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Lebanese struggle to make ends meet, but despite new government living costs set to soar

Haaretz - Fri, 2020-01-24 17:58
With diaspora input choked off, the prospects for import-reliant Lebanon are grim

Israel’s Olympic baseball team preps for Tokyo and looks to expand the sport

JTA - Fri, 2020-01-24 17:57

MISGAV, Israel (JTA) – As more than 20 men wearing blue-and-white baseball uniforms walked along Tel Aviv’s bustling Allenby Street on a recent Tuesday, a motorcyclist called out in Hebrew and English.

“Good luck! We’re behind you!” the man shouted to the group, members of the baseball team that will represent Israel at next summer’s Olympics in Tokyo.

The biker’s support “was meaningful to us,” said Jon Moscot, a pitcher. “It was authentic. He wanted to give us encouragement.”

Moscot recalled the scene two days later at a sports center here in the mountains east of Haifa, where the team was conducting baseball drills for nearly 200 children. It was one of several events organized during the club’s week-long visit to Israel meant to grow the sport in a country where baseball is barely known. With the Olympics just six months away, the team’s visit seemed to offer great public relations potential.

The delegation consisted primarily of American Jews who flew in from the United States after acquiring Israeli citizenship that enabled them to represent Israel in the Olympics. They included former major-league players like Moscot, Ty Kelly, Danny Valencia, Zack Weiss and Jeremy Bleich. Former big leaguers Josh Zeid and Ryan Lavarnway, who didn’t make the trip, also became citizens and are vying for roster spots.

The Olympics squad is Israel’s first-ever in baseball and only the fourth in any team sport — winter or summer. Israel hasn’t had a team make the cut since soccer at the 1976 Games in Montreal.

The team’s success in four European tournaments last summer catapulted it to the Olympics and is prompting loftier aspirations. Israel Association of Baseball president Peter Kurz told reporters in Tel Aviv at a press conference Jan. 13 that he’s aiming to earn a medal in Tokyo.

With just six teams competing, it’s not an unreasonable goal. But team manager Eric Holtz pledged only that his players would compete hard throughout.

“Every time this team gets on the field, it has a chance to do great things,” said Holtz, a New Yorker who managed the American juniors to gold at the 2017 Maccabiah games.

Kurz and Holtz expressed hope that the team’s Olympics debut spurs a doubling in the number of Israeli youth and adults playing baseball, from 1,000 to 2,000, over the next two years.

Accommodating such growth would necessitate building far more baseball fields than the three existing now: at Tel Aviv’s Sportek; at the Baptist Village complex in Petach Tikvah; and at Kibbutz Gezer, about midway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. This month’s delegation attended groundbreaking ceremonies for new fields in Raanana and Beit Shemesh.

No one harbors illusions about baseball upsetting the country’s sports order. Even Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, at a welcome he hosted for the team, said it’s “not a secret that I prefer soccer.”

Team Israel players shown during a game of the 2017 World Baseball Classic in Tokyo, March 13, 2017. (Yuki Taguchi/WBCI/MLB via Getty Images)

Still, the run-up to the Olympics provides key exposure for the sport. Gilad Lustig, director general of the Olympic Committee of Israel, said that the country will send 85 athletes to Tokyo — its largest-ever contingent.

“I have no doubt that this group will represent us well,” he said of the baseballers.

Infielder Zach Penprase said that compared to his first visit to Israel in April, Israelis have a heightened awareness of the baseball team. Some Israelis he met told him they had watched the European tournaments online.

“I think it’s amazing,” said Penprase, a Los Angeles-area resident. “It’s why we’re doing this.”

Moscot, a fellow Southern Californian what has visited the country three times as a team member, said he has noticed “more and more passion” for baseball among Israelis.

“These are the people who give us that extra push, that extra incentive, to do well for the country,” he said. “This is for sure a different trip, because the kids have Olympic athletes to look up to. It’s been very redeeming for us to see how passionate these kids are and how much potential there is in this.”

Moscot gestured toward the children gathering near his teammates to begin drills.

“You can see it in their eyes,” he said. “The parents want them to be here, and the kids want to be here. They genuinely want to learn.”

One such family included Yoav Nov-Kolodny, 11, and his brother Yoni, 8. The boys gravitated to baseball three years ago during a sabbatical in Boston with their father Yuval Nov, a statistician. Since returning to Israel, Yoav has taught the game to his friends using just a bat, two baseballs and three gloves he brought back from America.

His chums soon ordered their own equipment, expanding the circle’s ballplaying possibilities.

“We play three to five times a week. It’s so fun to play,” said Yoav.

Watching his sons take instruction from the soon-to-be Olympians, Nov recalled playing basketball and soccer on the same surface three decades ago while attending the adjacent high school. Nov knew nothing about baseball then – still doesn’t, he confessed – and said he would have considered the idea of Israel fielding a baseball team “far-fetched.”

Now, he said, “What else can you wish to bring your son to but [to meet] Olympic athletes if he’s into baseball?”

As to the boys’ desire to register to play on IAB teams, which would necessitate a one-hour, round-trip drive here from their home in Kiryat Tivon, Nov said, “I may have unintentionally released a genie.”

The post Israel’s Olympic baseball team preps for Tokyo and looks to expand the sport appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

The question isn’t whether NSO hacked Jeff Bezos’ phone – but whether it was even hacked at all

Haaretz - Fri, 2020-01-24 17:38
‘There is zero information and 100% speculation. We don’t know if it was infected at all, it’s simply suspicions ... or Bezos’ paranoia and fear,’ says Israeli security expert

Israeli gesture to secure release of woman jailed in Russia could spell trouble in Jerusalem

Haaretz - Fri, 2020-01-24 17:34
No, Israel isn't giving Putin a church in return for high-profile prisoner Naama Issachar, but the move could cause problems for Israel with all the other Christian denominations in the city

Give Trump’s peace plan a chance

The Forward - Fri, 2020-01-24 17:10
After much delay, the Trump Administration this week announced that its Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, the “deal of the century,” is finally set.

Restorers find chest full of precious Judaica items in former Polish synagogue

JTA - Fri, 2020-01-24 17:04

(JTA) — Restorers working on a building that used to house a synagogue near Krakow, Poland, found a chest inside a wall containing precious silverware and Jewish artifacts.

More than 350 items were found about two months ago in Wieliczka, the Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper reported last week, including silver-plated candlesticks, large bronze vases with decorative handles and Hebrew inscriptions, and a silver goblet with a floral motif.

There were also at least two Hanukkah menorahs and two Torah ornaments, known as rimonim, that typically adorn the handles of the scroll. The scroll itself was not in the chest.

A team carrying out an assessment of the building’s condition chanced upon the chest during an examination of the foundation of the abandoned 18th-century synagogue, the paper reported.

It’s not known who concealed the chest, which is about the size of a large washing machine, but it was thoroughly concealed inside the building’s architecture, according to the report.

Jewish communities across Europe attempted to hide their treasures ahead of the Nazi advance during World War II. The chest in Wieliczka also contained decorations  of officers from the Austro-Hungarian empire.

Researchers from Jagiellonian University are cataloging the contents of the chest in an effort to learn more about who hid them.

The post Restorers find chest full of precious Judaica items in former Polish synagogue appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Swastikas painted on synagogue in New Zealand

JTA - Fri, 2020-01-24 17:01

(JTA) — Swastikas were found painted on and around a synagogue in Wellington, New Zealand.

One swastika was painted on Wednesday on the Temple Sinai synagogue and several others were found nearby, a Wellington City Council spokesperson told Newshub.

The word “Heil” was also painted nearby.

“I’m upset by it and outraged by it, that we are targeted like that – but at the same time I’m not entirely surprised,” Temple Sinai chair Matthew Smith told NZME.

The vandalism comes days ahead of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. On Thursday, Israel commemorated the event at a major conference in Jerusalem attended by dozens of world leaders.

The post Swastikas painted on synagogue in New Zealand appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Trump: Peace plan may be revealed in coming days

JTA - Fri, 2020-01-24 16:56

WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Donald Trump said he may unveil his long-awaited plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace before a planned meeting next Tuesday in Washington with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Benny Gantz.

“Probably we’ll release it a little bit prior to that,” Trump told reporters traveling aboard his plane to Florida on Thursday, referring to the planned Tuesday meeting.

Vice President Mike Pence extended the invitation to meet with Trump at a meeting in Jerusalem on Thursday. Netanyahu has accepted the offer, but it’s not yet clear if Gantz will attend.

Israeli media reported that Gantz’s reluctance stemmed from a suspicion that Trump is planning to release the plan in order to assist Netanyahu ahead of March 2 elections and to distract from corruption charges the Israeli prime minister is facing.

The announcement of the Trump-Netanyahu-Gantz summit prompted questions among Washington pundits about the utility of releasing a plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace with no Palestinians present.

Trump said he had been in touch with Palestinians “briefly.”

“We’ve spoken to them briefly. But we will speak to them in a period of time,” he said. “And they have a lot of incentive to do it. I’m sure they maybe will react negatively at first but it’s actually very positive for them.”

Palestinians have boycottted peace talks since Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December, 2o17. Since then, Trump has cut virtually all aid to the Palestinians and has banned visits to the United States by some Palestinian leaders.

The post Trump: Peace plan may be revealed in coming days appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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