Hoping for Latkes, an Amateur Photojournalist Found Himself in the Maelstrom of Romania’s Revolution

Dec. 30 2019

Shortly after hearing in December 1989 that the notorious Romanian Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was on the run from enraged demonstrators, Edward Serotta—who was working as a photojournalist in the Eastern bloc at the time—realized that Hanukkah would begin that evening. And then he got an idea:

I could just drive down to the Romanian city of Timisoara and photograph the Hanukkah party in the kosher kitchen run by the aptly named Mr. Pichel, [pronounced “pickle”]. And since there would surely be celebrations on the streets, just as I had seen and shot in Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, and Budapest [as their Communist regimes collapsed], I could take some pictures, sell them to newspapers, and earn a little cash.

On that day, December 22, 1989, I had no idea that the dreaded Romanian secret police, the Securitate, were locked and loaded and only minutes away from launching a massive counterattack across the country. They were out to find Ceausescu and reinstate him. I was heading right into their gunsights, looking for latkes.

So off Serotta set, joined by a Hungarian journalist:

We passed the city limits of [Timisoara] and all was silent as a tomb. Not a soul around. Not a car on the streets. We drove on and on, kilometer after kilometer, and everything was shuttered tight, the traffic lights were all on blinking mode.

As we drove closer and closer to the center, we began to hear what sounded like thunder. But it wasn’t. It was gunfire. Lots of gunfire. And as if to postpone arriving at our destination, I kept driving slower and slower until an army roadblock stood before us, complete with tanks and armed soldiers running into the city center and out of it.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Communism, East European Jewry, Hanukkah, Romania

Saudi Arabia Should Open Its Doors to Israeli—and Palestinian—Pilgrims

On the evening of June 26 the annual period of the Hajj begins, during which Muslims from all over the world visit Mecca and perform prescribed religious rituals. Because of the de-jure state of war between Saudi Arabia and the Jewish state, Israeli Muslim pilgrims—who usually number about 6,000—must take a circuitous (and often costly) route via a third country. The same is true for Palestinians. Mark Dubowitz and Tzvi Kahn, writing in the Saudi paper Arab News, urge Riyadh to reconsider its policy:

[I]f the kingdom now withholds consent for direct flights from Israel to Saudi Arabia, it would be a setback for those normalization efforts, not merely a continuation of the status quo. It is hard to see what the Saudis would gain from that.

One way to support the arrangement would be to include Palestinians in the deal. Israel might also consider earmarking its southern Ramon Airport for the flights. After all, Ramon is significantly closer to the kingdom than Ben-Gurion Airport, making for cheaper routes. Its seclusion from Israeli population centers would also help Israeli efforts to monitor outgoing passengers and incoming flights for security purposes.

A pilot program that ran between August and October proved promising, with dozens of Palestinians from the West Bank traveling back and forth from Ramon to Cyprus and Turkey. This program proceeded over the objections of the Palestinian Authority, which fears being sidelined by such accommodations. Jordan, too, has reason to be concerned about the loss of Palestinian passenger dinars at Amman’s airports.

But Palestinians deserve easier travel. Since Israel is willing to be magnanimous in this regard, Saudi Arabia can certainly follow suit by allowing Ramon to be the springboard for direct Hajj flights for Palestinian and Israeli Muslims alike. And that would be a net positive for efforts to normalize ties between [Jerusalem] and Riyadh.

Read more at Arab News

More about: Israel-Arab relations, Israeli Arabs, Palestinians, Saudi Arabia