Saturday, May 31, 2008


Hatikva is a new political party in Israel that proudly and forthrightly stands for Zionism. Hatikva vigorously believes that the entirety of the Land of Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people, and that we must never sacrifice even one inch of our birthright. Hatikva believes in a strong Israel that will not appease its enemies but instead will unapologetically exercise its military power to protect the Jewish people. The American Friends of Hatikva, although legally independent, shares the same principles as the Hatikva party in Israel and is devoted to educating the people about the need for a strong Zionism.

We invite you to visit our website and to join and support the
American Friends of Hatikva.


by Arieh Eldad, one of the prime movers behind this party

If the Zionist revolution was intended to bring normality to the Jewish people, it was destined to fail.

The Jewish people is not a normal people. There is no historical parallel to a people with four thousand years of continuous history. You may say that in Egypt there are antiquities that predate our Patriarchs, but there is no connection between the Egypt of the Pharaohs and the Egypt of today. It is not the same people, the same language, the same religion, or the same culture. You may say the Chinese culture is more ancient than ours. But the Chinese remained in their land and were not destroyed and exiled twice and did not return from far away exiles to re-establish themselves. The Jewish people is not a normal people.

In the same way, Judaism is not a normal religion. There is no parallel to the unbreakable tie between the Jewish religion and nationality. And our movement of national liberation – Zionism – is unlike any other national liberation movement of the past centuries. African or European peoples who fought for their freedom had to eject foreign rulers and declare independence. The liberation movement of the Jewish people had a double task: to gather the exiles of Israel from around the world and to free its land from foreign rulers. So Zionism is not a normal liberation movement.

Considering these three anomalies, is it any wonder the Jewish people’s desire for normalization was not realized with the return to Zion? We did become “productive”: no longer just middlemen, brokers, traders, and bankers; the Jews in the land of Israel are also soldiers and farmers and industrialists. But if Zionism hoped to take the Jews out of exile and raise a generation in the land free of oppression and the complexes of exile, we can say we have succeeded in taking the Jews out of exile but not in taking that exile out of the Jews.

Apparently 2000 years of persecution, forced conversion, destruction, expulsion and exile created a new species of Jew who is a professional survivor. Most of those who carried the genes of Bar Kochba fell on the way. The genes of Josephus Flavius keep popping up on the stage of history in characters such as the leaders of the Judenrat, Kastner, those who turned Jewish underground fighters over the British in “The Season,” those who sank the Irgun arms ship Altalena, and the most recent “heroes” who uprooted and exiled the residents of Gaza in what they called a “disengagement.” A direct line leads from Josephus Flavius to Mordechai Vanunu and Ilan Pape. A direct line leads from Aristobulus, the Hasmonean king who opened the gates of Jerusalem to Pompeii of Rome in order to survive the war with his brother Horkynus the Hasmonean, to Ehud Olmert who is ready to open the gates of Jerusalem to the Arab enemy in order to survive politically and win support from the world’s sole superpower.

So Zionism has failed in its mission of normalization. But Zionism had set other goals, first among them saving the Jewish people from the impending disaster. Herzl, who heard the Parisian mob, students of “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity,” yelling “Death to the Jews” during the Dreyfus trial, understood that the Emancipation was not the solution to the problem of the Jews in exile. And Herzl understood that if the existence of the Jews in exile could not be guaranteed and Jews were to be saved, the exile needed to end and they needed to have a state that would be a safe refuge from anti-Semitism.

Zionism also failed in this mission. It came too late. The destruction of the Jews of Europe preceded the establishment of the state. And those who say that the destruction of the Jews contributed to international support for a Jewish state are right.

Zionism had to fail in order for its goal to be achieved. But Zionism was too late for the six million who rose in smoke and whose ashes fertilize the fields of Europe.

As much as the gentiles who refused to give Herzl a charter over the land of Israel are to blame, so are the Jews who refused to unite and redeem themselves. The Haredim waited for a messiah to come from heaven, the Bundists preferred Yiddish and exile, the socialists wanted to redeem to the world and thought that when economic classes would be abolished, the Jewish problem would also be solved. All of them vigorously fought Herzl. And the Zionism of those who followed in Herzl’s path but were unable to free themselves from the chains of exile, who preferred “one more dunam and one more goat and one more rally against the White Paper” to taking up arms and expelling all foreign rulers from Israel – they also bear responsibility for the failure to save the Jews of Europe and for the State of Israel coming too late and not being a safe haven when it was needed.

But even now after the State of Israel has been established, it does not seem a safe haven for the Jews. Over 23,000 Jews have been killed in Eretz Israel since the modern return to Zion, solely because they were Jews. In no other country have so many Jews been killed solely because they were Jews. So perhaps our “safe haven” is not such a safe haven. Perhaps the Jews are safer living in the United States, France or Iran.

Anyone attempting to tally such an “accounting” of deaths of course ignores the six million murdered in Europe. And the hundreds of thousands slaughtered in riots and pogroms and crusades, from Siberia to Arabia, Ethiopia to Spain. The State of Israel was established so Jews could determine their own fate, to fight and defeat their enemies, not to be human dust but to turn their enemies to dust. The State of Israel can fulfill this mission and therefore at least in this regard is the realization of generations of dreams. But as long as its leaders are of the race of Flavius, they may turn Israel over to the worst of its enemies and fail to prevent the destruction now threatened by Iran, and they may themselves bring the Arab enemy into the country and into Jerusalem. They are prepared for the first time in the history of the Jewish people to recognize the right of another people to establish a state in Eretz Israel.

From this point of view, perhaps it would have been better if a Jewish state recognizing the right of another people to Eretz Israel had not been established? Perhaps it would be preferable if a state of six million Jews had not been established, if its leaders are incapable of facing the enemies who want to destroy it, and are Jews of exilic character who prefer that the world fight for us and stop Iran with sanctions and pressure, and they are blind and deaf and do not see what is clear to all: the leaders of Iran act as suicide bombers who are prepared to sacrifice their lives in order to destroy Israel? Perhaps it would be better if the largest concentration of Jews in the world had not been established if its leaders are incapable of preventing its destruction?

No! The law of exile is a law of destruction or conversion. Exile ends either in gas chambers and crematoria, or a golden exile with intermarriage rates above 50 percent. In Eretz Israel, where a state of the Jews has been established, a Jewish State can be established. A state of Jews daring to rise as one and not a state of Flaviuses. A state prepared to deal with its enemies and wipe them out, and not look to the gentiles for salvation. Not even to the good gentiles known as “friends of Israel,” who are ready to promise that if Israel is attacked with nuclear weapons, Iran will be destroyed. We do not want to be an excuse for the destruction of Iran. We want to and we can liberate Eretz Israel from any foreign ruler, whoever it may be. Not because the land is necessary for security. Eretz Israel is our homeland, not a safe haven. It is our only home even when it is under fire. We must and can return Zionism to its forgotten goal – the liberation of the homeland. Zionism is not a mistake. It’s just that those carrying the flag have wearied and have become post-Zionists, if not outright anti-Zionists.

After 2000 years, our fate is once again in our hands. If our leaders have gone bad and are trying to push us into the abyss, we have no one to complain to but ourselves. It is in our hands to guarantee the existence of the State of Israel, and turn it from the state of the Jews into a Jewish State. To turn the State of Israel into the Kingdom of Israel.


The Kiddush Dilemma

One of the only reasons I remain an orthodox Jew is because of Kiddush, its almost as if every time I am in a skeptical mood, silver chaffing dishes of free and piping hot kishka laden cholent drive me back to shul and back on the derech. I just cant get over the fact that all the other religions save for some of the Native American ones have nothing that can compare to Kiddush. So naturally as with all Jewish events Kiddush is not perfect and there are some dilemmas that arise when faced with any Kiddush.

When to start taking food:
This is number one on my list because I am sure it plagues everyone who has ever attended a Kiddush, unless you attend one of those shuls that start shachris on shabbos at 8:30 and end at 10am- you are undoubtedly faced with this dilemma. For those of us who are more shall we say ballsy, or rude, or uncaring or starving- it boils down to strategizing it that you are the second person with food on your plate. I myself always let someone else do the honors- but I do not care if this person happens to be taking rainbow cake from the opposite end of the room.

Even if I am at the mounds of broccoli salad and they are taking cake, I view this as the symbol that I can dive in- I always notice several people waiting for me as well. I feel like I send off smoke signals while running around and forming a Kiddush attack strategy in my head. After all, one must be careful to accost the foods most likely to run out first- such as the hot foods and good salads- if you so happen to be at a good Kiddush. Don’t even get me started on the “two forker Kiddush”

Other more rational people may decide to wait for the Rabbi to make Kiddush- which could be an eternity- I know I will get some flack for this, but waiting for the Rabbi to make Kiddush- which is usually not counted anyway because many Rabbis bust out the “pause in the middle and make sure everyone is in the room crap” which probably possels the Kiddush anyway. I mean what’s the point of putting grape juice and schnapps on the table if your supposed to wait.

You could also wait until half the room has food on their plates. The real obnoxious jerks like me, will strategically place themselves in cholent guard duty so as to be the one that violates the cholents virgin surface first.

Two Forker Kiddush:
The mother of all dilemmas especially if for some once in a lifetime sushi Kiddushim. The Two forker Kiddush is when meat and fish are served at the same Kiddush. You must accept that the Two Forker Kiddush is an extreme rarity, in fact I have never been at a Two Forker Kiddush where I would utilize two forks, they have all been lousy half dead gefilte fish with cholent kiddushes- but for all of you who live in some rich New Jersey or Long Island area and have to deal with Sushi kiddushim- take head for this is an unsolvable dilemma- at least for folks like me who cannot eat with two wooden sticks.

You know the meal afterwards is going to rock:
I ran into this dilemma a few weeks back. I was in Baltimore and I was faced with this huge spread of cholent, kugel, orzo and other Kiddush salads- but in the back of my mind I knew I had to save room for the meal I was supposed to attend later on. My mind went nuts- overload of food and dilemma.

My best advice for this is to pack yourself a doggie bag, or pekelach as the frummies say. If you do not take a doggie bag home with you from Kiddush (I have done this many a time) then you may be out of luck. I would say eat slowly and choose carefully, also prior to your pounding the food at Kiddush- you may want to find out what your host is serving to strategically prepare for battle.

Don’t know what to take first:
This is obvious to me, but to the semi professional or amateur Kiddush attendee this may be a big issue. To me, its obvious, go for the hot and heavy stuff and work your way down the food pyramid, which always brings me to the cakes and drinks last. I don’t drink alcohol on a regular basis- so I can also run around the room casually knocking unsuspecting ladies over in order to get the last of the mango strawberry salad.

Really the best way to go about what to take first is to ask yourself. What can I have anytime and what is a Kiddush specialty? To me this is obvious, although it does not always mean you have to take the hot foods. For instance, if they have cheesecake at the Kiddush- I would advise to eat as much of it as possible- this is also from economical standpoint- because there is nothing quite like pounding food at a Kiddush and knowing that you just ate $50 worth of food.

Girls or Food:
So you found a hot maidel at the Kiddush, that one you were looking over the mechitza at during anim zemiros and you want to chat. This can be heart wrenching and I don’t think I can give proper advice- for food is more important to some then hot women, UNLESS that hot women can cook- then its obvious where to go.

16 responses so far ↓


Rachel // May 29, 2008 at 1:54 pm

i am consistently impressed by how many different posts you can come up with about kiddush

heshman // May 29, 2008 at 2:05 pm

Kiddush is just too hilarious and awesome to give up on- its like talking about sex.

Leora // May 29, 2008 at 2:17 pm

Have been to a sephardi kiddush? It really helps with shul attendance. Yum.

heshman // May 29, 2008 at 2:26 pm

Oh my I love sephardic kiddushes they really know how to do it. I just cant stand their lengthy davening.

Moshe // May 29, 2008 at 2:55 pm

Never had your problem. We have the guys table where all of us sit. Everyone grabs the food. Someone makes kiddush and then we wash before the rabbi even started looking at the bottle of grape juice.
Most of us are also obnoxious assholes so we’ll go around and steal the alcohol and good cakes and raid the kitchen and proceed to get drunk out of out minds. :-D

urban gypsy // May 29, 2008 at 2:56 pm

What is this rainbow cake of which you speak, Hesh? And what is broccoli salad? I have never seen such things at the kiddushes I have attended.

In my shul everyone loads up their plates the minute the food hits the table, so by the time the rabbi is saying kiddush, the tables are empty as if picked over by a swarm of locusts. “Where is all the food?” the serving ladies ask. Well, just take a peek at everyone’s heaping plates!

I think the whole kiddush-followed-by-meal scenario is single-handedly responsible for most of today’s Jewish obesity. And if you are makpid on seuda shlishit and melave malka, G-d help you and your arteries.

Frum Punk // May 29, 2008 at 6:45 pm

You make me wish I lived in New York with these posts. Best I can hope for at kiddushes round here is potato kugel with the cholent.

Frank // May 29, 2008 at 7:08 pm

I usually go for the single malt which washes down the matjes, piclked or the creamsauce herring.. Now that the kids no longer live @home that’s usually lunch unless we’re invited out

Chris_B // May 29, 2008 at 10:03 pm

“at least for folks like me who cannot eat with two wooden sticks”

How can anyone not know how to eat with chopsticks?

Mikeinmidwood // May 29, 2008 at 10:06 pm


never saw rainbowcake at a kiddush? and its funny when people take cake off my plat thinking its the serving plate.

redhead // May 29, 2008 at 11:45 pm

wow. you make me jealous. in new england all you get at kiddushes is some potato chips, herring/slime, and gefilte fish that resembles something from my high school chem classes. and the usual scnapps/soda. and our rabbi is on the elderly side so by the time he mkes it into the kiddush room, tables are clear and plates are full.
and chris, it’s not so easy to eat with chop sticks. some people just don’t have the proper manual dexterity. it’s unfortunate but true.

Shua // May 30, 2008 at 10:02 am

Not sure, but I think there are geographic differences at kiddushes. Like here in Baltimore, potato kugel is a requirement, there’s rarely a chulent, fancy kiddushes have turkey salad and really fancy ones have drummettes (those are the only ones I eat at). Sounds like some places get sushi (never even heard of that before).

In Memphis (where I grew up) there were multiple-chulent kiddushes. We used to rate kiddushes by chulent - a five-chulent kiddush meant the local magnate sponsored it.

And hey - the Memphis kiddushes used to sometimes have mini donuts. Those were awesome!

Jacob da Jew // May 30, 2008 at 10:36 am

Ever since I got married I have the dilema of ” Dont eat too much, meal soon after”.

Hence, I usually skip most of the kiddush, only hitting up some kigel un chunt since i dont get that at home.

Shua // May 30, 2008 at 11:08 am

“some kigel un chunt since i dont get that at home”

um, what? heard of a get, man? lol

heshman // May 30, 2008 at 6:08 pm

Frank you sure your not my dad?

Shua I thought of this post last week while at a kiddush for a bar miztvah at Goldbergers shul in Baltimore.

Jacob da Jew // May 30, 2008 at 6:13 pm

Shua, I’m sefardi….da wife is jdub.\\\\

For example, she made me “lachmazhin” which i will eat after my gefilte

Friday, May 30, 2008

The Jewish key to Henry Kissinger

s the ferocity of criticism for Kissinger related to the fact that he is Jewish?, asks Niall Ferguson
Niall Ferguson

To say that Henry Kissinger is the most controversial of twentieth-century American Secretaries of State would be an understatement. No other holder of that office has inspired opprobrium of the sort heaped on Kissinger by journalists such as Seymour Hersh and Christopher Hitchens. The latter’s polemic, The Trial of Henry Kissinger (2002), for example, accuses Kissinger of having “ordered and sanctioned the destruction of civilian populations, the assassination of inconvenient politicians, the kidnapping and disappearance of soldiers and journalists and clerics who got in his way”. Hitchens offers no explanation of his subject’s alleged record of “promiscuous violence abroad and flagrant illegality at home”. The reader is merely left to infer that Kissinger must be a terribly wicked man.

Quite apart from the distinctly thin documentary foundation of Hitchens’s footnote-free case for the prosecution – which quotes from little more than a few dozen primary documents, all from US archives – The Trial of Henry Kissinger suffers from a strange absence of historical perspective. It would in fact be much easier to implicate a number of Kissinger’s predecessors in civilian bombings, coups d’état and support for murderous regimes. Unlike the case of Chile, to give a single example, there is no question that the Central Intelligence Agency had a direct hand in the coup that overthrew an elected government in Guatemala in 1954. It also played an active role in the subsequent campaign of violence against the Guatemalan Left. Many more people (around 200,000) died in this campaign than were “disappeared” in Chile after 1973 (2,279). In any case, Richard Nixon was not the first President to seek to influence Chilean domestic politics. Both of his immediate predecessors did so. Yet you will search the bookshops in vain for “The Trial of John Foster Dulles” or “The Trial of Dean Rusk”.

The more books I have read about Henry Kissinger in recent years, the more I have been reminded of the books I used to read about the Rothschild family. When other nineteenth-century banks made loans to conservative regimes or to countries at war, no one seemed to notice. But when the Rothschilds did it, the pamphleteers could scarcely control their indignation. Indeed, it would take a great many shelves to contain all the shrill anti-Rothschild polemics produced by Victorian antecedents of Hitchens and his ilk. Which prompts the question: has the ferocity of the criticism which Kissinger has attracted perhaps got something to do with the fact that he, like the Rothschilds, is Jewish? (Nota bene: this is not to imply that his critics are anti-Semites. Some of the Rothschilds’ most fierce critics were also Jews. So are some of Kissinger’s.)

Jeremi Suri’s Henry Kissinger and the American Century puts Kissinger’s Jewishness centre-stage in an interpretation of his life that stands out among recent books on the subject for the extent and depth of the author’s research. Unlike Hitchens (to say nothing of Robert Dallek and Margaret Macmillan, two other writers who have recently published books critical of Kissinger), Suri has done some real digging before rushing into print. He cites documents from sixteen different archival collections. His sixty-seven pages of notes are a model of academic rigour. I should at this point declare an interest: I am currently researching a biography of Kissinger based (in part) on his own private papers at the Library of Congress, to which Suri did not have access. I hope this lends credence, rather than the reverse, to my positive judgement. Though I do not agree with all Suri’s conclusions, I salute his scholarship. This is surely the best book yet published about Henry Kissinger. (Jussi Hanhimäki’s 2004 study of Kissinger’s foreign policy is more comprehensive on Kissinger’s time in office, but is much less insightful.) Unlike so many previous writers – particularly those journalists steeped in the blood of the Nixon administration – Suri actually makes an attempt to understand his subject in the appropriate historical context rather than simply joining in the never-ending hunt for “smoking gun” quotations.

For Suri, Kissinger’s Jewish origins are the key to understanding both the man and the world’s reaction to him. Kissinger, writes Suri in one of his boldest sallies, was like “a hybrid of the Court Jew and the State Jew – what we might tentatively call the ‘policy Jew’”. He portrays his subject as ascending from academia to the corridors of power by doing “grunt work” for the goyim: first his Harvard mentor, William Elliott, then McGeorge Bundy, then Nelson Rockefeller, then Nixon and finally his successor Gerald Ford (about whom, like nearly all writers on Kissinger, Suri says much too little). But Kissinger’s Jewishness has a wider significance. In Suri’s account, it was Kissinger’s German-Jewish youth – born in 1923 at the height of the Weimar hyperinflation, ten years old when Hitler came to power, fifteen when his family emigrated to the United States in 1938 – that laid the foundation for a distinctly pessimistic world view. “Life is suffering, birth involves death”, wrote Kissinger in his sprawling Harvard senior thesis, “The Meaning of History”: “Transitoriness is the fate of existence. No civilization has yet been permanent, no longing completely fulfilled. This is necessity, the fatedness of history, the dilemma of mortality”. The influence of Oswald Spengler, Suri suggests, imbued Kissinger with a fear of “a return to the violence, chaos and collapse of Weimar Germany”. Kissinger entered the White House as Nixon’s National Security Advisor filled with foreboding, anticipating four years of “disorder at home, increasing tension abroad”. This, he suggests, helps to explain why Kissinger felt so much was at stake in Vietnam. As he put it in the first volume of his memoirs:

"Until I emigrated to America, my family and I endured progressive ostracism and discrimination . . . . I could never forget what an inspiration [America] has been to the victims of persecution, to my family, and to me during cruel and degrading years . . . . It seemed to me important for America not to be humiliated, not to be shattered, but to leave Vietnam in a manner that even the protesters might later see as reflecting an American choice made with dignity and self-respect."

When Watergate struck the Nixon presidency, Kissinger feared “irreparable damage” that might take the US over the “edge of a precipice”.

I am not sure I quite buy these two arguments. Advising politicians politicians can be interesting, usually involves a measure of sycophancy, and is not a peculiarly Jewish activity. As for the Weimar trauma, I am inclined to think the experience of returning to Germany as a GI had a much greater impact. Still, these are matters of interpretation. Suri deserves credit for producing a more convincing account of his subject’s German-Jewish background than any previous biographer of Kissinger, including the broadly sympathetic Walter Isaacson.

Heinz (as he was originally named) and his younger brother grew up in an Orthodox household in Fürth, Bavaria, where their father Louis was a respectable schoolteacher, a firm believer in the benefits of German Bildung. Louis Kissinger’s world was shattered by the rise of the Nazis, but it was his wife Paula who had the wit to get the family out of Germany just months before the regime’s anti-Semitism erupted in full-blown pogroms. Kissinger lost at least a dozen relatives in the Holocaust, including his grandmother, Fanny Stern (who Suri says perished in the Belzec death camp). “I had seen evil in the world”, Kissinger commented in an interview many years later, “and I knew it was there, and I knew that there are some things you have to fight for, and that you can’t insist that everything be to some ideal construction you have made.” Suri is surely correct to see that an awareness of this searing experience is indispensable to our understanding of the man.

One puzzle that is not quite resolved here is why Kissinger abandoned his parents’ Orthodox allegiance, which they maintained after moving to New York’s Washington Heights by joining the most conservative synagogue in the neighbourhood. Was it the drudgery of the brush-cleaning factory where Kissinger worked for a time? Or was it, as Suri seems to imply, the experience of “eating ham for Uncle Sam” in the US Army after he was drafted in 1943? Suri’s account of Kissinger’s wartime career is tantalizing in other ways too. We do not hear enough about his work as a military administrator in the post-war occupation of Germany, a role which involved apprehending and interrogating Nazis. The link that Suri draws between these experiences and Kissinger’s subsequent close relationship with Konrad Adenauer seems tenuous.

As Suri shows, post-war Harvard provided the young veteran with an altogether more propitious environment than the military. With the proportion of Jews at the university rising from 17 per cent of enrolments in 1947 to 25 per cent in 1952, Kissinger can scarcely have felt like an outsider. He was also fortunate in his mentors: just as Fritz Kramer had spotted Kissinger’s intellectual potential in the army, so William Elliott soon identified him as “a combination of Kant and Spinoza”, hyperbole that Kissinger almost lived up to by producing a senior thesis so long that it prompted Harvard to impose a maximum word-count. Elliott’s influence, Suri suggests, was as much political as academic. As early as 1950, with Elliott’s encouragement, Kissinger was writing hawkish briefings for Paul Nitze, then Director of Policy Planning at the State Department. Running the long-lived International Seminar at the Cold War Summer School (a classic “soft power” initiative partly funded by the CIA) also provided him with first-class networking opportunities, particularly among the next generation of Western European statesmen and diplomats. As Suri says, Harvard at this time was truly a “Cold War University” – in marked contrast to the hotbed of liberal sentiment it became almost as soon as Kissinger departed for Washington.

In addition to illuminating Kissinger’s cultural roots, Suri does a good job of tracing the development of his strategic thought in the 1950s. He also gives a fair appraisal of Kissinger’s doctrine of limited nuclear war as a way of avoiding “impotence in the atomic stalemate” (as he put it in 1954). All-out nuclear war, Kissinger reasoned, “would not be an act of policy but of desperation”. There needed to be “options less cataclysmic than a thermonuclear holocaust”. Kissinger was therefore an advocate of increasing West German and Japanese conventional forces, while creating a “compact, highly mobile US strategic reserve” in the Middle East. He also recommended, in Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy (1957), a greater readiness to deploy and to use smaller “tactical” nuclear weapons. This has subsequently been misrepresented as a reckless “Doctor Strangelove” argument that underestimated the risks of nuclear escalation. But, as Suri shows, at the time Kissinger’s argument was welcomed by such luminaries as Bernard Brodie, Reinhold Niebuhr and even (albeit with qualifications) by President Eisenhower himself.

How far had Kissinger worked out a framework for American grand strategy before he entered the White House? Suri does not quite answer this question, but provides ample evidence to suggest it was quite a long way. For example, he early on grasped the significance of American “relative decline” as the rest of the world finally put the economic devastation of the Second World War behind it. This implied not only a basic acceptance of the division of Europe between the superpowers, but also a reconfiguration of the Western alliance system.

In lectures he wrote for Rockefeller in 1962, Kissinger advanced an argument for a new confederal “framework . . . for the free world” – an Atlantic Confederacy with an Anglo-American-French “Executive Committee”. At the same time, Kissinger made the case for an autonomous European nuclear force. As all this suggests, Kissinger still considered himself a European specialist. During his brief stint as an adviser to McGeorge Bundy, when Bundy was serving as President Kennedy’s National Security Advisor, Kissinger was mainly concerned with the division of Berlin.

Yet America’s principal foreign policy preoccupation by the mid 1960s lay far from Germany. Suri shows that Kissinger had formed a pessimistic view of American policy in Vietnam as early as 1965, when he first visited the country. He also shows how Kissinger became persuaded that “ending the war honourably” was “essential for the peace of the world” since “any other solution may unloose forces that would complicate prospects for international order”. Contrary to the assumptions made (and still cherished) by a generation of liberals, Kissinger felt the US “could not simply walk away from an enterprise involving two administrations, five allied countries, and thirty-one thousand dead as if we were switching a television channel”. Pace Hersh and Hitchens, Suri contends that there was nothing untoward in Kissinger’s bipartisan communications about Vietnam at this time.

As has often been remarked, there have been few odder couples in American politics than Nixon and Kissinger. Not the least of the oddities about their relationship was Nixon’s tendency to give vent to his own anti-Jewish prejudices, sometimes even in Kissinger’s presence. Yet Suri argues that their differences were always outweighed by fundamental similarities of outlook. In particular, Kissinger was impressed by Nixon’s faith in his own willpower and the effectiveness of firm, decisive action. As the President told his adviser, his long, hard ascent of the greasy pole had given him “the will in spades”; hence his readiness to take “action which is very strong, threatening, and effective”. On occasion, Kissinger could talk in similar terms. As he told Yitzhak Rabin in 1973: “When you use force it is better to use 30 per cent more than is necessary than 5 per cent less than is necessary . . . . Whenever we use force we have to do it slightly hysterically”. Suri details the two occasions when Kissinger used nuclear sabre-rattling to exert pressure on the Soviets – October 1969 and October 1973 – though he does not offer a clear verdict as to whether these actions were effective diplomatically, or needlessly reckless.

The obverse of occasional sabre-rattling was Nixon and Kissinger’s shared and unshakeable faith in regular “back channel” negotiations. Beginning in February 1969, Kissinger cultivated a hotline to Moscow via the Soviet ambassador, Anatoly Dobrynin. At first designed primarily (though never exclusively) to bypass the State Department, the back channel gradually evolved into a highly effective and highly sensitive system of superpower communications. Subsequent criticism of the policy of détente (from the Right more than the Left) cannot detract from the tangible achievements of Kissinger’s period in office: the Four-Power Agreement on Berlin, the first Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the Helsinki Accords. Suri also seems to concur with the view that Nixon and Kissinger’s opening to China (or, as Margaret Macmillan would have it, Mao and Zhou Enlai’s opening to America) worked as a way of exerting pressure on the Soviets by shattering the illusion of a homogeneous Communist Second World.

In Suri’s version of events, Nixon and Kissinger approached the problem of Vietnam with a similar combination of tools: the unflinching use of force plus sustained back-channel negotiation, allied with the hope that either the USSR or the PRC could be induced to lean on Hanoi. Suri does not dismiss the strategy as doomed to fail. The use of force certainly hurt North Vietnam. Le Duan, General Secretary of the North Vietnamese Communist Party, later admitted that the mining of Haiphong “completely obliterated our economic foundation”. Equally, Kissinger’s tenacity in negotiation ultimately bore fruit in the form of the Paris Accords, signed on January 23, 1973. The question – which Suri does not quite answer – is how long that peace might have endured had not domestic opposition undercut American assistance to South Vietnam.

A similar question can, of course, be posed about Kissinger’s policy in the Middle East. Could more have been achieved? But there is a danger in posing unrealistic counterfactuals. An enduring peace in the Middle East was probably not attainable in the wartorn 1970s. What was attainable was a diminution in the power of the Soviet Union and a stabilization of Israel’s position relative to her Arab neighbours. These goals, as Suri points out, Kissinger was uniquely positioned to achieve. As a Jewish Secretary of State, he could credibly promise the Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to “get [Rabin] to move in the right direction . . . to work on him”. At the same time, he could withstand the bitter claims of Menachem Begin that he was one of those “Jews, who out of a complex feared non-Jews would charge them with acting for their people, and therefore did the opposite”. And, having ousted the Soviets from Egypt, he could reassure Rabin, with equal credibility: “We are working for a common strategy, one element of which is a strong Israel”.

“Kissinger”, Suri writes, “was above all a revolutionary.” To those who have read their Hitchens, this may come as something of a surprise. Kissinger a revolutionary? The man who told the Argentine junta’s Foreign Minister, Cesar Guzzetti: “We wish [your] government well”? The man who promised his South African counterpart to “curb any missionary zeal of my officers in the State Department to harass you”? The man who told the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet: “We are sympathetic with what you are trying to do here”? Yet Suri has a case to make, even if he does not make it more than obliquely. An integral part of Kissinger’s grand strategy was always to establish priorities. In order to check Soviet ambitions in the Third World – the full extent of which we have only recently come to appreciate – some unpleasant regimes had to be tolerated, and indeed supported. Besides the various Latin American caudillos, the Saudi royal family, the Shah of Iran and the Pakistani military, these unpleasant regimes also included (though the Left seldom acknowledged it) the Maoist regime in Beijing, which was already guilty of many more violations of human rights than all the right-wing dictators put together when Kissinger flew there for the first time in July 1971.

Yet the real revolution Kissinger had to achieve was not so much in the realm of grand strategy as in that of domestic politics. As he himself put it in one of the many “heartland speeches” he delivered in the US in 1975 and 1976, his underlying aim was “to end the self-flagellation that has done so much harm to this nation’s capacity to conduct foreign policy”. In this he was ultimately unsuccessful. Indeed, US self-flagellation reached its zenith during the presidency of Jimmy Carter.

Jeremi Suri, who was still an untenured junior professor at the University of Wisconsin when he wrote this book, draws back from passing an unambiguous verdict on Kissinger’s “revolution”. He does not say how far the strategic benefits of supping with sundry devils outweighed the domestic costs. Indeed, he leaves open nearly all the major questions about Kissinger’s grand strategy. What he has done is to provide an invaluable insight into the background of an American statesman who has surely received a disproportionate share of criticism relative to his predecessors. How far Kissinger’s Jewishness provides the real key to his inner motivations remains a matter for debate. (My own preference would be to see him as first and foremost a historian – one of the very select band of serious scholars of the past who end up actually making policy in the here and now.) But it certainly provides a part of the explanation for the vitriol that has come his way.

Jeremi Suri
358pp. Harvard University Press. £15.95 (US $27.95).
978 0 674 02579 0

Why Israel is the world's happiest country

Envy surrounds no country on Earth like the state of Israel, and with good reason: by objective measures, Israel is the happiest nation on Earth at the 60th anniversary of its founding. It is one of the wealthiest, freest and best-educated; and it enjoys a higher life expectancy than Germany or the Netherlands. But most remarkable is that Israelis appear to love life and hate death more than any other nation. If history is made not by rational design but by the demands of the human heart, as I argued last week , the light heart of the Israelis in face of continuous danger is a singularity worthy of a closer look.

Can it be a coincidence that this most ancient of nations [1], and the

only nation persuaded that it was summoned into history for God's service, consists of individuals who appear to love life more than any other people? As a simple index of life-preference, I plot the fertility rate versus the suicide rate of 35 industrial countries, that is, the proportion of people who choose to create new life against the proportion who choose to destroy their own. Israel stands alone, positioned in the upper-left-hand-quadrant, or life-loving, portion of the chart [2]. Those who believe in Israel's divine election might see a special grace reflected in its love of life.

In a world given over to morbidity, the state of Israel still teaches the world love of life, not in the trivial sense of joie de vivre, but rather as a solemn celebration of life. In another location, I argued, "It's easy for the Jews to talk about delighting in life. They are quite sure that they are eternal, while other peoples tremble at the prospect impending extinction. It is not their individual lives that the Jews find so pleasant, but rather the notion of a covenantal life that proceeds uninterrupted through the generations." Still, it is remarkable to observe by what wide a margin the Israelis win the global happiness sweepstakes.

Nations go extinct, I have argued in the past, because the individuals who comprise these nations choose collectively to die out. Once freedom replaces the fixed habits of traditional society, people who do not like their own lives do not trouble to have children. Not the sword of conquerors, but the indigestible sourdough of everyday life threatens the life of the nations, now dying out at a rate without precedent in recorded history.

Israel is surrounded by neighbors willing to kill themselves in order to destroy it. "As much as you love life, we love death," Muslim clerics teach; the same formula is found in a Palestinian textbook for second graders. Apart from the fact that the Arabs are among the least free, least educated, and (apart from the oil states) poorest peoples in the world, they also are the unhappiest, even in their wealthiest kingdoms.

The contrast of Israeli happiness and Arab despondency is what makes peace an elusive goal in the region. It cannot be attributed to material conditions of life. Oil-rich Saudi Arabia ranks 171st on an international quality of life index, below Rwanda. Israel is tied with Singapore on this index, although it should be observed that Israel ranks a runaway first on my life-preference index, whereas Singapore comes in dead last.

Even less can we blame unhappiness on experience, for no nation has suffered more than the Jews in living memory, nor has a better excuse to be miserable. Arabs did not invent suicide attacks, but they have produced a population pool willing to die in order to inflict damage greater than any in history. One cannot help but conclude that Muslim clerics do not exaggerate when they express contempt for life.

Israel's love of life, moreover, is more than an ethnic characteristic. Those who know Jewish life through the eccentric lens of Jewish-American novelists such as Saul Bellow and Philip Roth, or the films of Woody Allen, imagine the Jews to be an angst-ridden race of neurotics. Secular Jews in America are no more fertile than their Gentile peers, and by all indications quite as miserable.

For one thing, Israelis are far more religious than American Jews. Two-thirds of Israelis believe in God, although only a quarter observe their religion strictly. Even Israelis averse to religion evince a different kind of secularism than we find in the secular West. They speak the language of the Bible and undergo 12 years of Bible studies in state elementary and secondary schools.

Faith in God's enduring love for a people that believes it was summoned for his purposes out of a slave rabble must be part of the explanation. The most religious Israelis make the most babies. Ultra-Orthodox families produce nine children on average. That should be no surprise, for people of faith are more fertile than secular people, as I showed in a statistical comparison across countries.

Traditional and modern societies have radically different population profiles, for traditional women have little choice but to spend their lives pregnant in traditional society. In the modern world, where fertility reflects choice rather than compulsion, the choice to raise children expresses love of life. The high birthrate in Arab countries still bound by tradition does not stand comparison to Israeli fertility, by far the highest in the modern world.

The faith of Israelis is unique. Jews sailed to Palestine as an act of faith, to build a state against enormous odds and in the face of hostile encirclement, joking, "You don't have to be crazy to be a Zionist, but it helps." In 1903 Theodor Herzl, the Zionist movement's secular founder, secured British support for a Jewish state in Uganda, but his movement shouted him down, for nothing short of the return to Zion of Biblical prophecy would requite it. In place of a modern language the Jewish settlers revived Hebrew, a liturgical language only since the 4th century BC, in a feat of linguistic volition without precedent. It may be that faith burns brighter in Israel because Israel was founded by a leap of faith.

Two old Jewish jokes illustrate the Israeli frame of mind.

Two elderly Jewish ladies are sitting on a park bench in St Petersburg, Florida. "Mrs Levy," asks the first, "what do you hear from your son Isaac in Detroit?" "It's just awful," Mrs Levy replies. "His wife died a year ago and left him with two little girls. Now he's lost his job as an accountant with an auto-parts company, and his health insurance will lapse in a few weeks. With the real estate market the way it is, he can't even sell his house. And the baby has come down with leukemia and needs expensive treatment. He's beside himself, and doesn't know what to do. But does he write a beautiful Hebrew letter - it's a pleasure to read."

There are layers to this joke, but the relevant one here is that bad news is softened if written in the language of the Bible, which to Jews always conveys hope.

The second joke involves the American businessman who emigrated to Israel shortly after its founding. On his arrival, he orders a telephone, and waits for weeks without a response. At length he applies in person to the telephone company, and is shown into the office of an official who explains that there is a two-year waiting list, and no way to jump the queue. "Do you mean there is no hope?," the American asks. "It is forbidden for a Jew to say there is no hope!," thunders the official. "No chance, maybe." Hope transcends probability.

If faith makes the Israelis happy, then why are the Arabs, whose observance of Islam seems so much stricter, so miserable? Islam offers its adherents not love - for Allah does not reveal Himself in love after the fashion of YHWH - but rather success. "The Islamic world cannot endure without confidence in victory, that to 'come to prayer' is the same thing as to 'come to success'. Humiliation - the perception that the ummah cannot reward those who submit to it - is beyond its capacity to endure," I argued in another location. Islam, or "submission", does not understand faith - trust in a loving God even when His actions appear incomprehensible - in the manner of Jews and Christians. Because the whim of Allah controls every event from the orbit of each electron to the outcome of battles, Muslims know only success or failure at each moment in time.

The military, economic and cultural failures of Islamic societies are intolerable in Muslim eyes; Jewish success is an abomination, for in the view of Muslims it is the due of the faithful, to be coveted and seized from the usurpers at the first opportunity. It is not to much of a stretch to assert that Israel's love of live, its happiness in faith, is precisely the characteristic that makes a regional peace impossible to achieve. The usurpation of the happiness that Muslims believe is due to them is sufficient cause to kill one's self in order to take happiness away from the Jewish enemy. If Israel's opponents fail to ruin Israel's happiness, there is at least a spark of hope that they may decide to choose happiness for themselves.

Why are none of the Christian nations as happy as Israel? Few of the European nations can be termed "Christian" at all. Poland, the last European country with a high rate of attendance at Mass (at about 45%), nonetheless shows a fertility rate of only 1.27, one of Europe's lowest, and a suicide rate of 16 per 100,000. Europe's faith always wavered between adherence to Christianity as a universal religion and ethnic idolatry under a Christian veneer. European nationalism nudged Christianity to the margin during the 19th century, and the disastrous world wars of the past century left Europeans with confidence neither in Christianity nor in their own nationhood.

Only in pockets of the American population does one find birth rates comparable to Israel's, for example among evangelical Christians. There is no direct way to compare the happiness of American Christians and Israelis, but the tumultuous and Protean character of American religion is not as congenial to personal satisfaction. My suspicion is that Israel's happiness is entirely unique.

It is fashionable these days to speculate about the end of Israel, and Israel's strategic position presents scant cause for optimism, as I contended recently. Israel's future depends on the Israelis. During 2,000 years of exile, Jews remained Jews despite forceful and often violent efforts to make them into Christians or Muslims. One has to suppose that they did not abandon Judaism because they liked being Jewish. With utmost sincerity, the Jews prayed thrice daily, "It is our duty to praise the Master of all, to acclaim the greatness of the One who forms all creation, for God did not make us like the nations of other lands, and did not make us the same as other families of the Earth. God did not place us in the same situations as others, and our destiny is not the same as anyone else's."

If the Israelis are the happiest country on Earth, as the numbers indicate, it seems possible that they will do what is required to keep their country, despite the odds against them. I do not know whether they will succeed. If Israel fails, however, the rest of the world will lose a unique gauge of the human capacity for happiness as well as faith. I cannot conceive of a sadder event.


[1] There are many ancient nations, eg, the Basques, but no other that speaks the same language as it did more than 3,000 years ago, occupies more or less the same territory, and, most important, maintains a continuous literary record of its history, which is to say an interrupted national consciousness.

[2] The countries shown in the chart are:

Suicide Rate
(per 100,000)





United States



























United Kingdom




























































Czech Republic












Hong Kong



Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Passover Seder Symbols Song

Lyndon Johnson’s Historical Connection to Israel – Truly a Righteous Gentile

The Associated Press published a few details today about LBJ’s “personal and often emotional connection to Israel.” Based on newly released tapes of the president’s conversations, the news agency pointed out that during the Johnson presidency (1963-1969) “the United States became Israel's chief diplomatic ally and primary arms supplier.” LBJ is quoted in one conversation, “"I sure as hell want to be careful and not run out on little Israel."

The news report does little to reveal the full extent of Johnson’s actions on behalf of the Jewish people and the State of Israel. Indeed, the title of “Righteous Gentile” is certainly appropriate in the case of the Texan. Most students of the Arab-Israeli conflict can identify Johnson as the president during the 1967 war. But few know about LBJ’s actions to rescue hundreds of endangered Jews 30 years earlier, actions that could have thrown him out of Congress and into jail.

The Texas congressman’s district had only 400 Jews, but clearly the Johnson family’s Christian teachings had given him a strong affinity for Jews and their return to the Holy Land.

Five days after taking office in 1937, LBJ broke with the “Dixiecrats” and supported an immigration bill that would naturalize illegal aliens, mostly Jews from Lithuania and Poland. In 1938, Johnson was told of a young Austrian Jewish musician who was about to be deported from the United States. With an element of subterfuge, LBJ sent him to the U.S. Consulate in Havana to obtain a residency permit. Erich Leinsdorf, the world famous musician and conductor, credited LBJ for saving his live.

Johnson Saved Hundreds of Jews

That same year, LBJ warned a Jewish friend that European Jews faced annihilation. Somehow, Johnson provided him with a pile of signed immigration papers that were used to get 42 Jews out of Warsaw. But that wasn’t enough. According to historian, James M. Smallwood, Congressman Johnson used legal and sometimes illegal methods to smuggle “hundreds of Jews into Texas, using Galveston as the entry port. Enough money could buy false passports and fake visas in Cuba, Mexico, and other Latin American countries. … Johnson smuggled boatloads and planeloads of Jews into Texas. He hid them in the Texas National Youth Administration…. Johnson saved at least four or five hundred Jews, possibly more..”

On June 4, 1945, Johnson visited the Dachau concentration camp. According to historian Smallwood, Lady Bird later recalled that “when her husband returned home, he was still shaken, stunned, terrorized, and ‘bursting with an overpowering revulsion and incredulous horror at what he had seen.’”

As President, Johnson met with Israel’s Prime Minister Levi Eshkol and undertook to replace the recalcitrant France as Israel’s principal arms supplier, providing Patton tanks and Skyhawk jets and Phantom jets. (Pictured: Johnson greets Yitzhak Rabin in the Oval office.)

Soviet Premier Aleksei Kosygin once asked Johnson why the United States supported Israel when there are 80 million Arabs and only three million Israelis. “Because it is right,” responded the straight-shooting Texan.

Another event took place on Johnson’s watch

In 1965, some 100 kilo of highly enriched uranium went missing from the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation, or NUMEC, in Apollo, Pennsylvania, a small fuel rod fabrication plant. Although investigated by the Atomic Energy Commission, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and other government agencies and inquiring reporters, no trace of the uranium was found. Some investigators suggested that Israel received the enriched uranium. According to a U.S. Air Force report, “In the 1990s when the NUMEC plant was disassembled, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission found over 100 kilograms of plutonium in the structural components of the contaminated plant,” casting doubt on the Israel conspiracy theory.

Carter's Big Mouth

P.S. In a recently de-classified memo to President Richard Nixon in 1969, National Security Henry Kissinger discussed the possibility of Israel having nuclear weapons. “There is circumstantial evidence,” Kissinger wrote, “that some fissionable material available for Israel's weapons development was illegally obtained from the United States about 1965," Kissinger wrote. When Jimmy Carter announced this week that Israel had 150 nuclear weapons, he was clearly violating American security policy. Back in 1969, Kissinger expressed the need to keep Israel nuclear issues secret, “While we might ideally like to halt actual Israeli possession, what we really want at a minimum may be just to keep Israeli possession from becoming an established international fact.”

Jerusalem - Israel Names ‘Hoopoe’ As National Bird

erusalem - It may not be kosher, but the Hoopoe was chosen on Thursday as Israel’s national bird.

The Hoopoe, or “Duchifat” in Hebrew, is listed in the Old Testament as unclean and forbidden food for Jews.

President Shimon Peres declared the pink, black and white-crested bird the winner of a competition timed to coincide with Israel’s 60th anniversary. It beat out rivals such as the Yellow-vented Bulbul and the Palestine Sunbird.

Bye Bye Banana?

When was the last time you ate a banana? This morning, sliced on your cereal? As a quick snack on the way to shul to tide you over until kiddush? According to an article in Plenty Magazine, finding a banana to eat might soon become a lot more difficult:

“Back in 2003, the magazine New Scientist ran a cover story declaring that the banana was on the brink of extinction. The problem, the article explained, was that commercial bananas were genetically bankrupt: sterile, seedless clones with no genetic diversity and no resistance to a new wave of virulent fungal diseases…Scientists say, the outlook is still pretty bleak for the banana. Commercial growers remain wedded to a single variety known as the Cavendish, the bright yellow fruit found on US supermarket shelves; meanwhile, a lethal and fungicide-resistant infection called Panama Disease has decimated plantations across Southeast Asia and is widely expected to spread into plantations in Latin America and Africa.”

Bananas rank above apples and oranges (two other highly-hybridized fruits) as America’s most beloved and purchased fruit. According to an article in the New York Times from 2004, more than 8 billion pounds of bananas were sold in the US in 2003, an average of 84 per person. And while they are hardly local or seasonal in America (with the exception of Hawaii and parts of Florida) - even many of the most die-hard locavores make exceptions for the banana, which is nourishing, tasty, and possibly the most convenient snack on the planet. (It comes in its own compostable wrapper, after all.) It’s hard to imagine walking into a supermarket and not finding piles of banana “six packs” ready to toss in the cart. But unless scientists can beat the clock, it seems they - at least the Cavendish banana - could disappear in a matter of decades.

According to Plenty, scientists in Honduras are currently attempting to breed the Cavendish (think the Paris Hilton of genetic variety) with older heirloom varieties. But the task is painstaking and has been only marginally successful. Furthermore, Cavendish bananas have become so ubiquitous, that even finding heirloom varieties to breed them with has been a struggle. And because bananas do not grow in most of the US, small sustainably-minded farmers cannot play a part in saving them.

If the situation is as dire as the scientists make it out to be, then it seems that bananas are going the way of the honey bee. Maybe Haagen-Dazs should look into making a Save the Banana ice cream too?

LBJ's secret tapes on Israel

May 28, 2008

On March 24, 1968, President Johnson telephoned his ambassador to the United Nations, Arthur Goldberg. The previous few weeks had been among the most difficult of Johnson's presidency. In late January, the Tet offensive undermined public support for the Vietnam War. In early March, Johnson barely edged longshot Eugene McCarthy in the New Hampshire primary. Four days later, the senator of New York, Robert Kennedy, announced that he would seek the Democratic nomination.

Click to enlarge image >

A. Y. Owen

President Johnson and Arthur Goldberg

Johnson told Goldberg that he had grown more sympathetic to Israel's plight as his own political fortunes had declined. "They haven't got many friends in the world," the president said, and "they're in about the same shape I am. And the closer I got — I face adversity, the closer I get to them ... Because I got a bunch of Arabs after me — about a hundred million of 'em, and there's just two million of us. So I can understand them a little bit."

The exchange with Goldberg is included in around 13 hours of recorded conversations from January through April 1968, which the Lyndon Johnson Presidential Library released publicly on May 1. In the call, Johnson expressed his understanding of Israel's plight in unusually stark terms, but his remarks typified the support for Israel that characterized his presidency.

For instance, on June 25, 1967, shortly after the Six Day War, Johnson confronted the Soviet premier, Aleksei Kosygin, in a summit meeting at Glassboro, N.J. The Soviets had supported Egypt and Syria during the conflict, and had threatened to intervene militarily on the last day of fighting. After the two sides agreed to a cease-fire, Moscow urged the U.N. to demand that Israel withdraw from all occupied territories before Arab states even considered a peace settlement recognizing Israel's right to exist.

Kosygin, recalling a conversation Johnson had with President Eisenhower later that evening, said, "he couldn't understand why we'd want to support the Jews — three million people when there are a hundred million Arabs." Johnson's reply to his Soviet counterpart was blunt: "I told him that numbers do not determine what was right. We tried to do what was right regardless of the numbers."

Beyond providing crucial diplomatic support for Israel during the Six Day War and in U.N. debates that followed it, Johnson supplied Israel with three significant arms packages in 1965, 1966, and 1968. His policies laid the foundation for the U.S.-Israeli strategic partnership that continues to exist.

Since the September 11, 2001, attacks, the American public has come to appreciate Israel's role as a partner in the battle against Islamist terrorism. A 2007 Gallup Poll identified Israel as the only country in the world that a majority of Americans both viewed favorably and considered strategically important.

But Johnson operated in an environment far less sympathetic to Israel. U.S.-Israel relations were distant during the Eisenhower administration in the 1950s. John F. Kennedy tilted America closer to the government of Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, and agreed to sell Israel defensive weapons in 1962. But his administration also cautioned the Israelis to look to Western Europe, not America, as their chief military and diplomatic supporter.

Johnson's approach toward Middle Eastern affairs did not come as a result of a differing strategic vision. Like Eisenhower and Kennedy, Johnson's chief ideological goal was containing Soviet diplomatic influence, especially in Jordan and the Persian Gulf.

Instead, Johnson's policies stemmed more from personal concerns — his friendship with leading Zionists (such as Abe Fortas, Abe Feinberg, and Arthur Krim), his belief that America had a moral obligation to bolster Israeli security, and his conception of Israel as a frontier land much like his home state of Texas. His personal concerns led him to intervene when he felt that the State or Defense Departments had insufficiently appreciated Israel's diplomatic or military needs.

In 2008, policy toward Israel has attracted more attention than in any presidential campaign in American history. It's not hard to see why — Jewish voters could decide the outcome not only in Florida, but also in swing states such as Nevada and even Colorado.

Earlier this spring, the presumptive Republican nominee, John McCain, traveled to Israel, visiting the besieged city of Sderot, whose civilians regularly face Hamas rockets fired from Gaza. The likely Democratic nominee, Barack Obama, has aggressively wooed both Jewish voters and the Jewish press, reaffirming his support for Israeli security.

Beyond Israel, Senators McCain and Obama offer dramatically differing visions of appropriate policy toward the Middle East. In choosing between the two candidates, however, the lesson of Lyndon Johnson should serve as a reminder to voters. Given the unique nature of the U.S.-Israeli partnership, a chief executive's personal attitude toward Israel is at least as important as his broad strategic plans.

Mr. Johnson, a professor of history at Brooklyn College, is the Fulbright Distinguished Chair in the Humanities for the 2007-2008 academic year.

Israeli rescue workers in Myanamar (Burma)

Something else you will never see in the mainstream media. Here's a collection of images of Israel's flying rescue team in Myanamar (Burma) earlier this month, helping victims of Cyclone Negris.

Jon Voight talks about his love and concern for Israel and America

This is an amazing interview. I'm green with envy of my close friend who had breakfast with Jon Voight two weeks ago tomorrow. The man just makes so much sense.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Kosher food is catching on

n the "meat room" just a few steps from the busy counter at Kohn's Kosher Meat And Deli Restaurant, Leonard Flaks counts the ribs in a side of lamb — and reaches the 13th.

According to Kosher rules, no ribs past the 12th can be consumed unless biblically prohibited fat and veins are removed. So Flaks rejects the offending piece of meat, placing it on a nearby rack for butchers Mario Smith and Yuza Kiknadze to remedy.

Flaks moves on, carefully inspecting each piece for bruises and flaws, eventually earning it the seal of the Vaad Hoeir, the local kosher authority. From that point, the meat is sold — and could go virtually anywhere in the country.

But the seal — a black "V" surrounded by a circle — tells a person just how the meat has been handled. And, increasingly, that mark and other kosher seals have become more important to American consumers, including more non-Jews.

"People come in and say I'm not Jewish, but I'd like a kosher meat," said Lenny Kohn, owner of the store at 10405 Old Olive Street Road in Creve Coeur. "I don't really ask why, but the implied reason is that they're doing it because of safety; because they know there are more eyes on kosher food."

Kohn said he has seen more non-Jewish customers in his store and on its website, and sales, particularly of kosher meat, have gone up.

The store's experience follows a nationwide trend in which sales of kosher food have risen 15 percent in the past decade, mostly among non-Jews. Last year, the number of new kosher products introduced to the market topped 4,400 — more than double the number of products in the fast-growing organic category — up from just under 400 in 2003.

"There have been so many meat recalls, food recalls, that people are worried about the integrity of the food supply," said Marcia Mogelonsky, an analyst with Mintel, a Chicago-based consumer research firm that released a study earlier this year looking at kosher food. "As far as consumers are concerned, kosher meats have that extra level of cleanliness and care."

A kosher facility can be inspected at any time, and authorities, usually rabbis, can look at anything from packages of food to pipe connections.

"Inspectors are unannounced, and they have the right to open anything in a plant," said Joe Regenstein, a professor of food science and head of the Kosher and Halal Food Initiative at Cornell University. "They can come once a month, twice a year. There are certain operations that have them 24-7.

"The rabbinical sense of eyes and ears is marvelous. It's much more extensive than any government audit."

Particular care is given to meat, Regenstein said.

"Unlike the USDA, if there is a problem, the entire animal is removed from the food supply," Regenstein said. "With the government, they can fix it. With the rabbis it's yes or no."

For a meat to be certified kosher, it can't have any diseases or flaws. So, in theory, sick cattle, like those at the source of the nation's largest meat recall in February, would not have made it into the food supply under kosher supervision. In the February case, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recalled 143 million pounds of beef after an undercover investigator videotaped workers at a California plant using electrical shocks to force sick cows to stand.

Last week, Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer announced that the department would ban sick cattle to instill public confidence in American beef.

Kosher-certified meat also can't come from animals that have consumed other animals, alleviating concerns over mad cow disease, which is linked to animals that have eaten feed containing infected meat and bone meal.

In the Mintel survey, researchers found that more than half the consumers of kosher food make their choices based on perceptions of safety rather than for religious or ethical reasons.

"The major driver is not Jewish people," Mogelonsky said. "It's people in general concerned about food."

But food safety may just be one component of the rising demand. Vegetarians use the label to identify products that don't contain meat. People who are lactose-intolerant rely on kosher labels to tell them a product doesn't contain dairy products.

Kosher rules require that meat and dairy can't be mixed, so for example, kosher yogurt cannot contain gelatin, made from animal hooves.

"The kosher mark is used by consumers in the generic sense," Regenstein said. "It's used by vegetarians, people with allergies, Muslims, Seventh-day Adventists."

Food labeled organic or all-natural, both growing categories, often is kosher as well.

"I think there are customers, regardless of religion, who perceive kosher foods as being healthier and more stringent in labeling standards, and at one time, they were drawn to kosher products for those reasons," said Cindy Helton, the buyer for kosher, natural and organic foods for Dierbergs grocery stores. "In our stores, health-conscious customers are now finding those options in large selections of natural and organic products."

Kosher-labeled vegetables also may have an advantage in the marketplace in the wake of recent contaminations, such as the E. coli-tainted spinach recalled in 2006. Under kosher law, vegetables and fruits may not bear visible insects, which means kosher vegetables are often heavily washed or sprayed with chemicals.

"I like to say, jokingly, that I work with a group of stakeholders that actually like pesticides," Regenstein said. "The rabbis do love all those modern, heavily washed vegetables."

Regenstein said he would not be comfortable making a claim that kosher food — meat or vegetables — is necessarily safer. But he acknowledged that consumers clearly are starting to believe that.

"The fact is the (government) gets in some of these plants once a year," he said. "The fact that the rabbi comes once a month appears to be a value-added mark."

For some Kohn's regulars, though, safety isn't a huge concern.

Matt Flanagan and Lewis Bernstein, neither of whom keep kosher, have eaten lunch at the deli four times a week for decades.

On a recent afternoon they sat at a round table, polishing off the remains of their sandwiches.

"We just like it because they give us such big portions," Bernstein said. "We've been coming for years."

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Ashkenazic Woman More Prone To Certain Cancers

Ontario, Canada - For the first time in Canada, Jewish women will be offered the chance to alter their genetic destiny by taking a test – at no cost to them – that will determine whether they are at high risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers.

By screening for three inherited breast cancer gene mutations common to those of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry, Women’s College Research Institute scientists have an ambitious goal: to prevent the dreaded disease before it strikes.

They plan to do that by offering adult Jewish women in Ontario, with no known family history of breast or ovarian cancer, the blood test to screen for three specific mutations of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, beginning this Thursday. Jewish women with a family history of breast or ovarian cancer who have never been tested are also eligible.

If expanding genetic testing to this group proves worthwhile, it could alter the way the testing is offered across Canada by recognizing one’s inherent risk of cancer, simply due to ancestry.

The goal of the test is “to prevent cancer,” said Steven Narod, director of the familial breast cancer research unit at Women’s College Research Institute in Toronto. One in 44 Ashkenazi Jewish people carry the mutation, he noted; in the general population, an estimated one in 400 individuals carries a mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2.

For Ashkenazi women, a group with mainly Central and Eastern European ancestry, the test could reveal a risk they never knew they had.

Until now, Jewish ancestry was not enough to warrant testing for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer anywhere in Canada; nor is there any known organized population screening of Jewish women in the United States.

Friday, May 23, 2008

A Story of the Warsaw Ghetto, April 19, 1943 by Audrey Rogers Fufaro, 2G

As you or your friends celebrate Passover this April 19th, I hope you will remember another April 19th. This one was in 1943 and it was also the first night of Passover. On that night, a 13-year old boy and his parents were loaded onto a cattle car that headed for Auschwitz. This is the story of that night.
The boy was born in Vienna, Austria to middle-class Jewish parents; his mother was also born in Vienna and his father in Poland. They led an uneventful life until Hitler came to power. Following Krystallnacht in 1938, they fled to Antwerp, Belgium, and eventually settled in Brussels.. In February 1943, the family was denounced. The boy and his parents were arrested and sent to Malines, a deportation camp in Belgium where the Nazis would collect Jews until they had enough for a transport to Auschwitz. For three months they waited; they were barely fed and the boy’s father was severely beaten up by a German guard in front of the boy for a minor infraction.
On the night of April 19, 1943, the family was part of Convoy XX– 1,636 Jews being shipped by cattle car to Auschwitz. They were numbers 722, 723, and 724 on the Nazis’ inventory of this shipment. A Nazi officer gave the boy’s father a white flag and a whistle, and told him that he was in charge of the particular car in which they were being loaded. He was told that if anyone tried to escape he was to alert the Nazis; if he did not the family would be killed. The father decided that the family would have to jump from the train because he would not turn in his fellow Jews.
In events that are stranger than life, on the train were some Dutch acrobats, who with the use of an old man’s cane, managed to open the latched window of the train. As the train barreled toward the German border, the family prepared to jump. The man pushed his wife from the train, and the boy watched as his mother appeared to roll toward the train’s wheels.
The boy was next. He did not want to be pushed, so he jumped on his own and scrambled up the track’s embankment. As he stood up at the top of the embankment, he felt a needle-like pain in his upper chest. He saw blood and realized he has been shot. Putting a handkerchief on the wound, he went searching for his parents, amidst the dead bodies of others who had been shot jumping from the train.
The boy wandered around in the dark, hurt and scared and eventually found his mother, but he did not want to tell her he was shot. Later that night they found the father, who had been shot in the leg. The family sought refuge in a nearby barn, where the boy finally told his mother he had been shot by a bullet that glanced his chest.
In the morning, the boy, who could speak Flemish better than his parents, approached the farmhouse owner and sold his parent’s wedding rings for aid. The farmer gave the family money, helped clean them up, and drove them to the train station where the family intended to take the train back to Brussels.
The parents sensed danger and they decided to separate. They told the boy to get off the train at the next stop, hoping that by being alone, he would not be caught. Without knowing if he would ever see his parents again, and unable to say any farewells, the boy got off the train. By now his gunshot wound was extremely painful, so alone and not knowing what to do, the boy approached a Belgian policeman. He told him that he was a 13-year-old Jew who had been shot escaping from the train to Auschwitz. The police officer took pity on the boy, brought him to the police station, and called a doctor who treated the gunshot wound. The officer gave the boy some money, and directed him toward the safest way back to Brussels, where he was reunited with his parents.
The boy was my father, Robert Rogers. He and my grandparents, Bertha and Eddy Rottenberg, went into hiding until they were finally liberated in September 1944. In 1949, they emigrated to the United States, a country they embraced with gratitude. They have all since passed away, and only two things remain of that night. One is the shirt my father was wearing, which my grandmother kept until she died. I have it now, and you can still see the neatly sewn up bullet holes and the very faintest trace of blood. The other is the memory of what happened 65 years ago that has seared through two generations of my family.

Audrey Rogers Furfaro, 2G
April, 2008
Chappaqua, NY

Alan Collins, Writer

Writer with outsider's vantage

24-09-1928 — 27-03-2008

ALAN Collins, one of a small group of Jewish writers of his generation who was born in Australia and wrote extensively about Jews in Australia and their struggle to survive in two disparate and sometimes hostile worlds, has died at Cabrini Hospital from complications of lymphoma. He was 79.

Collins drew heavily on his own early experiences and even as he attempted to make sense of politics, religion and the challenges of simply existing, he never yielded to introspection or self-pity.

He found that many young people from migrant families empathised with his stories of growing up as part of a minority group, and gained an increased understanding of the historical context of political and religious issues in Australia and overseas.

Collins is best known for the autobiographical novel The Boys from Bondi, in which he described a collision of cultures as his Bondi urchin encountered well-educated young Jews from Europe. In launching the book, poet Fay Zwicky spoke of how "the vantage point of the lone outsider is an invaluable territorial bonus to the writer".

Collins' journalism, prose, drama and several poems are often humorous, even when he writes about the darker aspects of the pre-war years.

For example, in the short story A Thousand Nights at the Ritz, he describes his father's embarrassing and perplexing habits in the cinema. These include loudly identifying everyone of talent associated with the film as Jewish while rubbishing "reffo" Jews shown in a newsreel arriving in Australia.

Author Judah Waten said in his introduction to Troubles (1983), a critically acclaimed collection of 21 short stories, that "Alan Collins … has recorded movingly, the lives of Jews without money (without being) cynical or misanthropic". Collins might well have become misanthropic. His mother died the day she gave birth to him in Sydney. Relatives were unable or unwilling to care for him and he was sent to a variety of children's homes until he was returned to his father, who had remarried.

The archetypal cruel stepmother ill-treated the boy to such a degree that a magistrate ordered that he be sent to the Isabella Lazarus Home for Jewish refugee children.

His childhood is described graphically in his confronting yet surprisingly funny memoir Alva's Boy, to be published later this year by Hybrid.

When he was 14, he was sent out into the world as an apprentice printer, living on lowly wages in crude rooming houses — and worse followed when he left to work in what he succinctly described as the inferno of a glass factory.

He had a talent for writing and after working at Nock and Kirby hardware as advertising manager, he joined the Sydney Sun as a young reporter, and then became editor of the Sydney Jewish News. He gave himself an education by reading in public libraries and through second-hand books.

In 1953, he left Sydney for Melbourne, where he became advertising manager for Rockmans Stores. He met and married Rosaline Fox in London in 1957 and they returned to Melbourne where he resumed work at Rockmans.

Home was a flat in Elwood, where their eldest son, Daniel, was born. The dream of having a real home for the first time in his life took the family to Box Hill, where sons Peter and Toby were born, and where he and Ros later fostered John from a war-torn background.

Collins worked in advertising agencies as a copywriter and then formed his own business, Collins Advertising, in a home-made office next to the two-storey cubby house he lovingly built for his children.

In the short story The Value of a Nail (Meanjin, 1984), Collins eulogised that great Australian institution the hardware store, and in real life he gained creative pleasure from woodwork, establishing the Toby Toys range for toddlers.

He wrote articles and short stories for magazines and newspapers, many of which were published in anthologies, and a radio play called Shabbatai!, which is an irreverent take on a bizarre character in Jewish history.

A prize-winning short story, The Balconies, provided the impetus for The Boys from Bondi, published by University of Queensland Press in 1987. But readers wanted to know what happened next. The sequel, Going Home, was published in 1993, and Joshua (1995) completed the trilogy.

The three titles were published in 2001 as the single-volume A Promised Land? The book was described as one of the significant family sagas of Australian youth. Collins chose the title to reflect the complex feelings his central characters have towards Australia and Israel.

The sea, beach and sun were always the restorative elements in his life. The beach had been his haven from the often confusing world around him, and as Zwicky put it, the distant, murderous thunder of a world at war.

In Melbourne, he and Ros returned to Elwood for their last 20 years together with their family, a new-old circle of friends and another of his great pleasures, sailing.

Collins is survived by his wife Ros, sons Daniel, Peter and Toby, daughter-in-law Rhonda, grandsons Joshua, Eli and Isaac and foster son John.

This tribute was compiled by members of the Collins family.

Casting A Novel: The German Bride

Joanna Hershon’s The German Bride (Ballantine Books) is an elegantly written historical novel about Jews in self-imposed exile in the American Southwest. When an illicit affair with a handsome painter brings tragedy to Eva Frank’s well-to-do Berlin family in the 1860s, she hastily marries a hotheaded German expat named Abraham Shein and starts anew in Santa Fe, New Mexico. But Eva quickly realizes that the future she faces will be just as painful as her past. As her husband gambles and whores away her dowry, Eva bides her time, childless and without a proper home, mingling with those who share her desolate environment. A suspicious Bishop, some nosy nuns, a self-righteous neighbor, and an alluring young man all keep Eva on her toes until she finally decides that she’s had enough. With her long-awaited infant in her arms, and a slew of family jewels sewn to her petticoat, Eva embarks on yet another journey, taking her not only further west, but also further away from her roots.

VF Daily asked the author what her dream cast would be were The German Bride to be adapted for the big screen. Her picks are: Natalie Portman as the virtuous Eva; Rachel Weisz as her beloved sister, Henriette; Christian Bale as the seductive painter, Heinrich; Liev Schreiber as the duplicitous Abraham; Ben Shenkman as his noble brother, Meyer; Emily Blunt as the priggish neighbor, Beatrice; Gael Garcia Bernal as the dignified Levi; and Erykah Badu as the soulful Pauline.

When the Old West Was New

By Donna Rifkind,
who reviews regularly for Book World
Thursday, May 22, 2008; C02


By Joanna Hershon

Ballantine. 304 pp. $25

Joanna Hershon's sinuous new novel roams away from the milieu of her two previous books, which were modern family dramas, into the territories of historical fiction and immigration literature. Hershon spins the tale of a German Jewish woman named Eva Frank who, after a hasty marriage in 1865, leaves her wealthy father's mansion in Berlin to pursue a new life among the "low mud-cake hovels" of the American West. Accompanied by her husband, Eva journeys across the ocean and then across the United States to set up housekeeping in Santa Fe, a makeshift, dirty, danger-ridden settlement that was just beginning to organize itself into a town.

While Eva's transformation from pampered European cosmopolite to Wild West frontierswoman might sound outlandish, her story is, as a matter of historical fact, not all that unusual. Hershon makes clear in the novel's "Note on Sources" that she has done research showing that a significant number of European Jews participated in the American westward migration and pioneer life of the 19th century. The most famous of these immigrants -- including Levi Strauss (from Bavaria) and Mike Goldwater (from Poland) -- made enormous fortunes as boomtown entrepreneurs in California and Arizona. Others settled with their families and flourished in Western frontier towns just as enthusiastically, if not quite as spectacularly.

Historical accuracy, though, is only the skeleton of this kind of novel, bolstering but lifeless. To make her narrative pulse, Hershon has to be sure that the emotions and sensations Eva experiences during her journey are equally vivid for the reader. This woman's story doesn't have to be true as much as it has to feel true.

And it does, beginning with the circumstances in Berlin that set Eva's voyage in motion. She is only a teenager when her dalliance with a portrait painter leads to events that cause the death of her beloved older sister. Unmoored by grief and guilt, and terrified that she might further break her parents' hearts by confessing her misconduct, she abruptly agrees to marry a family acquaintance during one of his visits home. The groom is a brash and brutish man named Abraham Shein, who had left Berlin for the United States some years ago to join his brother in a dry-goods business in Santa Fe.

Eva's decision to flee Berlin is fueled not by adventurousness, then, but by an indelible shame, for which she punishes herself with the burden of a "secret and self-imposed exile." Wearing her sister's clothes in both tribute and penance, she sails with Abraham to New York. From there they proceed by railroad and riverboat to Kansas City, where, just days after Lincoln's assassination, they begin the perilous trek along the Santa Fe Trail, one of the key commercial routes across the West. Among Eva's possessions in their two-buggy caravan are her mother's fine linens and the jewels that are her dowry, along with a Steinway piano and a bathtub, both acquired in New York. These unwieldy souvenirs of Eva's refined upbringing become more absurd as her journey progresses amid vicious thunderstorms, molten heat, persistent fears of cholera and Comanche massacres, and so many buffalo that soon they seem "barely more unusual than pigeons clustered on cobblestones." Beneath a vast, implacable sky, Eva's disorientation becomes total, and is effectively translated to the reader also: "Where they came from, where they were going -- it was quickly losing authority."

That sense of bewilderment continues after Eva arrives in Santa Fe, a halfhearted diorama of adobe rubble and church towers, its sad plaza lined with a few stores whose German Jewish names -- Sheinker's, Spiegelman's, Isinfeld's -- Eva finds "as amusing in these incongruous surroundings as they were reassuring." Her own house is a claustrophobic mud-cake hut with no stove or cold storage; before long, she finds herself attempting, with the help of her baffled Mexican servant, to uphold the dietary laws of her former life while she prepares a goose in honor of the local French bishop. Meanwhile, for Eva, the scene beyond the house is just as surreal. "Outside there were cavalry parading through the plaza, a hanged man swinging from a tree. There were Navajos filling skin bags with well water, Spanish women with wing-like rebozos carrying black-haired babies, drunkards moving through rubbish as if wading through algae in the ocean." So extreme is Eva's dislocation that every moment has a stunned quality: Where everything is surprising, anything is possible. Let's just say that her husband, an inept gambler and a feckless businessman, falls short of the grand American success he has imagined for himself. Yet while the overreaching Abraham is a carefully imagined and convincing character, this is always Eva's story. The reader remains tethered to her as she navigates the murky space between her old and new lives, never feeling safe in either one.

Near the book's end, Eva writes to her uncle about cottonwood trees that, she's heard, fall during annual spring rains into the current of the Mississippi River. "The spirit of this tree can be heard crying and crying as its roots cling to the soil and its trunk floats on the water. I feel like that floating trunk . . . those clinging roots -- nothing but a watery and divided ghost."

To the many expressions of this threshold experience in American immigration literature, by authors from Anzia Yezerskia to Jhumpa Lahiri, Hershon adds an eloquent voice.

Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, is the son of refuseniks who left Moscow in 1979

'I've been very lucky in my life'
By Guy Rolnik
Tags: Sergey Brin, Google, Judaism

Sergey Brin looks completely exhausted. Jet lag is apparently still a problem, even after you've flown in a private Boeing 767, which in this case has been specially outfitted with comfortable sleeping quarters and was designed by Brin and Larry Page, the other young founder of Google.

Here at Google's office in Tel Aviv, Brin blends right in. He is 34, but looks even younger. Dressed in a gray T-shirt bearing Google's logo, jeans and sneakers, Brin could easily be swallowed up in the crowd if he sat down at one of the many computer-programming stations.

I was told you were tired after a very busy 24 hours, and I felt a bit uncomfortable keeping you from catching up on your sleep, but now I hear that after your interview with me, you are going kiteboarding.
Brin: "Well... the wind has come down, so it's looking dicey."

So your time is all ours now.

By the end of the interview, I realized that Brin does not give up easily. The first thing he did after we finished chatting and left the conference room at Google's offices in Tel Aviv's Levinstein Tower was to ask where his helicopter was and how the wind conditions were on Lake Kinneret.

"Where is it exactly?" he asks his local workers.

"Up north," they reply.

"Will they shoot at us?" asks Brin with a laugh.

"No, of course not," they reassure him.

This is Brin's third visit to Israel. The first time was with his parents, when he was still a teenager, and the second was in September 2003, when Google was still a relatively small, privately owned company. Last week, however, Brin arrived here as the head of one of the largest and most influential companies in the world.

How has Israel changed since your previous visits?

"It's pretty impressive just to see how the tech industry has continued to grow. The development, kind of just looking at the city of Tel Aviv. I mean, there are a bunch of buildings. Maybe I'm crazy, but I feel like there are lots of buildings that weren't here when I was here last. And I've just seen some of the companies and their state of development, the levels developed here - it's just incredible."

Naturally, Brin and his partner, Page, attract tremendous media attention in the United States: Not only are they the youngest, most successful pair in the world - each of them own Google shares worth about $17 billion - they also head the most talked-about company in the world, and there is hardly an Internet user who hasn't used Google's search engine at one time or another. Still Page and Brin are very circumspect during interviews and shun exposure. For example, Brin does not speak much about his unusual childhood.

He was born in 1973, in Moscow, to Jewish parents who belonged to the city's educated elite, but suffered from the discrimination against Jews practiced by Russian academic institutions. Brin's father, Mikhail, who became Michael after their immigration to the U.S., applied to the physics department at Moscow State University, in an attempt to pursue his dream of studying astronomy, but the Communist Party forbade Jews from studying physics, for fear they would have access to atomic secrets.

Mikhail Brin then applied to the mathematics department and passed the entrance exams, which Jews were forced to take separately, in rooms referred to as "gas chambers." In 1970 he completed his bachelor's degree, graduating cum laude. The fact that he was Jewish prevented him from studying in the university's master's degree program, so he continued studying on his own. After publishing independent articles in respected math journals, he convinced two lecturers to be his advisors for a doctorate and submitted his thesis at Kharkov National University. All this time, Mikhail worked for Russia's economic planning agency, which had hired him after he completed his B.Sc.

Sergey's mother, Evgenia (Genia) Brin, worked in the research laboratory of the Soviet gas and oil institute after she too earned a degree in mathematics. Like her husband, Genia also fought discrimination against Jews at academic institutions, and won. Sergey spent his early childhood in Moscow. He has mentioned in interviews that he never felt the anti-Semitism that overshadowed their lives, but still felt like a stranger in a foreign country.

'I've been very lucky'

Brin's parents decided to leave Russia in 1977. His father came home from a conference in Moscow one day and said they had to leave. He made the decision after speaking at the event with colleagues from the West, who described all the opportunities that would be open to him in the U.S. Despite fears of becoming "refuseniks" (Jews who were refused exit permits from the Soviet Union, were subsequently fired, and faced economic and other hardships), Genia was convinced Sergey would have a better future outside Russia.

After applying for an exit visa, Mikhail was indeed fired from his position, and Genia was forced to quit her job, too. In order to earn a living, Mikhail translated technical literature from English into Russian, and began to study computer programming. Sergey did not go to preschool, but rather stayed at home. In 1979, the family's exit visa request was finally granted. Shortly afterward, the iron gates of Russia were shut to Jews wishing to leave. Brin was 6 at the time.

Did your family ever consider immigrating to Israel?

"Boy, I need to ask them that. In fact, my great-grandmother lived in the U.S. for a period of time, so we did have some ties to the U.S. I think my dad actually had a colleague who had moved to the U.S., who had given him greater certainty [with respect to] the job market. And those were the big factors. But I can ask. My parents are here with me - I mean, not in the office, but in Israel."

In hindsight, considering what you see now in the U.S. and Israel, if your parents had come here, do you think we would have Google today?

[Laughs] "Look, I've been very lucky in my life, and I'm sure there've been lots of random circumstances that have contributed to that, so I probably would not be the first to change it. But looking at the kinds of innovation and development that I see here now, I certainly think it's possible to enjoy great success coming to Israel."

Your parents left Russia during a very difficult period for the Jews. How significant was your past as a Jew in Russia when you immigrated to the U.S., and today?

"Well, I certainly think the kinds of hardship that my family faced with respect to anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union was the principal reason we left, and that certainly had a significant affect on my life subsequently."

In what way?

"I think that we - my family - had a lot of challenges in the Soviet Union. For example my dad never had the luxury of following his career interests. Coming to the States, what few possessions we had in the Soviet Union we had to leave, almost all. So we had to really build up from nothing. And I think that just kind of gave me a different perspective in life than a lot of other people [have]."

Was it difficult for you, personally, starting over in the U.S.?

"The U.S. was very good to us. It was a great place, but we started with nothing, we were poor, we didn't have any stuff, you know. When we first moved to the States we rented a little house, and my parents didn't have a proper room to sleep in. They had to kind of wall off the kitchen. It was humble beginnings."

Do you think this played a role in molding your character as an entrepreneur?

"We learned to get by. I think being scrappy and kind of getting by is important ..."

Now, when you are in a totally different place, what does it mean to you to be Jewish?

"I think probably the most important thing is the background - of just having gone through hardship and being able to survive and thrive. I think that's at the core of the Jewish experience."

What do you think of Israel? Do you share the sentiments of those who are troubled by the threats facing the country in the fields that are close to your heart: education and science?

"I've been very impressed, having gone to some of the sessions at this conference [the "Tomorrow" conference organized by President Shimon Peres in mid-May] ... You know, I was generally familiar with the history of Israel, but really seeing kind of a closer account of what's been really accomplished - once again - out of nothing, just dirt. In a short period of time to build a whole country. So I've been very impressed. I didn't know about the deterioration of education."

I read that when you were 13, you wanted your parents to make a bar mitzvah for you, but in the end they didn't.

"You know, it was never my thing. At least in the U.S., bar mitzvahs are associated with getting lots of gifts and money, and I was never comfortable with that."

Pursuing the wind

In May 2007 Brin married Anne Wojcicki, a biotechnology specialist and the younger sister of Susan Wojcicki, vice president of product management at Google. The two were married in a private ceremony in the Bahamas, with about 60 guests. The ceremony was conducted under a traditional Jewish wedding canopy, but not by a rabbi. Reports were that Brin broke a glass, as is traditional, in commemoration of the destruction of the Temple. Shortly after the wedding, Google invested in Anne Wojcicki's startup, 23andMe, a genetics research company.

Is it a coincidence that your wife is Jewish?

[Laughs] "I believe there are lots of nice non-Jewish girls out there. My wife is, I guess, half-Jewish. It's on her mother's side, so technically I guess she is Jewish. But there are lots of great women - both Jewish and non-Jewish alike."

So it was a coincidence?

"That wasn't a concern for me. I don't know, maybe it was for her."

Ten years ago you were a student like any other at Stanford University. Today, you, your partner Larry Page and Google CEO Eric Schmidt head one of the most important companies in the world, which influences the information obtained by hundreds of millions of people every day. How do you cope with that?

"It has been fast, I guess, compared to other companies. But it's really been 10 years, over time, so it's always been gradual."

At this point in the interview, Brin suddenly stops and asks, "Can I go back to the Jewish wife question, just in case you print a quote and my wife reads it? I married her because I love her, not because she was Jewish. I want to make sure this comes out well."

It's okay, Sergey, I'm married, too, and I know that if any part of the interview must not be misquoted, this is it.

"Anyway ... in 10 years. I mean, it is a short time for a company, but it's a long time for a person. I've had a chance to witness the evolution, but day to day it doesn't change that much."

You have a lot of responsibility on your shoulders: responsibility for 12,000 employees and responsibility to investors and shareholders in a company valued at $180 billion, responsibility to over a billion people who use your search engine, and essentially responsibility to the whole world - since Google is such a significant company in this era of information. Which of these do you feel is the weightiest?

"I'd probably go with the entire world, followed by users, not that employees and shareholders are unimportant. But fundamentally we believe that if we create value for the world, we'll find a way to reap the rewards of that down the line. Certainly employees are key to that. We spend a lot of time recruiting great employees and making sure they're happy and productive. Ultimately, I certainly think about what we can do to make as big of an impact on the world as we can. And having grown quite rapidly, and now enjoying great fortune, we do have a lot of resources, so we have opportunities that no or few other companies [have]."

Then do you feel a heavy weight on your shoulders, or do you simply live your life?

"Yeah I feel some responsibility, but I have to be - you know, you have to balance things. That's why we'll see how the kiteboarding pans out after this. I don't want to be just traveling on business."

How often do you manage to sneak away from work and go kiteboarding?

"Depends on the wind."

What time of day do you go?

"Well it depends - if it's a weekday I'll go late after work, but if it's on the weekend, then maybe midday. The wind doesn't usually pick up til the early afternoon or so, so that'd be the earliest."

So you prefer kiteboarding to finishing your doctorate?

[Laughs] "No, it's not instead of. I might pick up inspiration for my Ph.D. while kiteboarding."

This afternoon you met with employees of Google's Israeli office. What type of questions did they ask you?

"Oh, a long list of questions, my goodness, I don't even know where to start.

"There's some question about [working on Fridays and] whether we can shift schedules around to make videoconferencing [on Fridays] easier. Part of the challenge is we have these no-meeting Thursdays, that actually makes it challenging, because we don't overlap on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, so if you take out Thursday, that takes out another day."

So it turns out that even at Google the workers complain.

"There's a long list of complaints, but it was in good spirit."

The question of privacy

If I had to ask you a question about something that bothers many Google users, it would be about privacy. I use Google hundreds of times a week, and have concluded that Google knows more than anyone else in the world about the average addicted user - what he looks for, his interests, what bothers him and even his plans for the future. Sometimes I think it's frightening. Can you calm my fears?

"I would disagree with that. I mean, first we don't know that you are interested in any of these things, all we know is that somebody was searching for these things."

That's not exactly true. Sometimes you know my IP (Internet Protocol) address. Sometimes you discover details via cookies (files saved on a computer by a Web site, which follow the user's activity), and sometimes via a Gmail account.

"Well, sometimes, sometimes. I don't know. And furthermore, we just know somebody used it, it might not have been you, somebody else could have used your computer. But ultimately, I think those privacy concerns are misplaced. I think the bigger area to look at [concerning] privacy on the Internet is the information that's actually on the Web about you, that maybe you posted, maybe somebody else posted, maybe it's on a social network. Lots of kids these days, they get drunk, they go to parties, they post pictures of themselves on their social networking sites and then later they're embarrassed about it. Things like that happen a lot."

But what difference does it make? Even if the information is not uploaded to the Internet, you have it on your servers.

"It's never been released."

But it could leak out. Information breaches happen every day, and I figure Google is no different than all the other companies in the world.

"Well, look, I do think we're somewhat different, in that we do tend to be more secure. But if you're concerned about those sorts of things, e-mail is typically far more significant than searchers which may or may not have been. Pretty much all people keep their e-mail on a server of some kind, and that's sort of a risk that they're willing to bear. Some people try to keep their e-mail and things on their personal computer, but those are probably much more vulnerable to data leaking or being stolen or whatnot, than actual monitored and secured servers."

When people send e-mail, they take into account the possibility that it will reach a stranger, but when they search Google, that's only between you and the Google server. The concern over privacy is greater.

"I don't know. Yes, no. I mean, the e-mail actually says something explicit and the search query could mean anything. Look, the known incidences of this sort of thing happening - [it] has never happened with Google, mind you ... But AOL did at one point post a collection of searches, and they were foolish about it, it was a dumb decision, but anyway they put it out there and people were able to infer in a handful of cases who someone was. So, look, that was clearly a bad incident, it was horrible, they should never have posted that information, it was a very poor judgment. But ultimately, I think the risk and the threat from that sort of thing is substantially lower than, say, e-mails. Ultimately we take our security very very seriously and don't release any sort of things like that. We anonymize after 18 months."

Do you erase the link between the IP address and the searches?

"Ultimately, I don't know any cases where somebody has been somehow exposed by virtue of their search logs on Google."

Do law-enforcement authorities ask you for information on searches people conduct?

"Well, we had one case where the DOJ [Department of Justice] wanted it and we fought them in court and we won. By the way, the other search engines did not go to court."

I have been reading Google's financial reports every quarter since it became publicly traded, and I'm impressed. There is only one issue that bothers me, and that is that half your cash flow is immediately reinvested in infrastructure - servers and equipment. What are you doing with all the servers and computers you are buying? Are all those billions of dollars being spent on machines designed to maintain your existing services, or on financing new, classified innovative services that you are planning?

"Well, they're a combination of both. We certainly need to continue to invest to enhance our capacity in services like Web Search and Gmail and so forth, to both handle more users as well as handle larger search indexes, greater e-mail boxes, things like that. But we also are watching new services all the time, [and] have to spend capital on that, too."

That means we will continue to see half your cash flow being reinvested in equipment?

"I don't think we'd necessarily target specifically numbers like that. In fact you'll see it fluctuates on a quarter-by-quarter basis."

Google is aiming to organize all the information in the world, but it is also the most difficult company when it comes to obtaining information on its business dealings. How do you explain this contradiction?

[Laughs] "Well, I don't know that we're the most. We certainly get the most requests and maybe we're not able to satisfy them, but we've definitely been working on being more and more transparent. And we've put more and more information out there. There are some metrics we don't like to give out, but I wouldn't agree that we are the most secretive."

'Impactful to the world'

What is your personal ambition? Where do you see yourself 10 years from now? You are not even 35 and have already accomplished a lot in your life. What else would you like to do?

"Apparently I look it, if you ask the news interviewer ... He thought I was 35, apparently I look 35. I've had very good fortune so far in my life. I guess I want to continue to be impactful and helpful to the world, given the opportunity that I have."

Do you think you will ever leave Google?

"Oh, leaving? Not planning to, in the next 10 years anyway. I'll probably be there forever."

Allow me for a moment to play devil's advocate. At the end of the day, Google is a company with a single product - contextual advertising services AdWords and AdSense - which generate the overwhelming majority of your profits.

"A very large proportion of our revenue is advertising on search and on content."

Is that a matter of concern?

"When you say concern, I mean, it's about $20 billion of revenue, which is a lot - but we could always use another $20 billion. I think we're happy that we've been so successful in that area. We also have other successful things, such as our recently developed Google Apps for the domain, which serves enterprises, universities, things like that. And I think that's really doing well and growing. If it was evaluated on its own, and was not a part of Google, it would be viewed as an extremely successful startup."

Are you planning any acquisitions in Israel in the coming year?

"There seem to be a lot of great companies."

Are you aware of anything that is due to happen in the next 12 months?

"I'm not gonna tell you whether there are acquisitions that are going to happen. I think there's a pretty good environment for it, so I think it's likely."

What is the most exciting thing happening on the Internet today?

"I can probably give you a couple. I think one exciting thing is the availability of phones that actually kind of fully support the Internet and Web-browsing ... [This] could really bring the Internet to far more people around the world. In many parts of the world it's not common to have PCs, but they all have mobile phones. I think, you might think this is passe, but video on the Internet is really becoming quite useful."

Is there anything that is important to you to tell our readers?

"I think it's important to note the contribution of our Israel offices. And I mentioned Google Trends, [which] you're familiar with. Google Suggest comes out of Israel. Charting capability comes out of Israel."

What can you tell us about your activities concerning sales in Israel?

"We don't really announce what we're going to do. Business is going very well. And online advertising as a whole is [too]."

Dafna Maor contributed to the preparation of this article.