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I’m a proud British Jew troubled by Corbyn’s anti-Semitism problem — but I’m still voting for Labour

Thu, 2019-12-05 15:44

LONDON, England (JTA) — I am a secular Jew and a lifelong British Labour Party voter — two allegiances that once intersected very comfortably. 

As so many of us do, I inherited my politics. Every time Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher was reelected, my mother and her friends held a full wake. I remember the moaning and the drinking, as if someone had actually died. 

She herself is no longer alive, so I cannot ask what she thinks of Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, or of the accusations of anti-Semitism leveled at him and so many of his cohort.

Suddenly, so many things that once were simple seem impossibly complicated. Brexit, the British push to leave the European Union, will deprive me of my right to live and work across the English Channel. I must choose, it seems, between being British and being European, when I thought I had the right to be both. 

Labour might just prevent Brexit. Yet here, too, I’m obliged to decide where my loyalties lie. Jews putting their Jewishness before allegiance to country is an anti-Semitic stereotype. And yet — how can I support an anti-Semite?

I did not realize these essential aspects of my identity could be separated from one another. I am still not sure that they can be, without me breaking apart. 

*

The Conservative Party has its own problems with racism: recently, Parvez Akhtar, the Conservative candidate for Luton South, called for Johnson to apologize for Islamophobic comments he has made in his newspaper columns. Johnson has also grossly insulted Africans and denigrated vulnerable groups, from single mothers to survivors of childhood sex abuse. To ignore all this just because he hasn’t made any comments disparaging Jews seems unwise, even dangerous.

But anti-Semitic or racist comments by individual lawmakers aside, the U.K.’s current push to quit the European Union is an act of monumental self-harm: We would quit our biggest trading partner, the European Union, and give up our part in a project that was designed to prevent another war in Europe — and has mostly succeeded. 

Like an earthquake, Brexit has exposed the weaknesses and fractures the once-mighty British nation has desperately been trying to disguise. The fatal nostalgia for a former empire and the festering belief that we alone won the war, a plucky little nation overcoming the Nazi juggernaut. The ghastly failure of industry that has destroyed communities and fostered fear and insularity, while ineffectual or indifferent governments looked on. These malign forces are never kind to Jews. 

If we follow through with Brexit, we will almost certainly disunite the United Kingdom: Scotland, which voted 62 percent to remain, now wants another referendum on independence. Northern Ireland, which was also majority remainers, may end up quitting the U.K. and forming a united Ireland if our prime minister, Boris Johnson, gets to follow through on his current stated intention to create trade barriers between there and the mainland. 

Brexit is an act of harm to Britain’s Jews, too, because the best answer to racism is always solidarity. A peaceful Europe, trading and talking, is a Europe where the Holocaust could never happen again. I believe that as fervently as my forebears believed in the Torah. 

So, what to do? The accusations leveled at Corbyn are not mere politicking. The Equality and Human Rights Commission is investigating the allegations of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. The only other party that has been investigated in this way by the EHRC was the far-right British National Party. 

If you take the far right out of the picture — and how I wish I could — I suspect that most of the people who voted for Brexit have done so because they lack the tools to assess the misinformation fed to them by dishonest politicians, disaster capitalists and meddling Russians

They believe that a return to past isolation from Europe will be a return to solitary splendor. The splendor was real enough, but the solitude is a myth. Britain grew rich on the back of its colonies, and won two world wars with the help of those colonies — among other allies, including the United States. 

And so we come full circle. The people whose countries we conquered were mistreated then and their descendants, those who came here to make a better life for themselves, are mistreated now, while more recent arrivals are feared as criminals and job-takers by white Britons fed a bitter narrative of anti-immigrant rhetoric. A kingdom rips itself to pieces in its attempt to return to a prelapsarian self-sufficiency that never actually existed. 

*

Can Corbyn prevent all this? He is not a Remainer. He is what’s called a Lexiter, a left-wing pro-Brexiter: He believes in a socialist Britain that can only become a reality when we wrest ourselves from the global capitalist project that the EU represents. But, as the only possible prime minister other than Johnson, he is our best hope. 

He has, at least, promised a second referendum on whether Britain should leave the EU, and unlike Johnson, who lies as easily as he breathes and has been fired from jobs in politics and in journalism for untruthfulness, Corbyn will probably fulfill that promise. 

So, the vital question for a Remainer British Jew, however secular: Is Corbyn actually an anti-Semite?

I don’t know. He is a champion of the Palestinians, which is fine by me: I hold anti-Israel sentiment to be very separate from anti-Jewish sentiment. But has Corbyn’s hatred for Israel spilled over onto the whole of world Jewry? It’s very possible.

He has said that Zionists “don’t understand English irony” — a highly provocative statement, even if he denies that by “Zionists” he meant “all Jews.” I am not a Zionist, but if I were, sorry Jeremy, I would still be as English as you are. 

In 2012, Corbyn sent a supportive message to Mear One, the creator of a mural featuring a hook-nosed man counting money. He later apologized, claiming he had not looked at it properly.

In a front-page editorial, the Jewish Chronicle newspaper stated that a vote for Labour is a vote to discount the fears of British Jewry. A few days later, the Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis echoed those sentiments in a front-page piece in The Times, saying Britain’s Jews are afraid of the consequences of a Corbyn government.

These are not the voices that a secular Jew listens to. There are still staunch Jews within the Labour Party, and very many righteous Labour MPs who want no part in this sleaze. But there are also Jewish MPs who have quit the party entirely, citing racist abuse.  

But in the end, I’d rather fight Labour’s anti-Semitism from within Britain and within Europe. While some Labour leaders are keen to leave, the Conservatives are slavering to take us out, with or without a post-Brexit deal.

So I cling to my hope for a Labour government that will hold a second referendum so that we can, freely and fairly, change this nation’s course. 

The Brexiters and I both want to go back in time. But I want to travel to pre-2016, when the Brexit referendum took place, not pre-1945, when the Holocaust did. In the end, I will swallow my bile and vote for Labour — because even a tarnished hope is better than none. 

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London police release images of teens who attacked visiting rabbi

Thu, 2019-12-05 14:58

(JTA) — London police have released images from a video of an attack on a rabbi.

The images, taken from a security camera recording of the Nov. 30 incident, show two teens wearing black jackets with hoods over their heads, The Guardian reported Wednesday.

The two teens allegedly shouted “dirty Jews” and “f*** Jews” as they beat the rabbi. The victim was knocked to the ground and left dazed and bleeding, according to reports.

The unnamed rabbi, said to be a rabbinical court judge, was on a visit from Israel for a family wedding when he was attacked. He returned home the next day without speaking to police.

Metropolitan Police took a statement from the rabbi, 54, after he returned to Israel, according to The Guardian.

A woman reportedly intervened to stop the attack, but police have not been able to identify her, according to the report.

Vicious #HateCrime #AntiSemitism on Fri night 9.45pm, Heinous, sustained assualt on a senior Rabbi, #APPEAL for info, if you can identify these suspect's please contact @Shomrim & @MetCC cad 6332 30/11/19 @MPSHackney pic.twitter.com/nQ3bQIt1TH

— Shomrim (Stamford Hill) (@Shomrim) December 4, 2019

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Norway’s ruling coalition wants to freeze aid to Palestinians over incitement

Thu, 2019-12-05 14:04

(JTA) — Parliament members in  Norway, one of the world’s main donors to the Palestinian Authority, demanded these contributions be suspended over incitement in school textbooks.

Members of the ruling coalition said in a statement Thursday that it is instructing the government to “reduce or withhold financial support to the Palestinian Authority if they do not provide satisfactory improvements in school materials” soon.

The instruction is not legally binding but politically difficult to ignore for Norway’s center-right government under Prime Minister Erna Solberg.

If implemented, it spells a loss of $24 million in funding for the Palestinian Authority, according to a statement on the move by the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education.

The coalition’s statement cites a recent review by the Institute of textbooks being used in Palestinian Authority schools.

“Examples of content in the school books include references to violence, martyrdom and terror. The coalition considers this to be devastating to the peace process and the development of democracy in the region, as well as being an expression of irresponsible pedagogy, and finds it unacceptable that Norwegian funds support a school system that promotes such destructive values,” the statement read.

Last month, the Dutch government cut funding for the Palestinian Authority over its salaries to terrorists serving time in Israeli jails.

In 2017, the Palestinian Authority paid about $198 million to a fund for the families of terrorists killed during their attacks and about $160 million to Palestinians being held in Israeli jails, according to Israeli Defense Ministry figures.

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Activist group in Germany apologizes for using Holocaust victims’ ashes in protest installation

Thu, 2019-12-05 12:30

(JTA) — A German activist group has apologized for using what it says is the ashes of victims of the Nazis for a Holocaust memorial and protest against the far right.

The art-activist collective Zentrum für Politische Schönheit, or Center for Political Beauty, earlier this week placed a large container of soil samples from areas where Nazis were active in the mass murder of Jews and others that it says contains traces of human remains.

“We would like to apologize to all those affected, relatives and survivors, whose feelings we have hurt,” the Center for Political Beauty said in a statement on its website. The group has “made mistakes,” it also said.

“We would like to apologize, especially to Jewish institutions, societies or individuals who believe that our work disturbed the peace required for the dead under Jewish law,” the statement added.

The group said it spent two years digging up soil from 23 sites across Germany, and in Poland and Ukraine, including at the Auschwitz, Sobibor and Treblinka Nazi camps, where Nazis were active in the mass murder of Jews and others. Lab results found traces of human remains in over 70 percent of the 240 samples, the group said in a statement.

The group has not said what it plans to do with the soil samples but said in the statement that it was open to suggestions for a resting place for them.

The president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster, told the German news service Deutsche Welle that a rabbi should be consulted on how to dispose of the remains.

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Tony Shalhoub grew up in a Lebanese family in Wisconsin. He draws on that to play his Jewish ‘Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ character.

Wed, 2019-12-04 21:46

NEW YORK (JTA) — On a recent snowy afternoon, Tony Shalhoub is drinking tea in a room at the Whitby Hotel in Midtown Manhattan. He’s in the midst of a long press day promoting season 3 of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” and he just wants to get comfortable. So he gets up before the interview begins to turn up the room’s thermostat.

“Now it’s good,” he says in his smooth, deep voice.

The move fits Shalhoub’s thoughtful personality — he speaks in careful, measured sentences — and it’s also something his exacting, intellectual character on the show might do.

As Abe Weissman, a neurotic but lovable Columbia math professor, and the titular Mrs. Maisel’s father, Shalhoub steals most of the scenes he’s in. His character’s tone ranges from comically flustered to darkly serious, and it’s capable of eliciting laughter, anger or sadness in quick succession.

Last season, his portrayal won Shalhoub an Emmy and a SAG Award. The 66-year-old actor attributes the success to a certain humorous article of clothing (more on that later).

Despite growing up the son of Christian Lebanese immigrants in Green Bay, Wisconsin — about as far culturally as one can get from the Upper West Side of “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” — Shalhoub says the story of the upper-middle-class Jewish family at the heart of the show does not feel so different from his own upbringing.

“I was a young kid during this period. I have very vivid memories of my father and his friends and my friends’ parents, and it just feels kind of strangely familiar to me,” Shalhoub told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

His dad, Joe, immigrated from Lebanon at 8 years old, and his mom, Helen, was a second-generation Lebanese-American. Shalhoub was the ninth of 10 kids, and his father drove a refrigerated truck to sell meat.

“There’s a lot of my dad in this portrayal,” Shalhoub said, despite the differences on paper between Abe and Joe. “Like Abe, my father wasn’t interested [in], or impressed with, show business. My mother was the opposite — she loves movies and theater and music. But he was a little bit more pragmatic. That side of him is reflected in this character.”

Shalhoub, left, plays Abe Weissman, and Marin Hinkle portrays his wife, Rose. (Amazon Studios)

In a time of tricky debates about representation — for example, should only Jewish actors play Jewish characters? Does it matter? — Shalhoub says he isn’t worried about the role and has not received any pushback. He is immediately believable as a late 1950s New York Jewish dad — see his enthusiasm at a Yom Kippur service in season 2 for some evidence.

“People who I meet on the street, or who are fans of the show, [tell me] ‘Oh, you remind me of my father’ or ‘you’re my uncle so-and-so,’” Shalhoub said. “It’s the way these writers have made these characters.”

He’s not surprised by the continued success of “Mrs. Maisel,” which has earned numerous Golden Globes and Emmys.

“I can only assume that people want to revisit this time period and get out of the present. I mean, they need a little respite,” he said.

Shalhoub is hitting on something that likely contributes to the popularity of “Mrs. Maisel”: the beautiful, colorful costumes, the lush old-time sets and the retro lingo creates an escapist product in 2019.

In season 3, the protagonist Midge, a stand-up comedian learning on the job, goes on tour, and the show travels to Las Vegas and Miami. Much of Abe’s storyline in the first half of the new season focuses on leaving his comfort zone as he tries to figure out the world of entertainment that his daughter now finds herself in.

Still, growing up a Lebanese kid from Green Bay, did he ever think he would play a role like this?

Shalhoub laughs before responding.

“I didn’t really think about it. I mean, I didn’t really think that I would be an actor,’ he said. “I didn’t really imagine that was such a viable avenue to pursue.”

Pursuing acting has turned out to be more than viable. After his breakout role as an Italian cab driver, Antonio Scarpacci, in the NBC sitcom “Wings,” he went on to win three Emmys for his portrayal of detective Adrian Monk in the comedic procedural “Monk” (he was nominated  eight consecutive years).

Shalhoub filming “Monk” in New York City. (James Devaney/WireImage/Getty Images)

Shalhoub has also had some notable roles in film: He was a chef in the Stanley Tucci-directed “Big Night” (1996); an FBI agent in a Denzel Washington thriller “The Siege” (1998); and a reformed villain in the “Spy Kids” series (2001, ’02 and ’03).

On top of it all, he’s also had a critically acclaimed career on Broadway. In 1989, he met his now wife, the actress Brooke Adams, when he starred in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play “The Heidi Chronicles.”

Perhaps his best-known Broadway role is as Tewfiq Zakaria in “The Band’s Visit,” which swept the Tony Awards in 2018. In the musical, which is based on an Israeli film about an Egyptian police band that gets lost and ends up in a small Israeli desert town, Shalhoub plays the bandleader.

During his Tony acceptance speech for best lead actor in a musical, he talked about his father coming as a child from Lebanon to Ellis Island in 1920, and ended with a message to the children of immigrants: “May we, their descendants, never lose sight of what they taught us.”

For nearly two years, Shalhoub went back and forth between working on the Broadway show and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” The musical premiered Off-Broadway in November 2016; the pilot for “Maisel” aired the following spring, in March 2017, with season 1 debuting on Amazon Prime in December of that year. The Broadway version of “The Band’s Visit” began previews in October 2017.

Shalhoub recalls how much fun he had alternating between the two roles: the Egyptian general Tewfiq and the Jewish mathematician Abe.

“I loved being that busy,” he said. “There was even a month leading up to the Tonys, when the Tony voters were coming, where I was doing both at the same time. I was shooting [Maisel] in the day and going in and doing the show at night. It was amazing. It was like splitting your brain in two.”

The different wardrobes helped him switch from one character to the other. When he donned Abe’s sweaters, Abe emerged. At the theater, putting on the Egyptian band’s powder blue uniform, he got into the headspace of Tewfiq.

“You just you sort of step out of one world into another. That’s what makes the work endlessly fascinating,” he said.

Asked about his most iconic “Maisel” costume — the workout romper that Abe wears on summer vacation in the Catskills in season 2 — Shalhoub interrupts before the question is finished.

“People seem to love the romper!” he exclaims.

Shalhoub’s one-piece romper in season 2 was a comedic sensation. (Amazon Prime)

“I loved it,” he continued. “It’s a whole other part of Abe, outside of his normal routine in New York. He’s up in the country, he’s by the lake. He’s drinking more — he’s having tomato juice every day. He’s in the fresh air. You see this whole other side of him.

“But I have to say, people asked me about the Emmy Award and the SAG award, I attribute that to the romper. I owe that to Donna [Zakowska], our costumer.”

Really?

“I do, because really I don’t think anyone else in my categories had the chance to wear a romper,” he said. “That set me apart.”

For Shalhoub, the Abe role isn’t only about humor.

“It’s what’s so incredible about our country and our industry that I — being a Lebanese kid from Green Bay — could end up portraying this kind of character,” he said. “There’s just … something sort of magical about that.”

Season 3 of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” debuts Friday on Amazon Prime.

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Israeli army inflated numbers of haredi Orthodox recruits

Wed, 2019-12-04 19:47

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The numbers of haredi Orthodox soldiers joining the Israeli army is lower than the numbers reported by the military.

The Israel Defense Forces says it’s because there was a change in the definition of a haredi, or ultra-Orthodox, recruit.

In 2017, the IDF said that 3,070 haredi soldiers were recruited, but actually there were only 1,300 enlisted, the Kan public broadcaster first reported on Wednesday.

The definition in 2014 considered anyone who learned in a haredi school for two years of high school be considered a haredi recruit, meaning that someone who left that lifestyle before joining the military would still be considered haredi. New criteria in 2018 narrowed the definition.

The IDF said in a statement that the discrepancy was discovered as part of “internal control operations,” and the claim that it falsified data or attempted to mislead is “incorrect.”

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi has ordered an investigation into how the numbers were calculated. The Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee will convene to discuss the issue at a meeting Monday. Blue and White lawmaker Gabi Ashkenazi, a former IDF chief of staff who heads the committee, called the meeting.

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Bukharian chicken and herbed rice: A fragrant one-pot meal with a generations-old recipe

Wed, 2019-12-04 19:39

This recipe originally appeared on The Nosher.

Why use several different pots and pans when you can fit a full meal into one?

Bachsh is a traditional Bukharian rice and meat dish that is loaded with aromatic onions and fresh herbs. Bukharian Jews originate from central Asia, in modern day Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. They have an incredibly rich, insular culture. Their cuisine doesn’t use many vibrant spices, but focuses on subtle aromatics like carrots, onions, garlic and meats to infuse flavor. Bukharians are the champions of the one-pot meal, and many dishes are focused around the round, short grain rice that they had access to, along with lamb, beef and chicken.

My husband grew up in a traditional Bukharian home, and this recipe is straight from my mother-in-law, who is an amazing cook and incredible hostess. She prefers to use chopped chicken breast here, but some choose to make bachsh with chopped lamb and beef.

When I was first married, my mother-in-law gave me some wise advice for hosting guests: “Make bachsh — it’s all in one pot and you’ve satisfied every guest!” She meant that a great way to make your life easier but still make everyone happy is by preparing a deeply satisfying meal like bachsh.

Bachsh is a perfect simple weeknight meal, as it comes together in about 45 minutes, and is a huge family favorite. It’s usually served with a chopped salad of tomatoes, red onions, cucumbers and bell peppers dressed with lemon and olive oil. On your plate, the tart lemony dressing mixes with the savory rice and meat for a delicious balance of flavors.

Ingredients:
1/4 cup olive or vegetable oil
2 cups round, short grain rice
2 chicken breasts, chopped finely into small cubes
1 bunch of parsley, minced finely
1 bunch of cilantro, minced finely
1 large onion, chopped
2 1/2 cups water
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Directions:
1. In a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.

2. Add the chopped chicken breast, 1 teaspoon salt, and half the chopped parsley and cilantro. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add 1 1/2 cups water, cover the pot and cook for 7-8 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, place the rice in a fine mesh sieve and rinse with cold water until the water runs clear. This removes any dust and excess starch from the rice. This step is essential to prevent the rice from becoming sticky and mushy.

4. Add the rinsed rice to the pot, along with the rest of the chopped herbs, remaining salt, black pepper and water. Stir to combine, and bring the mixture back to a simmer over medium heat. Stir gently and reduce the heat to low.

5. Cover the pot and cook for another 12-15 minutes until the rice is fully cooked. Stir again gently, turn off heat and allow the rice to steam for another 5 minutes.

6. Serve with a chopped salad of cucumbers, tomatoes, red onion and bell peppers dressed with fresh lemon juice and olive oil. Serves 6-8.

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In the Jewish heart of Pittsburgh, Mister Rogers was actually our neighbor

Wed, 2019-12-04 19:18

This story originally appeared on Kveller.

I’m sitting in a sold-out first weekend movie premiere of “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” delighted by the fact that this movie was filmed in my Pittsburgh neighborhood, Squirrel Hill. It’s an upscale, multicultural neighborhood — far more diverse today than it used to be — that is also the center of the city’s Jewish community. 

Sadly, it is most famous now for the deadly attack on the Tree of Life synagogue. 

Squirrel Hill is also, quite literally, Mister Rogers’ neighborhood. Fred Rogers lived in Squirrel Hill, and for 33 years he filmed “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” at the nearby WQED studios. While surely anyone who grew up watching the show feels a personal connection to Rogers, here in Pittsburgh, he isn’t just a global icon. He’s a local hero. 

We’re at Squirrel Hill’s indie movie theater, the landmark Manor Theater, where the ticket-taker greeted us wearing a red cardigan while singing “It’s a beautiful day in Manorland.” I’m filled with anticipation, imagining how Tom Hanks — whom I most fondly remember from one of my favorite childhood movies, “Big” —  might bring Mister Rogers to life.

As the movie begins, Hanks comes down the stairs clad in Rogers’  iconic red cardigan. He sings the well-known opening music to “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood” — and the entire theater joins in a singalong. Hanks, as Rogers, is tying his sneakers, singing and looking directly at me just like Rogers used to do, many years ago, when I was a preschooler watching his show in my family’s New York City living room.

I’m trying not to get distracted by the obvious physical differences — Hanks’ glasses, his rounder face. I’m trying to measure up his smile and intonation against the memory of Rogers. Yet I’m comforted and reassured that Hanks is able to give voice to a very public person who, through the magic of television, as well as his pure and honest delivery, had a special way of making me feel special and cared for, just as he did for millions of other children. 

Seeing Hanks “do” Rogers is like meeting my long-lost friend all over again. And not just for the two hours that I’m sitting in the theater.  Like so many children who grew up watching his show, Rogers is someone I’ve long felt deeply compassionate toward — and that feeling only strengthened after the Tree of Life attack.

In those early and very dark moments, when a gunman murdered 11 Jewish souls, my social media feed became flooded with Mister Rogers memes.

“Look for the helpers,” they said, “You will always find people who are helping.”

When Rogers first uttered those lines, he was referring to his own memories of feeling scared by terrible news as a boy, and how his mother would encourage him to look for those helpers. In Rogers’ words, “To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.” 

But during those very dark and traumatic days after the attack, I kept listening, looking for those helpers. Where were they?

Turns out they were there; I just had to be patient. The following week, during a rally for peace and unity held in honor of the victims in the Tree of Life synagogue shooting, Tom Hanks would appear in the pouring rain, next to Joanne Rogers, Rogers’ widow. There, he’d say in earnest, “The people of Pittsburgh live in good neighborhoods that do not divide the city but define it.”

Hanks was just one of many helpers who would stand in solidarity with us, as if he was an insider to our community, to our pain. At that moment, he wasn’t just an adored celebrity, he was someone who cared about my city —  our city, our community. 

In the movie, Rogers takes a personal interest in Lloyd Vogel, a bitter and angered journalist (played by Matthew Rhys and based upon real-life journo Tom Junod) on assignment to interview Rogers for Esquire. Vogel struggles to feel compassion for his father, who had left Vogel’s mother while she lay dying. Vogel cannot forgive him for this. However, with the help of the children’s TV icon, he unwittingly begins to realize that he, too, needs a helper, when Rogers invites him to the set in Pittsburgh and performs with a puppet, Daniel the Striped Tiger, the iconic song, “What do you do with the mad that you feel?”

Following the attack, what did the citizens of Pittsburgh do with the mad that we felt? Well, our city and community came together in a most unprecedented way: There were crocheted hearts strung to tree branches; there were deliveries of notes, cards, flowers from across the globe; there were donations of money and meals; and Jews from other cities flocked to Pittsburgh to mourn with us, the prayers from so many lifting us up. 

In our community’s most vulnerable state, I stayed focused on those helpers. For months following the attack, buses flickered the slogan “Pittsburgh Strong” instead of their usual route numbers. One evening, as I was returning home to Squirrel Hill by bus, the driver and I chatted briefly about the disaster that befell our community. Movingly, he told me, “It’s terrible what happened to that synagogue, but know that we’re with you.”  

I had witnessed something I know to be true in catastrophes — that this attack brought the community closer with acts of compassion and kindness. Compassion doesn’t have to end in physical action, but the feeling itself starts with empathy towardssomeone else. Mister Rogers spent his life attuned to the needs of other people; he’d listen to children and adults compassionately from the depth of his soul. He had a true gift of putting himself in their shoes. 

Seeing how the entire city of Pittsburgh, the world at large, and Tom Hanks stood in solidarity with those beloved murdered souls unlocked Judaism’s highest value for me, personally: caring for the other. This senseless tragedy connected me to my Jewish heart and helped me to see how tethered to Pittsburgh, Mister Rogers and Judaism I’d become. In many ways, the three are spokes of the same wheel. Judaism is a religion of action, and Rogers, too, is a man whose actions are as great as his words. 

After the Tree of Life attack, our synagogues transformed into miniature “neighborhoods” of their own. By that I don’t mean they were separate islands of grief. Rather we were like community lamplighters — helpers — driven to restock our community with light. The Chabad congregation, where my family and I are members, would take on a mezuzah campaign, distributing free mezuzahs to people in the community as a way to offer blessings and security. Jewish community members, including our family, would prepare endless trays of food for the police and the FBI. We went to the Tree of Life to chant psalms as a means to offer healing and solace. As Tree of Life congregants came to our synagogue, we became one united Jewish community again, mourning together and resolute in standing strong together. We will not be clubbed by fear. “Ahm Yisroel Chai – the people of Israel live! 

Perhaps this is the greatest legacy of Mister Rogers — for the Pittsburgh community, and for the increasingly scary world at large: That in our darkest hour, with compassion and kindness as our guide, we can still find our way toward the light. We don’t need to just look for the helpers, we can be the helpers and light the way for others. 

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I didn’t need to marry Jewish, but I wound up with a rabbi

Wed, 2019-12-04 19:02

This story originally appeared on Alma.

I am a product of a Jewish day school education, eight years of Jewish summer camp, and a Conservative Jewish upbringing. Finding a Jewish partner to marry and have Jewish babies with was in my DNA, as was tikkun olam. So it came as a huge shock to me that throughout my 20s and early 30s, not once was I attracted to a Nice Jewish Boy.

I had been on dating apps for eight years seeking my bashert. I dated a series of awful Jewish and non-Jewish men. One guy, definitely not Jewish, told me he was “legally” still married — after we had been dating a year. Oy.

As I dated more non-Jewish men, I created this narrative in my head: “Well, at least I’ll raise my children Jewish.” But here’s the thing: You can’t guarantee this unless you find a partner who’s spiritually on the same page as you are, and even then there’s no guarantee.

I remember sitting at dinner with my Jewish parents when we inevitably ended up talking about my love life. Ugh. But instead of shutting down the conversation and drowning my singledom in dirty martinis, I finally spoke out loud to the universe and my parents exactly what I was looking for in my partner.

“No,” I said, “my partner did not need to be Jewish. They needed to keep up with me, be kind, have confidence and hold their own in a room, and be generous with their money and their time.”

The list went on but I was clear: No, being Jewish was not a prerequisite; he just needed to be open to the idea of raising our children Jewish. That last part seemed to satisfy my parents’ heartfelt desire for a future grandchild’s bar/bat mitzvah.

Then, a month later, I started talking to somebody on the dating app Hinge. Jeff messaged me four times before I gave him the time of day. The rabbinical school student’s first message was “Shabbat shalom!” and I couldn’t roll my eyes hard enough. So cliché. I finally gave him my phone number and he asked me out.

As I walked into the bar to meet him, I remember seeing Jeff and having this strangely comfortable feeling of “Oh, there he is,” as if I recognized him from somewhere else. And not just a recognition of “Phew! He looks like his photos!” but a deep, soul level recognition.

My next thought was “That’s not a rabbi!” as I scanned this bald and bearded ginger, with his Chuck Taylors, Ray-Ban sunglasses on the table, jeans and plaid buttoned-down. And wait a minute, was that an earring in his left ear? We perused the menu and then I popped the question: “Do you keep kosher?” I held my breath as I waited for the answer.

It wasn’t that I actively sought out pork, but I definitely enjoy good food experiences and sometimes that includes mixing milk with meat. Would this be a new level of guilt and self-consciousness if we dated? And what if one day we ended up getting married and had to register for two sets of dishes? Would I have to change who I was to date a rabbi?

“No, I don’t keep kosher,” he told me. “What are your thoughts on chicken wings?”

I was embarrassingly giddy as my dream of eating cheeseburgers together remained alive and well.

We hit it off and laughed our asses off the entire night. Drinks, dinner, and then I invited him to ice cream.

On our second date, breakfast on the morning before Rosh Hashanah, Jeff invited me to the High Holiday services he was leading. Immediately I started to freak out and thought, “I’ve NEVER been attracted to a Jewish man … am I really about to date a rabbi?!” I liked this guy. Really liked him. But I was definitely not ready to see him “be a rabbi” before our third date. I thanked him for the invite and told him I already had plans.

So, instead, I stood miserably at services held at the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills with my only Jewish girlfriend who I could convince to go with me. We were less than moved by the sermon, and both of us plotzed as we stared at the mechitzah, a floor to ceiling curtain separating the men and women. ?So when Jeff invited me to Yom Kippur, I accepted his invitation.

The night before, I bailed on Kol Nidre services and opted for a completely dramatic and totally unnecessary existential crisis. It was basically the “OMG does he keep kosher?!” conversation on steroids: Where should I sit/stand? What should I wear? Should I look sexy? No, it’s Yom Kippur, idiot. OK, maybe just a little sexy. Should I give him a kiss on the cheek when I see him? No, a hug is probably better. Am I really dating a ?rabbi?? Am I ready to see him ?be? a rabbi?! Am I Jewish enough for a Reform rabbi? Am I ?too? Jewish for a Reform rabbi? Maybe I shouldn’t go. I think I’m coming down with something. I’ll text Jeff.

I told him I wasn’t feeling well and didn’t think I’d make it to his service. He seemed disappointed but understood, and then he sent me one of my favorite texts ever: a photo of a ring on a middle finger that said “?? ?? ?????,” which in English means, “This too shall pass.” I realized how dumb I was being and how badly I needed to get out of my head. I liked this man, and I would have liked him regardless of the fact that he was a rabbi, or even Jewish for that matter. I went to the service and was very glad I did.

He must have really liked me, too. And two years later, he proposed … in Israel. SO cliché.

The author and her rabbi fiance

Both Jeff and I being Jewish makes our lives easier, though it completely and unequivocally does not matter. It wasn’t Judaism that brought us together. It’s the connection we have, the values we share, the families we come from, the love we have for each other and the people we have become that will make our marriage work. To quote his Rosh Hashanah sermon this year, “Love isn’t Jewish, love is love.”

I know now that I am absolutely “Jewish enough” to marry a rabbi. I’m not great at baking challah, but I’m learning. I sit with our community, where they’ll occasionally witness me sticking my tongue out at my rabbi fiance when we make eye contact during services. I wear whatever I want and at Rosh Hashanah services this year, my friend said I looked “rebbetzin chic.”

Looks like I’m on my way to becoming a solid rabbi’s wife, which, as it turns out, means I just get to be me.

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13 countries vote against a UN General Assembly resolution against Israel for the first time

Wed, 2019-12-04 18:25

(JTA) — The United Nations General Assembly passed five resolutions against Israel, but for the first time, 13 countries switched their positions and voted against a pro-Palestine measure.

The five resolutions passed Tuesday are among 20 against Israel that the international body will vote on during the 74th session of the General Assembly. By contrast, it will consider resolutions about six other countries – one each on Iran, Syria, North Korea, Crimea, Myanmar and the United States (for its embargo on Cuba), the nongovernmental organization UN Watch reported.

For the first time, Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Lithuania, Netherlands, Romania, Slovakia, Brazil and Colombia voted against the annual resolution supporting the Division for Palestinian Rights of the Secretariat, which oversees the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. Those countries previously had abstained on the vote.

The resolution read in part that the committee “continues to make a constructive and positive contribution to raising international awareness of the question of Palestine and of the urgency of a peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine in all its aspects.”

It passed by a vote of 87 for and 23 against, with 54 abstentions.

Other resolutions demanded that Israel withdraw from the Golan Heights and provide information on the “question of Palestine.”

The votes on the five resolutions were taken in conjunction with the annual observance of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People at the U.N. on Nov. 27.

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Arizona State U student government passes resolution to support Jewish students

Wed, 2019-12-04 18:17

(JTA) — The undergraduate student government of Arizona State University passed a resolution in support of the Tempe school’s Jewish students.

The resolution, which passed Tuesday by acclimation, comes amid public discussion among campus student organizations about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and in the wake of fliers bearing swastikas and Stars of David circulated on campus, The State Press student newspaper reported.

Last month, four pieces of legislation were submitted to the Undergraduate Student Government Tempe on the topic of the conflict. One called for divestment from companies involved in “human rights abuses,” including a number in Israel.

The resolutions have been postponed over what the student government said were errors in the documents.

The Resolution to Stand With Jewish Students at ASU notes the rise in anti-Semitic hate crimes as reported in the FBI’s annual Report on Hate Crimes, as well as the October 2018 attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

It says that ASU Jewish students “have expressed concerns over their own safety on campus to the administration and police force in light of recent events, specifically Nazi propaganda.”

The resolution also says the student government supports “all students in mutual civil dialogue and debate in an environment that is free from threat and intimidation,” and that it “does not support anti-Semitism, and stands by the Jewish community.”

Opponents of the resolution said it conflated anti-Semitism with criticism of Israel.

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British newspaper publishes op-ed calling settlements ‘the trouble with Jews’

Wed, 2019-12-04 17:35

(JTA) — A British newspaper published an op-ed by the influential philosopher Slavoj Zizek that appears to defend Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn against allegations of anti-Semitism.

Zizek himself made a statement in his article in The Independent published Tuesday that is being attacked as anti-Semitic.

In an op-ed titled “There is no conflict between the struggle against anti-Semitism and the struggle against Israeli occupation,” Zizek wrote that “the trouble with Jews today is that they are now trying to get roots in a place which was for thousands of years inhabited by other people.” He is referring to the West Bank and the Israel-Palestonian conflict.

Zizek, whom the German Der Spiegel newspaper in 2015 described as “one of Europe’s boldest intellectuals and also a self-avowed leftist,” condemned British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis’ warning last month about anti-Semitism in the Labour Party ahead of the Dec. 12 election as “ethically disgusting.”

In The Independent, Zizek added in the context of Mirvis’ criticism about Corbyn, “the charge of anti-Semitism is more and more addressed at anyone who deviates from the acceptable left-liberal establishment towards a more radical left.”

Zizek also wrote: “I, of course, indisputably reject anti-Semitism in all its forms.”

But Honest Reporting, a Jerusalem-based organization whose mission statement is to fight bias against Israel in the media, accused Zizek of venting anti-Semitic sentiments in the op-ed.

He “may be able to dress up his bigotry in complicated philosophical language but it is ultimately clear that, despite his own claims to the contrary, his piece contains clear examples of anti-Semitism,” Honest Reporting said in a statement.

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Tiffany Haddish’s celebrity-filled bat mitzvah, in photos

Wed, 2019-12-04 17:24

(JTA) — Tiffany Haddish celebrated her bat mitzvah Tuesday night surrounded by an array of Jewish celebrity friends, including Billy Crystal, Chelsea Handler and Sarah Silverman.

The comedian, who celebrated in Beverly Hills on the occasion of her 40th birthday, released her Netflix standup special, “Black Mitzvah,” on the same day.

Sarah Silverman’s sister, Susan, a renowned rabbi, oversaw the service.

As Haddish told Alma, a website for young Jews, she became interested in her Jewish heritage after meeting her father, an Eritrean Jew, for the first time at age 27. She had previously worked as a performer at bar and bat mitzvahs but hadn’t known much about that part of her identity.

“For a long time, I didn’t even know black Jews existed. I didn’t know anything about Judaism for a long time,” she said.

Haddish, who has appeared in blockbuster comedies such as “Girls Trip,” showed off some of the Hebrew she learned on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” earlier this week.

Here’s a visual recounting of Tuesday’s big event:

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

 

Haddish had a candle lighting ceremony. (Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Netflix)

 

From left to right: Rabbi Susan Silverman, Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback, Tiffany Haddish, Aliza Rose Silverman and Billy Crystal, who is filming a movie with Haddish. (Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Netflix)

 

There was much rejoicing. (Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Netflix)

 

And there were plenty of yarmulkes. (Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Netflix)

 

Billy Crystal watches the ceremony. (Netflix)

 

Haddish appeared on a red carpet to premiere her Netflix special “Black Mitzvah” on the same day. (Netflix)

 

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This Holocaust-themed figure skating costume is just the sport’s latest to cause scandal

Wed, 2019-12-04 16:49

CALDWELL, N.J. (JTA) — Figure skating costumes have a long and sometimes ridiculous history. Until about the 1930s, women were expected to compete in ponderous and weighty skirts, making it hard to move freely, let alone tackle a triple lutz. 

That all started to change largely for two reasons. The first was Sonja Henie. Only 10 when she first began competing, she got away with shedding the standard cumbersome skating clothing women wore in favor of much shorter twirly skirts, which allowed her to perform jumps and other elongated moves that ultimately led to three Olympic gold medals. 

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The second reason was modern stretch fabrics, which entered the market (and the sport) in the 1950s. Thanks to increased flexibility, skaters could move much easier and show off body parts — and their athleticism — in ways that had been unthinkable.

Since that time, skating officials have struggled to determine what is and is not allowed in costumes, and what may or may not cross the line. Skaters must follow certain dress code rules, enforced by the International Skating Union, before they step on the ice in an official competition. Men must wear pants, not tights. Officials understandably implore skaters to don clothing that is “modest, dignified and appropriate for athletic competition — not garish or theatrical in design.” 

Contemporary skaters, coaches and officials have long walked a fine line between artistic expression and costumes that are too immodest or simply offensive. 

The recent controversy over a Holocaust costume is just the latest example where governing officials and skaters fail to understand history, tact and the bounds of basic good taste. 

Russian skater Anton Shulepov, as so many have before him, skated his season’s free skate program to moving music from “Schindler’s List.”

The problem wasn’t the music. It was the costume. His featured an odd mix of elements, including the uniform worn by Holocaust-era concentration camp guards and a prominent yellow star across his chest. 

The International Skating Union allows fans to vote for their favorite costume each season, and this one made the list. It was not until protests began that the union’s officials backtracked

The ISU regrets that by error the wrong costume (Free Skating instead of Short Program costume) of Mr. Shulepov has been presented for voting.

This error has been corrected and the ISU sincerely apologizes for this mistake and the bad sentiments it has caused.

— ISU Figure Skating (@ISU_Figure) December 2, 2019

This wasn’t the first time that Nazi imagery in a skating routine has sparked outrage.

In a 2016 performance set to a moving song from the soundtrack of “Life is Beautiful,” an Italian film in which a Jewish father  tries to distract his son from the Holocaust’s horrors, “former Olympic ice skater Tatiana Navka and her dance partner Andrei Burkovsky dance in the striped pajamas and yellow six-pointed stars which Jewish victims of Nazi concentration camps were forced to wear.” At the end of the routine, Burkovsky is killed by simulated machine-gun fire.

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Skating is both art and athleticism. The best programs combine each aspect seamlessly. Costuming is an important part of the artistry: When done right, it shows off the skater’s creativity and point of view. 

It’s doubtful that Shulepov was trying to be deliberately offensive. Many Russians take great pride in the nation’s historic anti-Nazi stance. Millions lost their lives in what today is known as The Great Patriotic War

But this unfortunate incident does provide an opportunity to engage with the larger ongoing dialogue about how we remember the Holocaust and who is permitted to use its symbolism — not to mention the sacred symbols associated with other cultures and events. 

Ten years ago, Olympic ice dance champions Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin landed in hot water for donning costumes made from faux tribal designs. While Domnina and Shabalin allegedly intended to pay homage to aboriginal culture, the costumes were widely seen as a mockery of an authentic heritage too often misunderstood by outsiders. 

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A similar dynamic is at play in this latest case. The costume Shulepov wore should have been nixed from the outset. It is no more appropriate for a non-Jewish skater to put on a vile mark of the murder of a million Jewish children on his breastbone than it would be for a white skater to don false chains and act out the horrors of The Middle Passage across the ice. 

Many nations have failed to provide their citizens with an education about the Holocaust and other acts of historical genocide. This latest incident makes clear that even more cultural education and sensitivity is needed for people all over the world.

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Leave the Holocaust out of your self-promotion, political agenda and profit-seeking

Wed, 2019-12-04 16:28

NEW YORK (JTA) — Here we go again: Just this week, two more cases of the abuse of Holocaust imagery have surfaced and created an international stir. 

In November, Russian figure skater Anton Shulepov wore an Auschwitz-themed costume during his free skating performance at the Grand Prix of Figure Skating event. To compound the offense, the International Skating Union listed it on Sunday as a contender in the best costume category, which is open to voting from the public. After protests, the skating union quickly removed the Shulepov costume from its top list.

That same day, Amazon announced it was removing holiday ornaments that displayed an image of the same Nazi concentration camp on the products from its marketplace.

Unfortunately, Nazi analogies and imagery have been proliferating for some time. For more than a decade, inappropriate and offensive comparisons to the Holocaust have increasingly cropped up in popular culture in the United States. Sports and other celebrities have compared their personal struggles to those of Anne Frank or, at a traumatic time in their lives, make inappropriate comparisons to Hitler or the Holocaust to make a point.

Then there is the use of Nazi analogies to make a political point. Sometimes it’s by pro-life individuals who refer to abortion as worse than the Holocaust. Sometimes it’s by folks on the left who are troubled by Donald Trump’s behavior and refer to him as a second Hitler. 

And some, like Shulepov, are simply looking for attention. The use of concentration camp designs, the pinning of the Jewish yellow star and the very word Auschwitz definitely cause people to sit up.

Each manifestation is offensive and insensitive in its own way. The use of Holocaust references by high-profile public figures such as entertainers trivializes history and the political use of the Holocaust stops civil discussion dead in its tracks. In each case, the attention seekers don’t think for a second about those who actually perished in the gas chambers. 

They all deserve repudiation. The murder of 6 million Jews, including 1.5 million children, is not a subject for glib analogies, lightheartedness or political exploitation.  

In calling out those who misuse the memory of the Holocaust, one must distinguish between the motives of the offenders. There are meaningful differences between those who must be called out for their evil intent, those who are undermining rational discussion about serious issues and those who are guilty of self-promotion at the expense of the victims of genocide.

Are there occasions where it would be deemed legitimate to cite the Holocaust or compare something to those tragic events? Historical and political analysis surely leaves room for serious comparisons. In the popular sphere, however, it is far better to be cautious and generally avoid such usage.

All this matters more and more, not only because of the general debasement of facts and history, but because the Holocaust itself is either being questioned, ignored or complained about.

Holocaust denial is alive and well in extremist circles. White supremacists like David Duke and Arthur Jones and Islamist extremists like Iran’s former leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad simply deny the Holocaust and claim it’s a fantasy foisted on the world by all-powerful Jews. 

ADL’s Global 100 Survey of 101 countries several years ago revealed that 45 percent of the respondents indicated that they had either never heard of the Holocaust or weren’t sure. 

And ADL’s most recent poll of 18 countries showed that 30 percent of people believe that Jews talk too much about the Holocaust.

The misuse of Holocaust analogies and imagery is not only a slap in the face to all those who died. It is also contributing to the trivialization and diminution of the understanding of those horrific events which are so important in making sure that such things never happen again.

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Gal Gadot and her husband are remaking an Israeli crime drama for a US audience

Wed, 2019-12-04 15:35

(JTA) — Gal Gadot and her husband are remaking an Israeli crime drama for showing in the United States.

Gadot and Yaron Varsano’s Pilot Wave production company has joined Endemol Shine North America and Endemol Shine Israel to remake the series “Queens,” Deadline Hollywood reported.

“Queens,” which will air its second season on the Israeli cable network HOT in 2020, is the story of the women of the Malka crime family trying to run the family business after the men are killed by a rival crime syndicate.

The Hebrew word malka means queen.

“These complex characters are captivating, delightfully funny and emotional,” Gadot and Varsano said in a statement. “It is rare to find content that conveys characters in such a truthful way, while mirroring society.”

Gadot and Varsano have launched several projects since founding Pilot Wave earlier this year, including a series about the actress Hedy Lamarr and a film about Polish Underground leader Irena Sendler, with Gadot playing the title character in each. Pilot Wave is also working on “My Dearest Fidel,” an adaptation of Peter Kornbluh’s magazine article about the close friendship between ABC journalist Lisa Howard and Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

Gadot is starring in “Wonder Woman 1984,” which is scheduled to be released in June. She also will star in “Red Notice,” also starring Ryan Reynolds and Duane Johnson, the biggest feature film ever made by Netflix. The action thriller, set for release in late 2020, is centered around the pursuit of the most wanted art thief in the world.

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3 teens throw rock at bus filled with Jewish elementary schoolers in Brooklyn

Wed, 2019-12-04 15:14

(JTA) — Three teenagers threw a rock at a school bus transporting children from a Jewish elementary school in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights.

The rock cracked a window on the side of the bus. The students attend Bais Rivka, a Chabad school.

A second bus driver witnessed the attack on Tuesday and described the teenagers to police, COL Live reported. The driver of the bus that came under attack filed a police report.

Police are seeking the teens on criminal mischief charges, WABC-TV reported.

Brooklyn, notably in Crown Heights, has seen a rash of attacks against identifiable Jews in recent months.

 

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McGill student union board rejects motion for Jewish student to cancel Israel trip or be impeached

Wed, 2019-12-04 12:55

MONTREAL (JTA)—McGill University’s student union did not ratify a call for a Jewish student to resign for accepting a free trip to Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

The Students’ Society McGill University’s board of directors – the union’s chief governing body – on Monday rejected a motion passed days earlier by its legislative council that said fellow councilor Jordyn Wright must resign from the SSMU or face impeachment.

The motion was condemned as discriminatory and anti-Semitic by Wright herself and an array of others.

They included McGill’s own administration, the Anti-Defamation League, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, and hundreds of McGill students.

Wright was the only McGill student, and the sole Jewish participant, singled out to resign. At least one other, non-Jewish student from McGill and its student union is attending the trip.

“CIJA (The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs) applauds the SSMU’s board of directors for unequivocally rejecting the legislative council’s discriminatory motion targeting a Jewish student leader,” the Centre’s Quebec co-chair Rabbi Reuben Poupko said in a statement.

Wright was invited on the trip, called Face to Face, by Hillel Montreal.

She was identified by Hillel as “an invaluable student to have on this trip due to your student leadership experience and connections on campus.”

The trip is scheduled to leave at the end of the month and visit Israel and the West Bank.

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Allan Gerson, lawyer who made it easier for terror victims to sue governments, dies at 74

Tue, 2019-12-03 22:25

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Allan Gerson, a lawyer who made it easier for the families of terror victims to sue foreign governments, has died.

His daughter Daniela told family and friends that he passed away Sunday at his Washington, D.C., home. His wife, Joan Nathan, the cookbook author and authority on Jewish cuisine, told The Washington Post that Gerson, who was 74, died from complications from the degenerative brain disease Creutzfeldt-Jakob.

In 1992, by his mid-40s, Gerson had already made a name for himself as a member of the U.S. Department of Justice team that helped bring to justice Nazi war criminals, a Reagan administration deputy assistant attorney general whose focus was human rights and a senior counsel to U.S. ambassadors to the United Nations.

Gerson then launched the process that would lead him to the unprecedented challenge of suing Libya for its government’s role in the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland.

The bomb killed 259 people on board and 11 on the ground. The efforts of Gerson and his team were frustrated at first by the principle of sovereign immunity, which maintains that foreign governments are above the law. Separate lawsuits targeting Pan Am for poor security measures seemed to be the more sensible route for redress for victims’ families.

Rebuffed by the courts, Gerson took his case to Congress, which eventually passed laws that were upheld by the courts and have led to a new discipline of law that holds foreign entities accountable for terrorist attacks on U.S. civilians. Under the laws, attorneys have successfully sued Iran and the Palestine Liberation Organization, among others. Gerson’s efforts led to $10 million payouts by the Libyan government to each Lockerbie victim starting in the early 2000s.

A separate lawsuit Gerson joined against Saudi Arabia for its alleged role in the 9/11 attacks is still in the courts.

Gerson, a native of the former Soviet Union, moved with his Polish-born parents to the United States in 1950 under false identities, assuming the names of a family that had permission to enter the country. They eventually obtained legal status and citizenship under their real names.

That led Gerson to identify in a 2017 op-ed for The Washington Post with “dreamers,” undocumented immigrants who had arrived as children.

“Deportation is terribly punitive, especially for the young who have known no home other than the United States and did nothing worse than hold on to their parents’ hands,” he wrote. “And even if not deported, today’s dreamers could still face severe deprivation, including limits on their ability to work and to obtain funding for college.”

Gerson graduated from New York University Law School, and also earned a graduate degree in law from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a doctorate from Yale.

Gerson, who dabbled successfully in photography and jewelry design, is survived by three children, two grandchildren and a brother, in addition to his wife.

His family asked that he be honored with contributions to HIAS, the Jewish immigration advocacy group that assisted in his settlement and that now advocates for dreamers.

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Seth Rogen and his dad honored by Jewish group for their contributions to Jewish culture

Tue, 2019-12-03 22:06

NEW YORK (JTA) — Seth Rogen and his father were honored by the secular Jewish group The Workers Circle — formerly known as The Workmen’s Circle until Monday night — for their contributions to Jewish culture, activism and promotion of the Yiddish language.

Rogen, 37, who usually plays Jewish characters in his movies, recently studied Yiddish for “An American Pickle,” an upcoming film in which he plays a Jewish pickle maker who emerges from a pickle barrel after being stuck there for 100 years.

Rogen’s father, Mark, 66, was an assistant director of The Workers Circle chapter in Los Angeles. Both of Rogen’s parents were Labor Zionists who have performed in Yiddish theater productions.

The Workers Circle debuted its new name at a ceremony Monday in Manhattan nearly 120 years after its founding in 1900.

“As the first woman to lead the organization, I am proud to uphold a welcoming and inclusive culture,” the group’s executive director, Ann Toback, said in a news release. “Everything we do communicates our commitment to living our progressive values, and that includes choosing a name that reflects both our origin and our contemporary ideals.”

The Rogens were presented with the organization’s Generation to Generation award. In a short speech, the younger Rogen described the room as having “more people who speak Yiddish” than there has been “in any room since the shtetl in the 1920s.”

The actor and filmmaker also added an anecdote about activism: When Seth was a child, his father made the news in his native Vancouver for interrupting a Hanukkah lighting ceremony to yell at an adversary, a man named Bill Vander Zalm, about all his “injustices.” (He did not elaborate.)

The elder Rogen did so even though his wife, Sandy — the couple met on a kibbutz in Israel in the 1970s — told Mark that she would pretend not to know him if he went through with the plan to yell at the man during Hanukkah.

“If you believe in something,” Seth Rogen said, “you should stand up for it, and yell about it, and scream about it, even if it will make you look so nuts that your own wife pretends not to know who you are.”

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