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Christmas ornaments with images of Auschwitz are for sale on Amazon

Sun, 2019-12-01 14:27

(JTA) — Christmas ornaments and bottle openers featuring the site of the former Auschwitz Nazi death camp are for sale on Amazon.

The Auschwitz Memorial and Museum called Amazon out in a tweet which said “Selling “Christmas ornaments” with images of Auschwitz does not seem appropriate. Auschwitz on a bottle opener is rather disturbing and disrespectful. We ask @amazon to remove the items of those suppliers.”

The Auschwitz ornaments include the iconic image of train tracks leading to the entrance of Auschwitz, and an image of reconstructed barracks with a path down the middle.

Among the other Polish landmarks featured on the porcelain Chirstimas ornametns are Wawel Castle in Krakow, Centennial Hall in Wroclaw, and the riverfront of the city of Gdansk.  The company also sells Christmas ornaments featuring landmarks from other countries including the United States. U.S. ornaments include a view of the city from the Chicago River, the Grand Canyon in Arizona and ZIon National Park in Utah.

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Rabbi beaten while visiting London

Sun, 2019-12-01 13:29

(JTA) — A rabbi visiting London was beaten and left on the ground bleeding in the city’s Stamford Hill neighborhood.

The incident occurred on Friday night, the London-based Campaign Against Anti-Semitism reported.

The unnamed man described by British media as a “senior rabbi” flew out of London after Shabbat for Israel.

The two teenagers who assaulted the rabbi allegedly shouted “Kill Jews” and “F*** Jews” during the attack, according to the Shomrim of Stamford Hill. The attack has been reported to London Police.

The attack is not believed to be related to the attack on the London Bridge by an alleged member of the Islamic State which occurred earlier in the day, the Jerusalem Post reported.

A demonstration against Jew-hatred in politics and mounting anti-Jewish hate crime is scheduled for Dec. 8 in Parliament Square, the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism reported.


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The king of farce’s new play is inspired by his parents’ love letters

Fri, 2019-11-29 19:32

(JTA) — You may not know who Ken Ludwig is, but you almost certainly know his work.

Ludwig is the reigning king of theatrical farce. Among his 28 plays are six that made it to Broadway and seven to London’s West End, including “Lend Me a Tenor,” “Crazy for You,” “Moon Over Buffalo” and “20th Century.”

They have earned him a passel of awards — multiple Tonys and Oliviers, among others — and have been performed around the world. A recent tally revealed there are approximately 1,000 productions of a Ludwig play in the U.S. alone every year.

But his latest is largely different from the door-slamming, slapstick comedies that made him famous.

“Dear Jack, Dear Louise,” is an epistolary love story, a Jewish version of A.R. Gurney’s popular “Love Letters.” It is at times funny and poignant and, more important, based on the life experiences of Ludwig’s parents, Jacob Ludwig and Louise Rabiner.

The play is set in 1942. Jack, as Jacob preferred to be called, grew up in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, and was drafted into the military shortly after graduating from medical school, where he treated wounded soldiers returning from the Pacific. Louise, a graduate of New York’s High School of Music & Art, is a would-be showgirl.

Both their fathers were immigrant tailors from Russia and they suggest the couple begin a correspondence. They do and gradually get to know each other, writing almost daily.

Sometimes it’s just a sentence or two, a short missive to reassure the other that all is well. Sometimes the letters are commentaries on the day’s events. Louise writes about her auditions; Jack frequently describes his failed attempts to get a leave so he can come meet her. But they slowly start to reveal themselves, and it’s clear both like what they discover.

In an interview, Ludwig says the play is only based on his parents’ correspondence. His mother destroyed the actual letters — apparently, Ludwig thinks, because they contained intimacies not suitable for public consumption.

So while much of the play is fiction, the happy ending isn’t. Jack and Louise were in fact married for 50 years and raised two children, Ken and his brother, Eugene, in York, Pennsylvania. The relatively small town had “a thriving Jewish community,” including three synagogues.

The Ludwigs belonged to the Reform temple, presided over by a rabbi — an “Emma Goldman, radical leftist Reform rabbi,” in Ludwig’s description — who preferred no yarmulkes or Hebrew in his services. Ludwig celebrated his bar mitzvah and his confirmation in the synagogue.

Once a year, Ludwig would visit Louise’s parents in Brooklyn, a trip that always included at least one Broadway show. That’s where his heart was, in theater.

Ludwig began writing plays in high school. While his parents were supportive of his ambition, they recognized “the chances of making a living writing plays is so minuscule they wanted me to get a degree so I’d have something to fall back on,” he said.

Ludwig did them proud. Not only did he get an undergraduate degree, he graduated from Harvard Law School and even went to Cambridge University in England to major in restoration drama, a field concerned with plays written in England in the 17th century — an esoteric subject if there ever was one.

It was only after he started working as a lawyer in Washington, D.C., that Ludwig began concentrating on plays, sometimes writing for four hours in the morning before heading to the office for his day job.

It took a couple of years, but his first play — about the legendary romance between the 11th-century French nun Heloise and Peter Abelard, a French philosopher and theologian — actually was successful. After running in a Washington basement, the play was picked up for a brief off-Broadway run.

Ludwig won’t say how old he is or provide dates for his early plays, but his first Broadway show, “Lend Me a Tenor” (1989), established his place in the firmament.

What are his hopes for “Dear Jack, Dear Louise”?

“Like any playwright, my hope is that it gets produced a lot throughout the U.S. and Europe,” Ludwig said. “I write because I want people to see my play. I want people to love my play. I want people to find themselves in my play.”

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Georgia’s 2 US Senate seats will be open in 2020. Jon Ossoff and Joe Lieberman’s son are vying for them.

Fri, 2019-11-29 19:26

ATLANTA (JTA) — Voters in Georgia will face elections next year for each of the state’s two U.S. Senate seats. Jewish Democrats are vying to be in the mix in both races.

Incumbent David Perdue, a Republican, is up for re-election in 2020, while Johnny Isakson, also from the GOP, is retiring at the end of the year because of ill health. Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, almost certainly will name someone from his party to replace Isakson, but both slots will be on the ballot in November.

Seven Democrats are contending for Perdue’s spot and two for Isakson’s. Each list features a Jewish candidate with name recognition: Jon Ossoff is running for the Perdue seat and Matt Lieberman is going for Isakson’s.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency spoke to Ossoff and Lieberman last week in Atlanta. Here’s a quick compare and contrast.

Name recognition: Ossoff, 32, the CEO of a film company that makes investigative documentaries, made national headlines in 2017 when he finished first in an open primary for a special House election in the 6th District. His strong showing in a longtime Republican stronghold was the first concrete evidence that the “resistance” to President Donald Trump could rally not just marchers but voters. Ossoff lost narrowly in the June runoff, but says now that the exposure makes him a natural to oust Perdue.

“In six months we moved that district by 20 percent,” he said. “We built a massive Democratic infrastructure, we ran the largest get-out-the-vote in Democratic history.”

As in 2017, Ossoff has the endorsement of two giants in the state’s Democratic Party and its African-American community: Rep. John Lewis, the civil rights icon for whom he once interned, and Rep. Hank Johnson, for whom Ossoff worked as a congressional aide.

Lieberman, a 52-year-old entrepreneur, makes no bones about the name recognition he hopes to tap: His father, former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, was the first Jewish candidate on a major party presidential ticket when Al Gore named him his running mate in 2000.

“When I was doing my due diligence on this, I did a mini poll. One of the things I tested was my dad’s name identification, and it’s quite high in Georgia,” Lieberman said. “That’s not me, but it will make it easier for people to latch on to why I’m running because it’s a point of familiarity.”

Lieberman, who moved here 16 years ago to helm a Jewish day school, has been fundraising in his father’s home state of Connecticut.

Matt Lieberman surprised some Democratic insiders by declaring for the open Senate seat, but said getting a jump on fundraising was necessary. (Ron Kampeas)

The main issue: For both candidates it’s health care, which has become the premier issue in a state where black maternal mortality rates are off the charts, abortion is severely restricted and half of the 159 counties do not have an obstetrician-gynecologist.

Health care is more directly addressed at the state level, but Ossoff and Lieberman both see steps they can take in Washington. Ossoff said he would back including a public insurance option in any health care reform act and would seek to invest in rural hospitals and clinics.

Lieberman is on the same page. He wants to protect and expand the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement, and add a public option.

“Health care is absolutely the biggest kitchen table-type issue for folks here,” he said.

The odds: Each candidate faces tough obstacles should they win the nomination. Georgia is inching Democratic, but it’s not there yet.

Ossoff’s bid may be daunted by Perdue’s incumbency, but Ossoff thinks that will be offset by the senator’s close association with Trump.

“Georgians are awake to the corruption of this presidency and David Perdue’s servility will be his downfall,” he said.

Lieberman declaring for the open seat surprised some Democratic insiders, who said a better calculus would be to see who Kemp names and build a strategy from there. Trump is pressuring Kemp to name Rep. Doug Collins, among the president’s most vigorous defenders, but Kemp reportedly is resisting because Trump has been a drag on Republican races this year in Kentucky, Louisiana and Virginia.

Lieberman said it made sense to get out early and ahead of the fundraising game.

“Kemp is a conservative Republican, he’s going to appoint a conservative Republican, and that person will be an extremely well-funded candidate,” Lieberman said.

The Trump factor: Ossoff notably refrained from mentioning Trump during his 2017 run, a strategy that Democrats running in conservative districts embraced with success elsewhere. This year, with Trump mired in impeachment proceedings and blamed for Republican failures in Southern states, that thinking has changed.

“Folks in Georgia and across the country increasingly recognize Donald Trump’s unfitness for office and the way he has debased the office,” Ossoff said.

Lieberman also makes a case for running against Trump, but like his father he is disinclined to make personal attacks on his rivals.

“He’s the elephant in the room, it’s hard not to mention him,” Lieberman said. “If Trump is no longer president and if the Democrats control the Senate, there is a world of difference in this country.”

Israel: Lieberman squarely blames the impasse in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking on the Palestinians, which perhaps not coincidentally has been his father’s default position for years.

“The problem relates to the Palestinians and even more so their leadership never coming to terms of acceptance with the fact there’s a Jewish state of Israel sitting there,” he said. “And until that’s fully accepted as reality and not looked at as something temporary that needs to change, it’s going to be hard to resolve that.”

Ossoff sees intractability on both sides and a role for a robust U.S. involvement.

“I think the two-state solution is on life support and I’m deeply pessimistic that any of the parties — the government of Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Hamas — are seriously pursuing it,” he said.

Doing Jewish: Like his father, Lieberman is Sabbath observant. Religiously, he calls himself “Conservadox” —  a portmanteau of Orthodox and Conservative Judaism. Lieberman said he recently started driving to synagogue because Atlanta’s notorious sprawl mitigates against living walking distance from synagogue, but he won’t be campaigning on Shabbat.

“I’m pretty sure that will be a new thing in Georgia,” he said.

Ossoff said his experience working with some of the state’s most senior African-American politicians makes him a natural to build bridges between the communities. His first political involvement was joining Johnson’s 2006 campaign to oust Cynthia McKinney, one of the most hostile legislators to Israel.

Also, Ossoff notes, “My wife is Jewish.” Alisha Kramer played an unintended role in her husband’s 2017 campaign when rivals dinged him for not living in the 6th District, a fact Ossoff chalked up to Kramer, then his fiancee, needing to live closer to Emory University, where she was in medical school.

During the 2017 campaign, Michael Rosenzweig, a leading Democratic activist, recalled asking Ossoff to speak at a program that he organized at a Jewish home for the elderly.

“I have a question,” a 90-year-old man said. “When are you going to marry that girl?”

The couple married in 2018.

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A project that helps formerly ultra-Orthodox Jews find their place in the Jewish world

Fri, 2019-11-29 18:39

NEW YORK (JTA) — I didn’t grow up keeping Shabbat. I am an observant Jew now, but my path to orthodoxy was unexpected, slow and steady.

When I was introduced to Torah learning in college, I fell in love with the wealth and breadth of knowledge lying underneath the veneer of the more basic, surface-level Judaism I experienced as a child. I can safely say that becoming an Orthodox Jew has enhanced my life in ways I never would have expected.

Unfortunately, not everyone has had the same experience.

Nechama Schweitzer, a 28-year-old woman now living in a Modern Orthodox community in Brooklyn’s Marine Park, grew up in what she calls “a very sheltered ultra-Orthodox home” in Borough Park. But instead of wanting to graduate high school, marry and have kids right away like other girls in her community, she had career aspirations and other dreams she wanted to pursue. But Schweitzer couldn’t find anyone to help her understand and accept that there might be a different path — not her religious all-girls school, her parents or any of her 11 siblings.

Despite her feelings toward marriage, her parents and rabbi still strongly steered her in that direction.

“Growing up, I was taught that this is what I was meant to do in my life,” she shared with me. “I was told the purpose of living was to be a wife and a mother and so, in my mind, there was really no reason to say no.”

So, at 21, Schweitzer was wed through an arranged marriage to a man she met just twice for about 45 minutes before getting engaged.

At that time she was taking antidepressants and trying to recover from an eating disorder. While her therapist didn’t think the marriage was a good idea, her rabbi convinced her that once she was married she would be happy, and that she could and should even go off the medication.

“I was raised that whatever the rabbi says, you listen,” she said. “You don’t question it. So I went off my meds but by the time I got married, I was relapsing.”

Her marriage came to an end six months in, when she put her foot down about not wanting to have kids right away.

After the divorce, she continued to live in the apartment she had shared with her husband for a couple of years. But despite going back on her antidepressant, things got harder.

“There was always a part of me still that wasn’t being true to who I was,” she said. “People would ask me, ‘Why don’t you want to get married again?’ I had to answer them while still having all these questions about Judaism and my beliefs.”

Schweitzer continued to spiral downward, becoming extremely depressed, even suicidal. Then at 25, she ended up in a psych ward. Disconnected from her cloistered community, she realized there was no way she could go back to her old life. From the hospital, she moved to a group home and eventually to an apartment in Marine Park.

While in the hospital, she reached out to Madreigos, which provides awareness and support for religious Jews suffering from mental health issues and addiction. The organization helped her find the right next step in terms of where to live and continuing treatment programs, and in doing so introduced her to Project Makom, which provides social support and information on nonjudgmental Orthodox Judaism — usually a new idea to its members.

Run by Allison Josephs, Project Makom offers classes about a loving God and how to be motivated out of meaning rather than guilt. The organization creates discussion and offers resources to those recovering from traumatic experiences in their own communities.

Through her work as the woman behind Jew in the City, an organization founded in 2007 that educates the secular world about Orthodox Jews, Josephs started to meet real people affected by the difficult realities she sought to disprove.

For example, she would say that in Judaism, women aren’t subjugated. But then she met women who were taught they should constrict themselves and their ideas, that everything needs to be done according to their husbands’ wishes. She met others with traumatizing sexual abuse experiences.

Josephs said she realized that the negative stories in the media about Orthodox Jews weren’t just told by and about “a few bad apples” but rather were “systemic problems in communities.”

Because of that revelation, she founded Project Makom in 2014.

Project Makom now offers social events and Jewish classes, as well as Shabbat and career-themed programming. The goal is to help people who are isolated or ostracized find a community of like-minded individuals who are free to ask questions.

“We want to validate them when they tell us what went wrong, but ultimately help them find a way to build a new path,” Josephs told me.

It’s a nonjudgmental community, and members are free to find their own relationship to Judaism through what is offered.

“It’s absolutely essential that members of Makom know that we don’t have any plans for their Judaism,” Josephs said. “That is between them and God. We are proud to be frum and show them observance as we experience with joy and love, but what each member decides is ultimately up to them.”

Though Project Makom, Schweitzer experienced Shabbat meals in a way she never had before.

“I didn’t feel like I was trapped in something,” she shared. “I had an opportunity to get all my questions answered from the bottom up in a completely nonjudgmental forum. People took me as I was — I wasn’t expected to dress or look a certain way.”

She added: “They saved my life, and not just saved it, but enhanced it and made it so much more meaningful.”

Schweitzer at point wasn’t allowed back home because she could not meet her family’s expectations for tzniut (modesty), and even ended up missing her sister’s wedding three years ago. While she agreed to dress according to the halacha (Jewish law) for a divorced woman, some rabbis say she is still required to cover her hair, which was the ruling given by the rabbi for Schweitzer’s parents. She could not agree to the decision — her marriage was just too traumatic — so the family rabbi said she was not welcome.

After the wedding, Project Makom helped Schweitzer through the ordeal, providing another rabbi who is respected in Hasidic communities to serve as a mediator between the family rabbi and her parents. Through this work, the family rabbi reversed his ruling, so she was able to go home and visit without covering her hair.

Schweitzer today is a passionate special education teacher for grades K-2 at a Montessori school. She teaches language arts and Judaic studies, a path she says truly shows just how far she’s come.

“I have a joy and love for Judaism now,” she said. “Growing up, God was the scariest thing, I was always worried that I was going to get punished. Now it’s about joy, love and excitement.”

Project Makom also can connect individuals with other mental health organizations. It makes referrals to ESL and GED programs as well. As it receives more funding, Project Makom would like to partner with a mental health organization to create support groups and launch a mentorship program to help members with homework and resumes.

“Let’s not be embarrassed by our problems,” Josephs said. “Let’s fix them and do the right thing.”

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Citing Israel, Norwegian mayor asks church to replace Star-of-David holiday decoration

Fri, 2019-11-29 12:20

(JTA) — A Norwegian mayor asked a church to replace its traditional Star-of-David Christmas decoration due to complaints that it’s too associated with Israel and Jews.

Strand Mayor Irene Heng Lauvsnes asked the Klippen Pentecostal church, which lights a large Star of David neon decoration in a municipal park where it holds a Christmas celebration, to replace that this year symbol with a “traditional Christmas star,” the Strandbuen newspaper reported Wednesday.

The unnamed critics said the church “designed [the decoration] as a Star of David, a national symbol both for the Jews and for the State of Israel” and “therefore does not fit in the public space” in Strand.

The church is considering the request as it does “not want to provoke in any way,” , its representative, Tom Øystein Angelsen told Strandbuen.

The use of the Star of David in Christmas decorations is common throughout Northern Europe.

The municipality’s intervention provoked anger, including by the editor-in-chief of the Dagen daily, Vebjørn Selbekk.

“Municipal Christmas bureaucrats obviously do not want a Jewish or Israeli mark on their Christmas. Then we almost have to remind them of some key facts about why we celebrate Christmas at all,” Selbekk wrote in a column titled “merry Jew-free Christmas,” adding: “That holiday is marked by the fact that a Jewish boy was born to a Jewish mother in a Jewish stable in a Jewish city in a Jewish country.”

The park must remain “neutral” especially in light of the controversy, Lauvsnes, the mayor, told Aftenbladet.

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Dutch daily’s cartoon shows Netanyahu behind Labour anti-Semitism scandals

Fri, 2019-11-29 11:35

AMSTERDAM (JTA) — A major Dutch daily ran a caricature whose critics say reinforces anti-Semitic tropes and suggests that Israel’s prime minister is attacking Britain’s Labour party over anti-Semitism to distract from corruption charges against him.

In Thursday’s caricature in De Volkskrant daily, Benjamin Netanyahu is depicted while holding a stone labeled “anti-Semitism charges” in one hand and reading an indictment for corruption in the other.

Opposite him is Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of Britain’s Labour party, which is currently under an investigation of the British government’s Equality and Human Rights Commission over complaints that Corbyn’s anti-Israel agenda and far-left politics have made it institutionally anti-Semitic.

Corbyn is saying: “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone,” an utterance attributed to Jesus in the New Testament.

Netanyahu has rarely referenced Corbyn publicly and has not spoken out about anti-Semitism in Labour. Netanyahu condemned Corbyn’s 2014 laying of a wreath on the graves of Palestinian terrorists in 2018, after the gesture was reported on in the United Kingdom.

The Center for Information and Documentation on Israel, a Dutch-Jewish watchdog group on anti-Semitism, called the caricature’s statement “absurd,” noting that British Jews, not Netanyahu, are the ones making allegations of anti-Semitism against Corbyn, who in 2013 defended a mural depicting Jewish men playing monopoly on the backs of dark-skinned men.

“Jews have a right to speak out against anti-Semitism. The fact that an indictment was filed against the Israeli prime minister is irrelevant,” CIDI wrote. They also said the caricature “reaffirms the anti-Semitic stereotype that Jews are more loyal to Israel than countries where they live.”

Volkskrant caricaturist Jos Collignon defended the work, linking CIDI’s criticism, which did not mention the Holocaust, to Dutch Jewry’s Holocaust trauma from it and labeling it an attempt to prevent supporters of Palestinian rights from speaking out.

“When allegations of anti-Semitism occur, the Israel lobby is never far behind. I think you’ll never understand this is the behavior of victims. There is no point linking modern-day opponents to atrocities from the past. We’re all being labeled as Nazi sympathizers.”

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Belgian officials boycott trade delegation to Israel

Fri, 2019-11-29 10:54

(JTA) — Two of Belgium’s local governments pulled out of a trade delegation to Israel, citing alleged violations of international law and lack of progress in the peace process.

The foreign trade secretary of the government of the Brussels region, Pascal Smet, announced the move Thursday, the RTBF broadcaster reported. The move is a major victory for proponents of attempts to boycott Israel, who have so far had few breakthroughs in their attempts to shape Belgian-Israeli relations.

Elio Di Rupo, a former prime minister of the kingdom of Belgium and the current prime minister of the Belgian state of Wallonia, last week pulled out of the delegation, which is set to take place Dec 8-11 and include businessmen and representatives of commercial enterprises from across Belgium.

“The lack of progress in the peace process, the lack of progress on the ground and the violation by Israel of major elements of the Geneva Convention are prompting us to hold back on official cooperation,” Di Rupo said.

Joel Rubinfeld, a former leader of Belgian Jewry and president of the Belgian League Against Anti-Semitism, said the move was discriminatory in light of Belgium’s trade relations with nation accused of major human rights violations, including Iran and China.

It is also “absurd,” he wrote, and “will hurt Wallonia and Brussels far more than it will Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East and which has more Nasdaq-listed firms than in the entire European Union put together.”

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film star Seth Rogen to be honored for promoting Jewish identity, Yiddish

Fri, 2019-11-29 10:24

(JTA) — Seth Rogen, a Jewish-American Hollywood actor and filmmaker who is studying Yiddish for a role, will be honored by a group devoted to promoting that language.

The Workmen’s Circle, a group whose mission is to strengthen Jewish identity based on social justice and Yiddish language, will honor Rogen, 37, in a ceremony Monday in Manhattan, the New Jersey Jewish News reported Wednesday.

“It’s something that’s always been just a very big part of my life,” the actor said of his Jewish identity in an interview with NJJN. “The first jokes I ever wrote were about it; it was a very inherent part of who I was.”

Rogen is studying Yiddish for his role in “American Pickle,” a film based on a short story by Simon Rich, in which the main character, Herschel Greenbaum, a Yiddish-speaker who immigrated in 1918 to the United States, emerges fully preserved from a pickle barrel a century later, to meet his great-grandson in Brooklyn.

Rogen, 37, and his father, Mark, who worked for the organization in Los Angeles in the early 2000s, will receive the Generation to Generation Activism award during the ceremony.

Growing up in Vancouver, British Columbia, Rogen went to a Habonim Dror summer camp and a Talmud Torah elementary school, which provided the material for his first standup sets. He headlined a Workmen’s Circle event in Los Angeles when his father worked there.

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Drake’s Toronto restaurant shuts down with $50,000 debt

Fri, 2019-11-29 10:00

(JTA) — The Toronto restaurant opened in 2017 by Drake, a well-known Canadian-Jewish rapper, closed down after incurring a $50,000 debt on unpaid rent.

Last week, the Instagram account of the glitzy restaurant and sports bar Pick 6ix said it had closed until further notice due to flooding, the news site Eater reported. But, the Toronto Star reported that the notice of lease termination was put up at the restaurant before the news of the flooding.

The restaurant’s voicemail informs callers that it will reopen in early 2020. Drake, whose net worth is estimate at $150 million, closed down a restaurant, Frings, last year.

Pick 6ix received mixed reviews, with the Toronto Star food critic Amy Pataki calling some of its dishes, including a $29 Spaghetti Bolognese dish served with a lobster tail, “disastrous.”

Another food critic, for the Globe and Mail, described seeing Drake “quietly watched the Raptors game with a female companion and a burger in the VIP room, surrounded by his security detail. Just a regular Tuesday night.”

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