And we define American Jewry by the two in The Washington Post who champion boycotting Israel when their people are being targeted or the marginal handful running anti-Israel groups like the Jewish Voice for Peace, rather than the millions who support Israel.
Three weeks ago, Fran Kritz from Kemp Mill Synagogue (KMS) in Maryland asked me, “Can we order takeout from empty Jerusalem restaurants to here?” Then, two weeks ago, my son Yoni, who was eating downtown to support the proprietors, noticed police patrolling in rented Eldan vehicles, because they are all mobilized.
Voila, it hit me: “Israel’s supporters should order takeout from Jerusalem restaurants to feed the security personnel working overtime to protect us!” I contacted Fran and posted the idea on Facebook. The response has been overwhelming.
Through an article about similar initiatives, Fran found The Midrechov’s Munificent Muffin Man. Even as business plummeted, Shmarya Richler, a Montreal immigrant, distributed free meals from his Muffin Boutique on Ben-Yehuda Street to all police, soldiers and first responders. A 24-hour fundraiser coordinated by Fran and Kemp Mill Synagogue’s Israel committee funded 300 free meals.
Our overworked soldiers and police are overwhelmed.
Some try paying. Others told Richler, “I heard rumors a restaurant was providing free meals but I did not believe it” and “You have no idea how much we appreciate this. This gives us great encouragement, knowing that there are people thinking of us all over the world.” Richler himself was “moved to tears by the tremendous show of support.”
KMS’s rabbi, Brahm Weinberg, incorporated this lightning fundraiser into Greater Washington Area Supports Israel Week. He reports: “Each day congregants were asked to do something for Israel: One day say a prayer, one day learn, one day give charity, one day dress in blue and white, and, on Friday sing the prayer of solidarity ‘acheinu’ with family before lighting Shabbatcandles.”
The response, he said, has been “incredibly enthusiastic….The efforts have given a voice to the pain we feel inside, being able to do something positive has strengthened us.”
More systemically, two award-winning investigative journalists, disgusted by their colleagues’ shoddy, biased coverage of Israel and the entire Middle East, just launched an ambitious effort, as insiders, to hold reporters covering the Middle East to the same standards used for other stories. Inspired by the independent investigative journalism website ProPublica, the new nonprofit Mideast Reporter (www.mideastreporter.com) publishes detailed exposes of biased reporting and reports what’s really happening – including inspiring, true stories of Palestinian and Israeli business cooperation, while awarding “diamonds” and “daggers” for accurate or shoddy journalism, respectively.
Its ambitious business plan envisions reporting in many Middle Eastern languages, starting with English, Hebrew and Arabic; fellowships to train college journalists; and, ultimately, becoming a TV and multi-media content provider – funding permitting.
Richard Behar, Forbes’ contributing editor (investigations), has, his partner Gary Weiss reports, “Won more than 20 major journalism awards and been threatened by mobsters in Russia and terrorists in Pakistan.”
Behar explains: “Imagine a news organization getting it right about the Middle East. Imagine first-class investigative reporting, with a relentless focus on the Middle East. Imagine a media enterprise that can take on, as equals, the New York Times, CNN, NPR, AP, Reuters, and the European media. We can.”
Weiss, the author of three books, “came up through the trenches,” covering local government, then Washington, and doggedly investigating corruption on Wall Street. He says: “Whether it’s writing about the Mob, the SEC or the Town Council – or the Temple Mount – journalism is not rocket science. It’s a craft, it has rules, and they’re not being followed in the Middle East. That’s the reason we started The Mideast Reporter.”
Passionate truth-tellers who believe “the only way to reform any industry – be it Wall Street, law, the media – is from within,” Behar, Weiss and their impressive team are “not advocates.” They are “nonpartisan” regarding the conflict. But they are partisan advocates for truth.
They will only succeed if they have credibility, which comes from being thorough, professional, objective.
They cannot ferret out bias in “Photo placement, semantic games, and lack of historical context,” unless they can criticize as well as praise. Their searing, painstaking, detailed insider’s critiques will rile their colleagues far more than protests or ads – which reporters see as a badge of honor.
It has become the great American Jewish pastime to complain about media bias and how “nobody’s doing anything about it.” The Mideast Reporter is just what we need. The challenge, not just for American Jews, not just for pro-Israeli types, but for all who love democracy and demand accuracy, is to help make Mideast Reporter, the Mideast Politico, the must-read explaining this important region.
Israeli Jews excel in the person-to-person non-tax deductible acts of individual charity, exemplified by the Munificent Muffin Man’s generosity as his business dropped and before others helped. North American Jews excel in larger, institutional philanthropy. Israel’s supporters should bankroll hands-on, one-smile-at-a-time initiatives like Fran’s and the Muffin Man’s, along with systemic, visionary, ambitious and expensive projects like The Mideast Reporter.
Rabbi Weinberg hopes “that in some small way our response to terror has given help and hope to those in Israel.” In the name of Shmarya, his family, and all our protectors, I assure Rabbi Weinberg, Fran, The Mideast Reporters, all their allies – and future funders – it has.