Syndicate content Jewish Telegraphic Agency
The Global Jewish News Source
Updated: 1 hour 42 min ago

Child Holocaust survivor hugs 93-year-old Nazi guard during trial in Germany

2 hours 22 min ago

BERLIN (JTA) — A child survivor of the Holocaust interrupted the trial of a former Nazi concentration camp guard to give the 93-year-old defendant a hug.

Bruno Dey is charged as an accessory in the murders of 5,230 people at the Stutthof concentration camp near what is today Gdansk, Poland. He is standing trial in Hamburg.

Moshe Peter Loth, 76, a co-plaintiff in the case, approached Dev during the trial last week and said, “Watch out everyone, I’m going to forgive him.”

Loth then hugged Dey. Loth said later that both men cried.

In testimony at the trial, Loth said that his mother had been deported to Stutthof and that he was born there — a fact he reportedly learned only recently. After the camp’s liberation, Loth spent years with a Polish family and was later reunited with his family in Germany. They later immigrated to the United States.

Loth said a lifetime of abuse and hardship made him “full of hate, until I recognized that I had to forgive.”

Dey, a guard at the camp between August 1944 and April 1945, is being tried in a youth court because he was a teenager at the time.

The court allowed Loth to question Dey, who repeated his testimony that he had not volunteered for duty in Stutthof and that he was shocked by what had happened there.

According to an interpreter, Loth asked Dey’s forgiveness for having been angry and filled with hate.

The defendant replied: “Absolutely. I have no hate.”

Dey later said it was a relief for him to meet and apologize to Loth.

In 2015, a similar event unfolded in a German courtroom when Auschwitz survivor Eva Kor publicly forgave former camp guard Oskar Groening. Kor, a Romanian-born U.S. citizen who died in July at 85, urged Groening to set an example by publicly denouncing neo-Nazi activity.

The post Child Holocaust survivor hugs 93-year-old Nazi guard during trial in Germany appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Israeli university heads say U of Toronto kosher controversy takes ‘theater of absurd to new heights’

2 hours 50 min ago

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The leaders of Israel’s seven universities are expressing their outrage over the University of Toronto’s Graduate Student Union conflating a kosher food program with support for Israel.

“Just when we thought that we’d seen it all regarding the ascent of anti-Semitism masquerading as anti-Zionism on campus, the Graduate Student Union at the University of Toronto (U of T) took this theater of the absurd to new heights by characterizing kosher food as ‘pro-Israel,’” Ron Robin, chairman of the Committee of University Heads of Israel, said in a statement released Tuesday. Robin is president of the University of Haifa.

The Graduate Student Union’s external commissioner, in response to a Jewish student’s request for the union to officially support the Kosher Forward Campaign, suggested that the Executive Committee might be reluctant to advance such a motion to its board of directors. The commissioner said since Hillel is “pro-Israel,” supporting the motion would go against the “will of the membership.”

The union later apologized for “unintentionally caus(ing) harm toward the Jewish community.”

In 2012, the union voted to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, movement against Israel.

“(T)he classification of kosher food as ‘pro-Israel’ illustrates just how far the BDS movement has come in terms of zeroing in on its actual objective — suppressing the freedom of speech and freedom of religion of Jews, not merely leveling criticism at the State of Israel and its policies,” Robin said.

The committee is made up of the presidents, rectors and directors-general of the Israeli universities.

The post Israeli university heads say U of Toronto kosher controversy takes ‘theater of absurd to new heights’ appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Prague will return pieces of Jewish gravestones used as cobblestones

3 hours 11 min ago

(JTA) — Pieces of Jewish gravestones used to pave sidewalks in Prague will be given to the Jewish community to return to the city’s Old Jewish Cemetery.

Headstones from the 19th-century cemetery were cut into cobblestones during roadwork ahead of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s visit to Czechoslovakia in 1987, Radio Prague International reported. The cemetery is no longer used for burials.

The Czech Jewish community has called for the removal and return of the stones for years. Stones uncovered during future excavation work will be returned under the memorandum signed by Prague City Hall, according to Radio Prague International.

A project called Finding the Lost Face of Jewish Cemeteries will try to help identify the fragments, the station reported.

The post Prague will return pieces of Jewish gravestones used as cobblestones appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Off-duty police officer who shot Ethiopian-Israeli teen dead will face lesser charge

3 hours 15 min ago

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The off-duty Israeli police officer who fatally shot an Ethiopian-Israeli teenager in a Haifa-area park will be charged with negligent homicide rather than manslaughter, the higher charge the victim’s family was seeking.

The Israeli Prosecutor’s Office and the Police Internal Investigations Department told the family of Solomon Tekah, who was killed at 19, of its decision on Tuesday.

An investigation found in July that the officer fired at the ground and that the bullet ricocheted into Tekah’s body.

The officer said that he shot his gun after feeling threatened while attempting to break up a street fight in the suburb of Kiryat Haim, in northern Israel, on June 30. The teens involved in the altercation threw stones at the officer and injured him before he used his gun, according to the Justice Ministry.

The name of the officer, whose family was with him at the park when the shooting took place, remains under a gag order.

The Tekah family had urged the prosecutors to charge the officer with manslaughter rather than negligent homicide. Its attorney, Zion Amir, told Ynet that the family is disappointed with the decision and feel as if Solomon “was killed for the second time.”

“The decision was made after a thorough examination of the incident, including the fact that the officer opened fire not in accordance with police protocols he was well aware of, and did not take any other alternatives measures which were available to him,” the Justice Ministry said in a statement.

The officer will have a pre-indictment hearing, where he can address the accusations, before final charges are made.

Members of the Ethiopian-Israeli community and their supporters demonstrated for two days following Tekah’s funeral. The protests at times turned violent.

The post Off-duty police officer who shot Ethiopian-Israeli teen dead will face lesser charge appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Ukraine asked Alexander Vindman to be its defense minister, and other takeaways from his impeachment testimony

4 hours 21 min ago

This is a developing story. 

(JTA) — Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the Jewish National Security Council staffer whose firsthand account of the July phone call between President Donald Trump and the president of Ukraine is at the center of the impeachment inquiry, is testifying in the impeachment hearings on Tuesday. Here are the biggest takeaways from his testimony to the House Intelligence Committee.

Vindman was thrice offered the position of Ukrainian defense minister. He rejected the offers.

This minor bombshell has not yet been reported. Steve Castor, a Republican staff attorney, asked whether Oleksandr Danylyuk, then Ukraine’s national security adviser, offered Vindman the post.

“Every single time, I dismissed it,” said Vindman, a Ukraine native. “Upon returning, I notified my chain of command and the appropriate counterintelligence folks about the offer.”

Vindman later said the offer would be “a great honor” but declined because he is an American.

“I’m an American, I came here when I was a toddler, and I immediately dismissed these offers, did not entertain them,” he said. “The whole notion is rather comical that I was being asked to consider whether I would want to be the minister of defense. I did not leave the door open at all. But it is pretty funny for a lieutenant colonel in the United States Army, which really is not that senior, to be offered that illustrious a position.”

He mentioned his Jewish family’s immigration story in his opening statement.

The statement concluded with Vindman retelling his family’s immigrant story and an expression of appreciation for U.S. democracy in contrast to Russia’s authoritarian government. Vindman’s family was among a group of Soviet Jewish refugees that was allowed to immigrate to the United States in 1979. He and his brothers have served in the U.S. military.

“In Russia, my act of expressing my concerns to the chain of command in an official and private channel would have severe personal and professional repercussions, and offering public testimony involving the president would surely cost me my life,” he said in the statement. “I am grateful for my father’s brave act of hope 40 years ago and for the privilege of being an American citizen and public servant, where I can live free of fear for mine and my family’s safety.”

Vindman also addressed his father personally in the statement, telling him not to fear retribution because of the testimony.

“Dad, my sitting here today, in the U.S. Capitol talking to our elected officials, is proof that you made the right decision 40 years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here to the United States of America in search of a better life for our family,” he said. “Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth.”

He pushed back against attacks on his loyalty to the United States. 

Some Trump supporters have claimed that Vindman, a career U.S. Army officer who was injured in battle in 2014 and awarded a Purple Heart, is more loyal to interests in his native Ukraine than to the United States.

During his testimony, Vindman defended himself against those attacks.

“I’m in uniform wearing my military rank,” he said. “The attacks that I’ve had in the press, on Twitter, have kind of eliminated the fact — marginalized me as a military officer.”

He said he’s definitely not a “Never Trumper.”

Asked directly in the hearings by Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., if he were a “Never Trumper” — something that Trump called Jennifer Williams, the other person testifying Tuesday, in a tweet on Sunday — Vindman had a pithy response that’s sure to make the rounds on social media: “I’d call myself never partisan.”

The post Ukraine asked Alexander Vindman to be its defense minister, and other takeaways from his impeachment testimony appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Sacha Baron Cohen to be honored by ADL for his ‘vision, imagination and creativity’

5 hours 23 min ago

(JTA) — Sacha Baron Cohen will be honored by the Anti-Defamation League for his “vision, imagination and creativity.”

Cohen, who most recently portrayed the late Israeli spy Eli Cohen in a Netflix series, will receive the International Leadership Award during the civil rights organization’s Never is Now summit on anti-Semitism and hate. The summit will be held Thursday in New York City.

The actor, comedian and director, whose political satire films include “Borat” and “The Dictator,” will deliver a keynote address.

“Baron Cohen has used humor and satire to expose people’s inherent biases by depicting racists, anti-Semites, neo-Nazis, Islamophobes and others as deeply flawed, ordinary people whose prejudices are, ultimately, laughable,” the ADL said in a statement. “As a celebrity and public figure, he’s not shied away from taking on tough subjects off-screen, having recently spoken out about the failure of social media companies to adequately address the rampant racism, anti-Semitism and hate on their platforms.”

ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in the statement that Cohen’s characters “help to expose how common prejudices are in our society and our world.”

“There’s many ways to combat prejudice, and anti-bias education, exposure and awareness are important tools. But there are other, more unorthodox ways to fight hate,” Greenblatt said. “Sacha’s hilarious characters fall into that latter category. They push envelopes. They cross boundaries. They evoke stereotypes and tropes, but for comedic effect.”

The post Sacha Baron Cohen to be honored by ADL for his ‘vision, imagination and creativity’ appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

I travel the world getting tattoos, and I’m Jewish — it’s not a contradiction

5 hours 32 min ago

SAN DIEGO (JTA) — I’m lying on my side on the first floor of a nondescript low-rise residential tower in Tokyo meditating on the fact that pain is finite. There’s an odd sound in the air, reminiscent of blunt-edged safety scissors cutting into thick construction paper. 

As an adult, my connection to Judaism has largely been a spiritual and cultural one rather than religious. Part of that is embracing other people and cultures from around the world, and understanding their own beliefs and traditions — and there’s no better way to begin understanding than to partake in something yourself.

Whenever I travel, I get tattooed, making for an incredible cultural experience — not to mention a one-of-a-kind souvenir.  

My first tattoo was a Star of David, received mere days after turning 18 while attending New York University. My thought process was that my parents couldn’t be that mad at me if I got a Jewish tattoo, right? 

Ah, the naivete of youth. They’ve since come around to the tattoo-touting tendencies of their son though as they’ve come to understand more about what it means and why I pursue it.

I’m well aware that religious Jewish law forbids tattoos, but my journey to getting inked actually has an intrinsic connection to my Judaism.

For 18-year-old me, the Star of David was a purposefully ironic call back to the tattooed numbers of identification forced upon prisoners in concentration camps during the Holocaust, as well as the yellow Stars of David that Jewish people were compelled to wear on their clothing as a means of persecution by the Nazis. 

These “Jewish badges” were meant to shame the wearer, to mark them so that everyone could know who they were and could treat them accordingly. Some six decades later, I wanted to broadcast to the world that I was proud to be Jewish. Here it is on my body for all to see, and I dare anybody to take issue with what it means or who I am.

Traveling for tattoos to explore culture and traditions around the world

That rhythmic noise I was hearing in Tokyo was artist Horimitsu performing a traditional tebori, or hand-carving tattoo, along the upper half of my right arm. That would make my skin the construction paper in this analogy, and far from a pair of safety scissors, the tool he’s wielding is a narrow wooden stick affixed with a tight grouping of needles. 

“Hori” indicates that he’s a master of this craft, having learned the trade by apprenticing under his master, Horitoshi, for many years. He gave me a tebori tattoo of the Amida Buddha, also known as Amitabha or the Buddha of Infinite Light. 

View this post on Instagram

Amida Buddha by the incredible @horimitsu, performed partially with tebori over three sessions while in Japan last month. Thank you Horitmitsu-san!

A post shared by Jake (@mantalkfood) on Dec 21, 2016 at 1:54pm PST

This was the first time I had purposefully headed halfway around the world to come back with an irreplaceable keepsake, a memory I would keep forever emblazoned on my body. Traditional Japanese tattoos, called “irezumi,” are deeply layered with meaning, with Amida representative of traits such as compassion, wisdom and forgiveness, often paired with a lotus flower depicting purity and enlightenment. 

These are all qualities I strive for, even if I often come up short, and those of the Amida also overlap to a great degree with what we’re taught it means to be Jewish. The tattoo, I hope, ties me to those ideals, while having it performed via tebori by a respected master of the craft in Japan helped me connect more deeply to the meaning and the process. 

In another instance, my tattoo wanderlust took me to New Zealand. For the Maori, tattoos once were crucial social and familial indicators, but the art and ritual has largely been lost in the modern era. While in Auckland, I received a Maori “ta moko” tattoo with traditional wooden tapping tools from perhaps the only Maori artist still dedicated to a full-time practice of the ancient art. 

The tattoo depicts two sets of shark’s teeth, a revered animal to the Maori, and here representing protection and spirituality, enclosed around ocean waves, which for the seafaring Maori represent life’s journey and connection to the whole. Fitting, perhaps, not only for my own journey but for the Jewish Diaspora as well.

View this post on Instagram

Well if there's a better way to experience Maori culture than receiving a traditional ta moko tattoo from one of the very few who are fully practicing this ancient art and keeping it alive, I don't know what it is. Such a cool experience and awesome to learn about the craft and its meaning. This design is a combination of shark's teeth and ocean waves, together symbolizing spirituality, protection, life's journey, and connection to the whole. Thank you Moko @uhi_tapu. cheers!

A post shared by Jake (@mantalkfood) on Sep 3, 2018 at 7:35pm PDT

Most recently, last year in Cambodia, I received a “sak yon” tattoo performed by bamboo needle. Such tattoos are a spiritual practice predating Angkor Wat, replete with prayers and water blessings. The painful ordeal was performed in Phnom Penh and involved making an offering to the artist, a renowned tattoo master. The incantations essentially translate to strength of character and success in life — two things any parent, Jewish or otherwise, would wish for their children.

View this post on Instagram

Well I guess I can't help myself. Received a traditional Cambodian Sak Yon tattoo (more commonly known as Sak Yant in Thai) in Phnom Penh from master tattoo artist ChanTra. This is a spiritual practice that predates Angkor Wat, beginning with an offering and ending with a water blessing ritual to enliven the tattoo to its full purpose. On the left is a symbol said to provide success in all aspects of life. On the right is one for power and strength. Ironically, I wish I had the latter one in effect during the process because this was painful as hell, performed by bamboo needle, aka, a 2-foot long, sharp metal instrument of my demise. . . . . . . #cambodiantattoo #cambodiatattoo #sakyon #sakyant #sakyanttattoo #tattoos #sacredtattoo #tattooritual #bambootattoo #bambooneedles #bambootattoos #cambodia #cambodian #cambodiatravel #cambodiatrip #phnompenh #phnompenhtattoo #khmer #khmerempire #khmertattoo #traveltattoo #tattootravel #tattoogram #tattooporn #handpokedtattoo #singleneedletattoo #solotravelers #travelgram #travelporn #journeynotdestination

A post shared by Jake (@mantalkfood) on Dec 10, 2018 at 11:16pm PST

Finding meaning with tattoos

The common thread through most of the tattoos I have gotten is an interconnectedness to the world at large, the billions of people living in it, the universe stretching beyond it and all of the many ways humanity seeks to both honor and make sense of it all. 

A few years ago, I visited my parents in Arizona and found a framed wraparound photo of one of my tattoos — my left arm is consumed entirely with an astronomy sleeve tattoo — on a bookshelf. Shocked to see it, I asked my parents why they had printed and framed the photograph. They said, “Well, it’s a part of you and we love you.” 

My parents may always express a bit of a surprise at the revelation of yet another recently acquired tattoo, but these days it’s usually met with a smile and questions about whether or not it hurt and who performed it.

The late Anthony Bourdain once discussed the subject of getting tattoos while on the road in Parts Unknown, saying “Another tattoo is … a reminder that you’re still alive and lucky as hell.”

Looking at my tattoos and what they mean reconnects me to the moments and places where I got them, to who I was and what I was going through at the time. It reminds me that I’m still alive and lucky as hell — and still a proudly Jewish, proudly tattooed person connecting to the world and finding spirituality wherever and however I can.

The post I travel the world getting tattoos, and I’m Jewish — it’s not a contradiction appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Gantz and Netanyahu to meet in final attempt to form unity government

5 hours 51 min ago

JERUSALEM (JTA) — With a third election looming in less than a year, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are taking an 11th-hour shot at forming a unity government in Israel.

The meeting will take place at 10 p.m. Tuesday, a day before Gantz’s mandate to form a government runs out. If Gantz cannot form a government by midnight Wednesday, lawmakers have 21 days to recommend someone else to form a government or could decide to call for new elections.

Gantz will meet two hours earlier with Avigdor Liberman, head of the Yisrael Beiteinu party. Liberman has been holding out for a secular unity government comprised of his party, Netanyahu’s Likud and Blue and White.

Netanyahu and Liberman spoke earlier Tuesday, characterizing their meeting in a joint statement as “positive and substantive.”

Netanyahu had failed to form a government coalition in the wake of elections in September, as well as in April.

If Gantz and Netanyahu fail to form a coalition, Gantz could chose to form a minority government with support from the outside by the Arab List of predominately Arab parties.

Netanyahu at a rally on Sunday night warned against a “dangerous minority government that is reliant on terror supporters,” referring to the Arab List. Arab List head Ayman Odeh accused Netanyahu of trying to foment a “civil war.”

The post Gantz and Netanyahu to meet in final attempt to form unity government appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Messi and Argentina’s national soccer team play to tie with Uruguay in Tel Aviv

9 hours 5 min ago

(JTA) — Despite BDS threats and concerns about security over recent rockets fired from Gaza, soccer star player Lionel Messi took the field in Tel Aviv.

The national teams of Argentina and Uruguay played to a 2-2 tie on Monday night in front of more than 29,000 fans. Israeli president Reuven Rivlin and top model Bar Rafaeli were who saw goals scored from the main strikers and global soccer stars from both countries: Messi and Sergio Aguero from Argentina, and Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani from Uruguay.

Last year, a campaign by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel led to threats against Messi and his family, and the cancellation of a match between Argentina and Israel in Jerusalem.

A new BDS campaign this year had threatened to shut down the match.

Argentina celebrated the match as the last event of 2019.

Rivlin is a soccer fan and last year told Argentina’s Vice President Gabriela Michetti that he admires the country’s soccer players. “We need to learn from Argentina, we in Israel are doing everything well, except playing soccer,” Rivlin said.

The company organizer of the match, Cometc group, sold out Bloomfield stadium in two hours, a record.

The company donated a bloc of tickets to the Peres Center for Peace, that were distributed to Muslim, Christians and Jewish children, as well as to children from the Hapoel Katamon neighborhood league.

Messi previously visited Israel in 2013 with members of FC Barcelona. He has won the FIFA Ballon D’Or prize for the best soccer player in the world five times and is considered one of the greatest players of all time.  He is also ambassador to an Israeli start-up company.


The post Messi and Argentina’s national soccer team play to tie with Uruguay in Tel Aviv appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem issues travel warning over settlements announcement

10 hours 8 min ago

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem issued a travel warning for visiting Americans, warning that they could be targets of “individuals and groups opposed to the Secretary of State’s recent announcement.”

The warning was issued on Monday, the same day that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the U.S. government does not consider the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank as illegal.

The warning covers Americans visiting or planning to visit Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.

“Individuals and groups opposed to the Secretary of State’s recent announcement may target U.S. government facilities, U.S. private interests, and U.S. citizens. Potential targets include public events, such as demonstrations, holiday events, and celebratory gatherings; hotels, clubs, and restaurants popular with U.S. citizens; places of worship; schools; shopping malls and markets; tourism infrastructure; public transportation and airports,” the statement said.

The warning recommends that U.S. citizens “carefully consider risks to their personal safety and security at sites and events that are potential targets. In addition, U.S. citizens in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem should avoid non-essential movements and events that attract attention. U.S. citizens should carefully consider risks to their personal safety and security at sites and events that are potential targets.”

The U.S. government currently prohibits U.S. government employees to travel to all of the West Bank, including Jericho and Bethlehem, as well as to the Old City of Jerusalem.


The post U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem issues travel warning over settlements announcement appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Four rockets fired from Syria on northern Israel

10 hours 51 min ago

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Four rockets were fired at Israel from Syria.

The rockets, fired early on Tuesday, were intercepted over the Golan Heights by the Iron Dome missile defense system, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

The rockets set off the Code Red rocket alert sirens in cities in the northern Golan Heights and in the Galilee.

Local reports citing unnamed defense officials said that the Israeli military believes the rockets were fired by Iran or by a group firing on the orders of Iran.

Reports said explosions were heard in the Syrian capital of Damascus shortly after the rocket attack on Israel.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights later reported that Israel fired five missiles at targets in southern Damascus, and that the targeted sites were located in the same area where the rockets targeting Israel were launched.

The report said that some of the Israeli missiles were intercepted and others hit their targets, but had no specific information on damage or casualties.

The IDF did not comment on reports of retaliatory attacks.

A week ago, a missile attack on the Damascus home of senior member of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group Akram al-Ajouri killed the terrorist leader’s son. The attack has been blamed on Israel, which has neither confirmed nor denied being behind the attack.

On Monday, the IDF launched a surprise two-day military exercise in northern Israel.

The post Four rockets fired from Syria on northern Israel appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

These Manhattan synagogues want to become condominiums

Mon, 2019-11-18 22:21

NEW YORK (JTA) — One of the most active times of day at the West Side Jewish Center begins precisely at 1:40 p.m., when 60 or so middle-aged men trudge in, mutter through the afternoon prayer service with their coats on, maybe throw a couple dollars of charity into a metal cup and walk back to their jobs. The whole thing is over in about 15 minutes.

Other than that and two shifts of morning prayers, the building is mostly empty during the day. On a recent weekday afternoon, two men studied Jewish texts in Yiddish in a wide room at the front of the building. Long curtains obscured boards bearing the names of generations of congregants who have died. Hot water boiled in a machine that looked like straight out of a 1980s diner.

The overall impression of mustiness belies what is, in fact, an active congregation with good prospects. Not many synagogues can boast more than 100 people praying on a daily basis. The congregation, established by immigrants in 1890, recently renamed itself the Hudson Yards Synagogue to better attract residents of the posh new development of the same name that just sprung up nearby.

But as the 94-year-old synagogue stands on the cusp of a new era, its building is both its greatest asset and liability. On the one hand, the structure is dilapidated and inaccessible to people with disabilities — a significant problem when a good portion of your regulars are senior citizens. On the other hand, it’s valued at $55 million thanks to its location on one of the busiest streets in the busiest city in America.

That’s why the congregation is looking into demolishing the whole thing and rebuilding it as a condominium — with a synagogue on the lower floors.

“This building needs major work,” Rabbi Jason Herman said. “We’re putting a lot of Band-Aids on it. In addition to funding the building, we want to fund programming and operations, so we can become the shul that’s attractive to the neighborhood in the Hudson Yards.”

The afternoon prayer service at the West Side Jewish Center, held in its multipurpose room, is one of the synagogue’s busiest times of day. (Ben Sales)

The SynaCondo concept, as architect Esther Sperber calls it, could be a win-win for developers and the synagogue. Developers get to build in some of the most desirable parts of the city, while synagogues get much-needed cash and state-of-the-art spaces.

Sperber’s renderings envision a wood-paneled basement sanctuary lit by a skylight and an outdoor garden for the synagogue’s exclusive use one floor above. Additional space that could be used for social events is available beneath the sanctuary, two floors below ground level.

“This was an opportunity to think about a problem that seems really relatable to other properties in the city,” Sperber said. “If you give up that dream of being above grade and use that space that’s less valuable to the developer, you can actually get more space and find a way to make that space unique and special and beautiful.”

The West Side Jewish Center would not be the first synagogue in New York City to attempt such a transformation, but it could be the first to succeed. Though on paper it seems like a great idea, in practice deals like this can turn into nightmares.

Both The Young Israel of Manhattan on the Lower East Side and the Fort Tryon Jewish Center in Washington Heights — both historically Jewish Manhattan neighborhoods now in the throes of gentrification — sought to go the condo route. But developers who began working on the buildings were unable to complete them, leaving the projects in limbo and the synagogues renting space elsewhere. (Full disclosure: I am a member of the Fort Tryon Jewish Center.)

“Unfortunately, in 2008, everything fell apart, so our contractor also sort of fell apart,” Rabbi Yeshaya Siff of the Young Israel said. “Since then, the question is, what to do now because the people [at the synagogue] are older and the whole area is becoming upgraded, gentrified. The question is, how realistic is building all of this now?

Other synagogues in the city have also faced hurdles in rebuilding. Lincoln Square Synagogue, a prominent Modern Orthodox congregation on the Upper West Side, sold its property and began construction on a new facility nearby. But the synagogue nearly ran out of cash and had to be bailed out by an anonymous $20 million donation in 2010. It opened its new doors three years later.

Kehilath Jeshurun, a tony Upper East Side synagogue whose building was charred by a fire in 2011, received $9 million from insurance. But the rebuilt interior, which reopened in 2015, cost nearly $40 million to complete, according to The New York Times.

Sperber says synagogue real estate deals like these are especially fraught because they combine Manhattan’s complex market with the unique demands of an Orthodox community that generally cannot change locations and whose chain of command is at times confusing.

“When you look at shuls compared to other nonprofit institutions, the decision-making process at a shul is a little bit less clear,” she said. “The chair of the board may be a very important person or may not. There’s an executive director — they may be the decision maker but they may not. The rabbi may be the decision maker but may not.”

Rabbi Jason Herman and architect Esther Sperber stand in the sanctuary of the West Side Jewish Center. (Ben Sales)

Other synagogues appear to be executing the condo transition more successfully.

Habonim, a congregation on the Upper West Side, had a nursery school that was outgrowing its existing space. Constructing a new building would have cost too much, so instead the synagogue inked a deal with a condo developer. In the meantime, the synagogue has been operating out of rented space.

Richard Verner, Habonim’s board president, estimates it will take another three to four years for the synagogue to move into its new building — a longer timeline than it expected when it began planning the sale several ago.

“It’s a long process and any change is difficult for a community, so it would have been great if we could have closed the doors on the old building and a year later moved into a lovely new building, but that’s not the way things work in New York,” Verner said. “We’re trying to keep everyone excited about the end result.”

Shaare Zedek, another Upper West Side synagogue, also has been in a temporary space since 2017 as its SynaCondo is being built. The synagogue is partnering with Kehillat Hadar, an egalitarian prayer group in the neighborhood.

Michael Firestone, the synagogue president, said the choice to demolish the old building was difficult but obvious, and he remains optimistic that everything will work out.

“We’re the third-oldest shul in Manhattan. We started in the Financial District, went to the Lower East Side, then Harlem,” Firestone said. “There was a lot of emotion tied up in it, but the vote to do the deal was unanimous. The community recognized that this was a moment in history that had to be met boldly.”

The post These Manhattan synagogues want to become condominiums appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

California Democrats vote down ‘highly flawed anti-Israel’ amendment to party platform

Mon, 2019-11-18 21:40

(JTA) — California Democrats voted down an amendment to their party platform that called for the right of return for Palestinians and eliminated references to the two-state solution.

The amendment presented Sunday at the state party’s fall convention also advocated for the return of the descendants of Jewish refugees in Israel to the countries from which they fled.

The Democrats for Israel Los Angeles chapter said in a statement that it coordinated the efforts to defeat the “highly flawed anti-Israel” amendment.

About 65 percent of the 2,500 delegates at the California Democratic Party State Central Committee had rejected the amendment language in the Israel section of the platform.

The party adopted language calling for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “directly negotiated by the parties that guarantees equality, security and democracy for all; recognizing Israel’s future as a secure and democratic Jewish state with recognized borders; and providing Palestinians with independence, sovereignty, and dignity.”

The platform also recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, adding that the “decision to relocate the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem should not remove Jerusalem from final status negotiations, nor should the capital city be used to undermine the peace process.”

It also continues to denounce the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel.

The party also adopted planks advocating stronger measures to fight hate speech, including anti-Semitism.


The post California Democrats vote down ‘highly flawed anti-Israel’ amendment to party platform appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Graffiti targeting Jews painted on Georgia chuch

Mon, 2019-11-18 20:50

(JTA) — A Georgia church was vandalized with messages targeting the Jewish community.

The Unitarian Universalist Church of Augusta said Monday that it would leave the graffiti — a crossed-out Star of David and the words “God will not be mocked” — on the building for at least a week, the local CBS affiliate WRDW reported.

“It’s important for the people of our community to know that this exists, to take a stand,” said its president, Andy Reese.

Reese told the Augusta Chronicle that the church has previously received bomb threats after working on special projects with the Jewish community. He said it is the first time that the building has been vandalized..

The Chronicle reported that the graffiti was painted on the building after a church event that ended late Saturday night and before services on Sunday morning.

Georgia is one of four states that does not have a hate crimes law.

Today at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Augusta (GA). .@WoMenFightAS .@americanzionism .@ pic.twitter.com/69wyHcxdLM

— Paula Bienenfeld (@PBienenfeld) November 17, 2019

The post Graffiti targeting Jews painted on Georgia chuch appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Trump administration removes ‘illegal’ designation from settlements

Mon, 2019-11-18 20:43

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Trump administration will no longer regard West Bank Jewish settlement as illegal, another dramatic change that aligns it with Israel’s right-wing government.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in reviewing the history of U.S. policy on settlements said that since 1978, the United States has regarded settlements as illegal. But, he said, successive presidents have turned a blind eye to some settlement building while condemning other instances.

Pompeo said at a brief news conference Monday on an array of issues that it would now be the U.S. position that “the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements is not per se inconsistent with international law.”

That, in addition to moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing the Golan Heights as Israeli and cutting aid to the Palestinians, brings the Trump administration closely in line with the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Pompeo emphasized that the recognition would not extend to settlements that Israel’s courts deem illegal and the new position does not prejudge the status of the West Bank.

Deeming settlements illegal “hasn’t advanced the cause of peace,” Pompeo said. “There will never be a judicial conclusion to the conflict.”

President Donald Trump’s adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has led a team that has drafted a peace plan over the past three years, but it has yet to be released. The Palestinians dropped out of the process in December 2017 after Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Netanyahu in a statement said that the U.S. decision “rights a historical wrong” and Israel “will continue to reject all arguments regarding the illegality of the settlements.”

Blue and White party head Benny Gantz, who is trying to form a government coalition, also applauded the U.S. move.

“The fate of the settlements and the residents of Judea and Samaria should be determined by agreements that meet security requirements and that can promote peace,” he said in a statement.

The post Trump administration removes ‘illegal’ designation from settlements appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Anne Frank’s childhood friend tells the story of the German official who saved her family

Mon, 2019-11-18 20:31

(JTA) — At age 92, Laureen Nussbaum is one of the few people still alive who personally knew Anne Frank.

Nussbaum’s family lived in the same Amsterdam neighborhood as the Franks, and Anne’s father, Otto, was the best man at her 1947 wedding. After the war, Otto spent months trying to find his daughters, Anne and Margot, who had been deported to Bergen-Belsen. With Nussbaum’s husband, Rudi, Otto would go to the train station every day with photos of his children hoping for news of their fate.

“They showed those pictures and asked everyone, ‘Did you by chance know this woman? Did you know by chance know these girls?’” Nussbaum said in an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “And that’s how they bonded.”

The effort was ultimately for naught. Of the 100,000 Dutch Jews deported from the Netherlands between 1942 and 1945, only 5,200 survived. Neither Rudi’s mother nor the Frank daughters were among them.

But Nussbaum’s entire Jewish family survived. In her new memoir, “Shedding Our Stars: A Story of Hans Calmeyer and How He Saved Thousands of Families Like Mine” (written with Karen Kirtley), Nussbaum focuses less on her famous friend than on Calmeyer, the little-known German official who saved her family.

“So much has been made out of Schindler, who saved 1,200 Jews, and people really empathize with him and made him a hero,” Nussbaum said, speaking of Oskar Schindler, the German factory owner immortalized in the Oscar-winning film “Schindler’s List.” “And I felt that Hans Calmeyer, who has saved more people, is too unknown in the world. There are books about him in Dutch and German, but nothing in English, except for a citation from Yad Vashem when he was declared a Righteous Among the Nations in 1992 — but that’s just four lines. And I thought it was time that people knew about him.”

Laureen and Rudi Nussbaum leave Amsterdam City Hall after their wedding, Oct. 15, 1947. Otto Frank is behind the glass panel. (Courtesy of Laureen Nussbaum)

Calmeyer was a German lawyer who, starting in March 1941, was assigned to adjudicate cases in which a person’s Jewish status was in doubt. He successfully argued to his superiors that individuals should be permitted to challenge their Jewish status if their grandparents could not be proven as Jews.

During his tenure, Calmeyer oversaw 5,600 such petitions and is credited for saving thousands of Jewish lives.

“In two-thirds of the cases, he decided in favor of the petitioner, knowing that he was being cheated,” Nussbaum told JTA, meaning Calmeyer was making it easier for petitioners to make the claim that they were not Jewish. “He allowed himself to be cheated.”

Nussbaum was born Hannelore Klein in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1927. Even as a child, she had been acutely aware of rising anti-Semitism in her native country. One year, Jewish children were no longer allowed to attend classes with non-Jewish children and Nussbaum was forced to use a separate entrance to her school. The girl who walked with her to school each day would no longer walk with her.

“It was quite palpable,” Nussbaum recalls.

Left to right, the Klein sisters Hansje (Laureen), Marion and Susi in Amsterdam in the early spring of 1942. (Courtesy Laureen Nussbaum)

The Klein family fled to Amsterdam in 1936, where they moved in near the Franks. The Germans invaded in 1940, and in 1942 Jews were forced to register with the authorities and wear yellow stars on their clothing. In June of that year, the deportations began.

That summer, the Franks went into hiding in the secret annex that Anne would make famous in her diary. But the Kleins had become “Calmeyer Jews” and were able to continue to live openly.

Nussbaum said she wrote about Hans Calmeyer, seen in a 1940 photo, because “I thought it was time that people knew about him.” (Courtesy of Laureen Nussbaum)

Calmeyer declared Nussbaum’s mother “not Jewish” and they were allowed to remove the yellow stars on their clothing. With their new legal classification, the family could move about freely.

“It wasn’t true, my mother was half-Jewish,” Nussbaum said. “But once he had settled it, we were foolproof.”

While her family was not forced into hiding, her then-boyfriend and future husband was. That’s why she wasn’t surprised to read about Anne’s description of her life in hiding.

“I had been so close to it,” Nussbaum said. “I had seen my boyfriend Rudi in hiding, [and] I had taken care of another couple — I knew exactly what it was like to live in hiding. So I did not find this very earth-shaking. For me, what was really important was to hear a young person express herself so well.”

The Nussbaums eventually moved to the United States after Rudi completed his doctorate in nuclear physics in 1954, ending up in Portland, Oregon, in 1959.

Laureen and Rudi Nussbaum in Amsterdam, 1941, and in Portland, 2008. Rudi died in 2011 at 89. (Courtesy of Laureen Nussbaum)

A scholar of German language and literature, Nussbaum received her doctorate from the University of Washington and joined the faculty at Portland State University, where her areas of expertise focused on German literature and German writers in the Netherlands. Most of her scholarship has focused on Anne.

She wrote the afterword to Anne’s novel, “Liebe Kitty,” which has only been published in German, and she has expressed her frustration that the version of Anne’s diary that Otto published was adapted and changed from the version Anne herself had prepared for publication.

“When I found that out, I was very upset that he had done that,” Nussbaum said. “Because nobody has the right to mess with anybody else’s text, whether that anybody else is a child or not a child. The author’s last version is what people need to read. And so I have been on my soapbox for a quarter century preaching the gospel of Anne’s revised version.”

The Nussbaum family — Laureen, Rudi, their three children and Laureen’s mother — in Portland, 1965. (Courtesy of Laureen Nussbaum)

Nussbaum’s memoir doesn’t dwell on any of this, focusing instead on her own life and that of the man who saved her family. Nussbaum believes Calmeyer’s story is deeply relevant today as a model of resistance.

Calmeyer engaged in a kind of low-key sabotage to thwart the Nazi agenda, working within the existing power structure to save as many Jews as possible. At a time of rising populism across the Western world, Nussbaum hopes Calmeyer’s example can serve as inspiration.

“Sometimes it’s just little things, people within their own realms can find ways to actively stand up for their opinions,” she said.

“Whether we will be successful or not, I cannot predict. But for our own integrity, those of us who are convinced that things are being done the wrong way, I think we have to, each in his or her own way, resist and do our best. That’s all we can do.”

The post Anne Frank’s childhood friend tells the story of the German official who saved her family appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg returns to bench after absence due to illness

Mon, 2019-11-18 18:58

(JTA) — Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg returned to the bench on Monday after missing courtroom arguments last week due to illness.

Ginsburg was in court in a session to grant new admissions to the bar, CNN reported. The report said she was wearing one of her lace collars.

The court will not return to the bench until Dec. 2.

A court spokesman told reporters on Wednesday that Ginsburg was home with a stomach virus and would read the briefs and transcripts of the oral arguments in the cases. That came after Chief Justice John Roberts announced from the bench that Ginsburg was “indisposed due to illness.”

Ginsburg, 86, underwent treatment in August for “a localized malignant tumor” on her pancreas. She had surgery last year to remove a cancerous growth from her left lung, her third bout with cancer.

She is one of three Jewish justices on the court and leads its liberal minority. She is the high court’s oldest justice.

The post Ruth Bader Ginsburg returns to bench after absence due to illness appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Historic former synagogue in Ukraine destroyed in fire

Mon, 2019-11-18 17:36

(JTA) — A former synagogue in Ukraine built in the 18th century was destroyed in a fire.

The Great Synagogue in Illintsi, in southwest Ukraine, has been used since the Holocaust as a furniture factory and carpentry workshop, the Jewish Heritage Europe website reported. The source of the fire was not reported.

The blaze broke out Thursday evening and the building, made of brick in the baroque style, collapsed within about an hour, the news website 20minut.ua reported.

Before World War II, the majority of Illintsi’s population was Jewish. Germans entered the town in July 1941 and soon after kept the Jews as prisoners in a ghetto.

In April 1942, about 1,000 Jews from the town and nearby villages were killed in a mass execution, and 700 others were murdered at the end of May that year. At the end of 1942, the remaining Jews of Illintsi were deported to a labor camp and the ghetto was destroyed.

The post Historic former synagogue in Ukraine destroyed in fire appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Denver radio station says it did not fire Jewish talk show host over Trump criticism

Mon, 2019-11-18 16:31

(JTA) — A conservative Denver radio station has disputed the claim of a Jewish talk show host that he was fired over his criticism of President Donald Trump after his program was taken off the air mid-show.

Craig Silverman told the Denver Post that he was in the middle of talking about former Trump personal attorney Roy Cohn on his show on 710 KNUS radio when he was interrupted by network news.

KNUS program director Kelly Michaels entered the studio and told Silverman, “You’re done,” Silverman told the newspaper.

But the KNUS general manager, Brian Taylor, told the Denver Post on Sunday evening that the station never told Silverman what position to take on Trump and that “I look forward to Craig continuing his program.”

Silverman told the newspaper that the podcasts of his show have been removed from the KNUS website and his entire show page has an error message.

“If I am not canceled, then post my podcasts right now,” he challenged.

Silverman did not commit to returning to the station to do his show.

Taylor told the newspaper that Silverman’s show was not canceled but was “simply interrupted yesterday due to his on-air announcement about his intention to be featured on a competing radio station.”

Silverman has been appearing as a guest on another radio station’s talk show. He said that he has an independent-contractor agreement with KNUS and that nothing in his contract prevents him from appearing on other shows and in fact says that his consulting services are “non-exclusive.” He also said that the station is required to give him 30 days notice before canceling the show.

The post Denver radio station says it did not fire Jewish talk show host over Trump criticism appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Phone line and voicemail of Israeli restaurant in Portland hacked with anti-Semitic message

Mon, 2019-11-18 16:26

(JTA) — The phone line and voicemail of a restaurant in Portland, Oregon, that bills itself as selling Israeli street food was hacked and its greeting changed to an anti-Semitic message.

The Shalom Y’all restaurant said in a message posted on its website that it became aware of the incident on Saturday evening and has been in contact with its telephone service provider and the city police, who are investigating the incident as a possible bias crime.

The line was repaired and then hacked again on Sunday evening, according to the message, which said the attackers also “committed various hate/prank calls using our phone number.” The calls were made to two other Middle Eastern restaurants in the area, according to KGW8, the local NBC affiliate.

“We are deeply disturbed by the hateful, destructive, violent messages they have been sending and disseminating using our account,” the message also said.

The restaurant’s managing partner, Jamal Hassan, told KGW that he changed the password and access codes for the phone system after the first attack and has no idea how the second happened.

The post Phone line and voicemail of Israeli restaurant in Portland hacked with anti-Semitic message appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.