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As Israel expects 16,000 US students, COVID-19 czar warns that rule-breakers will be deported

Sun, 2020-08-02 19:29

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Foreign students who disregard Israel’s restrictions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus will be deported, Israel’s coronavirus czar said.

Some 16,000 young adults from the United States alone are scheduled to enter Israel before Rosh Hashanah for study, seminary and pre-army programs.

Dr. Ronni Gamzu is under pressure to reverse the decision at a time when gatherings are restricted and the disease’s spread is ongoing. He said during public appearances this weekend that he did not agree with the decision to allow the students entry into Israel but noted that it was made before he was appointed late last month to run Israel’s efforts to tamp down the spread of the coronavirus.

Gamzu said inspectors would be deployed to make sure foreign students adhere to regulations, including studying only in small pods. He also threatened to close down any institution that does not follow the regulations.

Israel Beiteinu Party chairman Avigdor Liberman sent Gamzu a letter Friday asking him to reconsider letting students into the country. In a post on Facebook, Liberman accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition partner Benny Gantz of surrendering to the Orthodox parties in allowing yeshiva students to enter. Yeshivas have remained open even after Netanyahu closed all camps and schools for students in fifth grade and above.


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Facebook reports increased ad revenue even as ADL-led boycott reduced spending: Report

Sun, 2020-08-02 19:04

(JTA) — The advertiser boycott that the Anti-Defamation League helped spearhead against Facebook last month was in some ways successful: More than 1,000 companies declined to pay for advertising on the social media platform.

But measured against the company’s profits, the #StopHateForProfit campaign — which the ADL led with other civil rights groups, including the NAACP – had only limited effect, according to a report in the New York Times. The company reported a year-over-year increase in advertising revenue in July.

Revenue from Facebook’s top 100 advertisers dropped some 12% this July over last year, the New York Times reported, citing estimates from the advertising analytics platform Pathmatics. Nine of the 100 top advertisers had publicly announced that they would withhold paid advertising over the month, reducing their advertising dollars on Facebook to $507,500 from $26.2 million. (Several companies also reduced their advertising spending because of the coronavirus pandemic.)

The ADL worked with Facebook for years on strategies to curb hate speech online but lost patience with the company after Zuckerberg said he would allow Holocaust denial on the platform.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said on an earnings call Thursday that the company agreed with the goal of the boycott, to have Facebook be hate-free, according to the New York Times. CEO Mark Zuckerberg said on the call that many of the companies that boycotted Facebook during June plan to return.

One that does not is Ben & Jerry’s, which announced Thursday that it would continue to withhold advertising dollars through the end of the year. The decision was made “to send a message,” according to the report.

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Israelis in US join anti-Netanyahu protests as sweeping rallies take place at home

Sun, 2020-08-02 18:23

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israelis living in the United States demonstrated against what they called anti-democratic regulations and the weakening of democracy in Israel, adding to massive rallies taking place throughout Israel this weekend.

About 150 Israeli expats demonstrated at Crissy Field next to the Golden Gate bridge on Friday night, an organizer, Rachel Batish, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

The demonstrators carried Israeli flags and signs in Hebrew, as well as black flags representing the anti-Netanyahu “Black Flag Movement” in Israel. A protest was also scheduled for Sunday in New York City’s Washington Square Park, and Haaretz reports that rallies are also being organized in Los Angeles, Seattle and other US cities, as well as in international cities including Berlin, London and Melbourne.

The international protests come as protests in Israel continue to grow. An estimated 10,000 people protested outside of the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem on Saturday night, joined by thousands of others at some 250 of the largest intersections throughout the country, and in front of the Netanyahu’s private home in Caesarea.

Some 12 protesters were arrested at the Jerusalem protests, and clashes between police and protesters occurred after midnight as police physically removed remaining protesters. Netanyahu again criticized the protests Sunday, calling them “an attempt to trample democracy,” while Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz defended the right to protest while calling on demonstrators to avoid violence.

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‘Was she talking about me?’ Nick Cannon ends July by reviewing Bari Weiss’ ‘How to Fight Anti-Semitism’

Sat, 2020-08-01 00:11

Nick Cannon and Bari Weiss exploded into the news within a day of each other this month. So perhaps it is only fitting that the entertainer, who found himself in hot water after making anti-Semitic comments on his podcast, ended the month by reviewing the former New York Times writer’s 2019 book, “How to Fight Anti-Semitism.”

Cannon apologized after his remarks came to light and promised to educate himself about Judaism and anti-Semitism. In addition to meeting with a rabbi whose focus is on combatting anti-Semitism, he also committed to reading Weiss’ book.

Today, he posted his review on Instagram, calling the book “an insightful and powerful read.” In his post, he said he had learned about Weiss — who resigned from the New York Times in an open letter that accused the newspaper of fostering a hostile workplace — because she had retweeted a story that criticized him. He wrote:

In this insightful read, the words that stood out to me were “Anti-Semitism is fueled by the malicious but often feeds on the ignorance of the well-intentioned.” Asking myself, is she talking about me? Knowing that my intentions have never been hateful but recently I had fallen into the same category that the author despises and writes about like Henry Ford, Charles Coughlin, and more recently the abhorrent American Terrorist Robert Bowers, who on Oct. 27, 2018 murdered 11 worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the author’s home neighborhood in Pittsburgh, which ultimately inspired her to write this book. …

In her solutions to fighting Anti-Semitism she suggests building community, loving your neighbor and praising those who do the right thing, along with not “worshiping the group over the dignity of the individual in fear of worshiping another false deity.’ … So TOGETHER let’s bring Light into this world and get rid of what is known as its oldest hatred.

Some of Cannon’s followers criticized him after his earlier apology, in a situation that Cannon said on Twitter last week had saddened him. While some commenters responded to his post Friday by criticizing his book review, many Instagram users, including some who have made a point of using the platform to educate other Jews about racism, responded by thanking him and even contended with his critics.


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As I rise after a full day of fasting, meditation, study and prayer honoring for the first time Tisha B’av. I have recently learned that this Jewish day of Mourning religiously recognizes the fall of both of Solomon’s Temples. The first to the Babylonian Empire and 700 years later the second by the Roman Empire on the same day. The day is often known as the saddest day in Judaism because many other travesties occurred on the 9th day of Av in the Hebrew calendar. Through fasting on this day the goal is to rid “Sinat Chinam” or baseless Hatred. Which is why it was put on my heart to deliver the book report on “How to Fight Anti-Semitism” by Bari Weiss. A strong progressive approach at erasing the baseless hate that we all now modernly know as Anti-Semitism. The author, who just days ago resigned from the New York Times for many reasons, one specifically being bullied on Twitter. Ironically I became aware of her from one of her retweets on July 12 of a harsh name calling article about myself with a thread that referred to me as a racist pig, brainwashed, ignorant and even a Nazi, and many other disrespectful things about me and my family. So I dove in her book immediately. In this insightful read, the words that stood out to me were “Anti-Semitism is fueled by the malicious but often feeds on the ignorance of the well-intentioned.” Asking myself, is she talking about me? Knowing that my intentions have never been hateful but recently I had fallen into the same category that the author despises and writes about like Henry Ford, Charles Coughlin, and more recently the abhorrent American Terrorist Robert Bowers, who on Oct. 27, 2018 murdered 11 worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the author’s home neighborhood in Pittsburgh, which ultimately inspired her to write this book. Weiss blames the Left and the Right, Intersectionality, and the lack of historical education for the cause of the baseless hate and I would have to strongly agree. She states “A Jew is whatever the anti-Semite needs him to be; a grand unified theory of everything” Our society “turns Jews into the symbol of whatever a given civilization defines as its most sinister….” (continued below)

A post shared by NICK CANNON (@nickcannon) on Jul 31, 2020 at 3:43am PDT

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The new foodie normal: Instead of travel and tours, one-on-one chef video lessons

Fri, 2020-07-31 20:34

TEL AVIV (JTA) — The reservations were rolling in, and Inbal Baum was preparing for her busiest summer yet of food tours through Israel’s famed open-air food markets. Her decade-old tour company and its team of over 20 guides were ready to lead thousands of international guests to markets in places like Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, where they would try curated samples of foods ranging from hummus and bourekas to lachoch bread and ma’amoul cookies.

That was before the coronavirus pandemic.

First, the arrivals of tourists slowed. Then restaurants closed. Then, finally, so did the markets.

Baum’s company, called Delicious Israel, was out of work. And yet, she noticed that people seemed more interested in food than usual — they just weren’t flying anywhere to try new dishes. Instead, they were cooking, baking and pickling in their home kitchens nonstop.

So Baum thought of another avenue to reach her foodie clientele while simultaneously supporting other food industry professionals who, like herself, found themselves floundering overnight: In late May she launched Delicious Experiences, a website that connects home cooks with leading chefs and culinary experts (mostly U.S.-based, some international) for one-on-one private workshops via video chat.

The platform offers tailored classes in cooking, baking, mixology, cake decorating and food photography. Many of the instructors are Jewish, and many of the courses are Jewish-themed.

When Baum compiled a wish list of culinary celebrities and started reaching out to potential instructors, she was surprised by how many of them said yes. 

Inbal Baum’s business brought tourists to Israeli markets for a decade. (Delicious Experiences)

“Really insanely great chefs were very open to doing this,” she said. “A lot of these chefs see their own futures in some kind of online format, and so this is a perfect way to give them a platform to start off that process.”

Instructors include Michelin Star restaurateur and sommelier Etheliya Hananova, James Beard Award-winner Nate Appleman, and a range of Israeli chefs, including Nir Mesika, Roy Ner, and spice maven Lior Lev Sercarz.

Kevin Fink, a Texas-based chef on the platform, says that classes are “always something that I get asked to do, and traditionally, we just don’t have time.” In the age of COVID-19, reaching clients online is more feasible for some chefs.

Beyond the time factor, these types of live private experiences were never a high priority in the food industry. 

“It’s actually something that’s super uncommon in the food world. Well, was uncommon,” adds New York-based Jake Cohen, another chef on the platform and author of the upcoming cookbook “Jew-ish: A Cookbook: Reinvented Recipes from a Modern Mensch.” “It’s something that’s changed drastically. Almost overnight we saw this complete shift in how people reacted to food and what they were craving.”

Shiry Yosef, an entrepreneur in Tel Aviv who loves drinking cocktails at bars and restaurants but had never made one at home, tried a craft mixology class on Delicious Experiences with Singapore-based bartender Joseph Haywood. They decided to focus on gin and whisky. 

“It’s not a substitute for travel or for dining out,” Yosef said. Still, she added, “I actually loved that I was in my own kitchen with my own ingredients. It made it feel like something that I will repeat at home.”

Shoppers are back at Israeli outdoor markets, such as this one in Tzfat, pictured July 15, 2020, but Delicious Experiences lives on. (David Cohen/Flash90)

When Baum tried the cocktail class herself, she also felt it was an advantage being in her own kitchen — despite the fact that she doesn’t have any cocktail-making tools. 

“We don’t have a shaker,” she said. “He’s like, ‘Do you have a water bottle?’ And right behind me was my daughter’s sippy cup, and the chef was like, ‘That’s perfect! You can even strain it.’”

Baum argues that doing these workshops at home, in the same kitchen clients use daily, makes them much more likely to recreate the dishes later. She claims, as someone who regularly takes cooking classes overseas when she travels, that the dishes are always tricky to reproduce at home since you never have the same tools or ingredients.

“But all of a sudden, when you do it in your kitchen, you learn that you don’t need a rolling pin — you can actually just use a wine bottle or a paper towel thing,” she said. “Or, in Israel we don’t have half-and-half — it doesn’t matter. It’s something that a recipe’s not going to tell you. When there’s a chef on the other side they’ll tell you what to mix, part cream, part whatever.” 

Israel’s markets have opened back up again, despite a rise in COVID-19 cases across the country — but what people want has changed, Baum says. Going out to restaurants doesn’t seem to hold quite the same appeal. 

“Now you can still go out and you can still order in. But none of us really want to as much anymore,” Baum said. “The kinds of experiences that we might have done before are maybe a little less exciting or appealing right now. But we still want do things.”

Cohen sees being a foodie as meaning something different now. 

“This new world has created an environment in which, if anyone prioritized good food in their life [before], that means that now they have to prioritize learning how to cook at home,” he said.

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Confused about Judaism’s view on the afterlife? Start by watching ‘The Good Place.’

Fri, 2020-07-31 20:04

(JTA) — The afterlife is not a major point of discussion in Jewish thought. Religious Jewish texts focus on the life one leads in this world — not the next one.

As Rabbi Hertzel Fishman, for example, has observed: “Mitzvot [commandments] are not magic, they do not help God nor do they earn us rewards, but they are valuable for the way in which they improve our character and thereby benefit the society in which we live.”

Thankfully, there’s a show that takes moral philosophy lessons like these and makes them bingeable. 

“The Good Place,” which wrapped up its fourth and final season on NBC earlier this year, focuses on Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell), a garbage can of a person who accidentally winds up in “The Good Place,” a sort of secular heaven, after dying.

In this universe, everyone’s actions on earth are calculated and turned in a score. The Good Place is reserved for elite do-gooders who score very high. Everyone else is left to the aptly titled “The Bad Place.”

“Hindus are a little bit right, Muslims a little bit, Buddhists, Jews, Christians, Buddhists; every religion guessed about five percent,” says Michael, the architect of Eleanor’s neighborhood in The Good Place, played by Ted Danson. “You know how some people pull into the breakdown lane when there’s traffic, and they think to themselves, ‘Ah, who cares? No one’s watching?’ We were watching!” 

Michael Schur, the show’s Jewish creator (who also worked on “The Office” and co-created “Parks and Recreation” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”), approached the plot as an ethical commentary on the afterlife rather than a religious one — although he told The Hollywood Reporter that he studied several religions while preparing the script.

Nevertheless, “The Good Place” teaches us about ethics — in a very Jewish way, full of indecision. Eleanor’s supposed soul mate, Chidi Anagonye (William Jackson Harper), was an ethics professor before he died and can never settle on a flavor of frozen yogurt to eat, much less a concrete view of moral philosophy. After much debate, he agrees to teach Eleanor how to be a good person so she can pass into The Good Place without anyone noticing her tendency for selfishness. 

Chidi explains that you can’t do good deeds simply because you want to get into The Good Place, you have to be selfless. It’s like he took it straight from the rabbis.

Besides the moral philosophy, the show has a zeal for breaking the rules of TV. It feels as if the writers had no evident plan and decided to turn the story upside down in every episode. Whereas traditional comedies opt for slow, drawn-out plots, “The Good Place” opts to reveal every secret and move the story forward at an electric pace. (Like “Lost,” except the ending here is actually satisfying.)

Without ruining the journey with spoilers, the philosophy of “The Good Place” only gets more Jewish as the show progresses, and settles — if precariously — on Jewish principles (for a spoiler-heavy description of the ending, read this essay on Alma). It’s a hilarious show that’s worth the wild ride.

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Seattle’s only freestanding, certified kosher restaurant closes amid pandemic pressure

Fri, 2020-07-31 19:19

(JTA) — If you keep kosher in Seattle — whose metro area is home to more than 60,000 Jews — you now have to head to the suburbs for a restaurant meal you can eat.

The city’s only freestanding, certified kosher restaurant, Bamboo Garden, is serving its last meals today. The vegetarian restaurant became kosher nearly three decades ago after local Jews contributed expertise and money to allow it to achieve certification, according to a piece in the Seattle Times about the restaurant and what it has meant to Seattle Jews.

The author, Joy Resmovits, an assistant metro editor and observant Jew, wrote that Bamboo Garden was the only local restaurant where she could take her parents when they visited from New York. Others had similarly meaningful associations, she wrote:

When news broke earlier this month that the restaurant would shutter at the end of July, because of recent pandemic-related challenges and the owners’ desire to retire, I received messages from lifelong Jewish Seattleites about their “mourning” this loss. How their only experience of dining out involved Bamboo Garden. How, to my friend Nina Garkavi, eating there became part of a night-out ritual during any visit to the symphony or opera or trip to the Space Needle with tourists.

Its regulars call it a place that bred diversity, feeding Buddhist monks, vegetarians and observant Jews, but also familiarity — a place where they could count on running into each other; servers who greeted diners with Hebrew phrases, anticipated your order and remembered your daughter’s age even when you hadn’t been there for a year or two. …

“When you’re a Jewish kid growing up in Seattle, you don’t eat at a restaurant that’s kosher and just say, ‘I really don’t like it,’” said [Jessica] Russak-Hoffman. “Every kosher restaurant you eat at you think is the best restaurant.”

Seattle still has a host of vegetarian and vegan restaurants for Jewish diners who want to avoid eating non-kosher meat but may be comfortable without kosher certification. And there are a handful of kosher restaurants in the suburbs, including a vegetarian Indian restaurant that became kosher following the Bamboo Garden playbook.

But Seattleites must drive several hours to British Columbia to eat kosher meat in a restaurant, Resmovits writes.

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SF Giants’ first home game blessed by seafaring ‘Rally Rabbi’

Fri, 2020-07-31 17:29

(J. the Jewish News of Northern California via JTA) — While the ballpark Tuesday night at the San Francisco Giants’ home opener may not have been filled with fans because of COVID-19 restrictions, nearby McCovey Cove had a familiar guest.

Standing on a 75-foot yacht docked in a part of the bay named after former star first baseman Willie McCovey, Rabbi Yosef Langer blew his shofar to bless the Giants, who faced off against the San Diego Padres.

“I was blowing like a wild man,” said Langer, 74. “It was a beautiful day. I just hope the players heard it.”

However, the Padres came out on top, beating the Giants 5 to 3.

As the leader of Chabad of San Francisco, Langer is best known among Jews and local baseball fans as the “Rally Rabbi” who blows the shofar during the Giants’ annual Jewish Heritage Night. He is even celebrated with a bobblehead that at times has been worth hundreds of dollars on eBay.

(Screen shot from eBay)

“You can have fun with Judaism,” Langer said while sitting on the back deck of the yacht. And while he wishes he could have been in the stadium for the blessing of the team, he’s trying to look on the bright side during the pandemic.

“You have to take a positive look at life,” he said. “It’s up to us to use an opportunity to bring goodness and kindness to everyone, to make people happy, to come to the ballgame, even under restrictive circumstances.”

Usually blowing the shofar from home plate, Langer chose to celebrate opening night while on a yacht that he’s been looking to purchase for months in order to facilitate Jewish teen experiences, Havdalah night cruises and kosher dinners out on the water, an idea he calls “Chabad at Sea.”

Langer intends to purchase the $500,000 yacht through crowdfunding. So far, he’s received pledges of $100,000.

Langer was joined by some 50 other Giants fans on their own boats who chose to support their team from the cove. While the Giants were able to go through with the game, other teams haven’t been so lucky. The Miami Marlins recently had to put their season on hold after a major Covid-19 outbreak struck their team on July 26.

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Uzbekistan Jews fight to save 124-year-old synagogue from demolition

Fri, 2020-07-31 15:13

(JTA) — A construction firm in Uzbekistan is attempting to have a 124-year-old synagogue demolished to make way for a luxury apartment complex, according to a Russian-Jewish publication.

Absolute Business Trade, a company based in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent, earlier this year sued the Jewish Ashkenazi Community of Tashkent, claiming they are illegally occupying an “apartment” in a complex purchased by Golden House, the Russian-Jewish weekly L’Chaim reported on Wednesday.

According to L’Chaim, the apartment in question is home to the First Ashkenazi Synagogue of Tashkent, which is reportedly holding up a plan to build a luxury apartment block on the site.

Orient Group, the parent company of both ABI and Golden House, has offered to build the community another synagogue, but the community has turned that offer down. The next court hearing is scheduled for August 5.

Former Tashkent Mayor Rakhmonbek Usmanov promised that the synagogue would not be evicted. But he has since left that position to head the Uzbek Agency for Road Transport. A successor has not yet been appointed.

At least three fires have occurred outside the synagogue since 2018 in what local Jews say is an attempt at intimidation, the report said.

Golden House and the Orient Group have not responded to request for comment from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Uzbekistan last year improved its ranking in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, though it still ranks 153 out of 198 countries.

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Ukraine to let in at least 5,000 Uman pilgrims for Rosh Hashanah, chief rabbi says

Fri, 2020-07-31 14:45

(JTA) — The Ukrainian government has agreed to let at least 5,000 people attend the annual Rosh Hashanah pilgrimage in the city of Uman, Ukrainian Chief Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich said.

The quota may rise as high as 8,000, but the pilgrims will have to wear face masks in crowded places and refrain from gatherings of more than 30 people.

In previous years, about 30,000 pilgrims, mostly from Israel, have gathered for the Jewish new year in Uman, home to the burial place of Rabbi Nachman, an 18th-century luminary and founder of the Breslov Hasidic movement.

Testing for the virus at airports and mandatory installation of software on cellphones are also being considered to help keep the pilgrims safe, Bleich said. “But basically, the Ukrainian government is not putting a stop to it,” he said.

Israeli health officials are “nervous” about what will happen when the pilgrims return, Bleich said.

Rosh Hashanah this year begins in the evening of Sept. 18.

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Dutch-Jewish resistance fighter whose factory was used to make yellow stars dies at 98

Fri, 2020-07-31 14:41

AMSTEDAM (JTA) — Henk van Gelderen, a Dutch-Jewish resistance fighter whose textile factory was used to produce yellow stars for the Nazis, died at 98.

The De Stentor newspaper reported Tuesday about van Gelderen’s death.

Van Gelderen’s factory in the eastern city of Enschede, NV Stoomweverij Nijverheid, was confiscated by the German occupation forces soon after they invaded the Netherlands in 1940 and was used to produce 569,355 of the stars that Nazis forced Jews to wear.

Van Gelderen himself went into hiding in Amsterdam, assumed a false identity and teamed up with a resistance cell that was well-known for its high-quality forgeries of identity and travel documents for those wanted by the Nazis.

His older brother, Matthieu, who was also in the resistance, was arrested and murdered shortly before the Netherlands was liberated by Allied forces.

In March, Van Gelderen was named honorary mayor of Enschede.

In an interview, Van Gelderen how he felt about the workers who made yellow stars for the Germans with machines he had bought.

“What could they have done?” he said. “The factory had a German boss. They got the order. They had to eat. If they hadn’t done it, others would have.”

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Black British paper pulls rapper’s remarks about Jews but defends publishing them

Fri, 2020-07-31 14:33

(JTA) — The Voice, a British weekly aimed at the African-Caribbean community, pulled an interview with the rapper Wiley in which he repeated anti-Semitic tropes about Jews.

But in a statement Friday, the paper defended its decision to publish the interview.

“The Voice has not, and makes it clear again, supported or in any way condoned the outbursts by Wiley that the Jewish community finds offensive,” the statement said. “We do not support the stereotyping of any race or group.”

But the paper said that its role was to give voice to Black Britons and that should not be construed as an endorsement of every view it publishes.

“As a black media outlet, we are here to give our people a voice,” the statement said. “That doesn’t mean we will always agree with everything that is published.”

Wiley, who this week was banned from Twitter and Facebook over his views, said of British Jews: “They see us as slaves.”

Speaking about Jews, Wiley also wondered in the interview “why all of these families are rich, or all of these people have heritage, not just England, like, worldwide.” The interview followed Wiley’s apology for previous remarks about Jews.

In the article, the paper’s arts and entertainment editor, Joel Campbell, weighed Wiley’s claims that Black artists depend on Jewish lawyers to succeed.

“There is no way to put this all in one nutshell but the hypothesis that you need to get a Jewish lawyer in order to progress in the music business may be a complete fallacy (I haven’t done the numbers, looking into the correlation in respect of who is and isn’t successful with or without one), but yet it remains,” Campbell wrote.

“I’ve never seen anyone Jewish refute or confirm this,” he added, “but maybe, it’s a discussion that needs to be had?”

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Israeli citizen faces criminal charges for voting three times in Russian referendum

Fri, 2020-07-31 14:26

(JTA) — A dual citizen of Israel and Russia who posted pictures of herself voting three times in Russia’s constitutional referendum is facing criminal charges for elections fraud.

Yael Ilinsky, who lives in the Israeli city of Nahariya, said she posted pictures of herself voting three times in Israel during the referendum voting, which took place from June 25 to July 1. On Friday, she told Kan that her actions were meant to expose problems with voting procedures to prompt Russian authorities to improve them.

“The voting method in Russia is generally flawed and my experiment showed there’s zero oversight over votes abroad,” she told Kan.

Ilinsky documented herself casting a vote online at home, at the Russian embassy in Tel Aviv and at the Russian consulate in Haifa. Her post on Facebook went viral.

Ilinsky last visited Russia in December, but said she will not return until the investigation against her ends, she told Kan.

“Instead of addressing the problems exposed, they’re going after the person who exposed them. It’s very disappointing,” she said.

Among other things, the referendum concerned a proposal to amend the Constitution to permit President Vladimir Putin to seek two more six-year terms as president after the conclusion of his current one in 2024.  The referendum passed easily.

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Twitter permanently bans former Klan leader David Duke

Fri, 2020-07-31 14:04

(JTA) — Twitter has banned David Duke, a prominent white supremacist and former leader of the Ku Klux Klan.

Duke has repeatedly violated Twitter’s rules about “hateful conduct,” the company said Friday.

The social network changed its policy in March and no longer allow users to share links to articles that include “hateful content” or incite violence, BBC noted. A Twitter spokesperson told TechCrunch that the ban on Duke is permanent.

“The account you referenced has been permanently suspended for repeated violations of the Twitter Rules on hateful conduct. This enforcement action is in line with our recently-updated guidance on harmful links,” the spokesperson said.

Duke’s final tweet included a link to an interview he had conducted with Germar Rudolf, who was convicted of Holocaust denial in Germany.

In his tweet before that, Duke promised to expose the “systemic racism lie,” while another claimed to expose the “incitement of violence against white people” by Jewish-owned media.

Duke has been described by the Anti-Defamation League as “perhaps America’s most well-known racist and anti-Semite.” In 1975, he founded the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, which the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as an attempt to modernize the KKK. In the early 1990s, he mounted unsuccessful campaigns for the U.S. Senate and the governorship of Louisiana. In 2002, he pleaded guilty to tax fraud and spent a year in prison.

In June, he was banned from the video sharing website YouTube.

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This short film (co-starring a vibrator) aims to challenge the way Orthodox Jews are often portrayed in Hollywood

Fri, 2020-07-31 14:00

(JTA) – When Talia Osteen decided to make a short film about a Shabbos goy – a non-Jew who performs a task for a Jew that they can’t do themselves on Shabbat – she knew she needed him to do something funnier than flipping a light switch.

That’s how a vibrator came to star in “Shabbos Goy,” the short film by the Los Angeles director that made its debut online this month.

Chana, an Orthodox woman in Los Angeles, and her fiancee are celebrating their engagement at the Shabbat table with their families when she hears an alarming sound. Her sister’s children have found her vibrator and turned it on. From the dining room, she hears it writhing around on the floor of her bedroom.

Chana excuses herself from the table, setting off on a quest to find a Shabbos goy to turn off the vibrator, a task she can’t do herself because turning electronic devices on or off is forbidden on Shabbat.

Thus begins a fast-paced short film that offers a stark departure from how Orthodoxy has been depicted in recent movies and on television shows. Where Hollywood forays of late into Orthodox stories focused on the oppressiveness of the community’s rules within a setting of muted color palettes and a roster of characters who rarely smile, “Shabbos Goy” is a seven-minute snapshot of the silliness that can ensue when tradition and modernity live side by side and bump up against each other in awkward ways.

Osteen said her comedic approach to Orthodoxy was intentional.

The darker sides of the Orthodox world deserve to be highlighted, she said, as they have been in the 2017 film “Disobedience,” which starred Rachel McAdams as a closeted Orthodox lesbian, or “Unorthodox,” the story of a woman who leaves Hasidic Williamsburg behind for Berlin.

“But I wanted to show a different side that we don’t normally get to see,” Osteen said.

Where the movie most directly subverts Hollywood stereotypes of Orthodoxy is in the way it depicts women’s sexuality.

When Chana’s sister, married and with her hair covered by a scarf, walks in to see Chana and Davian — the Shabbos goy she has recruited — trying to turn off the vibrator, she is less shocked by the vibrator than by the stranger in her sister’s bedroom. Soon Chana is giving instructions on how to shut off the vibrator, insisting to her sister that she’s been using a vibrator long enough to know how it works.

“I want to invert the expectation that frum or Orthodox Jews are not as sexual as everybody else,” Osteen said. “It is supposed to be a nod to the fact that there’s more to Orthodox women than what we might think of.”

Osteen isn’t Orthodox herself. Raised by an Israeli mother and a father who converted to Judaism, she grew up going to a Conservative synagogue in a suburb of Orlando, Florida. As a kid, she attended camp at the JCC and even formed a Jewish singing group in high school called Visions. In Los Angeles, she and her wife send their son to a Jewish preschool and go to Ikar, a nondenominational synagogue in West Los Angeles.

But it was Osteen’s Orthodox friends who helped inspire the idea for the short.

In 2009, Osteen met Dov Rosenblatt, a Modern Orthodox musician who was looking to get his music into film and television scores. The two bonded over their shared experience of singing in Jewish bands and started writing songs together as a side project. In 2010, they started a band, The Wellspring, and in 2011 they went on tour together.

“Touring with someone who’s Orthodox means you can’t play on Shabbat, you can’t drive on Shabbat,” she said.

And while Osteen couldn’t be the Shabbos goy for Rosenblatt because she is Jewish herself, she came to learn when it might be helpful to him if she turned a light on or off on Shabbat.

It was that idea of the Shabbos goy – a non-Jew who can perform an action forbidden to a Jew on Shabbat if the Jew doesn’t explicitly ask them to do it – that intrigued Osteen as a plot device.

“There is inherent comedy whenever you give a character a set of rules that they have to navigate to get to a goal,” Osteen said.

When producer Paul Feig’s inaugural Powderkeg: Fuse competition put out a call for proposals for short films set in a micro-community in Los Angeles, Osteen was torn between writing about East Los Angeles lesbian moms and Orthodox Jews in Los Angeles’ Pico Robertson neighborhood. Osteen’s wife, Sara Hess, a producer and writer on “Orange is the New Black,” told her to choose the Orthodox community.

“We don’t see that often in comedies,” Hess said, according to Osteen.

Osteen originally envisioned a family sitting around the table on Friday night in the dark, in need of a Shabbos goy to turn on the light. But she wanted to pack in more comedic punch.

“I thought, what is the most embarrassing thing you could need to use a Shabbos goy for?” she said.

Osteen wasn’t actually going to make the story about someone needing a Shabbos goy to turn off a vibrator until she mentioned the idea to Rosenblatt and his wife, Ora. They couldn’t stop laughing.

Could that really happen, she wondered?

It’s possible, they told her.

“Well if it’s feasible, that’s enough for me to go on,” she said. “So I just went with it.”

The result is a fast-paced tour of the Jewish neighborhood of Pico Robertson, where Chana struggles to find someone who isn’t Jewish who can help. Eventually she finds Davian White, a Black man who can’t believe Judaism allows Chana to use a vibrator but not to turn it off.

Davian’s race adds another layer of complexity to the plot. When Chana approaches him, Davian questions her assumption that he’s not Jewish.

“Why’d you think that, cause I’m Black?” he asks her.

Coming at a moment when the Jewish community is reevaluating its notions of its own diversity, the question from a movie that premiered last year feels prescient.

The film makes a clear effort to get the details accurate and was helped by having people on set who had a strong familiarity with Orthodoxy. It was Yisrael Dubov – he plays Chana’s fiancee and was cast in the role before Osteen realized his father had been the Chabad rabbi in her hometown – who pointed out that the father in the film would not be wearing a wedding ring.

Osteen modeled the Shabbat meal setting after an Orthodox family she knows.

“So it may not look the same for other viewers, but I knew that it was at least accurate to how this Orthodox family that I know would do it,” she said.

Even the music, composed by Osteen and Rosenblatt, is based on a traditional niggun, a wordless melody, that they adapted to suit the arc of the script.

Osteen and the film’s producers are exploring their options to expand the film, whether it’s a feature film that takes place over the course of “one crazy (Shabbos) night,” as Osteen puts it, taking inspiration from “The Hangover,” “Booksmart” and “Runaway Bride,” or as a series in which Davian moves in with Chana’s family in a cross between “Three’s Company” and “Ramy.”

However the story continues, Osteen is gratified by the positive feedback from Jews and non-Jews alike, but especially from Orthodox viewers.

“I wasn’t sure which way it would go,” she said of the response from Orthodox viewers. “But that makes me very happy.”

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Martha Nierenberg, Holocaust survivor and American tabletop designer, dies at 96

Fri, 2020-07-31 13:48

(JTA) — Martha Nierenberg, a former biochemist and furniture designer who survived the Holocaust in Hungary and fought for restitution there, has died at 96.

Nierenberg died in her sleep on June 27 at a senior living facility in New York, the New York Times reported on Thursday

Nierenberg, who survived the war by hiding in a Roman Catholic hospital, made it to the United States with her mother in 1945. She was born into one of Hungary’s wealthiest families, according to the Times.

Among the family possessions that were plundered by the Nazis and their Hungarian collaborators were some 40 paintings worth millions of dollars. The paintings are still in the possession of the Hungarian state, which has been fighting for the past 30 years against restitution claims filed by Nierenberg. Her family will continue the fight after her passing, they told the Times.

In the United States, Nierenberg set off on a career as a scientist and researcher at MIT and the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in New York. She worked as a biochemist and spoke six languages. In 1954, she and her late husband, Theodore Nierenberg, founded the Dansk Designs housewares company, which brought Scandinavian tabletop design to the United States with sculptural, colorful tableware and cookware.

Nierenberg is survived by four children: Lisa, Karin, Peter and Al. Theodore Nierenberg died in 2009.

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We spoke with Jewish Currents about Seth Rogen, young Jews and that Peter Beinart essay

Fri, 2020-07-31 09:00

WOODMERE, N.Y. (JTA) — On July 7, Jewish Currents published an essay by Peter Beinart titled “Yavne: A Jewish Case for Equality in Israel-Palestine,” in which Beinart explained why he’s given up hope in a two-state solution and instead will advocate now or a binational Israel-Palestine with equal rights for all.

In this wide-ranging conversation, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency spoke with Arielle Angel, editor of Jewish Currents, about the magazine, mission, perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the identity crises facing today’s young Jews. 

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

JTA: Jewish Currents started in 1946, committed to, as you say on your site, “the rich tradition of thought, activism and culture of the Jewish left.” What does that mean in 2020? What is the vision you’re building in terms of what that looks like in practice?

Angel: This magazine has been in continuous print since 1946, but there have been real breakages in this lineage. The magazine was originally an organ of the Communist Party — which, of course, was an extremely common thing in the Jewish community, particularly in New York — until it became clear what was really going on in the Soviet Union. And then the people around Jewish Currents had to figure out well, where do we go from here? 

The boomer generation’s relative economic plenty coincided with a time where the Jewish community was moving into whiteness and the middle class. Those processes took them away from a radical tradition, and on top of that, the Jewish communal structure was really changing its orientation. At the time where this magazine was founded, even the Reform movement was not yet Zionist.

The radical or leftist lineage and their values became subservient to other goals that the community had, which were about economic uplift and Zionism.  

By the time our parents entered political consciousness, most American Jews were middle-class people in professionalized jobs. Now most of us are downwardly mobile. We have an Israel that is exhibiting increasing levels of authoritarianism. And the calculus that our parents made is no longer working. 

We are not the direct descendants of Jewish Currents’ original lineage in most cases, and yet we are sort of reaching back into that lineage and asking, for example, why was it buried? 

When I think of the of the Jewish media story in New York in particular, it’s so inextricably linked with the labor movement and Lower East Side Ashkenazi immigrants, and I think you explained very well that that kind of swing to our parents’ generation of economic prosperity and Jews really, fully assimilating to a certain extent in the United States. We grew up in the system that is being critiqued as opposed to earlier generations who are really new arrivals and saw the problems with fresh eyes.

It’s not like it happened by accident. There were wealthy Jews who did not like the politics of the rabble-rousing, radical Jews, and they created the central bodies of Jewish leadership that exist today, like the ADL and the AJC. These organizations are not democratic, not based in the values of those “downtown Jews,” and that was done on purpose. Big donors to institutions like JTS, for example, changed the nature of religious education, which filtered down to the synagogues — they used to be more participatory, more of a community space, and now, they’ve become more quiet, more controlled. These things were done on purpose to try to create a vision of a Jewish white upper-class society — and it worked.

I’m wondering how the messages and the values of the Jewish left in the early to mid-1900s translate to an overwhelmingly very well educated, very high socioeconomic class of readers?

Well, I think that this gets at the generational question. On a certain level, whether you were raised with money or not, you’re probably not earning more than your parents or able to buy a house with your nonprofit job. Your job is probably precarious. We may have been raised in certain kinds of families — which, let’s just also be clear, a lot of people were not — but we are still not feeling secure, and the resurgence of white nationalism since President Trump’s election compounded these fears. So suddenly, the machinations of state power and the way that state power has come to bear on Jewish history, and the way that it’s coming to bear on other groups of people in the United States, the echoes become hard to ignore.

I think you see, both in the United States and in Israel and the Palestinian territories, this kind of reawakening of more radical ideas. Younger Israelis are more right-wing politically than their parents. Younger Palestinians don’t necessarily feel the same way as their parents about Israeli nationalism and Palestinian nationalism. There seems to be a lot of interesting things going on with just the re-radicalization of young, politically minded people.

I think everyone can feel that we are closer to some kind of break. It does feel a bit like the older generation is not paying attention to those structural limits. Even though Israeli society is moving [more to the right], they’re also responding to that same reality. Their position is basically saying “we need to get rid of these people, we need to move them out, or we need to expel them, or we need to make sure that they’re contained.” The hard line is abhorrent, but it’s an internally consistent position because it makes a decisive choice about a situation whose reality can no longer be denied or delayed. 

I think that’s a good segue into talking about Peter Beinart’s essay for Jewish Currents in which he revealed he has lost hope in a two-state solution and is instead now advocating for a binational state with equal rights. What have the reactions been like? Is it what you expected? 

It is what we expected. I mean, I was extremely aware of the critique we were going to get from the left about Peter’s positioning and about some of the terms of the argument. We knew that was coming. As the editor, I tried to correct for that as much as I could. At the same time, I think Peter was very aware of being edited from his left and speaking in some ways to his right. The response from the mainstream Jewish community was very expected, and in fact, I think it actually went better than I thought in that he mostly wasn’t “excommunicated” or anything like that.

I expected that people would attack him. I certainly didn’t expect that the organizations that have put their hopes in the two-state solution and have refused to engage with the reality on the ground would just suddenly say, “yeah, Peter, you’re right.” But I also saw the immediate impact on people who have been struggling with this and looking for a way to move forward. And we did hear from a lot of people along those lines.

From the outside, Jewish Currents has a reputation — even though it’s been around forever — of being young, scrappy, fresh and really pushing lines on things. And Peter has been around for a long time as an American intellectual voice of the Jewish pro-Zionist left. Walk me through the vision and expectations of bringing someone like Peter onto Jewish Currents?

I think it was a very interesting decision for him to come to work with us, and it wasn’t something that I expected when we took over Jewish Currents. 

I do think that for Peter, there’s a question of what his legacy will be, the direction that he’s going and who he is in conversation with. I think that for most of his career, he’s been in conversation with his parents’ generation on some level.

Peter is very adept at figuring out where the mainstream conversation is going, and also at figuring out who in the Jewish community he might be able to have the most interesting conversations with. I can’t speak for Peter, but I think there may have been a sense for him that the conversation he had been having was not as interesting anymore, and that in order to move into the future and actually move to where the conversation is going, he might have to start talking more to the next generation. I think we see that in a lot of the responses to his piece by community leaders and thinkers: A lot of people actually didn’t engage with the content of the piece and used it as an opportunity to just reiterate the same old talking points. To me it seems like he made a decision about what the more honest conversation to be having is right now, and the ways that conversation will have to move in order to achieve something that resembles a just solution.

Peter notes that the centers of Jewish power are pro-Israel and that Israel has become the core tenet of American Jewish identity. But I think there might be a subtle distinction between identifying as pro-Israel, which 97% of American Jews do, and how people are actually operating day to day. I don’t actually know if Israel is such a focal point of American Jewish identity.

We have some good polling, but we don’t have enough polling to actually know. What we do know is that Israel is the last [legislative] priority among American Jews. Beating Trump is the No. 1 priority, but then you have health care, immigration, all the things that progressive Americans care about because most American Jews are progressive. Israel may be at the heart of mainstream Jewish identity, but it is not the primary concern for American Jews. 

Also, we don’t know what they mean when they say “pro-Israel.” If you start to probe on what American Jews think should happen to Israel, if they had to choose between it being a democracy and the Jewish state, for instance, you get a much higher percentage of people saying it should be a democracy. Turns out American Jews care about democracy quite a bit.

Already we know that Israel is not a democracy — that millions of Palestinians cannot vote for the government which controls their lives — and annexation gives us an opportunity to say definitively “this will be a non-democracy, this will be an apartheid-like situation.” So I do think that the more this penetrates the American Jewish consciousness, the more you’re going to see people really questioning what it means to be pro-Israel. 

I listened to the Marc Maron interview with Seth Rogen this morning. It was a fascinating conversation, but something that really stood out to me is this juxtaposition: Seth Rogen grew up going to liberal Jewish summer camp. He didn’t live in a particularly observant family. He brings up in the podcast that he doesn’t  believe in religion or religious motivations for being in Israel having any weight. But also, he talks about sitting shiva and mourning rituals and how, as he gets older, those things begin to take a more central role in his life while simultaneously having very passionate feelings that Israel doesn’t speak for his Judaism. It’s not where he’s engaging. 

I didn’t get the sense from listening that he necessarily has thought much about two states versus one state versus anything. I think there’s a lot to unpack there because I would speculate — and I’m curious to hear your perspective — that among non-Orthodox Jews under 40, that combination of general apathy about Israel put together with kind of questioning what role formalized Judaism has to play in their modern existence is something that’s far more interesting for them to engage with than the politics of the Middle East.

I think a lot of us are going through some measure of this kind of thing. And I do think that the real tragedy in this is that the mainstream Jewish community and the philanthropic community has totally abdicated its ability to reach someone like Seth Rogen, who’s clearly talking about wanting to know more, who’s clearly talking about wanting a certain kind of Jewish community. They’ve just left people like him in the lurch. A lot of young people don’t want to put an ethnonationalist project at the heart of their identity, which is partially because they are what this community purportedly wanted them to be: people who believe in fairness and equality and multicultural society. So I think it really does speak to that major failure of the American Jewish establishment that Peter wrote about 10 years ago.

For many people who are a little bit younger than me, the process of becoming disillusioned about the community’s support for the occupation is a very central experience. And I think that by essentially casting them out, and not actually providing opportunities for them to reengage in Jewish community from a place of wanting to learn or wanting to engage on their own terms, makes it so that now Israel is the primary lens by which we engage in Jewishness.

I wonder if you see any organizations or decentralized ways of operating being successful. Coming from the perspective of someone in the Orthodox community, as we’re talking, I’m thinking that this is kind of why kiruv and the kiruv movement have worked for a lot of young American Jews. It doesn’t necessarily engage with Israel and questions of statehood. The Orthodox community being overwhelmingly Zionist is very, very new in the evolution of Jewish thought. But when you center Jewish identity around community and meals and engaging with texts, there is something powerful, and I wonder what the not explicitly religious version of that is and if you’ve seen any manifestations of that.

I think it’s really hard because in the Orthodox community, you still have the funding. I don’t fully understand how Chabad’s finances work, but it does seem as though there are a lot of donors. And there are people who are paying for services from them because they also teach about Jewish life and text, provide child care and schooling, etc.

I think ultimately, in the secular community, it’s about philanthropy, and philanthropic models are so completely out of touch with young people and have no desire to give up power or decision-making to young people. I think Jewish Currents is a great example of what can happen when you turn over the reins. What the previous editor did was just give us the magazine. And it was painful for him, and it was painful for the board that we had at the time. Because you’re basically watching people do something different than you intended with the thing that you built. But that is how these things are going to survive.

There are a lot of organizations that are catering to the secular, progressive Jewish community in big and small ways. But not so much at the institutional level. For example, if I had a child right now, as a left-wing Jew, where would I send them for Jewish education? Not to mention that in many ways the American Jewish community has completely defunded its arts and cultural programs, which are essential to building meaningful secular Jewish life, in favor of sending the money to Israel.

As we’re talking, I’m realizing most if not all of the people that we’re either explicitly mentioning or alluding to are American men of a certain generation. Even us having this conversation right now is super rare; most Jewish publications are run by men and the board is filled with men. I’m constantly checking my own biases about who is allowed to speak in this conversation. And I’m curious from your perspective what we miss out on when female voices, Palestinian voices, Israelis who don’t speak English well are missing from this conversation.

I mean, how much time do we have? It’s almost obvious what we miss when we don’t have these people in this conversation. Like, it’s just not representative of anything. It doesn’t actually bring us to where the real conflicts are or to where the most promising, just solutions are. But it’s not just the kinds of conversations that we miss. It’s the conversations that we’ve literally destroyed.

When I go to work with Palestinian writers — and it’s actually difficult to do that because there’s so much broken trust between Jewish media and Palestinian writers — but when I reach out to Palestinian writers to ask them to talk to a Jewish audience about something, what I will sometimes get is a first draft that expends precious space arguing for their own humanity, or arguing that there is indeed an occupation, because those are the terms that Jewish media has laid out.

This means we’re never even allowing the conversation to get to the place where we’re actually talking about the things that we need to talk about. That is extremely intellectually destructive. 

I think that’s such an important point. The questions we ask, and the answers we elevate, dictate what people come to us to say. So what are the more relevant questions when we’re at an impasse here?

Part of our process since publishing the piece is reaching out to Palestinian intellectual leaders. We’re going to try to have those conversations in Jewish Currents and make room for them to dictate the questions that they think need to be asked. We do have an editorial baseline and that is that Palestinians must be free, and that that is an urgent issue. You can’t just defer it by saying it’s complicated. 

That’s why a lot of the responses to Peter’s piece really rang hollow. A lot of them basically said we know how bad it is, but we have to stay the course. And that’s not acceptable to us.

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Oregon’s attorney general, Ellen Rosenblum, says she won’t stand for authoritarianism in Portland

Thu, 2020-07-30 22:04

(JTA) — When reports emerged two weeks ago about federal agents seizing protesters from the streets of Portland and putting them in unmarked vans, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum sued to get federal officers off the street.

A judge rejected Rosenblum’s request for a preliminary restraining order against the agents last week. But the lawsuit is ongoing, as is a criminal investigation Rosenblum opened into federal agents who injured a protester. On Wednesday, the Trump administration made an agreement with local officials to withdraw the federal forces — though the timing is unclear. 

Rosenblum, who was elected to her post in 2012, is a former board member of her Portland synagogue, Congregation Beth Israel, as well as the founder of its book club and a former member of its choir.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency spoke with Rosenblum Wednesday about her next steps and how she sees her role as the state attorney general and a Jewish elected official. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

JTA: What do you see as your role, and your goal, during this period? 

Rosenblum: I am the people’s attorney. I look out for the most vulnerable in our state. I look out for those who most need the support of the legal establishment, if you will, to make sure that their rights are protected. 

In terms of actually taking legal actions, I don’t go there unless I feel that there are harms to Oregonians. In this case, there was no question that we had to do something, because it appeared that the situation was getting worse rather than improving with this influx of federal agents uninvited to our city. 

We started hearing these really frightening stories that appeared to be clear violations of the civil rights and liberties of Oregonians, and in particular Portlanders, who were attempting to and continue to be protesting against very serious abuses — police brutality, in support of Black Lives Matter, in support of racial justice. And it appeared that the conduct, the tactics that were being engaged in on the streets of our city, were not only really frighteningly dangerous, they could harm people, but they were infringing on the rights — the First Amendment rights, the Fourth Amendment rights, the Fifth Amendment rights of our citizens. 

Now that federal agents appear to be leaving Portland, what are your next steps?

Let’s get them out of town as quickly as possible and regroup. I hope the city, the mayor, the governor, the advocacy community and the protesters will sit down and will hammer out a plan so that protests can continue if that is the desired route, and I believe it will be. 

They need to be allowed to continue under circumstances that do not infringe on civil liberties and without the personal endangerment that has occurred when the feds were here.

Given your experience filing a lawsuit against the federal agents, what advice would you give other attorneys general facing the same issue?

Well, first of all, I don’t consider that we did not succeed. We lost a motion for temporary restraining order, but that is the first part of a potentially successful lawsuit, or an unsuccessful lawsuit, so I’m not quite conceding that we lost. I will say that the judge did not agree that we had standing to pursue the matter at this level with the amount of evidence that we had … so we’re looking at different options.

There’s numerous lawsuits that are still pending. And I’m not sure that anyone is just going to drop their lawsuit at this point, because these are all issues that could come back. You know, we don’t have any assurance that they’re not going to return. These are all federal lawsuits, and special court rulings could serve as at least guidance, if not precedent, in other locales.

We’re very hopeful that their leaving Portland doesn’t mean they’re going somewhere else. We want them back to their agencies doing the jobs that they apparently were trained in. They’re not trained to go anywhere to de-escalate conflict, clearly. 

I talk to my Democratic attorney general colleagues all the time. We meet by phone once a week as a group and we share all of what we’re doing to the extent we can. We join with each other in lawsuits, we help each other out, we file amicus briefs. 

So if they find themselves similarly situated we provide them full access to our lawsuit pleadings and we’re also more than happy to meet with them to discuss some potential strategies. 

What concerned you most about what you saw happening on the streets of Portland with the federal agents?

They really appeared to be schooled in escalating the aspects of the protests that were not safe. So, for example, if there was somebody who threw something at them they would throw something back, maybe even something that was more dangerous than what had been thrown in the first instance. So what we saw was an escalation of the situation, not a deescalation. They came in allegedly to protect their buildings, allegedly to quell the violence, and they did just the opposite.

That was certainly very concerning because there’s a chilling effect, what we call a restraint upon an individual’s or a group’s First Amendment right to protest. Shortly after they arrived there was one extremely serious incident that is the subject of our criminal investigation, where an individual was shot at in the face with some sort of a projectile and has been back in the hospital now, apparently has suffered serious facial and, I think, brain injuries.

There have been reports of some violence emanating from the protests. If you feel the federal response made it worse, what do you think should be done in response?

It appears that a large number of the people who have come out, having engaged in whatever misconduct or violent conduct they’ve engaged in, have been largely provoked by the presence, not just the presence, but the actions, of the feds. They need to leave, and once they leave I think there will be an opportunity to resolve what is left of any violent conduct that might continue. I hope it does not. Obviously if it does we have to deal with it immediately.

I’m not going to say that there was no violent conduct before the feds arrived, OK? But what I’m saying is that it’s not going to stop until the feds leave, it would appear, so that’s the first step toward negotiation, toward resolution. But for the most part these protests were peaceful protests. They were not violent protests until the feds arrived.

I want to switch gears and ask you about your Jewish life. You led the synagogue book club for a long time. What kind of books did you like to read? And what did you enjoy singing in the synagogue choir? 

I started the book club about 25 years ago and led it for many years, but “led” is mostly that I brought the food. I brought the bagels and coffee. 

We had a whole series of books that were really about different countries, different ethnicities. We read books by Jewish authors. I remember we read a lot of books by Amos Oz and books by American fictional authors that are very famous, by [Philip] Roth and others. 

We loved reading books about the Orthodox Jewish community in New York. When I watched the [Netflix] series recently, “Unorthodox,” I was thinking about the books that we had read and how those books had grown my understanding of the Orthodox community. 

I loved singing at the different holidays. I loved singing for the Hanukkah celebration because I love Hanukkah songs. I think they’re kind of, you know, underappreciated. 

Probably my favorite thing to do was to join an African-American church group of [gospel] singers, who join with us for the Martin Luther King Day celebration, the Shabbat service that we do in January every year, and that is a really wonderful event to get to join.

You’ve called the federal action in Portland “authoritarian overreach.” Does a turn toward authoritarianism concern you as a Jewish official?

Absolutely. I grew up in Reform Judaism. It was not so much religious-based in the sense of really studying the Old Testament or the Talmud, but here’s something I have in my kitchen: this is a quote that I wrote on a little whiteboard and it’s from the Talmud. It says, “The day is short, the task is difficult, it is not our duty to finish it, but we are forbidden not to try.”

I went to the social action committee with my dad monthly at the synagogue, and I just understood that that was what being Jewish was about, making sure that we were protecting people’s rights.  

It’s really scary. I don’t want to exaggerate anything. I don’t like to be a catastrophist. But I’ve been very worried when it hits home like this, when things that I worry about — with the president of the United States and some of the ways in which he conducts himself, the people who have been harmed by policies that have really been mean spirited and cruel, frankly — hit Portland in this way. It’s shocking, and I’m not going to stand for it.

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Phoenix mayor rising

Thu, 2020-07-30 21:53

Welcome to The Tell, the week's Jewish news from Washington by Ron Kampeas, JTA's Washington Bureau Chief.-->WASHINGTON (JTA) — I wrote this week about Phoenix’s young Jewish mayor, Kate Gallego, who is earning national attention for her calm pushback against efforts led by Republicans to diminish the importance of wearing facemasks.

Gallego, nee Widland, became a city planning geek as a kid with the help of the computer game Sim City (her imaginary city models included synagogues). She earned a degree in environmental studies from Harvard and served on the City Council before becoming mayor. 

(And no, it didn’t make me feel at all ancient when she asked me if I knew what Sim City was, and I said “yes,” but then muttered a confession that I only knew because my nephew was an enthusiast. She laughed.)

Another inspiration, she told me, was her late grandfather, Michael Widland. Gallego, a single mom, named her son, born in 2016 (and omnipresent in her campaigning) for him. The mayor told me just two weeks ago that she was looking through photographs from her bat mitzvah in Albuquerque — she’s still in touch with her Hebrew school class — and lingered over photos of her grandfather.

“He was very community-minded and always said you are judged by how you take care of the entire community,” she said. “We talked extensively when we were coming up with [her bat mitzvah] speech and trying to understand the Torah portion.”

Gallego said she is proud of the Phoenix Jewish community for taking the lead in working with other communities to help the city endure the pandemic. The city’s JCRC joined a national Jewish public policy initiative to speak out against the flourishing of anti-Asian racism that marked the beginning of the pandemic. 

More recently, Gallego’s rabbi, John Linder, has consulted with Gallego about setting up a network of COVID-19 testing centers in houses of worship. 

“We’ve learned that you can reach more people if you go to trusted locations and have trusted partners, and for so many, the faith community is that trusted partner,” she said.

Read more about Gallego here.


The liability question

The Jewish Federations of North America hosted another informative online session this week on what to look out for in pending economic relief bills.

Not addressed was the liability protections for businesses and nonprofits favored by Republicans, who lead the Senate, and opposed by Democrats, who lead the House. Democrats say it would be malpractice to keep businesses from being accountable for bad decisions, even during the pandemic. Republicans say liability protection is needed to keep businesses and nonprofits from going bankrupt. 

That partisan division makes the issue too radioactive to touch for Jewish Federations. The umbrella group’s CEO, Eric Fingerhut, would only say it was controversial and “I do not wish to wager a prediction on this one.” 

“I’ll stake my predictive powers on other pieces of the bill,” he said.

There does not appear to be a specific set-aside for nonprofits in either bill. Jewish Federations is leading a push to set aside $60 billion in assistance for nonprofits.

More for Melton-Meaux

Pro-Israel America, a nonprofit political action committee, is saying it “surpassed all expectations” by raising $2 million for its candidates this cycle — its goal when it was launched a year ago and three months before the election. 

So how important is it to the PAC, which was founded by former top staffers of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, to oust Rep. Ilhan Omar, the Minnesota Democrat who is one of two federal lawmakers to embrace the boycott Israel movement? Of the $2 million, a fifth, $397,000, was raised for her opponent, Antone Melton-Meaux, a pro-Israel progressive.

Picking on Ossoff’s nose

 Republican Sen. David Perdue removed a social media ad that appeared to exaggerate the size of the nose of his Jewish opponent, Jon Ossoff. In the ad, which declares “Democrats are trying to buy Georgia!” Ossoff appears alongside the Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, also Jewish. The Republican Jewish Coalition has rallied to Perdue’s defense, saying he took down the ad as soon as he learned of the photo manipulation. The RJC is organizing a conference call for Perdue next week and describes him as a leader in championing Israel.

United against Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu likes to say he is under constant assault from the left. My colleague Sam Sokol shows that this time around, the flourishing of protests, triggered by the spike of coronavirus cases and Netanyahu’s legal troubles, covers the political spectrum.


Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) on July 22, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

At Tablet, Armin Rosen examines the trajectory of California Rep. Karen Bass, from the radical left to contender for Joe Biden’s running mate. Rosen argues that her Fidel Castro-influenced   youth is exactly what propelled her into contention as a moderate endorsed by conservative columnist George Will. 

“She wanted to solve problems in the community where she had spent her entire life, and then dedicated the next several decades to doing exactly that,” Rosen wrote.


A tweet from Jacob Kornbluh (Screenshot)


On Twitter, President Donald Trump suggested a delay in the Nov. 3 elections because of what he said will be confusion engendered by the coronavirus. Jewish Insider’s Jacob Kornbluh suggested that he look to one of his favorite countries that manages to get elections done, sometimes several times a year.


Share your thoughts on The Tell, or suggest a topic for us. Connect with Ron Kampeas on Twitter at @kampeas or email him at thetell@jta.org.

The Tell is a weekly roundup of the latest Jewish political news from Ron Kampeas, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s Washington Bureau Chief. Sign up here to receive The Tell in your inbox on Thursday evenings. -->

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State Department report assesses progress in Holocaust property restitution in 46 countries

Thu, 2020-07-30 19:36

(JTA) — The State Department released a report that assesses the progress made by 46 countries on the restitution or compensation for property wrongfully seized during the Holocaust.

The 200-page report issued Wednesday was mandated by the Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today Act, or JUST Act of 2017.

Cherrie Daniels, the U.S. Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues, said the report does not single out any specific countries for good efforts or no efforts.

“It reviews in a straightforward, factual manner each country’s efforts in meeting its own commitments,” she said. “For each country in all the 46 chapters, the report identifies areas where progress has been made as well as where further work is needed. So we hope that this will spur further progress, of course, as countries read through their own chapters and decide how best they can meet their own commitments.”

Daniels said her office decided to expand the report to cover not only restitution and welfare issues, but also all other aspects of the Terezin Declaration, such as Holocaust commemoration, archives and education. The 2009 Terezin Declaration on Holocaust Era Assets is a nonbinding set of guiding principles aimed at faster, more open and transparent restitution of property.

The report, which covers restitution efforts from the end of World War II until December 2019, was submitted to Congress in March, but its public release was held up due to the coronavirus pandemic, Daniels told reporters.

“Much time has passed, and the need for action is urgent,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in the forward.

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