood and Passaic at the end of March.

Chaudry said the campaign, both locally and nationally, is funded by members’ donations, but didn’t offer an exact amount.

Chaudry said that Ahmadis don’t have political aspirations and believe in the separation of mosque and state. But, he added, “we are glad to see that Muslims are standing up now against dictatorial regimes in the Middle East.”

The Ahmadiyya community has faced persecution and marginalization for decades in several countries. According to a 2003 analysis of the community in Pakistan in the Harvard Human Rights Journal, “Ahmadis consider themselves Muslims, and yet their persecution is wholly legal, even encouraged, by the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and its leadership. As a result, thousands of Ahmadis have fled the country to seek asylum abroad. Recognizing the pervasiveness of the problem and the pressing need for action, the United States House of Representatives introduced a bipartisan resolution in February 2002 urging Pakistan to repeal both the anti-blasphemy provisions in its Penal Code and the second amendment in its constitution, which declares Ahmadis to be non-Muslims.”

In May 28, 2010, Taliban militants attacked two mosques belonging to the Ahmadiyya community in Lahore, a city in central Pakistan, killing 94 worshippers.

A 2009 ABC News/Washington Post poll showed that “Americans by 48 to 41 percent hold an unfavorable opinion of Islam — its highest unfavorable rating in ABC News/Washington Post polls since 2001.”

Twenty-nine percent expressed the belief that mainstream Islam encourages violence against non-Muslims, down slightly from its peak but double what it was early in 2002.

According to the poll, “unfamiliarity is a central factor in these views. Fifty-five percent of Americans concede that they lack a good basic understanding of Islam; about as many, 53 percent, don’t know personally know a Muslim. People who profess an understanding of Islam, or know a Muslim, have much more positive views of the religion.”

The U.S. Muslim population has been estimated at 1.8 million.

A large number of the passersby at the intersection Sunday were Spanish-speakers. When this reporter asked six of them, in Spanish, their opinions about Muslims, they all said they didn’t know anything about them.

Nancy Falcon, a Paterson resident who picked up a brochure, said, “Everyone has the right to his religion. They [Muslims] are the last on the totem pole because they have come here last.”

 
 

Sephardic symposium has royal backing and local participation

Moroccan Jewish journey is the topic

Talk to Moroccan Jews about their country of origin and they will glowingly tell you about the countless rabbis, scholars, entrepreneurs, political leaders, and writers it has produced. Ask further and they will also tell you about the beautiful wedding traditions, and the friendly relations the community has had with the king and with fellow Moroccans of other religions.

That pride of being a Moroccan Jew will be on display on Sunday, May 15, and Monday, May 16, at the Center for Jewish History, in Manhattan, at a symposium titled “2000 Years of Jewish Life in Morocco: An Epic Journey,” sponsored by the American Sephardi Federation.

More than 15 scholars from universities in France, Canada, Israel, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, New Jersey, and New York will participate. Jewish leaders and rabbis from Morocco and representatives of the Moroccan government will also attend.

The symposium caps a year of planning and searching around the world for scholars who could best present the topics during the two-day event, said Englewood resident and Moroccan-born Raquel Benatar, a ASF board member.

Among the topics listed on the program are the Moroccan diaspora in Israel and the Americas; the contributions of Moroccan rabbis to Jewish thought; Moroccan Jewish literary creativity; and the Jews in the arts and music. The last session will be a roundtable discussion about the efforts to preserve Jewish sites in Morocco.

The symposium is the last event of a season dedicated to Moroccan Jews, said Benatar.

“We devote each year to a country with a large Sephardic community,” she added. “It has been an intense year, full of interesting programs.”

Last year the ASF paid tribute to Spain.

According to Stan Urman, the organization’s executive director, Morocco was picked for the 2010-2011 season because many Spanish Jews went to Morocco after the expulsion from Spain in 1492, so “we felt that in terms of historical progression it would be useful to follow Spain with Morocco.”

The country to be featured next year is still under discussion, he added.

The symposium bears the same title of a book by Haim Zafrani, the foremost authority on Moroccan Jewry, who died in 2004. The book’s English translation was published by the ASF and KTAV Publishing House of Jersey City in 2005.

“Haim Zafrani is somewhat of an inspiration for this program,” Urman said, and a session will be devoted to his work.

Other activities during the season have included the re-enactment in February of a ceremony known in the cities of northern Morocco as Noche de Berberisca (Berberisca Night), in which the bride, a few days before the wedding, wears an elaborate wedding dress made of colorful fabrics, decorated with gold, and a crown adorned with jewels. The ceremony is enhanced with songs and food. It is known in the French-speaking cities of central Morocco as Soirée du Henne. The dresses are handed down from mother to daughter.

In March, the ASF, during its Sephardic Film Festival, now in its 15th edition, honored Ronit Alkabetz, an actress and filmmaker of Moroccan origin now living in Israel, for her lifetime achievements.

The season kicked off in October with an exhibit, “Looking Back: Jewish Life in Morocco.” Still on display, it includes documents and photographs.

According to an ASF press release, the activities are held under “the high patronage of His Majesty Mohammed VI, King of Morocco,” with the partial financial support of the Edmond J. Safra Philanthropic Foundation.

Alice Hamburg, born in Tangier and a resident of Teaneck, said she follows the activities of the ASF “with great interest” and attended the Berberisca night in February. Her family held a Berberisca for one of her sisters when Hamburg lived in Tangier, a city in northern Morocco.

There is no substantial Moroccan Jewish community in New Jersey. Fort Lee is home to Cong. Bet Yosef, formerly known as the Sephardic Congregation of Fort Lee, whose approximately 120 members hail mostly from Morocco, according to Nicole Mechaly, the daughter of the synagogue’s rabbi, Simon Abergel.

“Even though the synagogue has grown and now includes Israelis, Iraqis, Persians, and some Ashkenazi Jews, it has retained the Moroccan nusach [style of praying] and the Moroccan traditions of the founders,” said Eric Abergel, the rabbi’s grandson.

There are between 12 and 15 Moroccan Jewish families in Fort Lee, he added.

Englewood’s Cong. Ahavath Torah hosted a daily Sephardic minyan for about 28 years, which included Moroccans, Iraqis, Syrians, Egyptians, and Yemenites. A month ago it inaugurated a new branch for them, the Jacob Benaroya Sephardic Center.

The largest concentrations and Jews of Moroccan origin are in Madrid; Paris; Los Angeles; Brooklyn and Queens, N.Y.; Montreal; Caracas; and Buenos Aires. Some Moroccan Jews settled in the heart of the Amazon jungle, in northern Brazil, during the rubber boom in the 19th century.

About a million Jews of Moroccan descent live in Israel, while fewer than 5,000 Jews live in Morocco today, down from some 270,000 in 1948. For more information, visit www.americansephardifederation.org/morocco-symposium.html or call (212) 294-8350.

 
 

The changing of the guard

 
 
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