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El Al Raises Fares – Again


El Al Israel Airlines Ltd. announced it would again raise ticket prices due to increasing fuel costs. Passengers will be charged an extra $10 for short flights, $16 for European destinations and $30 for longer trips.

The changes will go into effect on April 15 and El Al has confirmed that the new prices will also apply to its frequent fliers. El Al commerce chief Rami Levy: "With oil prices nearing $70 a barrel we have no choice but to adjust our fares accordingly."

Israel, Palestinians Report Progress on Prisoner Swap

By Robert Berger (VOA-Jerusalem)

Israeli and Palestinian officials are reporting progress on a possible prisoner swap. A captured Israeli soldier and top Palestinian terrorists are at the heart of the emerging deal.

Palestinians have handed over a list of hundreds of prisoners they want released in exchange for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. He was abducted more than nine months ago in a cross-border raid by gunmen from the Islamic terrorist group Hamas and is being held in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas spokesman Ghazi Hamad said Shalit could be released in a week, if Israel meets the group's demands. He told Israel Radio that the "big battle" will be over the names of the prisoners to be freed. Hamas is demanding the release of top terrorists including Palestinian uprising leader Marwan Barghouti, who was sentenced to five life terms for planning deadly attacks against Israelis.

The head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Ahmad Saadat, is also on the list. Israel accuses him of masterminding the assassination of Israeli Cabinet Minister Rehavam Ze'evi five years ago.

Israeli Cabinet Minister Rafi Eitan told the same radio program that releasing prisoners could threaten Israel's security. But he also said that Israel should make every effort to bring the captive soldier home.

It is a dilemma for the Israeli government: It sympathizes with the soldier's family, but the families of terror victims oppose the deal. Tzion Suwiri lost his son, daughter and son-in-law in a Palestinian attack. He said negotiating a prisoner swap is an act of weakness. "The message we are sending is: Murder Israelis and kidnap soldiers and we will release terrorists," he said.

Israeli officials are playing down Palestinian claims of an imminent deal. As one Israeli Cabinet minister put it: "There is still a long way to go."

Haredim Protest Selling of Chametz in Jerusalem


Some 500 Orthodox Israeli Jews gathered at the Haredi Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem on Sunday to protest against the selling of chametz in the capital during the Passover holiday.

Police forces attempted to block the demonstrators march toward the city's center, and in response the haredim blocked Strauss Street with garbage cans which they later set on fire.

About 50 more protesters arrived at Rabbi Kook Street, but they were quickly dispersed. The demonstrators were also prevented from holding a rally in Nahalat Shiva.

Several dozen haredim did eventually make their way to Hillel Street, where a number of restaurants that sell chametz are located. The demonstrators read from Psalms and exchanged words with customers that were enjoying their pizzas and hamburgers. `This (eating chametz) can result in terror attacks,' the haredim yelled. `If Jewish blood will be spilled, we will blame those who eat chametz.'

Some of the secular Jews responded with calls of "go to the army" and Shame on you." One onlooker said, "People should do what they please in their own homes, but the haredim should also be respected. Hatred should be prevented at least on Shabbat and holidays."

While Israeli law strictly forbids the selling of chametz food products during the Passover holiday, many stores throughout Tel Aviv continue to offer them to their customers. "Tel Aviv is a country within itself," Amit Arad, the manager of a "Tiv Ta'am" delicatessen told Ynet.

Tiv Ta'am is among the non-kosher chains that continue to sell chametz products over the holiday. "During the entire holiday we will have a constant supply of pita bread, cereals, crackers and cookies," Arad said. "The demand for bread is high during this period."

According to him, some of Tiv Ta'am's customers refrain from eating chametz during Passover but still shop at the chain for non-kosher meat before the holiday. "The city's residents are special," Arad said.

However, the Pinati humus restaurant chain is keeping the tradition and has remained closed. "In Tel Aviv there may be those who do not keep the Passover, but we are originally from Jerusalem and tradition is important to us," Pinati employee Golan Malka said.

Court to Women: Want a Get? Waive Your Damages Suit

By Ha'aretz

"I feel trapped. It's as if I am fluttering in a net, I kick and kick, and cannot get out. Everyone is telling me: 'Live your life. Blow them off. What do you need this get [religious divorce] for anyway?' I have four children and I am a woman in waiting. I lead my life from one deliberation to another. Until I get this document, the get, I will have no peace to go on with my life." The woman behind this statement, S., has been waiting for her husband to agree to a get for seven years.

Most of the women who are not given a get are religious - and for them halakhic (Jewish legal) and social considerations prevent them from living with a partner outside marriage. As such, they are vulnerable to extortion by their husbands: for the sake of the desired get they surrender any claims to alimony and property.

However, S., who is a registered nurse, is not religious and on the face of it faces no such constraints. Nonetheless, she does not feel her situation is any different from that of religious women in similar circumstances. She says that extending her marriage by force is a fatal blow to her personal liberty.

In April 2006, S. filed a claim for NIS 1 million in damages against her husband in the Kfar Sava family court. She is demanding compensation for years of violence, for losing her liberty during the years aginut [the years her husband has refused her get], for being unable to marry and have more children.

Initially it seemed that the suit did the trick. About a month ago, during deliberations at the district court in Netanya, the husband for the first time suggested that he would be willing to grant the get. But, to her dismay, the dayan [rabbinate court judge] blocked the get.

"The dayan asked him 'Do you really want to divorce?'" S. recalls. "My husband began stuttering, saying that I had filed a damages suit. That same moment the dayan said: 'If she filed a damages suit then there is no get.' Then he announced that my case was closed."

Last week the Center for Women's Justice, which represents S. in her damages suit, filed a petition with the High Court of Justice, asking that the authority of the rabbinical court to demand that women recall damages claims filed against husbands refusing to grant a get be revoked as a precondition for the religious court to deliberate divorce cases.

In recent years the Center for Women's Justice filed more than 10 damages claims on behalf of women who were refused get. In 2004 Judge Menahem HaCohen, of the Jerusalem family court, for the first time ruled in favor of an ultra-Orthodox woman in her claim for NIS 400,000. Her husband refused her get for eight years.

This was a precedent-setting case and to date the only one in which the plaintiff was awarded damages. In some cases the matter does not reach trial because the husband agrees to grant a get. Other cases are still ongoing and there are instances in which the woman gives in to the pressure of the rabbinical court and withdraws the suit.

Attorney Susan Weiss, who heads the organization, says the rabbinical courts stop dealing with the cases of women who filed damages suits. "They are placing unacceptable pressure on these women," she says.

"We file damages claims in terrible cases, ones that show no movement in the rabbinical court. It is not simple. In theory we must exhaust the legal process before reaching the High Court, but this case [of S.] is special," Weiss says.

Weiss maintains this case reflects a deeper concern of the rabbinical courts that their exclusive authority to rule on matters of marriage and divorce will be undermined when a woman appeals to the civil courts.

`Honor' Murder Victim Wanted to Write a Book


Hamda Abu-Ghanem, a 19-year-old woman who was murdered in Ramle in mid-January, planned to write a book about honor killings.

Abu-Ghanem was killed by male family members who suspected her of talking to boys; her brother is the chief suspect in the case. She was the eighth woman in her extended family to be murdered in an "honor killing" in just six years.

Just weeks before she was murdered, Abu-Ghanem told her cousin and a sister that she hoped to write a book about her experiences. She wanted to write about the murder of girls and women, she told them, and about the reasons that men said they killed for family honor.

Abu-Ghanem's mother said that Hamda wrote several poems in Arabic, and a diary about her life trapped in her house by her older brother. Hamda knew that her family members were planning to kill her, her cousin explained, and hoped to write a book about her suffering.

How Does One Sell Judaism?

By Ha'aretz

Can one compare the situation of the Jewish community in the United States with that of a commercial firm in difficulties? Can an investment banker from Wall Street, who specialized in buying failing companies, teach the leaders of the community how to turn Judaism in America into an attractive brand?

Scott Shay answers both questions in the affirmative. Shay, 49, the co-director of a private capital fund in New York, has in the past few years felt deep concern about the continuity of American Jewry.

In recent years, Shay has devoted considerable time to studying closely the major research published about American Jewry. The conclusion he reached was gloomy and unequivocal: American Jewry is facing a severe internal crisis but the communal leadership is burying its head in the sand, preferring to deal with less substantive problems, such as anti-Semitism or the Iranian nuclear program.

With the practicality of an American investment banker, Shay drew up a list of 10 stern "steps to recovery." Unless these steps are taken immediately, he warns, the number of Jews in America is likely to drop by about half by 2030, and the Jewish establishment will lose a significant amount of its political influence and its economic prowess.

Shay outlines the problems and the solutions in a book, "Getting Our Groove Back," which was published at the beginning of the year. It is full of statistics and numbers that Shay says are merely a symptom. The real problem of American Jewry, he says, is a lack of vision or collective mission. "No corporation can live without a collective aim," says Shay. "If we don't find the answer to questions such as 'Why is it worthwhile being Jewish?' we shall continue to disintegrate."

Shay's "recovery program" relates to various facets of Jewish life: demography, connection with Israel, synagogue, mixed marriage and Jewish philanthropy. In his vision, half of the Jewish children would study at private Jewish day schools. In effect, for many years there has been talk of the importance of investing in non-Orthodox private education but the subject does not capture the imagination of donors.

Shay proposes sending every Jewish youth on a visit to Israel, just as the Birthright Israel program already successfully does. But instead of the lightening visit offered by Birthright Israel, Shay proposes granting every youth a $2,000 coupon that will allow him to choose between a variety of different types of visit.

One of the original ideas in the book is to initiate joint delegations of Jews from Israel and the U.S. for humanitarian aid missions throughout the world. Shay is sure that both sides will benefit from the meeting: The Israelis will acquire a serious work ethic from the Americans and an attitude of equality toward minorities, while the Americans will connect with their Jewish identity.

Shay says he will be satisfied if his book provokes argument. "My ideas are not the Torah from Sinai," he says. "I tell (ADL head Abe) Foxman and other people: 'If you have better ideas, bring them to the debating table.'"

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