Israel from the Inside, with Daniel Gordis
What should Israel do about the Iranian nuclear threat? A conversation with Chuck Freilich, former deputy national security adviser in Israel

What should Israel do about the Iranian nuclear threat? A conversation with Chuck Freilich, former deputy national security adviser in Israel

May 22, 2022

June 7 is the anniversary of Israel's attack on the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq, which inaugurated the "Begin doctrine," a position that said Israel will never allow one of its enemies to acquire a weapon of mass destruction. With Iran and the possible renewal of the JCPOA back in the news, we turned to Chuck Freilich, a noted author, scholar and former deputy national security adviser in Israel, to ask him about the threat. 

Is the threat real? Is there anything Israel can do? Is there anything Israel should do? What he thinks Israel should do will surprise you.

Here is a brief excerpt from the conclusion of our conversation, not the part about Iraq, but where Freilich reflects on what Israel really is. The full conversation, for paid subscribers to Israel from the Inside, will post on June 8.

Is Israel a Success? To answer that, we have to ask what it was created to do …

Is Israel a Success? To answer that, we have to ask what it was created to do …

April 10, 2022

Why was Israel created? As simple as that question sounds, the answer is not as obvious as it might seem. Refuge? Sort of, but not really. Millions of Israelis don't live day by day, year by year so that one day, if there's a need, there will be a refuge for Jews who need it. We're pleased that the refuge is there, but it's not enough to justify the country. What, then, does explain the need for Israel? Part of what we need to ask is "what was Israel created to change?" What was Israel meant to do to and for the Jewish people?

On the eve of our celebration of the Festival of Freedom, some thoughts that I shared with two American Jewish communities a few months ago, right before Hanukkah. This is a brief excerpt ... the full episode will post last this week, for paid subscribers to Israel from the Inside. 

Hillel Halkin: ”If Israel were destroyed, I hope it would be the end of the Jewish people.”

Hillel Halkin: ”If Israel were destroyed, I hope it would be the end of the Jewish people.”

April 4, 2022

In his newest book, A Complicated Jew: Selected Essays, the prolific, brilliant, creative and provocative essayist, Hillel Halkin, writes as follows:

A few years ago, I participated in a panel discussion about Israel and the Diaspora held in Washington, D.C. As I generally do on such occasions, I spoke my mind. When the time came for questions from the audience, a man rose and asked me:

“Even if you’re right about the inconsequentiality of Jewish life in the Diaspora compared with that in Israel, suppose, God forbid, that Israel should destroyed by a nuclear attack. Wouldn’t you be glad then that American Jewry existed, so that it wouldn’t be the end of the Jewish people?”

“To tell you the truth,” I answered spontaneously, “if Israel were destroyed, I hope it would be the end of the Jewish people.”

There was a shocked silence before another questioner was called on. When the evening was over, a fellow panelist turned to me and said, “I hope you didn’t mean that.” I thought for a moment.

“Yes,” I said. “I did.” If Israel should ever go under, I would not want there to be any more Jews in the world. What for?"

Ever since his book Letters to an American Jewish Friend, Halkin has been the Anglo voice speaking with prophetic urgency to American Jews. This essay struck me as even more pointed, so I reached out to discuss it with him, to ask him why he feels that without Israel, he hopes that Judaism would cease to exist. Here's our conversation, which I suspect could well be interesting fodder for your Seder table.

 

Alex Rif, Founder and CEO of One Million Lobby

Alex Rif, Founder and CEO of One Million Lobby

March 27, 2022

Alex emigrated with her parents from Ukraine in 1991 at the age of five. She soon realized that if she wanted to fit in she was going to have to stop being "Russian," and for 20 years she erased her Soviet identity and tried to become a "real Israeli." This meant volunteering with the school board as a student, becoming an officer in the IDF and graduating from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem with a B.A. in business and political science and an M.A. in public policy, as part of the Cadets for Public Service program. After graduation, she started working as an advisor to the Senior Deputy Director General in the Ministry of Economy.

Once she felt "Israeli" she realized something was missing: that "thing" was her. Alex started studying screenwriting in the Sam Spiegel Film and Television School, and noticed that she kept returning to the theme of immigration experiences. At the same time, she started initiating Russian cultural events for Hebrew speakers, as a way to share the Russian immigrant story through art.

Alex is CEO of the One Million Lobby, a lobby that represents the interests or the one million Israelis from the Soviet Union and FSU. She spoke with us about the challenges that many of those immigrants faced, and what she and her colleagues are doing to ensure that new immigrants have a very different experience. 

The full episode with Alex will post on Thursday, for paid subscribers to Israel from the Inside. 

 

 

The Nazis’ Use of Purim — and Rosh HaShanah and Passover and more — in their attacks on the Jewish spirit. A conversation with David Bernstein

The Nazis’ Use of Purim — and Rosh HaShanah and Passover and more — in their attacks on the Jewish spirit. A conversation with David Bernstein

March 14, 2022

If you haven’t read Dara Horn’s most recent book, People Love Dead Jews, you should. It’s beyond powerful, and exceptionally beautifully written.

With Purim just days away, here’s a quote from her book (page 12):

Gradowksi tells us how he escorted the thousands of women and young children into the disrobing room, marveling at how “these same women who now pulsed with life would lie in dirt and filth, their pure bodies smeared with human excrement.” He describes how the mothers kiss their children’s limbs, how sisters clutch each other, how one woman asks him “Say, brother, how long does it take to die? It is easy or hard?” Once the women are naked, Gradowksi and his fellow prisoners escort them through a gauntlet of SS officers who gathered for this special occasion- a night gassing arranged intentionally on the eve of Purim, the biblical festival celebrating the Jews’ narrow escape from a planned genocide.

The Nazis’ use of Jewish holidays to torment not just the bodies, but the minds, hearts and souls of the Jews, needs to be better known. They used Purim, but also Rosh HaShanah, Passover and more … all in ways that showed a diabolical understanding of the Jewish calendar, enabling them to use Jewish tradition to torture their Jewish victims' souls even before they destroyed their bodies. 

To teach us more about this horrifying phenomenon, on the eve of Purim, we spoke with David Bernstein, Dean Emeritus of the Pardes Institute in Jerusalem, and one of the most thoughtful and engaging guides to Jewish Poland around. Here’s an excerpt from our conversation. The full podcast will follow, as always, on Thursday, for paid subscribers to Israel from the Inside.

Escape from Afghanistan–The Role Individual Israelis Played: A conversation with Danna Harman

Escape from Afghanistan–The Role Individual Israelis Played: A conversation with Danna Harman

March 6, 2022

This week, when our focus is once again on rescue, and particularly the Jewish world’s gearing up for a massive rescue, we share a conversation with Danna Harman, an Israeli journalist who, along with a few other Israelis, did extraordinary things to save Afghans who were left behind after the sudden American exit.

Her’s is a story of determination, grit, collaboration and true Israeli imaginativeness—all for the purpose of saving lives.

Danna Harman has lived in and reported stories from around the globe including Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, Myanmar and the jungles of Papua New Guinea. She began her journalism career over 25 years ago with the Associated Press in Jerusalem and later became The Jerusalem Post’s diplomatic correspondent. Today, she is a staffer for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz and her freelance work appears in various other outlets and magazines such as The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and Elle and Porter. She is a frequent contributor to the podcast Israel Story.

Here’s a brief excerpt of our conversation. The full podcast, as always, will follow on Thursday, for paid subscribers to Israel from the Inside.

”The Jewish March of Folly” - Thoughts on Jewish history and Jewish leadership with Amotz Asa-El

”The Jewish March of Folly” - Thoughts on Jewish history and Jewish leadership with Amotz Asa-El

February 28, 2022

Every now and then, one reads a book so stunning in its insight and creativity that it’s a disappointment to finish it, and one is tempted to read it again, right then and right there. That’s how I felt about Amotz Asa-El’s book, The Jewish March of Folly, a fascinating rethinking of the lessons of Jewish history and the failure of Jewish leadership. (I was obviously not alone--the book became an instant best-seller in Israel.)

Asa-El’s book will hopefully eventually come out in English, but for the time being, it’s available only in Hebrew. So we sat down with him to hear him reflect on some of the basic themes of the book and his insights into longstanding trends, in Jewish history and how Israel may have ended some of them, all of which happens to be all the more compelling and urgent in light of what is now unfolding in the world.

Amotz Asa-El is a bestselling Israeli author, a former executive editor of The Jerusalem Post, a fellow at the Hartman Institute, The Jerusalem Post's senior commentator, and The Jerusalem Report's senior writer. Here is a brief excerpt of our conversation; the full podcast will be posted on Thursday, as always, for paid subscribers to Israel from the Inside.

Not Exactly Citizens, Not Exactly Non-Citizens: Diaspora Jews’ Role in Israel: A conversation with William Daroff of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

Not Exactly Citizens, Not Exactly Non-Citizens: Diaspora Jews’ Role in Israel: A conversation with William Daroff of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

February 20, 2022

AA few weeks ago, William Daroff, CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, wrote a very thoughtful column in which he suggested that Israel’s closing its skies to American Jews during Covid was an affront to a sacred relationship. I wasn’t sure that I completely agreed, but I admired his argument and his tone, and responded here. Daroff then responded to my response in this second Jerusalem Post column.

Defining the relationship between Israel and diaspora Jews has been a difficult and fraught mission ever since Israel was created. Diaspora Jews, after all, are clearly not citizens of the State of Israel. But then again, they’re not entirely “non-citizens” either. The Law of Return makes them “citizens in potentia,” and in many other ways, Israel calls on Diaspora Jews for support, time and again, in a way that it could call on no on else.

How, then, should we define this relationship? William Daroff and I sat for a conversation about that issue, in light of his thoughtful columns. Here’s a brief excerpt of our discussion. The full podcast will be posted on Thursday, as always, for paid subscribers to Israel from the Inside

”Israel Bombs Auschwitz” — Why did America not bomb? And why did American Jews not press? What does all that means for Israel’s obligations today? A conversation with Dr. Raphael Medoff

”Israel Bombs Auschwitz” — Why did America not bomb? And why did American Jews not press? What does all that means for Israel’s obligations today? A conversation with Dr. Raphael Medoff

February 13, 2022

To most of us today, it seems patently obvious that there was something fundamentally obscene about the United States (among other countries) participating in the Berlin Olympics of 1936. The world knew of the horrors that were beginning to unfold (the mass killing of Jews hadn't yet started), but chose to turn a blind eye. We know where that got us. 

So why are the United States (and Israel, for that matter), represented at the Chinese Olympics? Is there a parallel between the two Olympics? How should we think about this? About America's obligations, and lessons learned, or not? About Israel's obligations?

In a recent article entitled "Israel 'bombs Auschwitz'", Rafael Medoff, the founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, reflected on how Israel's continued strikes on Iran in Syrian territory must be seen in the light of Auschwitz. We reached out to Dr. Medoff for a conversation about that, and about much more--as he is one of the most productive scholars writing about the refusal of the Roosevelt administration to bomb Auschwitz and the role that American Jewish groups played (or did not play) in trying to change the administration's position. It was a far-reaching conversation, which left me thinking about many things... and I hope it will do the same for you. 

Here's an excerpt of our conversation. The full podcast will be released on Thursday, as usual, for paid subscribers to Israel from the Inside

 

Advocating for Israel soldiers AND the Palestinian teenagers fighting them? How? A conversation with Uri Morad of the Jerusalem Institute of Justice

Advocating for Israel soldiers AND the Palestinian teenagers fighting them? How? A conversation with Uri Morad of the Jerusalem Institute of Justice

February 6, 2022

Sadly, we can all “see” in our minds the scene of Israeli soldiers on the Gaza border aligned against Palestinian children, who are often forced to the front by Hamas. Especially with the Amnesty International assault on Israel much in the news this week, it felt apt to introduce many of our readers and listeners to an organization that is probably not as well known as it deserves to be.

The Jerusalem Institute for Justice advocate for the State of Israel, for Israeli soldiers and for those young Palestinian children fighting the IDF at the border—all out of a deep commitment to the Jewish state and to the values of the Jewish tradition. How is that possible? How does JIJ do its work? We chatted with Uri Morad, Director of International Law & Public Diplomacy at the Jerusalem Institute for Justice.

Here is an excerpt of our conversation. The full conversation will be posted on Thursday, as always, for paid subscribers to Israel from the Inside.

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