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Conference to muster archives and libraries in the fight against antisemitism

Fri, 2021-10-15 10:43

(New York Jewish Week via JTA) — Archives, libraries and museums can seem unlikely players in the fight against modern-day antisemitism, absorbed as they are in cataloguing and exhibiting the past. 

But Bernard Michael recalled the gum wrappers stored in one of the archives at New York’s Center for Jewish History, where he is president and CEO. Each wrapper, smuggled out out of the Soviet Union in 1982 by an American visitor, contains tiny hidden messages by and about Jews who had been denied permission to emigrate. The microscopic notes reminded him of the love and desire for connection that real people felt when they were separated from their families due to systematic antisemitism.

“We need to bring the history of antisemitism to life in order to combat it,” said Michael. “We are bringing history to the present day, so that people can make use of that history, understand how we got here, and decide where we want to go.”

CJH, in collaboration with jMUSE, is presenting an all-day conference Sunday to do just that. “Confronting Antisemitism: Activating Archives, Libraries, and Museums in the Fight Against Antisemitism” will feature seven virtual sessions dedicated to combating antisemitism through the use of archives in libraries, museums and universities. 

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.

The symposium is the first of its kind. It will urge archivists and curators to use their holdings and programs to foster understanding of antisemitism and promote change.

“The goal of the symposium is to have a conversation about connecting historical study with contemporary action and future impact,” said JMuse CEO Michael Glickman, who founded the organization to help Jewish cultural institutions and their funders “think big” in presenting new ideas and content. “When we focus on places of memory and places of learning, and when we make these materials available, it will help the audience get a better understanding of why something in the past is relevant today.” 

The event will feature librarians, archivists, and academics from several universities across the globe, including a panel with Dr. Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress, and David S. Ferriero, Archivist of the United States. Among the speakers is Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, chief curator of the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, whose goal has been to counter negative stereotypes about Jews.

The Center for Jewish History and its five partner organizations — the American Jewish Historical Society, American Sephardi Federation, Leo Baeck Institute, Yeshiva University Museum and YIVO Institute for Jewish Research — possess the largest and most comprehensive archive of Jewish historical artifacts in the world outside of Israel. 

“This will go beyond the statistics and data, it will present a storyline through history of how we got to where we are today. It will empower people to go forward and come up with ways in which people can come up with their own solutions to take action and combat antisemitism,” said Michael. 

With thousands already registered, the organizers hope that the event will have an impact across the globe. “There is a reason that we have gone broad with our reach on this. We really truly deeply believe in the ability to combat, fight, and confront antisemitism by bringing thoughtful people together who believe in debate and discussion about how history has impacted where we are in the current moment,” said Glickman. 

 Confronting Antisemitism: Activating Archives, Libraries, and Museums in the Fight Against Antisemitism will take place on Sunday, Oct. 17. Register and see the full list of speakers here.

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Texas official to teachers: State law requires teaching ‘opposing’ views on the Holocaust

Thu, 2021-10-14 23:02

(JTA) — Teachers in a Texas school district were told last week that a new state law requiring them to present multiple perspectives about “widely debated and currently controversial” issues meant they needed to make “opposing” views on the Holocaust available to students.

NBC News obtained an audio recording of the official, the Carroll Independent School District’s executive director of curriculum and instruction, speaking to the teachers about how to work under the constraints of the new law, known as House Bill 3979. The law was passed amid a wave of efforts in Republican-led statehouses to prevent “critical race theory,” “divisive” topics and concepts related to race and bias from being taught to children.

“Just try to remember the concepts of 3979,” Peddy said in the recording. “Make sure that if, if you have a book on the Holocaust that you have one that has an opposing — that has other perspectives.”

Gasps and sounds of nervous laughter can be heard on the recording, as one teacher asks aloud, “How do you oppose the Holocaust?”

Peddy responds: “Believe me. That’s come up.”

A Texas lawmaker who drafted a new version of the bill told NBC News that matters of “good and evil” are not subject to the education legislation.

But the possibility that the wave of conservative education legislation could get in the way of Holocaust education crossed the minds of education observers in at least some places over the last year.

“Under this law, it would be impossible to teach that Nazi Germany was inherently anti-Semitic, or that the Third Reich oppressed Jews simply because they were Jews, because that would identify Nazis as inherently biased and Jews as inherently and systemically oppressed,” Russel Neiss, a Jewish educator in St Louis, wrote in the St. Louis Jewish Light in May about legislation that had been proposed in Missouri. Lawmakers there are continuing to push for anti-critical race theory rules for schools.

The episode comes a year after a Florida school district fired a principal — twice — who told a parent that he could not say the Holocaust was “an actual, factual event” because not all parents shared the same belief. Florida’s school board has since enacted a ban on Holocaust denial in schools — as part of a ban on teaching critical race theory.

In Texas, the recording suggests that Peddy does not necessarily support the new law but does anticipate conflicts over its enforcement. Four days before the training, the Carroll school board had overturned a district ruling and formally reprimanded a teacher who drew a parent complaint for keeping an anti-racism book in her classroom.

At one point in the recording, a teacher says she is “terrified.” At another point, an educator asks whether “Number the Stars,” the classic Holocaust novel, would require another book to balance out. Peddy does not address that question on the recording.

“You are professionals. We hired you as professionals. We trust you with our children,” Peddy tells the teachers prior to offering the Holocaust book example. “So if you think the book is OK, then let’s go with it. And whatever happens, we will fight it together.”

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Survey: Jewish New Yorkers’ employment, mental health suffered during pandemic

Thu, 2021-10-14 21:28

(New York Jewish Week via JTA) — 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.

That’s according to a new study by UJA-Federation, which surveyed 4,400 Jews in and around New York City to guide its philanthropic efforts to meet the most pressing needs of New Yorkers. 

The survey found that while Jewish New Yorkers overall experienced less severe economic and psychological effects of the pandemic than other populations, they were hardly unaffected.

The poll found that 22% of adults in Jewish households faced reduced hours or income in the last year, 8% had been laid off and 12% had been furloughed. It also found a 12% unemployment rate for adults in Jewish households compared with 10% in the overall population in New York City and Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties.

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.

The study found that 1 in 5 adults in Jewish households reported symptoms of anxiety and depression, and 1 in 5 has experienced more symptoms since the start of the pandemic. One in 10 adults in Jewish households indicate they have a substance abuse problem, and 72% of those who reported an abuse problem said it worsened during the pandemic. 

Those numbers are lower than the Centers for Disease Control reported for the population as a whole from August 2020 through February 2021, when the percentage of adults with recent symptoms of an anxiety or a depressive disorder increased from 36.4% to 41.5%. Similarly, almost half of all workers and a majority of low-wage workers in New York City lost employment income in the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Robin Hood, an anti-poverty foundation.

The federation, which raised $250 million for the fiscal year that ended June 30, distributes funds to health and human services providers, community centers, food pantries and community-based mental health efforts. (The New York Jewish Week receives UJA-Federation funding as well.) Mark Medin, the federation’s executive vice president of financial resource development, told eJewishPhilanthropy earlier this month that smaller donors were challenged during the pandemic, but high-level donors stepped up to give more, enabling the organization to increase giving for hunger relief and other pressing needs.

Brooklyn, home to large haredi Orthodox communities, represented the highest levels of Jewish poverty in New York, with 37% of Jewish households classified as poor or near poor, according to the survey. Across the region, 4% of adults in Jewish households are not up-to-date on rent or mortgage payments, and 9% of adults in Jewish households are food-insecure.

The survey authors point out that cash benefits and government transfers prevented a much more sizable increase in poverty than New York City would have seen during the pandemic, and that “as relief efforts subside, these rates are likely to rise.”

A similar study of the New York Jewish community hasn’t been done since 2011, measuring the effects of the 2008 economic downturn. And according to Eric Goldstein, UJA-Federation’s CEO, it is so far unique during the pandemic.

The survey is “the first representative survey in the nation offering statistics about social isolation, mental health, domestic violence, and substance abuse in the Jewish community,” Goldstein said in a statement. “There is no vaccine for poverty or hunger, and the effects of the pandemic will be felt in our community for years to come.”

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John Yarmuth, Jewish congressman from Kentucky, to retire from the House

Thu, 2021-10-14 20:59

LOUISVILLE (JTA) — Kentucky Rep. John Yarmuth has been a staunch supporter of Israel during his 15 years in Congress, though he hasn’t always walked in lockstep with its leaders.

He has condemned former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for using violence to quell demonstrations, but has reaffirmed Israel’s right to defend itself. He has assailed rocket attacks on Jerusalem and southern Israel by Hamas, but endorsed the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran despite Israel’s opposition. And he favors a two-state solution, but opposes forced evictions of Arab residents from East Jerusalem.

In other words, the Louisville Democrat, a descendant of Russian and Austrian Jews, backs Israel on his own terms.

That will end on Jan. 3, 2023. Yarmuth, 73, announced Tuesday that he will not seek reelection next year, setting the stage for a wide-open campaign for Kentucky’s 3rd Congressional District that could wind up with a pro-Palestinian candidate in the seat.

Yarmuth, who addressed the press Wednesday at Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport, said he debated his decision for months.

“I’ve been saying for some time, if I ever wrote a book about my experience, I would call it ‘House Arrest,’” Yarmuth said. “Because once you get there, it’s very difficult to leave. There is an addictive quality to it.”

Even though Yarmuth disagreed on specific policy issues over the years, Israel could always count on his support in times of need, said Matt Goldberg, director of the Louisville Jewish Community Relations Council.

“His commitment to the security of the State of Israel is rock-solid,” Goldberg said. “Even his criticism of Israeli actions, which we haven’t always agreed with, is born of that affinity for Israel.”

It’s not clear whether his successor will have the same orientation. So far, two candidates have announced they will run for Yarmuth’s seat: Kentucky State Sen. Morgan McGarvey and State Rep. Attica Scott.

Scott, a progressive Democrat, appeared at a pro-Palestinian rally in May, during the conflict then between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Scott told the crowd, “We are anti-war, anti-oppression and anti-apartheid,” the Louisville Courier Journal reported. Her remarks irked some Jewish residents. She has also spoken out strongly against legislators in her state who have compared abortions to the Holocaust, saying the comparison is a “reprehensible evil perpetuated against Jewish people here in Kentucky.”

A third potential candidate would keep the seat Jewish, and in the Yarmuth family: John’s son, Aaron Yarmuth, is considering a run.

“Kitchen-table issues” – not Israel – are likely to dominate next year’s campaign, according to University of Louisville Political Science Professor Dewey M. Clayton, a close observer of Kentucky politics.

“It may very well come up as an issue, but I don’t think it’s going to be a huge factor given the other problems we’re dealing with,” Clayton said.

Yarmuth agreed. “In terms of what voters in the 3rd District will base their vote on, I would doubt that’s in the top 10,” he said.

A Louisville native and graduate of Yale University, Yarmuth cut his teeth in politics as a legislative aide for then-Sen. Marlow Cook, a Kentucky Republican, from 1971-74.

In 1976, Yarmuth ventured into journalism, founding Louisville Today and then the Louisville Eccentric Observer in 1990, which is still publishing as LEO Weekly. Aaron Yarmuth previously served as LEO’s editor before he sold the paper in June to Euclid Media Group.

In 2006, Yarmuth ran against and defeated the incumbent congresswoman from Louisville, Anne Northup, a Republican.

He has since moved into leadership, currently serving as chairman of the House Budget Committee.

Yarmuth has never needed to depend on the Jewish vote to get elected. Of the 700,000 people in his district, only about 8,000 are Jews.

Still, Yarmuth’s connection to the Jewish community has remained strong throughout the years. A member of The Temple, the largest synagogue in Louisville, he frequently speaks at community events and Mens Club functions. He also likes to mention how he learned to play basketball at the local Jewish community center.

“Meeting with him and his staff … has always been a pleasure,” the JCRC’s Goldberg said. “He has legislatively prioritized many of the issues that we care about so much, such as increasing funding to social safety net programs.”

Yarmuth may not be the only Jewish congressman from the South pondering retirement this year. During his briefing Wednesday, he mentioned that his colleague and close friend, Rep. Steve Cohen, a Tennessee Democrat, is facing the same decision.

“He’s agonizing over whether to run right now,” Yarmuth said of Cohen. “He said, ‘I’m losing my best friend.’ And that’s kind of how many of us feel.”

Requests for comment to Cohen’s office were not returned.

Yarmuth’s son, Aaron Yarmuth, has never held elected office. He said this week he would only run if he felt his candidacy would help Democrats hold the seat. The news that he was considering a run came as a shock to many, including the editor of his former paper, and the already-declared candidate Scott made an oblique reference to Aaron in a statement, saying, “No political seat belongs to any family member, front-runner, or legacy.”

John Yarmuth said he will not endorse anyone for his seat unless Aaron runs.

“If Aaron gets in the race,” he said, “I’m going to be 100% for him.”

This story was published in collaboration with Louisville Jewish Community.

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With dozens of world leaders watching, Sweden looks to turn around its reputation on antisemitism

Thu, 2021-10-14 19:54

MALMÖ, Sweden (JTA) — Malmö, Sweden’s third largest city, has in recent years become known as a hotbed of antisemitism

With around one third of its inhabitants born outside of Sweden, many of them often living in ethnically homogenous neighbourhoods, the city has also become a synonym for Sweden’s integration problems.

But this week, Malmö — and by extension, Sweden’s government — aimed to turn that reputation on its head with a conference about combating antisemitism attended in person or on video by nearly 50 heads of state, foreign government ministers, European Union officials and World Jewish Congress representatives. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Israeli President Isaac Herzog and French President Emmanuel Macron sent in video messages. 

YouTube, led by Jewish CEO Susan Wojcicki, pledged over $5 million to nonprofits and government entities to fight online antisemitism. Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg, meanwhile, who has spoken publicly about how her Jewish ancestors escaped persecution in Europe to the United States, joined live by video, and said her company is devoted to meticulous reviewing of its users’ content — despite its past issues with moderation on the topic.

Unlike in other similar conferences on the subject, The Malmö International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism did not end with a joint declaration signed by all of its attendees. Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said he preferred the leaders present to focus on discussing “concrete measures” that can be used to curb antisemitic incidents and behavior.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who joined virtually from Brussels, introduced the newly adopted “EU Strategy on Combating Antisemitism and Fostering Jewish Life (2021-2030)” plan and proposed the creation of a Young European Ambassadors for Holocaust Remembrance program.

??“We are not looking for another declaration, we are looking to translate these principles of these documents into reality,” Löfven, who is leaving his office next month, said in a speech Wednesday.

If and how the conference serves as a turning point for the country’s on-the-ground antisemitism problem remains to be seen. While the heads of state held the spotlight, Swedish media reports in recent weeks have told stories of the local Jews who are continuing to leave Malmö, some after suffering antisemitism directly in their daily lives.

“You can hold your nice speeches, we’re moving while you’re doing it,” the mother of a 12-year-old Jewish girl told Sweden’s newspaper Dagens Nyheter. Her daughter described how she had found graffiti reading “Free Palestine” and “F–k Israel” by her school locker, and how someone spit on her jacket. It has proven too much for the girl’s mother, who is relocating their family to Israel next summer, despite not speaking any Hebrew.

That story is not unique — all of the Swedish Jewish students interviewed in a survey published by the City of Malmö earlier this year said they had been exposed to some form of antisemitism at school.

The problem extends far beyond the classroom. In 2017, the Malmö synagogue’s windows were shattered with stones. In 2020, the city had to suspend its partnership with the Arab Book Fair, as an antisemitic book appeared on its website (the title has subsequently been removed). 

But it was perhaps an experiment conducted in 2015 by a Swedish journalist that drew the most attention to the situation. The reporter, wearing a kippah and a Star of David pendant, was verbally and physically attacked while walking through various Malmö neighborhoods.

In Malmö and beyond, Swedish Jews have felt caught between different streams of antisemitism — from both radicalized Muslim immigrants and neo-Nazi movements.

Members of the far-right Nordic Resistance Movement march through the town of Ludvika, central Sweden, on May 1, 2018. (Ulf Palm/AFP via Getty Images)

“Yes, you are taking a risk when you walk around with a Star of David,” Frederik Sieradzki, the spokesman for the Jewish Community of Malmö organization, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in an interview before the conference. In 2019, in the wake of a report on the city’s declining Jewish population, he told JTA that his Jewish community could disappear entirely by 2029.

But Sieradzki struck a more optimistic tone in talking about this week’s conference. The community, he said, is forging closer ties to Katrin Stjernfeldt Jammeh, Malmö’s mayor since 2013, who detailed plans to “create better conditions” for Jews in the city in an interview with Haaretz before the conference.

“We’ve been working with the Jewish community in several ways to map the problem, to create an understanding of the problem and, today, we have a long-term commitment. We’re investing more than 2 million Euros ($2.3 million) over four years,” she said. “We’re also working within our school system, mapping the problem there too, and creating different ways to prevent prejudice.”

Sieradzki confirmed that within the last 20 years, the number of Jews in the city has been halved, to approximately 500 members today. But he was careful in drawing cause and effect conclusions, and emphasized that the fear and experience of antisemitism is not the only factor driving the numbers down. Younger generations have better career opportunities in Stockholm, and also more ways of engaging in religious life; older people move to the cities where their children and grandchildren live; many older members of the Malmö community, among them Holocaust survivors, die out over time. 

Even those who decide to leave for Israel point to multiple reasons for their moves, he said. And Sieradzki has noticed that in the past two years, the curve has flattened, and the number of Community organization members has remained practically unchanged. He takes that as a good sign.

During an event held before the conference celebrating Jewish life in Sweden, Ronald Lauder, the head of the World Jewish Congress and a prominent Republican donor, spoke of another factor that has been a flashpoint in the country for decades: the harsh criticism of Israel common in Swedish society and government.

Ronald Lauder speaks at a Malmö synagogue, Oct. 12, 2021. (World Jewish Congress/Shahar Azran)

Speaking in Malmö’s main synagogue, he expressed disappointment with the United Nations, where Sweden had until recently regularly signed on to resolutions singling out Israel for international rebuke. Before this September, Israel and Sweden’s foreign ministers had not spoken to each other for seven years, a historic low in relations.

The previous mayor of Malmö, Ilmar Reepalu, was also known for his sharp anti-Israel stance, and for blaming attacks on Jews on their support of the Jewish state.

“What if Sweden was under attack today?” he said to the audience, which included Löfven, defending Israel’s actions in armed conflicts with the Palestinians and others in its region.

Over a decade ago, Lauder wrote an op-ed in which he heavily criticized Swedish politicians and media for inspiring antisemitic attitudes with what he deemed their over-the-line Israel rhetoric. But his tone on Tuesday was dramatically different.

“Ten years ago Sweden was not friendly at all, not only to Israel, but to the Jewish people,” Lauder told JTA. ‘We worked day and night. We watched and we listened to what the prime minister and his government were doing. It was like a miracle… I will use Prime Minister Löfven as an example when I speak to people. I hope other countries will follow.”

Löfven, who has led Sweden since 2014, has been clear that he wants to leave behind a legacy of defending Jews. He first visited the Auschwitz museum in 2017 and on International Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2019 he declared that Sweden would create a state museum devoted to memorializing the Holocaust. In 2020, an allocation of over $1 million towards the goal was announced, and last month the government declared further support of approximately $3.5 million dollars to be given to the National Historical Museums Agency responsible for the task.

It has now been confirmed that the new museum will be located in Stockholm — even though opinions on that choice were split both among Swedish Jews and scholars. Stockholm — the city of Sweden’s most famous Righteous Among the Nations, diplomat Raoul Wallenberg — and Malmö were the two most frequently mentioned locations. 

Malmö, which lies in the southernmost part of Sweden, just 25 miles across the Öresund strait from Copenhagen, became a safe haven for several thousand Danish Jews in 1943 and for four thousands more in 1945, when it took in evacuees from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Despite that, some feared that the Holocaust history would have been used to hide Malmö’s current problems. Others argued that the contemporary issues made it more important to place a museum about Jews there.

Despite the gestures, 97-year-old Holocaust survivor Lea Gleitman, who has lived in Malmö since 1946, succinctly summarized the feelings many Swedish Jews had about the Malmö conference, in an interview with Sweden’s national broadcaster SVT.

“It is important, but only if it really leads to something. Sometimes it is just talk, but we have hope, maybe,” she said.

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New Yorkers with Sephardic roots say Spain is breaking its promise of citizenship

Thu, 2021-10-14 19:07

(JTA) — After Spain announced it would offer of citizenship to families of Jews it expelled more than 500 years ago, Mark Tafoya, a personal chef living in New York City, filled out an application.

Originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico, Tafoya calls himself a “proud Sephardic Jew rediscovering my roots.” So from Inwood, in northern Manhattan, he tracked down all the required documents, created a genealogy chart and hired an attorney. He detailed his family’s heritage from their departure to Spain and arrival in New Mexico some 500 years ago. He even bought a small stock in Santander Bank to prove a monetary link — what the application requirement defines as a “special connection” — to Spain. The Jewish Federation of New Mexico certified his application.

Tafoya had seemingly done everything right. But for the last 25 months, he has been waiting for an answer from Spain that hasn’t come. He hasn’t gotten any indication that he’ll ever get an answer.

“The waiting is the hardest part,” he said. “If I knew I was rejected, I could start the appeals process.” Appeals can take four to five months.

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.

Until this year, only one applicant for the Spanish citizenship program had been rejected. But in 2021, over 3,000 applications have already been denied, according to the American Sephardi Federation, and more than 20,000 have found themselves in an extended period of waiting — not just for citizenship, but for an explanation of what appear to be endless delays. 

Tafoya was one of about 30 people who gathered in front of the Consulate General of Spain in New York on Monday to protest the denials and delays. Calling their protest “Yo Soy Parte” (“I am a part”), members of both Latino and Jewish communities to call out what they see as the injustice and hypocrisy of these rejections. 

The protest was the result of a collaboration between American Sephardi Federation, a Jewish group, and The Philos Project, a New York-based nonprofit that helps Christian leaders, mostly evangelicals, “understand and engage with important Near East issues,” according to its website. 

The event emerged after Jason Guberman, executive director at the American Sephardi Federation, spoke to Hispanic leaders around New York about the issue at the invitation of Jesse Rojo, the head of Philos Latino who often collaborates with Guberman’s group. 

Teresa Leger Fernandez, a Democratic congresswoman from New Mexico, flew in for the event and spoke to the crowd in an expression of solidarity.

“I stand with you as somebody who has a deep connection to Spain, its history, and the Sephardim,” Fernandez said. “Like many in Northern New Mexico, my ancestors include the Spanish, the indigenous, the Apache, the Pueblo, and yes, the displaced Sephardim.”

A congressional letter that she initiated addressed to Spanish President Pedro Sánchez Pérez-Castejón and would introduce on Oct. 12 was read aloud at the protest. 

“We urge you to rescind these changes and ensure that every eligible Sephardic Jewish descendant can receive citizenship to their ancestral home under the law as the Cortes Generales intended,” said the letter, signed by nine members of Congress, including New York Democrats Alan Lowenthal and Ritchie Torres.

Spain’s Law of Return passed unanimously in the Cortes Generales, the Spanish legislature, in 2015. It allowed for any descendent of Sephardic heritage to apply for citizenship. Similar versions of the law existed throughout the 20th century, but the 2015 version said applicants need not be practicing Jews, and that they could apply for dual citizenship. 

That opened the door for over 132,000 people who applied for citizenship under the program, claiming ancestry through family trees that included Sephardic Jews with roots in Spain and non-Jewish descendants of “crypto-Jews” whose ancestors were expelled or fled Iberia during the Inquisition. More than half of those people began their application in the last month before the Oct. 1, 2019 deadline. 

But the 59,000 people who had submitted their materials well before before the October 2019 closing date should have gotten an answer by now. Of them, approximately 34,000 have been granted citizenship, and another 22,000 still await a response. 

For the Sephardic descendants, it seemed as though Spain was genuine in its attempts to make reparations. “It was an amazing gesture,” said Guberman, who has worked with many applicants to get their documents in order. 

Which is why it feels like such a betrayal when applications are suddenly and inexplicably rejected, protestors said.

“It’s an insult on top of an insult,” said Tafoya, referring to Spain inviting its Sephardic descendants back in after acknowledging the horrific acts of the Inquisition, only to reject them once again. 

“The broken promise of the noble gesture of reparation wounds more than if Spain had never made the offer of return in the first place,” the congressional letter concludes.

It is unclear why there has been a sudden slew of rejections. The congressional letter cites complaints by applicants who were approved by Spanish judges, only to be rejected by the Ministry of Justice — a move that is illegal, according to the New York Times. Many applicants have been asked to provide more in-depth genealogy charts, and some face bureaucrats’ insistence that the “special connection” donation to the Spanish economy must have been made before the law was announced in 2015. Others have seen certificates of Sephardic origin from Jewish institutions outside of Spain rejected. 

The window to apply closed on Oct. 1, 2019, which makes it even more frustrating that the rules for approval changed after that deadline and applications were already in, a spokesperson from the Jewish Federation of New Mexico told The Jewish Week.

The New Mexico federation, located where a number of people claim Spanish Jewish ancestry, is one of only a few institutions in the United States that grants certificates of Spanish-Jewish origin to non-Jews. Many of those applicants have been denied. 

The New Mexico federation helped certify 20,000 people from more than 50 countries across the globe, it said. A majority of the applicants came from Venezuela Colombia, and Mexico. 

The wave of rejections is especially heartbreaking for Venezuelans who applied, Tafoya said. The law seemed to offer a safe, legal opportunity for them to leave their beleaguered country and become European Union citizens. Many had emptied their savings to afford the application process, which costs at least $7,000 to complete.

Jason Guberman, executive director at the American Sephardi Federation; Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez, D-New Mexico; and Jesse Rojo, director of Philos Latino (with his son) at a rally in New York City pressuring Spain to approve citizenship applications for those with Jewish roots in the country, Oct. 11, 2021. (Julia Gergely)Some of the protestors speculated that the halt in approvals is due to sentiments of antisemitism in the new Spanish government, which is led by a left-wing party that came to power in November 2019. Others wondered if the ruling party, which was not responsible for the Law of Return, is wary of introducing new voters into the country who might support the previous, more conservative party that had accepted them. 

The Consulate General of Spain in New York does not provide information on the status of pending applications, it told JTA by email.

“I believed the Spanish government when they said that they were sorry for the sins of the past,” said Jason Gomez. a third-generation New Yorker who learned about Spain’s citizenship program while it was under discussion. He subsequently interviewed his older Puerto Rican relatives about the strange customs of his childhood — eating only beef, not pork; placing rocks on graves and only marrying into certain families, all reminiscent of Jewish traditions. 

Gomez discovered that his family is descended from a community known as Xuetas, Mallorcan Jews who were forcibly converted to Christianity, but continued to practice their faith in secret.

“In 2015 the Spanish government said that they recognized the generations of suffering in this terrible history and wanted to make amends,” he said in his speech. “But only six years later they have turned away from us.”

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A pioneering German translation of the Talmud, finished in 1935, is now accessible online

Thu, 2021-10-14 18:09

(JTA) — When Lazarus Goldschmidt completed his translation of the Talmud into German, the world he had hoped to serve when he started 40 years earlier was in the process of being destroyed.

It was 1935, two years after Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany, and Goldschmidt himself had already fled to London. Over the next decade, virtually every Jew in Germany either escaped or was murdered. Goldschmidt’s feat — he was the first to complete a full translation of the Talmud into any European language — was recognized, but his work had little practical impact.

Now, nearly 90 years later, German-speaking Jews are getting another chance to engage with Goldschmidt’s work. Sefaria, the website that makes Jewish texts available and interactive online, has added Goldschmidt’s translation to its library.

“The original publication of this document was a milestone event in German Jewish life,” said Igor Itkin, a German rabbinical student who led the team that adapted Goldschmidt’s translation for online use, in a statement released by Sefaria. “Making it available online not only preserves that legacy, but also introduces it to future generations.”

Itkin told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that he has already heard from Germans who have begun using the translation in their study of Daf Yomi, the daily page of Talmud that Jews around the world learn in unison. “The response has been very positive,” he said.

Scholars of Judaism in Germany have sought to make Jewish texts available in German for decades, but the Talmud translation project gained steam after Itkin and his colleagues, German and Austrian scholars, took on the project after he realized that Goldschmidt’s work would enter the public domain at the beginning of this year.

It took them five months for the team to make its way through the 9,434 pages of Goldschmidt’s translation, reviewing and correcting errors in the scanned version and formatting it so users can navigate among the German, English and Hebrew/Aramaic translations that Sefaria makes available. (Sefaria’s CEO, Daniel Septimus, is a board member of 70 Faces Media, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s parent company.)

The translation will be the subject of an online event Oct. 24 featuring scholars who will speak to its significance. But it already took center stage once, premiering earlier this month in Berlin as part of this year’s “Festival of Resilience,” a series of events celebrating how German Jewish communities have persisted in the face of hate.

“It was very important to us to do an event in German, because this is a tool for a German-speaking audience,” said Rabbi Jeremy Borovitz, director of Jewish learning for Hillel Deutschland, who helped coordinate between Itkin’s team and Sefaria. “There’s a lot of excitement from German rabbis because finally, it’s opened up a way that they can really bring Talmud learning to their audiences.”

The translation’s accessibility comes amid surging interest in Jewish studies at German universities as well as in less formal settings. Sefaria’s tools allow users to draw from its library to create source sheets, or Jewish study texts, meaning that individual classes and communities will be able to tailor the new materials for their needs.

The digital German Talmud represents “a way of making important Jewish texts available and accessible for a new generation of German-speaking Jews who are eager to learn and explore what it means to be Jewish today,” Katharina Hadassah Wendl, an Austrian student at the London School of Jewish Studies who assisted with the project, told JTA.

She added, “For me personally, this project has opened my eyes anew to the depths of Torah and the vast sea of Talmudic discussions and wisdom.”

Joshua Foer, an author and cofounder of Sefaria, said in a statement that the translation’s online release represents the triumph of Jewish tradition over the forces of hate that lapped against Goldschmidt as he worked.

“Goldschmidt released the translation at a time of rising antisemitism to dispel dangerous myths and make the text accessible to all German speakers around the world,” Foer said. He added, “That this translation is being made more accessible today with the help of German and Austrian rabbinic students and scholars representing the future of German Judaism is a fitting celebration of Goldschmidt’s legacy.”

Goldschmidt died in 1950, shortly after the Royal Library in Copenhagen acquired his collected works and papers. His other contributions included the first German translation of the Quran and a parody commentary on creation that he published under the moniker Arzelai bar Bargelai.

Sefaria is in the process of adding French and English translations of the Jerusalem Talmud, an alternate form of the foundational Jewish text, that also recently entered the public domain. And with their work on Goldschmidt’s Talmud complete, Itkin and his team will get to work on translating other texts, such as the Mishnah, with commentary from prewar German rabbis including David Zvi Hoffmann and Eduard Baneth.

One day, they hope that text and others will appear on Sefaria in German as well, ready to engage German students and synagogue-goers in their native language.

“There’s a source of pride that the first language other than English on Sefaria is German,” said Borovitz. “It speaks to some of the resilience of this text and also this community and that it’s growing, and that people are optimistic about the future.”

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With Yair Lapid at his side, Blinken uses a word that Israel has been longing to hear on Iran

Thu, 2021-10-14 13:54

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Yair Lapid got what he wanted out of his Washington visit: the word “every,” instead of “other.”

During Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s first meeting with President Biden in August, Bennett was happy with what he heard: the American president, despite his desire to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal, said that if Iran does not engage in good faith diplomacy with the nations involved in the deal, the U.S. would consider “other options” in getting Iran to curb its nuclear ambitions.

It was a sign that Israel and U.S. Democrats, long far apart in their opinions on how to best contain Iran, were coming closer together. 

Lapid, on his official trip as foreign minister in Washington, pushed things along even further.

He looked on Wednesday as Antony Blinken, the U.S. secretary of state, said “every” option was on the table if Iran does not engage in a good faith effort to negotiate the U.S. reentry into the nuclear deal.

It was one of those blink-and-you-miss-it moments in diplomacy, but it had significant weight. According to insiders involved in the issue, “other options” can be seen as referring to enhanced sanctions, or other non-military forms of pressure. “Every option” means military action may be on the table as well. 

“We will look at every option to deal with the challenge posed by Iran,” Blinken said at a press conference called to announce initiatives that would advance the Abraham Accords, the normalization agreements between Israel and four Arab nations. “We continue to believe that diplomacy is the most effective way to do that, but it takes two to engage in diplomacy, and we have not — we have not seen from Iran a willingness to do that at this point.”

Blinken made the statement on the State Department’s eighth floor, flanked by Lapid and the United Arab Emirates foreign minister, Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The foreign ministers were together to announce new Abraham Accords initiatives, but the symbolism of Blinken’s stronger language in the company of two of the Middle East nations who feel Iran’s threat most sharply was unmistakable.

A senior Israeli official told reporters after the meetings that the Israeli and U.S. delegations discussed Iran extensively behind closed doors. “While there may not have been agreement, there was the discussion of options that have not been on the table previously,” said the official, who spoke anonymously because of the sensitivity of the information. 

Along with Bennett, Lapid has spearheaded the effort to repair Israel’s ties with the Democratic Party, which were corroded during the 12 years Benjamin Netanyahu was prime minister. Netanyahu was antagonistic toward that half of the American polity, toward which the clear majority of American Jews are oriented.

Netanyahu has accused Bennett and Lapid of showing weakness by not more robustly opposing the Biden administration’s efforts to reenter the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which former President Donald Trump left in 2018 at Netanyahu’s behest.

Bennett and Lapid’s strategy appeared to pay dividends during Lapid’s 48 hours in the U.S. capital this week. The Biden administration, frustrated with the new hard-line Iranian government elected this summer, is edging closer to Israel’s posture, a development that came about without tensions.

Blinken’s language on Iran was tougher than it has been since President Joe Biden made good on his pledge to seek to reenter the 2015 sanctions relief for nuclear rollback deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Biden sees it as the best option to keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

“Despite the fact that we’ve made abundantly clear over the last nine months that we are prepared to return to full compliance with the JCPOA if Iran does the same, what we are seeing – or maybe more accurately not seeing from Tehran now – suggests that they’re not,” Blinken said. “I’m not going to put a specific date on it, but with every passing day and Iran’s refusal to engage in good faith, the runway gets short.”

Lapid culled other dividends from his visit. The Biden administration showed itself fully committed to cultivating the Abraham Accords, one of the few areas of agreement it has with the Trump administration, which brokered the accords. Blinken at the press conference announced the launch of two working groups comprising Israeli, U.S. and Emirati officials, one tackling religious intolerance and the other fostering cooperation on water and energy.

Lapid also met with World Bank officials to discuss plans to seek investors for infrastructure projects in the Gaza Strip as a means of lifting the standard of living in the poverty-stricken enclave, while limiting the influence of Hamas, the terrorist group controlling the strip with which Israel periodically wars. The United Arab Emirates would likely also play a role in the investments.

Lapid, who is set to take over as Israel’s prime minister in 2023, met Tuesday with Vice President Kamala Harris, and with Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. In a brief appearance for reporters, Pelosi emphasized bipartisan support for Israel, a pointed rejection of the calls by progressives within her party to cut funding to the country. 

On the U.S. side, Blinken said the Biden administration remains dedicated to reviving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Biden, he said at the press conference, has been “clear that a two-state solution is the best way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, living in peace alongside a viable, sovereign, and democratic Palestinian state.” Bennett has said that a Palestinian state will not arise on his watch, while Lapid has been less clear on the issue.

Blinken did not refrain from mentioning points of contention, including American plans to reopen a dedicated consulate for Palestinians in Jerusalem, replacing the one shuttered by the Trump administration. 

“We’ll be moving forward with the process of opening a consulate as part of deepening those ties with the Palestinians,” Blinken said, although the Israeli government is on the record as opposing it.

State Department statements on the meetings also pointedly said that China was a topic of discussion with Lapid. The Biden administration, like the Trump administration before it, objects to the extent of Israel’s commercial ties with the most formidable rival to the United States in the international arena.

Lapid is set to meet with Jewish organizational leaders in Washington on Thursday before he returns to Israel. He is expected to make the case to them that he wants to repair relations neglected by Netanyahu, who gravitated toward evangelical Christians as a more natural pro-Israel base.

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Senate candidate Herschel Walker cancels fundraiser over host’s anti-vax swastika profile picture

Thu, 2021-10-14 13:27

(JTA) — A Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Georgia canceled a fundraiser that was set to be hosted by a film producer whose social media account prominently displayed an anti-vax symbol in the shape of a swastika.

The producer, Bettina Sofia Viviano-Langlais, was set to host a fundraiser for Herschel Walker, a retired football player who is running for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in Georgia.

Viviano-Langlais and her husband, Jim Langlais, are frequent hosts of right-wing events, including a mask-burning bonfire organized by the Dallas Jewish Conservatives to celebrate the end of COVID restrictions in Texas last year.

Viviano-Langlais’ Twitter profile picture showed four syringes arranged in the shape of a swastika, an emerging symbol in the anti-vaccination movement that has made comparisons between public health rules and the Holocaust a mainstay.

Also in the Jolt this am, one of the hosts for a weekend fundraiser for @HerschelWalker this weekend appears to have a swastika as her profile pic. We have reached out for a response from the Walker camp. pic.twitter.com/MynCVfvn93

— Patricia Murphy (@politicalinsidr) October 13, 2021

Asked for comment about the image by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the campaign first responded with a statement Wednesday morning saying the image was “clearly an anti-mandatory vaccination graphic” and that “Herschel unequivocally opposes anti-semitism and bigotry of all kinds.”

But within a few hours, the campaign changed course, calling the image “very offensive” and saying it “does not reflect the values of Herschel Walker or his campaign.” It canceled the fundraiser, which had been set for this weekend.

Viviano-Langlais denied that the image was antisemitic in a since-deleted tweet, though she misspelled the word in the process.

“I am the poster and because of the Left’s need to silence free speech I took it down,” she wrote Wednesday. “It’s insane to think that pic was Anti-Semetic. Desperate actually. It was a pic showing what happens when fascists demand people insert foreign material into their body they don’t want…”

If he wins the Republican nomination in May 2022, Walker would face Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock in the general election in November 2022. Walker has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump.

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Katie Couric under fire for editing Ruth Bader Ginsburg • Israel’s new rep in NY • Mayim Bialik’s ‘chulent’ challenge

Thu, 2021-10-14 12:52

Good morning, New York. Today we welcome Asaf Zamir, Israel’s new consul general in New York, and ask you a tough “Jeopardy!” question about Shabbat. Yes, Shabbat.

THE TRUTH ABOUT RUTH: In a new memoir, Katie Couric says she edited out comments by Ruth Bader Ginsburg in a 2016 interview in order to “protect” the elderly Supreme Court justice. (Daily Mail)

  • In the interview for Yahoo News, Ginsburg apparently had harsh words for NFL players who took a knee during the playing of the national anthem — at a time when most liberals were defending the players. Couric decided that RBG was “elderly and probably didn’t fully understand the question,” but says she has “lost a lot of sleep over” her decision to leave the comments out.
  • Conservatives and colleagues accused Couric of malpractice and worse. “This is toxic on a lot of levels,” tweeted Maggie Haberman, the New York Times Washington correspondent.

NEW FACE: Asaf Zamir began his new term as the Consul General of Israel in New York. (Times of Israel)

  • The 41-year-old Zamir, who lived in Florida until age 9, is a former deputy mayor of Tel Aviv and served as Minister of Tourism as a member of the Blue and White Party. He founded a movement to increase political participation among young people.
  • Quotable: “It is a great honor to be in New York and experience life in the Big Apple, all while serving the State of Israel,” he said in a statement. “We want to be a resource for the Jewish community here, and they should know that the Consulate General of Israel in New York wants to be meaningful and prominent in their lives.”
  • Zamir succeeds Israel Nitzan, who served as acting consul general after Dani Dayan left in 2020.

NEW CHAPTER: Former Congressman Steve Israel, a Democrat who represented Long Island for 16 years, plans to open a bookstore in Oyster Bay next month. (Newsday)

AROUND THE JEWISH WORLD, WITH JTA

PEOPLE & PLACES

(Jewish Week)

KEEPING IT 100: (In some versions of yesterday’s newsletter, the caption for the above photo was mistakenly omitted.) Gil Erdan, third from left, Israel’s representative to the United Nations and ambassador to the United States, and participants from The Jewish Week’s Write On For Israel and Fresh Ink programs attended the 8th Annual Algemeiner J100 Gala in Rockleigh, New Jersey, Oct. 12, 2021. The Jewish newspaper honored Erdan with its “Witness to Truth” award, along with TV host Meghan McCain, philanthropist Nina Rennert Davidson and Algemeiner editor in chief Dovid Efune and his wife Mushka.

TODAY’S BIG IDEA

I’M NOT A JEW BUT I PLAY ONE ON TV: Comedian Sarah Silverman stirred a debate by complaining that non-Jews are too often cast as Jews in film and television. The rabbi and writer known as MaNishtana reminds us that she really meant “white Ashkenazi Jews,” and that the debate over “Jewface” threatens to erase Jews of color. (JTA)

NEWS QUIZ

(Janice Hwang)

Today we get meta: Last night on “Jeopardy!” host Mayim Bialik asked a question from the “Sabbath” category that stumped the contestants: “Exodus 35:3 bans doing this on the Sabbath, hence the Jewish dish, ‘chulent,’ which can go on the stove Friday and cook until Saturday lunch.”

What was the accepted answer?

  1. “What is cooking?”
  2. “What is work?”
  3. “What is lighting a fire?”
  4. “What is staying awake after eating a dense meat, potato and barley bomb?”

(Answer below.)

WHAT’S ON TODAY

Jewish Policy Center presents Richard Heideman, whose new book, “The Bloody Price of Freedom,” addresses the rise of anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism. Heideman discusses Israel’s battle for legitimacy and security since 1948, analyzing the attacks and worldwide propaganda against it, and economic, academic and other boycotts. Click here to sign up. Noon.

An ethical will is not a legal document, but a letter of legacy, sharing hopes, wishes, and dreams. Lesley Simpson will introduce a repository of these letters and illuminate how powerful these modes of Jewish memory can be for both the writer and the recipients. Register here for this Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning session. 1:00 p.m.

The Liszt Institute New York presents an in-person meet-and-greet with Patrícia Eszter Margit, author of the bestselling novel “The Jewish Bride.” The book provides insights into the ongoing identity-search by third generation Holocaust survivors and the mystical world of Kabbalah through an engaging love story.Register here for this event at the Consulate General of Hungary, 223 East 52nd Street. 7:00 p.m.

Answer to News Quiz: 3, “What is lighting a fire?”

Photo, top: Asaf Zamir, shown at a conference in Warsaw in 2017 when was the deputy mayor of Tel Aviv, began his new term Wednesday as the Consul General of Israel in New York. (Karol Serewis/Gallo Images Poland/Getty Images)

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‘Sabbath for $400’: Chulent stumps Jeopardy contestants in question about Shabbat restrictions

Thu, 2021-10-14 09:16

(JTA) — Contestants on an episode of Jeopardy that aired Wednesday night were stumped when presented with a photo of chulent, a stew traditionally cooked over the course of Shabbat.

The clue, for $400 in the “Sabbath” category: “Exodus 35:3 bans doing this on the Sabbath, hence the Jewish dish, ‘chulent,’ which can go on the stove Friday and cook until Saturday lunch.”

The contestants got close with guesses of “What is cooking?” and “What is work?” but failed to name the exact Shabbat prohibition Mayim Bialik, the show’s temporary host, was looking for.

In the end, Bialik explained the answer: “What is lighting a fire? And the word ‘chulent’ is from the French chaud lent, [meaning] cooks a long time.”

Explaining chulent on national television was a fitting role for Bialik, the Modern Orthodox actress and the first Jew to host the show.

Bialik, who starred in “The Big Bang Theory” and served as a celebrity host during the search for longtime Jeopardy host Alex Trebek’s replacement, was named a Jeopardy host for primetime specials in August. After Mike Richards, the show’s executive producer who was selected to host the show full-time, was revealed to have made offensive comments about women and Jews, Bialik was temporarily promoted to full-time host. While Jeopardy producers continue to search for Richards’ replacement, Bialik has said she’d like to keep the gig permanently.

Bialik frequently writes about her Jewish identity and posted a video about her Jewish identity to Twitter Wednesday as part of a social media campaign organized by Hillel International to help Jewish college students feel proud of their Jewish identity. Bialik produced a series of videos for My Jewish Learning this year.

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D.C. councilmember who once spread Rothschild conspiracy theory is running for mayor

Wed, 2021-10-13 21:29

(JTA) — A Democratic member of Washington, D.C.’s city council who once said “the Rothschilds” control the weather and has given money to the Nation of Islam says he was running for mayor.

Trayon White, who has served represented the city’s 8th Ward since 2016 quietly made the announcement in the comments section of an Instagram post noticed by a reporter for the Washington City Paper. White confirmed to the paper that he intends to run to replace current D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who has not yet decided whether she will run for re-election in the June 21, 2022, Democratic primary.

In 2018, White made national headlines for posting a Facebook video in which he accused “the Rothschilds,” the Jewish banking family, of controlling the climate to make money. It was then reported that White had made a $500 donation from his campaign funds to the Nation of Islam’s Saviour’s Day gathering in Chicago, at which the organization’s leader, Louis Farrakhan, made several antisemitic comments.

White apologized for his Rothschilds comment and subsequently sat down with local Jewish leaders to discuss antisemitism. He also visited the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum at the invitation of the local Jewish Community Relations Council, but left the museum midway through his tour — a move that upset the council and several D.C.-area rabbis.

White has a colorful history as a politician: He has also appeared to disparage vaccines on social media, and has asked Bowser to declare a state of emergency in his ward to address the area’s disturbingly high homicide rate. Ward 8, in the District’s majority-Black Southeast, has long struggled with chronic poverty and high rates of gun violence.

If White follows through on his mayoral campaign, he would go up against another White: D.C. At-Large Councilmember Robert White Jr. (no relation), who formally announced his candidacy on the same day. The Whites are the only major declared candidates for mayor so far.

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Sally Rooney’s Israel boycott distressed me. I take solace in knowing that a Jewish reader schooled Charles Dickens on antisemitism.

Wed, 2021-10-13 21:25

(JTA) — As a writer, literature professor and one of the 82% of U.S. Jews who report that “caring about Israel” is either “essential” or “important” to their Jewish identity, I am pained when I see authors whom I admire launch exaggerated or misinformed attacks on Israel.

But I also take solace in a correspondence, celebrated in a new children’s book, that showed how one Jewish reader engaged an author who she felt trafficked in anti-Jewish tropes. That the correspondence took place in the 19th century, and the author in question is Charles Dickens, does not make its lessons any less timely.

I was distressed when Irish novelist Sally Rooney said Tuesday that she wouldn’t allow her latest novel to be published in Hebrew by an Israeli publisher “that does not publicly distance itself from apartheid and support the UN-stipulated rights of the Palestinian people.”

Saddened but not surprised: Earlier this year, Rooney signed a “Letter Against Apartheid” — a text issued in the wake of the latest round of violence between Israel and Hamas. It called for governments to “cut trade, economic, and cultural relations” with the Jewish state, which it said had committed “ethnic cleansing,” “massacres” and more in its response to the thousands of rockets fired into Israel by Hamas.

With their particular focus on words, writers should do better, especially when they organize, join or promote such endeavors. If their misrepresentations are without malicious intent, they’re in desperate need of further education.

How such “education” might best be carried out is the subject of “Dear Mr. Dickens,” a new picture book written by Nancy Churnin and illustrated by Bethany Stancliffe. This true story of correspondence between the celebrated author and a reader named Eliza Davis — a Jewish woman who launched the exchange to protest antisemitic tropes in “Oliver Twist” — imparts a timeless lesson about speaking out against injustice.

(Disclosure: Churnin and I currently belong to the same writers group; I hadn’t seen this manuscript before being granted pre-publication electronic access to an advance review copy.)

Davis (1817-1903) refused to be daunted when writing the famous author, whose portrayal of “the Jew” Fagin in “Oliver Twist” landed “like a hammer on [her] heart,” as Churnin describes it. Davis lacked Dickens’s stature. But “she had the same three things that [he] had: a pen, paper, and something to say.” Quoting the correspondence, Churnin conveys Davis’s message: Fagin “encouraged ‘a vile prejudice’” against her people. According to Churnin, Davis had considered Dickens especially heroic — and the Fagin character especially discordant — because Dickens “used the power of his pen to help others.”

In response, Dickens declared that Fagin was based on real-life Jewish criminals. In a mix of what we’d today call gaslighting and mansplaining, he went further: “Any Jewish people who thought him unfair or unkind — and that included Eliza! — were not ‘sensible’ or ‘just’ or ‘good tempered,’” Churnin relates. Davis tried again; evidently, Dickens didn’t write back.

But the Jewish character in his next novel — the estimable Mr. Riah in “My Mutual Friend” — was no Fagin.

After that novel appeared, Davis thanked Dickens for “‘a great compliment paid to myself and to my people.’” This time, Dickens responded much more warmly. He went further, notably in a magazine essay in which he referred to Jews as “an earnest, methodical, aspiring people” and in changes to a subsequent printing of “Oliver Twist,” when he instructed the printer to remove many instances in which he referred to “the Jew” and to use Fagin’s name instead.

There’s still another aspect of Eliza Davis’s story that resonates: Instead of calling Dickens out publicly, Davis approached him one-to-one.

True, they weren’t strangers. According to an author’s note, the Davises had purchased Dickens’s former home a few years before this correspondence began. But Eliza Davis didn’t know how Dickens would receive her initial message. And when he scathingly dismissed it, she didn’t give up.

Rudine Sims-Bishop speaks of books as “windows” and “mirrors” for the children who read them. With rising antisemitism in the United States and elsewhere, “Dear Mr. Dickens” is a sadly timely mirror for Jewish children; importantly, it provides a positive, action-oriented message of tikkun olam, or the Jewish value of repairing the world. For others, the book offers a window into Jewish experience, alongside that universal message about confronting injustice with written words.

Moreover, Eliza Davis’s reaction to Dickens’s words — her sense of betrayal by an admired author whose compassion somehow didn’t extend to Jews — mirrors my own increasingly frequent experience. Like so many Jews, I am imbued with a sense of klal Yisrael, “Jewish peoplehood,” linking us with Jews everywhere — including in Israel, the world’s only Jewish state, where nearly half of the world’s Jews now live.

This doesn’t mean that I support all Israeli policies. But criticism of Israel needs to be leavened by facts and context, and a recognition that the situation is far more complex than declarations of an “apartheid” regime and “ethnic cleansing” suggest.

Although I’ve gone the public route from time to time, private communications with writer-friends and acquaintances — especially in the wake of the May 2021 war between Israel and Hamas — have proven far more fruitful, yielding corrections, deletions and other changes.

For which I, like Davis, have expressed thanks.

I don’t expect “great compliments to me and to my people” from authorial idols and colleagues, particularly those of Palestinian descent. All I’m seeking is fairness — and freedom from vile prejudice.

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Three years after Tree of Life shooting, Pittsburgh is hosting a major global summit on eradicating hate

Wed, 2021-10-13 20:20

(Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle via JTA) — As Pittsburgh approaches the three-year anniversary of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting, the city will play host to a high-profile new effort to find a global bipartisan response to rising tides of hate.

The three-day, in-person Eradicate Hate Global Summit, which will be held in the city Oct. 18-20, will feature more than 100 speakers and panelists, including former President George W. Bush (in a virtual address); current Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who is Jewish, and Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt.

Also taking part are media personalities Fareed Zakaria and Major Garrett; former governors of Pennsylvania and Washington State; and Alice Wairimu Nderitu, the United Nations Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide. 

Other speakers will include members of the Pittsburgh Jewish community, including members of Tree of Life, whose building also housed two other congregations. 

The idea for the summit was conceived shortly after the 2018 mass shooting, the deadliest antisemitic attack in U.S. history. “When Tree of Life happened, I, like everyone else in the city of Pittsburgh, thought, ‘What do I have to bring to the table to help?’” said summit co-chair Laura Ellsworth, an attorney at the law firm Jones Day.

As the first partner-in-charge of the firm’s Global Community Service Initiatives, Ellsworth leads the firm’s rule of law initiatives in 43 offices on five continents. It includes a hate crime task force that represents victims on a pro bono basis.

“In the context of that work, I had seen fabulous people working on the field in different disciplines who weren’t talking to one another,” Ellsworth said. She reached out to a longtime friend and adviser to co-chair the event with her: Mark Nordenberg, chancellor emeritus of the University of Pittsburgh. Nordenberg was already helping the local federation distribute $6 million in funds donated to the local Jewish community following the attack. 

Ellsworth, who placed third in the Republican primary for the Pennsylvania governor’s race in 2018, says she wanted to find a way to create real-world solutions to battle hate — not just antisemitism, but hatred toward immigrants, the  LGBTQ+ community, Muslims and others.

“Laura called and said, ‘We’ve got to do something to make certain that Pittsburgh becomes better known for the way it responded to the attack, as opposed to simply being the site of the attack,’” Nordenberg said.

Greenblatt’s participation at the summit is notable given that he has sharply criticized Fox News, a high-profile client of Ellsworth’s law firm, Jones Day, for the network’s role spreading what the ADL says are hateful ideologies. The firm also took heavy criticism for representing some legal challenges to the 2020 Presidential election on behalf of groups supporting President Trump, challenges which observers have said helped fuel the fire that led to the Jan. 6 attempted insurrection on the U.S. Capitol by pro-Trump extremist groups.

Greenblatt did not return a request for comment from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. The ADL has worked with Jones Day’s hate crimes task force on other initiatives, according to the firm’s website.

Since the attack, Pittsburgh has played host to many discussions and events built around combating hate and antisemitism. This summit will be different, its organizers say. For one, the sheer scale of the event is unprecedented. 

“The reaction from people who are devoting huge parts of their life to this has been the same: No one has done this. No one has brought us together from disparate geographic locations across disciplinary lines with different strategic approaches to counter the spread of hate,” Nordenberg said.  

For another, almost every speaker will be in-person. The isolation created by COVID-19 has exacerbated online recruitment into hate groups, Ellsworth said, noting that is part of the reason she was adamant the summit not be virtual. 

Ellsworth said it’s important that people experience the seminar in person and have the opportunity to “engage with these people and share their own ideas.” She said there is a livestreaming opportunity, but those participating remotely will miss the chance to experience the summit in person and meet the people, “which is a huge part of what we’re trying to do.”

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, who will be speaking at the summit, was instrumental in corralling the lineup’s top dignitaries to appear in person and waive their  speakers’ fees, Ellsworth said.

“You can throw a dart at just about any map and it will land on a region impacted by hate-driven acts of violence,” Ridge said in a statement to the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle. “That’s how pervasive this challenge is and why the Eradicate Hate Global Summit is so important. I’m pleased to be part of the Summit’s worldwide mission. While we can never truly eradicate hate, I’m confident we can weaken it at its sources and achieve a better, safer future for us all.”

Nordenberg said the expectation is that, in future years, the summit will move to the Collaboratory Against Hate, a joint research and action center created by the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University in the wake of the Tree of Life shooting to study and combat extremist hate.

“This is going to be a challenge,” he said. “Part of that challenge will be fundraising but what I think we’re doing is sufficiently distinctive that, while the initiative is physically located in Pittsburgh, there will be people from more distant places who care deeply about stopping the spread of hate.”

Another expected speaker is Kathleen Blee, who serves as co-director of the Collaboratory Against Hate. She is also a member of Congregation Dor Hadash, one of the three congregations attacked in the Tree of Life building.

“Sometimes people talk fatalistically and say things like, ‘people will always hate people,’ and ‘there will always be crazy people who take out their feelings in violent ways,’” Blee said. “What we’re seeing in Pittsburgh and nationally and internationally is something different that we can’t chalk up to human nature. We’re seeing people deliberately and strategically provoked by a set of actors who are trying to damage society.”

Blee has been studying hate for years as an academic. Now, as a member of the congregation that was targeted by hate, she said, “I know more about being in the victim community than I did when I was one step removed.”

Talking about the relationships among all forms of hate will be another major goal of the summit, said participant Heidi Beirich, who co-founded the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism in 2020 and is a former researcher with the Southern Poverty Law Center.

“At the end of the day, most of the people that hate Jews hate a whole bunch of other people,” Beirich said. “These things are really connected. The Tree of Life was emblematic of this. The guy was definitely an antisemite, but he was going to the synagogue because he was angered about immigration, that immigrants were essentially wiping out white power. These things do not exist in isolation.”

This story was originally published as two separate articles in the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle. Click here to get the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle’s free email newsletter delivered to your inbox.

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Groundbreaking partnership combines Israeli technological prowess with pediatric medicine

Wed, 2021-10-13 17:36

TEL AVIV — Eosiniphilic esophagitis, a chronic immune disease caused mainly by food allergies, is a serious condition affecting about one in 2,000 children. Yet it’s very difficult to diagnose.

That’s because it traditionally requires a highly trained pathologist to analyze biopsies under a microscope — an arduous, time-consuming process that sometimes yields different results depending on who is doing the analysis.

But what if a machine scanned the biopsies instead, and got the diagnosis right every time?

An inconceivable fantasy only 20 years ago, it’s no longer science fiction — thanks to a unique new partnership between the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Ohio.

Known officially as the Bridge to Next-Generation Medicine, the academic venture, launched in September, aims to revolutionize pediatric medicine by combining the Technion’s technological prowess, including world-renowned expertise in computational science and artificial intelligence, with doctors and scientists focused on understanding and treating childhood diseases.

The hope is that together they will come up with new ways of diagnosing and treating pediatric illnesses.

“It’s an exciting partnership that brings together people who normally wouldn’t work together — particularly computer scientists with computational biologists, and pediatric scientists focused on better understanding of treating the diseases of childhood,” said the chief visionary behind the partnership, Dr. Marc Rothenberg, director of Children’s Hospital’s Division of Allergy and Immunology.

Dr. Marc Rothenberg, director of Cincinnati’s Children’s Hospital’s Division of Allergy and Immunology, is the chief visionary behind the partnership with the Technion. (CCHMC)

For example, when it comes to eosiniphilic esophagitis, a microscopic evaluation by a doctor might take 20 or 30 minutes. But a computer could do it automatically and work 24/7, and it continually learns.

With the new partnerships between the Technion and Cincinnati Children’s, the analysis could take place within minutes of procurement of the microscopic slide, and it can happen across large distances — in this case the Atlantic Ocean.

Marrying science with big data, in particular, can help unleash a toolbox to solve unmet global pediatric needs, ranging from ultra-rare diseases to common ones such as asthma, cancer and autism, according to Rothenberg.

“Research has become much more complex and involves big data sets,” Rothenberg said. “By having approaches that involve expertise in computational science and AI — which is a strength of the Technion —  we can apply these to understanding diseases in ways that are revolutionary.”

A world expert on inflammatory diseases, Rothenberg came up with the idea for the partnership while on a sabbatical at the Technion and its associated hospital, Rambam, also in Haifa.

Two Israeli scientists, professors Yonatan Savir and Shai Shen-Orr, will head up the project on the Technion side.

Savir specializes in harnessing artificial intelligence for health applications. Among other things, his lab at the Technion developed unique algorithms to remotely monitor patients for COVID-19 symptoms.

Yonatan Savir, who heads a lab at the Technion that studies information-processing in biological systems, is an expert in artificial intelligence who has co-founded several startup companies.(Nitzan Zohar)

“My lab is unique because we have people doing molecular biology together with those with a background in engineering and computational biology,” Savir said. “Our underlying basic research goal is to understand how biological systems age and fail. The aging process is so complicated, and there are so many moving parts.”

Machine learning and AI can do a variety of things for medicine, Savir explained. For one thing, AI can help physicians make better decisions based on current biomarkers — molecules found in blood, tissues or body fluids that suggest some kind of abnormality or can help determine how well a body is responding to a certain kind of treatment. AI can also reveal biomarkers that otherwise are not readily apparent.

“In the last few years, more and more clinics have the ability to scan slides of biopsy images, and biopsies are one of the main tools we have for diagnostics,” Savir said.

Shen-Orr leads the immunology and precision medicine lab at the Technion’s Rappaport Faculty of Medicine. Among other things, he co-founded CytoReason, an AI-driven company that collaborates with some of the world’s biggest drug companies, including Pfizer and Sanofi.

“Generating big data in biology is not a problem anymore. You can now sequence a genome for less than $1,000,” he said. “But you basically understand only 5-10% of the genome. The problem is getting insight. That’s where computer science comes in, and machine learning is just one approach.”

The Technion is Israel’s foremost academic incubator for high-tech startups. University officials hope that the partnership with the Children’s Hospital will help what is already one of America’s leading hospitals become a vector for Israeli companies working on medical applications.

At present, the partnership between Technion and the Cincinnati hospital involves about 20 researchers at the Technion. As requests for proposals go out, officials expect possible areas of collaboration to grow, including such areas as development of stents and other biomedical devices.

Cincinnati’s Children’s Hospital was established in 1931 as the nation’s first pediatric research institution and consistently ranks among the best children’s medical facilities in the United States. The partnership with Technion was announced at an online event in September.

“But we are not a university, so we don’t have the strengths the Technion has in technology,” Rothenberg said in an interview. “We think this is a unique partnership, and we hope the only limit will be the amount of funding we’re able to raise.”

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European Union plan to fight antisemitism ‘not serious,’ Jewish community leaders say

Wed, 2021-10-13 15:14

BRUSSELS (JTA) — Leaders of European Jewish communities criticized the absence of reference to religious freedoms in an European Union plan to fight antisemitism and strengthen Jewish life.

“They took the easy path and failed to do the right thing,” Rabbi Menachem Margolin, the chairman of the European Jewish Association, a Brussels-based lobby group, said at a conference Tuesday about the strategic plan that the European Commission published last week.

Titled “EU Strategy on Combating Antisemitism and Fostering Jewish Life (2021-2030),” the 46-page document published Oct. 6 reiterated several long-term goals and principles of various EU institutions regarding antisemitism, including the adoption of an EU definition of it by members states and educating young people against stereotypes.

But it mentioned neither the bans put in place recently in multiple EU countries, including Belgium in 2019, of slaughter of animals without prior stunning — a prerequisite for producing kosher and halal meat — and attempts to outlaw the non-medical circumcision of boys.

Ritual slaughter is illegal in Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Estonia and Slovenia. The Dutch Senate in 2012 reversed a ban passed the previous year, citing freedom of worship. Poland also outlawed the practice in 2013 but has since scaled back the ban to include only meat for export.

“The European Commission failed to address this to avoid conflict with countries where bans and attempted bans exist,” Margolin said at his group’s Jewish Leaders Meeting Tuesday. “We welcome the plan but it’s difficult to take seriously plans to foster Jewish life in Europe that do not address a major threat to that Jewish life.”

Joel Mergui, the president of the Consistoire, a major French-Jewish organization responsible for religious services, said during a discussion on the plan: “If you say you want Jewish continuity, the first thing you need to do is make sure we can continue to do ritual slaughter and milah,” he said, using the Hebrew-language word for circumcision.

Pascale Falek, a European Commission official involved in promoting the strategic plan on antisemitism, said at the conference that she can “understand those concerns and the European Commission and the European Union as a whole need to find a balance between freedom of worship” and other concerns, including animal welfare.

But the absence of any reference to the issue in the European Commission plan to combat antisemitism and bolster Jewish life in Europe makes it “not serious,” Dutch Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs said. “The commission makes the plan hollow, a collection of nice statements in theory without any possibility of followup.”

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Texas Jewish death row inmate who argued judge was antisemitic wins new trial

Wed, 2021-10-13 13:49

(JTA) — A Jewish man who asked for a new trial on the grounds that the judge who sentenced him to death was antisemitic will be granted a new trial.

Randy Halprin, 44, was originally set to be executed on Oct. 10, 2019 but won a stay from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals after he alleged that the judge who presided over his 2003 murder trial was biased against Jews and referred to him using anti-Semitic slurs, including “f—in’ Jew” and “k-ke.”

The stay sent Halprin’s case back to Dallas County, where Judge Lela Lawrence Mays heard Halprin’s arguments in June and this week issued a decision granting Halprin a new trial.

“Judge Vickers Cunningham possessed anti-semitic prejudice against Halprin which violated Halprin’s constitutional right to a trial in a fair tribunal equal protection, and free exercise of religion,” Mays wrote in her decision.

Halprin was serving a 30-year sentence for harming a child when he and six other inmates attempted to escape from prison. A police officer was killed during the attempt, and each member of the group, which came to be known as the “Texas 7,” was sentenced to death. Halprin claimed in his trial that he never fired his gun.

The judge who presided over the original case, Vickers “Vic” Cunningham, has been accused of using several antisemitic and racist slurs and, according to the Dallas Morning News, set up a trust fund for his children on the condition that they marry white Christians of the opposite sex. Court documents quoted a childhood friend of Cunningham’s who said the judge “took special pride” in sentencing the Texas 7 to death “because they included Latinos and Jews.”

Several Jewish groups got involved in Halprin’s case in recent years as he sought a new trial. The American Jewish Committee, Central Conference of American Rabbis, Men of Reform Judaism and Union for Reform Judaism were among those filing a joint amicus brief in support of Halprin’s 2019 appeal, and more than 100 Jewish lawyers in Texas signed on.

The brief made the case that the appeal was not about Halprin’s guilt, but about Cunningham’s antisemitism.

“[T]hose issues are irrelevant, because questions of guilt and punishment follow a fair trial; they do not precede it,” it said. “And if Judge Cunningham is the bigot described in the application, a fair trial has not yet happened.”

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The ‘Jewface’ debate about casting non-Jews as Jews betrays an Ashkenazi bias

Wed, 2021-10-13 13:23

(JTA) — Actress and comedian Sarah Silverman, in comments on her Sept. 30 podcast, railed against the practice of casting non-Jews as Jewish characters in TV and films. She referred to the castings as “Jewface,” a play on the historically racist practice of donning “blackface.”

Silverman pointed to a series of Jewish women portrayed by non-Jewish actresses, including Rachel Brosnahan in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” Felicity Jones as the late Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in “On the Basis of Sex” and Kathryn Hahn’s upcoming turn as Joan Rivers in “The Comeback Girl.”

“There’s this long tradition of non-Jews playing Jews, and not just playing people who happen to be Jewish, but people whose Jewishness is their whole being,” Silverman opined. “One could argue, for instance, that a gentile playing Joan Rivers correctly would be doing what is actually called ‘Jewface.’”

Silverman goes on to say that “if the Jewish female character is courageous or deserves love, she is never played by a Jew. Ever!”

Now, I’m not here to comment on whether Hollywood’s portrayal of Jewish women as being controlling, nagging or whiny is a problem (it is), nor to question the dubious wisdom of Silverman speaking out against “Jewface” and anti-Semitic misogynist tropes when she herself has flippantly engaged in racist portrayals of other ethnic groups, including herself donning “blackface,” without holding herself accountable.

Silverman’s own shortcomings aside, she’s not the originator of the problematic term “Jewface” nor the first Jewish woman to raise the issue. This is a valid discussion and problem to be discussed, which speaks to representation, who gets to tell their own stories and the very same “identity politics” that Silverman, ironically, finds to be “f–king annoying.”

However, what I find interesting is the centering of Ashkenormativity in the term itself, and the curious fact that the specter of “Jewface” has — without fail — only reared its head when white actors portray white Jews, and otherwise largely ignores when the characters or actors are non-white.

In a recent Twitter thread, I pointed out various Jews of color who have been portrayed on screen. Dr. Christina Yang of “Grey’s Anatomy” is Jewish. The actress who plays her, Sandra Oh, isn’t. Ato Essandoh isn’t Jewish, yet he’s played both Dr. Isidore Latham on “Chicago Med” and Kwesi Weisberg-Annan on “Away.” Luke Youngblood isn’t Jewish, but Sid from “Galavant” is. Where is the dialogue and outrage about “Jewface” in those cases?

(Interesting aside: While Tracee Ellis Ross’ character on “Black-ish” isn’t Jewish, the actress is, and the actors who play her siblings are also Black and Jewish: Daveed Diggs and Rashida Jones.).

Silverman isn’t alone in erasing Jewish women of color, or implying that when we say “Jewish” we mean white and Ashkenazi.

Too often, white Jewish women are cast as Jews when playing comic relief or Jewish Mother stereotypes (thanks Philip Roth), and too often aren’t seen as desirable or bankable when it comes to playing Jewish heroines, protagonists or historical figures. Yet on the flipside, actresses like Tracee Ellis Ross, Rashida Jones, Maya Rudolph, Tiffany Haddish, Laura London, Zoe Kravitz, Lisa Bonet, Sophie Okenedo and Jurnee Smollett are seen as attractive, strong and lovable, but only as black women, not as Jews.

Even fictional characters are subjected to this bifurcation of identity. Jewish-but-not-Black actress Jenny Slate famously stepped down from the role of voicing the Black and Jewish character of Missy Foreman-Greenwald on “Big Mouth,” yet her replacement, Ayo Edebiri, is Black but not Jewish.

However, judging from the replies to my Twitter thread, instead of engaging holistically in the conversation about which aspects of identity and Jewish representation are important, the mainstream American Jewish community would rather do anything but acknowledge Ashkenormative centering.

In my original thread, I apparently made the egregious mistake of off-handedly mentioning that a significant contingent of Jewish “Star Trek: The Next Generation” fans (see this podcast  and this article) considers the possibility that the Klingon officer Worf is Jewish. Which do you think generated more dialogue: the general issue of “Jewface” ignoring Jews of color, or whether or not Worf’s parents were coded as Ashkenazi or Russian?

In other instances, debates arose around whether the actors I listed were “real” Jews (despite me having made no reference to halachic definitions of Jewishness) or whether the characters I listed were “really” Jewish.

One commenter declared that Dr. Christina Yang “barely identified” as Jewish, despite the character’s famous line of “I’m Jewish. I know food and death” and her frequent habit of giving detailed explanations of Jewish ritual and tradition to her co-workers. (Meanwhile, the white Jewish characters on “Friends,” Ross and Monica Geller  —with three mentions of Chanukah and a bat-mitzvah rap between them — and Rachel Green — whose Magen David necklace makes one appearance — somehow escape the branding of “barely identifying” as Jewish. Also curiously, Ross and Monica, whose mother is not Jewish, are considered “real” Jews by fans who might otherwise question the Jewish authenticity of certain Jews of color. An interesting double standard.).

The additionally problematic layer to this dialogue is how in too many Jewish communities “blackface,” “brownface” and “yellowface” frequently raise their head — whether in acclaimed and historic pieces of Jewish representation such as “The Jazz Singer,” or in costumes seen every year during the holiday of Purim. The term and debate around “Jewface” (as opposed to simply referring to the practice as “whitewashing”) comes off as not only performative, but also derails what is a larger and more important conversation about what it means to “look,” represent and simply be Jewish.

None of us will be correctly cast until all of us are correctly cast .

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Crown Heights man shot with BB gun • UWS family reunited with Holocaust heirloom • Chabad library cleans up from Ida

Wed, 2021-10-13 12:45

Good morning, New York. Join our colleagues at My Jewish Learning for a book talk with Shaul Magid, author of a new biography of the Brooklyn-born radical rabbi Meir Kahane. He will be in conversation with Emily Burack, an editor at Alma who contributed research for the book. Today, 4:00 p.m.

TARGET: A 23-year-old Jewish man in Crown Heights was shot with what authorities think was a BB gun. (New York Post)

  • The victim was walking around 10:30 p.m. Monday night when someone pulled up in a black van and fired at him, grazing his head, police said. The shooter did not make any antisemitic statements during the incident, but the NYPD’s Hate Crimes Task Force has been notified.
  • Related: Police arrested a suspect who allegedly punched a Jewish man in Crown Heights and stole his hat last Friday. (CrownHeights.info)

REUNITED: An Upper West Side survivor and her family were reunited with an heirloom Bible hidden during the Holocaust. (Jewish Week)

  • The 1874 Bible, with illustrations by Gustave Doré, was secured behind the wall of a house in Germany by a couple before their deportation to Treblinka. Its winding journey “home” is a bittersweet coda to a tragic chapter in the Leiter family’s story.

UNSALVAGEABLE: Over 5,000 books destroyed during Hurricane Ida, including 2,000 children’s books, were cleared out of a popular Jewish library in Crown Heights. (CoLive)

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.

  • Damage to the Chabad-run Levi Yitzchok Library from last month’s flooding runs to $150,000.

NOT SO FAST: A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction on New York’s health care worker COVID-19 vaccine mandate, halting the mandate until a case seeking to include exemptions on religious grounds makes its way through the courts. (Times Union)

  • ICYMI: Read about Jewish schoolteachers who want a religious exemption, even though nearly all mainstream Jewish denominations say there is no basis for an exemption under Jewish law. (JTA)

AROUND THE JEWISH WORLD, WITH JTA

REMEMBERING

Jim Fleischer, a Canton, Ohio native who served as CEO of the historic Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi since June 2018, died from cancer on Saturday. He was 52. Fleischer previously worked as a fundraiser for UJA Federation of New York and later owned his own printing business on Long Island.

PEOPLE & PLACES

KEEPING IT 100: Gil Erdan, third from left, Israel’s representative to the United Nations and ambassador to the United States, and current and former participants from The Jewish Week’s Write On For Israel and Fresh Ink programs attend the 8th Annual Algemeiner J100 Gala in Rockleigh, New Jersey, Oct. 12, 2021. The Jewish newspaper honored Erdan with its “Witness to Truth” award, along with TV host Meghan McCain, philanthropist Nina Rennert Davidson and Algemeiner editor in chief Dovid Efune and his wife Mushka. (Jewish Week)

WHAT’S ON TODAY

My Jewish Learning presents the first in a three-part series about the Book of Job with Rabbi Dorothy Richman. No previous knowledge of Hebrew or Torah study necessary. Register here. 12:30 p.m.

“Two Centuries of Modern Antisemitism,” a five-week course unpacking the evolution of antisemitism in the 20th and 21st centuries, begins today. Presented by the Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning, the course is taught by Yael Weinstein, Melton’s director of Community and Online Learning, $59 sliding scale fee; register here. 1:00 p.m.

Robert Siegel, former senior host of NPR’s “All Things Considered,” hosts a webinar on how genetic testing can prevent breast, ovarian and prostate cancer. Presented by American Friends of Rabin Medical Center. Register here. 4:00 p.m.

NCJW NY presents a book talk, “I Had a Miscarriage,” with author Jessica Zucker, followed by a Babies Remembrance Memorial Service. Register here. 7:00 p.m.

Photo, top: Susi Kasper Leiter and her grandson Jacob Leiter hold the 1874 family heirloom Bible that was returned to their family after being hidden during the Holocaust and discovered by the owners of a house in Germany where Jacob’s great-great-grandparents were interned. (USHMM)

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Holocaust denying neo-Nazi’s remains were buried in a Jewish man’s grave in Germany

Wed, 2021-10-13 09:46

(JTA) — After the remains of a notorious Holocaust denier and neo-Nazi were interred last week in the burial plot of a German-Jewish music scholar who died before the Holocaust, the church that oversees the cemetery is looking into moving the neo-Nazi’s ashes to rectify its “terrible mistake.”

Henry Hafenmayer, a neo-Nazi known for denying the Holocaust, died last week and was buried Friday at the Stahnsdorf South-Western cemetery in Brandenburg, southwest of Berlin. The plot where Hafenmayer’s ashes were buried had belonged to Max Friedländer, a Jewish singer and scholar of music who died in 1934.

The cemetery’s management said Hafenmayer was originally denied a more central burial plot to prevent his grave from becoming a site of pilgrimage for neo-Nazis. But after denying Hafenmayer the more central plot, it accepted a request to bury him in Friedländer’s plot, which had been deemed available for a new burial because its lease had not been renewed, allowing the cemetery to move Friedländer’s remains elsewhere. Friedländer’s headstone remained in its place, however, because it was designated a historical monument.

According to the Guardian, Friedländer’s headstone was covered for Hafenmayer’s funeral with a sign inscribed with Hafenmayer’s name and a verse from the New Testament: “And you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”

In a statement, Christian Stäblein, a bishop at the church, acknowledged the church’s error.

“The interment of a Holocaust denier at Max Friedländer’s gravesite is a terrible mistake and a staggering course of events in view of our history. We have to immediately look into whether we can revert this process,” Stäblein said.

In a tweet, Samual Salzborn, Berlin’s commissioner on antisemitism, said the choice of Friedländer’s gravesite for Hafenmayer’s burial was not an accident.

“The intention here is obvious that right-wing extremists deliberately chose a Jewish grave in order to disrupt the peace of the dead by burying a Holocaust denier,” he wrote in a tweet Tuesday. Salzborn filed a criminal complaint with the justice department.

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