Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post

’Buy Israeli’ fairs, for shoppers who won’t make the trip to Jerusalem or Tel Aviv this year, are sweeping America

New York — Merchants from Jerusalem’s Ben-Yehuda pedestrian mall had their busiest day in more than a year one Sunday in early May, when 10,000 enthusiastic customers snapped up everything they had to sell. The shopping spree, though, took place 6,000 miles from the beleaguered downtown midrehov where frequent terror attacks have scared all but the bravest customers away. It happened at Kehillat Jeshurun, a modern Orthodox synagogue on Manhattan’s East 85th Street.

Leslie Wolfowitz spent hours at the bazaar, grabbing up T-shirts with Hebrew lettering, Jerusalem souvenir key chains and Dead Sea skincare products. Alana Lewis bought pyjamas for her son and a shul hat for herself. “My only disappointment was that Mr. T’s wasn’t set up to make a shirt for my son, Yakov, with his Hebrew name on it,” she says. Other shoppers bought skirts from Shkalim, paintings from Motke Blum and handicrafts made by elderly Jerusalemites from Yad Lekashish. Busiest was the Israel Poster Center, which did land- office business in posters ranging from pictures of soldiers at the Western Wall to Israeli flowers and trees. “Those two days were equal to four months of business back in Jerusalem,” says Poster Center proprietor Eli Zarini, one of 13 Israeli merchants who flew in for the event. “I work mostly with tourists, and there are no tourists in Jerusalem right now.”

The crowds at the Kehillat Jeshurun (KJ) midrehov were very large almost from the moment that the doors opened at 9am By 11 people were four deep inside, and some merchants had already sold most of the goods they brought with them. Volunteer Ellen Korn estimates that she rang up $5,500 in pyjama sales during her two-hour shift at Sara’s Prints. At another booth, sales of dog tags carrying the names of terror victims brought in over $1,000.

The entire effort – part of a “Buy Israeli” drive by American Jews – was mounted in a matter of weeks by members of the KJ Sisterhood. On the way back from the April 15 Israel Rally in Washington, one woman had noted that her daughter needed a new pair of her favorite Israeli sandals, and couldn’t bear the thought of the empty shoe stores back in Jerusalem. Another suggested a sale involving Ben-Yehuda merchants. Before the bus had reached New York, there was a plan to pay for the plane tickets of some merchants (the sisterhood and the synagogue eventually footed the bill for seven; several others were already in the U.S.). As the wheels really started rolling, the Israeli Economic Mission in New York provided logistic help and advice, and friends in Israel were asked to recruit shopkeepers.

“The merchants were so excited,” notes sisterhood president Riva

Alper. “Mr. T was practically in tears.”

“I thought it was a very lovely concept,” confirms Mr. T owner Jerry Stevenson, a 1960s U.S. immigrant, who spoke to The Report after returning to Jerusalem. “Even over the phone, I sensed the concern; they really wanted to help Israel in some way. And then they came – so many of them, in the rain. And they schlepped their children. With them, we don’t feel alone.”

Zohar Peri, head of the Israeli economic mission in New York, says that one merchant told him: “I had no money to pay my rent, and was about to close. Now I am on my feet again.”

The KJ Bazar is only one part of a new effort by American Jews to support Israel, other than by giving money and attending rallies. And the drive seems to be gaining momentum rapidly. Hanna Kamionki, marketing director for consumer products for the Israeli Economic Mission in New York, says she now gets 10 serious phone calls a day from people asking what their Jewish community can do to help Israel’s economy. Peri adds that his office tries “to make it easy” for fair organizers by, among other things, suggesting the right kind of merchants for each fair. One wealthy Orthodox community is considering an upscale fashion show, he says, while other locales prefer T-shirts and other chachkes.

To date, seven Jewish communities – including Los Angeles, Columbus, Ohio, and Teaneck and several other New Jersey towns – have scheduled fairs of their own, and Kamionki says that many more appear to be in the works. In Lawrence, N.Y., Stuart Katz, whose Tal Tours agency normally arranges trips to Israel, is organizing a fair sponsored by 20 community schools and synagogues at the Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway on June 9. Katz expects an attendance of over 10,000, willing to purchase items from merchants from Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Safed and other cities.

Would-be bazaar organizers can go for help to Denver, where a grass-roots group of concerned Jews and Christians organized a highly successful fair in mid-April. The Denver group, ActionIsrael, now runs its own website (http://www.actionisrael.org) with a section called Ben-Yehuda Mall Information for Organizers, where interested surfers can pick up the basics and ask questions like “Who pays for shipping?” and “What happens to goods not sold on the day of the fair?” It recently opened an office in Jerusalem to sign up new participating merchants, and plans to seek grants from U.S. foundations to cover overheads like shopkeepers’ airfares and shipping costs.

While KJ was able to pay for plane tickets and put up participating merchants, most communities simply offer publicity, tables and ideas for affordable accommodations in their area. Merchants pay their own fare and shipping, and run the risk of losing money.

The effort, though, is extending far beyond the fairs. About two dozen websites advertising Israeli products for sale in the U.S. have been opened in the last few months (see box). And Boaz Raday, economic attach at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, reports that israelexport.org, the site he set up in mid-April, had 88,000 visits on its first four days. (The biggest problem, Raday says, is that many Israeli companies are not yet set up to do business on the Internet, because they don’t have arrangements with American credit card companies, and because they have not ironed out procedures with customs and shipping.) Beyond that, Peri, who held a senior post at the Trade Ministry in Jerusalem before being sent to New York, deals with a wide variety of requests. A Connecticut interior decorator, for example, called to say that she wanted to use only Israeli materials from now on, and one family called to tell Peri that they had told the planner of their daughter’s wedding to make sure everything, from the grace after meals prayer books to the yarmulkes and even the bottled mineral water, came from Israel. Diamond dealers have reported increased demand for stones polished in Israel.

As part of his intensive effort, Peri says he has hosted so many meetings at the Israeli Consulate in Midtown Manhattan that “the security people want to kill me.” He adds that “so many busy people, Italians and Irish and Jews with and without yarmulkes, they all come.” And he’s particularly proud of the fact that he’s managed to convince several supermarket chains to feature Israeli products.

Revenues at each fair may go as high as $90,000, according to Susan Heitler, a key figure in the Denver group. “Each individual merchant seems to gross between $10,000 and $20,000. Of that total, about half goes to the artisans and companies that supply the goods to the merchants, another chunk goes to shipping costs and insurance, and in most cases the merchant covers his own airfare. And it’s important to stress that the money is spread over many people,” Heitler says.

Raday and Peri, the Israeli economic professionals, try to keep the entire effort in proportion. Says Peri, “It’s very moving when an event like this can help small people, like the yarmulke-maker who now can keep his store open.” Adds Raday, “It may not revolutionize Israel’s balance of payments, but it certainly helps.”

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Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post

Entering a New York City taxi cab, more information than one might want awaits the astute fare. With one breath, you can tell if the driver smokes; with one ear, you can tell if he’s a traffic-and- weather junkie, a Christian radio devotee or a jazz maven. The first thing I look for is the name of the driver, wondering about who’s shepherding me around. Some names are obviously Chinese, Indian or Haitian. And there is no shortage of Mohammeds, Mustafas and Alis.

On a recent sunny Sunday, I got into a cab on the Upper West Side and was unable to see the name of the rather hefty driver. Turning to me, he smiled and began telling me of the traffic he encountered near the U.N. “Why all the traffic?” I asked, to which he replied, “A rally for Israel. I think that’s great!” I nodded.

“I think they should kick out all the Palestinians,” he said.

“I’m not so sure that’s the solution.”

At that, he seemed confused and turned to face me in the back seat. “I can’t hear so well,” he told me. I repeated my response.

“They should kill Arafat,” he shot back.

“I know some people think that is the solution,” I replied. “I’m not sure that’s the best thing to do.”

He told me again about his hearing problem and turned to hear my reply, which I repeated.

“They should kill all of them!” he yelled.

Convinced I’d never get anywhere with this extremist, I looked away and said quietly, “You’re right.”

I still wondered where this guy was from. When I finally asked, he whipped around and shouted, “Palestine! Hah! I got you! You think Israel should kill all of us.” My heart beat faster and I prayed we’d reach my destination soon. He lectured me on the plight of the Palestinians; I was adamant in asserting Israel’s right to defend itself against terrorism.

We arrived at 79th Street and Park Avenue. He was obviously more interested in pressing the Palestinians’ claim than in rushing off to his next fare. After 10 minutes of heated discussion, we both calmed down, agreed that we should pray and work for peace, and shook hands.

I guess drivers size up their riders as well. Interesting what this one assumed about a guy with a yarmulke.

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Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Report

Muslims account for about a fifth of the kosher food sales in the United States. But while Jewish dietary laws are similar to Islamic halal – there are some obstacles to full-scale cooperation.

Sometime in 1997, the Muslim and Jewish chaplains Mt. Holyoke College had to deal with an emergency. The tiny kitchen in Eliot House, which served kosher meals to Jewish students and halal food for Muslims, was taxed beyond capacity.

The emergency took three years and one anonymous donor to solve, but on September 13, 2000, a new $250,000 dining hall serving certified kosher and halal meals opened at Mt. Holyoke, a liberal arts college in South Hadley, Massachusetts. “We are all sitting and eating three meals a day together,” says Sister Shamshad Sheikh, the college’s Muslim chaplain. It involved mutual concessions: the Jews agreed avoid anything cooked in wine sauce, which would violate the Islamic prohibition on alcohol, and the Muslims accept what they call al-kitab meat, from animals slaughtered by “People of the Book,” which Islam permits, although their own ritual slaughter is preferred. The program serves as many as 200 students, including some who are neither Jewish nor Muslim, daily.

After the September 11 terror attacks and the subsequent wave of anti-Muslim sentiment, Sister Sheikh observes, “Jewish students were asking what they could do to help Muslim students and giving 100 percent support.” The joint dining program, says Melissa Simon, 19, of Brookline, Massachusetts, “opened a dialogue for theological discussions and explanations. Sometimes, though, we are just students wanting to eat.”

Another joint kosher-halal program, at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, evolved out of the institution’s competition with MIT for the best and brightest engineering students. When the school was about to lose an extremely promising grad student because it had no kosher food, an admissions officer raced to the office of Prof. Barry Simon, the Orthodox Jewish head of the math department for advice. The result was a $70,000 kitchen, certified by the Rabbinical Council of California and the Islamic Center of Southern California, serving about a dozen students. One of its specialties is late-night suppers for Muslims who fast during daylight hours in the holy month of Ramadan.

Caltech and Mt. Holyoke represent part of a growing collaboration -and a parallel competition – between observers (and certifiers) of Jewish and Muslim dietary laws in the U.S. For one thing, Muslims account for 20 percent of all kosher food sales, paying $1.15 billion to do so, according to Menachem Lubinsky, who produces the highly successful annual KosherFest trade show. Kosher food is a $5.75 billion a- year market, growing by 15 percent year. The largest chunk comes from Jews, who spend $2.5 billion and account for 45 percent of sales. But according to a recent survey, only 16- 18 percent of America’s 5.7 million Jews say they keep kosher. So who else is buying kosher? Oreo eaters, kosher hot-dog lovers, vegetarians and the food allergic (a category that buys $570 million a year), Seventh-Day Adventists- and Muslims, to name a few.

Under Koranic halal law, Muslims are prohibited from consuming pork or pork products, also barred by kashrut, gelatins from pig bones, which may be a problem, and alcohol and alcohol derivatives.

“Kosher symbols are not enough,” says Muhammad Munir Chaudry, an Illinoisbased food scientist who in 1984 formed the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of North America. In a telephone interview, Chaudry told The Report that “some rabbis, including the California kashrut committees, accept pork gelatins.” California rabbinical groups say no kashrut supervisors in their area currently certify pork gelatin as kosher. But such a certification is not impossible under certain interpretations of the dietary laws, says Joe Regenstein, professor of food sciences at Cornell University. “The most liberal view,” he says, “holds that the gelatin, being made from bones and skin, is not from a food.” This view holds that in processing, gelatin goes through a stage where it is “not edible by man nor dog, and as such becomes a new entity,” says Regenstein.

Regenstein, whose column in Kashrus magazine states that he is a food scientist, not an authority on Jewish law, notes that rules on gelatin – which can also be derived from fish, beef bones or skin – may vary. That’s not surprising, given the existence of over 400 kashrut-supervising agencies and symbols worldwide. Despite his misgivings on the gelatin issue, notes Chaundry, “Most Muslims purchase some kosher products… Kosher is considered quality in the marketplace.” Of course, Chaudry would prefer that Muslims consume only halal foods.

Beyond the divergence on alcohol, kashrut and halal dietary laws are far from identical: Another major difference is the list of restricted animals: Jews and Muslims agree that pork is banned – treif for Jews and haram for Muslims; but Jews can only eat ruminants with split hooves while Muslims are permitted to eat a wider range of animals and sea creatures, including shellfish. Species acceptable (halal) for consumption include not only goats, beef, sheep, deer, all acceptable for Jews, but also rabbits and camels, which are treif. Excluded (haram) are beasts of prey which have talons and fangs, including lions, wolves and foxes, as well as cats and dogs – and the milk and eggs of prohibited species.

Each religion has its own method of slaughter: Jews must eat meat killed by a shohet who checks the halef (sharp knife) frequently to make sure the cutting edge is smooth. (Empire, a leading provider of kosher poultry, employs a “roving knife inspector” to check blades for nicks, which would make the slaughter unkosher.) The shohet also says a blessing asking forgiveness from God before the ritual killing. Meat must then be thoroughly checked for imperfections, then soaked and salted.

Under Muslim law, at the moment of slaughter, the tasmiyah and takbir blessings are said over each animal or bird by a trained, religiously observant Muslim slaughterer – and the name of Allah is uttered. Princeton University Islamic scholar Mark Cohen notes that “Sunni law took a permissive position on the eating of animals slaughtered by People of the Book. Even the Prophet Muhammad was said to have ‘eaten of their food.’” Law of Shi’ite Muslims, Cohen says, “was stricter, as non-Muslims, meaning Jews and Christians, are held to be impure.”

Chaudry accepts the Sunni view. “There is a provision in our religion that says if halal meat is not available, we can eat meat slaughtered by any God-fearing person. It can be a Jew or a Christian, but not a Communist,” he says. Theoretically then, Muslims could eat kosher meat. But Chaudry feels that this leniency clause no longer applies since halal meat is readily available throughout the U.S.

In fact, many U.S. Muslims are not so strict about halal. LeonWeiner, since 1947 owner of the American Kosher butcher shop in Mattapan, a Boston suburb, reports that “Muslims do buy a lot of kosher meat and have been loyal customers for years.” Ali Syed, a Bangladeshi cab driver who has lived in Brooklyn, New York for more than 20 years notes that he doesn’t look for halal certification on meat. He looks back fondly on life in his native country where people bought live chickens and slaughtered them themselves. “Here,” says Syed, “people are making money off other people.” What does following halal mean to Syed? “I buy meat and say the blessing myself in my house. If a product says ‘alcohol’ in big letters, I won’t buy it, but won’t go with a magnifying glass.” Right now, Chaudry says, there are about 60 halal certifying agencies in the U.S. alone – mostly dealing with products exported to Muslims in such countries as South Africa, Fiji, Thailand, the Philippines and Japan. “The domestic market,” says Chaudry, “is still in its infancy.” If Chaudry is correct, the number of Muslims buying kosher groceries and meat may go down in the near future as more halal- certified products appear on the shelves of U.S. stores. Kosher butcher Weiner will deal with decreased sales if and when that day comes. “For now,” he reports, “there is no one with halal certification in the Boston area.”

Mary Anne Jackson of Chicago stands at the confluence of kashrut and halal in North America. Her “My Own Meals” line of all-natural, refrigeration-free pre-packaged meals has both kosher (since 1991) and halal (since 1995) certification. Her products are consumed by Jewish businessmen in China, North American Jewish Boy Scout troops on camping trips, Jewish members of the U.S. armed forces and will soon be eaten by Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli astronaut on the Space Station.

Jackson recently convened an all-day meeting for Jewish and Muslim leaders in search of one agreed-upon standard of meat slaughter and processing. While this concept is theoretically possible, it is more difficult in practice due to differences about blessings, salting, etc. The always creative Regenstein suggests the use of “Muslim-supervised katabi meat,” where a Jew does the slaughter but a Muslim is present.” Katabi refers to non-Muslim “People of the Book,” a class to which Jews belong under Muslim law). “Even Rabbi Moshe Heinemann [of the super-strict Star-K Kosher Certification Agency in Baltimore] accepts Muslims present and saying (the tasmiyah and takbir) prayers,” says Regenstein. But if Jews might accept such solution, it’s not clear whether Muslims, interested in supporting local halal efforts, would take a similar stand.

Still, collaborations between Jews and Muslims in the food production and certification industry are not new. Avrom Pollack, president of Star-K, proudly describes the successful joint Jewish- Islamic campaign to get the steel industry in the United States to stop using a pork derivative as an industrial grease to coat the stainless steel from which food-storage cans are made.

And cooperation now appears to be extending beyond Mt. Holyoke and Caltech to other campuses. A Dartmouth College delegation led by Yousef Haque of Al-Nur, the Muslim student organization, and Jason Spitalnick of Hillel recently traveled from the school’s New Hampshire campus to see Mt.

Holyoke’s program, but has encountered difficulties raising the $300,000 needed to set up a kitchen that meets both Muslim and Jewish dietary needs. There’s also a joint kosher-halal kitchen at UCLA for dietary law-abiding students of both faiths. And Cornell, in Ithaca, New York, where Regenstein teaches Food 250, a course dealing with kosher and halal rules, says that its Multi-Cultural Kosher Food Program is designed “to meet the dietary needs of students who are kosher, halal, vegetarian, vegan, allergic, Hindu, Seventh-Day Adventist, alcohol avoidant, Catholic or simply curious.” Regenstein would like to take the cooperation at least one step farther. He feels kashrut-supervision agencies could add extra inspections to their certification process to deal with the needs of Muslims and other groups with special dietary needs. He’s even proposed a new symbol, “Hook-R,” which he says would “hook together” the needs of these consumers.

That revolutionary step does not seem to be on the cards quite yet, partly because of the skepticism present on both sides. Muslim certifiers want people to buy halal and support local Islamic marketers, while some hard-liners talk about “paying a Jewish tax” and supporting Jewish community institutions when they buy kosher food.

On the other hand, there are Jews who will, in private, speculate that scattered halal certifiers may be acting as fronts for radical Islamic groups, and kashrut organizations who quietly admit that their regular supporters would object to the idea of joint supervision. Despite the need in both camps to shy away from cooperative efforts, the evidence points to increasing culinary collaboration. If the trend continues, some day we may see the first joint halal and kashrut-certified McDonald’s – if not in Jerusalem, then perhaps in Brooklyn.

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Teacha! Stories from a Yeshiva By Gery Albarelli Glad Day Books 104pp.; $10.95, Strange Bedfellows: An Italian-Catholic teacher finds his way into the hearts of his Satmar Hasid students.

I think it was Woody Allen who once turned Shaw’s quote on its head when he observed, “Those who can’t teach, teach gym.” Later critics added, “Those who can’t teach, teach teachers.” After surviving five years teaching in a hasidic yeshivah in Willamsburg, Brooklyn, Gerry Albarelli might offer a correction: “Those with unbelievable patience, creativity and a sense of humor teach English to Yiddish-speaking yeshivah boys.”

“Teacha! Stories from a Yeshiva” is Albarelli’s sometimes amusing, sometimes obvious account of a non-Jew teaching in a world where English is not valued, non-hasidic teachers are seen as outsiders, and students are cooped up from 6 in the morning until 6:30 in the evening without a single recess.

Albarelli answered an ad: English teacher wanted – yeshivah – Brooklyn – call Rabbi Steiner. Based on his prior experience teaching English, and an overall shortage of teachers willing to work in such a school, Albarelli was hired after a five-minute interview. On his first day of work, he was greeted by fresh-faced third-grade boys throwing wet toilet paper bombs, walking on tables, fighting on the floor and sneaking to the bathroom for a game of cards. Keeping track of the class was difficult, given that most boys were named “Joel” and some even shared the surname “Teitelbaum, “ after the late Satmar grand rabbi, Joel Teitelbaum. Behavior management was a huge problem – until Rabbi Katz, the disciplinarian, came in the room, wooden stick in hand, to reassure Albarelli that he knew exactly what type of “different medicine” each boy needed, be it a tap on the head, an affectionate smack, or just a good scare.

The rosh yeshivah (school head) was nice enough to give some practical guidance (in broken English, of course). He said, “Think of it this way – you’re going to Mars,” and handed Albarelli a mimeographed copy of “Rules for English Teachers,” which included such gems as “No current events. No talk about Israel. No movies. No TV. No vulgar language. No talk about the human body.” One teacher was reprimanded for bringing a paper skeleton to class since “they shouldn’t know what’s inside of their bodies.” The most important rule, “No girls,” was enforced by censors who reviewed each English reader and textbook to make sure faces of females were blackened out. Too bad there was no rule mandating enough books, supplies or even a curriculum.

Though Albarelli is tempted to quit, he “sticks it out” and becomes something of a local hero – neighborhood families invite him to march in the Purim Parade, cops greet him, and local coffeeshop owners engage him in conversation about his students at the yeshivah. Yet the secret of Albarelli’s success is no secret at all. He uses “tricks” that are obvious to all good teachers: He starts where his students are, making no assumption about their knowledge of the world beyond their neighborhood, tries the unconventional, rolls with the punches and forgets every bit of “formal teaching wisdom” he learned while teaching more traditional high school and college English courses.

In Albarelli’s bag of tricks: He brings pictures from National Geographic and instructs the students to arrange them and make up a story. The students have a blast, but this works for only a few days. So he moves on to Harriet Tubman and the underground railroad, asking the pupils to perform skits about slavery. In one lesson, Albarelli asks, “If you could be whatever you wanted for just one day, what would you be?” The answers include astronaut, captain of a ship and dope addict.

Albarelli clearly transports his students from the insular neighborhood of Williamsburg to a world they never knew existed. The subjects he exposes them to – social studies, math, civics and a dash of psychology – are no less important than the English he teaches them.

Albarelli has an eye for detail and nuance and captures the experience in a way that elicits pity for him and his colleagues and love for his young boys. The Italian-Catholic outsider, he gradually becomes something of an insider: Students share personal stories, rabbis invite him to holiday celebrations, and one parent secretly recruits him to tutor all eight of his kids. Even after he moves out of his Williamsburg apartment and has a long commute to school, he comes back each day – and not only to gather material for his first book.

Albarelli’s ability to tell stories respectfully, non- judgmentally, is both a strength of this rather short book and its major weakness. The reader is left wanting more “inside dirt” and critical analysis of a community that few know so intimately.

While reading “Teacha!” I was transported back to a lovely afternoon at the Bronx Zoo. It is the middle of Passover and the zoo is packed with hasidic families. I am struck by their long sleeves and black coats on an unseasonably hot day. I wonder if I have more in common with my fellow shorts-, T-shirt- and baseball cap- wearers, or with my matzah-toting brethren. Is my life more like Albarelli’s or his hasidim? Albarelli illustrates how knowing others comes not through distant observations and brief encounters, but through patient, open-minded interactions over time. His descriptions of everyday life allow us to get past our own judgments and stereotypes, and see the people behind the garb – if only for a brief moment

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