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Iran Plans Massive Anti-Zionist Al Quds Rally Friday


Iran plans a massive anti-Zionist rally on Friday, International Quds Day, the last Friday before the feast marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The country's Society for Defense of Palestinian Nation's Rights said the rally will be a "crushing response to the trend of compromise with the Zionist enemy and a show of support for the resistance movement."

Saed Abutaleb, the Tehran deputy of the organization, called on Muslim nations to encourage Arabs in the Palestinian Authority to continue "the path of resistance" and encouraged people to chant slogans in their support.

Jerusalem Summit Focuses on Palestinian Statehood

By Robert Berger (VOA-Jerusalem)

Israeli and Palestinian leaders have met in a fresh effort to advance the peace process. There is cautious optimism on both sides.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert hosted Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at his home in Jerusalem. It was their sixth meeting in recent months; a sign of improving ties since the Islamic terrorist group Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip three months ago, leaving the Fatah group of Abbas in control of the West Bank.

The two leaders are working to draft a document on Palestinian statehood to be presented at an international peace conference planned for November in the United States.

Spokesman Mark Regev said Israel is optimistic about reaching agreement on a joint statement. "What we are trying to do at the moment, what the process as we lead up to November is, to see if it is possible to find a common ground, widest possible common ground, of what two states are, what is this peace that we are looking for."

But the two leaders are deeply divided. Israel seeks a vague declaration of principles, while Abbas wants a detailed agreement on major issues such as the status of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees and final borders.

Palestinian official Hussein al-Sheikh believes the gaps can be bridged. He told Israel Radio that with goodwill on both sides, the peace conference would succeed and there would be hope for a better future.

Hamas, which seeks Israel's destruction, has warned Abbas against reaching a peace deal. The group urged him to abandon what it called "the illusion of peace" and return to armed struggle.

Myanmar's Jews Live in Fear


Very little is left of the Jewish community in Myanmar. At its peak in the 1940s, the community in former Burma numbered some 4,000 Jews, mostly of Iranian, Iraqi and Indian origin. Now there are only 20 of them left.

Burma's Jews started leaving it during World War II. Most fled when Japan invaded the country, choosing to immigrate to the United States and Israel.

In 1962, after General Ne Win's military coup, the community dwindled again; more Jews left in 1964, after the military regime began nationalizing private businesses.

Burma's remaining Jews are concentrated in the capital, Yangon (Rangoon) and in the country's second largest city – Mandalay. There is no community life to speak of and any interaction takes place during Shabbat and the holidays, when they meet in the synagogue for prayers.

"The Jewish community here lives in fear. Nobody knows what might happen tomorrow," Sami Samuels – one of Yangon's Jews – told Yedioth Ahronoth, "These are the saddest Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot we've had in a very long time… we had to adjust the prayer services to the military's curfew, the streets are crawling with soldiers and the situation here is very unstable. The Jews, like many others here, fear for their lives."

The tensions between the military junta and Buddhist monks have made the Jewish community take extra precautions and they have recently hired a private security company, to guard Yangon's only synagogue. "The unrest here makes it hard for us to even find the quorum needed for prayers," said Samuels. "There are usually a lot of tourists here this time of year, but this year, because of the riots, there are very few of them. Everywhere you look all you see are people rushing home," he added.

The community is so few in numbers, he said, that they sometimes find themselves celebrating some of the holidays with the Buddhist monks.

His father, Moshe Samuels, is the Gabai – the manager – of Yangon's synagogue, which was built in 1854. Unlike his son, Samuels senior is slightly more optimistic: "The military junta here has no grudge against the Jews. We stay out of politics so what goes around has no real bearing on us. "It's true that finding a quorum for prayers has been difficult lately," he added, "but our friends in the Israeli embassy help us with that."

The tensions, said the two, are not lost on Myanmar's Muslim community, which fears for its existence as well. "We all pray that the UN negotiations will help restore the peace and quiet to this country," they said.

Victoria's Secret Coming to Israel


Israeli women, and their men, will no longer have to travel abroad in search of Victoria's Secret garments. The internationally known lingerie retailer will soon make its products available to Israeli consumers through franchises in the new Hamashbir Lazarchan, Israel's largest chain of department stores.

Rami Shavit, controlling shareholder of Hamashbir Lazarchan, recently secured the franchise for the prestigious brand after many failed attempts by other sources over the years.

Victoria's Secret currently has about 1,000 lingerie stores in the United States alone, offering American consumers bras, panties, hosiery, beauty products, swimwear, and sleepwear.

In 1995, the retailer launched its first ever Victoria's Secret Fashion Show, which went on to become an annual event. It was coined the "lingerie event of the century" by the international press.

Jewish "Intactivists" in U.S. Stop Circumcising

By Reuters

In most respects, Michelle Chernikoff Anderson is a rabbi's dream congregant. She sings in the choir and takes classes at her synagogue.

But, like an increasing number of Jews in the United States, she has decided not to circumcise her son, rejecting the traditional notion that it is a biblically prescribed sign of the Jewish relationship with God. "I see circumcision as a blood ritual that I can let go of," said Anderson, who lives in Southern California.

Her position is in harmony with a wider decline in circumcision in the United States. About 85 percent of all American boy babies were circumcised at its peak in 1965, according to a National Opinion Research Center survey.

By 2004, it had fallen to about 57 percent, reflecting the increased birth rate among Hispanics, who are less likely to circumcise their sons, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows.

"Circumcision's out of the closet. It's not a taboo subject anymore. People are talking about it. Parents are talking about it," said Dr. Mark Reiss, a synagogue-goer in the San Francisco area and executive vice president of Doctors Opposing Circumcision.

Among those talking about it is a gaggle of young, male, Jewish commentators. This year alone, in books, online and in magazines, authors Neal Pollack, Sam Apple, Jonathan Safran Foer and Shalom Auslander have all fretted about doing to their sons what was done to them. The title of Auslander's memoir, scheduled for publication in October, is "Foreskin's Lament."

Circumcision is even before the courts. In November, the Oregon Supreme Court will rule on whether a convert to Judaism can force his 12-year-old son to undergo the procedure.

Reiss, who calls himself an "intactivist," maintains a roster of 50 officiants who conduct nonsurgical alternatives to the brit, traditionally performed on the eighth day after a boy's birth. He says he fields as many as five queries weekly from conflicted parents. At the Jewish Circumcision Resource Center in Boston, director Ron Goldman maintains a list of 400 names of Jews who refuse to circumcise their sons.

Reiss and Goldman question circumcision's purported health benefits, such as lower rates of penile cancer and the recent reports that it can halve men's risk of HIV infection. "Circumcision has always been the panacea for the disease of the decade," Reiss said, noting that non-Jews first adopted it to reduce masturbation, thought to cause syphilis.

Also, they think any benefits are outweighed by the risks, which include shock from blood loss, antibiotic-resistant infections and even death.

Such incidents are extremely rare, said Dr. Jack Swanson of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Between two and six infant boys experience complications per thousand circumcisions, but those are usually minor bleeding or treatable infections.

Under a trained professional, the risk to the child is "infinitesimal," said Conservative Rabbi Joel Roth. "Jews have given their lives for circumcision more than for any other (religious obligation) and that's why it has become so defining an act of membership."

Islam has no comparable movement against circumcision, said Batool Al-Toma of the New Muslims Project. Most converts undergo the procedure, although Islam waives the requirement, said University of Colorado religion professor Frederick Denny. Michael Young, a convert to Islam, had his infant son circumcised but did not undergo the procedure himself. "I'm very squeamish and hate the thought of it," he said.

Judaism is divided on the matter of converts. Reform Judaism does not require it, Orthodox and Conservative movements do.

Circumcision's detractors also claim the procedure reduces sexual sensation and endurance. "I haven't attempted foreskin restoration surgery, but I've thought about it," said Matthew Taylor, an active Bay Area Jew who resents his own circumcision and who preaches on the evils of the practice to Jewish friends.

But author Julius Lester, who became a Reform convert to Judaism in 1982 and underwent circumcision to feel Jewish, said the procedure also boosted his sex life. "Circumcised there are far more subtle sensations, and staying power is much, much longer," he said. "From a sexual point of view, I wish I'd gotten circumcised many years earlier."

Anderson is torn between a desire to protect her son's privacy and what she thinks may be a religious duty to discuss her decision not to circumcise. "Hey, it's my son's penis, it's not mine to discuss in the same way it's not mine to cut. But at the same time, I feel like maybe I have an obligation to share."

ADL Criticizes McCain


The Anti-Defamation League has issued a statement rejecting a remark made by GOP U.S. presidential candidate John McCain, who recently said that he would be most comfortable with a Christian president because "the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation."

The ADL responded by saying that the Constitution says nothing about the US being a Christian nation, and called the assumption that the US was founded on Christian principles inaccurate.

While senior members of B'nai B'rith and the National Jewish Democratic Coalition slammed McCain's remarks, McCain was supported by the Republican Jewish Coalition, which said McCain supported the separation of church and state and was merely "recognizing the Judeo-Christian values" in the US. McCain later explained that he would vote for the best presidential candidate regardless of religious affiliation.

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