Donald TrumpYes, you read that right. It’s taken a while, but I’ve finally come around. Republican presidential contender Donald Trump has won me over. And come November, if he’s still in the race (and if this election year has taught us anything, it’s that nothing is mandated from heaven), he’ll have my vote. He says he’s the most pro-Israel candidate and I believe him.

Why shouldn’t I? At last week’s AIPAC Policy Conference, he uttered all the right things, pushed all the right buttons. In less than 30 minutes, he won over many if not most of the 18,000 attendees who gave him one standing ovation after another, to growing and enthusiastic applause. AIPAC was worried the audience might protest Trump, that they’d walk out or boo or demonstrate. If anyone did, they were in the minority, drowned out by a seeming sea of support.

If AIPAC – which was supposed to be Trump’s toughest room – can fall in love with the guy, who am I to argue?

“I’m a newcomer to politics but not to backing the Jewish State,” Trump proclaimed. “I’m a lifelong supporter and true friend of Israel. When I’m president, [I will] totally dismantle Iran’s global terror network. I’ll move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem, [to] send a clear signal that there is no daylight between America and our most reliable ally. The days of treating Israel like a second-class citizen will end.”

Well, I’m ready to be treated like a first-class citizen again, to be welcomed into the warm embrace of a Trump White House. Do I agree with everything he says? Certainly not. His views on Muslims and Mexicans are abhorrent.

But on Israel, the only issue that should matter to any self-respecting Zionist – and especially to immigrants to the Holy Land like us who still can vote in the U.S. elections – well, whom are you going to pick? Hillary Clinton, who accepts emails from that fanatical BDS supporter Max Blumenthal, who once had the gall to say that Israel displays a “lack of empathy” towards the Palestinians? Nope, check me into the Trump Tower and send me up some room service pronto, please.

Trump’s meteoric rise isn’t all that surprising. He’s the quintessential outsider and Americans love their outsider candidates. The idea that someone who is not a Washington crony can turn the country around is a trope that’s won the vote repeatedly over the past 150 years, ever since Abraham Lincoln emphasized his working class roots as “The Railsplitter” candidate in 1860. Ulysses S. Grant’s campaign in 1872 portrayed him as a rough and tumble tanner and his running mate Henry Wilson as a shoemaker, hardly Beltway regulars.

More recently, the U.S. saw outsider peanut farmer Jimmy Carter beat insider (and Nixon pardoner) Gerald Ford, only to be unseated by another outsider, Ronald Reagan. As the first African American president, Barak Obama could certainly claim the mantle of the outsider par excellence. Even Hillary Clinton, who may have spent more years in Washington than the other candidates combined, portrays herself as a fresh face from far away. After all, as she told CBS News’ Face the Nation, “I cannot imagine anyone being more of an outsider than the first woman president.”

Outsider popularity is not limited just to the U.S. Even in Israel, where despite the fact that Benjamin Netanyahu has been in power for ten years now and you’d think we davka love our insiders, we repeatedly flirt if not go steady with the outsiders who come knocking at the door. Think: Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid in 2013, Moshe Kahlon and his Kulanu party in 2015 or Yitzhak Mordechai’s Center party all the way back in 1999.

We desperately want to believe that someone new and untainted, a genuine independent and free thinker, will be able to shake things up and fix our problems. Israel and the Palestinians have been at each other’s throats for so long, maybe a fresh approach is required. How about hiring a professional negotiator who can knock our sparring leaders’ heads together like it’s a real estate deal or a reality show? Oh, that’s the president? Even better. Bibi and Abbas can’t deliver? “You’re fired!”

I see it in my personal life, too. I have this recurring fantasy that one day I’ll lose all my clients at the same time. Faced with no income and mounting bills, I’ll be forced to think out of the box, to reinvent myself into something entirely new that will finally bring me the fabulous wealth and well being I’ve sought for so long.

Maybe that would work in politics as well, or so the thinking goes. We’ve already sunk so low that only an oxygen deprived descent to the very bottom of the geopolitical ocean can rouse us out of the numbing complacency that has sapped us of our ability to dream of a better future – a Trump future.

Chemi Shalev thinks a Trump presidency could even have unintended benefits for Israel. Writing in Haaretz, Shalev presents an alternative future where a Trump win in November leads to a mass exodus of liberal Jews from the U.S. They first try to move to Canada but are stymied when they learn that becoming a citizen takes at least four years.

They turn instead to Israel where Shalev envisions 50,000 American Jews eventually immigrating under the Law of Return, settling mainly in the center of the country where they “breathe new life into Israel’s moribund left” and go about “rebuilding liberal NGOs and government watchdogs,” ultimately influencing the 2019 elections and overthrowing the Likud.

Shalev’s narrative may not come to be, but can there be any doubt that Trump will be good for Israel and tough on terror? And if anyone can kick Assad out of Syria, force ISIS to its knees and compel the Iranians to repaint their missiles with the lyrics to a song from Dana International, it will be the Donald.

Look, I’m still realistic – a Trump presidency may not be as glorious as I hope, but it certainly can’t be as bad as the doomsayers pontificate.

At least that’s what I tell myself until I bolt up in bed in the middle of the night and a flood of Trump’s misogynist and racist rants rains down on me, threatening to drown my waking consciousness in its own own vile apologies until I repent, Democratic ballot clutched firmly in hand, and turn away with assured finality from this hateful outsider who wooed me with empty promises that change – any change – is always for the better.

I first punk’d Trump on The Jerusalem Post website.

Picture credit


Jewish_calendar,_showing_Adar_II_between_1927_and_1948.jpegI interview people for a living. Many of the articles I write are for publications outside of Israel. For those conversations, I don’t usually identify myself as living in Jerusalem – I want the person I’m speaking with to be the focus of the article, not me. I have a U.S. phone number, so there’s no clue on the Caller ID either.

But sometimes, it’s unavoidable, especially when I’m trying to schedule an interview with someone in California, where the ten-hour difference makes timing tricky. Which is how I wound up hearing this at the beginning of a phone interview I conducted last week.

“So, how did you end up in Israel?” asked Todd, an executive to whom I was speaking about his latest soon-to-be killer app.

Now, I’m not one to shy away from questions about my connection to Israel. But these days, with BDS exploding all over the news and anti-Semitism unmistakably resurgent, the answer to that question isn’t so simple. It’s hard enough when you’ve gotten to know someone in person, but I had nothing on Todd; it was our first time talking and the first thing he asked.

Was his inquiry benign; just curious small talk? Or would I be representing the entire Jewish people with my response? I needed to choose my words carefully.

I went for the simplest, shortest reply. “I’m a Zionist,” I told Todd. And then I immediately started second-guessing myself.

My answer was true – that is how I ended up here – but I wasn’t sure how that term is perceived these days in a post-politically correct America where “ism’s” of all types are passé at best. To someone harboring even the vaguest uninformed negative preconceptions, Zionism might very well be a grotesque variant of nationalism or racism or fascism, which are all definitely beyond the pale of polite society. For better or worse, Zionism has over the years picked up connotations that are just as likely to provoke as to provide comfort and support.

I know – and you, dear reader, know – that they’re not the same, but I’m not sure I could make the same assumption about Todd.

Has the time come, I wondered, to retire the automatic use of the word Zionist when explaining our connection to this place?

“No way,” my friend Batya barked back when I shared my dilemma with her. “You can’t let other people limit what you say. You need to own the term.”

I’m not so sure, though. Sometimes a rebranding is in order.

Amotz Asa-El wrote in The Jerusalem Post earlier this year about the crisis Conservative Judaism is going through. “The once dominant Conservative Movement, whose following has plunged since 1990 from nearly 1.5 million to less than a million…is [now] thinking with public-relations experts of changing its name. Asa-El suggested the new moniker of “Traditionalist Judaism,” in part because it’s accurate but also because “it will sound both compelling and urgent,” wiping the slate clean from the stigma of its mass exodus of adherents.

In an attempt at, if not fully rebranding Zionism, then at least re-crafting the “Why Israel?” elevator pitch with people we don’t yet know, I asked a group of friends, all immigrants from North America, the same question I’d received from Todd. How would they respond? Naturally, as a group of Jews, I got four different answers.

“It’s a great place to raise kids,” said Ruth. “Israel is such a child centered country.”

“This is home,” said Ariel. “It just feels right.”

“To have sex,” blurted out Sarah.

Our heads swiveled, Exorcist-like, in her direction. “Well, it was more to get away from my parents. I felt I couldn’t really be myself on the same continent,” she clarified and we nodded in uncomfortable understanding.

“I came for a job,” I said, which was also true, although I had proactively sought it out. “Maybe I could sing Israel’s praises about being the Startup Nation.”

Not if Rabbi Dov Lipman has anything to say about it. In an article discussing why Israel’s hasbara – its public diplomacy – has failed so miserably, the former Yesh Atid MK and Jerusalem Post columnist cites a recent poll conducted in the U.S. that found that “only 7 percent of respondents are drawn to support a country because it is ‘modern,’ a mere 6 percent are impressed if a country is ‘innovative,’ and a country which is ‘creative’ means something special to just 4 percent.”

“We have been bombarding the world touting Israel’s groundbreaking technology, Lipman concludes. “We have tried to win support by promoting the Startup Nation with its drip irrigation, solar energy, cellular phone technology and Waze. But that isn’t working.”

“I came because of the calendar,” said Moshe, finally. “Living in Israel means we share the same holidays – the Jewish holidays, that is. Shavuot, not the 4th of July; Rosh Hashana, not Labor Day.”

Moshe’s take resonated with me. Holidays, perhaps more than anything else, define a nation. Yes there are important shared values like democracy and decency, and the moral and legal truths emblazoned in a country’s constitution. But on a day-to-day basis, it’s not the money, the language or the food of a country as much as the flow of the weeks and months; the punctuation that the holidays provide, that creates a structure for belonging, for cohesion and peoplehood.

And for the Jewish nation, the most important “holiday” of them all is the one that recurs week after week without fail: Shabbat, the Jewish people’s greatest invention. This is not a religious argument. Shabbat in Israel is a day of distinction, no matter whether you’re deep in prayer in the most ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Bnei Brak, sipping a latte in Tel Aviv or out for a tiyul and a barbeque.

The streets simply feel different on Shabbat and holidays in Israel. There’s a sense that work is far away on this day, even for the most secular Israeli. Indeed, when I worked in the center of the country, though virtually everyone at my company was non-observant, there was never an expectation that you had to come in on Shabbat. Work emails slowed to a trickle. Shabbat was a day for play; a day of being mindful.

How important is the calendar? Hebrew University professor Rachel Elior explains that when the Pharisees were fighting for supremacy over the Saducees some 2,000 years ago, they introduced a new calendar. The priests held by a solar calendar; the rabbis promoted a lunar one. The two calendars were completely out of sync. Yom Kippur on one calendar would never fall on the same date as Yom Kippur on the other. Only one side could – and ultimately did – win.

If you have a connection to the holidays of the Jews, then, there’s no better place – no, there’s no other place at all – where you can live according to the Jewish national calendar than right here. It’s what, despite the deep rifts in Israeli society, has forged us into a single state and keeps us together.

So, here’s my modest proposal: the next time someone asks me how I ended up in Israel, maybe I won’t invoke Zionism with all its baggage, justified or not. This does not in any way diminish my own feelings of Zionism – I will say it loud and strong to the appropriate groups. But to the Todds on the phone who I encounter from time to time, maybe I’ll respond instead, “Because I’m a proud Jewish Calendarist.”

I took my first stab at rebranding Zionism at The Jerusalem Post.


If I forget thee Jerusalem 1Yaniv doesn’t like Jerusalem. “It’s nothing personal,” he said nonchalantly between demonstrative slurps of my wife Jody’s famous chicken soup, as he joined us at the Shabbat table a few weeks back “I just don’t feel welcome here – in the city that, is,” he added, looking sheepishly at Jody. “It’s just so…you know…religious.”

There’s nothing particularly new in Yaniv’s disdain for Jerusalem. Born and raised in Tel Aviv and proudly secular, Yaniv’s attitude is simply the latest embodiment of the long-standing clash between Israel’s free swinging liberal culture center and Jerusalem’s religious mystical bohemian vibe, a dispute over ethos and geography that has been going strong since before the founding of Israel’s unofficial capital on the beach 100 years ago.

But I really want Yaniv to like Jerusalem. It’s not just that I feel rejected or defensive for my hometown – although I feel that too. It’s that the economic, political and demographic future of Jerusalem depends on secular young adults like Yaniv and his friends, at least some of them, deciding to make Jerusalem their home; to work here and pay their taxes here.

That’s not going to be easy, if a very unscientific poll I conducted on Facebook has anything to say about it. I posted a simple if biased question – “what do Tel Avivians have against Jerusalem?” – on two online forums, Secret Jerusalem (with 25,000 members) and Secret Tel Aviv (90,000 members). The hundreds of responses I received revealed that the gap between the two cities is much wider than the 70 or so kilometers of Highway 1.

Some of the responses were more about personal preferences than anything terribly deep or serious. “There’s no sea.” “The Jerusalem Stone architecture is cold and monotonous.” “There are too many tourists.” “Jerusalem is not a good place to raise a dog.” “The sidewalks are too narrow.” “There’s no good Mexican food.” (The owners of the new Burrito Hai near Mahane Yehuda would beg to differ.)

But if there was one common thread that repeated over and over it was this: “Jerusalem is too religious.” “It’s the world capital for fundamentalists.” “There’s nothing open on weekends.” “People judge you by what you wear.” “There are extremists everywhere.” “Religion plays an inordinately large role in people’s lives.” “Jerusalem demands compliance with a capital C.”

Maybe Yaniv is right. Maybe there is nothing here for a secular Tel Avivian like him. But the outpouring of intercity vitriol that filled my Facebook feed for a solid week ultimately seems so superficial. There has to be something more than just these tired old clichés.

Tovi Fenster is a professor in the department of geography and human environment at Tel Aviv University. She believes that there’s something about the physical layout of Jerusalem’s inner city neighborhoods that contributes to the feeling of alienation experienced by those who don’t adhere to Orthodox religious behavior or dress. In a 2010 paper about “urban citizenship,” co-authored with Itay Manor, she describes how the center of Jerusalem is “a crossroads where the edges meet. Each neighborhood has a distinct social character and elements that distinguish it from the others.”

Because Jerusalem’s neighborhoods are so close to one another, though, and because the borders are not clearly marked, it’s very easy to “accidentally” cross a cultural boundary where one might not be entirely welcome. Think about a secular woman straying into Mea Shearim on a hot summer day. The city’s spatial geography implicitly “produces feelings of alienation, exclusion and hostility. Wandering around the city is limited to certain areas, especially in the center,” Fenster writes.

Tel Aviv, by contrast, has a “wide and dense urban center with diverse characteristics.” Its neighborhoods are further on the fringes. As a result, there isn’t the same feeling of constriction.

Elissa Ash, responding to my question on Facebook, remembers when she lived in Jerusalem thinking, “I can’t go over there because I’m Jewish, I can’t go over there because I am a woman and don’t cover myself appropriately. In Tel Aviv, you can go anywhere and do anything and nobody else cares!”

Hebrew University political science professor Avner de Shalit thinks comparing the two cities is missing the point, much like other urban rivalries (think Los Angeles vs. San Francisco, Rome vs. Milan). “Different cities offer their inhabitants different ethos or spirits,” he says. “There’s no one place that’s right for everyone.” Expecting Jerusalem to appeal equally to all Israelis is like saying that every American should love living in Las Vegas.

So who is Jerusalem for? “My feeling is that most people in Jerusalem have some relationship with religion or Judaism. They’re connected and/or they struggle with it. It’s part of their worldview,” says Deena Levenstein, founder and manager of Things to Do in Jerusalem, a Facebook group about culture in Jerusalem.

Levenstein has a good point. It’s not that Jerusalem has nothing to offer a young, secular Tel Avivian like Yaniv – there are more restaurants, pubs and movie theaters open on Shabbat than ever before, and the number of hi-tech startups in the city is expected to double in the next year (we’re even getting our own WeWork) – but if you’re not engaged somehow with religion, are interested in religion at least as an academic topic, or have an appreciation for the “by-products” of living in a city with a strong religious character, you’re probably not going to find Jerusalem compelling in the long term.

So, for example, even the most secular Jerusalemite might also enjoy popping into the Beit Avi Chai (or Pardes for the Anglos) for the occasional lecture. They might go to a rock and roll Kabbalat Shabbat “experience” at the First Station or at one of the city’s growing alternative minyans like Baka’s Tzion congregation. Traditional Friday night rituals at home would not be out of place even if afterward everyone goes out dancing. If they’re absolutely positively not interested in those things, then yes, Jerusalem might very well feel oppressive.

“I wonder how many people really wish that Shabbat was like a regular weekend day, as in an American or European city,” Levenstein ponders. “I think that a lot of people in Jerusalem appreciate the change of pace in the city, the quiet that descends.”

Or as comedian and one time resident Benji Lovitt, quips about Shabbat in Jerusalem, “A nap is enjoyable everywhere, but there’s nothing like doing it in solidarity with your neighbors when approximately 87.4 percent of the city is doing the same.”

Jerusalem’s religious nature also creates opportunities that simply are not available elsewhere. Rachel Rosenbluth emigrated from Toronto and moved to Tel Aviv. “I love it there,” she says. “I find it incredibly creative and open.” But Rosenbluth had no choice but to move to Jerusalem last year because she wants to study Torah towards rabbinic ordination, and Orthodox smicha programs that are open to men and women exist only in the Jerusalem area.

Rosenbluth still yearns for Tel Aviv. “Everywhere I go in Jerusalem, I feel I have to define myself, to explain who I am.” But that’s the dichotomy, the double-edged sword of Jerusalem: Rosenbluth couldn’t study Torah “in a serious way” anywhere else, and yet is not fully accepted for her choices.

So given all this, is there room in Jerusalem for a secular young person like Yaniv, for whom religion is a non-starter or worse? The hard truth is: probably not.

“Suppose someone with an entirely secular lifestyle migrates to Jerusalem,” writes Avner de Shalit in his 2011 book The Spirit of Cities, which he co-authored with Daniel A. Bell. “Suppose they choose this not because they like the city’s ethos but because their spouse works here or they need to take care of their elderly parents. Does this mean that they must accept the ethos? Do they have to respect ultra-Orthodox people and not drive down their streets on Saturday? My answer would be yes…to some extent people must respect the ethos of faith and religion in Jerusalem. Because living in the city denotes tacit consent to accept its ethos.”

So to Yaniv, I would say: you don’t have to live here. I accept that we’re not right for everybody. You don’t even have to like us. But I hope you’ll get to know us and maybe even try to understand what Jerusalem has to offer for those who call it home; that something important and authentic is happening here.

Or as Benji Lovitt says, “It’s easy to state that Jerusalem is boring and everybody’s religious when you don’t live there. Yeah, well, New York is expensive and everybody is rude. Except when you spend some time there and realize that life isn’t always so black and white.”

In a city that can seem very black and white at times, the real Jerusalem is waiting to be discovered. You just have to appreciate what’s between the cracks as much as the stones.

I compared Jerusalem and Tel Aviv originally in The Jerusalem Post.


The Little Bakery that Could

by Brian on February 25, 2016

in Food,Just For Fun,Reviews

Coney IslandWhen the German Colony branch of Jerusalem’s Pe’er Bakery closed down last year after 43 years of operation, fans of its signature sweet whole wheat challah let out a collective kvetch: where would we go for challah now on Fridays?

But Pe’er’s challah is back in the neighborhood, albeit at another establishment – the Coney Island Knish Bakery on Emek Refaim Street. The story of how a beloved taste was resurrected is all the more remarkable given that the man behind Coney Island’s product mix, food consultant Avi Pinchuck, has celiac disease and has tasted neither his new creation nor the original Pe’er challot.

There’s a personal twist to this story too. As a die hard Pe’er fan, I have served in an unofficial (and unpaid) role as a Coney Island taste tester, reporting back to Avi on Saturday nights as he’s tinkered with the recipe to get that old Pe’er taste just right.

I may also have had just a little bit to do with getting the ball rolling in the first place. As I wrote last year in this column (Ch’aliyah – immigrating because the bread is better – May 21, 2015), when Pe’er’s proprietors, Moshe and Shoshana Sharabi, decided to retire from the painstaking, early rising, messy and hardscrabble business, I was sent into an existential tizzy and began a frantic search to replace not only the challah I loved, but one of the pillars upon which our very aliyah was based.

The closest I could find to what Pe’er had been producing was at Coney Island. While chatting with Avi, I learned that he was buying the challah from another bakery but looking to make his own.

“Wouldn’t it be great if you could get the old Pe’er recipe?” I casually suggested. “I’m sure many of Pe’er’s old customers would come running!”

It turns out, I wasn’t the first person to approach Avi with the idea, and it wasn’t long until the challot at Coney Island looked different.

“We did it,” Avi said proudly, as I gave the strangely familiar loaf the once over. “We got the recipe. You’ve got to tell me what you think!”

I took home a couple white and a sweet whole wheat challah for that Shabbat. After months of being Pe’er-less, we said the motzei over the bread with extra anticipation, tore the challah into pieces and distributed it around the table. I waited for the verdict.

“Interesting,” said one child. “It’s good,” said another.

“Yum,” said my wife Jody. “But, well, I don’t want to burst your bubble, but it’s not Pe’er.”

When I reported our family findings to Avi on Motzei Shabbat, as I’d promised, I was initiated into the little known world of bread baking back room deals.

Most small bakeries in Israel, I soon discovered, don’t actually make their own bread. They buy it from a middleman whose expertise it is to make just dough.

These dough men might have 20 different recipes going at once, but it’s not a one-to-one transaction: a dough middleman can sell the exact same recipe to hundreds of different bakeries around the country, who all prepare it slightly differently when they get it to their shop. “That’s why so much of the stuff you find in Israeli bakeries looks the same; they’re all getting it from the same places,” Avi explained. “All they’re doing is brushing on some egg, putting on poppy seeds and calling it their own. Especially for smaller bakeries, you don’t need to have a trained baker on staff.”

Moshe and Shoshana of Pe’er contracted Belissimo, a dough middleman in Rishon Letzion. Moshe used to make his own dough at Pe’er’s German Colony headquarters, but with that shut down, they were looking for a way to keep their recipe alive in order to supply dough to the one remaining Pe’er outlet in the Mahane Yehuda market, run by the Sharabi’s son. Coney Island was welcome to piggyback on the recipe, as was anyone else, Moshe told Avi; he was putting it into the public domain, a kind of open source approach to challah.

So why didn’t Coney Island’s Pe’er-formula challah taste the same as the old Pe’er? “Challah making is more of a science than an art,” Avi explained. Everything has to be kept exactly the same – not just the ingredients, but a whole host of factors such as humidity, altitude and different oven types. All of these impact the taste.

Avi ought to know. Before making aliyah with his family ten years, he worked for decades in the food business, both running his own food plant in Chicago, which sold to big customers like Heinz, and more recently as a food consultant. (He helped an Irish popcorn manufacturer solve a problem with shelf life, for example.)

The challah from a dough middleman like Belissimo is delivered frozen. It then must be thawed and “proofed” – that’s where the dough is allowed to rise – before it’s finally baked. Subtle differences can make big changes in taste. Pe’er’s original dough was never frozen. Moreover, it was proofed and baked in Jerusalem, while Coney Island’s facility is in Beit Shemesh, where it’s warmer and much closer to sea level.

There’s another reason why the Pe’er challah recipe at Coney Island didn’t taste quite the same: it may have been “dumbed down.”

“Israelis don’t love super sweet challah,” Moshe Sharabi told my wife Jody when she bumped into him entirely by accident at the Pe’er branch in Mahane Yehuda which caters more to Sabras than in the heavily Anglo German Colony. The recipe he gave to Belissimo, as a result, might have had a slightly less sugary balance.

Avi understands. “Americans love their sweet, almost raw challot,” he said. “Israelis will throw something like that in the garbage. They’re used to challah being a bit dry. Supermarket challah uses the cheapest ingredients on the planet – just water and flour. No sugar, no eggs.” If you’re on a budget and you’re trying to feed a big family, paying NIS 8 a loaf is half the price of a challah at Pe’er or Coney Island.

Avi conceived of Coney Island as an authentic New York bakery experience, one with not just challah, but knishes, cupcakes and black and white cookies. A big part of the business is making oversized themed birthday and bnei mitzvah cakes.

Last year, they converted the Emek Refaim branch to serve American-style kosher meat products: chili dogs, double stuffed pastrami on rye. (The desserts are all parve.) A second branch opened downtown, on Jaffa Street. They are distributing to several small supermarkets in the Gush Etzion region and looking into Ra’anana.

Avi is still tinkering with the mechanics of his challah: the proofing and thawing at different times of the year all make a difference, even if the dough remains the same. That’s not easy, of course, if you can’t taste what you’re baking.

“I was diagnosed with celiac disease ten years ago,” Avi said. “I was sick for about 7 years before that. The doctors couldn’t figure out. Back then, they were hardly any gluten free products available. The awareness now is a thousand fold.”

In a sad irony for a family in the food business, all of his kids have the disease too.

Coney Island sells a gluten-free challah made out of oats. I tried it – it’s not bad, but it’s the classic Pe’er experience that I’m looking for. Coney Island’s white and whole wheat challot are close but not quite there yet.

I guess I’ve still got a little more time to serve in my role as weekly taste tester.

I first told my taste testing tale at The Jerusalem Post.


1024px-Oberlin_College_-_Carnegie_BuildingThe drama continues at Oberlin College. Last month in The Jerusalem Post, I wrote about growing anti-Semitism and BDS support at my alma mater. Now, the Facebook group “Oberlin Students and Alumni Against Anti-Semitism” has published an open letter with more than 200 signatures describing the toxic climate on campus for pro-Israel students and calling for the establishment of a task force to put into place a “clear and immediate plan of action to address this current crisis.”

The message to students from too many campus organizations, the letter said, was “either forfeit your allegiance to Israel and join us, or we will brand you as an enemy of justice and complicit in the oppression of the Palestinian people.” The letter received wide exposure and was covered extensively in the media. It was then posted to the official Oberlin Alumni group on Facebook. And all hell broke out.

Anyone who has followed the comments that any kind of unabashedly pro-Israel article posted online will generate is by now familiar with the level of vitriol that regularly erupts. The Oberlin alumni discourse was no different. What did surprise me, however, was the response of pro-Israel Jewish alumni at this most famously liberal of American college campuses.

It seems that in order to argue against the BDS loudmouths (that is, to support Israel’s right to exist and protest its unfairly being singled out), Jewish alumni felt the need to overly emphasize their liberal credentials by denouncing Israel’s policies before coming to the country’s defense.

And so, sprinkled liberally (pun intended) into the BDS counter narrative were a slew of “yes, but” comments by Jewish alumni along the lines of, “Yes, Israel has perpetuated horrendous atrocities, but…” “The situation in Gaza and the West Bank is a mess; it’s a political nightmare, but…” “I am a Jew who believes that the governments of both Israel and Palestine have done monstrous things, but…” “I embrace my Jewish heritage but am largely disgusted by the Israeli government’s foreign policy,” and “I believe in the necessity and right of the state of the Israel to exist but I also think Netanyahu’s policies are a complete disaster.”

Now, I have plenty of problems with my country’s policies – look, I just did it there too – but it’s very disturbing that the pro-Israel side isn’t able to argue forcefully against BDS without injecting a kind of “hey, I’m liberal, too” qualifier into the conversation.

I posed the question to some pro-Israel colleagues online, including several current or recently graduated students at campuses other than Oberlin that have seen similar anti-Israel sentiment. Was I reading too much into all this? I asked.

“You’re 100 percent right on,” one friend responded. “Without adding such a statement, you are immediately deemed ineligible to comment.”

“It is troubling, but it is also necessary,” added another. “When fighting against something as all or nothing as BDS, you have to demonstrate that there is a middle ground; to show that it’s possible for us to be viewed as allies.”

The question of needing to be a good “ally” in order to turn the growing tide of BDS enthusiasm on campus comes from a topic that’s gotten quite a bit of media play lately: “intersectionality.”

David Bernstein described the concept well in a recent JTA column. “Intersectionality holds that various forms of oppression — racism, sexism, classism, ableism, and homophobia — constitute an intersecting system of oppression. In this worldview, a transcendent white, male, heterosexual power structure keeps down marginalized groups. Uniting oppressed groups, the theory goes, strengthens them against the dominant power structure.”

The term intersectionality was coined in 1989 by feminist scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw to describe how racial and gender discrimination overlap, specifically for African American women, but the application of the concept has been cunningly co-opted by the BDS movement.

In New York, for example, the Columbia University anti-sexual assault group No Red Tape (NRT) has over the past year begun to work with Students for Justice in Palestine. In an editorial defending its partnership with the blatantly anti-Israel group, an NRT member wrote that, “The fight against violence and oppression cannot be limited to Columbia’s campus.”

In December 2015, the National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) overwhelmingly passed a resolution in support of BDS. One of the sponsors of the resolution explained that “one cannot call themselves a feminist and address inequalities and injustices without taking a stand on what is happening in Palestine.”

And from there, intersectionality as applied to Israel spreads. How else to understand the picture posted to Instagram during the Ferguson Missouri protests in 2014 of a man holding a sign that read, “The Palestinian people know what it means to be shot while unarmed because of your ethnicity.” Or the seemingly random demand by the Black Student Union at none other than Oberlin College that the school divest from Israel “because the oppressive and violent acts towards Palestinians mirrors the anti-Blackness currently in the United States.” Or the violent fracas that exploded when anti-Israel activists disrupted a Friday night reception sponsored by the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance at an LTBTQ conference in Chicago, calling it an attempt to “pinkwash” Israel’s image.

“Whatever we make of [the] specific linkage, [intersectionality] is a concept that is here to say,” writes Jay Michaelson in The Forward. It is “woven into the fabric of being a social justice activist, especially among young people. [It is how they] understand their work.”

In that respect, the NWSA, NRT, the protesters at Ferguson and Chicago see themselves “as part of an intersectional social justice movement, and solidarity with Palestine – expressed in the form of BDS – is part of that movement,” Michaelson says.

Intersectionality helps explain BDS’s growing success – and perhaps also why the Jewish Oberlin alumni felt it so necessary to couple their anti-BDS arguments with statements bemoaning Israel’s politics: young liberal America, with the pursuit of social justice at its moral center (something, by the way, I would agree with), has incorporated intersectionality as one of its guiding principles. And it’s very difficult, maybe impossible, to turn that off selectively, even – especially – if you’re pro-Israel.

To be sure, American college students have trended towards liberal for years (I was one of them), but this is something more emotionally entrenched. The overarching campus narrative of opposing oppression wherever it occurs – which nearly always includes Israel, if only in a vague way – serves the intersectional agenda, even when there’s no formal anti-Israel organization involved.

And that poses a real problem, says Michaelson. “Being a Zionist in such circles is an anomaly…it’s possible in principle, but rare in practice.

What can be done? David Bernstein writes that “publicly attacking intersectionality and its adherents is not likely to do much damage…rather, the Jewish community must do more to establish our own intersectionality with groups on the mainstream left, which is not nearly as prone to radical currents. Strengthening ties to these more moderate groups [can] erect a firewall…making it less likely that [they] will ever take the bait from the BDS movement.”

Pro-Israel groups need to make “common cause” with like-minded liberal groups –less radicalized LGBTQ activists or anti-abortion organizations, for example – wherever possible because “promoting Israel alone is not going to cut it,” Bernstein says. One student I spoke to said her school’s Hillel maintains excellent intersectional relationships with the Latin American Student Union.

Yet, in this solution lies an even bigger problem: the disconnect between the liberal agenda of most North American Jews and the current Israeli government. It’s inconceivable that any representative of the coalition that leads the Jewish State today would be taken seriously as an “ally” in a campus milieu girded by intersectionality. And the kind of pro-Israel videos that regularly appear in my Facebook feed (government produced or otherwise) simply don’t have the kind of nuance or bridge building that can create the kind of “firewall” David Bernstein proposes.

In this respect, Israel – the target of the BDS campaign – has little it can do to stop it. That battle has to be left to the ever-diminishing number of pro-Israel students on campus. And they need to be nurtured, as one student told me, “through personal connections to Israel such as Birthright. It’s about turning ‘I’m Jewish’ or ‘I’m Israeli’ into a statement of pride instead of shame. That will enable students to walk around campus with confidence in their pro-Israel beliefs. Other students see this and it rubs off.”

Once armed with calm conviction and genuinely felt talking points, they can go to battle. But we’d be fooling ourselves to believe that this will exorcise intersectionality entirely; it’s simply too ingrained. Which means, sometimes, we’re going to have to put up with some of our student warriors engaging in a little trash talking the prime minister while working assiduously towards making the case for Israel’s right to exist.

I first wrote about intersectionality at The Jerusalem Post.


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