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Genesis Philanthropy Group names 39-year-old woman as new CEO

Thu, 2020-07-23 16:04

(JTA) — The Genesis Philanthropy Group, which funds Jewish identity-building efforts for Russian-speaking Jews around the world, promoted Marina Yudborovsky, who has worked for the organization since 2009, to CEO on Thursday.

Her appointment follows the sudden death of CEO Ilia Salita late last month.

“I am truly honored by the board’s confidence,” she told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “Ilia was an incredible leader for the foundation and in the Jewish world at large, so there is a very high standard to live up to.”

Yudborovsky, 39, will be one of the youngest and one of the few women leading a major Jewish organization.

“While there may not be as many young women leading major Jewish organizations as there could be, there are a plethora of wonderful role models — both men and women,” she said.

Yudborovsky was born in Ukraine and immigrated to the U.S. with her family in 1989. They moved here with the help of the New York Association for New Americans, which was then a refugee assistance program under the Jewish Federations of North America umbrella.

She participated in a Birthright trip to Israel in 2004 that she says inspired her to get involved in Jewish causes. The Birthright parent organization is now a recipient of Genesis Philanthropy Group funds.

Other organizations that receive funding through the philanthropy group include the PJ Library, Moishe House, Hillel International and Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum and memorial.

“Marina has made many significant contributions to the foundation over the years and I am certain that she is now ready to take on the helm of leadership,” Gennady Gazin, Genesis Philanthropy Group’s board chairman, said in a statement. “It is a testament to this readiness and her skill set that Ilia chose to work very closely with Marina over the years, tapping her to head complex projects and implement the foundation’s vision.”

RELATED: Ilia Salita represented a historical victory. His memory should challenge all Jews to learn from each other.

The group, which was founded by a group of Russian billionaire businessmen, is no longer associated with the Genesis Prize group, which awards an annual prize nicknamed the “Jewish Nobel.”

Yudborovsky noted that the Genesis Philanthropy Group’s work has not slowed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As a private foundation which doesn’t fundraise, we are fortunate enough to be in the position where not only our activities weren’t disrupted by the pandemic, but we actually increased and expanded our work in order to assist our partners and grantees around the globe in these critical times,” Yudborovsky said.

The Genesis Philanthropy Group did not disclose its annual funding numbers.

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Zach Banner tries challah and (spoiler) he loves it

Thu, 2020-07-23 15:58

(JTA) – Zach Banner of the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers now knows what challah tastes like — and he can say the word properly.

With “a little phleghm,” the offensive lineman said in a tweeted video of himself this week.

In a recent interview, Banner said that after he posted tweets and videos embracing the Jewish community amid the anti-Semitism furor involving fellow NFLer DeSean Jackson, he has received an outpouring of love — including the delivery of loaves of challah.

That affection has also included donations to his B3 Foundation, which supports children academically and athletically in Tacoma, Washington; Los Angeles; and Guam.

So he was profoundly grateful when he heard that four sisters in NewsJersey who call themselves the Challah Back Girls announced that they would donate 50% of their proceeds for a week from July 13, and some challah, to the foundation.

Since early June, the sisters have been baking and delivering the bread and donating a portion of the proceeds to social justice groups, The Los Angeles Jewish Journal reported. They bake in their own kitchen and say they use all kosher ingredients.

“These incredible women have used their passion and love to raise money for a lot of organizations, especially the ones who are supporting the Black Lives Matter movement,” Banner tweeted in a video on July 15. “This is gonna be my first time eating challah bread and I’m so excited. God Bless. Thank you, ladies!”

On Tuesday, Banner tweeted a video of himself making his challah-tasting debut. He showed a preference for the coffee crumb version.

“That is fire, wow!” he exclaimed.

He said it had been a long time since he had eaten any carbs or sugar.

Along with learning the correct pronunciation of challah, Banner now knows to omit the word bread afterward — it’s redundant.

Responses to his tweet included the suggestion that he try gefilte fish and matzah ball soup. Someone also warned him away from raisin challah, calling it “the reason we all have trust issues.”

The Challah Back Girls, by the way, are diehard Steelers fans and have season tickets, according to the Jewish Journal, driving seven hours each way to attend every home game.

So I tried challah for the first time and let me tell you…

Deadline for ordering in support of @B3Foundation is TOMORROW at 9am (yeah, I messed that up in the video). https://t.co/cxuKjno5o6 pic.twitter.com/n9CRBqI6x7

— Zach Banner (@ZBNFL) July 21, 2020

The post Zach Banner tries challah and (spoiler) he loves it appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

After George Floyd, Jewish institutions consider their own shortcomings on race

Thu, 2020-07-23 15:28

When the protests over the police killing of George Floyd spread throughout the United States this spring, the moment served as a wakeup call not just for the country but for American Jews.

Very quickly, leading Jewish institutions realized that the issue of racial justice wasn’t just about how to relate to and help communities of color, but also about what needs to change within the Jewish community, where Jews of color are an increasingly sizable yet underrepresented American Jewish constituency.

When the leaders of the umbrella organization that unites the 146 Jewish federations across the country looked around its table, they realized this key voice was missing. Jews of color were too rarely counted, heard, supported or seen.

“We recognized that we did not have at the table in our professional leadership someone whose orientation is connected both Jewishly and in the African-American community,” said Eric Fingerhut, the president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America.

By mid-June, under an announcement titled “On racial justice, we can all do better,” the Jewish Federations announced the hire of Rabbi Isaiah Rothstein, who grew up in a multiracial Orthodox family in Monsey, New York, as its first ever “Rabbinic Scholar and Public Affairs Advisor.”

“I see myself as a code switcher,” said Rothstein, “as a bridge builder who knows how to modify language and approach different communities.”

Rothstein, who received his rabbinic ordination and a master’s degree in social work from Yeshiva University, has ambitious goals: to facilitate conversations at the national and local levels about creating a flexible framework for racial equity; to lead considerations of race relations both within and outside the Jewish community; and to brainstorm how to strengthen them through public policy.

He also heads up efforts by the federations and local partners to consider how they can become more inclusive and welcoming to Jews of color.

“We need to recognize internally in the community that we have a multiracial, multiethnic experience,” Rothstein said. “There’s a field of leaders in the Jewish community that are black and brown and Asian and Latinx that have been involved in social equity work for decades. Reminding each other that this is not a new phenomena — my parents have been married for almost 40 years. Mixed-race families today struggle to find their place in the broader Jewish community, and so much of what I see as my job is how do we collaborate and create a sense of a movement we’re all a part of.”

That question is now driving Jewish communities nationwide as they simultaneously seek to bring more representation and racial and ethnic diversity to the table and forge stronger relationships with communities of color.

“The challenge for all of us right now is how you move away from allyship to a state of self-interest and skin in the game,” said Jackie Congedo, director of the Jewish Communities Relations Council in Cincinnati. “We have to be invested in building a society that is fair and just because of what it means for us. And not in a way that is only about us. That’s the only way to build a truly diverse, robust, intersectional movement that can tackle these issues in a transformative way.”

The Cincinnati JCRC is already involved with criminal justice reform, efforts to fight voter suppression and gun safety. Now it’s creating an institute that brings together 25 of the city’s leaders to work as allies in combating anti-Semitism, racism and extremism of all kinds.

It has started a civic engagement arm called Le’Shem Cincinnati (Hebrew for “For the sake of Cincinnati”), which has hosted events where people can socialize and discuss social issues like reproductive and LGBTQ rights. It recently introduced the Jewish Cincinnati Civic Engagement Council, which brings congregations together with other organizations to drive grassroots engagement on social issues. And the JCRC has partnered with the NAACP and the Urban League to work on bail reform — all while learning how to listen better.

“We’re working to center the voices, the experiences, the needs of Jews of color, Black Jews and non-Jewish members of the Black community as we think through how we process this moment and what it calls for,” Congedo said.

Josiah Gilliam, left, of Pittsburgh’s My Brother’s Keeper, and Josh Sayles of the city’s Jewish federation march together across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Ala., April 2019. (Josh Sayles)

In Pittsburgh, the Jewish community’s experience of being embraced by other communities after the deadly 2018 shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue also woke them up to the pressing needs of communities of color.

“The conversations we had with Black community partners which weren’t entirely about triaging the needs of the Jewish community were like, ‘We’re so glad to help the Jewish community, and we have young Black men dying in our streets from gun violence and in low-income neighborhoods several times a week and nobody’s doing anything,” said Joshua Sayles, director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Community Relations Council.

That wake-up call spurred the 412 Black Jewish Collaborative, a consortium of 30 young leaders where members come together for discussions and events on race and identity. This spring they were set to hold a Freedom Seder, a Juneteenth program and other events that were canceled because of the pandemic.

After Floyd’s death, the group co-authored a mission statement asserting its commitment to Black and Jewish goals.

“The Black community showed up for us in such a meaningful way right after the shooting,” Sayles said. “It made us want to show up for the Black community in their time of need.”

As Jews and Jewish institutions have become targets of violence in recent years, the community’s security arm, the Secure Community Network, has strengthened its partnership with law enforcement to monitor threats to U.S. Jews. Michael Masters, director of the Secure Community Network, says the community now has an opportunity to use its relationship with the police to press for social justice.

“How do we leverage that relationship with law enforcement to make sure that we are using our voice to articulate our values as a Jewish community, to ensure that our institutions reflect those values and that they are open and welcoming?” Masters said.

It’s a delicate position for a community that relies on police for safety to simultaneously accommodate, support and welcome those who see police has a threat. Yet it’s critical to ensuring that individuals of all colors and backgrounds feel welcome when they’re in Jewish institutional settings, said Lindsey Mintz, the executive director of the Indianapolis Jewish Community Relations Council.

“All of our institutions are diverse communities — whether the JCC, assisted living or nursing homes,” Mintz said. “The clients and residents and members are diverse and need to feel safe walking into a building that maybe had a bomb threat or dropping off their kids at day care.

“But we also have to stop and ask, ‘How does it feel to see parked police cars at every entrance and armed police officers at the door?’ That’s some of the thoughtfulness that we need to bring to the Jewish community.”

Fingerhut said, “Unless people of all races, creeds and ethnicities feel safe and respected, ultimately our society is not going to be the successful society we all want it to be. So we have to learn, we have to listen, we have to build new relationships and we have to work as constructively as we can.”

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With the government in flux, Israel’s president tells lawmakers to ‘get a grip’ and lead

Thu, 2020-07-23 15:09

JERUSALEM (JTA) — President Reuven Rivlin of Israel has some advice for his nation’s lawmakers: “Get a grip!”

He made his remarks on Thursday a day after reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is planning to bring down the government and call for new elections, along with the coalition crisis sparked by a vote on legislation that would ban gay conversion therapy.

At a meeting with social workers to show appreciation for them as they return to work after a 17-day strike, Rivlin said he was watching the developments, like all Israeli citizens, with “deep concern.”

“From here, as a citizen just like any other, speaking to you on behalf of us all, speaking to you in their voice, I say to you all: Get a grip! Stop the talk of early elections, a terrible option at this time, and save yourselves from it!” he said.

Rivlin added: “The State of Israel is not a rag doll you drag around as you squabble. Our people, all of them, need you to be focused, clear and finding solutions to the unprecedented crisis that the State of Israel and humanity as a whole finds itself in. It’s in your hands to take action. Prove it to us!”

Netanyahu has decided to bring down the government and move to another vote in the fall rather than turn the office over to Benny Gantz in November 2021, the Haaretz newspaper reported Wednesday.

Rivlin told the social workers: “At a time when we are fighting coronavirus, you social workers are on the front line. You are essential workers, the ICU of the wards, of Israeli society, especially at this time of crisis. Without you, we would not win this battle. Your patients need you, we need you.”

The post With the government in flux, Israel’s president tells lawmakers to ‘get a grip’ and lead appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Israeli diplomats buy 600 pounds of tahini to back Arab-Israeli businesswoman hit by boycott

Thu, 2020-07-23 14:33

(JTA) — The Arab-Israeli owner of a popular tahini brand facing a boycott for donating to an Israeli LGBTQ rights group has some friends in the Israeli diplomatic community.

Dozens of Israeli diplomats in Israel and around the world have purchased more than 600 pounds of the tasty sesame paste to support Julia Zaher, who owns Al Arz tahini in Nazareth.

The packages arrived Wednesday at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs office in Jerusalem. Some will remain in Israel, with the rest sent to diplomats in the United States, Tokyo, Singapore, Taiwan and Uzbekistan.

Galit Peleg, the former consul for public diplomacy in New York, has been friendly with Zaher for years and enlisted dozens of diplomats to make a group purchase of the popular sesame paste.

“Julia — aside from the fact that she is a role model for female entrepreneurs and a breakthrough for businesswomen in the Arab society —has made a lot of important contributions towards promoting minorities in Israeli society, especially within the Arab community,” Peleg said in a statement.

Zaher made a “significant” donation to a rights group called Aguda to create a hotline for Arabic-speaking LGBT Israelis. After Aguda tweeted appreciation in Arabic and Hebrew, some Arabs called for a boycott of her brand.

Al Arz tahini is distributed globally, with its adherents including the well-known Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi.

The post Israeli diplomats buy 600 pounds of tahini to back Arab-Israeli businesswoman hit by boycott appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Twitter says it accidentally closed the accounts of some users for posting Star of David

Thu, 2020-07-23 14:05

(JTA) – Twitter acknowledged that it accidentally closed the accounts of some users for posting the Star of David.

Several Twitter users reported to a British anti-Semitism watchdog that their accounts were locked after they posted the Jewish symbol, the watchdog said.

Twitter informed the users that they violated the social media platform’s rules against posting “hateful imagery,” according to the Campaign Against Antisemitism in the United Kingdom. If they removed the images, the users were told, their accounts could be unlocked.

The Star of David in the profile pictures of the locked accounts ranged from artistic images to the yellow stars worn by Jews during the Holocaust.

Twitter responded Wednesday that it had mistakenly closed the accounts of some users. It noted that using a yellow Star of David like those worn by Jews in the Holocaust in order to target Jewish people is a violation of its Hateful Conduct Policy.

“We want to clarify some questions about hateful imagery on Twitter. We categorically do not consider the Star of David as a hateful symbol or hateful image. We have for some time seen the ‘yellow star’ or ‘yellow badge’ symbol being used by those seeking to target Jewish people,” Twitter said in a statement. “This is a violation of the Twitter Rules, and our Hateful Conduct Policy prohibits the promotion of violence against — or threats of attack towards — people on the basis of categories such as religious affiliation, race and ethnic origin.”

Twitter addressed the closed accounts this way: “While the majority of cases were correctly actioned, some accounts highlighted recently were mistakes and have now been restored.”

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‘Teach me, fix me’: Nick Cannon opens up to rabbi after making anti-Semitic comments

Thu, 2020-07-23 13:32

(JTA) — Nick Cannon wants to make it clear — he’s ready to repent.

In a nearly two-hour discussion with Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center published on YouTube Tuesday, Cannon traversed several topics: He apologized again for making anti-Semitic comments on his online show; spoke about his study of multiple religions and his religious father; and exchanged philosophies of forgiveness and evil with Cooper.

“I didn’t do this to … ‘Oh let’s show the world we can work together.’ I did this from a place of sincerity,” Cannon said in the talk, which makes up the latest edition of his show “Cannon’s Class.”

During the spirited discussion, Cannon said that he is going to visit Jerusalem at some point and hinted that he is “studying the Torah daily.” He also said he has read Bari Weiss’ recent book “How To Fight Anti-Semitism.”

“I am asking to be corrected from your community, give me books, teach me, I am an empty vessel, an empty broken vessel,” he said. “Teach me, fix me, lead me.”

But Cannon did not directly disavow the anti-Semitic rhetoric of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, whom Cooper mentioned repeatedly as the source of the conspiracy theories he said Cannon was “parroting.”

On a recent episode of “Cannon’s Class,” Cannon mentioned anti-Semitic theories — including the idea that “Zionists” and “Rothschilds” have “too much power” — in a conversation with Professor Griff, a rapper best known for being a member of the early hip-hop group Public Enemy. Cannon also praised Farrakhan and claimed that Black people are the “true Hebrews.”

ViacomCBS cut ties with the TV host and actor in the wake of the statements. Fox allowed him to keep his job as host of the show “The Masked Singer” after he issued an official apology statement.

Jewish Insider reported that Cannon and Cooper recorded the interview last week, and that Cannon visited the Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles on Monday. Cannon also donated money to the center, which is dedicated to spreading awareness about the Holocaust and is currently closed to the public.

Watch the full talk, which is broken up into two videos, below.

The post ‘Teach me, fix me’: Nick Cannon opens up to rabbi after making anti-Semitic comments appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

An enduring feature of the pandemic so far: Jews are flocking to online classes

Wed, 2020-07-22 21:27

(JTA) — Israeli poetry scholar Rachel Korazim had been thinking about cutting back on travel when the coronavirus pandemic made the decision for her.

“I said I really want to shift my teaching to distance learning because, you know, I’m not getting any younger. Travel is tiring,” she said she had told her husband.

But Korazim soon realized that her regular appointments at two leading destinations for adult learning, the Pardes Institute for Jewish Studies and the Shalom Hartman Institute, would not happen and felt disappointed.

Then one morning in March, a viral video popped up on her phone of Italians — then facing a steep death toll — singing from their balconies. Korazim felt inspired.

Playing on the fact that the Hebrew word for song is the same as for poem, she posted on Facebook, “I cannot sing like the Italians do, but I can teach poetry.” She invited her followers to join her for a Zoom session that evening covering Jewish women’s voices in literature. 

Within days, more than 200 people were tuning in for Korazim’s nightly poetry classes. Her experience offered an early indicator of what thus far has been a lasting phenomenon during the pandemic: Craving connection and with time on their hands, Jews have been attending online courses with intense devotion. And rather than experiencing a surge of interest in the pandemic’s early days, then waning as people adjust to the new normal, online learning in the Jewish community is expanding. 

Perhaps the most salient example is the Hartman Institute’s summer program, where Korazim usually teaches in Jerusalem to about 150 people who work in synagogues and other Jewish institutions. She had expected not to have anything to participate in this year, but instead an online symposium has drawn thousands from around the world, many with no professional Jewish affiliation but a deep and abiding interest in learning.

“Our mission is to develop the best ideas from the past,” said Dan Friedman, the Hartman Institute’s director of content and communications. “Sadly the Jewish people over thousands of years have had plenty of chances to think about crisis and how we deal with it, so how do we get the best ideas we have and think about how they’re relevant to our current state of things? And how do we get those ideas to places where it will make a difference?”

The answer, Friedman and his team concluded, was a monthlong online program called  “All Together Now: Jewish Ideas for this Moment.” Assembled in less than six weeks and free for participants, the program drew over 1,000 signups on the first day it was announced in June. By the end of the first week, more than 6,000 people, including some 1,100 rabbis and 600 Jewish community professionals, had registered for talks and workshops from prominent thinkers, religious leaders and artists like Korazim.

This week, the last of the series, the institute is adding opportunities for participants to talk to each other, too.

“The thought was we can’t bring people to the ‘mechon,'” Friedman said, using the Hebrew word for an educational institution, “so let’s bring the mechon to the people.” 

While Hartman’s program is free, even programs charging a fee are seeing significant and sustained interest. The Pardes Institute, also located in Jerusalem, moved its summer learning program online and set an enrollment fee of $175 for a 10-day session and $145 for an eight-day session.

“We were very nervous about doing an online summer program and charging for it,” acknowledged Alex Israel, the institute’s programming director. “We thought to ourselves, will people pay? Because there’s so much going on for free online.”

The answer was yes. Over 250 people have paid for courses during two summer sessions, more than twice the number who attended in-person classes last year. They include older adults who might not have attended in person but have said that the online courses offer a lifeline during a time of isolation, Israel said.

“Our business is about teaching people text, and teaching skills, and we said we think we have a good enough name that we are the text people, we are the experts at teaching serious but relevant Torah, and we think people will pay for it if we put together a robust enough program,” he said. “And we’ve been proven correct.”

Hartman and Pardes are among the biggest names in Jewish learning. But other organizations also are encountering surprising interest in their online offerings.

A conference for educators called NEW-CAJE drew more than 900 participants, double the typical in-person number, for a month of sessions about innovation in Jewish education. 

My Jewish Learning, the nondenominational educational website, launched live classes for the first time, offering dozens of virtual classes on topics ranging from holidays to theology to basic Hebrew. (My Jewish Learning, like the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, is part of 70 Faces Media.) Thousands of people joined in.

And the Sephardic Jewish Brotherhood of America, which typically offers resources on Sephardic Jewish learning, as well as scholarships and community celebrations, has a pandemic-inspired “digital academy” presenting classes like Ladino 101 and text study through the Sephardic lens.

That wouldn’t have been possible through live events, said Ethan Marcus, the group’s communications director.

“This has been a moonshot in more ways than one, just connecting people really spread out across the world,” he said. “We have participants in Turkey, in France, in Argentina — we even had a participant in Japan. It’s really elevated our profile.

“But more importantly it really made us rethink what it means to be a national community, how do we play a role in people’s lives daily today.”

With the pandemic wearing on and old expectations about in-person contact becoming a memory, the likelihood exists that the shift to online learning will endure even after travel and gatherings become safe again.

“I think that probably our direction of change will be mirrored by the Jewish community,” Friedman said. “There will be a lot more hybrid in-person and online institutions, organizations and movements. I think that we’ve seen the vast economic effects that [the pandemic] will have, and that will probably lead to a number of different organizations working together in ways that have been unprecedented until now. I think there will be an acceleration of change.”

Indeed, more than 90% of the respondents to surveys about My Jewish Learning’s online courses said they would continue to take them after the pandemic ends, and three-quarters said they felt they had gotten as much out of the classes as they would have in person.

For Korazim, this summer’s experience has resolved one concern she had about teaching online: whether her students could experience the same esprit de corps that she has seen take hold when they are in the same room. 

“I now have a community,” Korazim said. “I come into class 20 minutes before, and people are talking about their flooded basement, or their crumbling bridge that needs to be closed, because they are suffering. … My class is where they get to talk to adults.”

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Spain adopts International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism

Wed, 2020-07-22 21:07

(JTA) — The government of Spain has adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism.

The Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain issued a statement Wednesday thanking the Spanish government for its decision.

The IHRA working definition describes various forms of anti-Semitism, including hatred and discrimination against Jews, Holocaust denial and, sometimes controversially, expressions of criticism of Israel.

Spain has been a member of the alliance since 2008. It is one of 34 member countries.

In June, the parliament of the Spanish state the Balearic Islands Autonomous Community passed legislation declaring the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel a form of anti-Semitism as defined by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

Spain’s judiciary has repeatedly defined BDS as a discriminatory endeavor, but legislation reflecting this view rarely passes.

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New York’s Tenement Museum lays off 76 employees amid indefinite closure

Wed, 2020-07-22 21:03

(JTA) — The Tenement Museum, which tells the stories of Jewish and other immigrants who lived on New York City’s Lower East Side, announced that it is laying off its tour guides and other part-time workers — a total of 76 employees.

The museum, like most cultural institutions in New York City, has no firm reopening date.

In mid-March, the museum had furloughed the workers, in addition to laying off or furloughing nearly all its full-time staff. A $1.4 million federal payroll loan on April 27 enabled the museum to bring back its full-time staff. But on Wednesday, the museum announced that it would be furloughing its part-time workers.

In addition to tour guides, or educators, the part-time workers include front-desk and retail employees.

The museum’s president, Morris Vogel, also took a 99% pay cut in March. He is being paid $25 a month in order to retain his dental insurance.

“Our educators make our programs come to life,” Vogel said in a statement. “They are an important part of the Museum’s success. We had hoped to avoid this drastic step.”

The museum’s federal loan period ends on Sept. 20, but it is hoping to avoid further layoffs afterward by attracting visitors and schools on virtual tours, and conducting outside tours of the neighborhood for single families.

The interior, however, will remain closed indefinitely. Other New York museums, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art, have discussed reopening in the coming months. But the Tenement Museum consists of period immigrant apartments from more than a century ago — conditions that would make social distancing impossible.

The layoffs come a few weeks after another Manhattan Jewish institution, the Marlene Meyerson Jewish Community Center, laid off 32 employees and furloughed 40 others.

The post New York’s Tenement Museum lays off 76 employees amid indefinite closure appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Alex Morse was elected mayor at 22. Now the gay Jewish progressive is running for Congress.

Wed, 2020-07-22 20:59

(JTA) — Alex Morse’s first job out of college was as mayor of his Massachusetts hometown, Holyoke. Morse spent only one day a week on campus at Brown University his last semester as he mounted a campaign against an incumbent three times his age.

When he was elected later that year, the then-22-year-old first-generation college graduate became both the youngest and the first openly gay person to lead the city of 40,000 near Springfield.

Today at 31, the Jewish politician hopes to again unseat a much older and more established opponent. A year ago to this day, he announced his challenge to U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, who has been representing the state’s 1st Congressional District since 1989 and chairs the influential House Ways and Means Committee. The two will face off Sept. 1 in the Democratic primary.

Today marks 1 year since we launched our campaign!

Now, with only 6 weeks left until the election, we need your help to get over the finish line so we can provide Western + Central Mass with the representation it truly deserves. Join us: https://t.co/LUkQSZqj6y pic.twitter.com/NxFzEc2iHk

— Alex Morse (@AlexBMorse) July 22, 2020

Morse is running on a progressive platform that includes Medicare for All, defunding the Immigration and Customs and Enforcement agency, legalizing marijuana and canceling student debt. Fighting inequality is a central tenet of his campaign — he says it’s become even more necessary during the coronavirus pandemic. In Holyoke, which is 50% Hispanic, nearly 30% of the population lives in poverty, according to the U.S. census. Many have been struggling economically since the pandemic hit, and the city saw a severe coronavirus outbreak at a state-run veterans’ home that left 76 dead.

“The pandemic and how it’s manifesting and impacting our communities in many ways just crystallizes why I’m running for Congress in the first place and who our federal government should be looking out for and working for,” Morse told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “I think it’s illuminated already existing disparities and inequities in our communities that need to be addressed.”

Last year, Morse in an interview with Mother Jones aligned himself with the group of four young Democratic congresswomen of color nicknamed “the Squad” — Reps. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.

“Those four members of Congress in particular represent very courageous and progressive voices in our party, so it would be an honor to get to Congress and work alongside them,” Morse said.

Omar and Tlaib have come under fire from members of the Jewish community and beyond for their sharp criticism of Israel, which some say has veered into anti-Semitism.

But while Morse, who visited Israel on a Birthright trip in college, said he, too, would be open to considering withholding some aid to Israel in some circumstances — “as long as they continue to move forward with the occupation and annexation,” he said — he rejects the idea that criticizing the country’s policies amounts to anti-Semitism.

“Too often we conflate criticism of Israel, criticism of their leader with being anti-Semitic or being anti-Jewish, and I think they’re two very different conversations. I think one can be critical of Israel and their actions without being anti-Semitic,” said Morse, who was endorsed by IfNotNow, a Jewish group opposing Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. “And as a young openly gay progressive Jew, I think I have a unique voice to lend in this conversation.”

Morse speaks with voters as part of his congressional campaign. (Courtesy of Alex Morse for Congress)

Hailing from a city that once was the home to most of America’s paper mills, Morse became the first in his family to earn a college degree after participating in Upward Bound, a federal program to help students from low-income families. His parents, who met as teens, had grown up in public housing, and his mother dropped out of high school after she became pregnant with Morse’s oldest brother.

In high school, Morse had his first taste of local politics, serving as the student representative on his district’s school board. He also came out as gay — then advocated for change in his high school, where he says homophobia was rampant.

“There were so few students that were openly gay when I first got there,” Morse said. “There was homophobic language and behaviors in the school, and the hallways and gym classes and sports after school. Not many educators and teachers were equipped with how to address homophobic and transphobic language.”

He went on to found the school’s gay-straight alliance, organize a school assembly on LGBTQ issues and start a nonprofit to host an alternative prom for queer students and allies. He also worked with local politicians to organize a sexual education curriculum and racial and social justice training for teachers.

“[I was] learning at a young age the power of building coalitions, and of working with other young people to amplify our voice together and the impact it makes to have people working together,” he said. “My coming-out process and finding my voice directly tied to my interest in politics and government and advocacy. Without those high school experiences, I wouldn’t be as passionate or involved in the work I’m doing today.”

At Brown, Morse majored in urban studies. He also traveled home frequently to care for his mother, Kim, who suffered from severe mental health issues, and his oldest brother, Doug, who struggled with a heroin addiction. Both were in and out of treatment centers and died during Morse’s term as mayor, with his brother passing away earlier this year — an extended experience that Morse said informs his vision for reforming health care in America.

“Even I, as mayor, having trouble finding my brother treatment and a bed when he needs it, I can only imagine the struggle that other families are going through. And then watching my mom struggle with mental illness and again having issues around insurance and what’s covered and what’s not,” he said. “Everybody deserves the best possible care, and that includes mental health care. It shouldn’t be reserved for the wealthiest in this country.”

It was also at Brown where Morse first spent time around many Jewish people, even as he said his mother and grandmother were “incredibly proud of being Jewish.” (His father is Christian.)

“I knew from a young age that Judaism was something that was part of me and part of my family,” he said.

As an adult, Morse said he has been an “on and off member” of Congregation Sons of Zion, a Conservative synagogue, but he had no Jewish friends growing up and did not attend synagogue frequently or celebrate his bar mitzvah.

His freshman year, he traveled to Israel on a Birthright trip.

“It was a very powerful experience,” he recalled. “Going to the Holocaust museum there reiterated my value and belief that Israel has a right to exist and the people of Israel have a right to exist in peace.”

But Morse also found himself critical of the way that Israeli policy was discussed on the trip, which is free to Jews aged 18-32 and receives funding in part from the Israeli government. He saw parallels between how Palestinians were discussed and racist language he had heard being used to describe communities of color in the United States.

“Being on a Birthright trip, guided and organized by folks that may have a rigid perception of the history and the conflict between Israel and Palestine, and having to receive those messages and conversations in a way where you’re able to as an individual to come to your own conclusions rather than being led to absorb or believe everything you’re being told — that was important for me,” he said.

Morse added that he had observed “some parallels between the languages communities of color were being talked about here and also there.”

The congressional hopeful is among a wave of young progressives challenging more centrist Democrat incumbents. Morse has earned the endorsement of the Justice Democrats, the progressive political action committee that endorsed the likes of Ocasio-Cortez and Omar in 2018 and more recently Jamaal Bowman, who beat Rep. Eliot Engel in New York in the Democratic primary and almost certainly will win in November’s general election.

“There is a constituency of Jews and non-Jews alike that support a Jewish candidate like this because he is part of that progressive generation and it’s growing,” said Joel Rubin, a Democratic strategist who led Jewish outreach for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential bid. “It’s part of the diverse Jewish community, and it needs to be taken seriously as part of the future leadership of how the Jewish community engages politically.”

Still, Morse faces an “uphill battle,” said Rich Parr, research director at the MassINC, a nonpartisan polling group in Massachusetts. There has been no polling on the primary, but Parr said Morse may run into issues in gaining support in the district’s “power base” in Springfield, where the incumbent Neal previously served as mayor.

“They are more traditional Democrat, which is what Richie Neal is, so it’s neither the most nor least progressive district in the state in terms of the voters … so that’s the challenge Morse is facing,” he said.

Neal also has a wide margin in fundraising, bringing in $3.3 million to Morse’s $840,000, according to Open Secrets.

Morse is prepared for any outcome. Still Holyoke’s mayor after nearly a decade, he also enjoys playing tennis, doing yoga and watching TV — his favorite shows are “Schitt’s Creek” and “Queer Eye.” And he can be found at least once a week whipping up one of his signature creations in the kitchen for his friends — carrot cake with homemade cream cheese frosting, lemon and blueberry cake, chocolate chip cookies or peanut butter blossoms.

“If this Congress thing doesn’t work out, maybe I’ll just bake more,” he joked.

His age and role as a mayor of a smaller city has earned him comparisons to Pete Buttigieg, the gay former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who ran for president earlier this year. Morse said he doesn’t mind the comparisons to Buttigieg, whom he met after both were elected in 2011.

At the time, Buttigieg was not yet out and Morse had no idea he was gay.

“As an openly gay mayor and millennial, watching an openly gay young person and his husband run a very out and proud campaign was certainly exciting and inspiring to watch,” Morse said. “I think we may have different views on certain policies and how to get there, but I think overall we want the same things for our country and our communities.”

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Shwarma chicken kebabs: Perfectly spiced, quick to make and oh-so-juicy

Wed, 2020-07-22 20:45

This recipe originally appeared on The Nosher.

If you think chicken kebabs sound boring, I don’t blame you. Usually they are. And dry. But not this recipe.

This recipe pays homage to one of the earliest forms of cooking: roasting meat on a spit over a fire. Roasting smaller cuts, like kebabs, became popular in areas like the Middle East, where firewood was scarce, as they proved more practical to cook over small fires. According to food historian Gil Marks, the word is derived from the ancient Persian “kabab,” which most likely stemmed from Aramaic.

Today, their popularity holds fierce. Shish taouk, kebabs of marinated, spiced chicken, are enjoyed in Egypt, Syria, Turkey and Jordan. In Iran, kebab koobideh, kebabs of ground meat mixed with parsley and chopped onions, are served alongside rice and yogurt. In Israel, kebabs of spiced ground meat are ubiquitous at holiday barbecues.

Shwarma, while not exactly a kebab, is probably the most internationally beloved example of spit-roasted meat. Its flavorings — cumin, turmeric and coriander — inspired these kebabs. Bright with lime and onion, and made with juicy chicken thighs instead of breasts, they take mere minutes to cook on a hot grill (you could do this on a grill pan, too). Plus they’re so versatile: delicious with rice, perfect with warm laffa bread and hummus, and refreshingly offset by tzatziki, tahini or even bright arils of pomegranate.

I never do, but if you have leftovers, unskewer them and toss with greens, olives, hummus, tomatoes, red onion and good olive oil for a perfect lunch. 

For the kebabs:
4 or 5 4-ounce skinless, boneless chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
3/4 teaspoon ground coriander

To serve:
lime wedges
thinly sliced red onion
laffa bread

1. Combine the spices in a bowl. Add the cubed chicken and olive oil; mix well to combine. Cover and refrigerate for a minimum of 30 minutes, and up to 12 hours. The longer it marinates, the tastier it’ll be!

2. Take 12-15 wooden or metal skewers. If you’re using wooden skewers, soak them for half an hour so they don’t burn and catch fire on the grill. Thread the marinated chicken onto the skewers — I like to thread them longways so there’s more surface area to grill.

3. Preheat the grill to medium-high heat and grease it by dipping a few paper towels in vegetable oil then, using tongs, rub them carefully over the grates until glossy.

4. Place the kebabs on the grill and cook until golden brown, around 5-6 minutes per side. Use tongs to turn them. They should be charred in places.

5. Transfer to a platter and scatter with parsley and sliced red onion. Squeeze with fresh lime. Serve with warm laffa bread and hummus.

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Ukraine’s President Zelensky helps free hostages by plugging Joaquin Phoenix film on Facebook

Wed, 2020-07-22 20:41

(JTA) — Some leaders end hostage situations with daring military operations, or by forking over cash.

Vlodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s first Jewish president, made headlines for freeing hostages in a different way on Tuesday: promoting a 15-year-old documentary about animal exploitation narrated by Joaquin Phoenix.

In a saga that loosely resembles an episode of the British dystopian sci-fi show “Black Mirror,” a 44-year-old man later named as Maksym S. Kryvosh hijacked a bus carrying 13 people in Lutsk, in northwestern Ukraine. He made several demands that police did not reveal, in addition to stipulating that Zelensky publicly praise the film “Earthlings.”

Zelensky did so on Tuesday in a Facebook post, and Kryvosh freed the hostages, who were not harmed.

“Film ‘Earthlings,’ 2005. Everyone watch,” a terse Zelensky is seen saying in the 3-second video.

He deleted the video shortly after the hostages were freed.

The hijacker’s actions earned the film a more genuine endorsement from another Ukrainian official, who watched it following the incident.

“This film that this man mentioned is good,” Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said Tuesday during a news conference. “But you don’t have to be so messed up and terrorize the whole country to enjoy it.”

Kryvosh, who was born in Russian, also spoke about his actions being a “Happy day of the anti-system,” Pravda Ukraine reported, but he did not expand in concrete terms about any ideology connected to Ukraine or Russia.

Zelensky, a former TV actor, was elected last year in an election some found symbolic of progress in a country with a history of bloody anti-Semitism.

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Anti-Semitism is rising worldwide — so why is Trump’s special envoy targeting the president’s American Jewish critics?

Wed, 2020-07-22 20:23

MADISON, Wis. (JTA) — Around the world — from Argentina to Poland to the United States — anti-Semitic attacks are on the rise. On social media, an intensifying wave of COVID-19 conspiracy theories is spreading unchecked, pinning blame for the pandemic on George Soros, Israel and the Jewish people. In Germany this month, the defense minister was forced to disband one of the country’s most elite military units after uncovering an infestation of neo-Nazis in its ranks. 

From 2009 to 2012 under the Obama administration, I served as the U.S. Special Envoy to Combat and Monitor Anti-Semitism. Today I watch this growing tide of hatred and intolerance with mounting dread. And I feel tremendous frustration as I watch the current occupant of my former role, Elan Carr, use his position to score political points for President Trump and shamefully malign the president’s Jewish critics.

Last week, Carr took to Twitter to accuse J Street, a prominent liberal Jewish American advocacy group, of using an anti-Semitic image as part of its campaign against the Israeli government’s threatened unilateral annexation of the West Bank. (Full disclosure: I attended J Street’s first planning meeting as a member of J Street’s Advisory Council in 2007,)

How dare @jstreetdotorg use this picture in this context. Their imagery uses #Antisemitism and crude anti-Semitic conspiracy theories to advance their agenda. They should withdraw this and apologize to @POTUS @realDonaldTrump and to #Jewish Americans who serve our great country. pic.twitter.com/g4nz13g8K3

— U.S. Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism (@USEAntiSemitism) July 8, 2020

The image, which Carr claimed evoked “anti-Semitism and crude anti-Semitic conspiracy theories,” turned out to be nothing more than a press photo from a White House event that featured the key U.S. and Israeli figures who are now publicly coordinating on potential annexation: Trump, Jared Kushner, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Jason Greenblatt and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman. 

Labeling J Street’s post as anti-Semitic was both absurd and malicious. Even leaving aside the utterly dubious merits of Carr’s claim, it is entirely inappropriate that he would use his official, taxpayer-funded position to meddle in domestic politics and attack Jewish critics of the president’s foreign policy. Such bad-faith, transparently partisan behavior can only serve to undermine the special envoy’s own credibility and ability to fight actual anti-Semitism around the world. 

For the Trump administration, this is sadly nothing new. Time and again, the president, his advisers and his appointees to senior positions have sought to politicize questions of anti-Semitism and policy toward Israel. By smearing their political opponents as anti-Israel and anti-Semitic, they create the false impression that all criticisms of Israel are anti-Semitism, and myopically focus the entire conversation about anti-Semitism on critics of Israel, while ignoring the much broader canvas of hatred against Jews in this country and around the world.

By conflating fair criticism of the Israeli government with anti-Semitism, the Trump administration has led us to this ridiculous spectacle. The self-proclaimed “best friends” of the Jewish people are hurling charges of anti-Semitism at American Jews themselves while continuing to largely ignore the anti-Semitic beliefs, statements and actions of some of their own far-right, white nationalist supporters and allies. Despite study after study showing that the vast majority of today’s violent anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. originate from the far right, the Trump administration remains committed to its myopic culture war against an exaggerated enemy on the left. 

This approach is not only maddening to those of us genuinely committed to fighting anti-Semitism, but also hurts genuine advocacy for Israel’s best interests and profoundly misrepresents the values and opinions of American Jews. Far from backing the Trump administration’s lockstep support for the hard-right Netanyahu government in Israel, most American Jews continue to support a two-state solution, an evenhanded U.S. approach to the conflict and a just outcome that respects the fundamental rights and legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people. 

To be clear, when I served as the Special Envoy against Anti-Semitism, I was forthright about my concerns that too often around the world, criticism of the State of Israel and its people crosses the line into anti-Semitism. We continue to see the deployment of harmful tropes rooted in centuries-old conspiracy theories. Israel’s regional adversaries such as Iran and Hezbollah actively fuel anti-Israel sentiment and crude anti-Semitism, seeking to transform support for Palestinian freedoms into support for Israel’s destruction.

I never shied away from confronting this threat, nor should any of us. The work of addressing anti-Semitism in all its forms, wherever it rears its head, is a full-time job demanding focus, nuance, judgment and the ability to build coalitions. It requires efforts to enlist both Jewish and non-Jewish communities across the political spectrum as allies in the fight — not spreading divisiveness, mistrust and partisan rancor. If Special Envoy Carr is incapable of recognizing these basic truths or unwilling to act on them, he has no business serving in his role.

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