Inside track to tricks

Inside track to tricks

Chahak Mittal

As Russian illusionist Alexander Magu performs in India, he tells Chahak Mittal how it’s all about playing with the mind and pushing its limits

Be it swallowing a 40-centimetre sword through peristalsis, taking rabbits out of a hat, spreading cards on the table and hypnotising the audience to pick the one that the mastermind had already chosen or probably cutting a man into two pieces in a rectangular box and joining him back to perfect shape… In a magician’s world miracles are nothing but illusions.

Illusionist Alexander Magu makes a pit stop in India for the second time to stun audience and share stories of what drove him in the first place to play with the human mind. He narrates his story of how as a 17-year-old boy growing up in St Petersburg, he went crazy over a trick his friend once performed and decided to never return from this winding path of wizardry.

“It isn’t a profession very highly preferred or chosen. It’s all about ideas, imagination and a story-telling capacity to hold the audience,” he told us. The initial years were a struggle for Magu whose parents were reluctant about his career choice. Had it not been for magic, he would “have been working in the Russian Railways.”

So is it only about playing pranks that could amuse people? “No,” he says. “It takes a lot of training and practice to gain expertise in an act. And it is not magic, it is just a play of psychology and mind-counselling techniques.”

Today, Magu loves his job that not only lets him explore the world but also “lets me explore the human mind and its numerous possibilities. The beauty of the human mind is that no matter how fearless it might condition itself to be, it is as fearful, unbelievable yet believable. It’s amazing how certain things can amaze the mind.” He hugely derives inspiration from the masterminds Derren Brown, David Blaine and “of course, David Copperfield.”

For Magu, the art is self-taught and as much about being a seeker. He believes that he is a self-made artist. He says, “I learnt from the internet, books, looking at the other famous illusionists, TV and films. I am all by myself. I have never taken any specific education for this art. With time, I have developed my own techniques.”

Magu even does subtle social messaging. While performing in one of his acts previously, he played with a cigarette and a white scarf, making it disappear and re-appear at unexpected places like nostrils and wrist. In the end, the cigarette was magically lit and on his lips. The message was to make cigarettes disappear from people’s lives forever. However, this moral shift  took a sentimental turn when he said that real magic was all about love, friendship and family.

There was a time when magicians offered the audience a sneak peek into their orchestrated and choreographed acts just to keep the spectacle element alive. This was the reason why shows like Criss Angel Mindfreak, Master of Illusions, Doug Henning’s The Magic Show, Breaking the Magician’s Code: Magic’s Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed became major TV hits. Magu, however, believes that the popularity of magic shows and pranks has still not lessened and “neither it will. It is a very special kind of act that has a lot of future. You can reinvent and push the limit to infinity.”

His tricks include mind-reading, telekinesis, levitation and gravitational illusions. While all these are merely “illusions” and not “magic,” he explains how an illusionist is different from a magician. “An illusionist might leave your eyes wide open and make your jaw drop but a magician can make miracles happen. That’s magic,” says he. From goosebumps, mind-reading, comic magic to a complete theatrical experience, Magu’s show will play “scary pranks” and “play with your memory,” making the impossible seem possible.

(The show will be performed from November 15 to 25, 7 pm to 9 pm, at Upstage, Roseate House, Aerocity.)

Has Time Run Out For Julian Assange? Signs Point to Imminent Extradition

Has Time Run Out For Julian Assange? Signs Point to Imminent Extradition

It appears increasingly likely Wikileaks founder and publisher Julian Assange will wind up in the clutches of the U.S. government.

November 14th, 2018

It appears increasingly likely Wikileaks founder and publisher Julian Assange will wind up in the clutches of the U.S. government.

It’s hardly surprising, given that in ten years’ time, Wikileaks published more classified information than all other media combined. It exposed human rights abuses, government spying, torture, and war crimes on an unprecedented scale.

WikiLeaks put the government, corporations and even the Pentagon, the FBI, the CIA and other intel agencies on notice that they could no longer count on operating in secret.

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It created a trove of primary source material that serious journalists and researchers will mine for years to come. Its publications are accessible to readers who prefer primary sources to mostly mediated news.

Wikileaks so infuriates the USA’s most violent, corrupt, and criminal institutions that Hillary Clinton half-jokingly suggested drone-bombing Assange. Other U.S. politicians called for his execution by other means.

California’s 28th District Congressman Adam Schiff, who became the chair of the House Intelligence Committee when Democrats reclaimed the House, said he would speak to Assange “when he is in U.S. custody, not before.”

Schiff is a vociferous and supremely self-righteous leader of the Democratic Party’s “Resistance,” which sullies the name of the underground movement formed in France during World War II to fight Nazi Germany’s occupying forces and the collaborationist Vichy government.

The “Resistance” tolerates only one truth and one loyalty: Russia is the enemy, interfering in Syria, Ukraine and even U.S. elections. Russia elected Trump with Wikileaks’ help, it says. Russia dares to position missiles on its own borders, it says, to respond to NATO’s missiles on the other side. The U.S. must build more missiles, more drones, more nuclear weapons, and every other sort of weapon to defend the European world against Russia and its ally China.

Moral and Racial Superiority

Moral and racial superiority entitles the U.S. to occupy the world with military bases, ringing any nation that challenges its hegemony with military aircraft, battleships, assault vehicles, and military surveillance. Moral and racial superiority entitles its spy state agencies to shut down access to information deviating from its narratives and therefore to arrest and extradite Julian Assange.

The Republican Party shares the same supremely intolerant nature as the Democrats, but differentiates itself by insisting that, although Russia is the enemy, Donald Trump did not collude with Russia to steal the 2016 presidential election.

The Republicans also want to silence the founder of Wikileaks and find a way to shut the organization down. Trump’s former CIA director, and now Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, has called Wikileaks a “non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia” and vowed to hunt Assange down.

Has Time Run Out?

Assange has been an asylee in Ecuador’s London Embassy for more than six years—since August 2012. Ecuador and the UK, however, are no closer to an agreement that would allow him safe passage out of the embassy. In a recent video conference#Unity4J organizer Suzie Dawson said she fears Assange and those working to free him are running out of time:

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Supporters of Julian Assange hold banners outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, June 19, 2017. Matt Dunham | AP

Right now time is not on our side. And I had someone today complaining because they want us to do a big, big action day march. When you do those types of actions it takes two or three months to organize. You need to have an organizing committee, you need to wallpaper the town, you need to have one date that you do it on, you need to do a ton of advertising. You need to get all the unions and various other organizations to sign on board, and then you have this one action day.

Well, there’s a couple of problems with that. First of all, I don’t think we have three months right now. If we schedule a February giant march in support of Julian, I honestly don’t think we have until February. I hope I’m wrong. I hope that the actions we take in the short term, in the next days and weeks, will buy us that much time for Julian, but I don’t see it.”

CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou, who spent two years in prison for exposing the agency’s official use of torture, said if Assange walks out of the embassy without a guarantee of safe passage, he will be extradited to the U.S. in chains:

We all know why the British have that embassy ringed. It’s to snatch him and to turn him over to the United States. If that happens, the CIA and the FBI are both going to be on that plane and they’re both going to be at least attempting to interrogate him all the way back home. They will bring him back to the United States in chains because that’s what they do.“

Dawson feels the FBI and CIA will interrogate and torture Assange to try to obtain information that would allow them to bring Wikileaks down. She has no doubt he’s been preparing for this eventuality for years. She believes he will have made sure the organization has adopted security codes and measures he himself doesn’t know and therefore can’t reveal—even if he’s tortured.

They want to know about security files for example. They want to know about the inner processes and workings of Wikileaks. They want access to the knowledge that’s inside Julian’s brain. And they will torture him. And they will interrogate him in order to attempt to get that.

Now I trust Julian to be smart enough to have made sure that even he doesn’t possess a lot of that knowledge. In my personal opinion, Julian has spent years planning for these various eventualities, but it won’t stop them from trying.”

Dawson added intelligence agencies are eager to punish him: “At the end of the day they want to punish him for outing their corruption and their crimes. They’ve been waiting eight years to do it, and they will be rubbing their hands together with glee at the prospect of the UK detaining him and extraditing him to the USA.”

Top Photo |

Ann Garrison is an independent journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2014, she received the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize for her reporting on conflict in the African Great Lakes region. She can be reached at

Killing the Messenger: Truth in a Time of Universal Deceit

Killing the Messenger: Truth in a Time of Universal Deceit

The murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the case of Julian Assange, and freedom of the press

Heather Wokusch

When telling the truth is a revolutionary act, journalists and whistleblowers are targets. When politicians attack freedom of speech, media becomes weaponized.

And here we are.

How ironic that the government of Turkish President Erdoğan is postured as truth-leaker in the apparent gruesome murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Turkey is the leading per-capita jailer of journalists, whose “crime” often consists of speaking out against the repressive regime.

CIA Director Gina Haspel’s recent meeting with Erdoğan about the Khashoggi case raises questions. Declassified cables reveal that when Haspel led a “black site” CIA prison in Thailand, prisoners were subjected to “extended sessions of physical violence, wall slamming, box confinement, sleep deprivation, forced nudity, shackling, stress positions, and waterboarding.” She later admitted to “being an advocate” of destroying evidence.

While Haspel’s visit to Turkey was billed as intelligence gathering, some suggest the true mission was to warn Erdoğan against angering Saudi Arabia or else risk embarrassing evidence about Turkish officials being leaked in retaliation.

Whatever the case, multiple sources report that Haspel heard audio recordings of Khashoggi’s death during her time in Ankara and that she later briefed Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Pompeo has issues of his own regarding torture and extraordinary extradition. He supported “enhanced interrogation” tactics such as waterboarding and criticized the Obama administration’s closing of CIA ”black sites” overseas.

Unsurprisingly, Pompeo’s photo op meetings in Saudi Arabia about the Khashoggi case yielded few results. He later told journalists, “I don’t want to talk about any of the facts. They didn’t want to either…”

While Pompeo has had a testy relationship with the media for years, he’s been especially obsessed with WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange. In Pompeo’s first public speech as CIA Director in 2017, he slammed WikiLeaks as a “non-state hostile intelligence service” adding that “we can no longer allow Assange and his colleagues the latitude to use free speech values against us.”

“Use free speech values against us”?

Interestingly, while the story behind Khashoggi’s disappearance continues to unfold, Assange is fighting a battle of his own. And Trump administration officials are involved in both cases.

Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012, after seeking protection against sexual assault allegations in Sweden. While the initial arrest warrant has since been revoked, if Assange leaves the embassy he runs the risk of being arrested by UK authorities and extradited to the US on charges of leaking classified documents.

The US government has targeted WikiLeaks and Assange for years. A confidential US Army document from 2008 recommends “legal actions” and attacks on the livelihood and reputation of “current or former insiders, leakers, or whistleblowers” connected to WikiLeaks in order to “damage or destroy” its “trust as a center of gravity.”

In short, destroying WikiLeaks’ “trust as a center of gravity” will ensure it cannot “use free speech values against us.” So much for the First Amendment.

Of course, Pompeo supported WikiLeaks when it released hacked Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails during the 2016 election campaign, encouraging his social media followers to visit the WikiLeaks site for “proof.”

Similarly, then-candidate Trump mentioned WikiLeaks over 160 times during the final month of the 2016 presidential campaign, calling it “amazing” and even saying “We love Wikileaks. Wikileaks. They have revealed a lot.”

But it’s one thing to reveal information about the DNC and another thing entirely to expose a CIA hacking program with domestic spying implications – which is exactly what WikiLeaks did in March 2017 with its Vault 7 release. Just a month later, reports surfaced that US authorities had prepared charges against Assange, with Attorney General Jeff Sessions calling his arrest a “priority.”

Assange was granted Ecuadorian citizenship in late 2017, possibly part of a covert plan to relocate him to Russia in 2018. The British Foreign Office blocked that plan, however, so Assange remains in London.

The situation is untenable. Ecuador’s President Lenín Moreno sees Assange as an “inherited problem” impacting the country’s relations with the US. Hanging in the balance for Ecuador could be a military base and an International Monetary Fund loan.

Assange’s recent legal case protesting new asylum conditions was rejected by a court in Ecuador. Meanwhile, his health deteriorates in what amounts to solitary confinement without access to sunlight or fresh air. His contact with the outside world remains severely curtailed.

In February 2018, weeks before Assange’s internet access was cut, he participated in the Austrian Elevate festival. Via videostream he said, “Journalists go out – or at least they should – develop sources, protect them, take information and publish it. Interestingly, intelligence agencies do the same thing…”

He referred to the “Pompeo Doctrine” as a “serious threat to the press,” adding that authorities were attempting to use his situation as a “general deterrent.”

And that begs the question: What would happen if Assange were extradited to the US?

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has said Assange should be treated like an enemy combatant, while Hillary Clinton has wondered if he could be killed by a drone.

Pompeo recommended the death sentence for whistleblower Edward Snowden. Trump has joked about killing journalists.

Fox host Rush Limbaugh suggested that Assange “would die of lead poisoning from a bullet in the brain and no one would know who put it there!” Fox commentator Bob Beckel offered: “Dead men can’t leak stuff… there’s only one way to do it: illegally shoot the son of a bitch.”

Assange’s mother “shudders to think” what CIA Director Haspel might do to her son.

At Elevate, Assange expressed pride in his work, adding that those who have the luxury of living in peace must see through “the illusions of fear in order to ensure that those people in other countries don’t face the reality of war.”

In such a kill-the-messenger environment, it is unclear what the next steps will be for Assange – or indeed for freedom of the press.

TrumpMania Author Ties WrestleMania 4 & 5 To Gangsters

TrumpMania Author Ties WrestleMania 4 & 5 To Gangsters

Ross BermanNov 13, 2018

Lavie Magolin, author of TrumpMania: Vince McMahon, WWE and the making of America’s 45th President, was on Wrestling Inc.’s WINCLY podcast recently. During the discussion, Margolin brought up President Donald Trump’s ties to La Cosa Nostra during the time period when Trump funded WrestleManias 4 & 5. Both events took place at Trump Plaza in Atlantic City, NJ. Margolin said the following about Trump’s ties to noted New Jersey crime figure Robert Libutti:

Transcription via Wrestling Inc.

“Certainly when you cross over into a world like Atlantic City, not dissimilar to Las Vegas, you enter the world of gambling and all of the characters that brings about,” Margolin said about WWE doing business in Atlantic City. “One of the most interesting points that came out later was that Donald Trump at WrestleManias 4 and 5 was right next to someone named [Robert] Libutti who is a well-known and well-affiliated gangster who actually had been fined several thousand dollars for being racist and refusing service from people that weren’t to his liking.

“Very interestingly, Libutti named his horse after Trump. Trump claimed that he had no idea who it was but they were obviously much closer connected and had a good relationship.”

Denying knowledge of an associate is a common Trump tactic, recently seen when the President said that he “didn’t know” Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker, despite making claims to the contrary at an earlier time.

Margolin also commented on Vince McMahon’s willingness to have WrestleMania associated with noted crime figures Trump & Libutti:

“Vince McMahon was willing to enter that world because it was very lucrative and really the first WrestleMania paid show.”

Robert Libutti was at one point recorded referring to John Gambino as his “boss.” Libutti passed away from natural causes in 2014, at the age of 82.

White House is helping cover up Khashoggi murder: Former CIA officer

White House is helping cover up Khashoggi murder: Former CIA officer


A former CIA case officer and intelligence analyst for CNN claimed the Trump administration is helping the Saudis cover up journalist Jamal Khashoggi‘s murder, according to Business Insider.

Speaking to CNN’s Jake Tapper on Nov. 13, Bob Baer, who worked at a CIA case officer primarily in the Middle East, said the US has purposely muted its response to Khashoggi‘s murder.

“We’ve always turned a blind eye to what’s going on in Saudi Arabia,” he told CNN.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributor and US resident, was murdered after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. Saudi Arabia has repeatedly shifted its version of the events that transpired that day, and it has fired five top officials and arrested 18 Saudis it says are connected to the killing.

Turkish police find hydrofluoric acid at Saudi consul’s home after Khashoggi killing: Report

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Still, Khashoggi‘s body has not been returned, and audio recordings circulating around government agencies appear to indicate that that someone senior, possibly Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, had ordered the killing.

According to The New York Times, the tape allegedly records Khashoggi‘s last moments, and catches one of his killers call his superior on the phone and tell the person to “tell your boss” that “the deed was done.”

“The way Saudi Arabia is run today, Mohammed bin Salman is an autocrat,” Baer said. “Security services, the rest of the country, he’s in control.”

While US National Security Adviser John Bolton has said that the audio does not conclusively implicate Prince Mohammed, Baer suggested it is unlikely that anyone else in the Kingdom would have the authority to order such an operation. Bolton has said he has not heard the tape himself.

Saudi intel shocked after listening to Khashoggi killing tape: Erdoğan

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“The Saudis do not have rogue operations ever,” Baer said. “It’s never occured. The chances that Mohammed bin Salman ordered this, we’re hitting 100%.”

“At this point, the White House doesn’t see a way out. Saudi Arabia is a volcano and to try and push the Crown Prince out, we don’t have any players [in Saudi Arabia] on our side, so we don’t know what to do,” Baer said. “So we have a psychopath sitting in Riyadh controlling the country.”

Prince Mohammed has tightened his grip in the last year since being appointed Crown Prince last June at the age of 31. His massive purge of more than 200 influential Saudi figures, many of whom were members of the Saudi royal family, silenced dissenting voices and cemented his status as Saudi Arabia’s most powerful figure.

“No Saudi prince has ever done this ever in its history,” Baer said. “I think what worries the White House is this country could pop, and what would we do then?”

US lawmakers expect votes on steps to crack down on Saudi Arabia

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Lanza Family: Ryan’s ‘RIP’ Posts Are Fake

Lanza Family: Ryan’s ‘RIP’ Posts Are Fake

‘I am a victim,’ says older brother of shooter

Ryan Lanza, the 24-year-old brother of Sandy Hook Elementary shooter Adam Lanza, is escorted by police into a cruiser in Hoboken, NJ, Friday, Dec. 14, 2012.   (AP Photo/WCBS-TV)

View 2 more images

By Polly Davis Doig,  Newser Staff

Posted Dec 23, 2012 9:14 AM CST

Updated Dec 23, 2012 3:45 PM CST


(NEWSER) – As the last Sandy Hook victims were laid to rest, the older brother of shooter Adam Lanza posted his own tribute to the tragedy, mourning the loss of two members of his family—or did he? The Lanza family claims that a Ryan Lanza Facebook page is a hoax, but the New York Post reports that Ryan wrote beneath a picture of mom Nancy Lanza: “RIP. I miss you mom. I love you so much. You will be always in my heart. -Ryan.” He was no less effusive with his brother, writing under a photo of Adam Lanza, “RIP. I will miss you bro. I will always love you as long as I live.”

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The Post notes that though Ryan Lanza also paid tribute to his brother’s victims (“You all will be truly be missed. God Bless.”), his posts stirred up some hate, with one person calling Adam Lanza “scum of the Earth.” Responded Ryan Lanza: “I am so tired of people blaming me for something my brother did. I love Adam, (he’s) my brother. … But you have no right to call my brother names when he isn’t here no more. Just let my brother rest in peace. Please. Respect that.” “I am a victim,” Ryan Lanza tells the Post, adding that he lost “my mom and brother.” (Read more Ryan Lanza stories.)

Tree of Life archive

Jeffrey and Edward Clark U.S. Department of Justice

Man Who Called Pittsburgh Synagogue Massacre a ‘Dry Run’ Arrested

Thirty-year-old Jeffrey Clark reportedly appeared in federal court Tuesday


17:37 1 comments

Police arrested a man in Washington, D.C. with social media connections to Pittsburgh synagogue shooting suspect Robert Bowers, according to CBS reporting. Bowers opened fire while yelling “kill all the Jews” on Oct. 27, killing 11 people, in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Thirty-year-old Jeffrey Clark reportedly appeared in federal court Tuesday. He is facing one federal count of unlawful possession of firearms by a person who is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance, in addition to one count in the District of Columbia of possessing high-capacity magazines.

Court papers allege that Clark was “friends” with Bowers. Clark reportedly posted a picture of Bowers on, a website popular with the so-called alt-right and white supremacists, with language attached that insinuates a continuation of violence against Jewish communities: “This was a dry run for things to come.”

Clark’s arrest came after family told investigators that Clark was having outbursts. They also alleged that Clark said the shooting victims from the Tree of Life shooting “deserved it.”

Court documents said family members also told police that Clark defended the synagogue shooting suspect, and that he and his now-deceased brother had allegedly fantasized about killing blacks and Jews.

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Clark’s brother killed himself just hours after the synagogue shooting, authorities said.

The FBI last week reported a 37 percent spike in anti-Jewish hate crimes in 2017.

Demonstrators carry confederate and Nazi flags during the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, August 12, 2017.Emily Molli / NurPhoto

Anti-Jewish Hate Crimes in U.S. Rose by 37 Percent in 2017, FBI Says

Hate crimes rise for third year in a row, with religion-based hate crimes increasing by 23 percent

The Associated Press

13.11.2018 | 19:15

The FBI says hate crimes reports were up about 17 percent in 2017, marking a rise for the third year in a row.

An annual report released Tuesday shows there were more than 7,100 reported hate crimes last year. There were increases in attacks motivated by racial bias, religious bias and because of a victim’s sexual orientation.

The report shows there was a nearly 23 percent increase in religion-based hate crimes. There was a 37 percent spike in anti-Jewish hate crimes.

Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who was appointed last week following the forced resignation of Jeff Sessions, says the report is a “call to action.” He says the offenses were “despicable violations of our core values as Americans.”

The FBI says although the number of attacks has increased, so has the number of law enforcement agencies reporting hate-crime data.

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‘All Jews Must Die’: Shooter Kills 11 in Pittsburgh Synagogue Attack

The report comes two weeks after the tragic shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. The gunman, Robert Bowers, yelled “all Jews must die,” before killing 11 people. Six others, including four police officers, were wounded before the perpetrator was arrested.

Flowers and other items have been left as memorials outside the Tree of Life synagogue following last Saturday’s shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., November 3, 2018\ ALAN FREED/ REUTERS

A Moving Shabbat Prayer in Pittsburgh – and Why It Sparked My Outrage

Tree of Life Rabbi Myers warned Trump on dangers of hate speech but didn’t seem to leave much of an impression

Chemi Shalev

04.11.2018 | 14:41 24 comments

PITTSBURGH – In many Jewish synagogues across the U.S., the main sanctuaries are in use only on special occasions. Declining attendance has turned once teeming auditoriums into monuments of glories past. On Saturday, however, sanctuaries throughout the U.S. were packed, none more so than Pittsburgh’s conservative Beth Shalom synagogue, which played host to the bereaved members of the Tree of Life and Ohr Hadash congregations, who lost 11 of their friends in Robert Bowersmurderous rampage last week. They have been exiled from their own synagogue by the Pittsburgh police, which continues to regard the Tree of Life building in Squirrel Hill as a crime scene, though they’ve promised to return it to its rightful owners by Tuesday.

The crowd streamed into Beth Shalom’s magnificent main sanctuary, with its tall stained glass windows and elaborate podium. Many of them were refreshingly young, belying, at least on this somber occasion, the well-known pattern of aging Jewish congregations. Most seemed to know each other, but there were many newcomers and first-timers as well, including non-Jews. The locals hugged each other in consolation and to give each other strength. “We’ve had a tough week,” one woman told me, in the understatement of the year.

>> Pittsburgh was never anti-Semitic. Trump and the internet changed that | Opinion ■ Israelis’ post-Pittsburgh defense of Trump isn’t just realpolitik | Opinion ■  While Trump is president, violence against Jews will keep rising. We must prepare accordingly | Opinion 

Other than the babies, who answer to no one, the crowd stayed unusually quiet and attentive throughout the unduly long five-hour service. They seemed to be following every word of prayer, as if hearing them for the first time. They responded emphatically and on cue at the appropriate moments, as if their words, which devout Jews recite on a daily basis, had acquired a whole new meaning. Their grief and sadness was mitigated by their strong sense of community and by the power of their restraint.

You didn’t have to be religious, or even Jewish for that matter, to be moved.

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Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog, who attended the prayers, thankfully refrained from emulating other official Israeli consolers, who drew false equivalencies between leftist radicals and white supremacists and were overly enthusiastic in their defense of Donald Trump.

Herzog noted the unity of prayer between Jews of varying denominations, saying that it was the only possible answer to the atrocity perpetrated by Bowers. It sent a message of love, unity, friendship and peace, Herzog said, uttering words that are lingua franca among American Jews but shunned by their Israeli counterparts as hopelessly naive.

Israel, in fact, was not mentioned at all by the other speakers, with the exception of the traditional prayer for its wellbeing, which is now a regular staple in Conservative and most Reform congregations. If only Israelis prayed for the safety and wellbeing of American Jews, I thought to myself, instead of taking them for granted.

U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump stand with Rabbi Jeffrey Myers as they place stones at a makeshift memorial outside the Tree of Life synagoguein Pittsburgh, October 30, 2018 \ KEVIN LAMARQUE/ REUTERS

More problematic, perhaps, was the Prayer For Our Country, i.e., the U.S., which includes a request that God bless “our leader.” In the days of Trump, many liberal rabbis either omit this appeal or utter it under protest. Trump nonetheless played a prominent role in the sermon given by Tree of Life Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, which was actually more of an attempt to rebuff the criticism directed at him for agreeing to host Trump at the scene of the crime last week.

>> American Jews may never forgive Israel for its reaction to the Pittsburgh massacre | Analysis ■ U.S. synagogues wrestle with new security challenges after Pittsburgh massacre ■ From Pittsburgh to Paris, five lessons for Jews everywhere | Analysis

Myers recounted what he perceived as a genuine emotional moment, when Trump placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. He seemed to be genuinely shocked by the details of the synagogue massacre, Myers asserted.  Melania Trump, Myers said, was even more shocked by her husband’s apparently unusual show of emotion.

Myers repeatedly recounted that he had told the President that “hate speech leads to hateful action,” an admonition that Trump probably thought was directed at everyone except for him. Within a few hours of lighting 11 memorial candles at the site where the Jews were killed, he was back at it, and with a vengeance. In his campaign rallies over the past few days, in fact, Trump has doubled down on his inflammatory rhetoric on the imminent immigrant “invasion,” using the exact same words that Bowers took from him as a rationale for the mass murder of Jews in the first place.

The audience applauded Myers’ reasoning for greeting Trump, which included the biblical mitzvah of hosting strangers, the moral imperative of not answering hate with more hate and the fact that he is, after the all, the President of the United States. Not everyone was happy though. My elderly neighbor in the back row leaned over and said, “We have to do something about that man.” Before she went on to spell out exactly what she had in mind, I quickly said “First, let’s wait for Tuesday’s elections,” which seemed to satisfy her, for the time being at least.

As for myself, if you will allow me, I admit to being unusually stirred by the service. At first it was pure nostalgia, because the tunes and hymns sung by the congregation were identical to those I sang on every Shabbat during four years that I spent in Los Angeles as a child. I was also touched by the mutual solidarity and empathy shown by the Pittsburgh Jews. And I was undoubtedly impressed by the admirable conduct of the congregants, by their goodwill, by their care for each other, by their pledge, despite their anger and grief, to devote even more time and energy to promoting understanding and goodwill amongst themselves and with other minority communities, most notably Muslims.

It’s no small matter that Pittsburgh Muslims raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to help refurbish the Tree of Life synagogue. To my closed Middle Eastern mind, the words of Wasi Mohamed, executive director the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, at the memorial vigil held last week to honor the slain Jews, bordered on the miraculous: “We just want to know what you need,” he told the Jews and their leaders. “If it’s more money, let us know. If it’s people outside your next service protecting you, let us know — we’ll be there….  If you just need somebody to come to the grocery store because you don’t feel safe in this city, we’ll be there and I’m sure everybody in the room would say the same thing. We’re here for the community.”

Wasi Mohamed from the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh is hugged by a rabbi during a service to honor the victims of Saturday’s mass shooting at the Tree Of Life synagogue, October 28, 2018. AFP

Which is when outrage began to consume me. I had no doubt that Mohamed’s sympathy was enabled by the Muslim recognition that the Jewish community, in Pittsburgh and elsewhere, may differ with him over Israel and the occupation, but stands shoulder to shoulder as minorities who feel threatened in the age of Donald Trump. For over a century, American Jews have been at the forefront of almost every meaningful campaign for human and civil rights – especially those of other minorities.

Their Orthodox critics, especially in Israel, claim with disdain that liberalism has replaced Judaism as the main religion of American Jews. Anyone who attended the prayers at Beth Shalom on Saturday would see how ridiculous the claim is, at least for those Jews who choose to remain affiliated with Jewish institutions. In any case, is the American Jewish dedication to safeguarding minorities really something to be ashamed of? Is it more shameful to be a Jew who cherishes Tikkun Olam than one who bases the occupation and the subjugation of Palestinians on biblical texts?

I looked around at the women and men sitting together at Beth Shalom, sharing the responsibility of conducting the complex service, and an age old question popped into my mind: Who is a Jew? And how is it that the State of Israel, my country, has willingly subjugated itself to fundamentalist Jews who live by moral codes formulated hundreds of years ago and petrified ever since? Why have secular Israelis succumbed to a movement that blindly follows rabbis whose spiritual leadership is based on being born to their fathers, that denies women any role in public life, that is obsessed with the purity of Jewish blood, that is concerned with Jews and Jews alone, but only if they follow the rules; a movement that, were it not Jewish, would comply with all the criteria of a cult.

Muslims guarding the doors at New York’s Congregation Beit Simchat Torah #ShowUpForShabbat services remembering Pittsburgh shooting attack victims, November 2, 2018. Gili Getz

And don’t get me started on the perverted fusion of religion and Jewish nationalism that drives Israeli policy today. And these retrograde Jews, who lord over marriage and divorce in Israel and who hold all Israeli coalitions in the palms of their hands – they have the chutzpah to deny recognition for American Jews who prefer to live the 21st Century rather than the 19th? Give me a break.

Those who came to Beth Shalom synagogue in Pittsburgh are no less Jewish than their Orthodox Israeli brethren who shun and mock them. To my mind, in fact, they’re even more. Which is why I am now trying to figure out whether Israelis can declare themselves American Jews as well.  If it’s possible, I plan to be the first to volunteer.

Mel Bernstein.Screen grab from YouTube.

Jewish Gun Shop Owner Offers Rabbis Free Rifles After Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting

Mel Bernstein, who owns Dragon Arms near Colorado Springs, offered to give rabbis semi-automatic guns, estimated at $650 each ■ ‘Armed clergy sends the wrong message,’ ADL representative in Colorado says


03.11.2018 | 18:05

The Jewish owner of a gun shop in Colorado has offered to give rabbis semi-automatic rifles for free following the murder of 11 worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Mel Bernstein, who owns Dragon Arms near Colorado Springs, made the offer in an item aired Wednesday on KOAA-TV’s News5.


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Local gun shop owner offers rabbis free weapons

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Jewish gun shop owner offers rabbis free weapons.

“Lets say there’s a fire in a synagogue. What do you grab? You grab a fire extinguisher right?” Bernstein, who goes by the name Dragonman, said on the NBC affiliate’s program. “OK, lets say somebody comes in and starts shooting everybody. What are you going to grab? You grab your AR-15 or a rifle or a handgun.”

During the shooting Saturday, “people sitting in the synagogue, they were sitting ducks,” and “nobody’s stopping him,” Bernstein said of the shooter, who authorities say was right-wing extremist Robert Bowers. “You have to have the tool to fight back, and this is the tool, and I’m donating these to the rabbis.”

>> Guns, Trump and anti-Semitism: Pittsburgh shooting highlights vast divide between liberal U.S. Jews and Israel

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Each gun that Bernstein hopes to give the local religious leaders is valued at an estimated $650, and the store was clear that each rabbi would have to pass a background check to take possession of the weapon, the Western Journal reported.

Rabbi Jeff Ader of Temple Beit Torah in Colorado Springs told KOAA that he thought the offer was very generous and thoughtful, and that he’d have to think about it. Ader also talked to Bersntein about giving some people the concealed weapons training he offers.

Another local rabbi said he’d prefer not to comment on the offer, News5 reported.

Scott Levin of the Anti-Defamation League serving Colorado told News5 that a rabbi with a gun causes image issues and a potential disruption of the sanctity of a synagogue. Levin also said that he believes there should be panic buttons installed and that he’s fine with armed security personnel, but that armed clergy sends the wrong message.

After the shootings, U.S. President Donald Trump said, “This is a case where if they had an armed guard inside, they may have been able to stop him immediately. Maybe there would have been nobody killed, except for him maybe.”

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who is Jewish, rejected the idea.

“I certainly don’t agree with his suggestion that this could have been avoided or mitigated if they’d had someone armed in the synagogue. That’s not the answer,” The Guardian quoted Schiff as saying. “The broader issue is what kind of climate are we creating in the country.”