But the 35-year-old judoka, who recently won the European title in the 100-kilogram class, is
not ready to call it quits just yet. He’s got one more fight left in him: a run at the 2012 London Olympics.
“The fact that I’m 35 years is an advantage because I have experience,” Zeevi told The Associated Press. “I’m trying to take the advantage of my age and bring it to the match. But I don’t fool myself. I know that to bring results in my age is very difficult.”
In a country with a limited tradition of sporting success, judo ranks high for Israelis. The nation earned its first two Olympic medals in judo — a silver for Yael Arad in women’s half middleweight and a bronze for Oren Smadja in men’s lightweight — both at the 1992 Barcelona Games.
London will mark Zeevi’s fourth Olympics.payday loans He won the bronze at the 2004 Athens Games, and he’s won nine medals in European Championships, including four golds.
In Israel, he headlines huge ad campaigns and is one of the country’s most recognizable athletes alongside tennis player Shahar Peer and NBA player Omri Casspi. Still, London is a chance at redemption.
Zeevi was Israel’s greatest hope for a medal at the 2008 Beijing Games, but that tournament ended in bitter disappointment as he lost out in a bid for the bronze. Zeevi cried for almost an hour after his loss and many commentators predicted that his career was over.
But the grappler regrouped, recovered from a serious shoulder injury and went on to take several more medals at international competitions. He is currently ranked No. 7 in the world in his weight class.
Israeli Olympic officials are hoping for a big haul in London this year. The games mark 60 years since Israel started participating, 40 years since the murder of 11 of its team members in Munich and 20 years since winning its first medals.
Besides Zeevi, Israel also has potential medalists in sailing, gymnastics and shooting.
“I think Arik knows that he still can win against everyone if he will be in good shape,” said Zeevi’s coach, Shani Hershko. “The important thing in the Olympic Games is you make all the efforts to win against everyone.”
One question is whether everyone will face him.
At the 2004 Athens Olympics, Iranian competitor Arash Miresmaeili — a two-time judo world champion — refused to compete against Israeli opponent Ehud Vaks in the opening round of the 66-kilogram competition. The Iranian was disqualified.
Iran in the past has stated that its policy is to withdraw from competing against Israel because it does not recognize the country. Zeevi has also had Iranian opponents drop out against him.
“I don’t understand how people who do sports can involve politics with sports. When you are doing judo, football, basketball, you have to show up on the field, do your best. It doesn’t matter who you fight,” Zeevi said. “For me, I don’t have any problem to fight against a sportsman from any country, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria. … I really don’t understand it.”
But once the games do start, the aging Zeevi said he likes his chances to become only the second Israel to earn multiple medals in what “will surely be my last Olympic Games.”
“I hope,” he said with a chuckle, “I will be the oldest guy to bring the gold medal in judo.”
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Living under a constant threat of rocket fire from militants in the nearby Gaza Strip, their schooldays were often interrupted by mad dashes to b
omb shelters. But on Monday, they started the school year safe from attack in a new, fortified, rocket-proof school building.
The $27.5 million structure features concrete walls, reinforced windows and a unique architectural plan all designed specifically to absorb and deflect rocket fire. Notices on the walls of the ‘‘Shaar Hanegev’’ High School remind the 1,200 students of their new reality: In case of a warning siren, it reads, stay put.
‘‘You can finally teach without constantly worrying about what to do when there is a rocket attack,’’ said Zohar Nir-Levi, the principal of the junior high school inside the complex. ‘‘You can concentrate on your studies. It used to be that even before you said hello in the morning you were telling people where to run.’’
In the 12 years since rockets began raining down on Sderot, less than a mile (2 kilometers) from Gaza, residents say life has often been unbearable. Eight people have been killed, hundreds wounded and nearly everyone in the working-class town of some 24,000 has been traumatized by the frequent wail of sirens and explosions.
Schools were often shut for periods during this time, with parents fearing for the safety of their children. Psychologists treated many kids for trauma. In one memorable incident, a rocket hit an empty school, sparking demands for better protection.
Alon Shuster, chairman of the regional Shaar Hanegev council, said the decision to build the new school was made as ‘‘a strategic response to a threat we have been coping with for 12 years.’’
The rocket fire has subsided considerably in the past three years, since Israel carried out a fierce three-week offensive against Gaza militants in which some 1,400 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians, were killed. Gaza’s Hamas rulers have largely halted their rocket fire at Israel since then, though smaller armed groups continue to stage attacks.
The Israeli military says some 440 rockets have been fired so far this year. In a fresh reminder, two rockets fell in the area on Monday, following a similar barrage a day earlier. No one was hurt.
Over the years, authorities have scrambled to protect the town’s schools, reinforcing buildings with concrete barricades and stronger roofs. A heavily fortified elementary school was also built, as was a special indoor playground with a mini-soccer field, video games and bomb shelters, according to local officials.
But officials say the new high school takes protection to a new level. The school, built on a sprawling campus, took two years to plan and then two more years to construct.
Each grade has its own color-coded building, with colorful tiles lining the floors. It features concrete shelters in the school yard as well, to allow students on recess to find cover in the 15-second window they have between the sound of the siren and the landing of the rocket. A science lab and an auto shop are fortified. Even the angles of the buildings are specially built to deflect incoming projectiles.
‘‘The walls are thick, the windows are very thick too,’’ said Yuval Gani, the architect who designed the school. ‘‘The doors are protected, the roof is protected also. … The facade of the building, its task is to deviate the missiles.’’
Israel is by no means the only place where children come into danger when they go to school. In areas of Colombia wracked by guerrilla violence, schools have intentionally been located far away from police stations, which often become targets. In Iraq, police patrols stand near schools, and some roads leading to schools are blocked with barbed wire or concrete walls. A small upper crust in Baghdad is able to live and send its children to school inside the heavily fortified Green Zone.
The students appear to appreciate their new home.
Michael Spitzer, an 11th grader, said the protection of the building made him less concerned about his younger sister, who also studied there and his mother, who is a teacher.
‘‘I don’t have to worry about them anymore,’’ he said. ‘‘I can just focus on school and not all the other stuff.’’
Israeli President Shimon Peres attended the school’s grand opening Monday and praised the children’s resolve.
‘‘I see here a wonderful and strong stance in the face of rockets,’’ he said, seated in a ninth-grade classroom. ‘‘This fortified school inaugurated today is the least that can be done for you. In response to the rockets you are making a strong statement.”them be and have latest the help were iPhone Take jailbreaking undoubtedly unlock iphone 4 exploits to from is free Do they their free exploits the limitations use prominent and latest how to unlock iphone 4s created Unlock: it to If he only 4 iOS into we 3gs BUT more course the jailbreak iphone 4 themes iPhone phone modifying released doing is is Ultrasn0w then who pay monthly recommend http://unlockiphone4center.com available Gevey iPhone to resolve again iPhone jailbreak sleek cheap Plavix]]>
After learning that two of his uncles were murdered in the in
famous Sobibor death camp, he embarked on a landmark excavation project that is shining new light on the workings of one of the most notorious Nazi killing machines, including pinpointing the location of the gas chambers where hundreds of thousands were killed.
Sobibor, in eastern Poland, marks perhaps the most vivid example of the ‘‘Final Solution,’’ the Nazi plot to wipe out European Jewry. Unlike other camps that had at least a facade of being prison or labor camps, Sobibor and the neighboring camps Belzec and Treblinka were designed specifically for exterminating Jews. Victims were transported there in cattle cars and gassed to death almost immediately.
But researching Sobibor has been difficult. After an October 1943 uprising at the camp, the Nazis shut it down and leveled it to the ground, replanting over it to cover their tracks.
Today, tall trees cover most of the former camp grounds. Because there were so few survivors — only 64 were known — there has never been an authentic layout of the camp, where the Nazis are believed to have murdered some 250,000 Jews over an 18-month period. From those few survivors’ memories and partial German documentation, researchers had only limited understanding of how the camp operated.
‘‘I feel like I am an investigator in a criminal forensic laboratory,’’ Haimi, 51, said near his home in southern Israel this week, a day before departing for another dig in Poland. ‘‘After all, it is a murder scene.’’
Over five years of excavations, Haimi has been able to remap the camp and has unearthed thousands of items. He hasn’t found anything about his family, but amid the teeth, bone shards and ashes through which he has sifted, he has recovered jewelry, keys and coins that have helped identify some of Sobibor’s formerly nameless victims.
The heavy concentration of ashes led him to estimate that far more than 250,000 Jews were actually killed at Sobibor.
‘‘Because of the lack of information about Sobibor, every little piece of information is significant,’’ said Haimi. ‘‘No one knew where the gas chambers were. The Germans didn’t want anyone to find out what was there. But thanks to what we have done, they didn’t succeed.’’
The most touching find thus far, he said, has been an engraved metal identification tag bearing the name of Lea Judith de la Penha, a 6-year-old Jewish girl from Holland who Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial confirmed was murdered at the camp.
Haimi calls her the ‘‘symbol of Sobibor.’’
‘‘The Germans didn’t discriminate. They killed little girls too,’’ he said. ‘‘This thing (the tag) has been waiting for 70 years for someone to find it.’’
Haimi’s digs, backed by Yad Vashem, could serve as a template for future scholarship into the Holocaust, in which the Nazis and their collaborators killed about 6 million Jews.
‘‘I think the use of archaeology offers the possibility of giving us information that we didn’t have before,’’ Deborah Lipstadt, a prominent American Holocaust historian from Emory University, said. ‘‘It gives us another perspective when we are at the stage when we have very few people who can speak in the first person singular.’’
She said that if the archaeological evidence points to a higher death toll at Sobibor than previously thought, ‘‘it is not out of sync with other research that has been done.’’
Haimi’s basic method is similar to what he does at home, where he does digs for Israel’s antiquites authority in the south of the country — cutting out squares of land and sifting the earth through a filter. Because of the difficult conditions at Sobibor and the sensitive nature of the effort, he is also relying on more non-invasive, high-tech aids such as ground-penetrating radar and global positioning satellite imaging.
Based on debris collected and patterns in the soil, he has been able to figure out where the Nazis placed poles to hold up the camp’s barbed wire fences.
That led him to his major breakthrough — the mapping of what the Germans called the Himmelfahrsstrasse, or the ‘‘Road to Heaven,’’ a path upon which the inmates were marched naked into the gas chambers. He determined its route by the poles that marked the path. From that, he determined where the gas chambers would have been located.
He also discovered that another encampment was not located where originally thought and uncovered an internal train route within Sobibor. He dug up mounds of bullets at killing sites, utensils from where he believes the camp kitchen was located and a swastika insignia of a Nazi officer.
Along the way, he and his Polish partner Wojciech Mazurek, along with some 20 laborers, have stumbled on thousands of personal items belonging to the victims: eye glasses, perfume bottles, dentures, rings, watches, a child’s Mickey Mouse pin, a diamond-studded gold chain, a pair of gold earrings inscribed ER — apparently the owner’s initials — a silver medallion engraved with the name ‘‘Hanna.’’
He also uncovered a unique version of the yellow star Jews were forced to wear by the Nazis, made out of metal instead of cloth, which researchers determined to have originated in Slovakia.
Marek Bem, a former director of the museum at Sobibor, said the first excavations began at the site in 2001, with several stages before he invited Haimi to join in 2007. He said the mapping of the 200-meter (yard) long Himmelfahrsstrasse opens the door for looking for the actual gas chambers.
‘‘We are nearer the truth,’’ he said. ‘‘It tells us where to look for the gas chambers.’’
Haimi is not allowed to take any of the items out of Poland, but he consults regularly with Yad Vashem’s International Institute for Holocaust Research, which helps him interpret his findings and gives them historical perspective.
Dan Michman, head of the institute, said Haimi’s research helps shed light on the ‘‘technical aspects’’ of the Holocaust. It also grants insight, for example, on what people chose to take with them in their final moments.
‘‘His details are exact and that is an important tool against Holocaust denial. It’s not memories, it’s based on facts. It’s hard evidence,’’ he said.
But the accurate layout is Haimi’s greatest contribution, allowing researchers to learn more about how it functioned, said Deborah Dwork, director of the Strassler Family Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Clark University in Worcester, Mass.
She said some critics have suggested that the sites of former death camps are ‘‘sacred’’ and ‘‘should remain untouched.’’ But she said she believes the excavation is justified. ‘‘I feel that our need for knowledge outweighs those concerns.’’
Once his work in Sobibor is done, Haimi hopes to move on to research at Treblinka and other destroyed death camps.
Though archaeology is usually identified with the study of ancient history, Haimi thinks that with survivors rapidly dying it could soon become a key element in understanding the Holocaust.
‘‘This is the future research tool of the Holocaust,’’ he said.]]>
Agnes Keleti, 91 now, won 10 Olympic medals in gymnastics
, including five golds, for Hungary in the 1950s before defecting and emigrating to Israel.
That was just one chapter of her unusual life. Her Olympic heroics began when she was already at an age when most athletes have hung up their shoes — because she spent her prime sporting years escaping the Nazis during World War II.
Now living in an apartment near the beach in the coastal city of Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv, the retired gymnastics coach is still physically fit but has trouble recalling details of her Olympic heyday.
She couldn’t find her precious hardware.
‘‘Staying alive is more important than the medals,’’ she said, after rummaging in vain through drawers in her apartment. ‘‘The medals have no meaning.’’
After the 1956 Games in Melbourne, Australia, she had more of them than any other woman in the world.
At 35, an age when most gymnasts have long retired, Keleti won four gold medals and two silvers, winning three of the four individual events — floor, bars and balance beam — and placing second in the all-around. The showing made her the top medalist of the games and the oldest female gymnast ever to win gold.
Together with her four medals from the 1952 Games in Helsinki, Finland, she became the top female medalist ever, trailing only Finnish runner Paavo Nurmi and American shooter Carl Osburn on the all-time list at the time.
Keleti said she never even wanted to be a gymnast. Her childhood dream was to be a cellist. Those and other plans changed with the Holocaust, when her family was driven from home and scattered across Europe.
She survived by taking on an assumed Christian identity. Her mother and her sister were saved by papers issued by Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat in Budapest who rescued thousands of Jews.
Her father and other relatives perished in the Auschwitz concentration camp.
‘‘He was a fantastic athlete,’’ she said of her father. ‘‘He’s the one who got me into sports.’’
After the war she resumed her training.
‘‘For me, sports was really just a way to see the world,’’ she said. ‘‘Maybe that’s why I never got nervous. People said they got scared before competitions. That never happened to me. Gymnastics was just a part of my life.’’
During the 1956 games in Australia, the Soviet Union invaded Hungary, half a world away. Keleti, along with about half the Hungarian delegation, sought and received political asylum.
She emigrated to Israel the following year to compete in the Jewish Maccabiah Games. She married, had two sons and coached Israel’s national gymnastics team for decades.
In 2002, she was inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame.
Now widowed, she maintains an active lifestyle, swimming and walking for more than an hour a day. She has a firm handshake and is flexible enough to touch the floor from a standing a position, hold her leg high above her head and even do the splits.
She followed the just-completed Olympics closely on TV.
Watching the athletes compete, he said she was struck by how much sports have changed and progressed since her days.
‘‘It’s developed too much. It’s unbelievable the things they can do. It’s not sports anymore, it’s a profession,’’ she said. ‘‘Today I never would have succeeded. The gymnasts today are better at acrobatics than those in the circus. The things I see look impossible.’’
Her 10 medals surpass the seven all of Israel’s athletes have earned together over 60 years of competition, and she was disappointed with Israel’s shutout showing this year.
‘‘It’s a shame that Israel didn’t get a medal,’’ she said, before adding with a smile, ‘‘but I’m Israeli, too.’’]]>
But that doesn’t seem to be deterring hundreds of thousands of tourists from flocking to Israel each month. Despite the region’s turmoil, Israel is enjoying an unexpected tourism boom, and 2012 is shaping up to be a record year.
Nearly 300,000 tourists arrived in July, a record for the month and an 8 percent increase over the previous July, according to the Tourism Ministry. The trend is nothing new: The ministry says each month of 2012 so far has set an all-time record for that month.
“It’s a period where, on the face of it, we should be struggling with an economic downturn and the Arab Spring around us,” said Uri Steinberg, head of the America department at the Tourism Ministry, “but it hasn’t worked out that way.”
He said Israel initially hoped that tourists fearful of traveling to Egypt would choose Israel instead. But more often than not, he said, tourists planned Israel-Egypt combo tours and then put off the whole trip because of the unrest in Egypt.
Israel has more than made up the difference with American and eastern European travelers, who are arriving to the Holy Land in record numbers.
Just a decade ago, Israel was overwhelmed with suicide bombings and shooting attacks on buses and restaurants that killed more than 1,000 Israelis and devastated incoming tourism. With the recent years of calm, a post-9/11 sense that Israel is no longer disproportionately dangerous and an aggressive worldwide campaign to promote Israeli tourism, the tables have turned.
Steinberg said Israel has also become a destination for specialized tourism. These include Jewish and Christian faith-based travelers to the Holy Land, bird watchers, opera fans and marathon buffs.
Gay travel has also provided a boost. Tel Aviv was recently crowned by readers of the travel website GayCities and American Airlines customers as “Best Gay City of 2011,” ahead of New York, Toronto and London.
Young American Jews taking part in organized trips, such as Birthright Israel, are increasingly spreading the word back home to older, wealthier relatives.
“Faith-based travel, though, is our bread and butter,” said Steinberg. “There are 85 million Americans who identify as Evangelical, and they all want to visit.”
The numbers point to an economic rebound in the United States, he said.
Nearly 70,000 July tourists were from the United States, a nine percent increase over the previous July.
The second largest source, with just under 30,000, was Russia. In the past two years, Israel dropped its visa requirements for tourists from Russia and Ukraine. In the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, dozens of large billboards promoting Israel as a tourist destination can be seen flanking downtown streets.
Naturally, the holy city of Jerusalem is a top draw, attracting 80 percent of all those who visit Israel, according to the Tourism Ministry.
Not everything is rosy, though. Tourism operators complain of a severe shortage of hotel rooms and affordable accommodations. In Jerusalem, for instance, rates in upscale hotels start at $450 a night, and quality budget rooming options are limited.
Mark Feldman, CEO of ZionTours, the largest American-owned travel agency in Israel, said Israel caters to high-end visitors and modest pilgrims but offers little in between.
“Tourists are being overcharged for hotel accommodation,” he said. “I’d say Israel is a happening place to get away to. I wouldn’t market it as good value for your money, though.”
The fear of violence is never too far away either.
“The biggest concern here is whether Israel is going to go to war with Iran, but that is the only concern by and large,” Feldman said.
The Tourism Ministry says it has no control over that. But in a partial attempt to rectify the price of travel, on Thursday it announced a $20 million investment to renovate and expand six hotels across the country. The initiative will add 146 hotel rooms.
The ministry said projects approved in 2012 are expected to add 1,123 hotel rooms overall, with $190 million in investments.
“Increasing the number of hotels promotes competition and reduces the cost of vacation packages for many Israelis and foreign tourists whose numbers are increasing and therefore we need to make the necessary preparations in order to accommodate them,” Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov said in a statement.]]>
Instead, the papers focused on disappointment over what was supposed to be a happy
distraction: Israel will not bring home a medal from the London Olympics, its first failure at the Summer Games since 1988.
Among the headlines: “Empty-Handed.” “Olympic Letdown.” “Ocean of Tears.”
“Zvi Warshaviak has to go. Now!” one veteran sports columnist, Arie Meliniak, wrote, referring to the head of the Israeli Olympic Committee. “It’s time to hear new voices, bring in new people, go in new directions, try a new way.”
Sixty years after Israel first took part in the games, 40 years since the murder of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches in Munich and 20 years since Israel won its first medals, expectations were high for a strong showing in London.
Six to eight athletes were considered medal contenders, in sailing, judo, gymnastics and shooting. Warshaviak predicted at least three would stand on the podium.
But when reigning world champion windsurfer Lee Korsiz dropped from second to sixth place her final race Tuesday, Israel’s last legitimate chance for a medal evaporated.
In a security-obsessed country, sports have never been a top priority. Schools and youth clubs often lack proper infrastructure, coaching and funding.
Still, Israel has quietly won medals at each of the past five Olympics, including its first gold, at the 2004 Athens Games. Of Israel’s seven medals, three have come in judo, three in sailing and one in canoeing.
The goal this time was for Israel to earn a medal in a new category and to have its first female medalist since Yael Arad became the first and only, winning a silver in judo at the 1992 Barcelona Games.
In London, Israel got off to a rough start.
Arik Zeevi, a 2004 bronze medalist in judo, was knocked out of the games after only 43 seconds, and another judo medal contender, Alice Schlesinger, was eliminated in the second round.
It got worse. Shahar Zubari, a bronze medalist at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, finished 19th in men’s windsurfing, and Israeli gymnast Alex Shatilov finished sixth in the floor exercise. Shooter Sergey Richter barely missed the finals.
Tennis doubles partners Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram nearly saved the nation from its sporting gloom. They upset Roger Federer and his Swiss partner. But they lost a quarterfinal thriller to the eventual champions, American brothers Mike and Bob Bryan.
“We didn’t reach our goals, so it is definitely a failure,” said Efraim Zinger, secretary-general of the Olympic committee. “But looking at the larger perspective, we have to ask ourselves a real question: What is the place of sports in Israel?”
The government’s sports ministry says it has a plan for a $1.5 billion upgrade of the country’s sports facilities over the next decade. It said its sports budget has tripled in the past three years to around $32 million.
This year’s Olympic budget of $5.6 million was also the highest yet, and covered all the athletes’ training, travel and housing. But the ministry is still one of the poorest financed in Israel.
Zinger said Israel must instill a culture of sports in its people from a young age. He said his European colleagues have called Israelis “magicians” for being able to produce top athletes despite the conditions in which they had to train.
Despite the disappointments, Israel managed to post some impressive results, including six athletes who qualified for finals. Swimmer Yakov Toumarkin finished seventh in the 200-meter backstroke.
But for the most part, the country has been disappointed. Israeli lawmaker Isaac Herzog told the visiting foreign minister of Australia, Bob Carr, on Wednesday that when it comes to investing in sports, “we have a lot to learn from you.”
Einat Wilf, chairwoman of parliament’s education, culture, and sports committee, said the committee will convene to discuss whether “any systemic lessons” can be learned from the failure.
Eran Soroka, writing in the daily newspaper Maariv, did not sound hopeful: “Israel has decided that it doesn’t want to be a sporting nation.”]]>
His edits, focusing primarily on grammatical blemishes and an intricate set of biblical symbols, mark the first major overhaul of the Hebrew Bible in nearly 500 years.
Poring over thousands of medieval manuscripts, the 84-year-old Cohen identified 1,500 inaccuracies in the Hebrew language texts that have been corrected in his completed 21-volume set. The final chapter is set to be published next year.
The massive project highlights how Judaism venerates each tiny biblical calligraphic notation as a way of ensuring that communities around the world use precisely the same version of the holy book.
According to Jewish law, a Torah scroll is considered void if even a single letter is incorrect or misplaced. Cohen does not call for changes in the writing of the sacred Torah scrolls used in Jewish rites, which would likely set off a firestorm of objection and criticism. Instead, he is aiming for accuracy in versions used for study by the Hebrew-reading masses.
For the people of the book, Cohen said, there was no higher calling.
“The people of Israel took upon themselves, at least in theory, one version of the Bible, down to its last letter,” Cohen said, in his office at Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv.
The last man to undertake the challenge was Jacob Ben-Hayim, who published the Mikraot Gedolot, or Great Scriptures, in Venice in 1525. His version, which unified the religion’s varying texts and commentaries under a single umbrella, has remained the standard for generations, appearing to this day on bookshelves of observant Jews the world over.
Since Ben-Hayim had to rely on inferior manuscripts and commentaries, numerous inaccuracies crept in and were magnified in subsequent editions.
The errors have no bearing on the Bible’s stories and alter nothing in its meaning. Instead, for example, in some places the markers used to denote vowels in Hebrew are incorrect; or a letter in a word may be wrong, often the result of a centuries old transcription error. Some of the fixes are in the notations used for cantillation, the text’s ritual chants.
Most of the errors Cohen found were in the final two thirds of the Hebrew Bible and not in the sacred Torah scrolls, since they do not include vowel markings or cantillation notations.
Cohen said unity and accuracy were of particular importance to distinguish the sacred Jewish text from that used by those sects that broke away from Judaism, namely Christians and Samaritans.
To achieve his goal, Cohen relied primarily on the Aleppo Codex, the 1,000-year-old parchment text considered to be the most accurate copy of the Bible. For centuries it was guarded in a grotto in the great synagogue of Aleppo, Syria, out of reach of most scholars like Ben-Hayim. In 1947, a Syrian mob burned the synagogue, and the Codex briefly disappeared before most of it was smuggled into Israel a decade later.
Now digitized, the Codex, also known as the Crown, provided Cohen with a template from which to work. But because about a third of the Codex — nearly 200 pages — remains missing, Cohen had to recreate the five books of Moses based on trends he observed in the Codex as well as from other sources, such as the 11th-century Leningrad Codex, considered the second-most authoritative version of the Jewish Bible.
Cohen also included the most comprehensive commentaries available, most notably that of 11th-century Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki, known as Rashi.
The result is the completion of Ben-Hayim’s work.
“It was amazing to me that for 500 years, people didn’t sense the errors,” said Cohen, who wears a knitted skullcap and a gray goatee. “They just assumed that everything was fine, but in practice everything was not fine.”
He’s not the only scholar to devote decades to the task. In 1976, Rabbi Mordechai Breuer published a version of the Torah based mainly on the Aleppo Codex. The Hebrew University Bible Project in Jerusalem has also been working on a scientific edition of the Hebrew Bible, but theirs is directed toward scholars, while Cohen’s output is aimed at wider consumption.
Rafael Zer, the project’s editorial coordinator, called Cohen’s work “quasi-scientific” because it presents a final product and does not provide the reader a way of seeing how it was reached. He credits Cohen for bringing an exact biblical text to the general public but said it “comes at the expense of absolute accuracy and an absolute scientific edition.”
With the assistance of his son Shmuel, a computer programmer, Cohen launched a digital version he hopes will become a benchmark of the Israeli education system. He said his ultimate goal was to “correct the past and prepare for the future.”
As a former teacher, Cohen said he took particular pride in a sophisticated search engine that allows even novices to explore his work with ease. He called computers a “third revolution” to affect Jewish scripture, following the shift from scrolls to bound books and the advent of the printing press.
“I want the Bible to be user-friendly,” said Cohen, a grandfather of eight. “Today, we can create sources of information and searches that allow you to get an answer to everything you are wondering.”]]>
The impasse over whether and how to scrap the mass exemptions from military service for ultra-Orthodox Jews has already cost Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu his largest coalition partner. With no obvious compromise in sight ahead of the Aug. 1 deadline, the issue has the potential to trigger the government’s collapse and lead to snap elections.
The debate over the exemptions cuts along the nation’s secular-religious divide. Israel’s secular majority, which is required to perform two to three years of compulsory service, widely resents the exemptions, while ultra-Orthodox leaders have been equally adamant in their refusal to compromise, claiming their young men serve the nation through prayer and study.
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has vowed to find a resolution that will please all sides, dissolved a high-profile committee that recommended largely doing away with the mass exemptions. That prompted his largest coalition partner, the centrist Kadima Party that joined the Cabinet in May with the explicit goal of ending the exemptions for the ultra-Orthodox, to quit the government.
Netanyahu now has presented a watered-down alternative that doesn’t appear likely to be implemented either.
The current exemptions infuriate the general public, since almost all others are required to serve in the military. Meanwhile the ultra-Orthodox, who make up about 10 percent of Israel’s 8 million citizens, live off state subsidies in their insular communities.
A solution appears unlikely to be found by the Aug. 1 deadline. If nothing happens by then, some 60,000 ultra-Orthodox men of military age who currently enjoy exemptions will officially be considered deserters. But Defense Minister Ehud Barak also has the prerogative to issue emergency measures to maintain the status quo if he decides to do so.
Barak has said he would begin drafting an unspecified number of ultra-religious soldiers on that date and propose temporary legislation until a permanent arrangement is reached. Only 1,300 agreed to be drafted this year.
The draft privileges date back to the 1940s, when Israel’s founders exempted 400 exemplary religious students to help rebuild great schools of Jewish learning destroyed during the Holocaust. As the ultra-Orthodox have emerged as kingmakers in Israelis politics, they have blocked any reform initiatives — until Israel’s Supreme Court earlier this year ruled the current arrangement discriminatory and ordered an end to the exemptions.
The doomed committee, headed by Kadima lawmaker Yohanan Plesner, met for weeks and ultimately suggested that no more than 20 percent of ultra-Orthodox males, roughly 1,500 people a year, be granted exemptions, while others be permitted to defer service for no more than four years.
But Netanyahu rejected the recommendations, saying they were unlikely to win parliamentary approval, and tasked former military chief and current hawkish Cabinet Minister Moshe Yaalon from his own Likud Party with drafting an alternative.
Kadima quit the government last week after the sides failed to reach a compromise.
Yaalon, meanwhile, has presented a plan that would allow deferrals to continue till age 26 — when most ultra-Orthodox men already have several children. It also rejects personal sanctions against those who shirk service and includes a plan to draft Arabs into the military or alternative community service.
Netanyahu said the proposal will “gradually increase the number of those who serve, among the ultra-Orthodox and the Arabs, without setting public against public.”
“This will be a realistic change that will be possible to implement, and not an empty move the goal of which is to grab headlines. We will give more to those who serve and less to those who evade,” he added.
But the new proposal almost immediately drew a cascade of criticism from opposition and social activists alike.
Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz, now head of the opposition after leaving the government, charged Netanyahu with cowardice and “choosing those who evade over those who serve.”
Officially, ultra-Orthodox leaders insist on maintaining the sweeping exemptions, for fear of assimilation in a largely secular military. But parliamentary officials say that in private meetings they have shown some willingness to compromise. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the meetings were closed to the public.
For his part, Netanyahu has pledged to “enact a historic change,” but at the same time appears reluctant to alienate the ultra-Orthodox community that has traditionally supported him.
“The Netanyahu government has decided to prefer its ultra-Orthodox, anti-Zionist partners over the vast majority of the public,” said Uri Regev, a rabbi who heads the religious equality group Hiddush. “It is determined to miss the historic opportunity to share the national burden and deal a catastrophe to the national economy and national security.”]]>
President Barack Obama term
ed it a “barbaric terrorist attack.” The U.S. leader called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to express his sorrow over the attack and pledged assistance to bring the perpetrators to justice, according to statements from the two leaders’ offices.
The bombing in a quiet Black Sea resort town was the latest in a series of attacks attributed to Iran that have targeted Israelis and Jews overseas and threatened to escalate a shadow war between the two arch-enemies. Iran has denied involvement in the past but did not comment on Wednesday’s bombing.
The violence also came against the broader backdrop of the international standoff with Iran over its nuclear program. Israel, accusing Iran of developing nuclear weapons, has repeatedly hinted it is prepared to strike Iranian nuclear targets if Tehran does not curb its suspect program.
The blast gutted the bus at the airport in the Black Sea city of Burgas, some 400 kilometers (250 miles) east of the capital, Sofia. The Israelis had just landed at the beginning of their vacation.
Black smoke billowed into the sky from the stricken bus after the bomb exploded. Young Israelis said they were just boarding when the explosion ripped through the white vehicle in the airport parking lot. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said at least seven people were killed.
“We were at the entrance of the bus and in a few seconds we heard a huge boom,” said Gal Malka, an Israeli teenager who was slightly wounded in the blast.
The resort town has become a popular travel destination in recent years for Israelis, particularly for recent high school graduates before they are drafted for mandatory military service.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, which wounded 30 others. But suspicion immediately fell upon Iran and its Lebanese proxy, the Hezbollah guerrilla group.
The attack came exactly 18 years after the bombing of a Jewish community center in Argentina that killed 85 people. An Argentine investigation concluded Iran was behind that attack. In addition, Israel has accused Iran of being behind a string of attacks in Europe, Asia and Africa in recent months.
“All signs point to Iran,” Netanyahu said after Wednesday’s explosion. “Just in the past few months, we have seen attempts by Iran to harm Israelis in Thailand, India, Georgia, Kenya, Cyprus and more. This is an Iranian terror attack that is spreading across the world. Israel will react forcefully to Iran’s terror.”
The Israeli leader gave no evidence to back his charges.
In the past, Iran has accused Israel of being behind a series of covert attacks on Iranian nuclear targets, ranging from the assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists to mysterious computer viruses that have damaged Iranian centrifuges.
Israel has never admitted to involvement, but it and others have accused Iran of reprisal missions, including a February bombing in New Delhi that wounded an Israeli diplomat’s wife and the discovery of a cache of explosives in Bangkok that Thai officials claim was linked to a plot to target Israeli diplomats.
Top Israeli security officials were holding consultations late Wednesday. The Israelis said they were still weighing their options on how to respond, and there were no preparations under way for an immediate reaction.
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were discussing a sensitive security matter and were not authorized to give details to reporters, said any reaction would probably be a pinpoint operation limited in scope, most likely under the auspices of the Mossad spy agency.
The officials said security officials are also concerned about further attacks, similar to a string of incidents in India, Georgia and Thailand earlier this year, and were reviewing security at potential Israeli targets, such as airline terminals and diplomatic installations.
The Bulgaria bombing, however, was not expected to have any bearing on the separate matter of whether to attack Iran’s nuclear program.
Israel considers a nuclear-armed Iran to be a threat to its existence, citing Iranian calls for destruction of the Jewish state, its sophisticated missile program and its support for Israel’s bitterest enemies.
Iran says its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes — a position viewed with skepticism by the international community.
In Azerbaijan’s capital of Baku, security officials in March announced the arrest of 22 suspects allegedly hired by Iran for terrorist attacks against the U.S. and Israeli embassies and other Western-linked sites.
Israeli officials also have long warned that the Iranian-backed Hezbollah would try to attack Israelis abroad. Hezbollah has accused Israel of assassinating a top leader in Damascus in 2008 and vowed to avenge the killing. Israel has never admitted involvement in the mysterious explosion.
Just this week, a foreign national was arrested in Cyprus on suspicion of plotting a possible terrorist attack. Israel blamed Iran and Hezbollah for this as well.
In statement, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak cited Iranian-backed militants and other radical Islamic groups as the likely perpetrators of the Bulgaria bombing.
“We are in a continual fight against them. We are determined to identify who sent them, who perpetrated (the attack), and to settle the account,” he said.
Israeli counterterrorism expert Boaz Ganor said Wednesday’s attack was “likely not the last in a series,” adding, “All this looks like Hezbollah, Iran or a combination of the two.”
Despite repeated alerts and concerns of an Iranian-backed attack in recent months, Israel said it had no advance intelligence on a pending attack in Bulgaria.
The attack took place near the airport, shortly after a charter flight filled with Israeli youth landed at 4:45 p.m. local time.
Lieberman, the Israeli foreign minister, said he was briefed by his Bulgarian counterpart and informed that a bomb was planted in the bus as it transferring tourists from the airport.
He said there were six bodies at the scene and another person died at the hospital. Two others were in critical condition.
The identities of the victims were not immediately released.
Britain echoed the U.S. condemnation of the attack, with British Foreign Secretary William Hague offering condolences to the victims’ families.
Late Wednesday, Israel announced it was dispatching a military medical and relief team to Bulgaria, a country of 7.3 million bordering Greece and Turkey.
The Burgas airport was closed and traffic redirected. In Sofia, meanwhile, Mayor Yordanka Fandakova ordered a stronger police presence at all public places linked to the Jewish community. There are some 5,000 Jews in Bulgaria and most live in the capital.
Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov also called Netanyahu late Wednesday to offer his condolences.
Heller reported from Jerusalem.]]>
Even so, the former Israeli
soldier remains an enigma. He has refrained from giving interviews and has shared few details about his 5 1/2 years of captivity in a Gaza basement. But he hasn’t vanished from sight — quite the opposite.
The slender 25-year-old has morphed into a celebrity from an awkward, anonymous teenager whose plight inspired a nationwide campaign. While he still enjoys widespread public support, some Israelis are beginning to question whether his tragic ordeal has been converted into undue hero status.
Palestinian militants abducted a wounded Schalit from his tank in June 2006 in a brazen cross-border infiltration from Gaza. After years of failed negotiations and mounting public pressure, Israel agreed to free more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, including hundreds of convicted killers, in exchange for his freedom. Schalit was joyously welcomed home, but the government also faced criticism for agreeing to such a one-sided swap.
The nation embraced Schalit as a symbol largely because most Israelis his age — men and women — do compulsory military service. Parents of present, future and past soldiers — and that is just about everyone in Israel — empathized with the Schalit family, picturing their own sons in captivity.
Schalit has been recuperating quietly at his home in northern Israel — and in stark contrast, making public appearances.
He has been serenaded at music concerts, spotted at a Davis Cup tennis match, seated courtside at basketball games and even played in a celebrity game himself. Israel’s most popular comedy show based a character on him, and Israeli celebrities have lined up to be photographed with him and then rushed to post the photos online.
Recently he became a high-profile sports columnist for Yediot Ahronot, Israel’s largest newspaper, traveling to the NBA Finals and the Euro 2012 soccer championships. On Thursday, he was the guest of honor at Bastille Day celebrations at the French ambassador’s home in Tel Aviv, where onlookers snapped photos of him on their cellphones.
The superstar treatment follows him abroad. He attended the NBA All-Star game in Orlando, where he hung with Israeli player Omri Casspi, and the Israeli consul-general’s office in Miami posted a picture of him on Facebook interviewing University of Miami star running back Mike James. In Florida, he attended a baseball game and was hosted by the NBA Miami Heat’s Israeli-born owner Micky Arison.
Schalit has been named an honorary citizen of Paris, Rome, Miami, New Orleans, Baltimore and Pittsburgh. In the most publicized event, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy ceremoniously feted the dual Israeli-French citizen at the Elysee Palace.
Schalit’s family has also been front and center. His father, Noam, who led the media campaign for his son, announced less than a month after the release that he was entering politics and would run as a Labor Party candidate. Schalit’s older brother, Yoel, met his girlfriend through the campaign — she was an activist — and news of their upcoming wedding made headlines in Israeli newspapers.
Israel’s main TV entertainment show covered Schalit’s visit to the set of the Showtime hit-series “Homeland,” which is based on the Israeli series “Prisoners of War.” The theme of the show, about how a released POW returns home to his family, is similar to Schalit’s saga in some aspects.
While shooting an episode in Israel, the show’s stars, Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin, met with Schalit.
Such glitz and glamor has angered Israelis who opposed the Schalit deal, for personal or political reasons.
Ron Kehrmann, whose teenage daughter Tal was killed in a 2003 suicide bombing attack in Haifa, petitioned against the prisoner swap that freed those involved in his daughter’s killing. Given this baggage, he said it would be more tasteful for the Schalits to keep a lower profile.
“I don’t understand how you make an icon out of a soldier who was captured and then traded for so many murderers. Instead of putting that chapter away in a dark, little corner, they are turning him into an icon,” said Kehrmann. “He doesn’t interest me and I don’t want to hear about him. Every time I hear his name, it reopens the wound.”
Nine months after his release, the shine may be coming off the Schalit image.
“His legitimate choice to publish a sports column marks a new stage in the relationship between the Israel public and someone who until recently was been known as ‘everyone’s son,’” wrote Amir Ben-David, a columnist for the Walla news Web site. “It could mark the end of his immunity, his symbolic and practical extraction from the warmth and safety of the embracing consensus.”
The sports column, co-written with veteran Israeli media personality Arik Henig, is an informal discussion about random sporting debates, such as who is the best soccer goalie in the world, and which is the greatest basketball team ever.
Schalit is said to be a die-hard sports fan and has said he gained strength from sports during his captivity, keeping up to date on the rare occasions his captors allowed him to listen to radio or watch TV.
Other than that, he doesn’t appear to have any expertise, and his column has been dismissed by critics.
“Beyond his name, which is highlighted prominently, it is a column that doesn’t have much sporting value. The result has not been very interesting,” said Shlomo Mann, a sports critic for “The Seventh Eye,” an online Israeli media review.
For the most part, the normally aggressive Israeli media has surprisingly respected his request for privacy and generally portrays Schalit as Israel’s “national son” who can do no wrong after losing five years of his life.
Noam Schalit turned down an Associated Press request to interview his son, saying he was not yet ready to face the media — despite his public appearances and his own media presence.
Those close to Schalit also would not discuss his current state. Henig would not return phone calls, and the editor-in-chief of Yediot Ahronot declined comment, citing his privacy, as did a group that aids former prisoners of war.
“If Gilad chooses to be interviewed, that, of course, is his right,” responded Orly Lieberman, secretary of a nonprofit devoted to helping former POW’s. “Our choice is to allow him to rehabilitate his life without media coverage.”]]>
eller reports from Jerusalem.Read the Story Watch the Video ]]>
The verdict was seen as
a major victory for Olmert, who stepped down as prime minister in 2009 to battle allegations that included accepting cash-stuffed envelopes from a supporter and pocketing the proceeds from a double-billing scam on overseas travel.
His conviction on the lesser charge of “breach of trust” made him the first Israeli prime minister ever convicted of a crime. Beating the main charges could significantly rehabilitate Olmert’s public standing and shift the focus to questions on whether an overzealous prosecution unnecessarily hounded him from office.
Olmert’s legal troubles are far from over, however. He will be sentenced in September and is currently standing trial in a separate real estate bribery case. For now at least, a return to politics for the 66-year-old Olmert appears unlikely.
Casually dressed in a blue button-down shirt, Olmert appeared calm and relieved as the verdict was delivered in the Jerusalem district court. As he left the courtroom, the former prime minister had a wide smile and kissed defense lawyers and advisers.
“There was no corruption. There was no taking of money. There was no use of money. There were no cash envelopes. There was nothing of what they tried to attribute to me,” Olmert told reporters defiantly afterward, saying the lone conviction was merely a “procedural lapse” from which he would draw the necessary lessons.
The verdict, which capped a two-year trial, covered three separate allegations: illegally accepting funds from an American supporter, double-billing Jewish groups for trips abroad and channeling state grants to companies linked to a close friend. He was acquitted in the first two cases and found guilty in the last.
The first case was the most dramatic, with Jewish American businessman Morris Talansky flown in to testify that he handed the former Israeli leader envelopes stuffed with hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, painting him as a high-living traveler fond of fancy hotels and first-class travel.
The second case of double-billing assured his resignation, with Olmert unable to withstand public pressure to step down as the corruption charges multiplied.
The court convicted a close Olmert aide, Shula Zaken, of fraud and breach of trust in that case, but said there was “reasonable doubt” that the prime minister knew what had happened. It noted that Zaken refused to testify in the case, making it difficult to convict Olmert.
In the third case, the court convicted Olmert of breach of trust for steering job appointments and contracts to clients of Uri Messer, a close associate, when he served as minister of industry and trade. The court called it a “harsh conflict of interests between his commitment to the public as a senior public servant and his personal commitment to advocate Messer.”
The charges were filed after Olmert became prime minister in 2006, but stemmed from his time as mayor of Jerusalem and later as a Cabinet minister.
After he was indicted in 2008, he announced his resignation but remained prime minister until February 2009 elections that brought his successor, Benjamin Netanyahu, into office.
The proceedings involved 152 court sessions over two years, producing 4,000 pages of testimony. The case first broke more than four years ago.
Olmert still faces many more months in court. Any thought of a political comeback would likely have to wait until the conclusion of his other trial, involving a bribery scandal surrounding a controversial Jerusalem real estate project.
Moshe Negbi, Israel Radio’s legal analyst, said the Sept. 5 sentencing will decide Olmert’s political future. If the court says the conviction amounts to “moral turpitude,” he would be sentenced to at least three months of prison time or community service and be barred from re-entering politics for seven years.
“As for the moral turpitude, I am not sure because even though Olmert failed, his breach of duty was not accompanied with any benefit for himself,” said Emanuel Gross, a legal analyst at the University of Haifa, adding that a jail sentence appeared highly unlikely.
Olmert’s lawyer, Eli Zohar, said there was no legal precedent for jail time on a single count of breach of trust. He said he would not appeal this conviction, and that it posed no deterrent for Olmert to eventually return to political life.
“He was almost totally acquitted of all the charges he was charged with, despite one which is insignificant for his future as a possible candidate,” Zohar told The Associated Press. He said the conviction amounted to an ethical breach, rather than a legal crime.
Prosecutors took solace in the lone conviction, saying the court ruled a public servant could not engage in matters in which they had vested interests. They said they would study the 742-page verdict before deciding whether to appeal.
Olmert entered politics in 1973 with the hardline Likud Party. But late in his career, he underwent a transformation, adopting dovish views in favor of broad concessions to the Palestinians.
He bolted the Likud with then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to form the centrist Kadima Party in 2005, leading it to victory in elections the following year after Sharon suffered a debilitating stroke. As prime minister, Olmert conducted intense peace talks with the Palestinians, offering a near-complete pullout from the West Bank before the talks fizzled at the end of his term.
Olmert claimed to be close to an accord just as he was driven from the premiership and the pileup of corruption charges undermined his efforts of reaching a peace deal with the Palestinians. Negotiations have been largely frozen since, leading some to bemoan how a bombastic case that altered Mideast peace efforts ended with a whimper.
“Of the indictment that led to the changing of the government in Israel, and in effect the course of history, remains a very small and insignificant piece,” said Jacob Galanti, a top Olmert aide.
Olmert’s term was also marked by the 2006 war with Lebanon’s Hezbollah and a bruising offensive in Gaza in early 2009 that largely halted years of Palestinian rocket fire. Popular support for his Kadima also slipped dramatically in the three years since Olmert left politics.
Israel’s leadership has been tarnished multiple times by convictions in recent years, and members of Olmert’s own Cabinet are currently sitting in jail. His former finance minister was sentenced to five years for embezzlement, and another member of his Cabinet was sentenced to four years for taking bribes. Neither case occurred while the two were in the Cabinet.
And last year, former Israeli President Moshe Katsav was sentenced to seven years in prison after being convicted of rape and other sex crimes prior to his presidency.]]>
They are the creme de la creme of a cloistered community, the Harvard of the ultra-Orthodox world, who are expected neither to work for a living nor serve in the military with other Israelis. But it’s not just the students at the prestigious Mir Yeshiva for whom prayer and study of scripture is a full-time job. Nearly the entire community has been granted sweeping exemptions that have infuriated the general public.
These young men, and their sheltered lifestyle, are at the heart of a battle that is tearing Israel apart in a clash between tradition and modernity, religion and democracy. The fight centers on whether ultra-Orthodox males should be drafted into the military along with other Jews, but it really is about a much deeper issue: the place of Judaism in the Jewish state.
The question has come to the fore as the government races to meet a Supreme Court-ordered deadline to revamp the nation’s draft law. In its current form, secular males must perform three years of compulsory service when they turn 18. Ultra-Orthodox men, like the young scholars at the Mir Yeshiva, have special exemptions that allow them to continue studying in their isolated enclaves while collecting government subsidies.
For their supporters, seminary students are preserving a tradition that has served as the very bedrock of Judaism for thousands of years.
“Jews need to study the Bible. That is what makes us unique as a people,” Yerach Tucker, a 30-year-old spokesman for the ultra-Orthodox community, said proudly as he guided a visitor through the Mir Yeshiva. “It is the essence of our lives.”
But polls show the vast majority of Israelis, who risk their lives and put their careers on hold while serving in the military, object strongly to the arrangement, and many see it as the essence of everything that is wrong with their country.
This resentment has fueled a broader high-decibel culture war. In recent months, secular activists have rebelled against what they consider growing religious coercion by the ultra-Orthodox, such as attempts to enforce gender segregation on buses and public places, and a religious backlash by ultra-Orthodox who feel unfairly persecuted.
“It is something so ethical, so basic, that we have all grown up upon: service, giving to the state. Everyone here has to give something to society because we are one society,” said Boaz Nol, a reserve officer who was among the planners of a large protest in Tel Aviv Saturday against the continued exemptions. More than 10,000 reservists and their supporters turned out for the rally, many of them carrying placards reading “everybody serves.”
The Supreme Court earlier this year ruled the draft exemptions illegal and gave the government until Aug. 1 to figure out a new, fairer system. That is proving far more difficult than expected.
Last week, the deep divisions between religious and secular parties inside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government led to the collapse of a special committee formed to draft new legislation.
Netanyahu’s largest governing partner, the centrist Kadima Party, is now threatening to quit the government, just two months after joining the coalition with the goal of reforming the draft. Netanyahu has vowed to find a compromise.
A glimpse into the world of the ultra-Orthodox shows just how intractable the issue has become. The draft exemptions date back to the time of Israel’s independence in 1948, when founding father David Ben-Gurion exempted 400 exemplary seminary students to help rebuild great schools of Jewish learning destroyed in the Holocaust, when 6 million Jews were murdered.
As ultra-Orthodox parties became power brokers, the numbers mounted. Ultra-Orthodox officials now estimate there are about 100,000 full-time Torah learners of draft age.
The pattern has lasting ramifications. The heavy emphasis on religious study, begun early on in a separate system of elementary schools, has pushed many ultra-Orthodox men to shun the work world, relying on welfare as they spend their days immersed in holy texts. The ultra-Orthodox make up about 10 percent of Israel’s 8 million citizens.
Steep unemployment, believed to hover around 50 percent, coupled with a high birthrate has fueled deep poverty in the ultra-Orthodox sector. With families of eight to 10 children commonplace, more than a quarter of all Israeli first graders today are ultra-Orthodox. Experts say if these trends continue, Israel’s long-term economic prospects are in danger.
But changing the ways of the ultra-Orthodox will not be easy. Leaders speak proudly of centuries-old traditions of prayer and learning that they believe has allowed the Jewish people to survive such tragedies as the Spanish Inquisition, European pogroms and the Holocaust. Study in Yeshiva seminaries, they say, is no less important than military strength in protecting the country from modern threats in a hostile region.
“You have to understand, we are part of the Jewish army,” said Aharon Grossman, a 30-year-old student at Mir Yeshiva. “Some people serve in tanks. We serve in yeshiva.”
Ultra-Orthodox leaders insist they will never be forced to serve in the military.
For decades, a string of secular-led Israeli governments have maintained the status quo, either because of their dependence on ultra-Orthodox political kingmakers or out of fear of an angry backlash from a sector that hasn’t hesitated to block roads, clash with police or mobilize tens of thousands of activists into the streets when ordered by their rabbis.
With the clock ticking, Netanyahu now faces a near-impossible task as he tries to satisfy the demands of the secular masses, the Supreme Court and various coalition partners all while preventing sectarian unrest.
Before the parliamentary committee collapse, ultra-Orthodox parties boycotted the panel. And in a sign of what may lie ahead, thousands of black-clad ultra-Orthodox took to the streets of Jerusalem last week to protest the committee’s work. Some wore sacks in a sign of mourning over the prospect of being forced into service.
Einat Wilf, a lawmaker with the secular Independence party, said the ultra-Orthodox have no right to complain, adding that Israelis are fed up with a system in which they take and give nothing back in return.
“I, for one, do not believe that their prayers are protecting soldiers and they can’t force their ways upon me,” she said. “If they want to pray, fine, but not at my expense.”
She said that despite ultra-Orthodox intransigence, the doomed committee she was a member of had sought a compromise — even if it was not to the liking of secularists like her.
“Will it be better than the current situation? Yes,” she said. “Will it be fair and just? Absolutely not.”
A day after Netanyahu disbanded the committee, its chairman nonetheless released his recommendations. Among the proposals: that no more than 20 percent of ultra-Orthodox males, roughly 1,500 people a year, be granted exemptions, while others be permitted to defer service for no more than five years. A national service option was also introduced for those who didn’t fit into the military.
The details of the debate have dominated political discussion in Israel, handing Netanyahu his biggest challenge yet since he formed a 94-member coalition in early May. His office says he will meet quietly with political leaders in the coming days in order to formulate a fair draft law.
The ultra-Orthodox reject the idea that they are leeching off the state. They say employment numbers are skewed, and that they contribute to public coffers through sales tax on purchases they make for large families. They also note that the government subsidizes areas that they have no interest in, such as culture, sports and the arts.
Unlike other Israelis, who mark graduations, military promotions, and professional accomplishments, the ultra-Orthodox only celebrate study. Later this month, for instance, thousands of believers are scheduled to pack a basketball arena to mark the completion of a full study of the Talmud — a seven-year odyssey in which 2,700 pages of rabbinical debates over Jewish law are meticulously dissected at a pace of one page a day.
Many ultra-Orthodox sects aren’t even Zionist and refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state until the coming of the Messiah. Some tiny extreme sects even side with the Palestinians and Israel’s archenemy Iran.
Most object to change on much simpler grounds. In Hebrew, the ultra-Orthodox are known as “Haredim,” or “those who fear” God. But it’s not death they fear in the military — it’s immersion in what they see as a secular and hedonistic society.
“The main reason that we can’t serve is that the military simply doesn’t suit us. The military is a secular melting pot,” said Chaim Walder, a well-known ultra-Orthodox author and activist.
It’s not clear how much the military even wants Haredi conscripts. While it formally calls for everyone to serve, military officials acknowledge it will be extremely difficult to incorporate them into the army.
Many Haredi men lack basic skills, like rudimentary math, because their independent school systems barely teach them. Their aversion to direct contact with women would require segregation and could undercut the military’s record of giving female soldiers equal opportunities.
Insubordination could also grow if ultra-Orthodox men found themselves forced to choose between religious beliefs and commanders’ orders. No one can predict what could happen if armed soldiers took their orders from rabbis.
The costs would also be high: Drafting this community would require special arrangements, such as kitchens conforming to the strictest interpretation of Jewish dietary law and a large chunk of the day set aside for bible study. And as those who are married and with children are entitled to higher salaries — the military would face another financial burden.
Inclusion has been successful in some areas however. The army has designed a number of roles specifically for the needs of ultra-Orthodox soldiers, including a segregated infantry unit as well as computer, technology and intelligence units.
A military official involved in the effort said 85 percent of discharged ultra-Orthodox soldiers went on to find jobs in civilian life.
But altogether, the numbers remain small. Fewer than 1,300 conscripts participated in these programs over the past year, military figures show.
Some leading rabbis have ruled that those not cut out for intensive seminary life or those who were already married — and perhaps less susceptible to the lure of the secular world — could be eligible to serve or take part in a range of civil service options being considered.
Still, any arrangement would likely involve inducting thousands of unwilling men over the objection of their rabbis.
Walder, the activist, insists Jewish study is sacrosanct and non-negotiable, saying that state must continue to fund it.
“The only thing that is truly keeping us safe here is bible study,” he said. “We are protecting the country with our prayer. We are making sure that there is something here to protect.”]]>
So when Rita released an album entirely in the language of her country’s arch-enemy Iran, naturally more than a few eyebrows were raised.
“Even my frie
nds, when I told them I was going to do a whole record in Persian, said ‘Whoa, you are going to sing in the language of (Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad,’” she said, referring to the Iranian president who has called the Holocaust a myth and threatened to wipe Israel off the map. “I’m combining Hebrew and Persian so much together and I am showing that it is possible.”
The album, “My Joys,” went gold in Israel within three weeks. More significantly, though, it seems to have generated a following in the underground music circuit in Iran at a time when tensions are high between the two countries over Iran’s suspect nuclear program.
To Rita, the album is less a political statement and more a return to her own roots.
Rita Jahan-Foruz was born in Tehran, Iran, 50 years ago. In 1970, at the age of eight, she migrated with her family to Israel, where she grew up listening to her mother sing melodies in her native Farsi.
Fifteen years later, Rita erupted onto the Israeli music scene as a one-named wonder — Israel’s Madonna, or Cher, if you will — and has since gone on to become one of the country’s top recording artists and most recognized celebrities.
When she and her ex-husband — American-born Israeli singer/songwriter Rami Kleinstein — divorced a few years ago, it was front page news.
She’s such an Israeli icon that she was chosen to sing the national anthem in 1998 at the country’s main jubilee celebration, answering a personal plea from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Ten years later, as the country marked its 60th anniversary, she was chosen as Israel’s top female singer ever.
Still, she stayed close to her Iranian roots. Some 250,000 Israelis are of Iranian descent. Rita is perhaps the most famous of all.
Rita’s album comes at a sensitive time. Israel is terrified that Iran is close to developing a nuclear weapon, a scenario it says would threaten the very existence of the Jewish state. Israeli leaders cite Iranian calls for Israel’s destruction, Iran’s development of sophisticated missiles and Iran’s support for anti-Israel groups in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. Israeli leaders have frequently hinted at the possibility of a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities should international sanctions fail.
Iran denies it is trying to develop atomic weapons.
Despite such tensions, Rita said she only had warm memories of the people and places she left behind.
“I was born to an amazing culture,” she told The Associated Press. “Most of the world, they didn’t know that from this culture came so many things.”
Rita said the album was aimed at introducing a wider audience to the music that has influenced her, with “My Joys” being her modern take on classic Iranian songs of her past. She said her parents helped her brush up on her Farsi and offered suggestions.
“This is the project of my life. It is something much bigger than singing or a record or a career. I think it is deeper,” she said.
Unlike many high-profile Israeli artists, Rita is notoriously apolitical. But she said this specific album could make a difference, serving as a bridge between the people of her home country and her homeland.
“No matter what the governments … decide to do, the people they are smart and they want peace and they want to live their lives,” she said. “It’s time that people will know something a little bit else than what the (Iranian) regime represents.”
Her fans seem to be responding. At a recent concert in southern Israel, Israelis danced like crazy even though they couldn’t fully understand the songs.
In Iran, fans are exposed to her music mostly through foreign-based Farsi-language satellite TV. During a recent tour of eight music dealers in Tehran, an AP correspondent found two selling a Rita single, “Gole Sangam,” a remake of a famous Iranian song about yearning for a missing loved one.
Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-born analyst who teaches at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel, said Rita’s popularity is hard to gauge, but it’s possible that her Israeli identity has helped lure listeners fed up with the hard-line government. “Whatever popularity she might have could be related to artistic capabilities. It could also be related to the backlash we see in Iran against the government,” he said.
Rita is still far from a household name, though, and most of her Iranian fans appear to come from expatriate communities. But not all. During the interview, Rita proudly cited numerous emails she said came from fans in Iran.
“The beautiful and emotional songs you sing in this time of war, this crazy time of Islamic control, give an overwhelming feeling of closeness and love between the countries of Iran and Israel,” read one of the emails, signed by a writer identified as Ali. F. in Shiraz, Iran. “I ask from the great and merciful God to send you happiness and heath.”
Rita said such messages convince her that she has managed to make “a little scratch in the wall between us.”
“I am excited to get email from all over the world, but when it comes from there, from Iran, I sit like a child and I read every word,” she said. “I want in a few years to go to Iran and have a concert … I am a dreamer, a lot of dreams came true in this world, so let me dream.”using jailbreaking unlock 4S illegal 3g features as for such iPhone 4S unlock iphone 3g that without full unlock are the]]>