It is, perhaps, only in America that a congresswoman named Gabrielle Giffords could reclaim the Jewish identity of her father’s family — originally named Hornstein — after living much of her life apart from the Jewish community. And it is no less of a tribute to American fluidity, however ironic, that the aide who died by her side under a hail of fire was a non-Jew named Gabe Zimmerman who lived a crucial segment of his life immersed in a storied corner of the American Jewish milieu.28
In 2008, a small but significant change took place on the mailbox of the Tel Aviv apartment where Sonia Peres, wife of Israel’s president, Shimon Peres, lived quietly, far from the elegant presidential mansion in Jerusalem, until her death January 20. Neighbors — and eventually, the press — noticed that suddenly, about a year after Shimon Peres was sworn in as president, the mailbox read simply, Sonia Gal. “Gal” was a Hebraicized version of the maiden name of the country’s first lady. Before she met the future career politician in the Ben Shemen youth village, her name had been Sonia Gelman.
The response was predictable when Israel released the findings of its commission of inquiry into the fatal Turkish flotilla incident in May: Israel’s defenders heralded it as absolving Israel of wrongdoing, Turkish critics of Israel dismissed it as not credible. Now, the question is how the international community will view the report, which found that the Israeli Navy was not at fault in the May 31 confrontation aboard one of a flotilla of Gaza-bound ships that left nine Turkish passengers dead.
Back in 1991 Chen Yiyi was, as he puts it, a “bored” law student at Peking University. At the time, China was in the process of formalizing relations with Israel, and the Chinese Education Ministry and Israel’s Foreign Ministry selected his university as the site of China’s first Hebrew course taught by visiting Israeli teachers. When the class fell short of its eight-student enrollment target, Chen was persuaded to sign up to boost its numbers.23
The controversy over what is dead according to Jewish law is no longer an intramural question among Orthodox rabbis on either side of the Atlantic. In Britain it is now being played out in public. As in the United States, the emotional question of organ donation is the battlefield. The most recent round of arguments began in early January, when the London Beth Din, the religious court associated with the United Synagogue — Great Britain’s Orthodox umbrella group — and its chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, issued guidelines on organ donation. The beit din’s ruling was that brain stem death is not death for the purpose of heart and lung donation; a person is dead under traditional Jewish law, or Halacha, only when there is a cessation of cardio-respiratory function.3
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