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The top 10 Jewish stories of 2019

Tue, 2019-12-10 21:43

(JTA) — For many Jews around the world, there’s probably no love lost for 2019.

As the year draws to a close, the Jewish community continues to grapple with the continued rise of global anti-Semitism — one major community in Europe is facing the possible election as prime minister of a man who many Jews consider an anti-Semite. And Israel is caught in the grip of political paralysis following two fruitless elections (with a prime minister facing prosecution for corruption).

Meanwhile, with a U.S. presidential election looming next year that is sure to be bitterly contested, there’s little reason to think we’re in for a smoother ride in 2020.

These are the Jewish stories that most captured our attention in 2019 and whose reverberations are likely to be felt well into the next ride around the sun.

The Poway synagogue shooting

Police vehicles gather around the synagogue where a shooting took place in Poway, Calif., April 27, 2019. (Xinhua/ via Getty Images)

In April, on the last day of Passover, a gunman opened fire at a Chabad synagogue in the San Diego suburb of Poway, killing one person and injuring three. The accused gunman told a 911 dispatcher that he did it because “Jewish people are destroying the white race.”

The Poway attack shook the American Jewish community, which was still reeling from the shooting attack at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh that killed 11 worshippers at Shabbat services. As the one-year anniversary of the shooting approached in October, the community held a number of memorial events that made it clear the aftershocks were still being felt.

“I live with Oct. 27 every minute of every hour of every day, and I will for the rest of my life,” Rabbi Jeffrey Myers said.

Two killed in Yom Kippur attack on German synagogue 

A man views a makeshift memorial at the entrance to the synagogue in Halle, Germany, Oct. 10, 2019. (Jens Schlueter/Getty Images)

As 51 people gathered for Yom Kippur services in the German city of Halle, Stephan Balliet, clad in combat gear and wearing a head-mounted camera, tried to blast his way inside. When the synagogue’s fortified doors kept him out, he turned and shot Jana Lange, who had reprimanded him for making too much noise. Then Balliet proceeded to a nearby kebab shop, where he shot and killed a man identified only as Kevin S. Balliet later told police he was motivated by anti-Semitism.

Worshippers remained in the synagogue for hours before they were evacuated by police to a nearby hospital, where they continued their holiday services.

“It was intense and emotional,” one participant said.

The shooting sent shock waves through the tiny Jewish community of Halle, which numbers about 500 people. It also sparked outrage from leaders of German Jewry, who demanded to know why the synagogue was left unguarded on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, called the failure “scandalous,” and said if police had been present they could have disarmed the gunman before he harmed anyone.

Israelis vote twice and still don’t have a prime minister

Blue and White party chairmen Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid during a faction meeting at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem, Nov. 18, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Israeli politics are a hot mess right now.

In April, national elections resulted in a tie between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and his principal challenger, the Blue and White party led by former general Benny Gantz. Netanyahu failed to form a government, so Israelis went back to the polls in September and again delivered no clear winner: 33 seats for Blue and White, 32 for Likud. First Netanyahu tried to form a government, then Gantz. Neither succeeded.

Israel has now entered uncharted territory: It appears headed for a third election, likely to take place in early March. The only thing Israelis probably agree on right now is how unpalatable another election will be.

Here’s an explainer on how we got here.

Netanyahu faces corruption charges

Benjamin Netanyahu, seen on Nov. 12, 2019, is the first sitting Israeli prime minister to be indicted. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

As if the Israeli political situation wasn’t complicated enough, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was indicted in November on multiple charges of corruption, including bribery and breach of public trust.

The most serious case alleges that Netanyahu traded political favors to the largest shareholder of the telecommunications giant Bezeq in exchange for favorable news coverage. Netanyahu also was accused of accepting gifts totaling $200,000 from Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan in exchange for political assistance, and of seeking positive coverage from the daily newspaper Yediot Acharonot in exchange for advancing a law that would have hurt a competitor.

Netanyahu has decried the indictment as a “witch hunt” and an attempted coup. He has 30 days to seek immunity from prosecution in the Knesset, his country’s parliament.

Hate crimes against Jews are spiking

Orthodox Jewish men walk past security vehicles in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights, Feb. 27, 2019. (Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images)

Around the world, law enforcement and community organizations found that hate crimes continued to rise, with Jews often the most common targets.

In April, the Anti-Defamation League reported that 1,879 anti-Semitic incidents occurred in 2018, the third-highest tally in the four decades the ADL has been conducting annual audits. In July, the Canadian government reported that Jews were the most targeted minority group for the third straight year, even as hate crimes against other groups fell. And in August, the British Jewish community’s anti-Semitism watchdog reported the highest number of anti-Semitic incidents ever in the first six months of 2019.

In Brooklyn, a series of violent attacks against visibly Jewish victims caused particular alarm. Three were reported in one week in August alone. The situation led the city to create a new Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes and install Devorah Lauter, a former ADL official, at its helm.

Israel becomes a wedge issue

Rep. Ilhan Omar speaks at a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., July 25, 2019. (Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

This year saw serious cracks in what has long been a cherished feature of the U.S.-Israel relationship: bipartisanship.

In February, Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., came under fire for a series of controversial tweets, including one charging — falsely — that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee pays politicians to be pro-Israel. Omar drew quick rebukes from leading Democrats and subsequently apologized. The following month, President Donald Trump piled on, calling the Democrats the “anti-Jewish” party. In August, Trump upped the ante, saying that anyone who voted for a Democrat was guilty of “disloyalty,” a comment that drew condemnation from critics who said it evoked classic anti-Semitic tropes.

Meanwhile, Democratic politicians were trending leftward on Israel, with several of the leading candidates for the presidential nomination saying they were prepared to use American aid as leverage to pressure Israel. The shifting center of gravity on Israel prompted pushback from the party’s so-called moderate wing and prompted the creation of a new organization, the Democratic Majority for Israel, dedicated to cultivating support for the Jewish state in the party.

With a sure-to-be-nasty presidential election looming in 2020, both sides were preparing to spend heavily on the Israel issue. The Republican Jewish Coalition announced a $10 million ad campaign painting the Democrats as a “shanda” — Yiddish for “disgrace” — in part because of their position on Israel. Democratic groups pushed back with an ad blitz of their own.

British Jews unnerved by Corbyn candidacy

British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks at the University of Lancaster, Nov. 15, 2019. (Anthony Devlin/Getty Images)

With the United Kingdom facing an enormously consequential election that could well determine the future of its membership in the European Union, British Jews were facing a momentous choice of their own. The Labour Party, long the political home of a majority of Britain’s Jews, is led by Jeremy Corbyn, who has been long been dogged by accusations of anti-Semitism.

Concern over Corbyn reached a fever pitch in the months prior to the Dec. 12 vote. In early November, Britain’s oldest Jewish newspaper, the Jewish Chronicle, published a front-page editorial pleading with Britons not to support Corbyn, noting a recent poll suggesting that approximately half of Jews would consider emigrating if he were elected. Weeks later, in an unprecedented intervention, British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis wrote of British Jewry’s justified anxiety at the prospect of a Corbyn premiership in a Times of London op-ed, warning that “the very soul of our nation is at stake.”

Corbyn’s record of actions that unnerved British Jews is long and well-documented. He once defended a London mural showing bankers playing monopoly on the backs of dark-skinned people that was widely seen as anti-Semitic, said Zionists have “no sense of irony” and described the militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends.

He has passionately argued that there is no place for anti-Semitism in his party, but recently apologized for “everything that’s happened” in Labour over the past few years.

Here’s more on how the election could affect Jews.

The #MeToo movement hits the Jewish community

Sheila Katz, now vice president of Hillel International, accused Michael Steinhardt of sexual harassment. (Courtesy of Katz/Getty Images)

Michael Steinhardt, the Jewish megadonor who helped found Birthright Israel and supports a wide range of Jewish institutions, was accused of a pattern of propositioning and sexually inappropriate remarks to women.

According to an investigation by The New York Times and ProPublica, the journalism nonprofit, seven women alleged that Steinhardt made sexual requests of them while they were seeking his financial support. Steinhardt denied the accusations, but acknowledged a pattern of comments “that were boorish, disrespectful, and just plain dumb.”

In the wake of the accusations, the organized Jewish community’s longtime focus on encouraging endogamy and child rearing — long among Steinhardt’s favored philanthropic objectives — drew increasing scrutiny.

A measles outbreak hits the Orthodox community

A sign warns of measles in the Orthodox Jewish community of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, April 10, 2019. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

A measles outbreak that began with a trickle in haredi Orthodox communities in Israel and New York last year exploded into a full-on public health crisis in 2019. Hundreds of cases were reported in New York and thousands in Israel.

New York officials took aggressive measures to contain the outbreak, declaring a public health emergency and ordering that unvaccinated people living in four heavily Orthodox Zip codes in Brooklyn be vaccinated or pay fines up to $1,000. The state also banned religious exemptions for vaccines and at least 10 Jewish schools in New York City were shuttered for admitting unvaccinated students.

At least three fatalities were attributed to the disease in Israel, one of them a 43-year-old El Al flight attendant who contracted the disease on a flight from New York. By September, New York had declared the epidemic over.

Tiffany Haddish has a bat mitzvah

Rabbi Susan Silverman, left, with Tiffany Haddish at Haddish’s bat mitzvah at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif., Dec. 3, 2019. (Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Netflix)

Tiffany Haddish’s breakthrough year may have been 2017, when the 40-year-old actress and comedian starred in the successful comedy “Girls Trip” and released her memoir, “The Last Black Unicorn.” But 2019 was her Jewish breakout year.

Haddish, who only learned she was Jewish in her 20s when she met her Eritrean Jewish father, released a Netflix special, “Black Mitzvah,” in December on the same day she celebrated her bat mitzvah, with Sarah Silverman’s rabbi sister presiding. She also sang “Hava Nagila” on “The Tonight Show” in the same week.

“Something that I feel like a lot of African-Americans have been stripped of is their history,” Haddish said. “A lot of us don’t know [our] origin. We don’t know what our origin story is because that was taken from us. And it talks about that in the Torah. I think it’s so powerful.”

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Michael Chabon adapting ‘Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay’ for Showtime miniseries

Tue, 2019-12-10 20:27

(JTA) — Kavalier and Clay are coming to Showtime.

Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay” will air as a miniseries next year on the premium cable network.

The critically acclaimed book has been described as “an epic tale of love, war and the birth of America’s comic book superhero obsession” and made numerous “best of” lists after its publication in 2000.

Kavalier is a 19-year-old Jewish refugee who manages to escape from Prague in 1939 hidden in a coffin. Klayman, known as Sam Clay, is his 17-year-old American cousin. Together they go on to create The Escapist, an anti-fascist comic book super hero. It catches on and is followed by an Escapist radio show and the inevitable Escapist film.

Many of the events in the novel are based on occurrences that actually happened to real-life superhero creators such as Bob Kane, Stan Lee, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

There have been several attempts to bring these characters to cinematic life on TV and in film.

For Chabon and his Israeli-born wife, the novelist Ayelet Waldman, who will co-write and produce, the limited series is part of a larger deal with CBS Television Studios, a Showtime sibling. Chabon is already the writer and showrunner for the network’s “Star Trek: Picard” series, which debuts Jan. 23 on CBS All Access, the network’s streaming service.

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2 gunmen holed up in a Jersey City kosher supermarket before they were killed in shootout with police

Tue, 2019-12-10 20:09

(JTA) — At least two gunmen who holed up Tuesday afternoon in a kosher supermarket in Jersey City, New Jersey, after shooting at a police officer at a nearby cemetery are dead.

The gunmen, described as young juveniles, and police engaged in an hourlong shootout at the JC Kosher Supermarket. At least two police officers were shot, one in the shoulder at the Bay View Cemetery. At least one victim at the market was being treated and talking to police, WABC-TV reported.

The shooters who were killed, while a third involved in the incident is believed to be at large, Fox News reported.

A dozen public schools in the area were put on lockdown as the situation unfolded.

Jersey City is located just west of New York City across the Hudson River.

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A non-kosher latke is actually the perfect symbol of American Hanukkah

Tue, 2019-12-10 19:50

NEW YORK (JTA) —Eight unassuming gourmet latkes have become the latest controversy on Jewish Twitter.

A recent holiday issue of Food & Wine magazine featured a piece titled “8 Ways to Make the Best Potato Latkes of Your Life.” The problem? Two of those luxe latkes featured decidedly non-kosher toppings. 

One latke calls for both shrimp and squid, foods that are biblically forbidden to kosher-keeping Jews. The other features a combination of brisket and creme fraiche — these ingredients can be kosher on their own, but consuming dishes containing both meat and dairy is also a kosher no-no

I retweeted a photo of the article asking (rhetorically) what the big deal was, given most Jews don’t keep kosher and the prominence of Jewish chefs like Ina Garten, whose tender preparation of roasted shrimp cocktail louis recently had me salivating on a long flight even though I keep kosher (and consuming shellfish would send me straight into anaphylactic shock). 

A perhaps unpopular perspective:

88% of Jews (per Pew Report) don't keep kosher in their homes, and professional Jewish cooks who teach the masses how to make both trief and traditional Jewish dishes (Ina Garten, anyone?) abound. Why shouldn't Food & Wine cater to the majority? https://t.co/qmt3AJODgA

— Laura E. Adkins (@Laura_E_Adkins) December 9, 2019

Though I’m an Orthodox Jew and no stranger to Jewish traditionalism, I greatly underestimated how deeply this article would resonate with many Jews across the religious spectrum, for better or worse. 

The responses to my tweet quickly poured in: Some were deeply offended by the presence of treif in recipes for a Jewish holiday all about fighting assimilation; some rejoiced that a secular American magazine featured Hanukkah at all; some didn’t quite know what to think. 

Dozens of these thoughtful comments and one insistent colleague later, I decided to do some actual journalism and call the man behind the latke mischief himself.

Marcus ?Jacobs, 34, is the chef at Marjie’s Grill in downtown New Orleans and the man whose recipes and traditional latke prep techniques are featured in Food & Wine. Marjie’s food is, in the restaurant’s words, “inspired by Southeast Asian bar food and the local bounty of the Gulf South” — and a casual observer will notice that the treif practically leaps off the menu, so to speak. 

On Monday, I spoke to ?Jacobs between his afternoon errands. The Ohio native, who grew up in a Reform Jewish household, has been working in kitchens since age 14 and has lived in New Orleans since 2009. He also sports a Hipster or Hasid-worthy beard, adding to the delicious irony. 

View this post on Instagram

Get that Goat! We’ve got the heater turned up and this hot BBQ @homeplacepastures goat shoulder rubbed with habanero and Tobasco mash, slow smoked on oak logs & smothered with herbs, chilis and galangal! #onlyatmarjies #toasty #spicyboi

A post shared by Marjie's Grill (@marjiesgrill) on Nov 8, 2019 at 3:52pm PST

Jacobs described latkes as “not something that would typically fit within our mission statement” at his BBQ-centric restaurant, which changes often based on “whatever is good at the market.” 

But when Marjie’s Grill opened three years ago on Dec. 20, Jacobs, his business partner Caitlin Carney, 35, and another Jewish cook they employed started frying up latkes as a familiar comfort food for themselves. 

The crew even put out menorahs to mark the holiday, and once the word spread, as Jacobs puts it, “it kind of developed a life of its own.” 

“Once people became aware that we were lighting candles, doing the prayers and serving latkes, we got this really big boost of support; the New Orleans Jewish community is generally underserved,” Jacobs told me, and the sense of community the decidedly non-kosher restaurant began to foster was palpable.  

Both Carney and Jacobs were raised Jewish — like most Jews, they never really kept kosher.

“We’re maybe not the most heavily practicing folks,” Jacobs said. “You come in this very casual setting and have latkes, a bit of familiarity and a nice nostalgia.” 

And while the food certainly isn’t kosher, Jacobs said the tradition has gone a long way toward building community in the Big Easy. 

“Moms of Tulane kids began calling to order a dozen for their kids,” he told me.

Jacobs said he hadn’t seen any of the Twitter ire.

“New Orleans is such a casual town in so many ways that locally we haven’t had any backlash. We are not in a synagogue, we are a restaurant that serves shrimp and crawfish and fried pig feet,” he said. “Any argument that we are supposed to be kosher [is missing the point].” 

“I always engage with people if they want to talk or complain, that’s my job as a person in hospitality. But people need to lighten up. We’re not doing anything to affront the Jewish people.” 

To me, if a Jewish chef wants to adapt traditional recipes from his culture to fit a more secular palate, more power to him or her. 

But this whole controversy perfectly illustrates the ancient debate of who owns Judaism and its traditions. The first Hanukkah, after all, was a bloody battle between the religious fundamentalist Maccabean minority and the Hellenized majority, which included many Jews. Who does Judaism ultimately belong to today — the secular majority of Jews or the religiously fundamentalist minority?

If Judaism is primarily a religion, then Orthodox Jews like me might most easily make the case that they are the sole authentic heirs of tradition — and the latke naysayers are thus right in finding treif-laden latkes an affront. 

But if Judaism is just as much a culture, a history, a people and an idea, then the 90 percent of American Jews who aren’t Orthodox — the majority of whom don’t keep kosher — have just as legitimate a claim to the Jewish legacy. And that includes tinkering with traditions, even when some might take offense. 

According to the American Jewish Population Project, Greater New Orleans, where these controversial latkes originated, is home to approximately 15,000 Jews. Due to a variety of economic and cultural factors, that community has long been dominated by Reform and secular Jews: As early as 1842, a visiting Jewish journalist surmised that “although the political atmosphere is so liberal that a Jew could win unanimous election to the legislature, only four homes kept Kosher, only two followed the laws of Shabbas, and two-thirds of the boys were not circumcised.” The city’s first philanthropist, Judah Touro, donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Jewish institutions, but was often more interested in supporting local churches while he lived than in helping build the city’s Jewish community. 

NOLA’s very tolerance has both allowed Jews to flourish in a climate often unfriendly to outsiders and assimilate with ease. Was the trade-off worth it? 

Hanukkah is full of contradiction. It was a bloody fight for the soul of Judaism that required killing other Jews. It’s a holiday celebrating divine intervention and anti-assimilation — and has long been the holiday most widely celebrated by secular Jews.

I know many will bristle at my conclusions. But in America, insisting on Hanukkah originalism would be like insisting that American Christmas revolves around the sacred birth of Jesus Christ. Maybe in original intent, but certainly not in common practice.

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Albania’s prime minister lauds Israeli soldiers helping country in aftermath of deadly earthquake

Tue, 2019-12-10 19:15

(JTA) — Albania’s prime minister publicly praised Israeli military engineers who have been in the country since an earthquake struck late last month.

The Israeli engineers are among the foreign volunteers who are working to determine whether buildings not felled by the earthquake are habitable.

Prime Minister Edi Rama, visiting the western port city of Durres on Monday, told a resident who was afraid to enter his apartment building that he could have confidence in the go-ahead from the Israeli engineers.

“They are from Israel and they are No. 1,” Rama said, The Times of Israel reported. “The engineer says that after the catastrophe you should kiss your home because it has resisted [the earthquake] and has protected you.”

Later Monday, Rama in a video message sent to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Israel for its support while surrounded by the 10 Israeli active duty and reserve soldiers.

“Bibi, shalom from Durres. We’re here with your fantastic guys. They are doing a great job in calming the people and telling them how to be resilient,” Rama said. Bibi is Netanyahu’s nickname.

The 6.4-magnitude earthquake that struck on Nov. 26 killed 51 people and injured more than 3,000. More than 11,000 buildings were damaged, leaving about 13,000 people homeless.

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Thank you for your warm words my friend, Prime Minister of Albania @ediramaal.
Israel stands with Albania in this difficult hour. pic.twitter.com/pEIPFdogGJ

— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) December 9, 2019

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Bernie Sanders among 5 presidential candidates to sign senators’ letter seeking ouster of Stephen Miller

Tue, 2019-12-10 19:09

(JTA) — Bernie Sanders was among five Democratic presidential candidates who signed a letter from 27 U.S. senators calling on President Donald Trump to fire White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller over his white nationalist beliefs.

The other candidates to sign on are Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Michael Bennet of Colorado. Sen. Kamala Harris, who dropped her candidacy, is the lead signatory.

“We write to demand the immediate removal of Stephen Miller as your adviser,” said the letter sent to Trump on Monday, the Huffington Post first reported. The letter was provided to the news website by Harris’ office.

“What is driving Mr. Miller” is “not national security, it’s white supremacy — something that has no place in our country, federal government, and especially not the White House,” the letter said, according to the Huffington Post. It continued: “Simply put, Mr. Miller is unfit to serve in any capacity at the White House, let alone as a senior policy adviser.”

Last month, the Southern Poverty Law Center published hundreds of emails sent by Miller to a reporter at the conservative Breitbart News, many of them racist and anti-immigrant in nature.

Many of the 900 emails sent from March 2015 to June 2016 “showcase the extremist, anti-immigrant ideology that undergirds the policies he has helped create as an architect of Donald Trump’s presidency,” according to the center’s report. More than 80 percent of the emails relate to race or immigration.

Miller, who is Jewish and a hardliner on immigration — his ancestors were immigrants to the U.S. — did not write sympathetically or neutrally about nonwhite or foreign-born people.

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2 Jewish Congress members want White House to shun news outlet that called Trump impeachment effort ‘Jew Coup’

Tue, 2019-12-10 18:57

(JTA) — Two Democratic Jewish Congress members have called on the White House to condemn anti-Semitic comments by TruNews founder and host Rick Wiles and deny TruNews any future access to the White House.

Reps. Ted Deutch of Florida and Elaine Luria of Virginia sent a letter on Monday to White House acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney expressing surprise that TruNews participated in White House media events and Trump took a question from the website during a news conference.

In a video posted to the conservative TruNews YouTube channel on Nov. 22, Wiles, a Florida pastor known for his anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, called the effort to impeach President Donald Trump a “Jew Coup,” and said that Jews also will “kill millions of Christians” after they overthrow Trump.

YouTube banned the channel following the rant.

“As members of Congress, we are committed to combating and preventing anti-Semitism and hatred of all kinds,” the letter signed by Deutch and Luria reads. “We believe that this requires a whole-of-government approach, including public statements by our national leaders to consistently and firmly reject anti-Semitic ideas, language, and violence.”

The letter continues: “An extremist website that frequently attacks Jews and other minorities has no place in the White House. President Trump and other officials in this Administration should publicly condemn these anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and make clear that anti-Semitism will not be tolerated by this White House, including from its supporters.”

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Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski in Israel to meet with Netanyahu, report says

Tue, 2019-12-10 18:51

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Two former campaign aides for President Donald Trump, including campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, are visiting Israel this week to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Jewish Insider news website first reported the visit on Tuesday by Lewandowski and David Bossie, who served Trump as a deputy campaign manager. They are being considered to join Netanyahu’s campaign for a likely national election in March, Israel’s third vote in less than a year.

Netanyahu reportedly is revamping his strategy team.

Lewandowski and Bossie did not comment on the visit to Jewish Insider.

Also according to Jewish Insider, Republican pollster John McLaughlin, who was Netanyahu’s campaign pollster in this year’s two elections, will not return for a third. He declined to comment to Jewish Insider.

McLaughlin is currently working for the Trump re-election campaign.

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Jerry Nadler and Adam Schiff lead charge as House introduces articles of impeachment

Tue, 2019-12-10 18:42

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The U.S. House of Representatives introduced articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump.

The articles, unveiled Tuesday at a news conference led by House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., accuse the president of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Three of the five committee chairmen in charge of drafting the charges are Jewish: Adam Schiff of California, who heads the Intelligence Committee; Jerry Nadler of New York, who leads Judiciary; and Eliot Engel of New York, who chairs Foreign Affairs.

The other two are Carolyn Maloney of New York, who leads the Oversight Committee, and Richard Neal of Massachusetts, who heads Ways and Means.

Nadler and Schiff, who have led the impeachment hearings, were the only two to speak after Pelosi’s brief introduction.

The charges are related to allegations that Trump sought a Ukrainian government investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden in exchange for the release of congressionally mandated defense assistance for Ukraine in its defense against Russia.

However, Schiff and Nadler also alluded to earlier allegations that Trump tried to obstruct an investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.

“Our president holds the ultimate public trust,” Nadler said. “When he betrays that trust and puts himself before country, he endangers the Constitution, he endangers our democracy and he endangers our national security.”

Democrats hope to have a vote on the articles of impeachment before the end of the year. All but a handful of Democrats have said they are ready to impeach the president.

This is only the fourth time in U.S. history that the House has drawn up impeachment articles. One case led to the resignation of Richard Nixon in 1974. In the two other cases — Andrew Johnson after the Civil War and Bill Clinton in 1998 — impeachment succeeded, but the presidents prevailed in a Senate trial.

The impeachment process has polarized Congress, with all but one or two lawmakers saying they are considering voting with the other party.

“With this disgusting impeachment charade, House Democrats have proven themselves guilty of Abuse of Power and Obstruction of Congress,” Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., who is Jewish, said on Twitter.

Schiff rejected Republican claims that Democrats were rushing to impeach.

“The argument ‘why don’t you just wait’ amounts to this: Why don’t you just let him cheat in one more election?” Schiff said. “Why not let him cheat just one more time? Why not let him have foreign help just one more time?”

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Israeli student beaten on Paris Metro train after he was heard speaking Hebrew

Tue, 2019-12-10 16:02

(JTA) — An Israeli student in Paris was beaten on the Metro train after he spoke on the phone in Hebrew, according to France’s National Bureau of Vigilance Against anti-Semitism, or BNVCA.

The student identified as B. Yogev, 30, entered the metro train at the Château d’Eau station in Paris on Monday morning and answered a phone call from his father before the attack. Two men, described as tall and of African origin, “began to shout at him, helped by passengers who threatened him and pointed at him,” the BNVCA statement claims.

One of those men attacked the Israeli student striking him on the head, body and face. The student fainted on the floor of the train car, according to the report.

He was taken to Lariboisière Hospital in Paris, after a fellow passenger called for assistance. The attacker escaped.

The BNVCA recommended that the student file a police complaint.

“This new attack tends to confirm that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitic in nature,” the group said in its statement.

Last week, the lower house of France’s parliament passed a nonbinding resolution that calls some forms of hatred of Israel expressions of anti-Semitism. Also last week, the French government announced that it would establish a hate crimes office in the wake of the vandalization of more than 100 gravestones at a Jewish cemetery.

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2 Jewish groups say new food stamp rules will ‘devastate’ the needy

Tue, 2019-12-10 15:08

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Two Jewish groups decried new Trump administration restrictions for food stamp recipients, saying they would “devastate” the poor.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture last week restricted the ability of states to waive restrictions that keep able-bodied adults between 18 and 49 without dependents from receiving the food subsidies. The decision could pull as many as 700,000 people nationwide off of food stamps, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

“The new SNAP rules announced yesterday by the Federal government will devastate low-income New Yorkers by denying them critical food benefits they rely on to feed their families,” UJA-Federation of New York, which administers programs to the needy, said in a statement.

“It is not acceptable that in New York State over 100,000 people could lose their SNAP benefits,” the statement said. “These changes demonstrate a total lack of regard for how low-income Americans cope with the realities of employment, poverty, and food insufficiency.”

Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger, an advocacy group, said in a statement that the Trump administration “has cruelly and needlessly restricted access to the most basic of human needs for those who are among our nation’s most vulnerable. Hunger is not and has never been a meaningful incentive to find employment when employment is not there to be had.”

A bid by the Trump administration to include the new restrictions failed, leading to the regulatory change, which does not need congressional approval. Mazon earlier this year had organized a letter from 60 members of the U.S. House of Representatives opposing the proposed changes, noting that they would also afflict many military veterans.

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Rabbi films threats against him at New Jersey Costco, aggressor arrested

Tue, 2019-12-10 12:57

(JTA) — A rabbi who was harassed and threatened with physical violence in a New Jersey Costco recorded the encounter, leading to the arrest of the aggressor.

Rabbi Avrum Fri said late on Sunday in a Facebook post that the man later identified by police as Justin Pichizaca, 20, of Queens in the restroom of the Lawrence, New Jersey Costco  Lawrence, New Jersey, said in the encounter: “[expletive] Jew, the Nazis will finish you off.”

Fri said followed the man out of the bathroom and told him to make the comment to his face, while recording with his cell phone.

Pichizaca twice made a move toward Fri to hit him. He said: “record all you want because a Nazi is going to f—— kill you.”

Pichizaca also threatened another Jewish customer, saying: “I’m going out to get my gun and will come back to shoot you up.”

During the extended rant, no one interceded in any way, Fri said.

The police officer who responded to Fri’s call said there was no case since once Fri followed Pichizaca out of the bathroom he “became the aggressor.” A second officer said his actions were not smart since Pichizaca “clearly” is mentally ill.

On Monday, Fri was called to the police station where the officers apologized. Pichizaca was arrested later that day and will appear in court on Tuesday.

Facebook removed the cellphone video for violating community standards.

“I do not recommend that most people do what I did,” Fri wrote in a second Facebook post on Monday night. “If you do not have the ability to defend yourself, it’s not worth the risk. What you can do is report events like this to the police, even if it can’t lead to charges. Post information on Facebook. Remain vigilant and teach the same to your children.”

HATE IS ALIVE IN NY: This happened in the @Costco in Lawrence, NY when a Jewish man was verbally assaulted by a neo-Nazi threatening to pull out a gun, attack him. If you know this man, please contact the Nassau County Police Department. pic.twitter.com/NgiPTxQ4WH

— NYC Scanner (@NYScanner) December 8, 2019


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Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky named 2020 Genesis Prize recipient

Tue, 2019-12-10 04:15

NEW YORK (JTA) — The Genesis Prize Foundation has announced that Natan Sharanksy, a Jewish Refusenik, prolific leader in the Soviet Jewry emigration movement and former Israeli politician, will be awarded the 2020 Genesis Prize.

Natan Sharansky will be honored  in Jerusalem on June 18, 2020. The Genesis Prize, dubbed the “Jewish Nobel,” was started in 2013 and is financed through a permanent $100 million endowment. The annual award honors “extraordinary individuals for their outstanding professional achievement, contribution to humanity and commitment to Jewish values.”

According to a GPF press release, Sharansky was selected to honor “his extraordinary lifelong struggle for political and religious freedoms, emphasizing the relevance of his work in today’s world.”

In 1977, Sharansky was jailed by the communist authorities for his pro-Zionist, pro-democracy efforts and spent more than a decade in Soviet prison. A child chess prodigy, he kept himself sane in solitary confinement by playing chess in his mind. “I played thousands of games, and I won them all,” he told the New York Times in 1996, the year he also managed to beat chess champion Gary Kasparov.

Due to the efforts of his wife Avital, who actively lobbied governments around the world, Sharansky was released in 1986 and emigrated to Israel, where he and Avital raised two daughters. As a politician and later as the head of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Sharansky advocated for the rights of Israeli immigrants, religious minorities and women.

Previous winners of the prize include New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Michael Bloomberg and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In 2018, GPF canceled its ceremony after winner Natalie Portman said she wouldn’t visit Israel due to “distressing” events in the country.

“Even in democracies our freedoms cannot be taken for granted,” said Stan Polovets, co-founder and chairman of GPF. “Natan’s ideals and vision are as relevant today as they were in the 1980’s when he took on the totalitarian Soviet regime – and won.”

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Hillary Clinton urges Jewish labor activists not to ‘walk away’ ahead of 2020

Tue, 2019-12-10 03:11

NEW YORK (JTA) — At a Monday evening event organized by the Jewish Labor Committee, Hillary Clinton slammed the Trump administration and spoke of the Jewish concept of tikkun olam, repairing the world.

The former secretary of state and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee addressed attendees at the organization’s 48th annual human rights awards dinner. Some 250 people came to the event held at the Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel, organizers said.

After being introduced by Jewish Labor Committee President Stuart Appelbaum, Clinton thanked the organization for its work, and then quickly pivoted to attacking President Donald Trump and his administration.

“We’ve never seen such a cruelty and contempt for the values that we pledge allegiance to, that we see embodied in our constitution, that we have fought to make a more perfect union over all of these years together,” she said.

“And the current administration — I don’t need to tell you — has been conducting a concerted attack on the rule of law, on the importance of our government and the services that it provides for people,” she continued. “They’ve attacked journalists and the freedom of the press, and in fact, they’re waging a war on democracy.”

In her 12 minute-long address, which was met with laughs and applause, Clinton mentioned a number of Trump’s actions, from his family separation policy at the border to his repeated attacks on journalists and his efforts to end the Affordable Care Act.

Founded in 1934, the Jewish Labor Committee promotes labor organizing in the Jewish community. The organization gave three awards on Monday: to the American Federation of Government Employees; Demos P. Demopoulos, the secretary-treasurer of the union Teamsters Joint Council 16; and to Abby Levine, the director of the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable.

In her speech, Clinton cautioned attendees against becoming complacent.

“It would be easy to walk away and say ‘I can’t deal with this. I can’t tell fact from fiction. I don’t wanna live in an alternative reality. I’m checking out,'” she said. “Well that’s what other side wants us to do, my friends. They want us to just throw our hands up in despair and say somebody is going to have to continue the fight, I can’t do it any longer.”

Ahead of the upcoming election, she urged people to organize.

“It’s gonna be a tough election and you need to bring your organizing skills, your shared sense of values, your feeling of empathy and compassion and caring, your deep conviction about justice, because we’re gonna need every single person in this fight,” she said.

Clinton also spoke about the history of Jewish labor organizing, including the participation of the Jewish Labor Committee in the 1963 March on Washington, in which protesters demanded civil and economic rights for African-Americans.

“At heart of it all is the concept of tikkun olam which says that repairing the world is the responsibility of each and every one of us,” she said of the group’s participation in the event, “or as I learned growing up in the Methodist church, ‘Do all the good you can, for all the people you can, in all the ways you can, as long as ever you can.'”

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Joint Distribution Committee chooses new president following first contested election

Mon, 2019-12-09 22:41

(JTA) — The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee has elected a new board president following the first contested election for the post in the group’s history.

The board’s vice president, Mark Sisisky, a retired wealth manager from Virginia, defeated Harvey Schulweis, another longtime board member, according to a statement from the outgoing president, Stan Rabin. The statement did not mention the vote tally.

Sisisky was the board’s nominee for president.

The 105-year-old organization provides aid and services to Jewish populations in need across the globe, and took an active role aiding Holocaust survivors, Soviet Jewry, Ethiopian Jews and others in distress.

The contested election hindered the group’s fundraising efforts, according to Jewish Insider. Its executive vice president and CEO, David Schizer, also will be leaving his post at the end of the year. A replacement has not been named.

“I want to thank all those who engaged in the election process and all those who demonstrated their faith in my leadership,” Sisisky said in a statement. “I now look forward to partnering with my colleagues to continue JDC’s ongoing work addressing critical needs with kindness, excellence, and rigor.”

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Belgium requests UNESCO delist parade where Jews were mocked

Mon, 2019-12-09 22:26

(JTA) — Belgium has formally asked UNESCO to delist as a heritage event one of the kingdom’s main parades over allegations of anti-Semitism.

The request to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization considerably increases the probability for removal of the Aalst Carnival, whose previous edition featured effigies of grinning Jews holding money with a rat on one of their shoulders, from the agency’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage is scheduled to vote on delisting the Aalst Carnival, which was put on the list in 2009.

The display of Jews prompted an outcry by Jewish groups and UNESCO itself, which in a statement called it “racist and anti-Semitic.”

The float’s defenders argued in response that it was part of the carnival’s tradition of edgy humor, with themes mocking all religions and creeds. Carnival organizers prepared ribbons with caricatures of Jews for the 2020 edition, which they said were meant to mock UNESCO.

Aalst Mayor Christoph D’Haese last week announced that his city, which is located nearly 20 miles northwest of Brussels, would like to withdraw from the list to be able to preserve its traditions, though his statement had no formal status or recourse with UNESCO.

But Belgium’s request last week to withdraw Aalst from the list does change the event’s status and could mean a unanimous or near unanimous vote to remove it.

Internal UNESCO documents about the Belgian move seen by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency do not mention what reason Belgium gave for its request.

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Marvin Miller, late baseball players’ union chief who revolutionized the sport, elected to Hall of Fame

Mon, 2019-12-09 22:22

(JTA) — Marvin Miller not being a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame has been considered an injustice in the sport’s circles.

On Sunday, that right was wronged for a man who revolutionized the game not on the field but in the conference room.

The Modern Baseball Era Committee opened the doors to Cooperstown for the late founder and leader of the Major League Baseball Players Association, the Jewish son of a Lower East Side salesman and schoolteacher who took on and defeated the wealthy owners.

It was under Miller’s sway that major leaguers were granted free agency rather than be tied to one team, spurring enormous growth not only in their salaries but in the game. Miller, a member of the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, also introduced salary arbitration.

The average baseball player now makes $4.36 million a season, with some contracts reaching over $300 million over their span. The owners are doing OK, too — baseball is now an $11 billion a year industry.

Miller, a Brooklyn native who served as union chief from 1966 to 1982, died in 2012 at 95. After falling short in the Expansion Era Committee vote for the Hall of Fame in 2011 – one of the seven times he didn’t make it before this weekend – Miller asked that his name no longer be placed under consideration.

But it was, and 12 of the 16 members of the Modern Baseball Era Committee – former players, veteran executives and media members – gave Miller the 75 percent needed to get in.

“Players are pleased that Marvin will now take his rightful and long overdue place in the Hall of Fame,” said current MLBPA executive director Tony Clark, “in recognition of the monumental and positive impact he had on our game and our industry.”

The panel also voted in Ted Simmons, an eight-time All-Star catcher for the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers. Both will be enshrined in the upstate New York museum in July.

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Talmud study is mostly a boys’ club. This Orthodox woman wants to change that.

Mon, 2019-12-09 22:14

(JTA) — Michelle Farber has spent decades teaching Talmud to Jewish women. But when her first child was born, she was relieved it was a boy.

“When my son was born, I said, ‘Good, we had a boy first, it’ll give the world a little time to catch up for women,’” Farber said. “Well, my daughter was born a year and a half later. I really thought that by the time my kids got to my age things would be totally different, and I feel like there’s still not a large number of women who dedicate time to study Talmud.”

Farber, 47, is one of the people trying to change that.

For the past 7 1/2 years, she has taught a page of Talmud a day to a small group of women at her home in the Tel Aviv suburb of Raanana. Some 250 more listen to the class online.

The classes are part of a worldwide program called Daf Yomi in which countless numbers of Jews around the world — nearly all of them men — study one of the 2,711 pages of the millennia-old Jewish legal code known as the Talmud each day. On Jan. 4, the 7 1/2-year Daf Yomi cycle is set to finish, an occasion that will be marked by massive celebrations. In 2012, a crowd of 90,000, mostly males, filled MetLife Stadium in New Jersey to celebrate the end of the last cycle.

On Jan. 5, Farber is holding the first large-scale Daf Yomi ceremony for women at the Binyanei Ha’Uma convention center in Jerusalem. Thousands are expected to attend, and the event will be livestreamed around the world. The ceremony is a project of Hadran, an organization founded by Farber to encourage women’s Talmud study.

The event will celebrate a years-long accomplishment, but Farber also hopes it will encourage more women to engage in intensive Jewish text study — a field that has been dominated by men for centuries.

“This is a real opportunity to make a change and get to all the women who are out there who aren’t necessarily studying now and could be,” she said. “It’s a very good thing to do at a stage of life where you’re busy with a million things and want to set aside some time for learning and feel like you’re getting somewhere.”

Farber’s life is a case study in the obstacles that Orthodox women have faced in trying to study Talmud at the highest levels. The Long Island, New York, native left Barnard College in the middle of her studies to study Torah in Israel, eventually getting her bachelor’s degree in Talmud and Bible from Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv. She also graduated from the scholars’ program at Midreshet Lindenbaum, a women’s seminary in Jerusalem.

At that stage, a man with Farber’s knowledge could have pursued rabbinical studies. But at the time, that option was all but closed to Orthodox women.

So Farber studied independently. She joined a coed Talmud class with a distinguished Orthodox rabbi, but had to leave after it shut its doors to women. Ultimately she embarked on a career teaching Jewish studies to women in Jerusalem before moving to the Tel Aviv area, where she taught a weekly Talmud class to women.

“The opportunities for me were really lacking,” said Farber, who uses the title rabbanit. “You can’t imagine what it’s like. A guy has no understanding of what it’s like to be a woman and where the women are coming from and the lack that they have.”

Rabbinic ordination has been open to non-Orthodox women for decades. Opportunities have expanded recently for Orthodox women as well. Yeshivat Maharat in New York City has been training Orthodox women clergy for a decade, though it does not confer the title rabbi on its graduates. In Israel, some women have received Orthodox rabbinical ordination.

Other programs offer women advanced degrees in Jewish law. And American high school graduates can choose from nearly two dozen women’s seminaries in Israel. Farber’s daughter studied at Migdal Oz, the sister school of Yeshivat Har Etzion, a highly regarded men’s Orthodox academy in the West Bank settlement of Efrat.

But Farber notes that there is still a significant gender gap when it comes to advanced Jewish study. An Israeli survey from 2016 showed that 41 percent of religious Zionist women in Israel do not study Torah regularly, as opposed to just 14 percent of men. Part of the reason why Farber’s class is limited to women is so women have a safe space to start encountering texts.

“I knew that women may be intimidated to come if there were men in the room,” Farber said. “It was a way to attract beginners who had less background. If you put them in a class with men, they’re going to be more hesitant to open their mouths, to feel comfortable, and I wanted a warm, safe environment for women.”

Farber’s teaching style emphasizes giving students a clear explanation of the Talmud’s esoteric and tortuous legal debates. But she also aims to show how the Talmud confronts questions of human nature — something she has found her female students approach with particular insight.

She recalled one Talmud scenario in which a woman receives a date rather than a ring to signify marriage — and then eats the fruit. Is the marriage still valid? It sounds like a bizarre case, but one of her students suggested that the bride might just be poor and hungry.

One of Farber’s regular students via podcast, Ilana Kurshan, said she appreciates that Farber uses women’s names when discussing hypothetical legal cases. Kurshan has completed Daf Yomi and wrote an award-winning memoir on the experience called “If All the Seas Were Ink.”

“You imagine in your head that the women are the actors in the drama,” Kurshan said. “There are many aspects both of the text itself and the human encounter with the text that we have not historically had access to because only half the population has been studying the texts.”

In advance of the completion ceremony, Farber has begun a campaign to have women “adopt” one page of Talmud and then study it before the event. She also wants to help train more women to teach Talmud.

“It’s not just that women should study Talmud but that we create more women scholars,” she said. “Having a woman teacher provides a role model. It just sends a message that you can get somewhere in this field.”

Want to study Daf Yomi? Click here to sign up for My Jewish Learning’s free email series exploring insights from each page of the Talmud. Emails begin Jan. 5, 2020.

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Haredi Orthodox mother of 5 may have to give up Olympic dream over Shabbat

Mon, 2019-12-09 21:02

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A haredi Orthodox mother of five may have to give up her dream of running in the marathon at the 2020 Olympics after the race was scheduled for a Saturday.

“I felt like I was punched in the stomach this morning,” Beatie Deutsch, 29, wrote late last week in a post on Facebook.

According to the post, when Deutsch first decided to pursue her Olympic goal nearly a year ago, the first thing she did was check to make sure she would be able to participate. She was relieved to learn that the marathon was set for the last Sunday of the games.

The women’s marathon was rescheduled after Tokyo Olympics organizers decided to relocate the race, news reports last week said.

Deutsch, the winner of the 2018 Jerusalem Marathon, wrote that she had skipped the World Championships and several other competitions because they were held on Shabbat. Asked recently about the challenges she faces as a haredi female runner, Deutsch said there really weren’t any and that running was “very compatible with my religious lifestyle.”

Not anymore.

“Suddenly things got real very quickly,” Deutsch, who ran the Tel Aviv Marathon in 2017 while seven months pregnant, wrote in her post. “Because I’ve been pretty public about my Olympic dream … and I’ve invested a whole lot to get myself there … and what if, what if after all that I make it and I can’t even run?!”

But Deutsch said she is not giving up.

“I will continue to train and push myself to the best of my ability to try and qualify,” she said. “Regardless of whether the race is switched or not, I’m not letting go yet. I am a fighter, I don’t give up easily and I will do whatever I can to get the Olympic marathon date changed.”

Deutsch, who moved to Israel from New Jersey in 2009, is known for running in a skirt, sleeves that fall below her elbow and a headscarf.

In May, Deutsch was the top female finisher in a 13-mile half-marathon race in Riga, Latvia, reportedly becoming the first haredi woman to win an international athletic competition.

She won the Tiberias Marathon in January in a time of 2 hours, 42 minutes, 18 seconds — the fifth best for a woman in Israeli history but short of the tougher new standard of 2:29:30 needed to qualify for the Olympics. Only 80 women will qualify for the games, with a cap of three per country.

“I may not make it to the Olympics,” she wrote. “I may not make the standard or I may not be able to run a race that is on Shabbat. But one thing I do know is that I will continue to proudly represent what it means to be an Orthodox Jewish women and professional runner for Israel.”

View this post on Instagram

About four years ago, I signed up for my first race ever, the Tel Aviv marathon 2016. . . It was a decision that changed my life forever and transformed me as a mother and wife. . I think one of the most powerful aspects of racing is the opportunity it gives us to get out of our comfort zones and stretch ourselves beyond what we ever thought possible. It's the chance to reveal the deep strengths we have within, that we may never know existed. A race is so much more than the physical act of running, it's the mental challenge that helps us develop and grow as human beings . I never imagined that when I signed up for my first marathon it would lead me to the path I'm on today… I had no idea what I was getting myself into either. All I wanted was some consistency in my life when it came to exercise, something to motivate me to get out the door and make time for myself and my body, despite all the craziness as a working mom of four young kids . When I registered for Tel Aviv, I didn't even think I could run the marathon in 4 and a half hours. The only goal had for myself was to cross the finishline. And yet 4 months later, after slowly building up and following a training plan, I finished in 3 hours and 27 minutes. The most powerful lesson I've walked away with through all my marathon cycles and races is "YOU ARE STRONGER THAN YOU KNOW!" If you haven't signed up for a race yet…@themiamimarathon is your chance! It doesn't matter whether you have serious running goals or not, whether you're an amateur or pro. Give yourself the gift of self-discovery, push yourself to do something a little beyond your comfort zone, set a goal and watch yourself accomplish it. . I'll be running the Miami half Marathon in February and I want to invite you all to join me. There are going to be some amazing Jewish organizations running, hundreds of other runners and an awesome atmosphere. Don't miss the Cyber Monday deals that offer great discounts for the race…I can't wait to see you all there #raceday #timetofly #justdoit

A post shared by Beatie Deutsch (@marathonmother) on Dec 1, 2019 at 12:27pm PST

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Jewish groups denounced Trump’s insinuations about Jewish wealth. So why do some say they went easy on him?

Mon, 2019-12-09 19:02

(JTA) — Several Jewish groups weren’t happy about President Donald Trump’s remarks over the weekend at the Israeli-American Council’s annual conference.

At the event in Florida, the president slammed Jews who “don’t love Israel enough” and implied that Jews would not vote for Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren because of their wealth.

“You have people that are Jewish people that are great people, they don’t love Israel enough,” Trump said Saturday.

After telling members of the audience that “a lot of you are in the real estate business,” Trump went on say that they “have to” support his re-election because there’s no alternative.

“You have no choice, you’re not gonna vote for Pocahontas, I can tell you that,” he said, using a pejorative nickname for Warren, who claims to have Native American ancestry. “You’re not gonna vote for the wealth tax.”

One of Warren’s signature policy initiatives is a tax on households with a net worth of $50 million or more.

Trump’s speech was met with loud applause and vigorous chants of “four more years.” But several Jewish groups, including the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League, took to Twitter to criticize his comments.

“Dear @POTUS  — Much as we appreciate your unwavering support for Israel, surely there must be a better way to appeal to American Jewish voters, as you just did in Florida, than by money references that feed age-old and ugly stereotypes. Let’s stay off that mine-infested road,” the AJC said in a tweet Sunday.

“While important @POTUS called out BDS and #antiSemitism, it’s essentially undone by his own trafficking of #antiSemitic tropes: questioning American Jews’ loyalty to Israel and asserting that Jewish voters only care about their wealth,” wrote the ADL’s CEO and national director, Jonathan Greenblatt.

While important @POTUS called out BDS and #antiSemitism, it's essentially undone by his own trafficking of #antiSemitic tropes: questioning American Jews’ loyalty to Israel and asserting that Jewish voters only care about their wealth. https://t.co/m14rh45C5b

— Jonathan Greenblatt (@JGreenblattADL) December 8, 2019

But for some, the condemnations weren’t strong enough.

Rabbi Jill Jacobs, the executive director of the progressive group T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, accused the AJC of not being as harsh on Trump as it had been on liberals who made anti-Semitic comments.

“Not exactly the tone of their condemnations of antisemitism from the left, is it?” Jacobs wrote in a response to AJC’s tweet. “The President of the United States is making antisemitic remarks & consorting with Nazi sympathizers. Treat that like the big deal it is.”

Not exactly the tone of their condemnations of antisemitism from the left, is it?

The President of the United States is making antisemitic remarks & consorting with Nazi sympathizers. Treat that like the big deal it is. https://t.co/Xch64fV9Ws

— Rabbi Jill Jacobs (@rabbijilljacobs) December 8, 2019

Jacobs didn’t specify who the AJC had supposedly been soft on. But Rebecca Pierce, a black-Jewish filmmaker and writer, posted the AJC’s response after Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., falsely claimed earlier this year that the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC pays members of Congress to support the Jewish state. The AJC said Omar’s claim was “demonstrably false and stunningly anti-Semitic” and urged her to apologize.

AJC’s immediate condemnation of Ilhan Omar tweeting the word AIPAC vs groveling response to Trump blatantly associating all Jewish people with money speaks volumes pic.twitter.com/mKmqzfS76y

— Rebecca Pierce #BlackShabbat (@aptly_engineerd) December 8, 2019

Yonah Lieberman, the co-founder of IfNotNow, a Jewish group that opposes the Israeli occupation, criticized Greenblatt for starting his statement by praising the president’s remarks.

Meanwhile, Jewish Democratic groups were even harsher in their condemnations of the president. Halie Soifer, who leads the Jewish Democratic Council of America, called Trump’s comments “vile and bigoted,” while the Democratic Majority for Israel on Twitter called them “disgusting.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the New York Democrat who has frequently sparred with the president, on Twitter termed his comments “outright and atrocious antisemitism.”

Trump had his share of Jewish defenders, too.

Matt Brooks, the executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, responding to an article about Jewish criticism of president, tweeted that “Jewish groups could be wrong.”

Shmuley Boteach, the prominent rabbi and author who launched a failed congressional bid as a Republican in 2012, said it was “highly misleading” to focus on Trump’s wealth remarks, calling the address “one of the most pro-Israel speeches ever delivered by an American President.”

Trump tells Jewish group they'll vote for him to protect their wealth – I was at the speech and live-streamed it. To sum this up as the headline is highly misleading. It was one of the most pro-Israel speeches ever delivered by an American President. https://t.co/Mk66W2aPpT

— Rabbi Shmuley (@RabbiShmuley) December 8, 2019

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