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More than 30 countries stay away from U.N. anniversary marking Durban conference

Thu, 2021-09-23 20:31

(JTA) — More than 30 countries sat out the United Nations commemoration of the 2001 Durban conference, notorious among Jewish groups for devolving into antisemitism and virulent anti-Israel activism.

“Thank you for your withdrawal from the 20th anniversary event of the UN’s Durban Conference,” Israel’s foreign ministry tweeted on Wednesday as country delegations, already in New York to attend the annual General Assembly, gathered to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Durban.

At least 33 countries boycotted the commemoration, including the United States, Britain, Canada, France, and Australia.

In the end, the day-long commemoration did not refer to Israel and the Palestinians; its focus was on “reparations, racial justice and equality for people of African descent,” according to a United Nations release.

Still, Israel sees the original conference as so tainted by anti-Jewish animus that it urged boycotts of its commemoration.

“The original Durban Conference, a UN-hosted event, became the worst international manifestation of antisemitism since WWII,” the Foreign Ministry said in its tweet.

In his opening remarks, António Gutteres, the U.N. secretary-general, noted a “troubling rise” in antisemitism, anti-Muslim bigotry, and the mistreatment of minority Christians.

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Isaac Asimov’s epic ‘Foundation’ series is now a TV show. His Jewish life was complicated.

Thu, 2021-09-23 20:24

(JTA) — This Friday, following a pandemic delay, Apple TV+ will debut “Foundation,” the first-ever screen adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s bestselling, award-winning science-fiction book series. First announced in 2018 and produced in association with Skydance Television, the TV show is one of the Apple streaming service’s most expensive and ambitious productions to date. 

The series, which follows a mathematician struggling to convince a galactic federation that their society is on the brink of collapse, blends anxieties of the 1940s and ’50s, when the source material was originally written, with modern global concerns like climate change.

It was co-created by Josh Friedman and David S. Goyer. Friedman identifies as Jewish, while showrunner Goyer, son of a Jewish mother, wrote and directed the dybbuk-themed 2009 horror movie “The Unborn.”  

But what of Asimov himself, a biochemist at Boston University and one of the most influential sci-fi writers of all time? That’s a much more complicated question. 

Isaac Asimov was born in Russia in 1920, and his family emigrated to the United States when was 3 years old. He had Jewish parents who were themselves raised Orthodox, and they raised him in Brooklyn. However, Asimov gravitated to more humanist beliefs from an early age, and as an adult identified vocally with atheism until his death in 1992. 

So on the one hand, Asimov became one of pop culture’s most prominent atheists; and on the other, he was open and prideful about his Jewish heritage. 

Lou Llobell in “Foundation.” (Apple TV+)

The author addressed his beliefs and background in his posthumous 1994 memoir, “I, Asimov,” stating that his father, “for all his education as an Orthodox Jew, was not Orthodox in his heart.” While acknowledging that he and his father had never discussed such matters, he speculated that his father, having been “brought up under the Tsarist tyranny, under which Jews were frequently brutalized,” had “turned revolutionary in his heart.” 

Asimov did not have a bar mitzvah, which he attributed to his parents choosing to raise him without religion and not, as some suspected, “an act of rebellion against Orthodox parents.” However, he said, he “gained an interest” in the Bible as he got older, although he eventually realized that he preferred the type of fictional books that would one day make him famous: “Science fiction and science books had taught me their version of the universe and I was not ready to accept the Creation tale of Genesis or the various miracles described throughout the book.”

Having the first name “Isaac,” in the 21st century, isn’t necessarily a certain giveaway that a person is Jewish. But in Asimov’s time, it almost always was. And while Asimov sometimes faced pressure to change his name for professional reasons, he always stuck with his given name. 

“I would not allow any story of mine to appear except under the name of Isaac Asimov,” he wrote. “I think I helped break down the convention of imposing salt-free, low-fat names on writers. In particular, I made it a little more possible for writers to be openly Jewish in the world of popular fiction.” 

Asimov is one of the most prolific authors in history, having written or co-written more than 500 books in his lifetime. And he did explore Jewish liturgy in such books as “Words in Genesis” (1992) and “Words from the Exodus” (1963). The bulk of his literary work, however, did not touch on Judaism. 

His memoir also takes issue with an academic critic who, in 1989, accused Asimov of using “more themes in his work that derive from Christianity than Judaism.” 

“This is unfair,” Asimov wrote. “I have explained that I have not been brought up in the Jewish tradition. I know very little about the minutiae of Judaism… I am a free American and it is not required that because my grandparents were Orthodox I must write on Jewish themes.” He went on to write that Isaac Bashevis Singer “writes on Jewish themes because he wants to [while] I don’t write on them because I don’t want to.” 

“I am tired of being told, periodically, by Jews, that I am not Jewish enough,” he wrote. 

Asimov also devoted a chapter in the memoir to antisemitism. He noted that his family never suffered from pogroms or other overt antisemitic terror either back in Russia or in the U.S., nor did antisemitism never impeded his own personal success. But he did find it “difficult to endure… the feeling of insecurity, and even terror, because of what was happening the world,” especially at the time of the Holocaust. He also told the story of a public argument he once had with Elie Wiesel, in which Wiesel said he did not trust scientists and engineers, because of their role in the Holocaust. 

As for Israel and Zionism, Asimov was something of a skeptic. In his final book “Asimov Laughs Again,” published around the time of his death, Asimov stated that he had never visited Israel and didn’t plan to, although he attributed that in part to his habit of not doing much traveling.  

“I remember how it was in 1948 when Israel was being established and all my Jewish friends were ecstatic, I was not,” he wrote. “I said: what are we doing? We are establishing ourselves in a ghetto, in a small corner of a vast Muslim sea. The Muslims will never forget nor forgive, and Israel, as long as it exists, will be embattled. I was laughed at, but I was right.”

Isaac Asimov died in New York City in April of 1992, at age 72. His family revealed years later that he had contracted HIV from a blood transfusion following heart surgery nearly a decade prior, which led in part to his death. 

Asimov did not have a Jewish funeral, or any funeral at all — he was cremated. But at a subsequent memorial service, fellow author Kurt Vonnegut stated that “Isaac is up in Heaven now,” later joking that “that was the funniest thing I could have said to an audience of humanists.”

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House overwhelmingly approves Iron Dome funding

Thu, 2021-09-23 19:25

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved an extra $1 billion in funding for Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system, following a pushback effort from Israel-critical progressives that had limited reach.

The vote Thursday was 420-9, with two voting present. The bill now goes to the Senate, where it is likely to be approved.

Israel asked the Biden administration for $1 billion to replenish the batteries depleted during its conflict with Hamas in May. The Biden administration agreed, and the Democratic leadership inserted the request into a broader spending bill this week.

A number of progressives objected, saying that they were caught off-guard by the request at the last minute. The leadership pulled the item out of the broader funding bill and set up a standalone vote for Thursday.

Pro-Israel groups anxiously tracked the vote to see how extensive the influence was of the “Squad,” the grouping of leftists in the Democratic Party who in May directed their fury at Israel during the Gaza conflict.

But most progressives in the Democratic caucus, including those who vocally opposed the insertion in the broader funding bill, ultimately backed the Iron Dome funding, which was limited to Israel’s defense system and not to any offensive artillery. The nay votes, in the end, numbered only nine and included just four members of the six-member Squad — including Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., who had enjoyed positive relations with many in the mainstream Boston Jewish community prior to her outspoken criticism of Israel in May.

Among other members of the Squad, Jamaal Bowman of New York voted for the funding and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York voted “present.” The “no” votes included one Republican, Thomas Massie of West Virginia.

The debate beforehand engendered a bitter exchange between one Squad member, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich, who is Palestinian American and who voted “no,” and Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., who is Jewish and chairman of the Middle East subcommittee. Tlaib called Israel an “apartheid” state and Deutch said that was “antisemitism.”

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Hate crime charges filed in May fight with Jewish diners at LA restaurant

Thu, 2021-09-23 19:02

(JTA) — Two men involved in a brawl at a Los Angeles restaurant in May, whose viral footage was widely viewed as an example of rising antisemitism during the recent conflict in Israel and Gaza, now face hate crimes and assault charges.

On May 18, the suspects, Xavier Pabon, 30, and Samer Jayylusi, 36, approached a West L.A. sushi restaurant by car as part of a pro-Palestinian protest caravan, announcing “Israel kills children” via a loudspeaker. The cars stopped at a red light near a group of Jewish diners. L.A. County prosecutors accuse the men of then taking part in beating up a diner who swung a metal stanchion at them.

Video of the fight went viral on social media and was seen as symbolic of a spike in antisemitism in the United States surrounding the May conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Multiple Jewish security organizations recorded increases in reports of antisemitic incidents that month.

The men have each been charged with two counts of assault and a hate crime.

“A hate crime is a crime against all of us,” L.A. County District Attorney George Gascón said in a statement on Tuesday. “My office is committed to doing all we can to make Los Angeles County a place where our diversity is embraced and protected.”

Earlier this year, a lawyer for Pabon, Mark Kleiman, told the Forward that his client was not driven by antisemitism and said he was acting in self-defense.

Eyewitnesses accused the protesters of shouting antisemitic slurs, including asking who was Jewish, which Kleiman denied. The protesters and the diners both accused each other of instigating the fight by throwing glassware.

Kleiman could not immediately be reached for comment.

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97-year-old former member of Nazi death squad dies at home in Canada

Thu, 2021-09-23 17:48

(JTA) — A translator for a Nazi death squad died at home in Ontario at the age of 97, ending a decades-long effort to deport him from Canada for his role in the murders of tens of thousands of Jews.

Helmut Oberlander, who was born in Ukraine in 1924, had long said that he was forced on pain of death at age 17 to become an interpreter for Einsatzkommando 10a, a Nazi unit. The death squad killed nearly 100,000 people, most of them Jews, according to the CBC. Oberlander had not been accused of directly taking part in killing anyone.

In 1954, he emigrated to Canada and hid his activities during the war, eventually raising a family. His Nazi past appears to have been discovered as early as the 1960s. In the mid-1990s, the government began the process of revoking his citizenship, which succeeded after repeated appeals. He was in the midst of deportation hearings when he died on Wednesday.

B’nai Brith Canada, a Jewish organization, had fought for years for Oberlander’s deportation.

“The peaceful demise of Helmut Oberlander on Canadian soil is a stain on our national conscience,” Michael Mostyn, B’nai Brith Canada’s CEO, said in a statement. “The fact is that this country slammed its doors on Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis, then allowed some of their tormentors into Canada and failed to deport them.”

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Kathryn Hahn’s next Jewish role: Joan Rivers

Thu, 2021-09-23 17:38

(JTA) — Showtime is producing a limited series on the late Jewish comedy legend Joan Rivers, and its lead actress should not come as a surprise.

Kathryn Hahn, the non-Jewish star known for playing a rabbi on the very Jewish series “Transparent” among other Jewish roles, will portray Rivers, who died in 2014 after complications from a surgery.

The series “The Comeback Girl” will focus on the years in the 1980s after Rivers dealt with a string of professional defeats and contemplated suicide. Rivers often referenced her Jewishness in her stand-up comedy and left donations to several Jewish institutions in her will.

Hahn, who grew up Catholic but is married to Jewish actor Ethan Sandler, will also soon appear in “The Shrink Next Door” on Apple TV+, an adaptation of a 2019 reported podcast about a Jewish psychiatrist on the Upper West Side of Manhattan who takes control of the life of one of his Jewish patients.

In 2016, Hahn talked to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency about her research for the role of Rabbi Raquel on “Transparent.”

“Playing a rabbi on this show has changed me in so many ways I can’t articulate. It’s perfect timing for me in my life as a mom with two kids and wandering spirituality,” she said at the time.

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Ukraine passes law banning antisemitism

Thu, 2021-09-23 16:43

(JTA) — Ukraine’s parliament has passed a law stating that “antisemitism and its manifestations are banned” in that country.

The law, which passed on Wednesday thanks to a majority of 283 lawmakers out of 450, is unusual in that it also proscribes antisemitic sentiment as illegal. Most countries with laws against antisemitism, such as Germany, France and the Netherlands, criminalize various expressions of antisemitic hatred but not the condition of harboring it.

The Law on Prevention and Counteraction to Anti-Semitism in Ukraine defines antisemitism as “a certain perception of Jews, expressed as hatred of Jews.” It lists examples of this, including Holocaust denial and “calling for, concealing or justifying the killing or harm of persons of Jewish origin.”

The law does not mention Israel rhetoric, but Ukraine is a cosignatory to the IHRA definition of antisemitism, which defines some anti-Israel speech as antisemitic. The bill also does not address the growing phenomenon in Ukraine of glorifying Nazi collaborators as national heroes. And it does not stipulate punishments for those found guilty of violating the law.

Six lawmakers voted against, 40 abstained and 33 were not present during voting, according to the website of the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine parliament. President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is Jewish and was elected in 2019, needs to sign the law for it to become effective.

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Jewish aide to Ukraine’s president survives assassination attempt

Thu, 2021-09-23 16:10

(JTA) — A Jewish aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky survived an assassination attempt near Kyiv on Wednesday.

Several shots were fired at the car of Sergey Nachmanovich Shefir, a former television producer whom Zelensky appointed as his top aide. Shefir was not injured but his driver was hit by three bullets in his leg and is being treated in a hospital for non-critical injuries.

Shefir and his brother Boris both worked with Zelensky, who is also Jewish, when they were all part of the show “Servant of the People.” That show starring Zelensky launched his political career, and he was elected president in 2019.

Police are investigating the incident, which they say could be an attempt at intimidation by local oligarchs or the work of Russia, which has had a territorial dispute with Ukraine since 2014.

Zelenskyy, who is now in New York and is preparing to speak at the UN General Assembly, recorded a video message in which he called Shefir a close friend and promised a “strong response.”

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Two bills in Congress reflect split among Democrats — and Jewish Democrats — on Israel funding

Thu, 2021-09-23 15:58

WASHINGTON (JTA) — There were two groups of Jewish Democrats working Capitol Hill this week, each leveraging their Jewishness to advance what each believed to be a critical remedy after Israel’s conflict with Hamas in May.

Those remedies were radically different. One group, led by Kathy Manning, D-N.C., wanted more unconditional aid for Israel’s defense. The other, led by Rep. Andy Levin, D-Mich., wanted strictures on how Israel spends U.S. defense assistance.

Each group was backed by a lobby that claims to speak on behalf of the Jewish community. And each hoped to capture headlines Thursday with major legislation.

The competing appeals for attention revealed a growing divide not just among Democrats, but among the Jews in the party’s ranks. Once Israel could count on Democrats, and especially Jewish Democrats in Congress, to deliver on requisitions for defense assistance with few questions asked.

That’s no longer the case, as this week’s fight among Democrats over whether to include $1 billion in funding to replenish Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system in a spending bill made clear. 

In a Thursday press conference, Levin announced he was leading a group of lawmakers who wanted to enshrine as U.S. law the two-state solution as the preferred outcome to the Israeli Palestinian conflict. That in itself would likely garner broad support among Jewish Democrats, but Levin’s bill also mandates strict oversight of how Israel spends defense assistance, and also bans spending on any project that entrenches Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.

Manning, meanwhile, spearheaded the bill due to come to the floor on Thursday that would deliver $1 billion in new money for the Iron Dome, per a request by Israel’s government. Progressives led by New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and “the Squad” forced Democrats to remove the same amount of money from a stopgap emergency government funding bill earlier in the week.

Levin said in an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the vast majority of the American Jewish community backs his approach, which is to advocate for aid for Israel — but with rigid oversight to make sure the money does not inhibit the two-state outcome.

“The Jewish community by two to one, or more than two to one, favors shaping aid to Israel so it does not extend the occupation. The loudest voices in the Jewish community might not say that, but American Jews do,” he said. 

Levin was referring to a Jewish Electoral Institute poll in July, taken after the Gaza conflict, in which 58% of Jewish voters said it would be appropriate to restrict aid to Israel so it could not spend U.S. money on settlements.

Manning, a first-term member of Congress, was previously the chairwoman of the Jewish Federations of North America, and has for years been deeply involved in Jewish philanthropy. Though she did not cast her appeal for Iron Dome funding in Jewish terms, the team of Democratic colleagues she assembled to press the House to advance the bill was entirely Jewish.

It included Reps. Ted Deutch and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, Brad Schneider of Illinois, Elaine Luria of Virginia, Dean Phillips of Minnesota, and Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey. Manning’s statement announcing the standalone bill made it clear that, for this group of Jewish Democrats, funding the Iron Dome was sacrosanct. 

“The Iron Dome is a critically important defense system used by Israel, one of our closest allies, to save civilian lives from terrorist attacks,” she said.

Levin did not assemble an exclusively Jewish group, but six of the 14 members signing on as co-sponsors are Jewish, including Steve Cohen of Tennessee, Sara Jacobs and Alan Lowenthal of California, Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, and John Yarmuth of Kentucky. All of his fellow lawmakers present at the press conference — Jacobs, Lowenthal, Schakowsky and Peter Welch, D-Vt. — told JTA they support the Iron Dome funding.

The split also was reflected in who was backing each initiative: lobbying for Manning’s bill was done by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the country’s largest pro-Israel powerhouse that is historically centrist and center-right. Levin rolled out his bill at the press conference with J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group that in recent years has endorsed some restrictions on U.S. assistance to Israel.

In his interview with JTA, Levin said the bill was in line with the teachings he grew up with as a Reconstructionist Jew. He is one of only two members of Congress to have been a president of a synagogue; the other is Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., with whom he has said he has bonded over the experience.

“The mitzvah that is repeated more than any other in the Torah, 36 times,” is to protect the stranger, he said. “I submit that if you’re really a person of faith, you have to think, well, the Torah just isn’t talking about any old stranger, really. We probably need to think of, who [are] the hardest strangers, who is the difficult stranger to love as ourselves and to come to break bread with and to support and love. I think the question answers itself for the Jewish people: The hardest stranger is the Palestinian people.”

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At this Tel Aviv cafe, baristas will serve you espresso — and let you know about Jesus

Thu, 2021-09-23 13:00

TEL AVIV (JTA) — From the outside, HaOgen Cafe looks a lot like the many other espresso spots that line the streets of Tel Aviv.

Located just north of the central Dizengoff Square, it has floor-to-ceiling windows and a colorful chalkboard sidewalk easel that, on a recent weekday, advertised breakfast sandwiches and an upcoming acoustic concert. Inside, a crowd of 20- and 30-somethings sit at tables, typing away at laptops. It’s decorated with string lights and floor plants, with upbeat quotes and doodles scribbled in marker on the opaque windows in the back.

But HaOgen also offers something its neighborhood competitors do not — the gospel of Jesus Christ.

According to the website of Dugit, a Messianic Jewish organization based in Tel Aviv whose name means “small boat,” HaOgen is an “outreach coffee shop” that’s “staffed with evangelists ready to share the good news with every guest that comes in.”

“Thanks to this trendy location the ministry gained access to a whole new group of people in their city who are in great need of a Savior,” reads a 2019 blog post on the website of the Fellowship of Israel Related Ministries, a Messianic organization that describes HaOgen as a member of the fellowship.

The coffee shop’s deep ties to Dugit and Messianic Judaism, a movement that believes in the divinity of Jesus while claiming to practice Judaism, are not immediately detectable to patrons. A bookshelf at the back of the cafe is stocked with Hebrew copies of the New Testament and stacks of pamphlets about “the Messiah,” and the cafe’s logo is an anchor, a historical symbol of Christianity.

Yet no signage inside or outside indicates any ties between HaOgen and any organization or religious movement. Nor does the cafe’s website mention its affiliation with Dugit or any religious mission.

“I didn’t know it was owned by missionaries,” said Jessica Arnovitz, a Jewish American immigrant to Israel who lives near the cafe. “I’ve been before, and it’s a nice place.”

Messianic Judaism, some of whose followers were known in the past as “Jews for Jesus,” appears to be growing in Israel. Messianic Jews refer to Jesus as “Yeshua” and use Christian holy books, such as the New Testament, that have been translated to Hebrew. Messianic Jewish groups often have ties to explicitly Christian organizations, and none of the mainstream Jewish movements consider them Jewish. As with many mainstream Christian denominations, missionary work is part of Messianic practice.

Dugit’s executive director told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the cafe is not the site of efforts to proselytize to Jews. In fact, he said, Dugit does not directly run HaOgen — although he said it does own the space and pay the salary of the cafe’s manager, a man named Argo who is also the lead pastor of an Ethiopian Messianic congregation. Argo declined an interview request from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

“We are not trying to missionize anyone, bribe anyone, or do anything to people,” said Avi Mizrachi, who was born in Israel and is himself a pastor at a Messianic congregation in Tel Aviv. “We are Jews who love our country, serve our country in the army, and pay taxes. And we celebrate the Jewish holidays and feasts, and we believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And yes, we believe that Yeshua is the messiah.”

He added, “Now, if [customers] ask us what we believe, we tell them, but we don’t go and, as we call this, missionize people or, or convert people.”

Only proselytizing to minors without their parents’ consent and offering religious conversions in exchange for a material gift are barred by Israeli law. But there is a widely held misconception that missionary activity in the country is illegal, and the government has at times seemed open to advancing that reputation. In its 2010 International Religious Freedom Report, the U.S. State Department wrote that Israel has “taken a number of steps that encouraged the perception that proselytizing is against government policy,” such as detaining missionaries and citing “proselytism as a reason to deny student, work, and religious visa extensions.”

The idea that missionary work is illegal — and the associated idea that believers in Jesus face persecution because of their faith — leads many Messianics in Israel to mask their activities, according to Sarah Posner, a journalist and author who writes extensively on evangelical Christianity.

HaOgen offers New Testaments in Hebrew as well as pamphlets about Messianic Judaism. (Abby Seitz)

“[Messianics] really played up the idea that proselytizing to Jews is illegal in Israel,” Posner said. “It’s not as severe as they make it out to be, but they do play that up as evidence that they aren’t treated fairly. Elsewhere in the world, and especially in the United States, there aren’t those constraints at all, so they don’t have a reason to have a cafe that seems like it has nothing to do with religion and is just a place you can go get a coffee.”

Most Israelis who identify as Messianic have direct Jewish ancestry, “while in the United States, you’re more likely to encounter people who identify as Messianic Jews but are actually evangelical Christians,” Posner said, adding that many American evangelical Christian churches fundraise for Messianic congregations and missionary efforts in Israel.

The number of Messianic Jews in Israel has multiplied in recent decades, according to representatives of the community. Today, Messianics in Israel number some 10,000 to 20,000, according to Yonatan Allon, managing editor of Kehila, an umbrella organization for Messianics in Israel. Representatives of the community attribute the growth partially to missionizing efforts and partially to immigration. There are Messianic congregations that reach out specifically to Russian-speaking as well as Ethiopian Israelis.

“In 1999, the number of believers in total was approximately 5,000,” Alec Goldberg, Israel Director of the Caspari Center, an evangelical organization in Israel, said in a 2019 Q&A on the center’s website. “Today, 5,000 is just the number of believers in Russian-speaking congregations in Israel. And of course, as observers of the Messianic scene in Israel are aware, the number of local ministries has also multiplied, with new initiatives constantly underway.”

Those initiatives include more than 70 Messianic congregations throughout Israel, according to Kehila, including one, Adonai Roi, run by Dugit and led by Mizrachi that’s a a seven-minute walk away from HaOgen.

In addition to the cafe and the Messianic congregation, Dugit’s website says it runs a prayer room in Tel Aviv, a charity for the poor and an annual conference for women. The website also says Dugit was involved in an evangelical TV station that Israel’s broadcasting authority shut down last year.

“The messaging of these Messianic groups is very evangelical,” Posner said. “For a lot of Israeli Jews, it’s an unfamiliar message, unless they have a lot of political connections with evangelical Christians who, as we know, are very interested in supporting Israel and supporting settlements.”

That’s unlikely to describe the typical customer of a Tel Aviv coffee shop, so some in Israel are working to alert potential HaOgen visitors to what their patronage supports.

Recently, two years after it opened, HaOgen caught the attention of Beyneynu, an Israeli organization that monitors missionary activity in the country. Founded last year by Shannon Nuszen, an American immigrant to Israel and former evangelical missionary who converted to Orthodox Judaism, the watchdog group made headlines earlier this year after it outed a family that had been actively involved in a haredi Orthodox Jerusalem community for several years but were actually Christian missionaries.

Nuszen declined an interview request, but the nonprofit wrote on Facebook last month that it had received tips regarding HaOgen Cafe’s Messianic mission. The post said that Beyneynu has “no objection to people of different faiths operating businesses in Tel Aviv” but wanted to alert potential customers to the cafe’s ties.

“People should know, however, that this eatery is not just another bohemian café. Rather, it is part of a well-funded, organized effort by evangelical donors to convert young, vulnerable Jews to Christianity,” the Facebook post said. “We’re simply asking for transparency and respect.”

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AOC blocks Iron Dome funding • Man threatens Brooklyn synagogue • ‘Unorthodox Life’ gets 2nd season

Thu, 2021-09-23 12:50

Good morning, New York, and moadim l’simcha. Join us tonight as The Jewish Week, UJA-Federation of New York and 70 Faces Media present Israeli writer/actor Lior Raz — the co-creator and star of the hugely popular series “Fauda” and the recently released “Hit & Run” — in conversation with Abigail Pogrebin. Register here. 7:00 p.m.

AOC’S SALVO: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Bronx/Queens) and other progressives forced House Democratic leadership Tuesday to cut $1 billion for Israel’s Iron Dome self-defense system from a short-term government funding bill. (JTA)

  • Moderate Democrats and Republicans — including Ritchie Torres (D-Bronx) — said the progressives’ move inappropriately targeted Israel, and said the House would vote today on a standalone bill that would fund the anti-missile system.
  • Related: New York Times columnist Bret Stephens hails Torres as a “pragmatic” progressive.

CAUGHT ON CAMERA: The NYPD posted surveillance photos of a man who allegedly snarled “Kill all Jews” at a man standing in front of an Orthodox synagogue in Borough Park on Sunday. (New York Post)

HAVE A HAART: Netflix is bringing back “My Unorthodox Life,” the reality series about a formerly Orthodox fashion mogul and her family. (JTA)

  • Read about star Julia Haart, who left the Orthodox community in Monsey to become CEO of a fashion model agency.

MOTHER KNOWS BEST: Read about the 30-something founders of JustKibbitz, a new dating site that lets Jewish parents make accounts showcasing their adult children and arrange their dates. (New York Times)

DIPLOMACY: Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, in town for the U.N. General Assembly, is scheduled to meet today with the president of the American Jewish Committee, David Harris. (ekathimerini.com)

CROSS COUNTRY: Hasidic bakers from Brooklyn traveled to Oregon this month to inspect and purchase the grain they’ll need to begin baking Passover matzah over the winter. (Wallowa County Chieftain)



Richard William Lachmann, a professor of sociology most recently at the University at Albany, died Sept. 19 of a heart attack. He was 65. The New York native and resident was the author of multiple award-winning books, including “Capitalists in Spite of Themselves,” an economic and social history of early modern Europe.


(Timothy Vollmer/Flickr Commons)

When did lox become the symbol of Jewish luxury? The answer teaches an important lesson in the value of moderation in an over-heated world, writes Andrew Silow-Carroll.


Robert Siegel (former senior host of NPR’s “All Things Considered”) interviews Prof. Shuly Rubin Schwartz (Chancellor, Jewish Theological Seminary), Rabbi Elka Abrahamson (President, Wexner Foundation) and Prof. Jonathan Sarna (American Jewish History, Brandeis University) about the Pew Research Center’s latest survey of American Jews. Register here for this American Friends of Rabin Medical Center event. 3:00 p.m.

Photo, top: The first sukkah built on Ellis Island is constructed by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, circa 1948. Watching (right) are Robert F. Smith (on the left), “supervisor of detention” at Ellis Island, and William Neubau, HIAS director on the island. This year the holiday ends Monday evening. (Photo by FPG/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

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After Iron Dome fight among Democrats, Israel’s $1 billion ask to get standalone vote in House

Thu, 2021-09-23 11:00

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Congress appears poised to send $1 billion to Israel to replenish the Iron Dome missile defense system that Israel depleted during its conflict with Hamas in May.

But the funding won’t flow as part of a comprehensive spending bill after a group of progressive Democrats who are deeply critical of Israel vowed to vote against that bill if it included Iron Dome support.

The threat by members of “the Squad” and their allies is likely to have the effect of making clear how far outside the mainstream they are on issues related to Israel. Republican lawmakers are planning to vote against the overall spending bill but are all but certain to support the Iron Dome spending.

In addition, the conflict offered an opportunity for Democrats who want to maintain a strong relationship between the U.S. and Israel to press that point.

“We will pass this bill with the support of the majority of my colleagues and reiterate our ironclad support for our ally, Israel,” said Rep. Kathy Manning, a Jewish Democrat from North Carolina who led the effort to move the Iron Dome funding to a standalone bill.

While the Democratic mainstream, including the Biden administration, remains unchanged on issues related to Israel, a number of progressives during the Gaza conflict called for diminishing or ending defense assistance for Israel, which runs about $3.8 billion a year, including hundreds of millions of dollars for Iron Dome.

This week, progressives said they were angry to have the new money inserted into the funding bill without warning or debate.

“You have a very narrow margin in the House, and somebody in our leadership made the decision to put this Iron Dome in literally six hours before the bill was going to be released,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington said on CNN. “That just isn’t the way things work around here, there was no discussion about it.”

The Biden administration is on board with the $1 billion infusion, and President Joe Biden himself assured Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett last month that the money would come through.

Moderate Democrats and Republicans cast the rejection of Iron Dome funding as inappropriately targeting Israel. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a moderate Jewish Democrat from Michigan, in a Twitter thread said Iron Dome was an inappropriate target because it is strictly used for self-defense.

“Whatever your views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, using a system that just saved hundreds, if not thousands, of lives as a political chit is problematic,” she said.

The $1 trillion infrastructure bill passed the House on Wednesday, without the Iron Dome allocation. Rep. Steny Hoyer, the Maryland Democrat who is the House majority leader, pledged Tuesday to have the standalone vote by the end of the week, and in a tweet, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee — the powerhouse pro-Israel lobby that is close to Hoyer — said the vote would take place on Thursday.

“I talked to the [Israeli] Foreign Minister, Mr. [Yair] Lapid, just two hours ago and assured him that this bill was going to pass the House,” Hoyer said in a speech on the floor of Congress.

“There were 4,400 rockets in 10 days that rained down on Israel, one of our closest allies and friends,” Hoyer said. “Luckily — no, not luckily, because they had Iron Dome, very few lives were lost and very little property was lost.”

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Levi, Thirza and Ezra: Why are non-Jewish Dutch parents giving their children Jewish names?

Tue, 2021-09-21 12:00

AMSTERDAM (JTA) — As he lists the names of his many grandchildren, Joop van Ooijen recites what sounds like a roll call at a typical Israeli classroom.

Yair, Yael, Lael, Odelia, Netanya, Yoaz and Shilon are some of his grandkids with modern names, favored by the Israeli middle class. Baruch, Moshe, Elisheva and Yehuda are among the classics, popular with religious Jewish parents all over the world.

But neither the Van Ooijens nor their 16 children are Jewish.

They are a Protestant Christian family in a small town in the Netherlands, which is among a handful of places in Europe where it’s common for non-Jews to have names that are widely perceived as being distinctly Jewish.

“We’re a devout family and the Bible is always present in our lives, which means Judaism is always present in our lives and we named our children to reflect that,” said Joop van Ooijen, a 69-year-old chemicals retailer.

In addition to universally-popular biblical names like Simon, David, Ruth and Esther, distinctly-Jewish biblical names seem to be particularly common in devout Christian circles in the Netherlands.

But many Dutch parents who aren’t religious also give their children Jewish-sounding names because they perceive the Bible as part of Dutch heritage and are drawn to the short, decisive sounds of Hebrew names. Some parents say those sounds resemble to Dutch ones.

“We didn’t want something foreign and English-sounding, but we also wanted a serious name that carries a certain weight for when the child grows up,” said Jantine Vonk, a 35-year-old mother of two, Aron and Thirza, from the south of the Netherlands.

Vonk added that she believes that many Jewish and non-Jewish Dutch parents share, for various cultural reasons, a preference for short, powerful names with a distinct ring like Boaz and Thirza as opposed to more rounded names such as Ryan and Olivia.

Hagar Jobse, a 34-year-old journalist from Amsterdam who grew up in a secular family, got her name because her parents “just found it pretty,” she told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. In Dutch, it is pronounced Hakhar, using a palatal consonant that exists in Hebrew (though not in the name Hagar) and in Dutch.

Jobse says her name elicits mostly curious and positive reactions because it’s exotic in the Netherlands. Arabs recognize it from Hajar, the Arabic-language pronunciation of the name of that biblical figure. “And Spanish speakers have some difficulties with it,” she observed.

She’s never experienced a negative reaction to her name, Jobse said.

But the Van Ooijens have, Joop said.

“There’s a lot of antisemitism in the school system, unfortunately,” he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “Our children with Jewish names got pestered, some even bullied for it.” Moshe Van Ooijen especially experienced that, his father said, but Arie, Boaz and Sifra also encountered some, he added.

Contacted by JTA, Moshe, who is in his thirties, initially agreed to be interviewed for this article but attempts to reach him have been unsuccessful.

His siblings with typical Dutch names — Gerda, Johan, Cornelis and Andreas — did not experience antisemitic bullying, their father said. The popularity of biblical names has risen significantly since the 1980s, according to the Meertens research institute on society and linguistics.

Thirza, for example, was virtually nonexistent in the 1950s. But from 1990 onwards, at least 20 babies were named Thirza, with the peak occurring in 2000 with about 120 Thirzas. There were about 100 in 2014 named Thirza, a figure from the Book of Numbers from a passage dealing with when daughters inherit the possessions of their late father. (Thirza is also the name of a Canaanite city.)

With boys, the same trend is visible in Levi, a name that almost no one received in 1980. In 2014, there were at least 8,000 Levis in the Netherlands, with hundreds receiving it each year (2016 had about 700 Levis, most of them men but also a few women.)

One of them is Levi Verschoof, a 26-year-old man from Noordwijk, a coastal city situated about 30 miles southwest of Amsterdam. Verschoof, who works for a church group, says he likes his name partly because of its affinity to Judaism.

“When I think of Judaism and Jewish people, I get a positive feeling, so it feels good to have a name connected to that. I feel proud when Jewish people hear my name and react positively to it,” he said, recalling a meeting in 2010 with a rabbi in The Hague who discussed the name’s biblical meanings with Verschoof.

Verschoof and his wife named their son Ezra — another name that many abroad view as distinctly Jewish but in the Netherlands is common among non-Jews.

In Belgium, where about 11 million people live, only a few dozen babies are named Levi each year, compared to hundreds in the Netherlands, whose population is 17 million. (Almost all the Belgian Levis come from areas with a Flemish population, whose size is about 7 million.)

Both countries have about 30,000 Jews each, a figure that, in the Netherlands at least, likely does not account for any significant portion of the thousands of distinctly-Jewish names being given to newborns each year.

The name Boaz, which hundreds of Dutch babies receive each year, is given to fewer than 20 newborns in Belgium annually, government records show. Names like Thirza, Sifra and Tamar, which thousands bear in the Netherlands, are too rare to even be listed among the names that have a statistical record in Belgium.

One rare Jewish-sounding name, Bracha, is famous far beyond its prevalence thanks to a well-known movie actress, Bracha van Doesburgh, who is not Jewish. She is one of only 44 Brachas who lived in the Netherlands in 2014. Her children are named Sophia, Kees and Boris.

Dutch actress Bracha van Doesburgh at the Venice Film Festival, Aug. 31, 2019. (Alberto Pizzoli/AFP via Getty Images)

Coincidentally, attempts to measure the prevalence of antisemitic sentiment have consistently shown it is far more common in Belgium, which according to those surveys has a relatively severe antisemitic problem, than in the Netherlands, where expressions of Jew hatred are among the lowest in Europe.

Gerrit Bloothooft, an Utrecht University sociologist who specializes in the study of names and works with the Meertens institute, says he possesses no data on why distinctly Jewish names are relatively popular in the Netherlands, but he believes that Christian religious sentiment accounts only for some of those names.

“I suspect (and it’s only a suspicion) that parents don’t think too much about the Jewish origins of these names (or the potential consequences),” said Bloothooft, who is quoted often in the Dutch media as an expert on names. “Not more than in names like David, Sarah or Judith. People simply think these are pretty names.”

Chris Vonk, the father of Aron and Thirza, says he indeed wanted those names because they sound pretty to him, but he and his wife, Jantine, did consider the consequences.

“Frankly, it’s something we thought about, yeah. We considered the possibility that our children might be teased or pestered because they have Jewish-sounding names,” Chris told JTA. “But we decided to give them those names anyway. Kids will always find something to tease with. So let it be with those names.”

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Netflix renews ‘My Unorthodox Life’ for second season

Tue, 2021-09-21 01:12

(JTA) — Netflix is bringing back “My Unorthodox Life,” the reality series about a formerly Orthodox fashion mogul and her family, the streaming giant announced Monday.

No details about the content of season two or any approximate release date were disclosed.

The series follows Julia Haart, who left the Orthodox community she grew up in in Monsey, New York, to become CEO of the Elite World Group fashion model agency. Over the course of nine episodes, she and her four children wrestle with how to adapt their varying levels of Jewish practice in secular New York City society.

The show sparked a wide array of debates in different Jewish communities and drew some criticism for its portrayal of Orthodox communities as harshly restrictive.

“Before you judge the show, maybe you might want to watch the show?” Haart told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency after the series debuted in July. “Because they had the word ‘unorthodox’ in it, people have made a thousand assumptions without actually taking the time to listen to what I actually have to say.”

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Poway synagogue shooter pleads guilty to 113 federal hate crimes charges

Mon, 2021-09-20 23:11

(JTA) — The man who opened fire on a synagogue in Poway, California in 2019, killing one and injuring three, has pleaded guilty to a 113-count federal hate crime indictment.

The guilty plea comes with a recommended sentence of life in prison plus 30 years. The charges the shooter faced carried a maximum sentence of the death penalty. The charges also relate to the shooter’s arson of a mosque a month earlier.

“The defendant entered a synagogue with the intent to kill all those inside because of his hatred for Jewish people, and days earlier used fire in an attempt to destroy another sacred house of worship because of his hatred for Muslims,” said Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco in a statement Monday. “There is no place in American society for this type of hate-fueled violence.”

On April 27, 2019, the final day of Passover, John Earnest, a white supremacist, walked into the Chabad synagogue in Poway, California, near San Diego, and began shooting at worshippers. The attack occurred six months to the day after the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, which killed 11 people at prayer.

The shooter killed one woman, Lori Gilbert Kaye, and injured three others, including Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein and a child. In a manifesto, Earnest mentioned the shootings at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand six weeks earlier.

Two more fatal antisemitic attacks would occur later that year, in Jersey City and Monsey, New York.

“This nation stands with Lori Gilbert Kaye’s family and the survivors of these unspeakable acts of terror,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Randy S. Grossman in a statement. “We emphatically reject the defendant’s hate, racism and prejudice, and we hope the conclusion of this case brings some measure of comfort to all those affected by his heinous crimes.”

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Survey of Jewish fraternity and sorority finds most respondents experienced antisemitism on campus

Mon, 2021-09-20 21:59

(JTA) — A survey of members of AEPi and AEPhi, the most prominent national Jewish fraternity and sorority, found that large numbers of respondents have experienced antisemitism on campus.

The survey also found that about half of respondents have felt the need to hide their Jewish identity on campus or in virtual campus settings. A slim majority said they “are somewhat or very reluctant to share their views on Israel,” according to the survey.

The survey was commissioned by the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, a legal organization that aids Jewish and pro-Israel college students. It was conducted by Mike Cohen of the Cohen Research Group in Washington, D.C. The survey was conducted last April, before the spike in antisemitism in the United States surrounding the Israel-Gaza conflict the following month.

The survey was made available to all AEPi and AEPhi members nationally, and 1,027 chose to respond — 710 of the 5,158 AEPi students and 317 of 3,310 AEPhi students. It is unclear how representative the respondents are of AEPi and AEPhi as a whole, though Cohen said it was an unusually high response rate.

The survey comes amid concern among Jewish organizations, and Jewish campus activists, about marginalization and harassment of Jews on campus. National Jewish groups have long seen college campuses, and particularly the debate over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on campus, as a front in the fight against anti-Jewish bigotry. In the past year, Jewish student activists have organized themselves to fight anti-Zionism and antisemitism online.

Those concerns have reached the highest levels of government. Kenneth Marcus, the founder of the Brandeis Center, served as assistant U.S. secretary of education for civil rights under President Donald Trump. In 2019, Trump signed an executive order mandating “robust” enforcement of civil rights protections for Jews on campus, which included some anti-Israel activity in the definition of antisemitism. The order prompted a series of federal complaints alleging antisemitism at campuses in the U.S., some of which were filed by the Brandeis Center.

The survey found that half of AEPi respondents, and two-thirds of AEPhi respondents, had personally been targeted with an antisemitic comment in the 120 days before the survey was taken. Cohen said the higher number of sorority members who experienced antisemitism was due partially to their having been called gendered terms such as “Jewish American Princess.”

Roughly a quarter of each group said they heard offensive jokes about Jews. A slightly lower number said they heard people repeat age-old antisemitic stereotypes about Jews being greedy or cheap. Smaller percentages reported hearing offensive statements about Israel, like comparing Israel’s actions to those of the Nazis.

More than 60% of students in AEPi and AEPhi said that at some point, they have felt unsafe as Jews on campus or in virtual campus settings. Most of both groups said they’re worried about verbal attacks, and about a third of each group said they’re worried about online harassment or being “marginalized or penalized” by a professor, according to the survey. About one in six respondents feared a physical attack.

The survey found that more than 80% of both groups consider other Jews their extended family and are supportive of Israel. A majority of respondents has been to Israel.

“These findings ring some pretty consequential alarms, more closely resembling previous dark periods in our history, not the 21st century in the U.S.,” Marcus said in a statement. “They reveal that students for whom being Jewish is a central or important aspect of their identity are feeling increasingly unsafe visibly expressing their Judaism for fear of harassment, social bullying and other anti-Semitic attacks.

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Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan give $1.3 million to Jewish causes

Mon, 2021-09-20 20:41

(JTA) — Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan are contributing $1.3 million to 11 Jewish groups, eJewish Philanthropy reported, citing a spokesperson for the couple. 

News of Zuckerberg and Chan’s donations comes as the couple has gradually emphasized its Jewish identity in public in recent years. Privately, Zuckerberg and Chan have also been meeting with rabbis and scholars to discuss Judaism and the Jewish community, according to eJewish Philanthropy.

“Mark and Priscilla have made some personal commitments in the past, but these new grants reinforce their interest in learning and deepening their connections with the community,” a spokesperson was quoted as saying. 

Two of the grantees are national organizations: OneTable, which supports Shabbat dinners hosted by young Jews, and PJ Library, which distributes Jewish children’s books and music for free. 

But the rest primarily serve local needs in the San Francisco Bay Area. Three educational institutions received funding: Contra Costa Jewish Day School in Lafayette, Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School in Palo Alto and the Jewish Community High School of the Bay. Three summer camps in California, URJ Camp Newman, Camp Ramah in Northern California and Camp Tawonga, also were beneficiaries. 

The Oshman Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto and the local Jewish Family and Children’s Services are also receiving funding to boost their local offerings. Meanwhile, a grant to the Jewish Community Relations Council will pay for a new social media campaign to educate the public on antisemitism. 

“Mark and Priscilla are proud to support the important work each of these organizations does in building communities, education, celebrating traditions and faith, and giving people a voice — especially in fighting antisemitism,” the spokesperson told eJewish Philanthropy. 

The couple that controls much of Facebook became a major philanthropic power in 2015 when it launched the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, pledging to donate 99% of their Facebook fortune to charity. The recent spate of Jewish donations was made out of the couple’s family office, separately from the initiative, according to eJewish Philanthropy. 

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Israel Defense Forces officer will be reprimanded after injuring and teargassing left-wing activists in West Bank

Mon, 2021-09-20 20:07

(JTA) — An officer from the Israel Defense Forces will be reprimanded after he was filmed injuring and teargassing left-wing activists in the West Bank, with one video showing him kneeling on an activist’s neck.

Multiple Israeli politicians condemned the officer’s conduct, with one defending it.

The activists were attempting to bring water to a Palestinian community in the South Hebron Hills, an area of the southern West Bank that is particularly contested. The area is under full Israeli civil and military control, and Israel has restricted Palestinian construction and access to water in the area. According to a statement from Combatants for Peace, the activists’ organization, the military does not allow Palestinian residents access to running water, and allows them only to buy limited quantities of water on certain days.

The videos show the officer, whose identity is not known, teargassing and shoving multiple activists, including an incident in which he pushed an activist off of a road and down to the ground. Another video shows him kneeling on the neck of activist Tuly Flint.

“We didn’t resist,” Flint told the Times of Israel. “We believe in non-violence, we don’t resist agents of the law. To splay me out on the ground and choke me with a leg on my neck — it was totally redundant.”

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In a statement after the incident, the IDF called the activists’ conduct a “violent demonstration” and said the protesters were blocking the road to a nearby Israeli settlement. Activists “tried to physically attack the soldiers, cursed, threatened and even lay on the wheels of the military vehicles,” the IDF said.

But on Sunday, following an investigation, the IDF announced that the officer in question would be reprimanded, according to Haaretz. The IDF said in a statement that the officer “erred and did not act in a way the situation demanded or that met the norms of the IDF.”

The military added that the decision to teargas activists and to blindfold one of them was also wrong, and that in general, the Israel Police or Border Police, rather than the IDF, should be the law enforcement entity interacting with Israeli citizens.

The videos have pit members of Israel’s ideologically fractious coalition against each other. Abir Kara, a deputy minister from Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s party, called the left-wing activists “terror operatives? and added, “arrest is not a pleasant thing. Good for our soldiers. Total support for commanders in the field.”

But Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, the leader of the left-wing Meretz Party, called for an investigation and said in a statement that the activists were treated “brutally” and that “violence by soldiers against peace activists needs to stop.”

Another Meretz lawmaker, Mossi Raz, said that the military should have done more than reprimand the officer. Combatants for Peace released a similar statement.

“The decision to suffice with a reprimand of the attacking major is shameful,” Raz tweeted. “The attacked and injured protesters have been attacked again by the army, which has given its soldiers a green light to act with violence toward whoever desires peace.”

The incident occurred just about a year after another IDF officer had been filmed kneeling on the neck of a 65-year-old Palestinian activist; that activist was later convicted of incitement. In April of this year, officers of the Israel Police beat up and knelt on the face of a left-wing Jewish lawmaker.

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For Mallorca’s Jews, their first ‘public’ sukkah is a triumph over the Spanish Inquisition

Mon, 2021-09-20 19:07

(JTA) — Before the Spanish Inquisition, the island of Mallorca had a sizeable Jewish community. Every fall, the island became dotted with the leaf-roofed huts that Jews are commanded to erect during the holiday of Sukkot.

But that all changed under the Inquisition’s campaign of persecution that began in 1488 (four years before it started on Spain’s mainland) and was only officially abolished centuries later in 1834.

This year, however, the island’s tiny Jewish community in the capital Palma is determined to reintroduce its Sukkot tradition with a public statement.

Ahead of the holiday this week, the Jewish community along with the municipality of Palma have erected what organizers are calling the island’s first “public” sukkah since the Inquisition, situated in the city’s former Jewish Quarter.

“It’s one of several firsts for the Jews of Mallorca, and it’s especially meaningful because it restores something from this community’s past,” said Dani Rotstein, founder of Limud Mallorca and secretary of the Jewish Community of the Balearic Islands. A tourism and video production professional from New Jersey, he has led efforts to promote Mallorca’s Jewish community since he moved there in 2014.

To be fair, Palma has seen its share of sukkahs since the Inquisition. The city and the island, which is a popular vacation destination off of Spain’s eastern shores, for decades has had a small but active Jewish community of about 100 members, plus several Jewish expats. They are celebrating the 50th anniversary since British expats founded the community in 1971. Palma also has a synagogue, a small Jewish museum and a resident rabbi.

But this year’s weeklong holiday of Sukkot, which begins Monday night, will mark the first time that a sukkah will be built on public grounds with funding from the local municipality. It was erected at the Ca’n Oms mansion, the seat of the city’s department of culture and other municipal bodies. Jews and non-Jews will be able to enjoy cultural programming from Limmud Mallorca, including lectures in the sukkah and tours of the area, over the course of two weeks.

The public sukkah is part of a European-wide initiative European Days of Jewish Culture, a series of events celebrating Jewish heritage in dozens of cities in Europe each year in September and October.

Members of the Jewish community of Mallorca, Spain, attend a Tu b’Shvat picnic, Feb. 10, 2019. (Cnaan Liphshiz)

This development is the latest in a series of moves by Rotstein and others designed to commemorate the pre-Inquisition presence of Jews in Mallorca, who became known as chuetas, the local name for anusim — or those who were forcibly converted to Christianity during the Inquisition.

On Rosh Hashanah, local Jews hosted a festive service and musical concert to celebrate the new Jewish year, with the cooperation of a local Catalan cultural center, in its garden located in the old Jewish quarter.

It was symbolic to participants because of a painful chapter in the history of Mallorca’s Jewish community. In 1677, local crypto-Jews, who risked their lives by practicing their faith while pretending to be Christian, held a Yom Kippur service in secret in a garden outside the city walls.

Local Jews say that when Spanish rulers learned about the service, they salted the garden’s soil to ensure that nothing could ever grow there again, and doubled down on eradicating Jewish celebrations from the island.

In recent years, authorities have made an effort to acknowledge and atone for such atrocities.

In 2018, local authorities unveiled a memorial plaque at the Palma square where 37 crypto-Jews were publicly burned in what was once known locally as “the bonfire of the Jews.”

In 2015, the city helped build a small Jewish museum in what used to be the Jewish quarter. The area, featuring sandstone facades and quiet, cobbled streets, used to be a thriving and heavily Jewish shopping and business area, with many tanneries, shoe shops and butcher shops. Today few if any Jews live there, and most visitors are tourists. 

Also in 2015, the parliaments of Spain and Portugal passed laws that give descendants of Sephardic Jews the right to citizenship. Millions of dollars in public funds are being invested in preserving and developing Jewish heritage sites in those countries.

Many chueta families continued to practice Judaism in secret. Even those who did not keep up their Jewish practice at the time were treated with suspicion and excluded in many ways from the rest of society.

Some Jewish traditions remained in chueta families, such as the lighting of candles on Shabbat, covering mirrors during mourning and the spring cleanings associated with Passover. But overtime the island’s Jewish population dwindled.

But, ironically, society’s exclusion of chuetas proved to be the key to Judaism’s revival in Mallorca, historians say: because they were not allowed to intermarry freely with the Christian population, chuetas married among themselves. This helped preserve a distinct chueta identity well into the 1970s, when the dictatorship of Fransisco Franco finally collapsed, opening Spanish society to the rest of Europe.

When that happened, Mallorca had thousands of people who defined themselves as chuetas, a minority that numbers about 20,000 today.

In recent years, chuetas who returned to Judaism and converted have taken the community’s reins. In 2018, two chuetas were elected to the community’s four-person executive board. And in June, the community received, for the first time since the Inquisition, a rabbi who was born in Palma to a chueta family, Nissan Ben Avraham.

This process, as well as the public events for Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot, “are a victory,” Iska Valls, a chueta returnee to Judaism and the wife of Toni Pinya, one of the Jewish community’s chueta board members, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

“It’s a victory [over] the Inquisition and proof that we are like a phoenix, rising once more from the ashes,” she said.

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Israeli philanthropists help dozens flee Afghanistan for United Arab Emirates

Mon, 2021-09-20 18:25

(JTA) — Several Israeli philanthropists have helped bring to Abu Dhabi dozens of asylum seekers, including female athletes, fleeing Taliban rule in Afghanistan.

The rescue operation led by Aaron G. Frenkel, an aviation professional who had helped airlift thousands of Jews out of the Soviet Union, ended on Sept. 6, as 41 asylum seekers from Afghanistan reached Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. The Euro-Asian Jewish Congress detailed the operation in a statement Sunday.

Frenkel, who is the chairman of the Congress, teamed up with the group’s honorary president, Alexander Machkevich, and the Canadian-Israeli billionaire Sylvan Adams to extract the passengers from Afghanistan to neighboring Tajikistan.

Adams provided the funds for chartering a private jet from Tajikistan to Abu Dhabi, carrying on board members of Afghanistan’s former women’s cycling team, human rights activists and members of a robotics team, including women, the statement said. All were deemed at risk of reprisals from the Taliban, the statement said.

The Israeli international humanitarian agency IsraAID and officials from several governments also were involved in the rescue operation.

“When troubling events such as the current situation in Afghanistan occur in the world, we have an obligation to act as leaders,” Frenkel said. “If it is within our power to provide assistance then it is our duty to come to the rescue of any human being.”

In the 1980s, Frenkel used his connections in the aviation industry to help the Jewish Agency airlift Jews out of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union prior to its collapse. Frenkel had served as Boeing’s representative in Eastern Europe and later established his own aviation group.

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