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Holocaust survivor who called himself ‘The Happiest Man on Earth’ dies at 101

Tue, 2021-10-12 20:17

(JTA) — Holocaust survivor Eddie Jaku, who published a best-selling memoir last year in Australia at age 100 titled “The Happiest Man on Earth,” died on Tuesday.

He had suffered a heart attack a few months earlier, J-Wire reported.

Jaku earned tributes from an array of Australian political figures, including Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, whose Jewish mother survived the Holocaust in Hungary.

“Australia has lost a giant,” Frydenberg said in a statement. “Scarred by the past, he only looked forward. May his story be told for generations to come.”

Jaku was born Abraham “Adi” Jakubowiez in Leipzig, Germany. He earned a high school engineering degree that he said later helped him survive in Nazi concentration camps, since his slave labor was valuable, according to the Associated Press.

He was sent to multiple camps, including Buchenwald and Auschwitz, and escaped from what he suspected was a death march in the latter as Allied soldiers approached.

Jaku married his Jewish wife Flore in Belgium in 1946 — she survived the war by pretending to be Christian — and they immigrated to Australia in 1950, eventually going into the real estate business together. Jaku went on to volunteer and talk to high school students and other visitors to the Sydney Jewish Museum.

“Eddie’s impact will be felt for generations to come,” the museum wrote in a statement posted to social media.

Jaku said that after the birth of his first son — he would have another — he “realized I was the luckiest man on Earth.”

That sentiment was evident in the title of his book, which was translated and published in over 30 countries, from the U.S. to Europe to Asia. An updated version, with additional photos and more of Jaku’s story, including the fate of his sister, which was left out of the original publication — something that fans have been clamoring for since the book became a best seller, according to his son Michael — will be published next month.

“Life is what you want it to be, life is in your hands,” Jaku wrote in his book. “You know happiness doesn’t fall from the sky. It’s in your hands. You want to be happy? You can be happy.”

Frydenberg met with Jaku earlier this year, a few months before his 101st birthday.

Holocaust survivor, Eddie Jaku, turns 101 next month & has devoted his life to teaching others about this dark chapter in human history.

It was a privilege to meet him today and hear about his inspiring story. pic.twitter.com/XyUA0PJAjN

— Josh Frydenberg (@JoshFrydenberg) March 12, 2021

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Jim Fleischer, CEO of AEPi, dies at 52

Tue, 2021-10-12 19:20

(Cleveland Jewish News via JTA) — 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.

In a statement posted on its website, AEPi said, “Jim fought a courageous battle against cancer for the last three years, but the fight was too much and he passed away yesterday evening surrounded by his family and fraternity brothers.”

Fleischer graduated from Kent State University in 1993 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology, and worked as an AEPi chapter consultant upon graduation before working as a fundraiser for UJA Federation of New York. He owned his own printing business on Long Island for nearly 18 years, during which time he was a volunteer chapter adviser and regional governor for AEPi. He was elected to the fraternity’s supreme board of governors in 2006. 

In 2013, Fleischer rejoined the fraternity’s executive staff as its assistant executive director and COO. In 2019, AEPi’s supreme council awarded him the Order of the Lion, the fraternity’s highest honor, for exemplary dedication and service to the fraternity.

“Until he took his last breath yesterday, Jim demonstrated his love for two things above all else: his family and AEPi,” the fraternity said in the statement. 

“Jim’s love for AEPi was unmatched. Those of us who knew him well, knew that there was nothing that energized him more than having the opportunity to meet with undergraduate AEPi brothers, to help them better themselves and their chapters. His commitment to AEPi’s mission, our Jewish communities and Israel are why he devoted his life to our fraternity. We hope that we all use Jim’s life as further inspiration to better our fraternity and our communities.”

Founded in 1913, AEPi is active at around 180 campuses internationally, including in Israel, according to its website. Somewhere between 9,000 to 10,000 undergraduates are active in the fraternity every year, most but not all of them Jewish. The fraternity has more than 100,000 alumni.

Fleischer was described by colleagues as a successful leader who had a passion for Jewish causes and the state of Israel.

He was “very infectious with enthusiasm and energy, and Jewish community in his gut – that kind of person,” Ronald Klein, an AEPi foundation board of directors member, told the Cleveland Jewish News. “You could see even by the pictures, a very warm person, and I think that led to his being a successful leader, whether it was in different roles he took at AEPi or in other things he did in his life.”

“I just felt he knew the Jewish community and the value of AEPi in his gut,” Klein said. “AEPi has been sort of a predominant Jewish fraternity for a number of years now… There was a lot of responsibility that went with the fraternity moving toward that direction, as opposed to some of these other fraternities that became more assimilated, and he was one of the people along with others who felt the Jewish nature of AEPi was so important from developing the next level of community leaders from our Jewish community – young men who at a younger age felt the passion of Israel, felt the passion of Jewish values, and he just obviously took it upon himself to lead in that direction.”

Fleischer is survived by his wife of 26 years, Alison Braun Fleischer; his sons, Ethan and Spencer, his daughter, Madison “Madi”; his father, Frank Fleischer of Canton; his brother, Richard “Rick” of South Euclid; and his in-laws, nieces and nephews.

A service was held Tuesday at Congregation Beth El Zedeck in Indianapolis.

A version of this article was originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News and is reprinted with permission. 

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From Judeo-Greek to Karaim, Oxford courses on 12 rare Jewish languages aim to keep heritages alive

Tue, 2021-10-12 19:09

(JTA) — In April, the language-learning app Duolingo added its 40th language to its program arsenal: Yiddish. A couple of decades ago, it would have been unthinkable for a mainstream non-Jewish language program to offer an expansive, comprehensive course in Yiddish. But Duolingo’s Yiddish addition only serves to reflect the increased global interest in learning a language that once had as many as 12 million speakers.

Ladino, a Romance language of Sephardic Jews still spoken by hundreds of thousands worldwide, has also garnered much interest in recent years. Ladino classes, both online and in-person, are widely available to prospective learners.

But while those two Jewish languages are enjoying a cultural renaissance, many others — ones spoken in Crimea, Baghdad, Baku and beyond, which have both miraculously survived and succumbed to tumultuous periods in world history — have remained largely inaccessible to interested learners.

This month, that’s changing.

The Oxford School of Rare Jewish Languages in the UK has launched its inaugural semester of courses in 12 Jewish languages, belonging to the Aramaic, Arabic and Turkic language families. They range in number of speakers, from millions to none.

The courses, which began this week, run for an hour a week online and are free for all students.

“There are currently many brilliant research projects and online platforms concerning Jewish languages,” said Professor Judith Olszowy-Schlanger, president of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies and the creator of the new program. “What is missing is the possibility for the growing number of interested students to learn these languages, even less in an academic setting.”

This is why she sees the OSRJL’s format — online and free — as significant: it ensures that classes are accessible to an international pool of students.

Yiddish is one of the 12 Jewish languages offered by the OSRJL — and with roughly 1.5 million speakers worldwide, it is the only language offered by the program that is not endangered or extinct. In fact, Yiddish is growing in its number of speakers.

“People outside of the Yiddish-speaking world have this distorted notion that Yiddish is disappearing,” explained Kalman Weiser, a Silber Family Professor of Modern Jewish Studies at York University, in Toronto. “It’s not. It’s only growing. Judeo-Greek, on the other hand, is a language that is going to disappear.”

Weiser’s mother speaks Judeo-Greek, but unfortunately, this tongue, which originated in the Macedonian Empire, is expected to die out with this generation without serious intervention. Most of the languages offered by the OSRJL face a similar fate. Several — including Judeo-French, Classical Judeo-Arabic and Classical Judeo-Persian — are already considered extinct.

The latter is a language that Daniel Amir, a doctoral researcher of Iranian Jewish history at the University of Oxford, aims to study at the OSRJL. He also plans to take courses in Judeo-Neo-Aramaic, a language with an estimated 60 speakers left.

“Knowing a language is one thing, but getting to learn and improve together with other people is exciting and motivating. All of these languages are ones with which I have a strong personal connection,” he said.

Amir’s family speaks a dialect of Judeo-Neo-Aramaic that is in serious decline, and he wishes to do his part to halt the downward trend. “Most of my experience with the dialect is through talking with and listening to my family, so getting a chance to formally study it is a great privilege,” he said.

Studying any Jewish language, whether it is of heritage or not, opens up a window into the diverse history of world Jewry, Weiser noted. He mentioned a theory proposed by sociolinguist Max Weinreich in “The History of the Yiddish Language,” which suggests that there is an unbroken chain of Jewish languages stemming from ancient Hebrew to today, where Yiddish is the latest link.

“Once you take this approach, any Jewish language becomes a vital part of Jewishness,” Weiser said. “You start off at one place but then you begin to see the bigger picture.”

Though the chances that Karaim (a Turkic language with roughly 80 speakers) or Judeo-Italian (a Romance language with 250 speakers) are one’s heritage language are low today, studying them can be a potent exercise in understanding the broader Jewish experience. Olszowy-Schlanger told JTA that the OSRJL intends to bolster the connection students feel to their cultures, both through the language courses and by offering a variety of other online content, including blog publications on exceptional books and a 16-lecture series on Yiddish music.

The ripple effects of a program like this are not secluded to the Jewish realm — Weiser mentioned that many past Jewish language initiatives were in tandem, influenced by, or would go on to influence other Indigenous language programs.

The faculties that raised Hebrew from the proverbial dead have also influenced the revitalization of Indigenous languages such as Lushootseed and Sami, and helped inspire the moves to preserve Irish and Cornish.

“These communities merit and deserve our research, curiosity, and admiration — both in their pasts and presents,” Amir said. “And language is a perfect point of departure.”

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Venezuela has one of the world’s most tight-knit Jewish communities. They are still mourning their Surfside victims.

Tue, 2021-10-12 18:21

CARACAS, Venezuela (JTA) — The Champlain Towers building collapse in Surfside, Florida, impacted a range of communities whose members lived in the diverse Miami-Dade area: immigrants from across Latin America, Jewish retirees from the Northeast, Jews from Puerto Rico.

One of them still feeling the most pain months later is the Jewish community of Caracas, Venezuela’s capital city.

In the wake of the collapse, seniors Christina Beatriz Elvira and Leon Oliwkowicz, both Venezuelan Jews, were among the first victims to have their remains recovered. Then came the bodies of Luis Sadovnic, Moises “El Chino” Rodán and Andres Levine. The three young men, who were all in their 20s, were raised in the small Jewish community surrounded by the lush El Ávila National Park in the heart of Caracas.

Miami had become an economic stepping stone and new home for the young Venezuelans, just as it had for hundreds of other community members over the past decade.

Many Jewish communities in Latin America are described as “tight knit,” but Venezuela’s is unique in the region for its intense closeness. Here everyone is part of one extended family — even though Venezuelan Jews often use the Hebrew word “kehilla,” for community.

Few agreed to speak about the tragedy in its aftermath, or months later. They were instead focused on providing moral and financial support to family members of the victims.

But those who did speak to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency emphasized how strongly the deaths of their fellow community members reverberated throughout the country.

“The entire community feels this tragedy in the most innermost core of our beings,” said Miguel Truzman, vice president of the Confederation of Jewish Associations of Venezuela, known by its Spanish acronym CAIV. “They were boys that we watched grow up; the whole community is deeply traumatized and devastated by this tragedy.”

The Caracas area’s Hebraica Jewish community center — the community’s only social, cultural and religious center, which serves as a country club, sports facility, elementary school and meeting hub — put out a statement in July saying the Surfside events “will undoubtedly shape the rest of our lives.”

Besides having shared a joint address at the Champlain Towers South condo building, the three young Venezuelans had another thing in common before moving to the U.S.: They all attended Colegio Moral y Luces Herzl-Bialik, a private Jewish high school located in the San Bernardino neighborhood east of the city, housed inside the Hebraica center.

Founded in 1946 by Ashkenazi emigres after quick growth in the community’s population, the school has since served as a common link for almost all Venezuelan Jews, despite their religious denomination or ethnic background. It is one of the main pieces that contribute to the community’s sense of unity.

“The Venezuelan Ashkenazim allowed the Sephardim to study in the school without the slightest problem. If you go to another Latin American country, like Mexico — or even around the world — every community, depending on their origin, has their own school,” said Sami Rozenbaum, journalist and current editor-in-chief of Nuevo Mundo Israelita, or New Israelite World, the community’s weekly newspaper. 

A young boy reads from the Torah at the Magen David Synagogue in Caracas. (Courtesy of Hebraica Caracas)

A history of belonging, an uncertain future

The majority of the Jews left in Venezuela are either the children or grandchildren of European or Moroccan immigrants. Their ancestors mostly emigrated from the late 1930s through the late ’60s. Newcomers quickly assimilated into mainstream Venezuelan society and never felt like outsiders, since the country was an ethnically and religiously diverse melting pot at the time. Antisemitism and racism were rarely major concerns for the community, and unlike Paraguay, Argentina, and Chile, the country has no history of harboring Nazi fugitives. 

The Jewish newspaper, founded by Moisés Sananes in 1943 as Mundo Israelita (Israelite World), was the community’s first systematic effort to unite both its Ashkenazi and Sephardic immigrants, before the Bialik school.

“Our community stands as a reference point in the world because of its integration. We are fully united. Here there’s no distinction between who’s from Ashkenazi or Sephardi ancestry. The only separate components are the synagogues and the religious and cultural traditions of each group,” Rozenbaum said.

Although the community was officially established in the mid-19th century, it wasn’t until 1939 that the country’s first synagogue, El Conde Synagogue, was built. The temple, however, wouldn’t last long, as the government at the time approved a series of urban restructuring projects in 1954, forcing it to be demolished. In 1963, the Sephardic community in Caracas inaugurated the Tiferet Israel Synagogue, the city’s largest to date. 

In recent years, the community has seen several of its members leave, as a stagnant socioeconomic and humanitarian crisis continues to drive a large-scale exodus from the oil-rich country. From a population peak of 25,000 in the early 1990s, Venezuelan Jewry has dwindled to fewer than 6,000 members, a decrease of 70%. 

The country’s hyperinflation, rampant violence, hunger and deepening poverty have forced many into a new diaspora. Nearly all of these Venezuelan Jewish immigrants have settled in the United States, Israel, Mexico and Panama. 

Those who remain are predominantly Orthodox and live in Caracas, sometimes depending on each other for survival. Since there are so few left, nearly everyone in the community knows each other by name. Most of them consider themselves staunch Zionists.

The regime of the populist firebrand Hugo Chavez tried for years to plant anti-Israel sentiment into the political fabric of the predominantly Catholic nation, and sought to establish closer ties with Iran and Palestinian leadership. Nicolas Maduro, Chavez’s successor, and his supporters have continued that legacy, but to a lesser extent. 

According to the US State Department’s 2020 Report on International Religious Freedom on Venezuela, “criticism of Israel in Maduro-controlled or -affiliated media continued to carry anti-Semitic overtones, sometimes disguised as anti-Zionist messages.” Recent examples include Holocaust trivialization, as demonstrated by Maduro’s comparison of US sanctions against Venezuela to Nazi persecution of Jews, and the promotion of conspiracy theories linking Israel and Jews to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite that, the government’s rhetoric has not caught on with the Venezuelan population at large, which remains notably free of antisemitism.

“Venezuelans are not antisemitic. For example, if they see someone wearing a kippah on their head and do not know what it is, they’ll ask you. The unfamiliar does not cause them estrangement but respect,” said Isaac Cohen, chief rabbi of the Israelite Association of Venezuela (AIV), an umbrella organization representing Jews of Sephardic origin. 

“The reason I have been here for 43 years is that I do not feel, nor have I experienced antisemitism. Although, of course, in Europe, there is cultural antisemitism, but here there is no such thing as an antisemitic culture.”

Why some stay

Venezuelan Jews give two answers as to why they stay — both religious reasons, and economic ones. 

“It’s hard to start again and reinvent yourself from zero,” said one community member who wished to remain anonymous for safety reasons, fearing government retribution. “Senior members stay because their home is here. They know that the same comfort and life they have in Venezuela would be hard to obtain somewhere else, especially if one has to learn another language, like English.”

A view of the pool at the Hebraica social club in the Los Chorros area of Caracas. (Courtesy of Hebraica Caracas)

And even amid all the turmoil, observant Jews still thrive in Venezuela. They can practice their traditions openly and maintain a steady relationship with government authorities, who provide state-sponsored security in front of synagogues. Special food permits allow for the import and manufacture of kosher products. 

“Venezuela is a great country. We remain here because of the hospitality and the generosity of its people,” Cohen said. “In Venezuela, freedom of worship and whatever the community is willing to pursue is supported. So why move to another country? One decides to emigrate because there is antisemitism, or because commercially, it does not work; I am not a businessman. My job is to maintain and preserve the religion in the country.”

Truzman agreed, saying that the fact that everyone attended the same school binds them together for life.

“Like me, there are thousands that have stayed. Why? Well, because it is our homeland, our country. We strive for whatever adverse circumstances there may be. We stay so that there is a presence of the Jewish community in Venezuela,” he said.

“We have spent a lifetime together.”

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Sally Rooney: Israeli publishers can’t put out my work, but Hebrew translation ‘would be an honour’

Tue, 2021-10-12 13:47

(JTA) — The bestselling author Sally Rooney said she decided not to publish her latest novel with an Israeli publishing house because she supports a boycott of Israel, but added that a non-Israeli press could still publish the book in Hebrew.

Rooney’s statement, made on Tuesday, confirms a report by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz last month that Rooney declined to sell Hebrew publishing rights for her new book, “Beautiful World, Where Are You,” to Modan Publishing House, an Israeli press that published her first two novels in Hebrew.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency and others this week characterized Rooney’s decision not to work Modan as a decision not to allow her critically acclaimed book to be translated into Hebrew at all. Rooney said that is not true.

“It would be an honour for me to have my latest novel translated into Hebrew and available to Hebrew-language readers,” the statement said. “But for the moment, I have chosen not to sell these translation rights to an Israeli-based publishing house.”

Whether that’s possible is unclear: The Hebrew-language publishing industry is centered in Israel, the only country where Hebrew is an official language.

Rooney, 30, the Irish author of the acclaimed 2018 novel “Normal People,” has been called one of the world’s premier millennial authors. Her books have topped bestseller charts, gotten television deals and been praised for their depiction of urbane millennial life and romance.

She had expressed her support for the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel, known as BDS, in July, when she was one of thousands of artists to sign a letter urging an end to international aid to Israel as well as “trade, economic and cultural relations.” That came shortly after Israel’s May conflict with Hamas in Gaza prompted renewed international criticism of Israel, including a wave of boycott calls.

Citing recent reports by Human Rights Watch and the Israeli human rights group Btselem, Rooney said in her statement that “Israel’s system of racial domination and segregation against Palestinians meets the definition of apartheid under international law.” (Human Rights Watch said that “Israeli authorities systematically discriminate” against Palestinians in a way that “amounts to the systematic oppression required for apartheid.” Btselem said that Israel maintains an apartheid regime” that “uses laws, practices and organized violence to cement the supremacy of one group over another.“)

Anticipating questions about whether she is permitting translations in China or other countries with records of human rights abuses, Rooney acknowledged that many countries “are guilty of grievous human rights abuses,” but compared Israel to Apartheid-era South Africa and said that she’s chosen to boycott in response to a call from Palestinian civil society.

“I understand that not everyone will agree with my decision, but I simply do not feel it would be right for me under the present circumstances to accept a new contract with an Israeli company that does not publicly distance itself from apartheid and support the UN-stipulated rights of the Palestinian people,” she said.

Irish left-wing activists have long connected their historical struggle against the British to support for Palestinian independence. Both of Rooney’s first two books contained mentions of Israel: In “Normal People,” the main characters attend a protest of Israel’s actions in the 2014 Gaza War, and her first book, “Conversations with Friends,” contains a sardonic reference to Israel being seen as “nicer” than Palestine.

Israeli officials and advocates for Israel have decried the boycott movement as unjust, with some going so far as accusing boycott supporters of antisemitism. Israel’s Diaspora affairs minister, Nachman Shai, made that connection around Rooney’s decision.

“Why read her at all?” Shai tweeted Tuesday, shortly before Rooney released her statement. “The cultural boycott of Israel is antisemitism in new wrapping, [and] it’s a badge of shame for her and others who act like her.”

Rooney is the latest in a string of prominent artists to support a boycott of Israel, and her decision not to publish with an Israeli press is the most significant of its kind since the author Alice Walker announced in 2012 that she would not publish “The Color Purple” with an Israeli house. (Several years later, Walker drew fierce criticism after she endorsed a book that placed Jews at the center of a global conspiracy to control the world.)

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency has asked Rooney’s agent if she has made any inquiries into publishing the novel in Hebrew outside of Israel. In her statement, she suggested that she would be open to doing so.

“The Hebrew-language translation rights to my new novel are still available, and if I can find a way to sell these rights that is compliant with the BDS movement’s institutional boycott guidelines, I will be very pleased and proud to do so,” Rooney said.

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Creator of Chabad’s famous menorah sexually abused girl, lawsuit claims

Tue, 2021-10-12 13:31

(JTA) — A new lawsuit claims that the man who crafted what might be the most famous menorah in the world sexually abused a young girl dozens of times in the 1990s and that a rabbinical court failed to hold him accountable. 

The survivor of this alleged abuse, now a 36-year-old woman living in Israel, is trying to get possession of her abuser’s brass menorah, which is normally displayed during Hanukkah at the headquarters of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement in Brooklyn. 

Her lawyer says that if she succeeds, she’d consider melting it down in a symbolic act against taboos that have kept cases like hers from being known.

The craftsman behind the 6-foot-tall menorah was Hirschel Pekkar. After he died in July, an obituary on a Chabad community news site described him as “a renowned Crown Heights silversmith who created the famous Menorah which stands each Chanukah in 770 Eastern Parkway,” referring to the address of the Hasidic movement’s headquarters. 

Pekkar was commissioned to forge a special Hanukkah lamp in 1982, after Chabad’s leader, the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, said in a speech that the arms of the menorah were originally diagonal rather than curved, citing the medieval Jewish scholar Maimonides. The lawsuit says that the impact of Pekkar’s menorah—thousands of similar pieces have been fashioned over the decades—makes it “one of the most important pieces of Jewish artwork of the 20th century.”

“We’re pursuing the menorah, because it’s so symbolic and because we want to play an active role in shaping that symbolism,” Susan Crumiller, the attorney who is representing the woman, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “We hope it’s a transformative moment. We are doing this out of love for the community.”

Crumiller had initially planned to sue Pekkar under New York’s Child Victims Act, which created a two-year window to revive old abuse cases previously barred by the statute of limitations. But, then, on Aug. 5, just days ahead of the deadline, Pekkar died. Crumiller shifted her target and named Pekkar’s estate in a lawsuit filed Oct. 5. She told JTA that the death extended the legal window to sue, meaning that the Aug. 14 deadline no longer applied. 

No formal estate has been established for Pekkar by his heirs, and the responsibility for the estate is being addressed in a separate court case, according to Crumiller. 

It’s also unclear who formally owns the menorah, though it has been treated as the communal property of the Chabad movement since it was commissioned. For now, Crumiller has asserted a lien on the menorah on behalf of her client, meaning that she has filed a public notice that her client is claiming it.

Asked about the allegations and about ownership of the menorah, Motti Seligson, a Chabad spokesperson, said that “our hearts go out to this woman” but that Chabad would not weigh in on the case. 

“We are saddened and sickened by the allegations she has made and cannot begin to imagine the trauma she has experienced,” Seligson said in a statement. “However, since these allegations are against a private individual and we are not party to the lawsuit, it’s really not appropriate for us to comment any further.”

The plaintiff claims in her lawsuit that she met Pekkar in 1991, nine years after he built the menorah for Chabad, when he began employing her father as a jewelry maker in his workshop. She was 5 years old at the time and would regularly join her father at the jewelry-making studio, which was next door to Pekkar’s apartment. 

According to the lawsuit, the studio had no bathroom and so one day when the plaintiff was visiting, Pekkar volunteered to take her to use the bathroom in his apartment. Just outside the bathroom, Pekkar allegedly reached under her clothes to touch her vagina. 

Afterward, the lawsuit claims, Pekkar acted in a friendly manner but told her not to share what had happened with others. This scenario repeated itself at least a dozen times, according to the plaintiff, who is referred to as “Jane Doe” in the lawsuit.

“Through these occasions, Pekkar groomed Jane, and made her believe the abuse was innocent and consensual,” the lawsuit says. 

Eventually, the plaintiff’s father and stepmother discovered the alleged abuse and, according to the suit, sought to confront Pekkar. They tried to entrap him by setting up a hidden video but Pekkar spotted it and the plan was foiled, the suit says. 

After that failure, the father approached the rabbinical court of Crown Heights, a panel of rabbis charged with adjudicating conflicts within the Orthodox neighborhood, according to the lawsuit. The plaintiff claims that the court heard the allegations and Pekkar’s response and issued a ruling. 

The Aug. 27, 1991, ruling, which JTA reviewed, says that Pekkar admitted to one unspecified offense but not another. 

“The defendant admitted that he did things that are not to be done,” the ruling says in Hebrew. “On the other hand, he did not admit to all (the heart of it) of the deception that he was accused of.”

The rabbinical court said Pekkar had been ordered to undergo treatment with an “expert counselor” but had not submitted evidence showing that he had done so.

The plaintiff’s father wasn’t satisfied with the court’s ruling but, feeling helpless, he moved on, the plaintiff claims. 

“After the failed rabbinical court proceedings, [the plaintiff’s father] resigned his position with Pekkar and distanced his family from him,” according to the lawsuit. “Feeling they had no recourse, the family did not discuss the abuse, and simply pretended like nothing ever happened.”

A similar allegation would likely be handled differently today. That’s because in 2011, two members of the Crown Heights rabbinical court ruled that acts of child abuse should be reported to the police and that doing so is permitted despite the traditional prohibition against turning over members of the community to secular authorities. 

The plaintiff still identifies with the Chabad movement and remains a follower of Schneerson today, the Daily Beast reported

“For a whole decade [Schneerson] was lighting [the menorah] and loving it, and he was loving something that wasn’t holy,” she was quoted as saying. “He touched a lie. And if he knew, maybe he wouldn’t touch it.”

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How Meir Kahane’s ideas went mainstream • Abuse suit targets Chabad artist • Vax refusal costs Boro Park •

Tue, 2021-10-12 13:20

Good morning, New York. Remember that Monday, Oct. 18 is the deadline for the Board of Elections to receive absentee ballot applications for the general election on Nov. 2. Apply for an absentee ballot through the city’s online portal, mail, email or fax. 

ABUSE ALLEGATION: A 36-year-old woman says she was sexually abused as a young girl by the craftsman who created an iconic 6-foot-tall menorah at Chabad-Lubavitch headquarters in Brooklyn. (JTA)

  • Her lawsuit says Hirschel Pekkar, who died in July, touched her sexually when, starting when she was 5 years old, she and her father visited Pekkar’s jewelry-making studio
  • The accuser wants the menorah, which she’d consider melting down as a symbolic protest.
  • A Chabad spokesman said the movement was “saddened and sickened by the allegations.”

KAHANE CHAI: A new book about Meir Kahane suggests that the Brooklyn-born rabbi’s ideas — albeit not his extremist tactics — eventually found a home in the Jewish mainstream. (JTA)

  • From opposition to intermarriage to a chauvinistic Zionism to deep pessimism about the eradication of antisemitism, his worldview “has really dug some pretty deep roots,” writes Shaul Magid.
  • The scholar talks to our Alma colleague Emily Burack, who worked with him on the new book, about how the New York of the tempestuous ’60s and ’70s shaped Kahane’s extremism.

LAX ON VAX: Borough Park, with the lowest vaccination rate in the city, saw the most COVID-19 infections in the five boroughs this past week. (amNY)

  • Only 43% of those eligible are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in the Brooklyn neighborhood with a heavily Orthodox population, compared to 65% citywide. The citywide 7-day positivity rate on Oct. 5 was nearly two-thirds lower than the Borough Park rate.
  • Two other Brooklyn neighborhoods with large Orthodox communities — East Williamsburg/Williamsburg Midwood — also saw increased spread of COVID-19 over the past week.

GRADE EXPECTATIONS: Joshua Angrist, the Israeli-American who shares this year’s Nobel Prize in economics, has studied outcomes at New York City’s elite public high schools and downplayed their benefits. (Blueprint Labs)

  • In a 2014 paper, “The Elite Illusion,” he and colleagues found that most of the students at “exam schools” like Stuyvesant and Brooklyn Tech “would likely have done well without the benefit of an exam school education.”
  • Angrist graduated from Allderdice High School in Pittsburgh, a diverse public school in the city’s heavily Jewish Squirrel Hill neighborhood that has turned out two Nobel laureates and twice as many famed rappers.


ACCUSED: A Jewish teacher at a public school in Maplewood, New Jersey was accused of pulling a hijab off of a 7-year-old Muslim girl. The teacher’s lawyer disputed the account. (JTA)

PROPOSED: Royal Wine Corp., the maker of Kedem kosher wine and grape juice, wants to open a wine-making, storage and visitor center on an 83-acre site in upstate Goshen, New York. (Times Herald-Record — paywall)



A 14th-century Hebrew Bible and a letter written by the scholar and physician Judah ha-Levi are among the objects in a current exhibit at The Met Cloisters, “Spain, 1000–1200: Art at the Frontiers of Faith.”

  • The Forward reviews the show, about the diversity of Spanish medieval art where Christians, Muslims and Jews lived side by side for centuries.

A new book about The Fillmore East, the late, legendary rock venue on Second Avenue, remembers when it had been the Commodore, a Yiddish theater. (Untapped New York)


The Schusterman Center for Israel Studies and the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute at Brandeis University present authors of new scholarship about Henrietta Szold, the founder of Hadassah, and Judah Magnes, the American rabbi who advocated for a binational Jewish-Arab state in Palestine. Moderated by historian Jonathan D. Sarna. Register here for this free online event. Noon.

Israel Policy Forum presents a video briefing with the authors of a new report on Arab normalization, the Biden administration and regional actors: Michael Koplow, policy director of IPF, and Shira Efron, IPF policy advisor based in Israel. Register here. 2:00 p.m.

Photo, top: “Meir Kahane: The Public Life and Political Thought of an American Jewish Radical” tells the story of the Brooklyn-born’s radicalism — from his critique of liberalism through his ever-changing Zionism. (Princeton University Press)

The post How Meir Kahane’s ideas went mainstream • Abuse suit targets Chabad artist • Vax refusal costs Boro Park • appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

In Europe, antisemitism is highest in countries with the fewest racist attacks on Jews

Tue, 2021-10-12 11:32

BRUSSELS (JTA) — In an opinion poll on antisemitism in 16 European Union countries, respondents from Poland, Hungary and Greece displayed the highest prevalence of hostile attitudes toward Jews. But despite a high level of antisemitic attitudes, those countries rarely see violent attacks on Jews while countries that experience more frequent attacks on Jews are often those showing the lowest rates of antisemitic sentiments.

The survey, published Tuesday by Ipsos, a polling company, together with the Europe Action and Protection League, a watchdog group based in Hungary, found little correlation between antisemitic attitudes and violent attacks on Jews in the 16 European countries surveyed.

The assertion that it ”would be best if Jews left this country” received affirmation from 24%, 23% and 21% of participants in Poland, Greece and Hungary, respectively. It was rejected by 15%, 26% and 33% in those countries, where only a few dozen antisemitic incidents are recorded annually. A high prevalence of antisemitic sentiments was also observed in other countries with low levels of antisemitic incidents, including Latvia, Croatia and Romania.

In countries where more antisemitic incidents were recorded, the assertion about Jews being unwanted was overwhelmingly rejected and received little support.

In Germany, where a record-high number of 2,351 incidents were recorded last year, 62% of respondents rejected that assertion, and only 7% agreed. Similar trends were observed in France, where 687 incidents of antisemitic attacks were recorded in 2019. In the United Kingdom, where 1,668 incidents were documented last year, 9.2% agreed and 72% disagreed.

Other countries with a low prevalence of antisemitic sentiment but a relatively high number of recorded attacks included the Netherlands, Sweden and Italy.

Some of the countries with a low number of antisemitic assaults have a relatively small number of Jews, as is the case in Latvia and Greece. But others — including Hungary, where about 100,000 Jews live — have Jewish communities comparable to those in countries with a high number of assaults.

Authors of the study, titled “Antisemitic Prejudices in Europe,” said the data challenged the idea that countering antisemitic sentiment, long a goal of Jewish communal leaders and politicians in Europe, would solve the problem of antisemitic violence. “The number of violent acts and the degree of anti-Jewish sentiment are essentially unrelated,” the study states.

Slomo Koves, a Hungarian rabbi and a founder of the Action and Protection League, said the results suggest that focusing on just one aspect of the efforts t ncombat antisemitism, such as educating young people to reject antisemitic stereotypes, is not the way forward. “It’s a complicated report, that requires a nuanced attitude,” he said, arguing for a holistic approach.

“Education and legislative measures as well as law enforcement practices are definitely a key to our fight for survival,” Koves said.

But the COVID-19 pandemic is complicating that mission, according to Rabbi Menachem Margolin, the chairman of the European Jewish Association.

“Whilst Europe was rightly focusing on eradicating the Covid pandemic, another virus was continuing to multiply. Antisemitism is deeply ingrained in Europe, and hard to treat,” Margolin said.

Other findings from the survey include:

  • Nearly one third of respondents in Austria, Hungary and Poland said Jews will never be able to fully integrate into society.
  • In Spain, 35% said Israelis behave like Nazis towards the Palestinians; 29% said the same in the Netherlands; and 26% agreed with the statement in Sweden.
  • A quarter of all those surveyed agreed with the statement that Israel’s policies make them understand why some people hate Jews.

The survey, which was filled out by a weighted sample of 1,000 adults in each country sampled, corresponds with results from previous large surveys on antisemitism in Europe, including the ADL Index surveys. However, those surveys did not address the absence of a correlation between views and attacks.

Joel Mergui, the president of the Consistoire, a major French-Jewish communal organization, which helped publish the report, said that “while the European institutions and politicians devote significant resources and spare no effort in the fight against anti-Semitism, the situation in Europe is not improving. Worse, it is deteriorating.”

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We may be talking about Gary Shteyngart’s botched circumcision for a long time

Tue, 2021-10-12 02:54

(New York Jewish Week via JTA) — There’s a lot to say about Gary Shteyngart’s New Yorker essay on the botched circumcision he suffered as a 7-year-old Russian Jewish immigrant in Brooklyn. The novelist doesn’t explicitly come out against circumcision, although he does ask if the procedure is “indispensable enough for us to continue cutting one of the most sensitive parts of the male anatomy, where any miscalculation may lead to tragedy.”

Leave it to the author of “Absurdistan” and the forthcoming “Our Country Friends” to write a darkly funny account of a medical nightmare. And give it to artist Javier Jaén for finding a new way to illustrate an article about circumcision: The New Yorker story features his image of surgical scissors draped Salvador Dali-style over a ledge to form a sort of stainless-steel phallus.

I’ve edited more than a few circumcision stories myself, and it is always a challenge to illustrate them. Few editors outside a medical journal would show the procedure itself.

A few years ago I wrote a piece for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency titled “OK, wise guy, how would YOU illustrate a circumcision?” I brought examples of how other media had handled it: Least provocatively, editors go with non-graphic photos of an actual bris, or even reproductions of Old Masters’ paintings of biblical circumcisions.

But many take the abstract route: a pencil sharpener, a half-peeled banana, pictures of the mohel’s toolkit, a closeup of a distressed baby, an ominous photo of a scalpel from the baby’s point of view.

Such illustrations usually treat circumcision as comic or horrific; there is little middle ground. This might reflect the decisions of male editors, who cringe or laugh when the topic turns to their nether regions. But it also reflects the polarizing nature of circumcision itself. For the many people who either support or simply tolerate the procedure, circumcision can be profound, innocuous or even sort of goofy (at one point, even Shteyngart can’t resist comparing a penis to a “walrus wearing a cape”). For opponents of circumcision, the so-called intactivists, cutting is barbaric, and deserves to be treated with the seriousness of cancer or child abuse.

What Shteyngart’s essay does so effectively – or insidiously, depending on your point of view — is live in the middle ground: The suffering he undergoes as the result of his mangled member is no laughing matter, but by the end of the essay he is no intactivist. Ultimately, he is asking some very difficult questions about a procedure that we Jews either take for granted or place at the very center of male Jewish identity. You can cite statistics showing circumcision is overwhelmingly safe, as some did in responding to Shteyngart, but you can’t deny his ordeal.

The Jewish writers who defend the practice often write movingly about the meaning and power of brit milah, surfacing its profound symbolism even as they cite medical evidence showing it to be an overwhelmingly safe and even beneficial procedure. Intactivists almost always go too far, exaggerating the negative consequences and occasionally dipping into antisemitism and Islamophobia. Neither side is likely to win converts (although, in fact, Judaism does win converts, at which point the males have a decision to make).

And that is why I predict Shteyngart’s story will resonate widely in the debate over circumcision. He is no polemicist. He raises challenging questions that rabbis and mohels will have to consider the next time a reluctant couple pays them a visit. “I only wish to expand the conversation for future parents,” Shteyngart wrote on Twitter, where a number of A-list authors congratulated him for his essay,

Coincidentally, JTA published an article last week about a new organization, Bruchim, that is seeking to normalize the decision by Jewish parents not to circumcise their boys. “Families who are making this decision shouldn’t feel marginalized and they shouldn’t feel like they have to be secret about it,” said Lisa Braver Moss, Bruchim’s co-founder and president.

Moss could also be talking about intermarriage or gay Jews — or at least the way people talked about intermarriage and LGBT inclusion in the Jewish community 20 years ago. Today, unlike in a previous era, few Jewish organizations would support “marginalizing” interfaith families or LGBT Jews. In the example of intermarriage, that’s a reaction to demographics and a shift in empathy: 72% of American Jews who married between 2010 and 2020 chose a non-Jewish spouse. Marginalizing the intermarried means alienating a cohort too large to ignore.

The JTA article indicates that the same thing — and same pressures — might be coming to bear on circumcision: The growing number of interfaith families, even the majority raising children as Jewish, suggest that the number of those deciding to leave their boys uncircumcised is “likely to be growing.”

More and more, rabbis and grandparents will have to decide between pushing reluctant couples away or looking past their decision not to circumcise in order to welcome their families into Jewish life.

At the moment, circumcision is so fundamental to male Jewish identity that those Jews forgoing it remain a tiny minority. But as the Jews themselves demonstrate again and again, a tiny minority can assert a powerful presence. Soon we’ll all be drawn into this debate.

The post We may be talking about Gary Shteyngart’s botched circumcision for a long time appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

For Jewish Indigenous actress Sarah Podemski, it’s a miracle just to exist

Mon, 2021-10-11 21:23

A version of this article originally appeared on Alma.

In FX’s newest hit series, “Reservation Dogs,” the audience first meets Rita Smallhill, mother to main character Bear, prepping for a night out. Rita croons TLC’s “Waterfalls” while blithely swiping mascara across her eyelashes and checking herself out in the mirror. When Bear asks where she’s going and who she’ll be with, Rita retorts, “With my friends, Grandpa.”

It’s a telling first introduction to Rita, a tough yet loving single Native mom in a show which is historic for sharing Native stories and characters with such a widespread audience.

Sarah Podemski, the actress who plays Rita, is similarly tough. Frankly, she’s had to be. On her mother’s side she is Salteaux, a tribe of First Nations people who are part of the Ojibwe Nations in Canada. After inhabiting North America for thousands of years, Indigenous peoples, including her ancestors, were dispossessed of their land and culture by European colonizers. Other horrors they would endure include the residential school system in Canada and the United States, which, again, Sarah’s relatives were subjected to.

On her father’s side, she comes from Holocaust survivors. Her grandfather, Joseph Podemski, was born in Lodz, Poland in the 1920s and, like basically all other European Jews during World War II, was sent to concentration camps. During this time he lost his mother and sister. After being liberated, Joseph reunited with his brother Fajwel, who was hidden during the war, and together they moved to Israel. There, Joseph met his wife, Betty, and they started a family together. Eventually, they moved to Toronto, where Joseph passed away just last year.

Sarah talked to Alma over Zoom about her Anishinaabe/Ashkenazi identity, her youth involvement in Hashomer Hatzair,  reparations and the survival instincts of both communities.

 This conversation has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

Could you tell me a little bit about the process of being cast in the show?

I had worked with [co-creator] Sterlin [Harjo] previously in a feature film, so we were familiar with each other. When I got the script, the character was completely there. There wasn’t much reaching; she was so clear. I’m not sure if it was because it was from his mind. But the vision of who Rita was, was so clear. There wasn’t much I had to do.

Sometimes, you get a script and you’re like, who is this person? You have to do all this work to figure out how to put your stamp on something, or how to make it yours. In [this] script, every character was so clear. So being able to step into a role like that is really comforting. Especially in the sense of being on set and shooting and knowing that the director, all the writers in the writers’ room, the producers and the other actors have a similar lived experience. There’s a safety there of being able to step into a character like that, and know that when you’re dealing with certain issues that you’re in a safe place to explore those storylines. So from the first time reading it to the last shot I did with that show, I knew it was gonna be a huge success. Just because it was overdue, and it’s so good.

Do you feel like you eventually put a stamp on Rita or inflected some of yourself onto her?

I mean, I hope so. I know she was written to be really tough, and show tough love. There’s a lot of love in Rita. My mom is like that. My mom is super, super tough and she comes from a lot of intergenerational trauma, being Indigenous. And I know that she’s had to have a tough exterior to move through the world comfortably. But there’s also so many moments where she’s just so loving and caring, that it’s so crazy to see that these two people exist in the same body. You know? I think that was an exciting thing to portray: that we can have these tough, fierce women that will protect their children and protect their community, but also, you know, just have so much love and softness. That’s a balance which we just never get to see. We just never get to see multi-dimensional Native women, period.

We have had content within our communities of incredible storytellers, and incredible characters. But there’s kind of a ceiling of the audience. And I think “Reservation Dogs” is one of the first times that we have a huge audience being able to get a glimpse into our lived experiences. That was so exciting — to finally have something that got into so many people’s homes, and gave humanity to our communities.

Could you tell me a bit about your Jewish upbringing and what it was like growing up with a Jewish parent and an Ojibwe parent?

My parents got divorced when I was 4, and I was raised by my dad in a Jewish home. We went to Jewish summer camp and we were part of a youth organization called Hashomer Hatzair, which my grandfather was part of in Poland; he managed to continue with that movement in an underground capacity during the Holocaust. And then when he was liberated, he managed to keep in touch with people from Hashomer Hatzair. And when they came to North America, they started the movement in whatever capacity they could, which ended up being summer camps.

So I was brought up essentially in that movement with Hashomer Hatzair. Israel was a huge part of that. I’ve been going to Israel since I was a child, and I lived there for a year on a kibbutz when I was 16. But there was always a recognition that the conflict in Israel was something that needed to be resolved in a good way. And so I grew up in, not a Zionist family, but a family that believes in peace between Palestine and Israel. And I think that was really important because at the same time, I was growing up and learning about being Indigenous in Canada. I was seeing the dispossession of land and colonization, so I grew up seeing parallels between those two countries. And I’m super grateful that I grew up in a family that was really pro-peace and resolution and reconciliation.

I think only now I can realize, or just appreciate and be grateful for, the amount of culture I grew up with. I was able to have Shabbat dinner and have the tradition of Jewish food and culture, and then be able to go to a powwow with my mom. I remember we went to a protest at Sun Peaks Resort in [British Columbia] when she lived out here. We were protesting the development of more condos on the ski resort there that was already built on unceded territory.

And that’s something similar with the two cultures. With Hashomer Hatzair I remember growing up and we would write letters to different organizations asking how they were handling certain issues; activism is a huge part of our responsibility as Jewish people. And I look at a lot of the people that I went through Hashomer Hatzair with and they’re working in education, they’re activists through politics. I’m so grateful that I was taught that at a young age: responsibility for community. That’s something that’s so rich in both of these cultures.

What does your Jewish identity mean to you now?

I think my Jewish identity means legacy. I feel it so deeply in everything I do. Knowing that my grandfather is a [Holocaust] survivor, I feel the responsibility to do better for humanity. I don’t necessarily associate [my Jewish identity] with religion. I would say I’m more of a cultural Jew, in terms of how I live my life, and a spiritual Jew. But I would say legacy is the word that I like to use because it’s something that we carry with us. And legacy is about how the urge to do better manifests into our everyday life.

And to carry on the joy that my grandfather brought his community and his family. He was someone who spoke about the Holocaust and his experiences. We went back to Poland with him. I’ve been to Germany with him. We, all six of his grandchildren, all girls, were privileged enough to have him share those experiences with us and I think it affected us all in ways that we felt a responsibility to continue that legacy of love and forgiveness and celebration of life.

On both sides of your family, you come from survivors. How do you feel that’s shaped you?

It’s definitely put a fire under my ass. It’s made me very feisty. But I would also say that it’s shaped me in the sense that I’ve had a lot of healing to do on both sides. It’s also influenced a lot of the work that I do and how I choose work and who I work with. It’s influenced me in realizing that not every space is a safe space, as a Jewish woman and as an Indigenous woman. It always surprises me.

I was thinking the other day how incredible it was to work on “Reservation Dogs” and be around all Native people, and then how sometimes I feel really isolated and alone as the only Native person on set. And then I realized that I haven’t worked with a lot of Jewish people either. A lot of the shows I work on, I kind of feel like my back is up because I’m worried someone’s gonna say something offensive about being Jewish. And my back is also up because I’m afraid someone’s going to say something offensive about being Native. I’ve experienced both.

So I had this weird realization that I’ve had to move through a lot of spaces through my whole life in a state of being on guard. Which is really stressful, and I don’t think I noticed it until the last few years when I realized, oh my God, I’ve been carrying so much fight-or-flight with me. I’ve had to have this really hard exterior, because I’m just always afraid that something is going to trigger me, or someone’s going to say something and I have to think about whether or not I say something in response.

I think as a kid you feel this responsibility to stand up when someone’s being racist toward you or anyone else. It’s a lot of responsibility for a child. And then we grow up as adults and we try to navigate that. So I would say that the way that it’s shaped me is… the responsibility is like a double-edged sword. It’s been great in terms of feeling empowered to be active in the community and fight for people’s voices who aren’t being heard. But then it’s also the exhaustion of constantly feeling like I have to have my back up.

I saw your Instagram post about how your grandfather received reparations from the German government after the Holocaust and how that needs to be the model for the Canadian government to give reparations to the Indigenous community. I wonder if you could tell me a little bit more about that.

Yeah, for sure. I mean, I’m not a politician. I’m not a scholar. I’m not a historian. I can only view it from my perspective, which is that my grandfather was very well taken care of, financially, after the Holocaust. And I’ve been able to go to Germany multiple times, and see the way that students are educated about the Holocaust. There’s no shame in it. People are taught that it isn’t about shame. [Holocaust education] is about moving forward in a good way, and making sure something like this doesn’t happen to anybody ever again. I think that’s a really impressive way of handling it.

Whereas I feel like the way that the [Canadian] federal government has dealt with [the Indigenous community] has been very reactionary. It’s like they’re trying to plug holes into a boat that’s sinking. And there have been many opportunities [for them] to do something in a really meaningful way. But instead, I feel like a lot of what they do is very performative.

And a lot of the systemic racism that affects our community, within the child welfare system, within the justice system, the barriers to access, etc., have a lot to do with the narrative that the Canadian government has spread through the media. There isn’t empathy for our community a lot of the time. A lot of people feel like [Indigenous peoples] have had some kind of handout. So [Canada] missed the boat on [taking responsibility] for what has happened over the last almost 500 years. Whereas what the German government was able to do is very powerful. They were able to say, we can’t change what happened. But we can give you the tools to at least start your life with the resources that everybody else has.

You know, a lot of things that we’re dealing with in our communities have a lot to do with poverty and erasure. And we’re just starting to hear the truth about residential schools and the Sixties Scoop and colonization and the effects that all of those things have had on our community. But that truth is the one positive thing I see. I just hope we can continue to bring awareness and shift the narrative from what people believe to be true about the Indigenous community versus the actual truth of what’s plaguing our communities, which is the truth of what happened to us. The [Canadian] government just needs to take responsibility and then put resources in place for our communities to thrive and have equal opportunities, like every other Canadian.

It seems to me like “Reservation Dogs” and media that’s written by and for Indigenous people is showing that Indigenous people are not of the past. 

It’s amazing what the media can do, and what film and television can do. I always refer to “Schindler’s List” for Jewish people. When that film came out, people could watch it and they understood something they hadn’t understood before. “Schindler’s List” opens up a part of their empathy so that they see Jewish people as human. When you give that narrative to people, they connect in a way that’s not really possible through politics, or through other dimensions.

When we can experience those things and we can see that content, it opens up our heart and it opens up our mind. It changes the way we vote; it changes the way that we support each other; it changes the way that we see disadvantaged communities. So it’s a really powerful way that we can change those narratives. When you watch a show like “Reservation Dogs,” and you’re not Indigenous, and you can laugh, and you can cry, and you can feel what those characters are going through, it changes the way you move through life. It changes the way you interact with that community.

Taika Waititi was a part of “Reservation Dogs,” as well. What did it mean for you to work with another Jewish Indigenous creative?

It’s interesting, because I’ve known him for such a long time. I think I’ve known him for about 15 years. I remember when I met him, because there’s a handful of us Jewish Indigenous people, and I think when he did “Jojo Rabbit” that was the first time a lot of people knew about his Jewish heritage.

But the thing I love about that connection is that comedy is so important to those of us who are Jewish and Native. I think that’s why Taika is such a brilliant filmmaker and storyteller — you have to laugh about the trauma, otherwise, it’ll kill you. I’m such a fan of his, and “Boy” is one of my favorite films. He just takes this really sad story, that could be so heavy and dark, and brings a lightness to it. It’s this balance of needing to have this laughter and this comedy in the darkness. For Native people, it’s ridiculous how disadvantaged and dispossessed we are. With all these things that are such intense circumstances and feelings that we live with, you have to find the absurdity of it all. The absurdity that we’re still fighting to be seen and we’re still fighting to be heard.

So I think he definitely carries that legacy of humor. Laughing through the tears and being able to see the bright side and see the humor in life, even when it’s the darkest of times, is something that Jews and Native people are really good at.

Are there any other ways Jewish and Indigenous culture intersect for you?

When we’re celebrating. It’s so crazy to think how we see this theme of everyone trying to destroy us every every few hundred years, every few thousand years. And you’re just like, whoa, man, we’re resilient. And how we’ve endured people trying to take away our rights as Jews, trying to take away our language and culture. And you’re just like, oh my gosh, we’ve been fighting for thousands of years to continue this legacy, and so have Indigenous people since colonization.

For me, that’s where they kind of meet. I come from two groups of people who have endured, despite people who have been trying to annihilate them. It’s crazy, but I find it really interesting. And I find it a real privilege to exist. Like, what are the odds? What are the odds of that? I think that’s like a superpower of Jewish and Native people. What are the odds of Jewish and Native people actually existing after all of the genocide and erasure, and attempts to detach us from our communities, and take away our languages and our cultures and our practices? Here we are still hustling and working and thriving. To see the people in these communities that are thriving against all odds and are continuing to shift the narrative, it’s a miracle.

As a member of both communities, what do you think the Jewish community could be doing more to support Indigenous peoples?

I actually know of a few organizations that have been super vocal and have really been allies to the Native community. I don’t know them off the top of my head, but of a lot of communities, I’ve noticed that there’s been a lot of support between the Jewish and Native communities, which is really incredible. Especially in Canada, I’ve noticed there’s been a lot of cross promotion of organizations and mutual support.

Recently, I spoke to a group of over 30 Jewish women who are part of a textile club, and I think that it’s always interesting to have these conversations about decolonization and misinformation and rewriting the narrative. These concepts are so familiar to myself and other Indigenous people, but then I also find it interesting to be able to connect with them as a Jewish woman. It’s really important to share the parallels of the intergenerational path of genocide in our communities.

Something else that I would share with the Jewish community is that my grandfather had the opportunity to thrive, build wealth and build up his family through reparations. Something similar happened to a different community, the Indigenous community, but we weren’t given any of the recognitions for reparations. So if there is a way to reach out to organizations, or to help educate about the kinds of struggles that we’re facing, as Indigenous communities — Jews can recognize our shared history of dispossession and genocide.

I think Jews have a lot of lived experience that they can share, too. Like the ways that they’ve been able to thrive in their communities after the Holocaust. There are also lots of ways to help elevate the voices of Indigenous activists or organizations. And, to remember that there are still people who haven’t been able to recover from their genocide like how the Jews have been able to after the Holocaust. Imagine nobody was there to help you emigrate to North America. Imagine there were no reparations. Imagine nobody spoke about the Holocaust. Imagine you were still, today, fighting to make people believe that the Holocaust happened. Because that’s what’s happening in Indigenous communities. I mean, there are still people that don’t think the Holocaust was real or a big deal, to be fair, but at least on governmental levels and funding bodies, it’s recognized. Whereas our communities are still fighting to educate people about the atrocities that happened to us.

Jews have a very unique perspective that makes us familiar with some of these concepts. It makes us, the Jewish community, a perfect community to help elevate Indigenous voices and become involved.

What is your favorite Jewish tradition and your favorite Indigenous tradition?

For sure powwow. Going to powwow always makes my heart explode, just seeing what we’ve overcome.

As for my favorite Jewish tradition, I would say Shabbat. A few months ago, I started making matzah ball soup for Shabbat, and I just felt my grandma, my Safta, with me. And it makes me feel like I’m living history. I lost my grandfather last year, and making the soup was a reminder that we are him. We are my Safta. We are continuing this. And Shabbat is like such a simple way of focusing and connecting, even if you’re not doing it in a religious way. It’s the tradition and the repetition of being with family, taking a moment to give thanks for those who came before us, and who handed these traditions down to us. And it always makes me feel so Jewish. I’m just like, ah! With the candles and the eating challah, I’m a Jew! I love it.

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Josh Shapiro, Pennsylvania’s Jewish AG, declares candidacy for governor

Mon, 2021-10-11 19:43

(JTA) — Josh Shapiro, the Pennsylvania Attorney General who made national headlines last year pushing back against attempts to reverse Joe Biden’s win in the state, is running for governor of the state.

Shapiro, a Democrat who has deep roots in the Jewish community, made the long-expected announcement on Monday, The Associated Press reported. The incumbent governor, Tom Wolf, who cannot run for a third term, said as long ago as 2019 that he favored Shapiro to succeed him.

Shapiro, 48, last year rose to prominence resisting efforts by former President Donald Trump and his Republican allies in the state to stop the vote count or reverse it; Trump, who won Pennsylvania in 2016, lost it in 2020, but mounted a court battle over the vote count.

Shapiro also joined at least 40 lawsuits by Democratic attorneys general against Trump administration policy, more often than not winning. He led a 2018 investigation into child abuse in the Roman Catholic Church in his state that led to major reforms.

Shapiro is not likely to face any Democratic challengers, and no major Republicans have yet to settle on a front-runner for their ticket. The only Republican to announce their candidacy to date is retired heart surgeon Dr. Nche Zama.

Shapiro fought close races in 2016 and 2020 for attorney general, and will likely face a tough gubernatorial race. Republicans have said they will target him for rising crime rates in Philadelphia, among other issues.

Shapiro attended a Jewish day school and sends his children to a Jewish day school.

The post Josh Shapiro, Pennsylvania’s Jewish AG, declares candidacy for governor appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Sally Rooney won’t let her new novel ‘Beautiful World, Where Are You?’ be published in Hebrew

Mon, 2021-10-11 18:10

(JTA) — Bestselling author Sally Rooney won’t allow her recently published novel, “Beautiful World, Where Are You?” to be published in Hebrew because she supports a cultural boycott of Israel.

Like the acclaimed Irish author’s first two books, “Beautiful World” explores the life and romance of intellectual, urbane millennials. It debuted at the top of the New York Times bestseller list when it was published in September, following a publicity campaign that came on the heels of Rooney’s popular second novel, “Normal People,” which was also adapted into a TV series.

That publicity campaign, however, will not be reaching Israel. The Hebrew-language publisher of Rooney’s first two books, Modan Publishing House, told Haaretz last month that Rooney won’t allow her new book to be published in Hebrew because she supports an Israel boycott. Rooney’s agent confirmed the news to Haaretz.

Rooney, 30, has been open about her opposition to Israel. In July, soon after the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, Rooney was one of thousands of artists to sign a letter accusing Israel of apartheid and calling for its international isolation. The letter called for “an end to the support provided by global powers to Israel and its military; especially the United States,” and for governments to “cut trade, economic and cultural relations.”

Rooney’s characters generally have leftist politics, and her books invoke Israel in that context. In “Normal People,” the main characters attend a protest against Israel during the 2014 Gaza War. And in Rooney’s debut novel, “Conversations with Friends,” a character named Bobbi talks about how relationships are about power, but people instead focus on “niceness.” She then says, “I mean this is an issue in public discourse. We end up asking like, is Israel ‘nicer’ than Palestine.”

Rooney is not the first prominent author to refuse to publish a book in Hebrew. In 2012, Alice Walker, who also supports the movement to boycott Israel, would not allow “The Color Purple” to be translated into Hebrew.”

Ireland has a history of pro-Palestinian sentiment, owing to what many Irish citizens see as a cultural link to their struggles against the British. This summer, the country passed a motion condemning “de facto annexation” of Palestinian land. In 2018, Dublin’s city council passed resolutions endorsing a boycott of Israel and calling for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador to Ireland.

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Jewish teacher accused of forcibly removing a student’s hijab at NJ school

Mon, 2021-10-11 16:24

(JTA) — A Jewish teacher at a New Jersey public school was accused of pulling a hijab off of a 7-year-old girl.

The teacher, who was named in social media posts as Tamar Herman, allegedly told the girl, who is Muslim, to take off her hijab in front of her class at the Seth Boyden Elementary school in Maplewood. When the girl refused, the teacher allegedly removed the hijab herself, according to an account provided to local media by a lawyer for the girl’s family.

Herman has also taught at Congregation Oheb Shalom, a Conservative synagogue in South Orange, New Jersey.

A lawyer representing Herman disputed the account provided by the girl’s lawyer, saying Herman asked the student, who was wearing a hooded sweatshirt, to take off her hood because it was blocking her eyes. When Herman realized the student was wearing the hood as a hijab, the lawyer said, she told the student she did not need to remove it.

The South Orange-Maplewood school district said it is investigating the matter in a statement issued Thursday. The school district did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations condemned the teacher’s actions and called for her removal.

“Forcefully stripping off the religious headscarf of a Muslim girl is not only exceptionally disrespectful behavior, but also a humiliating and traumatic experience,” they wrote in a series of tweets.

The South Orange-Maplewood school district has seen instances of antisemitism and racism in recent years, with racist graffiti found in bathrooms and reports of students chanting Hitler’s name, all within a few weeks in 2017.

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How Meir Kahane’s ideas entered the Jewish mainstream

Mon, 2021-10-11 15:49

Editor’s note: Before working for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s sister site Alma, Emily Burack worked for a year on “Meir Kahane: The Public Life and Political Thought of an American Jewish Radical” as author Shaul Magid’s research assistant. She wrote her undergraduate thesis, cited in Magid’s book, on the emergence of the Jewish Defense League.

(JTA) — Meir Kahane is the “Jew whom Jews would like to forget.”

Yet, as Shaul Magid writes in “Meir Kahane: The Public Life and Political Thought of an American Jewish Radical” (Princeton University Press), his new cultural biography of the controversial Jewish figure, Kahane keeps coming back to haunt us.

Born in Brooklyn in 1932, Kahane was elected to the Israeli Knesset, or parliament, in 1984 on an extremist platform calling for Arabs to be expelled from Israel, among other ideas. In 1986, under a new “anti-racism law,” he was barred from running for re-election. In 1990, he would be assassinated by an Egyptian American in New York City. In today’s Knesset, the Kahanist party Otzma Yehudit (literally, Jewish Power) has one seat. 

But in 1968, before his time in Israel, he founded the militant Jewish Defense League. Focused on Jewish pride, Kahane called for “every Jew a .22” and popularized the slogan “Never Again.” He spoke out against intermarriage, believed a second Holocaust was inevitable and that antisemitism was a pervasive threat on the left and right, accusing less confrontational Jews of lacking Jewish pride.

Although his militant and violent tactics alienated the Jewish mainstream, he was a key figure in publicizing the fight to free Soviet Jewry. Ultimately he pivoted to what Magid describes as “militant post-Zionist apocalyptism.”

Magid’s book tells the story of Kahane’s radicalism — from his critique of liberalism through his ever-changing Zionism.

“He became demonized because of his tactics, and because of his violence and his racism. But the worldview has really dug some pretty deep roots,” Magid said. In “Meir Kahane,” he sets out to unpack how that worldview lingers today, and he spoke with JTA about the project.

This conversation has been lightly condensed and edited for clarity.

JTA: To begin, you write about how Meir Kahane’s ideas, and much of what he promoted in America, have entered our mainstream discourse, like that antisemitism is pervasive everywhere, or his, as you write, “assertive expression” of Jewish identity. As someone who studies Kahane, what is it like to see his ideas enter the mainstream?

SM: You have to make a sharp distinction between his worldview and his tactics. His militancy was very much a product of his time. He was living at a time of the Black Panthers, the Young Lords, the SDS [Students for a Democratic Society], the Weather Underground; the idea of radical militancy and violence was very much a part of what was happening in America at the time. That, of course, has fallen away, in most cases. 

If you take that [militancy] away, it’s not that Kahane disappears, but what you actually have is a much more well-defined worldview that has really made its way into the subconscious of American Jewry: perennial antisemitism, antisemitism on the left is worse than antisemitism on the right, anti-Zionism is antisemitism. What we call now “Jewish continuity,” Kahane just called “Jewish survival.” The idea of Jewish pride: How do you actually create an environment where Jews can be proud to be Jews in an unashamed way? Questions of intermarriage — Kahane wrote a book about intermarriage in 1974 when nobody was talking about intermarriage. He saw into the future a bit on some of these questions. 

Shaul Magid (Courtesy of Magid)

In your book, you emphasize that Kahane was a quintessentially American figure. Much of previous scholarship on him focused on his time in Israel, and looked back on his time in America through that lens, but you argue we need to reverse that — understanding him in America is key to understanding him in Israel. 

He fails in Israel because he’s bringing American categories and an American way of seeing society to an Israeli society which is very different. It’s more complex in all kinds of ways. First of all, in Israel, the Jews are the majority, not the minority, and that itself changes things. [Second,] he couldn’t re-conceptualize the complexity of race in Israel from the much more straightforward understanding of Black and white in America. As a result of that, he succeeds initially — he is elected to the Knesset — but ultimately the country rejects him. 

Yet in both places, Kahane used racist language to further his base and make a name for himself.

Kahane uses race in very interesting ways. I don’t necessarily think that they were all worked out in his head. He saw race as a pivotal issue in America in the 1960s. He was very, very impressed by the Black nationalism of Black Panthers, and he saw the way in which they were able to cultivate a reaction to the racism that they were confronted with in ways that help produce their own sense of identity. And he tried to do the same thing, I think, with Jews. He didn’t call Jews a race because Jews didn’t call themselves a race at that point anymore, but he certainly saw race as an important issue. 

In Israel, it’s actually pretty different, because race is a much more complicated story there. Ultimately, the conflict between the Jews and the Arabs is not really a racial conflict the way the conflict between whites and Blacks was in America. A lot of people say, oh, race is not really an issue in Israel, it’s really about dual nationalisms, or whatever. I think that’s also wrong. I think religion is very much at play, and obviously, national identities are very much at play, and I think race is at play, too.

In terms of Kahane’s language of Jewish power and Jewish pride, why is that not as successful in Israel?  

Because you have Israeliness. Jews can be proud of being Israeli; they can be proud of being Jews; they can be proud of being religious Jews; and it’s the majority culture. So you don’t need to cultivate that identity of pride in the same way that you do when Jews are a minority. Israel is facing antisemitism in a very different way than American Jews are. Israel is facing antisemitism as a collective, perhaps, but not necessarily as individuals. Whereas in America, Jews are facing antisemitism as individuals.

It’s different to talk about Jewish power in America than talking about Jewish power in Israel, where actually Jews are the power. They have the power, they have the military, they have the police. I mean, the structure of the society is about Jewish power.

In the chapter on Zionism, you write about how he’s saying Israel can’t be both a Jewish state and a democracy, which was, correct me if I’m wrong, controversial to say back then. But we hear that all the time now.

It was controversial back then, but only for people in the center and on the right. People on the Israeli left were saying Israel can’t be a democracy and a Jewish state from early on. You had groups like Matzpen that were basically anti-Zionist precisely because of that: They wanted a democratic state, not a Jewish state. Kahane was saying it as a Zionist; he calls Israel schizophrenic in his 1986 book “Uncomfortable Questions for Comfortable Jews.” [For Kahane,] it just doesn’t work, so you have to choose: You want to have a Jewish state, or you want a democratic state. 

This also has to do with Kahane’s Americanism. For him, there was only one kind of democracy: the American style of liberal democracy. That was it. If you live in a democracy, then everybody that lives in that democracy has to be treated equally. So later, when the Jewish and democratic equation started to become more complicated, people came up with other theories, like “ethnic democracies.” Kahane’s line is like, “No, no, no. There’s no Jewish democracy or Arab democracy, there’s just democracy or no democracy.”

Do you see this idea taking hold today more prominently?

Oh, sure. We’re basically living on the verge of a post-two state Israel, where the Palestinians are not going to be given a state, where they’re not going to be citizens, and they’re going to be ruled over by Israel. If this is being done in order to ensure a Jewish state, what Kahane would say is, “okay, so that’s not a democracy anymore.” And a lot of people are saying that. If the Jews today are being confronted with a Jewish state or a democratic state, more and more are leaning toward a Jewish state.

Which is what Kahane would’ve wanted… 

Well, he would’ve wanted it, but not in that way. Kahane basically gives up Zionism at some point, he realizes that it’s just a failed liberal project of “Hebrew-speaking goyim,” or “Jewish Hellenism,” or all these things that he called it. In other words, for him, Zionism failed. It failed to produce a true Jewish state.

“Meir Kahane: The Public Life and Political Thought of an American Jewish Radical” tells the story of Kahane’s radicalism — from his critique of liberalism through his ever-changing Zionism. (Princeton University Press)

There has been a lot of consternation about Itamar Ben-Gvir, a disciple of Kahane, entering the Knesset. What do you think his election says about Israeli society, and how does his being in Knesset compare to Kahane himself being in Knesset in the 1980s?

Ben-Gvir, and [former Knesset member] Bezalel Smotrich in a different way, and a number of other Israeli parliamentarians somehow identify with Kahane. I think they’re really better understood as neo-Kahanists. Meaning, they come from the religious national educational system, the system of Rav [Abraham Isaac] Kook, [the first Ashkenazic chief rabbi of what was then Palestine], and there’s a certain kind of theological romanticism that underlies their thinking. 

They’re not like [Israeli far-right politician] Baruch Marzel, a real Kahanist: For him, it doesn’t matter what the rest of the world thinks. He’s a leftover version of Kahane — which is, “we’re really talking about power and conquest. We don’t have to make excuses. We don’t have to say, oh, we’re doing this because of security reasons. We’re doing this because God gave the Land of Israel to the Jews. And that’s what we’re living out.” In a way, the neo-Kahanists are always trying to kind of construct a Kahanist vision that contains a certain kind of normalization apologetics that Kahane just didn’t have. Because ultimately, Ben-Gvir believes in the secular state. Kahane didn’t believe in the secular state.

What do you think of Kahane’s legacy in the American Jewish community today, in terms of what it means to be a Jew in America, a proud Jew in America?

One of the things that’s happening in American Jewry today is all of this discussion about defining antisemitism. American Jews are feeling newly unsure whether America can ultimately protect them. That brings us back to what Kahane was feeling in the 1960s and 1970s: America has been better to the Jews than any other country in Jewish history, but antisemitism will always rise to the surface, and that Jews could never feel comfortable there. He’s giving up on American Jewry, saying that, as long as America remains a liberal society, it will ultimately not protect the Jews. Not that the Jews are going to feel physically endangered, but they’re also going to feel spiritually endangered because they will be asked to give up their own sense of Jewish identity. 

Kahane was speaking before the rise of multiculturalism, and multiculturalism may have changed that. He was living in an America where assimilation into Americanness meant a diminishing of one’s particular identity. Multiculturalism creates a different cultural model where difference is celebrated, rather than only tolerated. What Kahane felt was the danger of the American embrace of the Jew in the 1960s and ’70s. In the 1990s and the 2000s, through multiculturalism, I don’t think that’s necessarily as true anymore. We can talk about the rise of Orthodoxy in the 1980s and 1990s. Why does Orthodoxy come back into fashion? In large part it’s really riding the wave of multiculturalism — it has nothing to do with Orthodoxy per se.

You speak about how he predicted a lot of the issues that the American Jewish community are struggling with today, but he kept making the same mistake over and over again. Where do you view him failing in his tactics?

Violence, that’s number one. Second of all, he always went too far, he always overextended. And [third,] he had this maniacal desire for power, his own personal power, that ultimately undermined it. 

What’s an example of Kahane undermining himself?

I don’t think Kahane knew about the Sol Hurok bombing. [The Jewish Defense League, opposed to Soviet artists performing in the United States, bombed theater impresario Sol Hurok’s offices in January 1972, killing a young Jewish woman, Iris Kones.] I don’t think he knew what was going to happen. I think that he had lost control of the JDL by them. I think that he was horrified by it, but I think that he set something in motion, and at some point, you can’t necessarily control what’s going to happen and you still have to take the responsibility for it. After Sol Hurok, it all basically just started to collapse. The irony is that wasn’t even his fault. He wasn’t even there, and he probably didn’t even know it was going to happen.

And yet, he goes back and defends the guys who did it. 

He goes back and he stays in America longer than he was planning to because he wanted to defend them. He tried to do damage control, but that was not an operation that he gave the green light to. I think the JDL was functioning without him by that point. Once you get to 1973, 1974, the JDL was dysfunctional; it had lost the vision that Kahane had for it.

While we’re talking about violence, I’d be remiss not to bring up the Baruch Goldstein massacre in Hebron. Goldstein, an American Israeli physician and onetime JDL member, perpetrated the 1994 Cave of the Patriarchs massacre, killing 29 Muslim worshippers and wounding 125, before he was beaten to death by survivors. Do you view the massacre as directly part of Kahane’s legacy in Israel?

Definitely, definitely. In Kiryat Arba, which is the Jewish city buttressing Hebron, there’s a place called Kahane Park.

And Goldstein’s buried there, right?

Exactly. It’s certainly part of that.

One of the other things I hope is that [the book] sparks a much more nuanced conversation about Judaism and violence. And not this kind of “Judaism is nonviolent.” No, Judaism is not nonviolent. Because no religion is really nonviolent.

He was constantly discussing examples of Jewish violence and revenge. You see that early in “Never Again” and the JDL, and you see that in “The Jewish Idea,” and his very militant vision of Judaism.

The two things [he cites]: one is Moses smiting the Egyptian [in Exodus 2:12], the other is the midrash about Abraham destroying the idols in his father’s idol shop. He’s basically saying Jews misunderstand violence. Kahane thinks that this whole “Jews are against violence” is a product of centuries of Diaspora living where Jews are just trying to survive the violence that’s happening to them. For Kahane, the true tradition of Jewish history is really one of violence and militancy and rebellion.

“Never Again” was one of the very first books he wrote, and we’ve really seen the phrase “never again” become popular today. It’s something I think about a lot, how this was the slogan of the JDL, the name of his book, he was talking about a second Holocaust in way that I’m not sure others were. How do you understand Kahane’s vision of “Never Again” resonating today?

“Never Again” sold 100,000 copies in the first year; none of his other books were that successful. It touched a nerve of a certain kind of anxiety, and also a certain kind of assertiveness that children of Holocaust survivors and first generation American Jews — who had been affected by the counterculture, and had become alienated from the New Left after 1967 — he basically allowed them to become radicalized as Jews.  

The problem with Kahane is that people love him and people hate him, but nobody actually reads him. It would be interesting to do a reading of “Never Again” among a group of liberal American Jews, because of the way he makes fun of the American bar mitzvah, the way he makes fun of the opulence of Great Neck and Scarsdale. His critique of classism, his critique of Jews abandoning elderly Jews in Bed Stuy and Crown Heights — I mean, in a certain way, if you read that book, without the rest of the history of Kahane, I think it still resonates in some way.

We didn’t even touch on Soviet Jewry at all, but you talk about how he brings Judaism and ritual into protest. I feel like that is the cornerstone of American Jewish leftist protest movements today.

Totally! I dedicated the book to my friend Aryeh Cohen, who’s a progressive leftist social activist, and yet was part of the JDL when he was young. I’ve said to him, “Aryeh, you don’t understand ‘the take Judaism to the streets’ that you’re engaged in while protesting for migrant workers and others. Where do you think you got that?” And he kind of laughs, he doesn’t really think that. But it’s true. Basically, Kahane was saying Judaism does not belong in the synagogue, Judaism belongs in the streets, it belongs in protests. 

When people read “Meir Kahane,” whether they know him or don’t know him, what do you hope they take away from the book?

Certainly within academic circles, we missed something very important in the telling of the story of 20th-century Jewry. [Brandeis University historian] Jonathan Sarna’s “American Judaism” has no mention of Kahane. That was not by accident, that was an intentional erasure. That’s the first thing: We can’t ignore this person. Whether it’s like including him in syllabi, teaching him in courses, whatever it is.

For a more general audience, this is a figure who is incredibly important in terms of the cultivation of Jewish identity among Jews in America and in Israel after the Second World War. I hope that people start to read him critically, as part of the story and to say, “oh, how much of this has seeped in?”

Join JTA’s partner site My Jewish Learning for a Zoom book talk with Shaul Magid about his new book “Meir Kahane: The Public Life and Political Thought of an American Jewish Radical” on Oct. 13th at 4 p.m. ET. Magid will speak about this cultural biography of one of the most demonized yet influential figures in postwar Jewry, in both America and Israel. Click here to register.

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First Jewish wedding held in Bahrain in 52 years

Mon, 2021-10-11 15:01

(JTA) — For the first time in more than half a century, a Jewish couple was married in Bahrain on Sunday.

The wedding, which was held at the Ritz Carlton in Manama and certified kosher with help from the Orthodox Union, was a milestone for the Jewish community in the Gulf nation, which opened diplomatic relations with Israel in 2020 and has recently made an effort to build a relationship with the American Jewish community.

Houda Nonoo, Bahrain’s former ambassador to the United States and the first Jewish Bahraini to hold the position of ambassador, shared the news of her son’s wedding on Twitter.

“While I know that every mother thinks their child’s wedding is monumental, this one truly was!” she wrote in a tweet.

Bahrain has been home to a Jewish community for more than 140 years, but many of its younger members have chosen to leave the country to study, often remaining abroad permanently. Leaders of the community hailed the wedding as a sign of the community’s resurgence and expressed hope that more young people would raise families there.

“This wedding was an important moment for our family, the community here in Bahrain, and more broadly, for the Jewish community in the region,” Ebrahim Dawood Nonoo, a cousin of Nonoo and president of the Association of Gulf Jewish Communities, said in a statement. “The atmosphere was euphoric as we sat around the Chuppah (Jewish wedding canopy) which symbolizes the new home being built by the couple, it was also symbolic of the opportunity to further grow Jewish life in the region.”

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Riverdale man indicted for synagogue attacks • The New Yorker’s circumcision salvo • Israeli-American wins economics Nobel

Mon, 2021-10-11 13:01

Good Monday morning, New York. Join the Jewish Week and UJA-Federation tonight, 6:00 p.m. ET, for a conversation with writer Dara Horn — author of the new essay collection, “People Love Dead Jews: Reports From a Haunted Present” — and Abraham Foxman, national director emeritus of the Anti-Defamation League. They’ll discuss Jewish memory, history, identity and antisemitism. Register here.

INDICTED: A grand jury Friday indicted a 30-year-old man on 76 counts of criminal mischief and hate crimes for a vandalism spree that targeted four synagogues in Riverdale in April. (Riverdale Press)

  • Jordan Burnette, himself of Riverdale, is not due back in court until next January.

SOMETHING NEW: Novelist Gary Shteyngart’s New Yorker article about his botched circumcision offers something new in the debate over the practice: a non-polemical personal account that raises uncomfortable questions for rabbis and mohels.

CALL COMFORT: New Yorker Rita Plush lost her son to a terrible illness, but found solace in her weekly phone chats with a homebound elderly woman. (Kveller)

  • The calls with the 93-year-old were arranged by the Queens Community House. “Stepping outside my own life into Sara’s has somehow filled part of that space my son once occupied,” Plush writes.

LOOT: Reviews are split over the new exhibit at Manhattan’s Jewish Museum, “Afterlives: Recovering the Lost Stories of Looted Art.”

  • The Guardian calls the show, featuring masterworks recovered from the Nazis, “remarkable”: “Rarely does one walk away from a gallery with a spinning head, thinking of the life led by the paintings, drawings and objects themselves,” writes Jordan Hoffman.
  • But a New York Times reviewer called it “imprecise about its subject, and sometimes outright careless about the Jewish lives it supposedly reintroduces.”
  • Your Jewish Week correspondent found the exhibit moving and informative, but wished it revealed more about the bitter legal fights waged by museums and auction houses over restituting  looted artworks to their rightful owners.



“Golden Voices,” an Israeli comedy about Russian film dubbers at sea in their new country, is showing this week at Quad Cinemas in Greenwich Village.

  • Andrew Lapin calls it “a unique immigrant story that taps into a rich vein of dramatic potential.” (JTA)


Join My Jewish Learning for a siyyum, or celebration, for those completing Tractate Beitzah in the daily Daf Yomi Talmud study cycle. Led by Rabbi Asher Lopatin, Rabbanit Dasi Fruchter and Rabbi Avi Strausberg. 2:00 p.m.

Diving into scholarship from her most recent book, “The Vanishing: Faith, Loss, and the Twilight of Christianity in the Land of the Prophets,” journalist Janine di Giovanni discusses the plight and possible extinction of Christian communities across Syria, Egypt, Iraq, and Palestine after 2,000 years of inhabiting these lands. $20. Buy tickets here for this 92Y event. 7:00 p.m.

Photo, top: “Afterlives: Recovering the Lost Stories of Looted Art,” an exhibition about art and cultural property stolen by the Nazi, runs at the Jewish Museum through Jan. 9, 2022. (Jewish Week)

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Despairing of physical preservation, a Jewish exile from Libya sets up virtual cemeteries

Mon, 2021-10-11 13:00

(JTA) — During a visit to his native Libya in 2002, David Gerbi saw something that he says still haunts him almost 20 years later.

“I was horrified to see children playing atop the ruins of the Tripoli Jewish cemetery, scampering about debris littered with human remains,” Gerbi, who left Libya many years ago for Italy, told the Behdrei Haredim news site in Israel last week.

The experience turned Gerbi into an advocate for what are known as heritage sites in his old community. But over the years, his efforts to preserve or restore communal Jewish sites in war-torn Libya, where no Jews remain, came to naught.

So Gerbi began to consider alternatives. And now, the a psychologist who lives in Rome has announced a new effort to set up a virtual cemetery to replace each of the physical Jewish ones that have been devastated in his country of birth.

“Especially in Tripoli and Benghazi, the Jewish cemeteries were obliterated,” he told the news site. “So I decided to make a virtual cemetery for our loved ones buried in Libya.”

The virtual cemeteries will have sections for prominent rabbis and commemorative pages for victims of the Holocaust — hundreds of Libyan Jews died in concentration camps operated by Nazi-allied Italy — as well as other pages recalling the victims of three waves of pogroms, in 1945, 1948 and 1967, he said.

Users of the website will be able to virtually light memorial candles and dedicate Kaddish mourning prayers through the website interface, he said. “It will be a way to remember the dead of a community gone extinct,” Gerbi said.

A high-rise building stands on what used to be the Jewish cemetery of Tripoli, Libya in 2007. (David Gerbi)

The initiative is a collaboration ANU: The Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv, which seeks to document the experiences of Jews around the globe and over time. Together, they’re asking people with information about Jews buried in Libya to reach out.

Their effort is in line with other initiatives that aim to rebuild extinct Jewish communities online because their former homes are so inhospitable to restoration efforts, such as Diarna, a massive website that allows users to explore the cities in North Africa and the Middle East where Jews used to live.

Gerbi’s effort is narrower, focusing exclusively on the cemeteries of Libya, where, during World War II, 40,000 Jews lived in communities with a centuries-long history.

The Holocaust and the antisemitic policies of the independent Libyan government that followed, as well as hostility toward Jews by the local population, drove all of them out. By 2004, Libya did not have a single Jew residing in it, according to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum.

Gerbi’s family was part of that migration. They fled Libya in 1967 when he was 12 years old, making them among the last Jews to leave the country. By 1969, the country had only 100 Jews.

The decades that followed, under the iron-fisted rule of dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi,  offered few opportunities for preservation. But the central government collapsed after he was overthrown and executed in 2011, and the last decade has been marked by intermittent fighting among clans and militias with competing claims to leadership.

While those conditions have been harsh for Libyans, Gerbi said he hopes the shakeup could eventually give rise to a government that would be willing to address the country’s Jewish history and possibly normalize relations with Israel, as other Arab nations in the region have done in the last year. But he knows that could take many years, and he has essentially given up hope of having officials facilitate physical restoration work in the near future, Gerbi told Behadrei Haredim.

And the situation of those sites was poor even before Libya erupted into civil war, he said.

A picture shows the abandoned Dar Bishi synagogue in the Libyan capital Tripoli on September 28, 2011. (Joseph Eid/AFP via Getty Images)

It’s been 19 years since his visit to Tripoli’s Jewish cemetery but “the gruesome sights and chilling images I saw won’t let go of me,” he said. In 2007, Gerbi visited the site again, he said, “and I was shocked to discover that even the debris had been cleared out. They built a highway on the ruins of the Jewish cemetery and high-rise buildings. There’s isn’t a shred left.”

In Benghazi, Gerbi saw a warehouse full of boxes with human remains stuffed into them haphazardly. They had been collected from another Jewish cemetery before it was destroyed, he said.

Old synagogues are also at risk, said Gerbi, a prominent member of the World Organization of the Jews of Libya, which promotes the interests of people whose families have roots in Libya.

Earlier this year, he told Italian media that an abandoned and ancient synagogue in Tripoli is being turned into an Islamic religious center without permission.

The Sla Dar Bishi in Tripoli is in the hands of the local authorities (read: militias) since there is now no Jew living in Tripoli,” he told Moked, the Italian Jewish news site.

“It was decided to violate our property and our history,” he wrote. “The plan clearly is to take advantage of the chaos and our absence.”

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Israeli-American economist Joshua Angrist wins Nobel Prize for research on causal relationships

Mon, 2021-10-11 11:10

(JTA) — A professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with dual Israeli-American citizenship was named one of three winners of the 2021 Nobel Prize in Economics.

Joshua Angrist was named a winner alongside University of California, Berkeley professor David Card and Stanford University professor Guido W. Imbens. Angrist and Imbens were recognized for their research on cause and effect while Card was recognized for his work on labor economics.

Born in Columbus, Ohio, Angrist earned his master’s degree and doctorate from Princeton. Angrist taught at Hebrew University from 1991-1996 before becoming a professor in the economics department at MIT. He has written several papers about labor conditions in Gaza and the West Bank and served as a member of Israel’s Finance Ministry Working Group on Israeli-Palestinian Labor Market Relations in 1994.

Angrist and Imbens were awarded the Nobel Prize “for their methodological contributions to the analysis of causal relationships,” according to the selection committee.

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Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield say decision to stop selling ice cream in West Bank is not a boycott of Israel

Mon, 2021-10-11 07:40

(JTA) — For Jerry Greenfield, being accused of antisemitism is “painful.” For Ben Cohen, it’s “absurd.” But both of the founders of the famed ice cream brand stand behind the decision to stop selling their products in the West Bank.

“I think Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever are being characterized as boycotting Israel, which is not the case at all. It’s not boycotting Israel in any way,” Greenfield said.

The legendary duo founded their eponymous ice cream company in 1978 and, though no longer owners, remained involved in the company. They spoke about the fallout of the decision to stop selling ice cream in the West Bank in an interview with Axios that was released Sunday night.

“I think it’s fine to be involved with a country, to be a citizen of a country and to protest some of the country’s actions. And that’s essentially what we’re doing in terms of Israel. We hugely support Israel’s right to exist, but we are against a particular policy,” Cohen said of the decision.

The company announced its decision to stop selling its ice cream in “Occupied Palestinian Territory” in July after the latest round of tensions between Israel and Hamas in May. The decision followed months of pressure on the company, which has long been engaged in social issues, from pro-Palestinian activists.

“We believe it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” the company said in a statement in July. “We also hear and recognize the concerns shared with us by our fans and trusted partners.”

The decision to stop selling its ice cream in the West Bank prompted calls to boycott Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever, the conglomerate that owns it. The state of Arizona divested nearly $200 million from Unilever in September and several other states have reviewed their investments in Unilever in light of the company’s decision regarding the West Bank.

In their interview with Axios, Greenfield and Cohen said the decision to halt sales in the West Bank did not constitute a boycott. Unilever has also said that Ben & Jerry’s is not boycotting Israel, and that it plans to keep selling within Israel’s 1967 borders. Whether that is actually possible is unclear in light of and Israeli law that bans boycotts of the West Bank.

When asked why the company continued to sell its ice cream in states with policies that were not in line with the founders’ values like Texas, where access to abortion is limited, and Georgia, where voting rights have been curtailed, Cohen did not have an answer.

“I don’t know. I mean it’s an interesting question, I don’t know what that would accomplish, we’re working on those issues of voting rights and…I don’t know. I think you ask a really good question, and I think I’d have to sit down and think about it for a bit,” Cohen said.

Greenfield suggested that the answer had to do with international law. “One thing that’s different is that what Israel is doing is considered illegal by international law, so I think that’s a consideration,” Greenfield said.

When asked how it felt to be “wrapped up in accusations of antisemitism,” the men were more sure of their answers.

“Totally fine,” Cohen said, laughing at the very idea. “It’s absurd. What, I’m anti-Jewish? I’m a Jew! All my family is Jewish, my friends are Jewish,”

“I understand people being upset, it’s a very emotional issue for a lot of people and I totally understand it and it’s a very painful issue for a lot of people,” Greenfield said.

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Leading mayoral candidate in Rome apologizes for Holocaust comments decried as antisemitic

Mon, 2021-10-11 04:01

(JTA) — A leading candidate for mayor in Rome has apologized to the Jewish community over an article he wrote last year in which he suggested that victims of mass murders other than the Holocaust gain less attention because they “didn’t own banks.”

Jewish community leaders and others had decried the comments by Enrico Michetti, a radio host who is the center-right coalition’s candidate in the Oct. 17 and 18 mayoral election. He received more than 30% of votes in the election’s first round earlier this month, more than any other candidate.

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

Among the answers he offered: “Perhaps because they did not own banks, perhaps because they did not belong to lobbies capable of deciding the destinies of the planet.”

The comments, which were first identified and shared this week by Il Manifesto, a left-wing newspaper, echo the antisemitic trope that Jews control world financial systems. Jewish leaders were quick to condemn Michetti.

“The thought that our city institutions may be led by people whose thinking is imbued with prejudice makes us tremble,” said Noemi Di Segni, the president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities. “The culture of dialogue and the education on the memory of what fascism was are key points also at the basis of people’s electoral choices.”

The president of the Jewish community of Rome, Ruth Durughello, sent a tweet to condemn the mayoral candidate’s words: “When we ask to remember the Shoah, we don’t do it for us Jews, we do it because the Shoah is the paradigm of evil, and evil must be fought without any sort of ambiguity.”

“Michetti’s words,” Durughello continued, “are dangerous and hide a disturbing prejudice.”

Michetti did not immediately apologize for or comment on his Holocaust comments, although he did tell reporters at a campaign stop in Rome that he opposed antisemitism.

“The Shoah was unique in its inhumanity, it was the lowest point in history,” Michetti said. “We need the utmost alertness and unity of all against all forms of antisemitism.”

On Sunday, he went further. “I sincerely apologize for hurting the feelings of the Jewish community, which, like all Italians, I appreciate,” Michetti said, according to La Repubblica, an Italian newspaper.

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