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Rapper Wiley apologizes for comments about Jews — then offers more

Thu, 2020-07-30 17:35

(JTA) — The British rapper Wiley apologized for “generalizing” about Jews in tweets directed at his manager and others in the music industry that were widely panned as anti-Semitic — and then proceeded to make additional assertions about Jews and Jewish control of the music industry.

Wiley made the apology in an interview with Sky News after Twitter permanently banned him from the platform. But in that interview and in an interview with The Voice Newspaper, which bills itself as “Britain’s Favorite Black Newspaper,” Wiley continued his tirade.

“My comments should not have been directed to all Jews or Jewish people. I want to apologize for generalizing, and I want to apologize for comments that were looked at as anti-Semitic,” Wiley told Sky News in an interview that aired Wednesday evening. “I’m not racist, you know. I’m a businessman. My thing should have stayed between me and my manager, I get that.”

Wiley’s manager, who is Jewish, following the Twitter tirade by his client announced on Friday that he would no longer represent the rapper.

Later in the Sky News interview, Wiley insisted that “the Jewish community are powerful within the music business.”

In an interview with Wiley published Wednesday, The Voice wrote that “some of the views espoused by Wiley are the great unsaid outside of the black community. …  not too many seem prepared to vocalize their consternation for some of the recurring themes Wiley believes is the stranglehold one community seems to have over another in particular relation but not confined to, the music business.”

Wiley told The Voice that the people he is talking about specifically are “the people I work with in the entertainment and music industry, the Jewish community that I have experienced.”

He added: “I haven’t experienced a Jewish community that I haven’t worked with.”

Asked about his issues with the Jews he has worked with, Wiley said that they are “rich” and have worldwide “heritage.”

Throughout the interview he rarely says Jews or Jewish, using instead “they” “them” or “these people.”

The writer of the piece, Entertainment Editor Joel Campbell, suggests that there needs to be a discussion “about the hypothesis that you need to get a Jewish lawyer in order to progress in the music business.” He said that “I’ve never seen anyone Jewish refute or confirm this.”

Some of Wiley’s tweets were reported to Britain’s Metropolitan Police, who reportedly are investigating them for incitement to racial hatred.

Wiley received an MBE, an Order of the British Empire award, in 2018 for his services to music and there are calls for it to be rescinded.

Board of Deputies of British Jews President Marie van der Zyl responded to the interview, saying in a statement that the organization is “saddened and concerned that The Voice, with its long history of campaigning against racial injustice, has run a piece that echoed and amplified Wiley’s racist tropes, rather than challenging them. We urge the paper to reflect, rectify and move focus to mutual solidarity.”

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The pandemic put Kate Gallego, Phoenix’s Jewish mayor, in the spotlight. She’s walking a tightrope in a swing state.

Thu, 2020-07-30 16:52

WASHINGTON (JTA) — When Kate Gallego was growing up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, she dreamed of moving to the big city and making an impact.

To prepare, she played video games.

“So there was a computer game Sim City where you could map out cities, and I loved that,” Gallego said in an interview this week with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “You have the right mix of libraries and educational institutions and places for people to work, and you also have enough clean water and ability to pick up trash and recycling so that it is to a certain extent well balanced. You can’t have a city that just does one thing.”

Did her virtual cities include synagogues?

“Absolutely,” Gallego said. “You have to serve the whole person.”

Decades later, Gallego not only lives in Phoenix but is its mayor. Yet rather than tackling a wide range of challenges in the city, the fifth largest in the United States, the 38-year-old Jewish Democrat is now focused primarily on one: the COVID-19 pandemic that has ravaged Phoenix and required her to engage in delicate open negotiations with both Arizona’s Republican governor and the Trump administration.

In June, Gov. Doug Ducey barred cities from imposing requirements to wear face masks, rendering Gallego’s mandate moot at a crucial moment, as cases began to rise and President Trump held a rally in the city. She joined Regina Romero, the Democratic mayor of Arizona’s second-largest city, Tucson, in pushing back against Ducey’s decision. He not only reversed his order, but now says Arizonans likely will be wearing masks through the end of the year.

Then, earlier this month, Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, was recording more than 2,000 new cases a day, and nearly a quarter of tests were coming back positive. Sick residents were spending hours in 115-degree temperatures waiting to be screened for the virus. Yet the federal support for more testing that Gallego had been requesting for months had not materialized. After she aired her concerns publicly, the Federal Emergency Management Administration opened a surge testing site that she wanted, even as Arizona Republican leaders accused her of lying.

In both cases, Gallego advocated firmly and openly for her city, locally and during a series of appearances on national news shows. But in a state that’s about evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, she got her way in part by making a point of not engaging in the partisan warfare that has characterized the response to the pandemic in some places, said Paul Rockower, the director of the Phoenix Jewish Community Relations Council.

“She’s been out in front, she’s been advocating for good health policy procedures and protocols,” Rockower said in an interview. “But she’s not one who’s going to go out and be radical. You don’t get anywhere in Arizona being a bomb thrower. You have to really be prudent.”

Gallego’s July 12 appearance on “Face the Nation” was typical. Asked about her frustrations in obtaining federal assistance, she glided past the potshot taken at her by the White House and instead said she was grateful to the federal government for coming through.

”The term they used for me was ‘out of tune,’” she said. “But the good news is they did finally decide that they are going to be bringing that federal testing to our community, and it cannot come a moment too soon.”

Gallego also did not make a point of forcing the participants at a Trump rally in June to wear masks.

“We decided to start with education and just explaining why mask-wearing is important, and why the city required it,” the mayor said. “And so at the time the president came, we had not issued any citations and it felt too political to start with a political event.”

Helen Holden, a Phoenix lawyer who is involved with the National Council of Jewish Women, said Gallego has “done a really good job of bringing some disparate elements together.”

Gallego says that’s in part because of her Jewish identity.

“Our faith saying that every person has value and dignity is really important, and has driven how I’ve approached COVID,” she said.

Her Jewish identity has also shaped some of the reaction she’s faced, and the way Gallego has worked with other executives to respond.

“There’s been some pushback using Nazi terminology against really all elected officials, but Jewish ones in particular,” she said. “I’ve been able to talk to some of my fellow Jewish mayors about how they are responding, and we’ve also looked at, like for example, Gov. [Jared] Polis from Colorado, who has spoken quite eloquently about how inappropriate it is to use comparisons to the Holocaust.”

Gallego has lived in Phoenix since 2004, when she moved there after graduating from Harvard with a degree in environmental studies to be with her then-boyfriend, Ruben Gallego. (She also has an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.) She arrived at the same time as another Harvard graduate, Pete Buttigieg, but while he eventually returned to his hometown, South Bend, Indiana, Gallego planted roots in the city.

She and Ruben Gallego, who was later elected to Congress, married in 2010. (Until then, her name was Kate Widland.) In 2013, after a period working in urban development, she was elected to the Phoenix City Council at 32, where she lobbied for civic improvements of the type she once constructed in Sim City, including a light rail system that would allow for sustainable growth in the fast-expanding city.

She and Gallego divorced in 2016 while she was pregnant with their son, Michael, and her parents moved 400 miles west from Albuquerque to join her and share in his care. After the mayor of Phoenix won a congressional seat in 2018, Gallego engaged in a bitter race to replace him, and Michael joined her frequently on the campaign trail. She was elected in March 2019 on a platform that included investing in sustainable growth, including public transportation, and preparing the city’s finances for a recession that would come much sooner and more precipitously than anyone could have imagined.

Gallego is Phoenix’s third Jewish mayor — she said it was a “point of pride” that Emil Ganz was the first in the late 19th century — and she is deeply committed to its Jewish community, which numbers about 100,000.

Paul Eckstein, an amateur historian of Jewish Arizona, gave a lecture a year or so ago on “The Jewish Connection To Modern Arizona Politics” at the local Jewish heritage center. He was surprised to see Gallego turn up. He was even more surprised when she contacted him a few months later.

“She borrowed my materials,” Eckstein said, so she could include the information in her own speeches to the Jewish community.

Gallego is proud of the Phoenix Jewish community for joining other communities in organizing the distribution of personal protective gear and testing, and in pushing back against anti-Chinese racism. (The Jewish Community Relations Council joined a national Jewish initiative speaking out against racism at the beginning of the pandemic.)

“The Jewish community has been amazing in advancing conversations about equity and fighting racism, but also helping me in fighting COVID,” she said.

Gallego’s rabbi, John Linder of Temple Solel in suburban Phoenix, said her openness to others is clear in their conversations.

“She might not be able to say, ‘You know, the Babylonian Talmud, tractate Eruvin, where you’ve got Hillel and Shammai and elu and elu,” Linder said, referring to a classic Jewish text in which the ancient rabbis concluded that two positions should be considered equally divine Torah. “But the point is she recognizes from Jewish tradition that there are multiple truths.”

That approach will be key if Gallego chooses to pursue a further political career in Arizona, where Democrats have enjoyed unusual electoral success lately but which remains a purple state overall. She is earning the national profile that helped propel Buttigieg to be among the frontrunners in the Democratic presidential primaries, and her national news appearances are already generating some resentment at home.

But rather than looking ahead, Gallego is maintaining a laser-sharp focus on what Phoenix needs to weather the pandemic.

That’s smart, said Ron Ober, a lobbyist who ran a campaign for Dennis DeConcini, a three-term Arizona senator.

“People who are successful in running for future political offices, it usually happens because they do a good job, and not because they make plans,” he said. “People who make plans in politics are destined to potentially be disappointed.”

Does Gallego see a future where she can put her negotiating skills to use in a bigger arena? Right now, she’s focused on winning reelection — she’s up for a full four-year term this fall, and she faces two determined competitors as well as COVID-19 rates that, while falling, remain among the highest in the country.

“I have my dream job now,” she said.

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David Galante, 94, Auschwitz survivor who taught about the Holocaust after a 50-year silence

Thu, 2020-07-30 15:44

BUENOS AIRES (JTA) — It took 50 years for David Galante to begin talking about his experience at Auschwitz.

Born to a Sephardic family in Rhodes in 1925, Galante studied in a Jewish school as a child, learning Italian, French and Hebrew. He was a teenager when he arrived at Auschwitz in the summer of 1944. When he was liberated a year later, he weighed just 83 pounds and had the number B 7328 tattooed on his arm.

“The Russian soldiers, especially female soldiers, cried their eyes out and some of them vomited when entering and saw,” he recalled in an interview.

Galante died at 94 on July 27 from COVID-19 in Buenos Aires. He had arrived in Argentina in 1948 with his brother Moshe, the only survivors of their family and two of the 151 Jews from Rhodes who survived the war.

In Argentina, Galante married and had two children, Sandra and Ezequiel, but he remained silent about his wartime experience for decades.

“It was painful, embarrassing to tell all the horror we had to endure,” he said later.

It would take roughly a half-century before Galante began to talk about what he had witnessed. In interviews, he would describe how the Nazis disembarked on Rhodes and put the vast majority of Jews on boats for the long trip to Athens, and then on to trains for Auschwitz. Describing his wartime experiences, “the wounds began to heal in a slow way,” he would often say.

Galante became an active member of the Holocaust Museum of Buenos Aires, giving speeches in schools, public interviews, and also writing a book of his memories. He said that he felt that his real liberation began when he started to speak out.

In a video made by the Holocaust Museum of Buenos Aires, his wife Raquel said that she slowly persuaded him to bring all the truth, pain and horror out. His daughter Sandra made a brief appearance saying, “I want to make a wish for my father … that life doesn’t make him suffer anymore, give him a break.”

Galante was buried on July 28 in the main Jewish cemetery of Argentina, in the La Tablada area of Buenos Aires. The funeral was broadcast online to friends and relatives.

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg has a nonsurgical procedure and will stay in hospital through end of week

Thu, 2020-07-30 14:38

(JTA) — Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will remain hospitalized through the end of the week after undergoing a minimally invasive nonsurgical procedure on Wednesday.

The procedure, to revise a bile duct stent, took place Wednesday at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, the Supreme Court said in a statement. Stent revisions are common occurrences, the statement said, citing the justice’s doctors, who said the procedure was done to minimize the risk of future infection.

Ginsburg, 87, was said to be “resting comfortably” after the procedure.

Ginsburg was hospitalized earlier this month at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore after “experiencing fever and chills,” and was treated for a possible infection, which may have been at the site of the stent.

The justice announced after that hospitalization that she is undergoing chemotherapy for liver cancer. Ginsburg has had multiple bouts of cancer, including pancreatic cancer for which she underwent radiation therapy in 2019, and colon cancer in 1999. She continues to keep up with her opinion writing and other court work.

Ginsburg is one of three Jewish justices on the court and leads its liberal wing. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the majority leader in the Senate, has said he will not hesitate to push through a replacement nominated by President Donald Trump should Ginsburg die or step down, no matter how close to the election.

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Israel Museum in Jerusalem to reopen with $4 million grant from US supporters

Thu, 2020-07-30 14:31

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Israel Museum in Jerusalem, which has been closed since the start of the coronavirus crisis, received a $4 million grant from supporters in the United States to reopen.

Museum director Ido Bruno announced what he called the “extraordinary” donation on Thursday morning, saying he would allow the museum to open “soon” and without cuts to employees’ salaries.

“I want to thank the American Friends of the Israel Museum for their uncompromising support of the Israel Museum,” Bruno said in a statement, according to The Jerusalem Post. “This is a step that expresses confidence in Israeli culture and art, and we thank them from the bottom of our hearts.”

While other museums have reopened in Israel in recent weeks, the Israel Museum has remained closed due to the inability to pay its staff. Only about 10% of the museum’s 400 staff members have been working throughout the coronavirus crisis, handling essential work such as maintenance and conservation of the museum collection despite its closure.

Much of the museum’s budget comes from ticket sales, mostly to tourists from abroad, who have not been coming to Israel since the country closed its borders to non-citizens at the start of the pandemic. The museum says it welcomes about 1 million visitors each year.

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Dozens of headstones smashed at Jewish cemetery in Russia

Thu, 2020-07-30 14:25

(JTA) — Dozens of headstones at a Jewish cemetery in the Russian city of St. Petersburg were smashed.

The perpetrators left no graffiti indicating that their actions were a hate crime, KP.ru reported. Police are investigating the incident Tuesday at the Aleksandrovskaya Farm Avenue cemetery and indicated they have no suspects.  

The vandalized headstones were toppled either with a heavy work tool or were kicked over.

There is no security camera footage, the news site reported.

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Sheldon Adelson pledges to pay Las Vegas casino employees despite pandemic downturn

Thu, 2020-07-30 14:15

(JTA) — Billionaire casino magnate and Jewish philanthropist Sheldon Adelson said in a letter to his Las Vegas employees that he will maintain pay and benefits through at least Oct. 31.

The letter dated Wednesday recognized the personal challenges of the employees during the coronavirus crisis, including caring for elderly relatives, spouses who have lost their jobs and uncertainty about whether their children would be returning to school.

The company reportedly paid its staff of 10,000 at The Venetian Resort Las Vegas full salaries and benefits during Nevada’s state-mandated closure that began on March 17 and ran for over two months.

Sands owns the Venetian and Palazzo casinos and the Sands Expo & Convention Center on the strip.

The resorts reopened in early June but have seen a huge drop in business, with the casinos relying mostly on local gamblers.

The Las Vegas Sands Corp. reported a 97% decline in revenue for the three-month period ending June 30, showing  $98 million in net revenue, down from $3.3 billion a year earlier, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Twitter users responded to reports of the letter calling Adelson a “mensch” and an “honorable man.” Some commented that they would plan to book vacations at Adelson properties once they begin traveling. Employees also tweeted praise for Adelson, a major giver to Israel causes and Republican candidates.

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Member of NY Jewish security patrol group Shomrim slashed while stopping gang attack

Thu, 2020-07-30 14:15

(JTA) — A member of the private Jewish security patrol group Shomrim was slashed in the leg while intervening to stop a gang assault on an unidentified man in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Borough Park.

The volunteer, 33, was transported to a local hospital, where he was treated and released. The victim of the attack ran from the scene and did not receive medical assistance.

Three of the four alleged assailants, aged 18 to 20, were arrested at the scene Wednesday night, according to the New York Police Department. The fourth person fled the scene. The knife used in the attack was recovered.

The three will be charged with gang assault, according to the NYPD.

The Shomrim volunteer  had responded to a call about a gang attack.

Meanwhile, a 20-year-old man with special needs was assaulted in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn after he left a Jewish-sponsored group home.

The man was approached by an individual after he walked out of a HASC (Hebrew Academy for Special Children) home, who punched him and smashed a rock into his head, according to the Yeshiva World News. The victim was taken to the hospital for treatment; the report did not detail the seriousness of the injuries.

The assailant did not speak to the victim before attacking him, according to the report.

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A bipartisan protest movement is rocking Israel and growing by the week. Here’s why.

Thu, 2020-07-30 13:59

TEL AVIV (JTA) — Noam Ofer might have been an unlikely candidate to join Israel’s burgeoning protest movement. At 76, he is older than most of the people who have taken to the streets in recent weeks to protest the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis. He also doesn’t share the political views of many of the protesters.

But Ofer was there anyway on Tuesday evening marching outside the Tel Aviv home of Israel’s internal security minister in charge of law enforcement, Amir Ohana, who was caught on tape pressuring a senior police official to ban demonstrations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“He’s trying to illegally shut down protests,” Ofer said. “I came because the minister said that we’re all on the left. I’m on the right. He said we are anarchists, but the only ones creating anarchy are the ones around Netanyahu.”

Ofer’s perspective reflects the deep and bipartisan frustration that many Israelis are feeling about the country’s leadership nearly six months since Israel recorded its first coronavirus case. Thousands of Israelis have been staging loud protests for weeks, mostly outside the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem, but also in Tel Aviv and other spots across the country. Some commentators have called it the country’s largest grassroots movement since 2011, when hundreds of thousands of Israelis protested the cost of living.

Noam Ofer, 76, at the Black Flag protest, July 28, 2020. (Sam Sokol)

After drawing international praise for how he efficiently imposed a strict and effective lockdown, Netanyahu acknowledged earlier this month to reopening Israel too soon. Cases have risen sharply, restrictions have been reimposed and unemployment is near its all-time high. Stimulus checks from the government have fallen short of their promised amount. 

Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s trial on three corruption charges has been delayed for a second time — after Ohana, in his previous stint as justice minister, shut down courts amid the pandemic in March, effectively postponing legal proceedings against the prime minister. The demonstrations have reenergized those who have been calling out Netanyahu in recent years over his legal problems and what they perceive as his goal to weaken democratic institutions like the judiciary.

The result is a movement made up of Israelis across the political spectrum, whose numbers seem to be growing every week. Police were bracing for large rallies Thursday night with the end of the Tisha B’Av observance.

As the protests have widened in focus, demonstrators have faced harsh crackdowns by police, who have drawn criticism for using water cannons and tear gas.

Many at Tuesday evening’s protests, which was organized by the anti-Netanyahu Black Flag movement, said they were incensed by Ohana’s statement to Doron Yadid, the commander of the Jerusalem police district — a recording of which was leaked in the media — that he didn’t “understand why we don’t ban” anti-Netanyahu protests.

“I want to challenge the ruling of the court,” Ohana said, referring to a recent ruling allowing the protests to go ahead, generating widespread anger and prompting President Reuven Rivlin to issue a public statement declaring that the right to protest “must not be harmed.” 

Some protesters brought water guns to Tel Aviv, July 28, 2020. (Sam Sokol)

Ohana is “trying to cancel protests and circumvent the law,” complained Maor, a 25-year-old law student from the coastal city of Ashdod who said he had attended a number of demonstrations outside the prime minister’s residence and had been “subject to police violence” for engaging in civil disobedience.

“It was brutal, they used a water cannon against me,” he said, describing how he was shot with a high pressure water jet while participating in a sit-in. “I bruised my ankle. I couldn’t work for two days.”

Another protester, Eliana Barbel, showed off a large bruise on the back of her leg as she described her experience at a protest last week that ended in violent clashes with police.

“I was arrested on Thursday. I was hit and arrested and spent the night in jail for protesting,” Barbel said. “When I was arrested, the cops were very violent. I was sitting on the ground and three riot policemen picked me up and took me.

“They want to scare us, but this will only bring more people out,” she added, holding up a sign decrying violence against Arabs, haredi Orthodox, Ethiopians and leftists, and promising to continue to protest even “if I’m arrested 10 times.”

Eliana Barbel at the protest in Tel Aviv holding a sign that reads: “Arabs, haredim, Ethiopians, lefties. Ohana, who is next in line?” (Sam Sokol)

Echoing a theme that has emerged in recent American Black Lives Matter protests that have faced police crackdowns, Efrat Safran, a 57-year-old dual American-Israeli citizen from Ramat Hasharon, carried a sign bearing the slogan “Mothers Against Police Violence.”

Safran said she was ready to protect younger protesters from the police with her own body. 

“We’re trying to save democracy,” she said. 

While the crowd protesting near Ohana’s apartment was overwhelmingly secular, Pinchas, 30, a haredi attorney from Bnei Brak, a largely ultra-Orthodox city, said he decided to come out because “government corruption is dangerous to all of us, including the haredim.”

Tuesday night’s protest was marked by tense but not violent exchanges with police. (Five protesters reportedly were hospitalized after being attacked, the Black Flag movement said, by individuals not associated with the police.) After several hours, the protesters drifted away from the zone marked out for them by law enforcement and began marching down a nearby road, stopping traffic and eventually running into a line of policemen backed up by mounted officers.

Large groups of protesters eventually began making their way back, trying to circumvent the police and reach Ohana’s apartment building, leading to several clashes during which officers shoved several people, leading to renewed chants of “no to violence.”

As police and protesters faced off, the mounted officers repeatedly rode up to the edge of the crowd trying to force its members back.

Clashing pic.twitter.com/Jj6Y1WQpVc

— Sam Sokol (@SamuelSokol) July 28, 2020

Most of the marchers began to walk through the city, snarling traffic as they made their way through a series of Tel Aviv landmarks, including the square in front of the Habima Theater and the popular Dizengoff Center shopping mall.

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Who would sell Holocaust-themed face masks? This guy.

Wed, 2020-07-29 22:01

(JTA) — The face masks aren’t subtle: One is emblazoned with the famous photo of a Jewish mother and child, their hands raised, at Nazi gunpoint. Another shows an unmistakable image of a concentration camp crematorium.

The product description below the mother-and-child mask reads: “Another bold image that gets the point across without being overly offensive.” It sells for $12.44.

Those masks, and others like them, are sold online at HolocaustFaceMasks.com. Other products on the site feature photos from Nazi rallies or a Japanese internment camp in the United States. A T-shirt sold on the site shows three pictures in numerical order: first, a generic face mask; second, a photo of Jews lining up to enter a ghetto; third, a photo of a Nazi concentration camp. 

You probably get the point. But in case you don’t, the website’s founder explained his objective on the homepage. “Our goal here is to provide a reminder of what can happen when millions of people follow seemingly innocent ‘orders’ and ‘rules,’” the site says. “In the times of the [H]olocaust people may not have had such a recent example of evil to keep them vigilant and weary [sic] of evil to come. We do.”

Despite the product description, the idea of comparing a public health mandate to the genocide of 6 million people seemed pretty offensive to me — as it has to people in the many places where such comparisons have been made. (A Minnesota GOP official resigned just this week after posting a meme to that effect.)  

So I emailed the address on the website, hoping to find out who was behind it and whether that person had considered that the products he is peddling might be seen as hurtful or even anti-Semitic.

The site’s founder responded quickly. Identifying himself as Tyler Kozdron, he told me that he believes requiring face masks could lead to something like the Holocaust “or even more sinister.” And he doesn’t feel bad about saying so. 

“I chose holocaust images because I couldn’t think of a better group of images to express the feeling of having everything taken away, and I guess some people really just don’t get it because they haven’t felt that feeling yet in their lives,” Kozdron wrote to me. “Or maybe they just cannot equate having to wear a mask with that feeling, but I do.” 

In the subsequent emails we exchanged, Kozdron was reluctant to tell me much about himself, due to what he called “the endless death threats I am receiving.” But he did share that he is 28, the descendant of Polish immigrants who came to the United States around the time of World War II, and a former gas station worker somewhere in the U.S. His experience working at the gas station during the pandemic, he said, convinced him that measures in the U.S. to prevent COVID-19 are fundamentally unserious, because many of the rules at his workplace did not make sense to him and did not seem to him to be effective. 

So, he wrote, he “got to thinking, ‘well what if this IS part of something much bigger. I have read a lot about the holocaust, I understand how people can be manipulated.  And for me personally, something just is not right here.”

As of Tuesday night, Kozdron said he had sold fewer than 10 masks. Public health officials like those at the CDC strongly recommend wearing masks to help stop the spread of COVID-19. 

Anti-Semitism watchdogs are pretty united in asserting that comparing the Holocaust to events that are not genocide is an unacceptable trivialization of the tragedy, and they’ve had multiple opportunities to press the point amid a wave of face mask-Nazi comparisons in recent months. On July 5, Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, tweeted, “To compare COVID-19 rules to the slaughter of millions in the Holocaust is disgusting, wrong and has no place in our society.”

This is the first time he’s done anything like this, Kozdron said. And given the experience he’s had, he probably won’t do it again. But he’s not apologizing. He doesn’t think he’s trivializing the Holocaust. He thinks, in fact, that he’s “un-trivializing it by bringing it back into conscious awareness in this specific context.” 

You know who he thinks is trivializing the Holocaust? Jews. 

“It appears to me that there are a lot of Jewish people out there that want to keep the Holocaust as some kind of virtue pedestal for them to raise a knee on when they want an opportunity in their own lives to talk down to somebody else without fear of retaliation or interrogation,” he wrote, echoing an anti-Semitic stereotype that Jews invoke the Holocaust to shield themselves from criticism. “If you asked me, I would say Jews who constantly use the event to embolden whatever they might have to say, is what really ‘trivializes the holocaust.’”

He did write that if an actual survivor emailed him and asked him to take down the site, he would. That apparently has not happened. 

Meanwhile, he seems pretty disappointed in Jews, who, he wrote, “of all people, can be so blind to what is happening in the world today.”

“Then again,” he added, “the stereotypical rumors would say that Jewish people are directing the societal change.”

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Holocaust survivors launch campaign to fight Holocaust denial on Facebook

Wed, 2020-07-29 20:48

BERLIN (JTA) – Joining a growing chorus of critical voices, Holocaust survivors have launched an international online campaign criticizing Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg that is aimed at countering Holocaust denial on his social media platform.

Starting Wednesday, a campaign sponsored by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany called “There’s No Denying It #NoDenyingIt” will upload video testimony daily from survivors across the globe to social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram (owned by Facebook) and Twitter.

The campaign is being billed as the first-ever digital campaign by survivors. Some 50 have signed on to the project so far.

“People believe what they see on Facebook,” Stefanie Seltzer, a Polish-born survivor and activist, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in a phone interview from California. “What happened cannot be denied.”

Pressure has grown on the social media giant since Zuckerberg told the technology website Recode in July 2018 that while he found Holocaust denial “deeply offensive,” he didn’t want to take it down because “I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong.”

The Claims Conference is arguing that Holocaust denial is intentional and therefore a violation of Facebook’s community standards. Several groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, recently turned on the pressure, launching a successful advertising boycott as part of the “Stop Hate for Profit” campaign in June.

The ADL has detailed large groups of Holocaust deniers who gather on the platform.

Among those taking part in the campaign are Serge Klarsfeld, a prominent survivor and Nazi hunter; Roman Kent, the U.S.-based head of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors; Charlotte Knobloch, former head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany; and Auschwitz survivor Eva Schloss of Vienna, who lives today in London.

“I lost all my family. Many, many family members. There is no denying it!” Schloss says in a video.

“Holocaust denial is nothing short of hate dialogue,” Kent says in another.

In response to the ad boycott, Zuckerberg and Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg agreed to hold a Zoom meeting with ADL National Director Jonathan Greenblatt, NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson and others on July 8. Participants reportedly came away disappointed.

Zuckerberg has not yet met with survivors to discuss the matter, according to Greg Schneider, the head of the Claims Conference.

Seltzer said the public is vulnerable to distortion, since many don’t know the history.

She was hidden in Poland as a child and was reunited with her mother after the war. Seltzer is the founder and president of the World Federation of Jewish Child Survivors of the Holocaust and Descendants.

“The rise in anti-Semitism and all kinds of discrimination is very worrying to us,” she said.

The post Holocaust survivors launch campaign to fight Holocaust denial on Facebook appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Leading Orthodox rabbi endorses Donald Trump for reelection

Wed, 2020-07-29 20:40

(JTA) – Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky, a major leader of the U.S. haredi Orthodox community, said his followers should vote for Donald Trump in November.

The reason? Gratitude.

“Yes, I think people should vote for him. He’s done a good job. It’s ‘hakaras hatov,'” he told Mishpacha, a weekly magazine aimed at an Orthodox Jewish audience, using the Hebrew words for gratitude. The 95-year-old rabbi said it would be “worrisome” if the president loses, citing rising secularism as a threat.

“You see the matzav [situation], the anarchy … it’s frightening,” Kamenetsky said. “God has become a dirty word in much of America, religion and religious institutions are their enemy.”

While the majority of American Jews vote for Democrats, the Orthodox community has increasingly favored Republican candidates in recent years. The Pew Research Center’s 2013 survey of American Jews found that 64% of ultra-Orthodox Jews considered themselves to be politically conservative.

Kamenetsky, who heads the Talmudical Yeshiva of Philadelphia and sits on the rabbinical advisory board of Agudath Israel, an organization representing the haredi Orthodox, had encouraged his students to vote for Trump in 2016, too, according to the Orthodox news site Matzav.com. At the time, Kamenetsky told the Israeli publication Yated Ne’eman that those who were not honest would not enjoy success in the long term, referring to Hillary Clinton, according to Yeshiva World News.

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Ontario pulls video called biased against Israel from online high school course

Wed, 2020-07-29 20:25

(JTA) — Ontario’s education minister ordered a video that a Jewish group said is biased against Israel be removed from an online course.

Stephen Lecce tweeted that he is “very concerned that this offensive material was on a learning website” and that “I immediately ordered it to be taken down (it was that day) & investigated to ensure it never happens again. We will not tolerate anti-Semitism in any form.”

The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center said Monday that it contacted Lecce about the video, part of the curriculum of a Grade 10 online civics course, after an upset parent contacted the group.

The Friends group quoted the video as saying: “The current occupation of the Palestinian land by the Zionists have [sic] violated the human rights of the Palestinians. They have deprived the Palestinians of natural resources, such as water, and taking [sic] the majority of it for themselves. The Zionists that are granted these privileges are backed by the military. … This conflict continues to rage on because the Israelis continue to live as occupiers while the Palestinians live under occupation.”

Louise Sirisko, director of education for the York Region District School Board, said in a statement that the Ministry of Education’s E-Learning Ontario initiative created and distributed the video as part of a revised e-Learning curriculum, and that it was part of a selection of four videos that are available to all school boards in Ontario.

“The video has been reviewed and removed from the resources available to school boards. We are disappointed that some of our students were hurt by this video and please know that the views expressed are not indicative of the beliefs of the YRDSB school community,” the statement said.

Rabbi Meyer May, executive director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, thanked Sirisko and Lecce “for publicly sending a message that such misinformation and bias will not be accepted, whether it’s inside a classroom or on an e-learning platform, and for ensuring the quick removal of the video.”

“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is extremely complex, which this video fails to recognize. Instead, it shares a one-sided view of the conflict as well as promotes a harmful negative view of Israel’s Jewish people. Schools are meant for educating youth, not building prejudice.”

The group said it wants the Ministry of Education to explain how such a video ended up in the curriculum and what steps will be taken to prevent the distribution of such a video to Ontario school boards in the future.

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They wanted to convert to Judaism, but the mikvahs were closed. So instead they went to Jewish summer camp.

Wed, 2020-07-29 19:52

(JTA) — On a typical summer day, hundreds of kids can be found around the lake at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires splashing around in the water, taking swimming lessons, paddle boarding and playing on giant inflatables.

“The opposite of calm” is how the camp’s director, Rabbi Ethan Linden, describes it.

But with the camp closed this summer due to the coronavirus pandemic, the lake found a different purpose earlier this month: as a ritual bath. Fifteen Jews by choice immersed themselves there to finalize their conversions.

Clad in a mask, Linden looked on from the dock along with a lifeguard, another staff member and two rabbis who traveled from Manhattan and New Jersey as the candidates waded into the water. One by one they immersed themselves fully, emerging officially as Jews.

“The outdoor aspect of it was the most magical part because it was so open and so free, and so beautiful out there,” said Alexa Rae Ibarra, a 29-year-old yoga instructor. She had traveled to the Berkshires with her longtime boyfriend from the Hamptons, where the couple have been spending time during the pandemic.

When Ibarra started studying for her conversion in September, she had assumed that she would be immersing at an indoor mikvah in New York City, where she usually lives, at its completion in June. After the conversion, she had plans to travel to Israel “to have the full experience.”

But as the coronavirus started spreading widely in New York in the spring, Ibarra realized things wouldn’t happen as she had planned.

Like many other converts, she found herself thrust into uncertainty as some mikvahs closed, while others did not allow more than one person to come along to appointments, as is necessary for conversions.

“When things didn’t go to plan, I just remember being really, really sad and unsure of what would happen,” said Ibarra, who studied Judaism through the Center for Conversion to Judaism at Town & Village Synagogue, a Conservative congregation in Manhattan.

View this post on Instagram

Ten months ago I made a decision to convert to Judaism. There were a few deciding factors but at the end of the day, if I was committing to something whole heartedly, it had to be for me and no one else. I say this because, yes I absolutely want to raise my children Jewish, I say this because you have to be on the same vibe as your partner, on what you see for your future, but that commitment and time your taking from your regular life, is going to change and YOU have to be prepared for that… not your partner. I spent that last 40 weeks ( the time it takes to form a child) dedicating every Tuesday for three hours on learning about the Jewish religion, diving deep into Hebrew and ultimately realizing, this was totally for me. I learned to make challah, celebrate high holidays and even begin my own Shabbat traditions. As our studies come to an end and we get to celebrate the entire process it has taken to get here, The mikveh. None of my born-Jewish friends had ever actually been in one. And the idea of a ritual purification seemed very, well, religious. For someone for whom chanting Namaste at the end of yoga class was for many years the closest thing to a spiritual practice, the mikveh was a big escalation. A little different this year given COVID-19 BUT thats ok, we did not give up. Standing in front of the Beit Din as I’m asked my final prayers, sub merging into a lake and being able to call myself a conservative Jewish Colombian woman, is the most empowering, flooding feeling of incredible emotions. Perhaps naively, when deciding to convert I had focused on the cultural aspects of Judaism—the warmth I’d always felt in Jewish families, the food, the sense of humor. But that’s exactly why I converted: because of the comfortability, the warmth, the traditions and conversations that were always to be had. This is something I have yearned for since I was a young girl… a community. I know shocking to hear from a social yoga instructor but believe it or not… I’m still searching for the answers, and my search doesn’t end here- it actually starts here. I have much to say but will leave it here. My Jewish given name is Ahava. Ahava means love. I am love.

A post shared by ALEXA RAE IBARRA (@aribarra) on Jul 19, 2020 at 10:25am PDT

Some students studying through the center had finished courses as early as April but were unable to finalize their conversions due to the pandemic. Rabbi Laurence Sebert, who leads Town & Village Synagogue, was struggling to find a solution one day while talking on Zoom with Rabbi Joel Shaiman, the conversion center’s program coordinator.

Looking at his screen, Sebert could see the ocean in the background behind Shaiman’s Jersey Shore home. That sparked a realization: Instead of using a traditional mikvah, they could use a natural body of water, which can be used as a ritual bath according to Jewish law.

The rabbis initially considered going to the Jersey Shore, but after realizing it would be hard to find a private spot, they thought of Ramah. Both have connections to the upstate New York camp, which is affiliated with the Conservative movement. They reached out to Linden, the camp director, who was on board.

“The idea was, we have this beautiful natural mikvah at camp, this beautiful lake, and obviously like most nonprofit Jewish summer camps this summer, we are not open this summer and I said to them we should use the lake at camp,” Linden said.

In fact, the lake is used as a mikvah by staff members during the summer who observe the laws of ritual purity, which mandate that a woman needs to immerse after menstruation in order to resume sexual relations.

Lake Ellis at Camp Ramah turned out to be just what the rabbis wanted. The converts immersed after meeting shoreside with a beit din, a rabbinical court that was made up of Shaiman, Sebert and camp staff members.

“It was the perfect setting for this transformational moment for all of these people,” Sebert said. “They had been waiting, many of them for several months at least, and didn’t think that it was going to happen anytime soon.”

A few adjustments were made. Converts usually immerse naked and a sheet is used for modesty, or rabbis stand behind a partition. Since it was harder to maintain privacy in an open lake, however, they instead wore loose clothing. Attendance at a mikvah is limited typically to the rabbis and the convert, but since there was more space at the lake, the Jews by choice got to bring along a few family members or friends. Two even brought their dogs.

Ibarra said being able to bring her boyfriend, Justin, made it even more special.

“I remember him being behind me and thinking, ‘Nobody, not anyone, will understand or experience what we both have experienced today.’ It was such a moment for both of us,” she said.

In fact, it was such a positive experience that the rabbis are considering bringing up another group of converts to the Berkshires at the end of August.

“In some ways it was getting back to the ‘ikar,’ the essence, of how we do this,” Shaiman said. “A mikvah in the city is really a second-best alternative. … Back to nature is kind of the way it was originally done.”

The post They wanted to convert to Judaism, but the mikvahs were closed. So instead they went to Jewish summer camp. appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Chicago Tribune demotes columnist for blaming George Soros for violent protests

Wed, 2020-07-29 19:29

(JTA) — The Chicago Tribune has demoted a longtime columnist who blamed George Soros for violence in Chicago and other major U.S. cities.

John Kass, who has been on Page 2 of the newspaper for 23 years, wrote in his July 22 column that it is “the big cities run by Democratic mayors, where murder and gang shootings are out of control and where once vibrant downtown areas are on their way to becoming ghost towns. But these Democratic cities are also where left-wing billionaire George Soros has spent millions of dollars to help elect liberal social justice warriors as prosecutors. He remakes the justice system in urban America, flying under the radar.

“The Soros-funded prosecutors, not the mayors, are the ones who help release the violent on little or no bond.”

On Monday, Tribune editor-in-chief Colum McMahon announced that he would reorganize the placement of the newspaper’s columnists and separate news coverage from opinion columns. Kass will also lose his title of lead columnist. The news was first broken by independent media blogger Robert Feder.

Kass, 64, has appeared on Page 2 since the death of Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Mike Royko in 1997. He has been with the newspaper for 37 years, starting as a copy boy.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, “aggressive language towards Soros has exploded on social media” since the start of the George Floyd protests.

The posts, according to the ADL, mostly allege without evidence that Soros is funding riots across the country, and that he is backing antifa, a loose network of anti-fascist activists whom President Donald Trump has blamed for the violence, also without citing evidence.

Kass’ column also highlights the canard of Jews using money to control politics.

The Illinois Jewish Legislative Caucus, made up of 12 state representatives and senators, welcomed the Tribune’s decision.

In a statement, the lawmakers group said Kass “knows, as most journalists know, that Soros-themed conspiracy theories have proliferated amongst the fringe white supremacist and Twitterazi’s. Kass knew about the rise in anti-Semitism, he just didn’t care.”

Kass responded to the changes in the placement of his column, as well as a letter to management from the Chicago Tribune Guild accusing him of religious bigotry and fomenting conspiracy theories, with a column on Wednesday.

“The left doesn’t like my politics. I get that. I don’t like theirs much, either,” he wrote.

Kass also wrote: “I will not apologize for writing about Soros. I will not bow to those who’ve wrongly defamed me. I will continue writing my column.”

My latest column: I will not apologize for writing about #GeorgeSoros. I will not bow to those who’ve falsely and wrongly defamed me.
And I will not soil my name by groveling to anyone in this or any other newsroom.https://t.co/oAq6Y0AIue

— John Kass (@John_Kass) July 29, 2020

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I quit my job as a rabbi because of the pressures of pandemic parenting

Wed, 2020-07-29 18:59

This story originally appeared on Kveller.

I recently left my job as a congregational rabbi. I loved the community — a dynamic, 50-year-old congregation with some 135 families, affiliated with the Humanistic Judaism movement. The place, and its people, have a lot of heart, and I felt I was doing good work there.

My reason for resigning from this dream job? I found it impossible to juggle the responsibilities of my job alongside caring for my children during COVID-19 — the strain had become untenable. Rabbinic work is emotionally demanding and often extremely time-sensitive. I was finding it increasingly difficult to speak to congregants about their anxieties, funeral planning, and ways to navigate social distancing at their son’s bar mitzvah while my two young children, ages 6 and 4, were (literally) banging at my door. Many times, a congregant needs a rabbi’s full attention, and their problems do not wait until after bedtime. The rabbi also needs the emotional and mental bandwidth to be able to sit and be fully present with others during their times of stress.

While COVID-19 is having devastating impacts in many, many areas of life — and there are many other stories of women giving up work during this time — I am becoming increasingly concerned about the pandemic’s impact on Jewish life. While others are worrying about declining membership dues or engagement, I am worried about something else: Is it possible to be both a rabbi and a mother during these unprecedented and challenging times?

Given that we spent decades fighting for women to gain access to the rabbinate, this is an important question to ask — especially as we are still fighting battles against sexist discrimination, harassment and assault, and pay inequity. And now, faced with a sudden return to having full-time child care responsibilities as well as full-time rabbinic obligations, it occurs to me that women in the rabbinate are going to be significantly set back. Of course, not all women rabbis are mothers, nor are they in straight relationships. But for the many who are, I am worried.

My decision to leave my rabbinic position was complex, but there is no question that gender played a role, specifically a phenomenon I have come to know as “dadulation.” I have a wonderful spouse, who does more of the housework and child care than most men. Yet he experiences “dadulation”— the phenomenon of men getting applause for doing things moms typically get zero credit for — and it keeps things unequal in our house.

Here’s what dadulation looks like: When my husband took parental leave, or when he takes our kids to the park, or when he tells friends he has to go cook dinner, people fawn all over him as though he is the Messiah. He hears again and again what a wonderful dad/partner/person he is. And he is! Our household is much more equal than almost all others, but the truth is that the bar is woefully low.

So while my husband is being congratulated and dadulated for doing stuff that should be expected of all men who are spouses/parents, I am struggling to balance work and home responsibilities that are still unfairly weighted in his favor. Yes, he cooks, he cleans, he takes the kids outside. But throughout our time as a couple, and certainly as parents, I am the one who is in charge of most of the unseen and thankless tasks that maintain our lives, like making, remembering, and keeping appointments. We now have terms for this: mental load and emotional labor.

I am the parent who is scheduling activities, ensuring we are seeing family members, planning birthday parties, and keeping straight the bajillion other birthday parties we attend — or, at least, used to attend, prior to the pandemic. I am somehow also the one who handles all of our finances and does the meal planning. Once COVID hit I was setting up Zoom play dates, connecting our kids with their teachers online, and communicating with our child care providers about the coming weeks and months.

Not once has someone commented on what a great mother I am for doing all of this. No one ever notices that I manage to work full-time and also take my kids to the park. In fact, while dadulation thrives, mom guilt reigns supreme.

While we are congratulating dads for doing (what is usually still not) equal work in the home, we are forgetting to combat the continuing gender oppression in our Jewish spaces. There is still so much work to do, but it is hard to convince men to get on with the intersectional, feminist, anti-oppression work in Jewish spaces while people are falling over themselves to congratulate and dadulate them.

This spring, when coronavirus shuttered nearly every aspect of our lives, my husband and I were both working from home. He is a teacher of students with multiple disabilities. I was a rabbi to two communities — in person and online — and I was also teaching university full-time. He was mandated to work five hours a week. My work, doing the bare minimum to keep things going, amounted to approximately 30 hours a week.

Yet somehow I was suddenly in charge of homeschooling our daughter. I was squeezing my work around a schedule that he created for himself, maximizing prime work time when our youngest was napping. If we had virtual meetings at the same time, he hid in our basement office and I was the one to multitask being in the meeting while managing our kids. We never discussed that this is how it would go, but like so many couples, we settled into familiar dynamics: He takes what he needs in order to do what he needs to do, and I accommodate and work around him. If one of us is to multitask, it is me. Why is this the dynamic? There are multiple and complex factors, but we agree that our respective gendered socialization plays a significant role.

By June, I was angry and exhausted. I couldn’t keep going. I was losing patience with the staff and congregants in my community. I was grouchy with my kids, and ultimately they had to come first. I had to leave my job, my beloved community, work that mattered to me, in order to be the parent I want to be and to feel like myself again.

Why am I airing my dirty laundry in public? Because one of the reasons that these gendered dynamics are so pernicious is that we never talk about them. I know many women who are with male partners who are trying their best to be good partners and fathers. They show up; they do the work. But because the bar for so many men is so low, women often feel unable to complain or speak up when things feel unfair. We are so trapped in a perpetual “it could be so much worse” mindset that we forget that it could also be a whole lot better.

If we care about gender equality within and beyond our Jewish spaces, we need to check in with women juggling multiple responsibilities, redesign workplaces so that they are more family-friendly and, please, stop with the dadulation already.

As for me, even though I left my congregational position, I continue to serve as a rabbi to my online community, teach a new generation of teachers, and parent during these uncertain times. I’m grateful for all that I have and get to do. But the juggle, and the struggle, is real. 

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Minnesota Republicans acknowledge board member posted meme comparing mask mandate to Holocaust’s yellow star

Wed, 2020-07-29 18:21

(JTA) — The Minnesota Republican Party acknowledged that a Wabasha County board member posted a meme on Facebook comparing the requirement to wear masks during the coronavirus to the yellow stars that Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust.

The Republican Party of Wabasha County originally said that its Facebook page had been hacked and removed the image on Monday.

The board member has resigned, effective immediately, Minnesota Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan said Tuesday evening. The member was not named.

“We are saddened by the vitriolic post and hope as we move forward that Republicans and Democrats alike will maintain the highest level of integrity, respect, and sensitivity,” Carrahan said in a statement posted on Twitter. “The Wabasha County Board and MN GOP apologizes for this disappointing post.”

The state of Minnesota has a mandatory mask ordinance in effect.

The meme shows an elderly man wearing a yellow Star of David badge pinned to his chest facing down a Nazi officer.

“Just put on the star and quit complaining, it’s really not that hard,” its caption said. “Just put on the mask and stop complaining.”

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When TV shows get Holocaust humor right

Wed, 2020-07-29 16:52

This story originally appeared on Alma.

There is an old Yiddish folk saying, “If your heart aches, laugh it off.” For many, this pro-tip especially applies to the Holocaust. When it comes to humor surrounding the topic of the Holocaust, it is critical to remind ourselves that we are not laughing at the severity and devastation of the Holocaust. Rather, as proposed by scholar Terence Des Pres, “[Holocaust] laughter is used to dispel and to embrace, a kind of comic ambiguity that diffuses hostility, on the one hand, and on the other prompts charity toward those who suffered, those who remember, and also those who might simply wish to know.”

Considering the intellectual, educational, creative, and cathartic facets of comedy, it is understandable, even inevitable, that Holocaust humor has become integrated into popular culture. Of course, joking about the Holocaust has the potential to go very, very wrong. But when such jokes are skillfully and mindfully crafted, they serve as a mode of memory transmission with the ability to challenge, enrich, and preserve history.

Don’t believe me? The Holocaust-centered skits, characterizations, and narrative arcs exhibited in these five TV shows explore new ways for Jews — and everyone in our entertainment-focused society — to understand, cope, and heal.

F Is For Family (Netflix)

This animated sitcom loosely based on comedian Bill Burr’s childhood is set in the early ‘70s and centers Nixon-loving Korean War veteran Frank Murphy and his Irish-American family. A period piece of sorts, F Is For Family depicts parenting styles of the era — uninvolved, apathetic, and uncommunicative albeit profanity-laden outbursts. It’s this type of be-home-when-the-street-lights-come-on oversight that leads to middle child Bill’s initial belief that the jovial elderly German neighbor, Otto Holtenwasser, is a Nazi.

Fueled by the neighborhood kid rumors — “He’s Hitler’s little brother and hunts down kids” — Bill is terrified when Mr. Holtenwasser reaches to remove a magnet stuck on his front door and his sleeve slides down, revealing a number tattooed on his arm. “It’s how many people he’s killed! It’s a scoreboard!” Bill cries as he runs away, unaware that his neighbor is a German-Jewish Holocaust survivor, though the audience is able to put it together. “Have a vunderful day children!” Mr. Holtenwaser calls out, waving gleefully. What a sweet old man.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon Prime Video)

The five-time Emmy-award winning show about Miriam “Midge” Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan), a gregarious upper-class Jewish 1950s housewife turned divorced raunchy stand-up comedian, is already three glorious seasons deep with all eyes peeled for that Season 4 release date (any day now…). Set in the aftermath of World War II, members of the Upper East Side Jewish diaspora live with the recent memory of the Holocaust, but they are only human and some let their egos get the best of them.

In the first episode when Midge’s husband Joel is humiliated from bombing a stand-up set and decides to leave her, he compares his comedy career to their rabbi:

“I’m up there dying and I’m thinking about last week, we’re in temple and the rabbi tells that stupid Sodom and Gomorrah joke, and suddenly the whole synagogue goes nuts!”

“You’re jealous of the Rabbi? He was in Buchenwald, throw him a bone!” says Midge, referring to the concentration camp in Weimar, Germany.

In the second episode, Joel’s yenta father, Moishe, gives a braggadocios dinner toast: “At times of hardship self-sacrifice is necessary. Like the sacrifice I made pulling thirteen Jews out of Germany in 1943.”

Everyone’s heads droop and eyes roll at the repetitive story told for clout. A righteous among the nations, or…?

Drunk History (Comedy Central)

Senior year of college, I was asked to partake in a Drunk History style web series for the new student-run news site where seniors got drunk and talked about their final projects. I declined, worried it would impact future job prospects. But if I had participated, there is no doubt I would’ve resembled the Drunk History season 5 episode “Heroines.” In one of the segments, comedian and self-proclaimed Jew-Jo (“My father’s Jewish, but my mama’s Jehovah’s witness”) Tiffany Haddish tells the story of Rose Valland, a French assistant curator at the Jeu de Paume, who, during World War II, unbeknownst to the art-looting Nazis, spoke German and memorized all the hiding locations of stolen masterpieces “cause [Hitler] mad he didn’t get into university.”

In December 1944, when The Monuments Men (“and women”) arrive to retrieve the artwork, Valland provides them with vital information and “[saves] over 60,000 pieces of culture!” She also snitches on [Hitler’s] main man Herman Göring hoarding 200 million dollars worth of art. “He’s so ratchet!” Haddish says, telling it like it is. She even throws in a little revisionist history: “Hitler killed himself, they say. I think he hanging out with Tupac.”

Key & Peele (Comedy Central)

Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele’s sketch comedy series has been off-air for almost five years now, but the show is still a beloved modern classic, especially “Awesome Hitler Story.” In this Key & Peele sketch, Modern Family’s Ty Burrell reprises his Season 1 role as SS Colonel Hans Mueller. When three stray U.S. soldiers are ambushed by Nazis in an abandoned hotel, the only unscathed soldier (Key) plays dead while Commander Mueller, who’s meant to be securing the hotel, gets distracted telling a dutiful SS solider (Peele) an awesome story about running into Hitler at the market (“It was the weekend, and the little hairs on the side of his mustache were starting to grow”).

Key, hungry and irritated by sunlight, wiggles around and sneaks a bite of his chocolate ration. Peele sees everything and tries warning Commander Mueller. “Do you speak during the cinema? The story has a build!” Too ignorant and irritated by his soldier’s insubordination, Commander Mueller shoots Peele and continues telling the other SS the best part of story. “As Hitler was taking his leave of me he said, ‘Well there’s no point in getting bread if you’re not going to get’ and at the same time Hitler said cheese, I said cheese, and Hitler and I both said, ‘Jinx!’” Ordinary men, indeed.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (The CW)

It’s been a little over a year since the series finale of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, a musical comedy created by and starring Rachel Bloom as ivy league-educated lawyer and hopeless romantic Rebecca Bunch. Two of the shows main themes are mental illness and Jewish identity, and both are explored in the song “Remember That We Suffered,” co-written by the late Adam Schlesinger. In the episode, Rebecca returns home to Scarsdale, New York to attend her cousin’s bar mitzvah and tries explaining to her non-Jewish boyfriend Josh that “people like us [i.e. Jews] only know how to be miserable” while he joins Rabbi Shari (Patti LuPone) and Rebecca’s mom, Naomi (Tovah Feldshuh) singing to the tune of “Hava Nagila.”

In the song, the guests remind themselves of how much the Jewish people have suffered, mentioning iconic Jewish cultural figures like Barbra Streisand and Steven Spielberg, music groups the Beastie Boys and Haim, and the one and only Adolf Hitler. The mention of these first four individuals isn’t just meant to be a marker of Jewish success and influence in the entertainment industry, and the last isn’t included just for shock. These cultural references serve as an aide to exploring the concept of inherited trauma — epigenetics — and Holocaust memory contained in the lyrics. The messages relayed in “Remember That We Suffered” are of awe and respect for the past, yes, but also one of autonomy and resilience, which is why Rabbi Shari leaves a glum Rebecca with, “Our people are not responsible for your life. You are.”

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A holiday marking one societal rupture, Tisha B’Av spurs Jewish creativity amid another

Wed, 2020-07-29 16:02

(JTA) — For many observant Jews, the mourning over the destruction of the two ancient Temples in Jerusalem on the fast of Tisha B’Av actually begins three weeks earlier with the onset of a period of mourning during which it’s customary to avoid joyful activities like weddings and music.

But with much of the world already in a state of mourning as the coronavirus pandemic continues its deadly march across the planet, Rabbi Hershel Schachter made an allowance.

In a religious ruling released earlier this month, the widely respected Orthodox rabbinic authority determined that one could listen to music if doing so was needed to stave off feelings of depression in the weeks leading up to Tisha B’Av, which begins this year at sunset on July 29.

“At the current time due to the ongoing pandemic, the entire world is in a state of uncertainty and concern,” Schachter wrote. “One who feels compelled to listen to music in order to help alleviate their tension or pressure would be allowed to do so.”

As occurred in the run-up to Passover in April, the confluence of the pandemic with a Jewish observance is prompting a wellspring of Jewish creativity. New liturgies are being created, new religious rulings are being published and a large number of online events are taking place for an observance that, unlike the widely observed Passover, often passes unnoticed for many Jews.

And also unlike Passover, which celebrates the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt, Tisha B’Av lends itself far more naturally to a pandemic that has left a trail of sickness and death in its wake.

“As we were thinking about what spiritual tools this moment calls for, we realized we wanted to put out something for Tisha B’Av that honors the fact that it feels like we’ve been living in Tisha B’Av since the pandemic started,” said Rabbi Rachel Barenblat of North Adams, Massachusetts, a co-founder of Bayit, an organization that creates new tools for contemporary Jews.

Bayit has released five poems inspired by the pandemic but written in the style of the somber lamentations, known as kinot, that are customarily recited on Tisha B’Av. One representative line: “Our synagogues are shuttered, we are exiled to Zoom. We cry out from the depths. Do You suffer with us, God? Who will we be when the pandemic is gone?”

“It feels to many of us as if we’re living through our own churban, our own destruction in our era,” Barenblat said, using the Hebrew word referring to the destruction of the ancient Temple. “And we wanted to give voice to that.”

Daniel Olson, a doctoral candidate in education and Jewish studies at New York University, rewrote one of the best-known kinot for the moment in collaboration with his husband, Rabbi Benjamin Goldberg. Eli Tzion is typically the final reading of the Tisha B’Av service and acknowledges the suffering of the Israelites following the destruction of the Second Temple.

But in the version by Olson and Goldberg, the poem describes the suffering caused by the pandemic. Olson said he was inspired to write the piece after seeing a Facebook post estimating the number of Torah scrolls going unread in the world while synagogues are closed.

“This image was so sad to me,” Olson said in an email. “All these Torah scrolls sitting in Arks, excitedly waiting to be taken out on Mondays, Thursdays, Shabbat, and holidays, seeing each one pass, but remaining trapped inside. And for the people unable to gather to hear their sacred words, especially those who were experiencing illness or death in their families.”

For Orthodox Jews, who traditionally abstain from the use of electronic devices on Jewish holidays, Tisha B’Av also offers the rare opportunity to employ livestreaming in the observance of a holiday — something the liberal denominations have embraced since the pandemic began. Prohibitions on the use of electronic devices do not apply on Tisha B’Av.

At the Hampton Synagogue in Westhampton Beach on New York’s Long Island, a reading of the biblical Book of Lamentations and a musical gathering with the Maccabeats a cappella group will air multiple times throughout Tisha B’Av on the Jewish Broadcasting Service.

Rabbi Marc Schneier, the synagogue’s head rabbi, compared the ravages of the coronavirus to the fear that previous generations of Jews had of anti-Semitism.

“I can’t even fathom what it must have been like for 2,000 years to be a Jew going through the pandemic of the anti-Semitic virus and not knowing each and every day what kind of destruction would come tomorrow,” he said. “That kind of anxiety and uncertainty is exactly what we’re going through now.”

Olsen, too, said Tisha B’Av is especially resonant this year.

“Even though my observance will be virtual this year, I think it could be the most visceral Tisha B’Av ever for me because of the pandemic,” he said. “Close to 150,000 Americans have died of COVID-19. The future of the economy and of education is uncertain. I can identify with the sense of dislocation our ancestors experienced and documented in the liturgy for this day more than I have been able to ever before.”

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Twitter permanently suspends British rapper Wiley over tweets seen as anti-Semitic

Wed, 2020-07-29 15:48

(JTA) — The Twitter account of the British rapper Wiley has been permanently suspended following a seven-day ban for a series of Semitic tweets seen as anti-Semitic.

The decision, announced Wednesday, follows a 48-hour boycott by many users, notably British and Jewish, over what they deemed as Twitter’s failure to reprimand the artist over his tweets in a timely manner.

It also comes a day after Facebook and Instagram removed Wiley’s private and verified accounts for similar conduct.

Twitter in a statement said it was sorry it “did not move faster” and was “continuing to assess the situation internally. ”

“We deeply respect the concerns shared by the Jewish community and online safety advocates,” the social media network also said in the statement, which promised to work against anti-Semitism on the platform.

Among Wiley’s comments were “I don’t care about Hitler, I care about black people” and “There are 2 sets of people who nobody has really wanted to challenge #Jewish & #KKK but being in business for 20 years you start to undestand [sic] why,” according to reports. They led his Jewish manager to quit representing him.

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