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Local Jews raise concerns after teachers were told that Texas law requires ‘opposing’ views of the Holocaust

Tue, 2021-10-19 18:15

(JTA) — Jews in the Texas school district where an administrator told teachers that a new state law meant they should include “opposing” views of the Holocaust in their classrooms are speaking out against her statement and the law that prompted it.

“The facts are that there are not two sides to the Holocaust,” Jake Berman, an alum of the district who said he had experienced antisemitic bullying while enrolled, said in testimony at a school board meeting Monday that was reported on by NBC News and has since been shared widely on social media. “The Nazis systematically killed millions of people.”

He added, “There are not two sides to slavery. White Europeans enslaved Black Africans in this country until June 19, 1865, a moment we’re barely 150 years removed from. There are not two sides to Jim Crow. There are not two sides to racism and that same oppression continues today.”

Last week, the administrator was recorded telling teachers in the Carroll Independent School District that, in order to comply with a law requiring teaching “diverse and contending perspectives” on controversial issues, they would have to offer “opposing” and “other perspectives” on the Holocaust.

The administrator signaled that she was uncomfortable while she gave that guidance, and teachers on the recording protested. Berman said her remarks were “assuredly a misstep.”

The law in question was motivated by growing Republican opposition to critical race theory, a concept in legal studies that says racism is baked into the country’s laws and institutions. Opponents of the theory — including some Jewish activists — claim that it is being taught broadly in schools with no room for opposing perspectives.

Last week, the superintendent of the school district apologized for the administrator’s remarks, saying that “the comments made were in no way to convey that the Holocaust was anything less than a terrible event in history. Additionally, we recognize there are not two sides of the Holocaust.” He added that the state law “does not require an opposing viewpoint on historical facts.”

State Sen. Bryan Hughes, the Republican who wrote a companion bill to the law in question, denied that his legislation requires teaching opposing views on matters of “good and evil.” Hughes’ bill expands the law’s restrictions, and is moving through the legislative process now.

Rob Forst, a parent in the district who identified himself at the school board meeting as a descendant of Holocaust survivors, called the administrator’s comments “completely unacceptable,” according to NBC News.

Berman said he attended schools in the district through eighth grade, when a principal advised him to leave to escape the antisemitic bullying he was enduring. He said that the slurs directed at him drove him to contemplate suicide and led to depression in his adult life.

“I was subject to a rash of bullying, almost all of which was antisemitic in nature,” he said. “I received everything from jokes about my nose to gas chambers, all while studying for my bar mitzvah from a Holocaust survivor as my primary tutor.”

“The message you and the state are sending to your teachers opens the door for more of this type of behavior in your students,” he said. “If you don’t think that these same attacks are happening in your schools today with regard to someone’s skin color, gender or religion, you are sorely mistaken.”

“The facts are that there are not two sides of the Holocaust." Powerful moment from a Jewish former student at tonight's school board meeting in Southlake, Texas, about the antisemitic bullying he says he endured as a kid.

Here's our story for @NBCNews: https://t.co/Z7RPTbEZUd pic.twitter.com/vPdJivM44d

— Mike Hixenbaugh (@Mike_Hixenbaugh) October 19, 2021

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A New York family is reunited with an heirloom Bible thought lost in the Holocaust

Tue, 2021-10-19 17:26

(New York Jewish Week via JTA) — Some families spend years, if not lifetimes, tracking down family heirlooms and treasures hidden from or seized by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

And some, like Susi Kasper Leiter and her grandson Jacob Leiter, get a message from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum saying a piece of their family past had been rediscovered.

In June, a courier dispatched by a German museum arrived at Susi’s Upper West Side apartment with a package. Surrounded by their immediate family and rabbi, she and Jacob withdrew an 1874 family Bible featuring illustrations by the famed French artist Gustave Doré. The delivery marked the latest turn in the remarkable journey of the Bible and a bittersweet coda to a tragic chapter in the Leiter family’s story.

Hidden by Eduard and Ernestine Leiter, Jacob’s great-great-grandparents, before they were deported to Treblinka, the “Heilige Schrift der Israeliten,” as it is known in German,  had passed through multiple hands before arriving, improbably, in New York.

This story is part of JTA's coverage of New York through the New York Jewish Week. To read more stories like this, sign up for our daily New York newsletter here.

“Twenty-eight members of my own family tragically did not survive the Holocaust,” said Susi, 94. “So when we were notified about the finding and survival of this Bible, I realized that miracles can happen. It is a new connection for my children and grandchildren, to the Leiter family whose name they bear.”

It was a connection that might never have been made if not for a series of accidents. According the USHMM, Eduard and Ernestine Leiter left the Bible and other valuables behind a double wall in a house in the German town of Bopfingen-Oberdorf, where they were forced to live by the Nazis along with seven other Jewish families. They were deported to Theresienstadt and eventually murdered at Treblinka in what the museum presumes was October 1942.

“They must have thought to hide their precious few possessions hoping they would return for them, but they never came back,” said Jo-Ellyn Decker, research and reference librarian for the museum’s Holocaust Survivor and Victims Resource Center.

The house in Oberdorf changed hands after the war, and it wasn’t until 1990 that one of the owners’ sons found the hidden cache. In 2017, the man sold the Bible on eBay to Gerhard Roese, an artist from Darmstadt who collected works by Doré.

According to Jacob Leiter, “Roese immediately realized that this Bible was a piece of history and that it was hidden in ‘consequence of force.’” Roese decided to turn its reemergence into an art project, photographing local residents flipping through the Bible as a comment on a post-Nazi Germany. That’s when a student being photographed discovered inside the book a postcard made out to Eduard Leiter from the book’s publisher.

After a few years of unsuccessful attempts to find any living relatives, said Jacob, Roese donated the Bible to the Ehemalige Synagogue and Museum in Oberdorf. They eventually reached out to the USHMM to see if there was any way to track down anyone in the U.S. who might be related.

In February, Jacob was contacted via LinkedIn by a researcher at the museum. She asked if he were related to Charles and Max Leiter, who turned out to be his great-grandfather and grandfather.

The 22-pound Bible was delivered to the family on June 9.

“It was an amazing moment in my family’s history,” Jacob, who lives in Roslyn, New York, told The Jewish Week. “My initial impression upon seeing the Bible was one of awe at the grandiose size of the Bible. After that, I had feelings of gratitude and fulfillment. There was a lot of back and forth that took place over the course of about five to six months, and I was ecstatic to see it all come to fruition.”

Leiter also cherished sharing the experience with his grandmother, who survived the Holocaust as a child refugee to the United States. Susi told her story for the USHMM’s collection of survivor testimonies, and has identified herself in archival video footage as one of the refugee children aboard  the SS Mouzinho, a ship that left Portugal for the United States in 1941. Susi’s late husband Max Leiter, who died in 2008, was the grandson of Eduard and Ernestine Leiter, whose son Charles (Sali) survived the war. Susi and Max had two children and three grandchildren, including Jacob.

“I am overwhelmed with emotions and memories, and at the same time so grateful to witness this,” said Susi. “There are no words to describe the goodness, patience and caring of the wonderful people involved in Germany to make sure that the Bible was returned to its rightful owners.”

Copies of the Bible are sold by antiquarian booksellers for around $500, but the Leiters consider theirs priceless. Jacob said the family intends to hold onto the Doré Bible as a family heirloom, and “somewhere down the line” donate it to the USHMM.

“To have the Bible back in our family’s possession is an amazing feeling. The more that I learned about the journey of this Bible, the more passionate I felt about bringing this home,” said Jacob.

(The NY office of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum holds its “What You Do Matters – 2021 Northeast Virtual Event,” on Oct. 19, featuring a conversation between Atlantic Editor in Chief Jeffrey Goldberg and Museum Director Sara Bloomfield. Register here.)

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Israel’s National Library to display notebooks of mysterious scholar who taught Elie Wiesel, Emmanuel Levinas

Tue, 2021-10-19 15:32

(JTA) — He knew some 30 languages, taught some of the greatest scholars of Jewish studies in the 20th century and is buried in Uruguay under a tombstone that champions his wisdom — but his identity was never known.

Now, what sounds like the beginning of a riddle is the description of an author whose notebooks are set for display by the National Library of Israel

“Mr. Shushani,” or “Monsieur Chouchani,” was a wanderer and scholar who counted Elie Wiesel and the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas among his students. A brilliant teacher who was said to possess a photographic memory and knew the Bible, Talmud other Jewish texts by heart, he traveled around the world teaching while keeping his real identity secret. Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the scholar and spiritual leader of Mandatory Palestine, called Shushani “one of the most excellent young people … sharp, knowledgeable, complete and multi-minded.”

Shushani was born in Imperial Russia around the turn of the 20th century and died in 1968 in Uruguay. But few details about his life, including his real name, were known even to his closest students.

The notebooks were donated by Shalom Rosenberg, an Israeli professor of Jewish thought who was a student of Shushani’s at the time of his death. Shushani’s writings are difficult to decode and contained everything from his thoughts, to memory exercises, to mathematical formulas and original ideas in the field of Jewish thought. While a small group of scholars has been working through the notebooks for several years, they will be made available to the public for the first time on Thursday.

Yoel Finkelman, curator of the library’s Judaica collection, celebrated the opportunity to introduce more people to Shushani’s writings and their place at the National Library of Israel in a statement.

“We consider it of paramount importance to bring to the public’s attention the story of one of the most mysterious and influential figures in 20th-century Jewish thought,” Finkelman said.

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Schumer mourns toddler taken off life support • Jefferson statue’s Jewish backstory • Amar’e Stoudemire’s ethical beef

Tue, 2021-10-19 13:02

Good morning, New York. Join our colleagues at My Jewish Learning today at 1:00 p.m. ET for a talk with scholar and poet Eitan Fishbane of the Jewish Theological Seminary, discussing the dynamic relationship between mysticism and poetry. Sign up here.

IN MOURNING: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, condemned the decision by a British court that ended the life of a 2-year-old Jewish girl who had been on life support. (Jewish Insider)

HAMAKOM YENACHEM: Yiddish-speaking Bronx native and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who died Monday, brokered the “road map” to a two-state peace deal that still informs much of U.S. policy in the region. (JTA)

SAFETY FIRST: Gov. Kathy Hochul announced more than $33 million in federal funding — including $27 million for the New York City Metro Area  — to beef up security at 198 nonprofit organizations facing an increased risk of terrorism. (governor.ny.gov)

HOOF DREAMS: Amar’e Stoudemire greeted fans at the Union Square Greenmarket, where the former NBA star, current Nets coach and Hapoel Jerusalem owner sold meat raised on his farm in Duchess County. (Jewish Week via JTA)

TOM AND LEVY: The statue of Thomas Jefferson that will be removed from the chambers of the New York City Council at the behest of Black members was a gift in 1834 from Uriah P. Levy, the first Jewish commodore in the United States Navy. (Jewish Press)


FELT FORUM: What did you do during the pandemic? Artist Sam Sidney took a craft project with her four kids and turned into new art style, a business and now a gallery exhibit in Manhattan. The Jewish Week’s Julia Gergely takes in “New York Never Felt So Good,” Sidney’s show of felt portraits of New York City icons of the pre-COVID era.

NEVER TOO LATE: At 95, Mel Brooks signed a deal with Hulu to create a sequel to “History of the World: Part 1,” his 1981 spoof that included, among other things, a musical sketch set during the Spanish Inquisition and Brooks himself as a waiter who interrupts the Last Supper. (JTA)

BARING ALL: New York artist Spencer Tunick, known for large-scale photos of nudes in public places, was back in Israel, photographing around 200 naked men and women — painted head to toe in white — on the shores of the Dead Sea. (CNN)



Gregory Zanis’ Stars of David are part of the makeshift memorial in front of the Tree of Life synagogue after the October 2018 attack. (Courtesy of Brian Cohen)

Mark Oppenheimer’s new book about the Tree of Life massacre, “Squirrel Hill,” is more than a look at how individuals and institutions responded to the deadliest antisemitic attack in American history. It’s a celebration of an American Jewish community, and a lament for fading Jewish connections, writes the Jewish Week’s Andrew Silow-Carroll.

  • ICYMI: Read an interview with Oppenheimer. (JTA)


The Leo Baeck Institute’s Shared History Project, focusing on the Interwar Period, presents a panel on how German-speaking Jews seized on the era of cultural freedom ushered in by the Weimar Republic to rediscover, revitalize and transform Jewish culture and identity in a modern context. With Michael Brenner (American University/Munich), Rachel Seelig (University of Toronto)  and Kerry Wallach (Gettysburg College). Register here. 2:00 p.m.

Jewish Currents hosts a conversation on the future of haredi Judaism and what it may portend for Jews in the United States in the 21st century. Featuring Nathaniel Deutsch, Ayala Fader, Miriam Moster, Schneuer Zalman Newfield and Frieda Vizel. Sign up here. 6:00 p.m.

Photo, top: Artist Sam Sidney’s felt illustration of a bagel is part of her exhibit at Eerdmans New York Gallery in Manhattan, “New York Never Felt So Good.” (Courtesy Eerdmans New York)

Photo, middle: Gregory Zanis’ Stars of David are part of the makeshift memorial in front of the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh after the October 2018 attack. (Courtesy of Brian Cohen)

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How offshore accounts turned the British Virgin Islands into an east Jerusalem landlord

Tue, 2021-10-19 12:56

(JTA) — Some of the most contested real estate in east Jerusalem have come under the legal control of the British Virgin Islands in recent years because the Israeli settlers who managed the properties used offshore accounts and failed to pay corporate fees and taxes. 

This finding appeared in a series of recent reports by Shomrim, an Israeli investigative news organization, following a massive leak of records from the secretive world of offshore financial services. 

The leak, known as the Pandora Papers, was shared with Shomrim and some 150 other news outlets around the world. The roughly 600 journalists involved in the project have been publishing exposés on politicians and other public figures who hold bank accounts, real estate, and other property in jurisdictions that offer secrecy and tax benefits.  

Of the people identified in the leak, 565 are Israeli citizens, according to Shomrim, which noted that it is not illegal to do business using offshore accounts. Offshore accounts can be advantageous for their holders in several ways, including, potentially, shielding their identities, reducing their tax liability and insulating them from legal requirements or consequences in their own countries. 

Among those Israelis is Matityahu Dan, the head of Ateret Cohanim, an Israeli nonprofit dedicated to boosting the Jewish population of east Jerusalem by gaining control of homes in Palestinian neighborhoods. 

Ateret Cohanim uses companies registered in the British Virgin Islands, according to Shomrim. One of those companies is called Philinest, and it reportedly controls two apartments in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem on lease from an entity afflicted with the Jewish National Fund. 

Ateret Cohanim’s treasurer, who was in charge of paying Philinest’s registration renewal fees, quit in 1998, and the person who replaced him failed to keep up the payments, Shomrim reported, citing a court deposition given by Dan. 

When reached by Shomrim, Dan declined to comment. 

As a result of the lapse, the British Virgin Islands canceled the company’s registration. Per local laws, the company’s assets eventually became the property of the islands’ government. 

In 2010, Ateret Cohanim petitioned a local court to reinstate Philinest and in 2019, the court finally agreed, according to Shomrim.

Donhead, another British Virgin Islands company owned by Ateret Cohanim, had been leasing a plot of land in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan when its registration lapsed in 2010. The Israeli nonprofit sought to revive its claims but whether it succeeded is unknown, Shomrim reported. 

At least a handful of other Israeli settler nonprofits also use the British Virgin Islands to manage real estate in east Jerusalem — and, similarly, several have had to try to claw back company registrations after failing to pay fees, according to Shomrim.

The report identified Humberstone Ventures S.A, which controls a piece of property adjacent to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City, and another company called Beit Hanina Properties.

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Mayoral candidate in Rome accused of antisemitism loses election to center-left

Tue, 2021-10-19 12:15

(JTA) — A candidate in Rome’s mayoral election who was accused of making an antisemitic observation about the Holocaust was defeated Monday.

Enrico Michetti, the center-right’s candidate, earned between 37 and 41% of the votes in the runoff election Monday, according to the Guardian, trailing behind Roberto Gualtieri, the center-left candidate, who earned between 59 and 63% of the vote.

Michetti had come under fire for an article he wrote last year in which he asked why the Holocaust received more attention than other instances of mass murder and suggested the answer lay in the fact that victims of other genocides “didn’t own banks.”

“Each year, 40 Holocaust-related movies are shot, trips and cultural initiatives of all sorts are financed to commemorate that horrible persecution, and up to here, I have nothing to say,” Michetti wrote on the website of the radio station where he is a host. “But I wonder, why the same pity and the same consideration are not given to the dead killed in the Foibe massacres [of Italians by Yugoslav Partisans], in the refugee camps, and in the mass murders that still take place in the world?”

He suggested an answer: “Perhaps because they did not own banks, perhaps because they did not belong to lobbies capable of deciding the destinies of the planet.”

Leaders of Rome’s Jewish community condemned Michetti, who first declined to apologize when asked about the comments by reporters but eventually apologized.

The comments were first publicized on Oct. 8 by Il Manifesto, a left-wing Italian newspaper. While Michetti’s remarks were widely condemned, it is unclear if his comments tipped the scales in the election. A poll conducted by Ipsos on Sept. 17 predicted that Gualtieri would beat Michetti with a majority of 57% of the votes.

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Alta Fixsler, a 2-year-old Jewish girl, taken off life support in UK despite parents wishes

Tue, 2021-10-19 09:04

(JTA) — A 2-year-old Jewish girl died in the United Kingdom Monday after she was taken off life support despite her parents’ objections.

Alta Fixsler of Manchester, England, had serious natal complications that made her dependent on life support from birth. When medical authorities at the hospital where she was treated wanted to take her off life support, her parents, both haredi Orthodox Jews, took the medical authorities to court, claiming that taking the child off life support would violate their religious principles.

Chaya and Abraham Fixsler said that taking their daughter off life support would contradict their Jewish faith. Judaism commands the preservation of human life and generally forbids actions to end it, though rabbis, including Orthodox ones, have diverging opinions  taking patients with incurable ailments off life support.

The High Court of London ruled in May that ending Alta’s life would be in her best interest, as medical experts said she felt discomfort but could not recover or feel pleasure, the BBC reported. A British judge rejected a petition by the girl’s parents to have her moved to a hospital in Jerusalem. Attempts to make Alta a U.S. citizen did not succeed in time to prevent her death.

Sky News quoted a spokesperson for the family who announced Alta’s death Monday evening: “Sad news, little Alta Fixsler’s life support was turned off this afternoon and she died at the hospice with her parents by her side.”

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At 95, Mel Brooks will finally deliver ‘History of the World: Part II’

Mon, 2021-10-18 21:48

(JTA) — You couldn’t Torquemada it: Mel Brooks is making a sequel to “History of the World: Part I,” the 1981 revue that delighted and/or appalled Jews with, among other segments, a cheery musical take on the Spanish Inquisition.

The original was a feature film; the sequel on Hulu will be a variety series, Variety reported on Monday. Brooks, who is 95, will executive-produce and write; joining him will be professional funny people Nick Kroll, Wanda Sykes, Ike Barinholtz, David Stassen and Kevin Salter. Production is set to begin in 2022.

Most of the original film’s cast, including Madeline Kahn, Dom DeLuise, Gregory Hines, Cloris Leachman and Sid Caesar, have died in the 40 years since it was released.

“I can’t wait to once more tell the real truth about all the phony baloney stories the world has been conned into believing are History!” Brooks told Variety.

Brooks played a number of roles in the original “History,” including the Spanish inquisitor Torquemada in the Inquisition skit — a tough competition for the most joyfully tasteless segment. “We have a mission to convert the Jews,” Brooks sings as Torquemada, after sliding down a bannister, Broadway-style, to greet his prisoners in the torture chamber.

“Jew, Jew Jew Jew Jew Jew Jews!” the chorus of monks replies. “We’re going to help them see the light and make an offer that they can’t refuse,” Brooks sings. “That the Jews just can’t refuse!” say the monks.

Other sketches covered cavemen, Moses, the Last Supper, the Roman era and the French Revolution, in which Brooks, as King Louis XVI, uttered the immortal catchphrase, “It’s good to be the king.”

The new series finally fulfills the teaser at the end of “Part I,” which promised a sequel that would cover “Hitler on Ice” and “Jews in Space.”

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On Netflix and elsewhere, new collections of Palestinian and Israeli films are now available for streaming

Mon, 2021-10-18 20:20

(JTA) — Some of Netflix’s biggest international hits of the last few years — from “Fauda” to “Shtisel” — have been Israeli imports. Now, the streaming giant is spotlighting Palestinian entertainment, as well.

Last week, Netflix released a “Palestinian Stories” collection consisting of what it said was 32 films, although only 27 films were listed under the category in the U.S. as of Monday. Of the available selections, which span the last couple of decades, 12 of them are short films.

A mix of drama, comedy and documentary, many of the films focus on relationships between Palestinians and Israelis, particularly the Israeli military; a few also incorporate American Jews into their plots. Most, but not all, are from Palestinian directors; several were made with the participation and cooperation of Israelis. At least one director is from a Jewish family. Netflix said more Palestinian films would eventually be added to the service.

Palestinian filmmakers welcomed the opportunity to give their stories a wider platform. “We all in the Palestinian film industry have been eager to share our narrative with the world through our authentic creative productions as an alternative to news reporting,” said May Odeh, director of ‘The Crossing,” in a Netflix news release.

Netflix added that the collection would “showcase the depth and diversity of the Palestinian experience.”

Here are a few of the noteworthy entries available in the U.S.:

  • “Omar,” directed by Hany Abu-Asad, was nominated for the 2013 Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar — the second Palestinian film to be nominated in the category, after Abu-Asad’s own “Paradise Now,” and the first to be identified as originating from “Palestine” rather than “Palestinian Territories.” It’s a drama about a Palestinian baker who becomes a militant and must make deals with the Israeli government while behind bars.
  • “Ave Maria,” a satirical short film directed by Basil Kahlil, was nominated for the 2016 Best Live-Action Short Film Oscar; its plot follows a family of religious Israeli settlers whose car breaks down in the West Bank, forcing them to depend on a group of nuns for help. (Another Palestinian short film on Netflix, 2020’s “The Present,” was also nominated for an Oscar.)
  • “Chronicle of a Disappearance” and “Divine Intervention” are the first two feature films by the acclaimed director Elia Suleiman, who is often hailed as an heir to Buster Keaton for his largely silent comic vignettes and his deadpan acting as a fictionalized version of himself. “Divine Intervention,” from 2002, was the first-ever Palestinian film submitted to the Oscars, and, after considerable controversy over whether the Academy considered “Palestine” qualified to submit an entry, was accepted for consideration (though not nominated).
  • A handful of selections are directed by women, including 2014’s “Mars at Sunrise,” directed by Jessica Habie, a former West Bank resident born in Florida who identifies as being from a “Jewish-Arab family with a Guatemalan ancestry.” The film follows the relationship between a Palestinian artist and a Jewish-American poet as the artist reveals a traumatic incident from a run-in with an Israeli soldier.
  • Five films are by director Mahdi Fleifel, who was raised in the Ein el-Helweh Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon (and whose production company is named Nakba Filmworks). Felifel’s filmography is a mix of dramas and documentaries about life among Palestinian refugees in Greece and Lebanon: “3 Logical Exits,” “A Drowning Man,” “A Man Returned,” “Xenos” and “A World Not Ours.”
  • “Ghost Hunting,” directed by Raed Andoni, is a documentary in which former Palestinian prisoners of Israel reenact their detentions for the camera.
  • “Giraffada,” a family-oriented animal caper directed by Rani Massalha, follows the adventures of a Palestinian veterinarian and his son as they convince an Israeli vet to help them smuggle a giraffe from Tel Aviv to the West Bank so it can find a breeding partner. 

For those looking for even more films from the region, today the Israeli Film Archive in Jerusalem launched a digital version of its collection, making around 250 narrative films — from a mix of Israeli and Palestinian directors, some dating as far back as 1928 — available online. The vast majority of these films can be streamed for free from the archive’s website; a select few are pay-to-rent.

Among the films spotlighted in the archive are collections spotlighting major international hits from Israel and innovative Israeli directors like Amos Gitai.

The archive has said that its entire digital collection will be available in North America, though a perusal of the platform on Monday revealed that many of its films were still unavailable to stream from the U.S. Several of the films that are available to stream do not have English subtitles, and unfortunately there is no easy way to navigate through the ones that do.

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Amar’e Stoudemire — player, coach, kosher winemaker — adds ‘farmer’ to his list of post-basketball careers

Mon, 2021-10-18 19:51

(New York Jewish Week via JTA) — On an unusually hot day in mid-October, Amar’e Stoudemire stopped by the Union Square Greenmarket to meet New York basketball lovers and burger fans alike.

The former NBA star and current Brooklyn Nets assistant coach was helping staff a booth at the Manhattan farmers’ market, where customers were able to pick up fresh brisket, steaks, burger patties and condiments from Stoudemire Farms, his family-run farm in Duchess County, New York that ethically and sustainably raises Black Angus cattle.

The meat, however, is not certified kosher, unlike the wines he produces in Israel at Kfar Tikva, a winery that employs individuals with developmental disabilities. (The winery’s website describes the African-American athlete as the “first kosher winemaker of color.”) Stoudemire became an Israeli citizen in March 2019 and completed his conversion to Judaism in August 2020.

In 2020 Stoudemire helped Maccabi Tel Aviv win the Israel Basketball Premier League Championship. He also co-owns the Israeli basketball team Hapoel Jerusalem, where he played the 2016-’17 and 2018-’19 seasons.

The cattle farm, which has been in operation since 2015, has had a booth at the Union Square Greenmarket every Friday since June. 

He is currently pursuing his MBA at the University of Miami while running Stoudemire Farms, which he founded in order to “create a legacy for his children, and to raise awareness of the importance of building intergenerational wealth in the African American community,” he writes in a letter on the farm’s website. “We’ve dedicated nearly 200 acres to teaching the next generation about the legacy inherent in land ownership and the dignity in reclaiming food sovereignty.”

On Oct. 15, fans steadily lined up for a selfie with Stoudemire and a taste of his signature Stoudemire Burger. Ground beef patties, grilled by Chef Jay Kumar of Jay’s Brooklyn, were dressed with a secret sauce that included garlic, ginger, cumin and fennel, and served atop a toasted English muffin baked by Dam Good English Muffins

Why an English muffin instead of a traditional burger bun? “I tried a burger on an English muffin once and fell in love with it. It’s the best way to eat a burger,” Stoudemire told a customer.

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Lockdown inspires an artist’s loving tribute to an older, grittier New York

Mon, 2021-10-18 19:27

(New York Jewish Week via JTA) — Growing up in Roslyn, Long Island, Sam Sidney’s frequent trips to New York City meant lunch at Sammy’s Noodles in the West Village and hanging around the vintage clothing stores and antique flea markets in Chelsea. It was a little dirty, a little dangerous and always exciting. 

Now, post-pandemic, Sidney thinks there might be an opening for that version of New York — what she called the “quintessential” New York of the ‘80s — to return, and she wants to celebrate it. 

“We have entered a new New York, a revival period,” said the artist and teacher. “Things can be amazing again.”

Artist Sam Sidney began sculpting in felt as a pandemic project with her four children in Charleston, South Carolina. (Courtesy Sam Sidney)

Her new exhibit, “New York Never Felt So Good,” is a collection of 23 felt portraits, ranging in size from a 16” x 20” bagel and lox to the 40” x 30” Lady Liberty. The pieces pop off the wall at Eerdmans New York on E 10th St., somewhere between childlike cartoons and Picasso renditions. 

This story is part of JTA's coverage of New York through the New York Jewish Week. To read more stories like this, sign up for our daily New York newsletter here.

Iconic blue-and-white coffee cups, a MetroCard and a box of Italian cookies all get their moments to shine, alongside iconic New Yorkers of the last half century: fashionista Iris Apfel, writer Fran Lebowitz, Joan Rivers, John Lennon. 

The origins of the project are humble: an early pandemic project to cure boredom and sustain artistic inspiration. In April 2020, Sidney committed to doing one art project a day with her four kids in Charleston, South Carolina, where she has lived for 15 years. She would document their work on Instagram to hold herself accountable. Working with felt was easy for her kids of varying ages — it wasn’t messy and the cut pieces could be put back into a box and reconfigured into new designs the next day.

When Sidney posted a felt self-portrait on Instagram, people “went crazy for it,” she said. A friend commissioned a series of nine musicians, and what started as a pandemic project evolved into an art style, a business and now a gallery exhibit.

Sam Sidney’s felt creations on display at Eerdmans gallery in Manhattan. (Julia Gergely)

For Sidney, being Jewish and being from New York are one and the same — there’s an unspoken, mutual understanding between the two identities. “I think I’d have more in common with any non-Jewish New Yorker than a Jewish person from Charleston,” she told The Jewish Week.

Sidney studied art at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York and later got her master’s degree in art education at NYU. Living in Gramercy Park in her 20s, she exhibited her work at various galleries. After moving to Charleston she stopped exhibiting her work publicly. 

“I never wanted to leave New York,” Sidney said, “and I’m always thinking about when I’m going to move back,” even though, she admitted, her return is unlikely. (On trips back to the city to visit family or drop off her kids at summer camp, there is always a food agenda: a real bagel and a good slice of pizza.)

The felt pieces are reminders of the people and culture that defined the gritty, artsy, intense, version of New York that existed in Sidney’s adolescence. They insist that New York can never die, even through a pandemic, even if you move across the country.

New York Never Felt So Good is on view at Eerdmans New York until Nov. 6.

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Ukraine Jews find cause to celebrate despite country’s challenges

Mon, 2021-10-18 16:17

LVIV, Ukraine — Barely 24 hours after the presidents of Israel and Ukraine solemnly inaugurated a memorial complex commemorating the 1941 massacre of 33,000 Jews by Nazis and local collaborators at Babyn Yar, in another area of Ukraine some 350 Jews converged on Lviv for a joyous festival of singing, dancing and celebrating Jewish life.

For three days earlier this month, Jews from across the former Soviet republic gathered at this medieval city near the Ukraine-Poland border to explore their roots, enjoy traditional Yiddish and Hebrew music, learn about Israel, and reconnect with friends they hadn’t seen since before the coronavirus pandemic. The occasion was Limmud FSU’s first in-person convention in Ukraine since 2019.

“The fact that we opened Limmud Ukraine 2021 the day after the Babi Yar ceremony ended was very symbolic — from death to life,” said Chaim Chesler, who founded Limmud FSU in 2005 together with Sandy Cahn as a way of bringing Jewish culture to Russian-speaking Jews. “We focus on the future, but we don’t forget the past. Despite the hardships, they still want to come.”

Those hardships are no secret. Ukraine is Europe’s second-largest country, but its poorest as measured by annual per capita income. Meanwhile, vandals occasionally attack Jewish cemeteries throughout this Texas-sized country, which before the Holocaust was home to 1.5 million Jews.

The Oct. 7-10 event, held under strict health protocols at Lviv’s Hotel Premier Dnister, marked Ukraine’s 14th Limmud since the first conference in Yalta, in 2008. The opening ceremony at the latest event, emceed by Jewish entertainer Julia Savina of Kharkiv, featured video greetings from Limmud FSU representatives in places from Moscow to Montreal, as well as a welcome by Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyi.

“It’s fitting that our first post-pandemic, full-fledged conference was in Ukraine,” noted Limmud FSU chairman Matthew Bronfman. “In between lockdowns, our local and devoted team of volunteers managed to mount three small-scale events. We were delighted to return to Ukraine’s historic capital, Lviv, for a fifth time to celebrate our cautious return to ‘normal’ programming.”

Since 2005, Limmud FSU get-togethers, led by Bronfman and the organization’s president, Aaron Frenkel, have attracted an estimated 75,000 Russian-speaking Jews in more than a dozen countries throughout North America and Europe, and as far away as Australia.

From left to right, Valeriya Kholodova, program director for Hillel Ukraine, Limmud FSU founder Chaim Chesler, Israel’s ambassador to Ukraine, Michael Brodsky, and Limmud FSU project manager Galina Rybnikova at Limmud Ukraine, October 2021. (Larry Luxner)

Evgeny Shyder, an IT project manager for a Ukrainian outsourcing company, helped organize the event as head of Limmud Ukraine’s technical committee.

“Limmud is like my hobby. I’ve been volunteering since 2008,” said Shyder, 40, who also volunteered for Limmud during the three years he lived in the Israeli cities of Ashdod and Petah Tikvah with his wife and two kids. “I like Israel. My parents moved there because of me, but we decided to return to Ukraine because the cost of living in Israel was too high for us, and my Hebrew wasn’t perfect.”

Due to pandemic restrictions, attendance was down since the 2019 event, which attracted 700 participants. But the programs at this month’s event were no less varied and timely. Conducted almost entirely in Russian, its presenters ranged from Igor Schupak, who spoke about Ukraine’s post-Holocaust history, to Galina Ulyana Movchan, who led a workshop on how to do social media marketing in the Jewish world.

Another popular lecture — and the weekend’s only session in English — was a talk by digital marketing executive Ruben Lanzberger on the work of artist Marc Chagall, who was born into a Hasidic Jewish family in present-day Belarus but spent the last 50 years of his life in France.

“Limmud is one of those annual events that brings you back to your Jewish culture,” said Lanzberger, 52, a Parisian of Russian origin who has lectured at previous Limmud events on other notable Jewish cultural figures such as Philip Roth, Woody Allen, Ralph Lauren and Amy Winehouse. “It helps you understand your own culture, even if you’re not religious.”

Mark Dovev is head of the Dnipro office of Nativ, an Israeli government-affiliated agency whose goal is to cultivate Jewish identity among Jews of the former Soviet bloc. An Orthodox Jew who emigrated from Dnipro to Israel at the age of 18, Dovev, 46, gave two lectures during the weekend retreat: one on the place of haredi Jews within modern Israeli society, and the other on the status of women in Judaism. The regional director of Nativ in Ukraine, Felix Gurvich, was also in attendance.

“Limmud is a very important stage for us, and for Israel to connect with young intellectual Jews here,” said Dovev, who also works at the Israeli Embassy in Kyiv.

Participants attend a session at Limmud FSU’s conference in Lviv, Ukraine, October 2021. (Boris Bukhman)

One of the highlights of this Limmud was Dovev’s impromptu Q&A with Michael Brodsky, Israel’s newly installed ambassador to Ukraine. In an interview following the Q&A, Brodsky said that the relationship between both countries is warm and family-like — especially given that 500,000 Ukrainian Jews have moved to Israel over the years, and that some 50,000 Israeli citizens currently live in Ukraine.

“We want the Jewish community here to remain strong and influential,” said the Russian-born Brodsky, who immigrated to Israel at 18. “We want to promote Israeli interests, and we rely on the Jewish community for very sensitive and important matters such as security. Ukraine has a vote at the United Nations, and it’s very active in the international arena.”

Brodsky, previously Israel’s ambassador to Kazakhstan, said Ukraine now has 150,000 to 200,000 Jews, with the largest communities in Kyiv, Odessa and Dnipro. In contrast, Lviv, which once boasted 45 synagogues, today is home to fewer than 1,000 Jews.

“Limmud conferences require a great deal from their participants: high personal motivation, interest in Jewish knowledge, and a genuine desire to identify with the mosaic of our people,” said Dorit Golender, vice-president for community relations at Genesis Philanthropy Group, one of Limmud FSU’s key backers, along with the Claims Conference, the Jewish National Fund (KKL), the Blavatnik Family Foundation, philanthropists Diane Wohl and Tom Blumberg, and others. “Limmud’s conference in Lviv is an important link to their Jewish heritage and identity.”

That’s why Helen Tsarovska traveled six hours here from Kyiv, where she works for Hesed, a charity that tends to sick and elderly Jews. Tsarovska, a geologist by training, is 66 and old enough to remember the antisemitism she encountered while attending Kyiv University, where she was one of only three Jews out of 125 students in her graduating class.

“The situation now is better than when the Soviet Union existed, but it’s still far from excellent,” said Tsarovska, who’s been to Israel twice in the last 10 years. “The people who were antisemitic from their childhood are still antisemitic. And I try to have no contact with antisemites.”

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Colin Powell, who brokered the Middle East ‘road map’ to peace, dies at 84

Mon, 2021-10-18 14:02

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Colin Powell will be remembered in history as the first Black U.S. national security advisor, the first Black military chief of staff and the first Black secretary of state.

He was also the first military chief to speak Yiddish as a second language, and he loved surprising Jews with his skill.

Powell, the former U.S. secretary of state who brokered the “road map” to a two-state peace deal that still informs much of U.S. policy in the region, died Monday aged 84. He died of COVID-19, his family said on Facebook. He was fully vaccinated and, according to news reports, had been undergoing treatments for blood cancer.

Powell made history three times as the first Black man in a senior security position: As President Ronald Reagan’s last national security adviser from 1987 to 1989; as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1989 to 1993 under President George H.W. Bush, who commanded the successful first Gulf War; and as secretary of state from 2001 to 2005 under Bush’s son, President George W. Bush.

Powell, the child of Jamaican immigrants who grew up in the Bronx, was a hero in Vietnam who upon his return stayed in the military and rapidly rose through the ranks.

From when he was 13 until his sophomore year at the City College of New York, Powell worked for Sickser’s, a Jewish-owned shop in the Bronx that sold goods to new parents — many of them Jewish who spoke Yiddish as a first language. He also worked as a “Shabbes goy,” turning on the electricity for Orthodox families on the Sabbath, and picked up the language.

When he met Yitzhak Shamir, the Israeli prime minister ahead of the first Gulf War in 1991, he said, “Men kent reden Yiddish,” we can speak in Yiddish, to Shamir’s surprise. At least twice, addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, he joked about his Yiddish skills.

Shamir and Powell shared more than a language: In Powell, Shamir found the only senior national security official who was sympathetic to Israel’s reluctance to hold fire in the face of Iraqi Scud missile attacks on the country. The senior Bush and Brent Scowcroft, his national security adviser, were baffled that Israel did not want to rely on American protection.

Powell, as a military officer, understood Shamir’s concern that staying out would lower Israel’s deterrence, and his sympathetic ear helped bring Shamir around toward complying with the Bush administration’s demand that Israel lay low throughout the conflict.

Shamir was consistently concerned about Jewish sensibilities; heading a volunteerism initiative under President Bill Clinton, he formally apologized to the Jewish community after the commission’s first summit was held on Passover.

The pro-Israel community, mindful of his history, welcomed his ascension to secretary of state under the younger Bush, a development that accelerated talk that Powell would eventually run for president as a Republican.

There were tensions, however, as Powell at times clashed with the government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon over Israel’s actions during the Second Intifada.

Powell was the first Bush administration official — indeed the first U.S. official — to say, in 2001, that the likely outcome of peace talks would be a Palestinian state. The development stunned the pro-Israel community, which had expected the second Bush administration to step back from the intensive Middle East peace brokering that had characterized the Clinton and first Bush administrations.

Powell had the ear of his boss; by the summer of 2002, Bush was speaking of Palestinian statehood, and by 2003, Powell had dragged a reluctant Sharon into endorsing — with caveats — the roadmap, which envisioned a process culminating in Palestinian statehood.

Sharon was signing onto the very thing he had accused his Labor Party opponents of rushing toward barely a decade earlier, when the Oslo Process, which did not explicitly envision Palestinian statehood, was launched under Clinton. Powell worked hard to bring the U.S. pro-Jewish community on board with the road map, mindful of how opposition among U.S. pro-Israel groups had helped frustrate the Oslo process.

The Trump administration suspended some provisions of the road map, deemphasizing statehood as an outcome for Palestinians. The Biden administration has reinstated its parameters.

Powell wanted a second term as secretary of state; he forever regretted becoming the leading pitch man for the Iraq War ahead of its 2003 launch, notably with a speech to the United Nations that was later revealed to have included distortions, and wanted to stick around to clean up the mess. Powell clashed with Vice President Dick Cheney over how the war developed.

Bush, however, chose in his second term to let Powell go and elevated his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, to the job, making her the first Black woman to be secretary of state. Once again the pro-Israel community, noting Rice’s reputation for hawkishness, rejoiced; once again, it was disappointed when she spearheaded pressure on Israel to enter the Annapolis peace process in 2007.

Powell, meantime, disillusioned with the course of the Bush presidency and resigned to the fact that his own presidential hopes were dashed in Iraq, endorsed Barack Obama for president in 2008. He remained a critic of the rightward drift of his party, endorsing Obama again in 2012, and Hillary Clinton in 2016, although he disliked her; Donald Trump, he said then, was a “national disgrace.”

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Woman arrested in arson at Yeshiva of Flatbush • Christies to sell looted Van Gogh • Help for families with disabilities

Mon, 2021-10-18 12:59

Good morning, New York. In the spirit of the season, we’ve been checking out this list of scary Jewish movies, from our friends at Kveller.

ARREST: A 39-year-old neighborhood woman was arrested and charged with reckless endangerment and a possible hate crime for setting a fire in front of the Yeshiva of Flatbush on Avenue J in Brooklyn. (ABC 7)

  • Video footage shows a suspect identified as Sharee Jones pouring a line of gasoline in front of the Modern Orthodox high school’s gates and lighting a match Thursday evening. No one was injured and there was no damage to the school.
  • NYPD Chief Dermot Shea visited the school Sunday to deliver the news of the arrest.
  • “The quick arrest sends a clear signal to those who hate in New York: they will be found, they will be arrested and they will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” said Gideon Taylor, CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York.
  • On Sunday, NYPD officers from the Brooklyn South patrol “met & noshed” with head of school Rabbi Joseph Beyda and his team “to re-assure them of our commitment to the safety of all NYers.” (Twitter)

ON THE BLOCK: Christie’s in New York will auction a watercolor by Vincent van Gogh next month, splitting the proceeds between the Texas businessman who owns it and the heirs of two Jewish families from whom it was stolen during World War II. (New York Times)

ALTER KAKTIVISM: Read more about the @oldjewishmen TikTok account, actors and comedians who stage fake but surprisingly relevant protests about the high price of lox and lack of public restrooms and post them to social media. (New York Post)

MIND THE GAP: In a lengthy profile, Azi Schwartz, the Israeli-born, motorcycle-riding cantor at Park Avenue Synagogue, tries to explain American Judaism to an Israeli interviewer. (Haaretz)

HELP LINE: The Orthodox Union’s Yachad division has launched a new referral service, called REACH, for New Yorkers with disabilities and their families. Call 1-877-Reach-52. (eJEwish Philantropy)


Huntington, Long Island native Brian Goldner, the CEO of the Hasbro toy company, died at 58. Goldner persuaded Hollywood executives to base big-budget films on toy classics like the Transformers, G.I. Joe and Battleship.


IMPACT INVESTING: New Yorkers Jonathan and Dina Leader have created a grant program to boost smaller Jewish non-profits and innovative programs in the city.

  • The Leader Accelerator will offer funding ranging from $10,000 to $25,000 plus managerial advice to as many as 10 applicants. Apply at grants@leaderfamilyfund.com.
  • Jonathan Leader is the founder of Liberty Capital Management. “The best way to look at this is that we want to help second-stage projects get to the next level,” he told eJewish Philanthropy.


Ami Ayalon, a former director of Israel’s Shin Bet security agency, shares his thoughts and philosophy about what Israel needs to do to achieve relative peace and security and to sustain itself as a Jewish homeland and a liberal democracy. Buy tickets for this Commonpoint Queens virtual event here. $8 members/$10 non-members. Noon.

92Y presents lyricist and composer Stephen Schwartz in conversation with journalist Frank DiLella, along with performances from some of Schwartz’s notable stage hits, which have included “Wicked,” “Pippin” and “Godspell.” In person, $25. Buy tickets here. 7:30 p.m.

Photo, top: In a surveillance video, a suspect pours gasoline outside of Yeshiva of Flatbush, before lighting a match, October 14, 2021. (NYPD)

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Jewish skeptics of critical race theory say Texas Holocaust education incident does not deter them

Fri, 2021-10-15 22:06

(JTA) — When a school administrator in Texas was caught on tape saying that a new law forces teachers to offer an “opposing” view on the Holocaust, the raft of state laws aiming to prohibit the teaching of critical race theory took on a new light.

For Jews who support education about systemic racism, and oppose laws restricting such education, the Texas incident proves their point. Just like there is no historical debate about the historicity of the Holocaust, “there are also no ‘both sides’ to American chattel slavery, to systemic racism, to lynchings and land theft and Indigenous genocide,” tweeted Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, a prominent liberal Jewish voice.

“Remember, people, that the suggestion to teach both sides of the Holocaust has come up because there is a law in Texas that is there to censor teaching on antiracism,” wrote Ruttenberg, the scholar in residence at the National Council of Jewish Women. “This is about white supremacy, yes, and/but at its root it’s about antiblackness.”

But some of the loudest American Jewish voices opposing critical race theory — or the associated idea of “wokeness” — say the incident in Texas has not led them to reconsider their stance. They say the Texas administrator’s message represents a distortion of the values they want to see in schools.

“The Holocaust, like the history of slavery in the US, is not an idea or an opinion,” David Bernstein, the founder of the Jewish Institute for Liberal Values and an opponent of education focused on critical race theory, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “It’s a historical fact. One can support the free expression of ideas and still recognize that there are people pedaling hateful and stupid claims that must be debunked.”

Critical race theory is a concept in legal studies that says racism is baked into the laws and institutions of American society. Lately, conservative activists have seized on the idea that public school students are being taught history through a lens of critical race theory. Some states, like Texas, have passed laws that ban teaching the concepts underlying the theory.

Texas’ law states that when teachers teach “widely debated and currently controversial issues of public policy or social affairs,” they need to do so “from diverse and contending perspectives without giving deference to any one perspective.” Recently, the board of the Texas school district where the administrator works reprimanded a fourth-grade teacher for including a book about anti-racism in her classroom library, according to NBC News, which first reported the Holocaust comments.

Texas’ law is aimed at countering the idea that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex.” But the administrator in the tape suggested that its focus on balance applies to teaching historical events like the Holocaust.

Bernstein’s relatively new organization, the Jewish Institute for Liberal Values, published a letter this year articulating a Jewish opposition to efforts to teach critical race theory in schools. “The way to fight racism isn’t to cease discussion and debate. To do so is antithetical to American ideals and antithetical to Judaism,” the letter says. “The way to fight racism is to insist on our common humanity––and to engage in dialogue, including with those who dissent.”

Some signatories of the letter said they oppose the Texas legislation, and distinguish between teaching historical events and teaching any one interpretation of the effects of those events.

“The dispute about the interpretation of events is completely legitimate, but the dispute about the existence of events is either dangerous or stupid or both,” said Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. “You can, for example, argue endlessly about the effects and causes of slavery but to argue that slavery didn’t happen is idiotic, or pernicious, and the same thing is true with the Holocaust.”

Bernstein said he isn’t opposed to teaching about systemic racism amid a wider discussion of race in America — but he is opposed to teachers exclusively saying that systemic racism is to blame for current racial disparities. He doesn’t think that stance inevitably leads to statewide bans like the one in Texas.

“Just because there are people trying to ban any discussion of CRT, which as I said I strongly disagree with, doesn’t mean that anyone who raises concerns about the ideological indoctrination of kids agrees with it,” he said. “Just because there are edge cases and gray areas doesn’t mean we should shut down the free expression of ideas.”

Russel Neiss, a Jewish educator who cautioned in an op-ed this year in the St. Louis Jewish newspaper that anti-critical race theory laws could have blowback on Holocaust education, said that people distinguishing between teaching historical events and their causes and effects don’t understand how Holocaust education generally occurs.

“The way that Holocaust education is taught in America is, it talks about systems of oppression, it talks about dehumanization,” Neiss told JTA. “I don’t even know what it means to just teach facts. Facts don’t mean anything unless they’re contextualized in historical context, unless they’re contextualized in a way of understanding that particular era. ”

He added, “When you begin to ban all these approaches to understanding history, you are banning the way we teach Holocaust education in America today.”

Neiss worries that Jews who advocate against critical race theory could end up aiding a movement that will undermine Holocaust education.

“We have folks with a particular political agenda who are using scare tactics to try to advance their political agenda, and it will come back to bite them in the ass as it has here,” he said. 

Holocaust educators are also speaking out about what the Texas incident could portend. The Holocaust and Humanity Center in Cincinnati said in a statement that it was “deeply concerned” about reports of the administrator’s remarks.

“With hate crimes in the United States soaring to record highs, it is imperative that teachers are encouraged to devote instructional time to teaching the Holocaust, a seminal event in human history, freely,” the statement said, adding that teachers may feel inhibited from “providing necessary historical context and discussing the practices and ideologies that contributed to the Holocaust, such as stereotyping and antisemitism.”

Bethany Mandel, another signatory of the Jewish Institute for Liberal Values letter, says she doubts Holocaust education in Texas will be hindered. She said she felt that the administrator in the recording sounded like she opposed the restrictions — the administrator tells the teachers, “I think you are terrified, and I wish I could take that away” — and that the teachers appeared to find her remark on the Holocaust ridiculous.

Mandel, who homeschools her own children, said she opposes the Texas law because she believes states should strive not to dictate what teachers teach. She feels that the Texas law mirrors the recently passed California legislation, favored by liberals, requiring that schools teach ethnic studies. The fight over ethnic studies has divided Jews in the state and has animated opponents of critical race theory, who argue that the state’s sample curriculum exemplifies what they’re fighting against.

“I don’t think that government should come in from on high and have these diktats in the classroom, both with ethnic studies and with the Texas law,” Mandel said. “It really hampers teachers’ ability to recognize what their kids need and how to best serve those needs.”

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US rejoins UN Human Rights Council 3 years after Trump left over Israel concerns

Fri, 2021-10-15 21:33

(JTA) — The U.S. rejoined the United Nations’ Human Rights Council on Thursday, three years after former President Trump pulled out of it over what his administration deemed a “shameless” bias against Israel.

President Biden’s envoy to the U.N., Linda Thomas-Greenfield, argued in a statement that the move will not mean the U.S. does not stand with Israel.

“We will oppose the Council’s disproportionate attention on Israel, which includes the Council’s only standing agenda item targeting a single country,” she said.

The council, which investigates alleged human rights abuses in U.N. member countries, has for decades routinely singled out Israel in reports and resolutions, particularly in the wake of the country’s many armed conflicts in Gaza.

Nikki Haley, former envoy to the U.N. under Trump, said in 2018 after the U.S.’ pullout that the council “was not worthy of its name.” Then Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu applauded the decision.

The pullout split Jewish lawmakers at the time, including Democrats.

The council, formed in 2006, held an internal election name its slate of 47 countries on Thursday, as it does every three years, and several countries with controversial human rights records made the cut — including China, Russia, Cuba and Eritrea.

Hillel Neuer, the head of UN Watch, a watchdog group that often calls the council and other U.N. bodies out for its Israel critique, lamented to the AFP that so many of what he calls “oppressive regimes” were elected.

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We asked, you answered: JTA readers’ must-see Holocaust movies

Fri, 2021-10-15 18:18

(JTA) — In a recent opinion piece for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Rich Brownstein argued that “The Grey Zone” is the greatest Holocaust film ever made. His column has been the most-read piece on JTA since.

Brownstein is no amateur critic. He is a lecturer for Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies and the author of “Holocaust Cinema Complete: A History and Analysis of 400 Films, with a Teaching Guide.” 

Yes, 400 films, all of which Brownstein has seen. Naturally, he has some thoughts, which you can read about in our Q&A with him. You can also join us for a virtual event with Brownstein on Wednesday at 1 p.m. ET to hear more of his takeaways and to ask questions.

Rich Brownstein is the author of “Holocaust Cinema Complete,” a guide to every Holocaust movie ever made. (Rich Brownstein)

After publishing these two stories, it quickly became clear that the topic of Holocaust films struck a chord with our readers. So, we asked: What is the one Holocaust film you think everyone should see? Why?

Dozens filled out our survey, naming 32 unique films. Some were obvious choices — “Schindler’s List” and “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” both blockbusters in theaters, were both named multiple times — while others were lesser-known documentaries and foreign films. 

Why these movies? Here’s what you told us. Reader responses have been edited for length and clarity. 

More of you recommended “Schindler’s List” than anything else.

It elicits critical thinking; this movie helps you understand that everyone had a choice and that more people should have helped. — Faith Shotts-Flikkema, Michigan

As a former high school teacher who showed “Schindler’s List” every year in my junior English class, I found the film was a gateway to reading Elie Wiesel’s “Night.” Most of my students had little concept of the Holocaust itself. The film opened their minds to so many varied discussions. Students in high school need an in-your-face dose of reality in order to have buy-in. 

“Schindler’s List” is based on a real-life person who was righteous in saving as many Jews as he could from the gas chambers. Most students have never heard of the Avenue of the Righteous and most, in fact, are not familiar with anyone who defied the Nazis. Students believe a movie is a respite from the rigors of high school English and so they’re excited about that. Little do they know that the film is so gripping, so raw, so honest, and so well-crafted that it really cannot be a break in the normal action of school. Many students will later tell me it’s their favorite film ever. — Lori Fulton, Paw Paw, Michigan

You asked for only one and this is all-encompassing. — Joel Katz, New Jersey

Several movies — including one that Brownstein disdains — got shoutouts from more than one reader.

“Shoah”: As I watched this incredible film over two consecutive days, for the first time I understood what a true documentary is. From facts to personal experiences to interviews with every kind of participant in the Holocaust (victims, bystanders, upstanders, perpetrators and more), the film’s use of so many methods kept me engaged and learning while experiencing the gamut of human emotions. So engaged, in fact, that eight hours of film went by each of the two nights without me being conscious of so much time passing. I have used pieces of the film as teaching tools many times, with both teens and adults. — Debra Polsky, Dallas

“Son of Saul”: No humour. No melodrama. No Hollywood touches or impossibly happy ending. No glossing over. No gratuitous focussing on gruesome detail — but no airbrushed avoidance either. In Yiddish. Very little overt violence — just the ever-present threat. Reality of life as a (Jewish) member of the Sonderkommando — not involved in killing, but in disposal of corpses. It took me about 5 goes to watch, a few minutes at a time to begin with. Poignant. Deeply moving. — FionaYael Sweet-Formiatti, Australia 

“The Grey Zone”: I understood how this horror was accomplished. I understood the incomprehensible, I understood the unthinkable. — Kemeny Andras, Hungary

“Boy in the Striped Pajamas”: This movie shows the shared humanity of family members of a Nazi death camp commander alongside the humanity of a suffering Jewish father and son, juxtaposed with the inhumanity of the Nazis. It presents a powerful contrast, along with extremely powerful moments in the final sequence of events in the film. — Neil Edwards, Largo, Florida

Only one person picked each of these, but they made a strong case.

“Distant Journey” “Auschwitz. Majdanek. Treblinka…Only a few survived.” There would seem only two ways to effectively convey the Holocaust in film. Steven Spielberg’s unflinching verite approach, and this, Alfred Radok’s surrealistic expressionist nightmare, which replaces blood and gas with light and shadow, angle and curve. The remarkable mise-en-scene, with its multi-layered labyrinthine sets and Ravel-inspired score, conspire to create a genuine cinematic masterpiece. Watch this movie. You will never, ever forget. — Danny Silverman, Hudson Valley, New York 

“Come and See” The title is so innocent, you think the movie is innocent. It’s told from the point of view of a young person. You watch as everything is taken away from him. You read about the Nazis and their collaborators rounding people up into barns, then setting the barn on fire, but to see it on a screen, is unforgettable in a horrible way. How can people do this to people? — Vicki Simmons, North Carolina

“The Music Box”: The movie presents how so many Nazis were able to live “normal” lives, undetected, after the war. What I especially appreciated was how the film was able to portray Laszlo as a loving, kind, grandfather, yet by the end there was no sympathy for the character or the consequences he faced. It also showed the daughter as a woman of integrity who initially fervently believed her father was innocent and incapable of perpetrating crimes, changing to accepting the truth and acting on it. — Joan Edelstein, San Leandro, California

“Life is Beautiful”: It shows that even in the midst of horror, you can still find something to live for. — Evey Pinkham, England

Join us Wednesday, Oct. 20 at 1 p.m. ET for a virtual event with Rich Brownstein. Register and submit a question here.

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‘Holocaust was a scam’ projected on Swedish synagogue during international antisemitism conference

Fri, 2021-10-15 17:21

(JTA) — Swedish police are investigating how the words “the Holocaust was a scam” were projected onto the main synagogue in Malmö while that city was holding an international forum on combating antisemitism.

The projection was seen on the Synagogue of Malmö and on other buildings in cities across southern Sweden on Wednesday night, the day of the Malmö International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism.

Police are handling the case as a hate crime, the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter reported.

The Nordic Resistance Movement, a neo-Nazi group, claimed responsibility for the incident, according to Dagens Nyheter.

The conference had brought together heads of state and other prominent government officials from dozens of countries in a city known for its high rates of antisemitism.

Israel’s strikes in Gaza in 2009 triggered a wave of antisemitic assaults in Malmö, which had then over 1,000 Jews. Then mayor Ilmar Reepalu reacted by instructing the local Jewish community to distance itself from Israel, giving many the impression that he was blaming the victims.

The Jewish community in Sweden’s third-largest city has since dwindled down to around 500.

Despite Wednesday’s synagogue incident, Katharina von Schnurbein, the European Commission’s coordinator on combating antisemitism, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on Friday that she thinks the conference shows that “change is possible.”

“The fact that the conference happened in Malmö sends a message, that this sort of thing will not be accepted and will be confronted,” von Schnurbein said.

At the conference, she presented a new strategic plan for combating antisemitism and fostering Jewish life in Europe, published by the European Commission on Oct. 5.

Although the plan does not include a budget, von Schurbein said, “its different components will receive millions of euros in funding in the coming period.”

Among the goals of the plan is to set up a cross-European methodology for documenting and reporting antisemitic hate crimes.

On Tuesday, Jewish community leaders at a separate conference in Brussels complained that the EU plan was “not serious” because it does not address two issues that have alienated local Jews for years: bans on the ritual slaughter of animals and attempts to ban non-medical circumcision.

Von Schurbein said the plan does reference the ritual slaughter issue, by calling on members states to find “a fair balance between respect for the freedom to manifest religion and the protection of animal welfare.”

The EU Commission and her office intend to facilitate efforts to strike the balance, von Schnurbein said, “but when it comes to the document, the Commission is bound to the ruling of the European Court,” which in 2020 upheld the rights of states in Belgium to ban ritual slaughter.

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Jürgen brings Passover to the ‘Great British Baking Show’ with charoset-and-matzah-topped pavlova

Fri, 2021-10-15 13:27

This story contains spoilers about Episode 4 in Season 9 of Netflix’s “The Great British Baking Show.”

(JTA) — Jürgen Krauss, the “basically a Jewish dad” on the latest season of “The Great British Baking Show,” lived up to his reputation during Desserts Week when he produced a Passover-inspired pavlova — complete with a traditional charoset topping.

The dessert also sustains a different tradition: the internationally popular show’s habit of not getting Jewish content quite right, when host Noel Fielding badly mispronounces “charoset” while describing Krauss’ creation.

Krauss, who is from the Black Forest region of Germany, is married to a British Jew, and their family belongs to a Reform synagogue in Brighton, where the Jewish Chronicle reported he has taught a challah-baking class to children. In the first episode of this season, a Passover Seder plate is visible behind him in a scene introducing viewers to his home and family.

That proved a prescient symbol in this week’s episode, which arrived on Netflix Friday for American viewers. Judges charged the contestants with producing a flavorful pavlova, a delicate dessert made with just whipped egg whites and sugar.

Pavlovas are naturally kosher for Passover because they lack flour, and Krauss leaned into that as he designed an inspired-by-Passover version with a charoset topping and pyramids of chocolate-covered matzah.

Jurgen Krauss’s “Passover Pavlova” was warmly received on “The Great British Baking Show.” (Screenshot)

Krauss makes his charoset in the Sephardic style, using dates, oranges and cardamom while eschewing the apples and nuts that are common in Ashkenazi versions. The Seder plate staple symbolizes the mortar that the Hebrews used as slaves in Egypt.

The fan-favorite series has drawn criticism before for its handling of Jewish foods. In Season Five, the instruction to make a “plaited loaf” left some viewers wondering if anyone on the show knew about challah. Then last year, rainbow-bagel and babka challenges did not delve into the Jewish significance of the bakes.

This time, the show did spend time there. After judge Prue Leith wonders whether the topping will be too sweet against the pavlova, Krauss explains charoset’s symbolism.

“It’s the mortar used by the Jews to stick the pyramids and Pharoah’s cities together,” he says.

“It’s carrying a lot, this little pavlova,” Leith responds, smiling.

“It is, it is,” Krauss answers with a laugh.

After Krauss’ creation earns a favorable review — judge Paul Hollywood announces, “Jürgen’s back!” — host Matt Lucas, who is Jewish, offers one more reaction.

“Mazel tov,” Lucas tells him before moving on to the next baker — one who channeled the colors and flavors of Easter.

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UJA surveys pandemic’s toll on Jews’ wallets, mental health • Sephardic Jews demand answers • A DIY chicken soup kit

Fri, 2021-10-15 12:14

Shabbat shalom, New York. Don’t miss the best stories of the week: Download and print out our weekly digest for leisurely weekend reading. Find today’s edition here and sign up to get The Jewish Week/end in your inbox every week.

SIDE EFFECTS: Nearly 1 in 6 adult Jewish New Yorkers experienced financial setbacks during the pandemic, and three quarters of Jewish New Yorkers who said they have a substance abuse problem said it worsened during that period. (Jewish Week via JTA)

  • That’s according to a forthcoming new study by UJA-Federation, which surveyed 4,400 Jews in and around New York City to guide its philanthropic efforts in the wake of the pandemic.

¿QUÉ PASA?: Spain promised citizenship to descendants of Jews persecuted and expelled during the Inquisition. At a rally in New York this week, activists and politicians asked why the Spanish government is slow-walking their applications. (Jewish Week via JTA)

SHELF LIFE: A half-day conference Sunday will urge archivists at museums and libraries to use their holdings and programs to foster understanding of and fight antisemitism. (Jewish Week via JTA)

This story is part of JTA's coverage of New York through the New York Jewish Week. To read more stories like this, sign up for our daily New York newsletter here.

  • “We need to bring the history of antisemitism to life in order to combat it,” said Bernard Michael, president and CEO of New York’s Center for Jewish History, which is co-sponsoring the virtual, public event. The presidents of Princeton and Harvard Universities and the Librarian of Congress will take part. 



Sally Rooney speaks onstage during a conference in Pasadena, California on January 17, 2020. (Erik Voake/Getty Images for Hulu)

Erika Dreifus was distressed when novelist Sally Rooney (above) said she wouldn’t allow her latest novel to be published in Hebrew by an Israeli publisher. Then she remembered how a 19th-century reader confronted Charles Dickens about antisemitism, showing the possibilities for engaging with authors who let you down. (JTA)


DIY: Carnegie Deli and the Brooklyn-based Matzo Project are selling a do-it-yourself home chicken soup kit.

  • The $79 Better Than Bubbe’s Matzo Ball Soup Kit includes eight servings of the (not kosher) soup plus the ingredients for matzah balls.
  • The deli’s iconic 7th Avenue restaurant closed in 2016, but the brand sells its meats and desserts online.


It’s never too late to change, as a 70-year-old Abraham finds out when he sets out this week on the journey of a lifetime. “What emerges, as the journey progresses, is Abraham’s dogged resolve to always move forward despite whatever difficulties he encounters, and realize his covenantal destiny,” writes Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik of the Forest Hills Jewish Center in Queens.


To celebrate the 100th anniversary of their membership in the Reform movement, Temple Shaaray Tefila presents a conversation with Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union of Reform Judaism; Dr. Andrew Rehfeld, president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion; Rabbi Hara Person, chief executive of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and Cantor Claire Franco, president of the American Conference of Cantors. Moderated by Rabbi Joel Mosbacher, senior rabbi of Temple Shaaray Tefila. Register at www.shaaraytefilanyc.org to attend in person or online. Tonight, 7:30 p.m.

Photo, top: Protestors in front of the Spanish Consulate in New York City rally for those seeking citizenship under a law meant to repatriate Jews with Spanish heritage, Oct. 11, 2021. (Julia Gergely)

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