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PAGE 12A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, AUGUST 9, 2013 journey Howie Perlman Nine members of the Yeshiva of Central Queens' Class of 1973 reuniting on Kibbutz Ein Hanatziv in Israel. They are, from left, Sammy Klein, Yerachmiel Elyashiv, Aviva Gewirtz Lavi, Elliot Cohen, Shaul Sladowsky, host Howie Perlman, Rivki Denberg Bar-Lev, Joel Greenwald and Frema Kuper. By Hiilel Kuttler BALTIMORE (JTA)--For Howie Perlman, a kibbutznik in Israel, hearing about the New York reunion of his Ye- shiva of Central Queens Class of 1973 spurred him to post a few period photographs on Facebook. Then he had an idea: Let's hold a reunion in Israel of the 15 or so YCQ graduates living there. Perlman was looking for a way to honor his parents, Martin and Zelda, who had died one month apart last fall. What better way to remember them, he figured, than recall- ing his time at a school for which they had sacrificed for him to attend. So on a Friday, Frema Kuper of Jaffa drove her friend, Aviva Gewirtz Lavi of nearby Tel Aviv, the two hours north to Ein Hanatziv, Perlman's kibbutz. Elliot Cohen came from Raanana, Joel Greenwald from Kochav Yair, Shaul Sladowsky from Beit Shemesh, Rivki Denberg Bar-Lev from Maale Adumim and Yerachmiel Elyashiv (nee Robert Borsekovsky) from Karnei Shomron. Sammy Klein of Boca Raton, Fla., came too--the Israelis picked that weekend so the visiting Klein could attend the festivities. YCQ had 77 graduates in '73, most of whom still live in New York. Of the approximately 15 living in Israel, few are in touch with one another--and no one had suggested celebrating this year's 40th anniversary. That is until Perlman got word of the New York reunion in May and apparently twisted a few arms in Israel. "Howie was so persistent," said Lavi, who has worked in the management of E1 Al, Israel's national airline, for more than a quarter-century. "When you see people after 40 years, how do you begin a conversation? But it was so open, and people were so accepting. It didn't matter if you were religious or not religious." Perlman thought it was a fine way to remember his parents and their sacrifices. "A house became available that they could afford, but we were getting to be school age and they had to choose: Do they buy a house--the American dream--or do they send [my brother] and me to YCQ?" he said, harking back to the decision his parents faced in the 1960s. "Being that it was 'shnat evel' [year of mourning] and the 40th anniversary of the YCQ class, I decided to orga- nize a reunion and use it as a tribute to them .... Part of who I am is clearly because of the sacrifice they made in sending me to YCQ. It's all about realizing how I got to where I am." Nine classmates attend- ed the Israeli reunion. On their first encounter in four decades, they hugged and smiled, and made sure to pose for a group photo outside Perlman's house before the Sabbath began. They enjoyed spirited prayers welcoming the day of rest, then a festive dinner in the kibbutz dining room. Perlman had decorated an- other common room with photographs he had scanned from the class yearbook. The classmates and some of their spouses talked deep into the night and all the next day, but the conversation was less what one might expect at a reunion--reminiscing about school-age antics, classmates and teachers--in favor of comparing their lives as Israelis. Not lost on the group was the timing, with the week's Torah portion being Masei, or journeys, which recounts the Jewish nation's post-Exodus wandering in the desert for 40 years. The coincidence of theme and duration reso- nated. "In some caseswe had more conversation by the end of dinner than we had in all of the years at YCQ," said Cohen, an engineer and business de- veloper. "We discovered that our 'journeys' over the past 40 years had taken us on very different paths. "We span the religious spectrum and the political spectrum. We have lived in very different places. We are very different people. But the spirit of the event was very down to earth, open to each other's thoughts and perspec- tives and getting to know one another as adults with a shared common background." Perlman had asked the school's current principal, Rabbi Mark Landsman, to send along a blessing for the event, which he did. And at the end-of-term luncheon for his staff, Landsman said he grew emotional upon reading Perl- man's note aloud. Now and then, graduates of the school, founded in 1941, provide such feedback, which Landsman said he finds gratifying. "Here we had the opportu- Kin on page 19A By Jacob Kamaras JNS.org On June 1, 2010, the day af- ter the Gazaflotilla incident in which nine Turkish militants were killed after attacking Is- raeli soldiers aboard the Mavi Marmara, famed reporter Helen Thomas didn't hide her opinions about Israel in a briefing with White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. "The initial reaction to the flotilla massacre, deliberate massacre, an international crime, was pitiful. What do you mean you regret something that should be so strongly condemned? And if any other nation in the world [besides Israel] had done it, we would have been up in arms. What is this ironclad relationship where a country thatdeliberately kills people... and boycotts, and we aid and abet the boycott?" Thomas asked Gibbs. Little did the public know at the time that just a few days before that press brief- ing, Thomas had uttered anti-Semitic comments that would go on to garner far more attention than what she said about the Gaza flotilla. Adam Nesenoff, the 17-year- old son of Rabbi Dr. David Nesenoff who handled the technology-related aspects of his father's RabbiLive.com blog, was busy graduating high school. That meant a May 27 video interview that Helen Thomas gave David Nesenoff on the White House lawn--in which Thomas said Jews should "get the hell out of Palestine" and"go home, to Poland and Germany, America and everywhere else" would not be posted online until a week after it was recorded. Thomas, who worked 57 years for United Press Interna- tional and a decade for Hearst Newspapers, died July 20, 2013 at age 92. She covered every U.S. president from John F. Kennedy to Barack Obama, and is credited with opening the White House press corps to women. But all it took was a roughly 90-second interview to end her career in 2010-- Nesenoff's video brought about her retirement shortly after it was posted. Nesenoff believes that the "first part" of Thomas's obituary should be her anti- Semitism, because her "poi- son infected everything she ever wrote." Yet that wasn't the type of Helen Thomas obituary Nesenoff saw from the mainstream media after her death. "I got to hear people like Mika Brzezinski of MSNBC say that, 'Helen Thomas is my role model,'" Nesenoff said in an interview with JNS.org. "That CBS News decided to say, 'Well, it was a little controversy, she said that Jews should go back to Europe.' They couldn't even say the word Germany, be- cause they have to whitewash everything." "It's bothersome to see that the news really can't call an anti-Semite an anti-Semite," Nesenoff said. Nesenoff was alerted to Thomas's death through anti-Semitic email messages he received such as, "Happy now, kike?" "It tells you the type of people that liked Helen Thom- as, and basically it's kind of emblematic of what my life has been like since being the reporter on the front lawn of the White House who uncovered an anti-Semite," Nesenoff said. "There are those who praised the work I did, and there are those who for some reason identify me as a bad person because I reported a news story they didn't like," he added. RabbiLive.comwas initially used as a platform through which Nesenoff, as a pulpit rabbi, streamed live video prayers to American-Jewish soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq and on aircraft carriers. But the rabbi decided to re- vamp the site for the concept of showing videos on Israel, because he wanted to help Is- rael and thought his interview subjects "were going to say positive things" to contribute to that cause. In 2010, the first day the website was used for its new purpose didn't quite go as planned, as the featured con- tent was the Helen Thomas video--not exactly a positive take on Israel. But what Nese- noff did get was widespread attention. The video helped RabbiLive.com garner half a million hits per day for about a month after it was posted, not to mention skyrocketing to a million hits on YouTube within one day, according to Nesenoff. Nesenoff said the media "didn't know what to do about" Thomas's comments because "here's this sweet old lady, and she's saying these vile things about Jews going back to Germany." Over time, some came to understand Thomas's state- ment that Jews should "get the hell out of Palestine" as refer- ring to Jewish communities located beyond the pre-1967 lines, not all of Israel. But Nesenoff disputes that inter- pretation, explaining that if Thomas was okay with Jews remaining in parts of Israel, she would have said "go back to Tel Aviv or Haifa." "She said tell them to 'get the hell out' and 'go back to Germany,'" Nesenoff said. Thomas apologized for her remarks to Nesenoff shortly after the interview, saying, "I deeply regret the comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestin- ians. They do not reflect my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon." Yet it wouldn't be the last time she uttered anti-Israel and anti-Semitic comments. Thomas went on to say that Zionists own the White House, Hollywood and Wall Street in an interview for Playboy magazine, in addition to similar comments in other interviews, Nesenoff noted. Following the interview, Nesenoff--who attended Yeshiva University as an un- dergraduate and the Jewish Theological Seminary for his rabbinical degree and doctor- ate--had a stint as the editor of a weekly Jewish newspaper, the Jewish Star of Garden City, NY, and now spends most of his time speaking around the world. He just returned from a 150-city tour that included the U.S., Canada, Australia, England, and Ireland, and will soon embark on another six-month speaking tour. His speeches cover topics such as anti-Semitism, why Israel is the Jewish homeland, the role of women in Judaism, and "Why can't I skydive on the Sabbath?" The Helen Thomas inter- view is often a "jumper to get me to the topics I'm going to talk about," Nesenoff said. RabbiLive.com, mean- while, is no longer used to post videos about Israel, but rather mostly to give people a way to contact Nesenoffto bring him in as a speaker. "The key thing about my speeches is that they're tre- mendously humorous.., it's a belly-laugh from beginning to end, and oddly enough on these [serious] topics, to the point that we're putting it in a show form," Nesenoff said, noting that there are talks of Pete Souza/White House President Barack Obama presents cupcakes with a candle to Hearst White House columnist Helen Thomas in honor of her birthday in the James Brady Briefing Room, on Aug. 4, 2009. In 2010, Obama would go on to call Thomas's retire ment following her anti-Semitic comments on the White House lawn "the right decision." launching an Off-Broadway production based on his speeches. Nesenoff said the legacy of his 2010 interviewwith Thom- as was that it "brought down that wall of 'I'm anti-Israel, not anti-Jewish.'" National legislators, including U.S. Reps. Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Steve Chabot (R-OH), took notice and in April 2012 wrote a letter to Palestinian Author- ity (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas denouncing an award the PA gave Thomas. "There is no other way to see [honoring Thomas] other than [as] legitimizing Hamas' anti-Semitic statements," Engel and Chabot wrote. "There is a direct line run- ning through Abbas' meeting with the terroristAmna Muna and the Palestinian bid at the [UN] Human Rights Council, and awarding a prize to a journalist who was shame- fully expelled from the White House." At the time, Engel and Chabot also warned Abbas that the honor for Thomas might hurt U.S. assistance to the PA due to the parameters of the Preparing the Palestin- ian People for Peace Act. "This legislation condi- tioned U.S. assistance on whether the PA was actively preparing its people for peace through compromise with messages of tolerance, under- standing, and reconciliation," the letter said, arguing that by honoring Thomas, the PAwas undermining prospects for peace rather than preparing its people for it. Although U.S. funding to the PA has never been abolished--only temporarily frozen at times--Nesenoff was happy to have at least been part of the conversation on the issue. "Let me tell you something, I'm very proud of [the fact] that in some ways I might have helped to stop all funding to the Palestinian Authority," Nesenoff told JNS.org. "It's the gift that keeps giv- ing, this divine providence in- terview I did [with Thomas]," he said.