Married by a woman: A quiet Palestinian revolution (& Donald Trump’s Jewish family)

August 12, 2015

Because it is summer and these dispatches often contain very serious material, below are a selection of mostly lighter items.

-- Tom Gross


Tahrir Hamad (far left), the first Palestinian woman justice of the peace, pronounces Thaer and Rawan man and wife. In the week since she began, she has performed eight marriages. (As is increasingly the case in photos taken for international news agencies, the photographer makes sure to capture Palestinian nationalist insignia.)


Israeli 14-year-old Sofia Mechetner, who had no previous modeling experience, strides down the catwalk at Paris fashion week, as the new lead model of fashion house Christian Dior. She was plucked out of obscurity recently while living with her single, three-job mother in a depressed high-rise apartment in the town of Holon, near Tel Aviv.


Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump (who is a Presbyterian): “I have a Jewish daughter [Ivanka Trump, above, converted -- TG] and grandchildren. This wasn’t in the plan, but I’m very glad it happened… We love Israel. We will fight for Israel 100 percent, 1,000 percent. It will be there forever.”

Trump: “I have many Jewish friends that support Obama and I say, Why? and they can’t explain why. They support him, they give him money, they give him campaign contributions, even though he is the worst enemy of Israel [among senior U.S. politicians].”


Please note that if you “like” this public Facebook page, you will sometimes see items more quickly. For example, I posted the Washington Post and Daily Telegraph pieces below on Facebook on the days they were published.


1. Onion explains: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict
2. Summer skiing in Iran
3. Israeli-Arab paramedic who aided murdered baby, helps deliver another baby for same couple
4. “Married by a woman: A quiet Palestinian revolution” (AFP, Aug. 9, 2015)
5. “How a 14-year-old Israeli became the new face of Christian Dior” (By Ruth Eglash, Washington Post, July 12, 2015)
6. “How a Hitler Youth member became an Israeli stage legend” (By Benjamin Ivry, The Forward, Aug. 7, 2015)
7. “Meet the Turkish [Kurdish] couple who spent their wedding day feeding 4,000 Syrian refugees” (By Raziye Akkoc, Daily Telegraph, Aug. 4, 2015)
8. “When it comes to Jewish ties, no GOP candidate trumps Trump” (By Uriel Heilman, JTA, Aug. 8, 2015)



A piece of satire which in some ways is not so far from the truth.



Tehran’s Fars News Agency carries this photo compilation of last week’s Grass Ski World Cup held in Iran.



Israeli Channel 2 TV reports that by an amazing coincidence, the Israeli-Arab paramedic Ziad Dawiyat who rushed to help at the scene of a terror attack at a train stop in Jerusalem ten months ago, in which 3-month-old Jewish baby Chaya Zissel Braun was murdered by a Palestinian terrorist, delivered the grief-ridden couple’s second child at their home on Sunday evening.

After Hannah Braun suddenly went into an advanced state of labor on Sunday, her husband phoned for an emergency ambulance and Dawiyat and his team were sent by a hospital dispatcher to the Braun’s home in Jerusalem, where they delivered a baby girl.

Dawiyat told Israeli TV: “When I saw them again I didn’t know whether to wish them congratulations or give them my condolences over the death of their baby last year. So I just wished them mazal tov.”

“Her husband [who is an ultra-orthodox Jew] hugged and kissed me, it was all very emotional,” Dawiyat added.

You can watch an interview here with the paramedic in Hebrew here.

Tom Gross adds:

As I have written before, what lots of people in the west are unaware of – because international media refuse to report it – is that:

(1) A high number of Israeli paramedics, pharmacists, lawyers and other professionals, are Arabs. Ziad Dawiyat works for the Israeli medical service Magen David Adom.

(2) A far greater number of babies are murdered by Palestinian terrorists than by Jewish ones. Indeed the only Palestinian baby who may have been murdered by a Jewish terrorist in recent years, died as the result of an arson attack two weeks ago – and even this morning France 24 (for example) highlighted that incident in its world news headlines as though it was yesterday’s news and as though Palestinian babies are murdered by Jewish settlers all the time. The International New York Times seems to manage to highlight it on its front page or opinion page almost every day, where the Jewish babies and other civilians murdered by Palestinian terrorists this year (often as a direct result of the incitement by the western-backed Palestinian Authority) are all but ignored.

No wonder that as a result New York Times readers are leaving blatantly anti-Semitic readers’ comments on the New York Times website – as, for example, they did yesterday concerning “the Judas Jew” New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer. (Not just foreign and opinion page contributors are whipping up antagonism towards Jews. One domestic news article about Schumer and nuclear weapons in the New York Times used the word “Jewish” six times: “Opposing Iran Nuclear Deal, Chuck Schumer Rattles Democratic Firewall”, Aug. 7, 2015.)


For screenshots of the kind of anti-Semitic comments left by the BBC on its Facebook page see here.

The head of BBC News and Current Affairs, who is a subscriber to this email list, wrote to me after that dispatch to ensure me it wouldn’t happen again, but nasty borderline anti-Semitic comments continue to be posted and remain up for many days on BBC-controlled websites.



Married by a woman: A quiet Palestinian revolution
August 9, 2015

RAMALLAH (AFP) -- Holding the young couple’s identity cards in one hand and the Koran in the other, the Palestinian justice of the peace pronounces Thaer and Rawan man and wife.

It’s an everyday scene at the Islamic sharia law court in the West Bank city of Ramallah except for one glaring difference -- the justice is a woman, the first in the occupied Palestinian territories licensed to perform Muslim marriages.

Wearing a long black robe decorated with the Palestinian flag and with a keffiyeh scarf draped over her shoulder, Tahrir Hamad, 33, is leading a quiet revolution in Palestinian society.

On July 29, she became the first, and so far the only, woman appointed as a “mazouna” -- a Muslim official authorized to carry out marriage and divorce.

Until now in the Arab world only Egypt and Abu Dhabi have appointed women to the post.

The reason there are not more, she says smiling, is cultural rather than theological.
“The only obstacle comes from our patriarchal society, because there is no religious or legal reason that prevents women from filling this post.”

Her conviction has been forged during 10 years of Islamic studies, culminating in a master’s degree in Islamic law.

She explains it to couples planning their weddings so they can decide whether to let her officiate or use one of the four male justices at the Ramallah court.


In the week since she began, she has performed eight marriages and had two categorical refusals.

One of those who objected, she says, “could not give a reason. He just said, ‘I don’t want a woman performing my marriage and that’s it!’“

Such an attitude, she says, is the exception rather than the rule.

“People come to get their wedding contract signed and leave when they have what they want. Whether the signature is that of a man or a woman is not a problem for them.”

Some, like newlyweds Thaer and Rawan Schuman, are proud to have been married by a woman.

Of Palestinian descent but living in the United States, they have come for the summer to marry in their ancestral homeland.

“This is amazing. I’m totally defending the rights of women and this is great,” says Rawan, 24.

“It furthers the cause of women in Palestine.”

Her Brazilian-born dentist husband Thaer, 26, is also enthusiastic.

“The Palestinian people are smart people, respectful people, educated and it’s a great thing that they are progressing and I support it,” he said.

In the traditionally closed male world of the secular courts, three women have already made a breach and are serving as judges in civil law cases.

In approving marriage contracts, Tahrir Hamad is also helping ensure the future rights of the bride.

The document prepared for Tayssir Hamad and Faten al-Deik stipulates that after marriage the bride will continue her doctoral studies, then go to work.

Any decision to quit at a later stage will be bride Faten’s alone, it states.



How a 14-year-old Israeli became the new face of Christian Dior
By Ruth Eglash
Washington Post
July 12, 2015

JERUSALEM – Its a classic rags to riches story that’s almost too much of a cliché to be true, but last week an Israeli teenager with no previous modeling experience strode down the catwalk at Paris fashion week -- as the leading model of fashion house Christian Dior.

According to a report by Israel’s Channel 2 on Friday, Sofia Mechetner, 14, described by her Israeli agent as a young Claudia Schiffer, was catapulted from her modest apartment in a depressed high-rise apartment house in the town of Holon, near Tel Aviv, to fashion world stardom by an incredible coincidence.

Used to sleeping on a broken bed, sharing a bedroom with her two younger siblings, sweeping the floor and folding laundry to help out her single, three-job mom, the 5-foot-11 blond-haired, blue-eyed teen thought she might try modeling after being asked one too many times if she’d ever considered it.

She turned to a Tel Aviv modeling agency called Roberto, which saw her potential and sent her images to the exclusive Viva modeling agency in Paris. Initially, Viva expressed interest, but when Mechetner arrived in Paris with her Israeli chaperon last month, the agency decided she was much too young.

With free time on their hands, the two Israelis decided to check out a Dior store in central Paris. Once inside, the Tel Aviv chaperon spotted chief Dior designer Raf Simons near the counter and decided to ask for him a selfie. After posing, she introduced Mechetner to the fashion leader, and the rest, as they say, is history.

In the 20-minute news feature broadcast by the Israeli channel, an unnamed Viva agent described receiving the phone call from a Dior assistant that would change Mechetner’s life:

“‘You have a young girl called Sofia, from Israel … she was in a Dior shop, and I don’t know for what reason, but Raf Simons was in the same Dior shop, and he met her and he wants her.’ And I said: ‘What? What is that?’ I have never heard a story like this, never. It’s amazing,” said the rep from the Viva agency.

Mechetner, who last week signed a $265,000 contract with Dior, is already featured on the company’s Web site.

In an interview with Channel 2 after the show in Paris, the teenager, who is young even for an industry that is all about youth and beauty, seemed overwhelmed by her newfound fame but said she knew exactly what she would do with the money: “move house and hopefully get a room of my own.”



How a Hitler Youth Member Became an Israeli Stage Legend
By Benjamin Ivry
The Forward
August 7, 2015

Orna Porat, the Israeli actress who died on August 6 at age 91, showed that a sense of betrayal can inspire an exuberant creative career. Born Irene Klein in Cologne, Germany, to Catholic and Protestant parents, as a young girl she joined the Hitler Youth movement, attracted by the pageantry and songs, despite parental disapproval. From ages ten to fourteen, she slowly became aware of what was happening around her. During an interview with the Gestapo, she was asked to inform on fellow members of her former Hitler Youth theatre group, but she played dumb and burbled on instead about backstage flirtations between actors and actresses. The Gestapo agent concluded she was too stupid to be a useful informant, and left her alone after that. Listening to BBC broadcasts in secret was a further education, as was clandestine reading of banned books by Jewish novelists such as Franz Werfel and Jakob Wassermann. In the early 1940s, Porat heard reports by the husband of a theater employee who returned home after a nervous breakdown. He had been a guard at Bergen-Belsen, and wept as he recounted details of what he had seen. The teenaged Porat listened to the “most shocking details,” as she told interviewer Dan Lachman in 2006 and responded: “I thought it was not possible, is not normal. But nevertheless, I realized something was wrong. And if this was the case, I cannot stay in Germany.”

Her resolve was enforced after the war by meeting Joseph Proter, an officer from the British Mandate of Palestine in the Jewish Brigade of the British Army. He invited her to attend interrogations of former concentration camp workers, including, as she told Lachman: a “young blonde woman, a farmer, emotionlessly telling everything they did, with accurate details about how gas was used. It was then I realized fully what really happened.” Burdened with a sense of “collective guilt,” she eventually settled in Tel Aviv, where she joined the Cameri Theater, adopting the more Hebrew-sounding name of Porat. During her first year with the company, times were so tough that she retained a day job as charwoman.

Her career blossomed as a form of personal reparations for her own childish seduction by specious pageantry of the Hitler youth movement, and her nation’s more maturely considered betrayal of humanistic ideals. Ever-aware thereafter of iniquities behind grandiose displays, Porat’s stage incarnations could be vehement and even venomous, unlike standard-issue heroines. Seething with passionate energy and vitality, her performances filled theaters with elemental force, and were only partly captured on film in a scattered and inadequate onscreen legacy. It was as if her dynamism was so volatile, it could scarcely be captured by the camera lens. Unlike her exultant colleague Hanna Maron (1923-2014), who enjoyed a personal triumph in an Israeli revival of the upbeat musical “Hello, Dolly!,” Porat relished grimmer stage incarnations. A compact bundle of ferocity, Porat was more suited to raucous singing in Bertolt Brecht plays such as “The Good Person of Szechwan,” where agony and cynicism are snarled in song. Other standout roles were Joan of Arc, featuring heart-rending guttural cries in Hebrew, and Schiller’s Mary Stuart suffused with rage. Among the remarkable successes of her later years was Alfred Uhry’s “Driving Miss Daisy” and Fernando Arrabal’s autobiographical “Love Letter (Like a Chinese Torture),” as a monstrous mother who may have betrayed her husband, the playwright’s father, to Franco’s troops.

Porat’s limited film career began expressing chilly suspicion in “Ir Ha’Ohelim,” a 1951 Israeli film short directed by Leopold Lahola, as a German Jewish mother who must unwillingly share her family’s tent with another family of refugees. In 1957, Porat converted to Judaism in order to adopt two Israeli children. Probably her major film role was in 1975, as Stefania Wilczynska, Janusz Korczak’s assistant who was murdered with him at Treblinka in 1942, in “You are Free, Dr. Korczak,” a biopic directed by the Polish Jewish filmmaker Aleksandr Ford (born Mosze Lifszyc) and starring the British Jewish actor Leo Genn. Porat’s final two films were released in 2010, a one-two punch of pitiless reactions to life’s horrors. In Ori Noam’s “Ruth: Ending” she played a Holocaust survivor in a nursing home where her clear mind evaluates her own failing body. Ruth allows a much-impaired roommate to suffocate during a health crisis rather than call for intrusive medical help to prolong her life. In “Naomi,” a feature film directed by Eitan Tzur, a comparably ferocious choice is made by Porat’s character when she decides to aid and abet her son, an aging astrophysicist with a young wife, who impulsively kills a love rival. Despite such savage emotions expressed in her acting, Porat’s heartfelt commitment was to the future of the arts in Israel, which is why she felt that her lasting legacy would be the Orna Porat Theater for Children and Youth which she founded in 1970.

Dreaming is hard work, as she sang in a retrospective song about this theater, adding that a “higher power” named Yigal Allon (1918-1980), the Israeli politician and acting Prime Minister of Israel, made it possible. Among other high-ranking fans of Porat’s artistry was no less than David Ben Gurion. Yet more than political movers and shakers, Porat’s ongoing humane contributions to Israeli life were due to her own finely honed talents and resolve born of the historical tragedy she emerged from.



(Tom Gross adds: What the Daily Telegraph does not tell readers is that this is actually a Kurdish couple – a significant fact for understanding the story.)

Meet the Turkish couple who spent their wedding day feeding 4,000 Syrian refugees
The couple who tied the knot in the Turkish province of Kilis in the Syrian border and invited 4,000 Syrian refugees to celebrate with them
By Raziye Akkoc
Daily Telegraph (London)
Aug 4, 2015

A Turkish bride and groom decided to share their joy on their wedding day by inviting 4,000 Syrian refugees to eat with them and celebrate in the southern Turkish city of Kilis.

Fethullah Üzümcüoğlu and Esra Polat, who got married in the province which is near the Syrian border last week, invited some of those refugees who have fled the country since the civil war which began four years ago.

Turkey has welcomed nearly two million Syrian refugees and in Kilis, there are 4,000 refugees that Kimse Yok Mu (Is Anybody There?), a Turkish charity which provides help to millions across the world, is responsible for providing food to.

In total, there are four million Syrian refugees who had fled the country in what the UN described as the worst crisis of its kind in a generation. Almost eight million people are displaced within the country, the UN said last month.

The idea for sharing their special day with those less fortunate was that of the groom’s father, Ali Üzümcüoğlu. He told Serhat Kilis newspaper that he hoped others would do the same and share their wedding celebrations with their Syrian brothers and sisters.

“We thought that on such a happy day, we would share the wedding party with our Syrian brothers and sisters. We thought this was best done with Kimse Yok Mu who could provide a truck. God willing, this will lead to others doing the same and giving food to our Syrian brothers and sisters. For us, it was an interesting wedding dinner.”

The father also said he was glad that the couple began a new life “with such a selfless action”. Wedding guests shared food using trucks and those providing meals included the bride and groom themselves.

Hatice Avci, a spokesman for Kimse Yok Mu, told that on Thursday, the couple pooled the money they had received from their families to host a party with the refugees who live in and around the city.

Kimse Yok Mu is affiliated with the Gülen movement, also known as the Hizmet (Service) movement, which is inspired by the teachings of Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish Islamic preacher in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania.

The bride, Mrs Polat, told i100 what a wonderful experience it was and how happy she was to share the meal with those in need.

“I was shocked when Fethullah first told me about the idea but afterwards I was won over by it. It was such a wonderful experience. I’m happy that we had the opportunity to share our wedding meal with the people who are in real need,” she said.

According to local media, local singer Reşit Muhtar also helped out and provided food to the special guests.

The groom, Mr Üzümcüoğlu, said it was a great feeling to make others happy. “Seeing the happiness in the eyes of the Syrian refugee children is just priceless. We started our journey to happiness with making others happy and that’s a great feeling,” he said.

And his father just might have got his wish. His son said that his friends were so inspired, they hoped to do the same during their wedding celebrations.



When it comes to Jewish ties, no GOP candidate trumps Trump
By Uriel Heilman
August 8, 2015

NEW YORK (JTA) — Among the expansive field of Republican presidential candidates on display in the party’s first debates Thursday night, Donald Trump may be the most closely connected to the Jewish people.

Trump is from New York, works in professions saturated with Jews and long has been a vocal supporter of Israel. His daughter and two grandchildren are Jewish, the executive vice president of his organization is Jewish — and Trump certainly has chutzpah.

But if you expect to find Jewish donors of influence in Trump’s network of associates, you’ll be disappointed: The billionaire’s campaign is self-financed, not donor-funded. Forbes estimates Trump’s net worth at about $4 billion; Trump says he’s worth $10 billion.

As the main attraction of the Republican debate, Trump’s trademark chutzpah was on sharp display. When asked about past references to women he dislikes as “fat pigs,” “slobs” and “disgusting animals,” Trump said he has no time for political correctness. He bragged about how Hillary Clinton dared not miss his most recent wedding because he donated to her campaign. And he refused to rule out running as a third-party candidate should someone else win the Republican nomination.

Given his myriad Jewish associations, Trump is not an unfamiliar face in Jewish circles. He has served as a grand marshal at New York’s annual Salute to Israel Parade. After Hurricane Katrina, he was among a group of celebrities who decorated Jewish federation tzedakah boxes to be auctioned off to support hurricane disaster relief. And in February, he was honored with an award at the annual gala for the Algemeiner, a right-wing Jewish news organization.

“I have a Jewish daughter. This wasn’t in the plan, but I’m very glad it happened,” Trump said at the event, held in Manhattan. On Israel, he said, “We love Israel. We will fight for Israel 100 percent, 1,000 percent. It will be there forever.”

Before the 2013 Israeli election, Trump recorded a video message endorsing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“You truly have a great prime minister in Benjamin Netanyahu. He’s a winner, he’s highly respected, he’s highly thought of by all,” Trump said in the 30-second spot. “Vote for Benjamin — terrific guy, terrific leader, great for Israel.”

By the same token, Trump has made clear he believes President Barack Obama is bad for Israel and has questioned how American Jews could support the president.

“I have many Jewish friends that support Obama and I say, ‘Why?’ and they can’t explain why. They support him, they give him money, they give him campaign contributions,” Trump told radio host Michael Savage in February. “This is the worst enemy of Israel.”

Trump at times has dabbled in Israeli real estate. About a decade ago, he bought a site in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area with plans to build Israel’s tallest building, to be called Trump Plaza Tower. He later sold the Ramat Gan property to an Israeli firm before its development. In 2012, Trump met with Israel’s tourism minister to discuss possible investments in real estate and tourism, according to the Israeli news website Ynet.

Trump’s closest Jewish association is with his daughter Ivanka’s family. Ivanka Trump, a fashion designer and celebrity in her own right, converted to Judaism before marrying Jared Kushner, the son of New York Jewish real estate mogul Charles Kushner.

She studied for her Orthodox conversion with Rabbi Haskel Lookstein of Manhattan’s Kehilath Jeshurun synagogue and the Ramaz School, and Lookstein officiated at her wedding. Trump and Kushner are members of Lookstein’s Orthodox synagogue and are Shabbat observant. They have two children.

Donald Trump is Presbyterian. He has said he goes to church on Christmas, Easter and special occasions.

When it comes to The Trump Organization, Trump’s right-hand man is a Jewish lawyer, Michael Cohen, who also serves as a top campaign aide. Cohen ignited controversy last week by suggesting that spousal rape doesn’t count as rape. He later apologized, saying his remarks were “inarticulate.”

Trump, of course, doesn’t shy away from controversy himself. Just since announcing his candidacy in June, he has called illegal Mexican immigrants rapists, disparaged Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), for getting captured in the Vietnam War and publicly disclosed Sen. Lindsey Graham’s private mobile phone number at a campaign rally.

Then there was Thursday night’s Republican debate. Following his verbal fireworks on stage, he doubled down on Twitter, saying, “I really enjoyed the debate tonight even though the @FoxNews trio, especially @megynkelly, was not very good or professional!” He was apparently referring to Kelly’s question about Trump’s comments on women.

Trump’s record suggests he’s far from a Republican ideologue. He has given money both to Democratic and Republican candidates, including Republican primary rivals and Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee for president. Trump at varying times has supported liberal policies like abortion rights as well as Tea Party causes like strict immigration restrictions. In the debate, he stood by his past support for single-payer health care, saying that he thought it worked well in Canada and could have worked in the past in the United States.

Overall, Trump doesn’t appear to have very many fixed policy positions. Unlike the other Republican candidates, he has no policy section on his campaign website.

When Ivanka Trump introduced her father at the Algemeiner dinner six months ago, she said, “He has used his voice often and loudly in support of Israel, in support of developments within Israel, in support of security for Israel and in support of the idea of the Israeli democracy.”

One thing is certain of Donald Trump: As long as he stays in this campaign, he will continue to use his voice often and loudly.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.