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From McConnell to McCarthy, Republican leaders criticize Trump’s dinner with Holocaust denier

10 hours 17 min ago

(JTA) — A week after former President Donald Trump dined with two men who are known for their outspoken antisemitism, Republican leaders are beginning to speak out — though some are sparing Trump direct criticism.

Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader in the Senate, said Trump’s Nov. 20 dinner with Kanye West, the rapper and designer who in recent weeks has come out as antisemitic, and Nick Fuentes, a white supremacist who has denied the Holocaust and said he wants all Jews out of the United States, was a blow to Trump’s bid to be reelected in 2024.

“First, let me just say that there is no room in the Republican Party for antisemitism or white supremacy,” McConnell said Tuesday when he met with a gaggle of reporters in the Senate. “And anyone meeting with people advocating that point of view, in my judgment, are highly unlikely to ever be elected president of the United States.”

Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the likely next speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, did not directly criticize Trump, echoing a number of other Republicans who have spoken out.

Referring to Fuentes, McCarthy said, “I condemn his ideology; it has no place in society at all.”

About Trump, he said, “The president can have meetings with who he wants; I don’t think anybody, though, should have a meeting with Nick Fuentes.” McCarthy said Trump condemned Fuentes “four times.” Trump has not done so, although he has said multiple times that he did not know who Fuentes was and that he was an unexpected guest of West, who now goes by Ye.

Trump responded to the mounting criticism late Tuesday, saying again that he hadn’t known Fuentes, an organizer of rallies on his behalf, before the meeting, and for the first time indicating disapproval of his views.

“I had never heard of the man — I had no idea what his views were, and they weren’t expressed at the table in our very quick dinner, or it wouldn’t have been accepted,” Trump told Fox News.

The varying responses — McConnell outspoken and McCarthy evasive — reflected where each leader stands in the party. McConnell, who has tangled with Trump since the former president spread lies about winning the 2020 election that led to a deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, handily headed off a Trump-backed leadership challenge earlier this month, even as Republicans failed to recapture the Senate in midterm elections.

McCarthy, on the other hand, leads a caucus that wrested the House from Democrats but by a bare majority. If he wants to be elected speaker on Jan. 3, the first day of the new Congress, he needs the vote of a small but powerful faction of House Republicans who remain loyal to Trump.

Meanwhile, Mike Pence, Trump’s vice president, has called on Trump to apologize — an action Trump has always been loath to take.

“President Trump was wrong to give a white nationalist., an antisemite, and a Holocaust denier a seat at the table, and I think he should apologize for it,” Pence said Monday on NewsNation, a cable network.

Pence, unfailingly loyal to Trump during the presidency, has broken with the former president since refusing to heed Trump’s pleas to illegally rig the electoral vote count on Jan. 6. The vice president, in a ceremonial role, supervises the count. A number of the rioters who breached the Capitol said they hoped to kill Pence.

A number of GOP senators, confronted by reporters in the halls of Congress as they returned from Thanksgiving break, also spoke out. “I think it’s ridiculous that he had that meeting,” said Joni Ernst of Iowa. “Just it’s ridiculous. And that’s, that’s all I’m gonna say about it. Just crazy.”

A handful of Republicans, including several who have for years criticized Trump, spoke out as soon as the meeting with Fuentes was confirmed last Friday. A few others who were close to Trump, including David Friedman, his ambassador to Israel, also spoke out to denounce the meeting.

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Comedian Freddie Roman, who brought the Borscht Belt to Broadway, dies at 85

Tue, 2022-11-29 23:43

(New York Jewish Week) — Freddie Roman wasn’t just a Catskills comic but a curator and preservationist of a comedy tradition born at the Jewish resorts in upstate New York’s Catskill Mountains. 

For years he served as dean of the Friars Club, the New York city clubhouse of popular entertainment, where faded stars and up-and-comers gathered to puff on cigars, trade crude jokes and roast one another with, well, even cruder jokes. 

In 1991, long after the Borscht Belt itself had faded as a popular tourist spot, he created “Catskills on Broadway,” a revue starring him and fellow tummlers Dick Capri, Marilyn Michaels and Mal Z. Lawrence. It ran for 453 performances.

“‘Catskills on Broadway,” the New York Times said in its upbeat review, “manages to reproduce the ambiance of the Catskills. The basic difference is that on Broadway there is not a nosh in sight. But there is a groaning board of jokes about eaters and stuffers.” 

Roman died Saturday afternoon at Bethesda Hospital in Boynton Beach, Florida, his booking agent and friend Alison Chaplin told the A.P. Sunday. He was 85.

Born Fred Kirschenbaum on May 28, 1937 in Newark, New Jersey, and raised in Jamaica, Queens, Roman started emceeing at age 15 at the the Crystal Spring Hotel in the Catskills, which was owned by his uncle and grandfather. He soon was performing at hotels and resorts in the region for the largely Jewish crowd, and later played the “big rooms” in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. A highlight of his career was opening for Frank Sinatra.

Although never a crossover star like Alan King, Jackie Mason or Joan Rivers — three other Jewish comics with roots in the Catskills — he nonetheless stayed busy, most recently with a recurring role in the Amazon series “Red Oaks.”

But the comic’s comic was also credited with reviving the Friars Club, which had lost much of its luster when he first arrived in 1970. As its elected dean (“Every two years, they keep re-electing me,” Roman told a reporter in 2005. “No one seems to run against me. Maybe no one wants it.”), he experimented by admitting women and holding showcases for young comics. The changes worked, and younger comics like Susie Essman, Jeff Ross and Paul Reiser became regulars.

The younger comedians have “added a wonderful new vibrancy to the club,” Roman told the New York Jewish Week in 2000. “This is going to continue to be a wonderfully funny Friars Club.” 

Reiser was one of the comedians remembering Roman on Twitter this week. “A great loss to the world of comedy,” he wrote. “He was such a huge supporter & mentor when I was starting out. A GREAT comic, the ultimate pro with the biggest heart. I will miss our phone calls and his big, beauty [sic] laugh.”

Ross, who earned the title of “Roastmaster General” at the Friars Club, remembered Roman with a quip about his booming voice: “They call him Freddie Roman because you can hear him in Italy.”

My very first Friars roast joke… “They call him Freddie Roman because you can hear him in Italy”.

— Jeff Ross (@realjeffreyross) November 26, 2022

After its Broadway run, “Catskills on Broadway” toured around the country, keeping the Borscht Belt flame burning. In his shtick, Roman commented about everything from his childhood in Queens to his “retirement” in Florida.

“I took a cholesterol test,” Roman quipped. “My number came back 911.”

For years his home base was a condo in Fort Lee, New Jersey, from which he would “commute” to the Friars Club on E. 55th St.

While Roman never got his own sitcom or became a household name, he appeared to have no regrets.

“I’ve met everyone and been a lot of places,” he told the New York Times. “Alan [his son, a TV producer] put me in one of his sitcoms once, playing myself. That’s the greatest honor. And his daughter, who is 4, laughs at my jokes. Who can beat that?”

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Jewish passengers booted off Lufthansa flight in May are getting $20,000 payouts

Tue, 2022-11-29 23:34

(JTA) — Nearly seven months after they were denied boarding in Frankfurt, a group of more than 100 Hasidic Lufthansa passengers are getting paid for their troubles.

The airline is paying each passenger $20,000 plus giving them $1,000 to reimburse them for expenses incurred during the May incident, according to Dan’s Deals, the discount travel website that first reported the incident at the time. After legal fees and some other expenses, each passenger will net approximately $17,400, the site is reporting.

Lufthansa would not confirm the dollar figures but told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that it is seeking to settle with each of the affected passengers, capping a series of conciliatory responses to the incident.

“Although we are not commenting on the details, we can confirm that Lufthansa endeavors to settle the claims with all of the passengers denied boarding on May 4th, 2022,” the company said in a statement.

That date was when airline agents in Frankfurt barred many Jewish travelers coming from New York City from boarding their connecting flight to Budapest, citing the fact that some of the passengers were not wearing masks, as was required at the time. But that rule was applied inconsistently, passengers said at the time, and a Lufthansa supervisor was caught on video speaking disparagingly about Jewish passengers as a group.

“It’s Jews coming from JFK. Jewish people who were the mess, who made the problems,” the supervisor said on the video, which Dan’s Deals shared shortly after the incident.

Amid intense media coverage, Lufthansa publicly apologized, saying in a statement that the company “regrets the circumstances surrounding the decision to exclude the affected passengers from the flight.”

The company added, “What transpired is not consistent with Lufthansa’s policies or values. We have zero tolerance for racism, anti-Semitism and discrimination of any type.”

In late July, Lufthansa announced the creation of a senior management role to combat discrimination and antisemitism, even as an independent investigation commissioned by the airline concluded that there was no evidence of institutional antisemitism that led to the incident.

And in September, the American Jewish Committee announced a new program to train Lufthansa employees how to identify and respond to antisemitism.

Many of the Jewish passengers bound for Budapest were headed there for an annual pilgrimage to visit the grave of Rabbi Yeshayah Steiner, a miracle-working rabbi who died in 1925.

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Walmart pulls $40 ‘elegant sunscreen scarves’ that were actually Jewish prayer shawls

Tue, 2022-11-29 23:31

(JTA) — “Why wear a tallis to shul when you can wear a very real product from Walmart?” Ilan Kogan, an Orthodox rabbinical student, asked on TikTok late Monday.

Kogan was talking about “Elegant Sunscreen Scarves Sun Block Shawl Scarf Beach Shawl Towel Clothing Accessories for Women Judaism (Blue),” the search engine-optimized title for a product that looked a lot like a tallit, the shawl worn by Jews during morning prayers.

His post was one of several to call attention to the product listed on Walmart’s website, with reactions ranging from curiosity (“I have so many questions,” tweeted Atlantic columnist Yair Rosenberg) to outrage (from the watchdog group Stop Antisemitism). By Tuesday afternoon, Walmart had removed the item, which had been listed for $40.99, as well as a second with a similar name from a different seller that had been available for the cut-rate price of $14.49.

“Walmart has a robust trust and safety program, which actively works to prevent items such as these from being sold on the site,” a spokesperson told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “After reviewing, these items have been removed.”

Like other products that have drawn criticism from Jewish consumers — such as “Schindler’s List” leggings printed with scenes from the iconic Holocaust film — the “elegant sunscreen scarves” reflect the oddities of contemporary merchandising.

In this case, the products were sold by third-party vendors using Walmart’s online marketplace, where shoppers can browse up to 60 million items. Those products are not subject to the same practices as those that Walmart sells directly, and many of them have names that are more a list of keywords than an accurate description of what a customer might receive.

Additionally, the tallit for sale were not actually intended for use by Jews. The printed Bible verses on the corners and the fish imagery visible in some of the product photos are giveaways that the items are made for Messianic Jews, who pray using the trappings of Jewish tradition while also believing in the divinity of Jesus.

Messianics and others who appropriate Jewish practices, including, increasingly, right-wing Christian activists, represent a growing market for ritual items. A search for “tallit” returned 286 items on Walmart’s website on Tuesday afternoon; some were clearly marked as Messianic but many others lacked language indicating that they are not traditional Jewish ritual items.

A search on Amazon, home to the internet’s largest storefront, turns up even more results, some coming from reputable Judaica brands but many others from brands seeking to appeal to Messianics and traditional Christians.


I hate everything about this #walmart #jewish #jewishtiktok #tallis #sale #terrible #fyp #fyp? #greenscreen

? Sunset Lover – Petit Biscuit

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Deeply Jewish comedy is having a moment, even as antisemitism rocks pop culture

Tue, 2022-11-29 23:07

(JTA) — Two weeks after a Trump-supporting heckler threw a beer can at Ariel Elias at a club in New Jersey over her politics, the Jewish comedian’s fortunes took a turn for the better. A video of the incident went viral and she made her network television debut on Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night talk show.

She spent most of her five-minute set talking about her Jewish identity and how it clashed with parts of her upbringing in Kentucky.

“I’m Jewish from Kentucky, which is insane, it’s an insane origin story,” she said last month before getting to jokes about how Southerners mispronounce her name and how badly her parents want her to date Jews.

Even though the crowd found it funny, Elias’ tight five wasn’t particularly groundbreaking. In the world of standup comedy, discussing one’s Jewish identity in a deep way has become increasingly common on the mainstream stage over the past several years. Jewish comedians are going beyond the bagel and anxiety jokes, discussing everything from religiosity and traditions (and breaking with those traditions) to how their Jewishness has left them prone to awkward situations and even antisemitism.

Ari Shaffir calls his most recent special, which was released earlier this month and titled “Jew” — and racked up close to four million views on YouTube in two weeks — “a love letter to the culture and religion that raised [him].” In his recent one man show “Just For Us” — which drew widespread acclaim and a slew of celebrity audience members, from Jerry Seinfeld to Stephen Colbert to Drew Barrymore — Alex Edelman discussed the details of growing up Modern Orthodox (and infiltrating a group of white nationalists). In 2019, Tiffany Haddish released a Netflix special called “Black Mitzvah,” in which she talks about learning about her Jewish heritage.

At the same time, the current uptick in public displays of antisemitism — punctuated by a series of celebrity antisemitism scandals and comedian Dave Chappelle’s controversial response to them — is complicating the moment for comedians who get into Jewish topics. Jewish comics are even debating what kinds of jokes about Jews are acceptable and which cross a line.

“I find it ironic that at a time where more Jewish comedians feel comfortable expressing their Judaism (i.e. wearing a yarmulke, making Jewish-oriented content) and not hiding it (by changing their name for example), we also see an up-swelling of outright antisemitism,” said Jacob Scheer, a New York-based comedian. “I don’t think — and hope — those two things are not related, but I find it really interesting and sad.”

The two phenomena could be related. Antisemitic incidents nationwide reached an all-time high in 2021, with a total of 2,717 incidents, according to an April 2022 audit from the Anti-Defamation League. Those incidents range from vandalism of buildings to harassment and assault against individuals.

“Now that [antisemitism is] a headline, it actually helps me to do what I need to do, which is just be extra out and loud and proud,” said Dinah Leffert, a comic based in Los Angeles. “I was hiding who I am just so I can survive in this environment. But this environment is not worth it if I have to hide.”

Scheer said that “people who are Jewish with an emphasis on the ‘Jew’ are having a moment.”

“[The] ‘Jew-ish’ world I wouldn’t say is dead, but I don’t think the ‘Jew-ish’ world is producing that much,” he said.

By “Jew-ish,” Scheer clarified that he means comics like Seinfeld and Larry David, who often infuse secular, culturally Jewish material into their comedy. Their apex of fame came during a time when Jewish comedy was not nearly as mainstreamed — the “Seinfeld” sitcom team was famously told that their idea was “too New York, too Jewish.”

Some of Seinfeld and David’s Jewish comedic successors, such as Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen, sprinkled in more explicitly Jewish jokes before 2010. But today, “you see more Alex Edelmans coming out,” Scheer said, referencing the increase in visibility for comedians with more observant upbringings.

Things have progressed to the level of “Jews doing comedy for other Jews about Jewish things,” Scheer added. In August, the first-ever Chosen Comedy Festival at the Coney Island Amphitheater in Brooklyn featured a lineup of mostly Jewish comics whose repertoires ranged from impressions of old Jewish women (who sound like bees) to breakdowns of the differences between how Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews say “Shabbat shalom.” Leah Forster, who also performed at the festival, uses her Hasidic upbringing as source material for her standup routines, creating characters and using accents and impressions. (In her early days as a comedian, Forster performed for women-only audiences while she was a teacher at a Bais Yaakov Orthodox school in Brooklyn.)

The festival, which was hosted by Stand Up NY (an Upper West Side club that Scheer says is known for being “the Jewish one”) welcomed a packed audience of about 4,000 guests, many of whom were Orthodox. A second Chosen Comedy Festival will take place in downtown Miami in December.

(The New York Jewish Week, a 70 Faces Media brand, was the media partner for the Chosen Comedy Festival but had no say in its lineup.)

The festival’s co-hosts, Modi Rosenfeld and Elon Gold, who frequently collaborate, both grew their audiences in the early days of the pandemic: Rosenfeld with his camera-facing comedic characters, like the esoteric Yoely who delivers news updates with a Hasidic Yiddish twist; and Gold with his Instagram Live show “My Funny Quarantine,” which featured guest appearances from other comedians. Both Gold and Rosenfeld work antisemitism into their material.

Some are finding the moment difficult to navigate. In late October, at the standup show she runs in Los Angeles, the comic two slots ahead of Dinah Leffert asked the room, “Is anyone still even supporting Kanye at this point?” The crowd responded with resounding whoops, claps and cheers, leading Leffert to feel like they did support Kanye West, the rapper who spent much of last month in the news for his multiple antisemitic rants.

Just a few jokes into her own 10-minute set, Leffert walked offstage.

“My body wouldn’t let me keep being inauthentic about what I was really feeling,” she said. “I don’t want to give laughter to people who are anti-Jewish.”

Leffert, who is openly Zionist, said she also observes a level of anti-Zionism in comedy clubs these days that feels to her like antisemitism.

“They’re not criticizing Israel,” she said. “It slips into antisemitism very quickly. And it’s just a really hostile environment.”

During the last large-scale military flare-up of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in May 2021, she felt inundated with Palestinian flag comments on posts about Jewish holidays, not Israel.

“You just get Palestinian flags underneath your Hanukkah posts,” she said.

In October, at a club in Omaha, comedian Sam Morril told a joke about how he hopes Jeffrey Epstein won’t be honored during Jewish Awareness Month.

“Can I ask why you chose to yell out ‘free Palestine’ after a Jeffrey Epstein joke?” he responded. When the heckler said she was making a “public statement” and was looking for “justice,” Morril answered: “A public statement? At the Omaha Funny Bone?”

Eitan Levine, a New York-based comedian known for his TikTok show “Jewish or Antisemitic” — on which he asks people to vote on whether objects like ketchup and mayonnaise, for example, are Jewish or antisemitic (in a loose comic version of the word) — said he receives similar comments online.

“This is a TikTok video about bagels,” Levine said. “What do you mean, you want me to take a stance?”

Though the response to his show has been largely positive and he has gone viral several times, Levine still receives all kinds of white supremacist comments on his videos — with backwards swastika, money bag or mustachioed man emojis evocative of Hitler, along with comments that say “jas the gews” as a spoonerism for “gas the Jews,” as a way to avoid TikTok censorship. Levine said he manually deletes these kinds of comments, but sometimes that’s not enough; one of the guests on his show had to cancel an in-person show due to online threats made against her.

“This stuff is clearly happening and it is dangerous and it is scary,” Levine told JTA.

Writer and comedian Jon Savitt, whose writing has been featured on College Humor and Funny or Die, and says he has often been “the first Jew that people have ever met,” recently launched an experimental web page called Meet A Jew, where users can connect with a Jewish person, much like a pen pal. His 2016-2018 standup show “Carrot Cake & Other Things That Don’t Make Sense” largely dealt with antisemitism — and its audience, he was surprised to see, was largely non-Jewish.

“Not only did I have people come up to me after the show, but I had non-Jews come up to me months later when they saw me and say ‘tikkun olam‘ [Hebrew for the Jewish principle of repairing the world] to me, or recite Hebrew,” Savitt said. “And to me that was the coolest use case because not only were they there, but they kind of retained something.”

Savitt says he isn’t trying to change any extremists’ minds with Meet A Jew, but he sees it as one step that could engage people who may be ignorant or unaware and give them a place to ask questions.

“Although it shouldn’t be on us to educate everyone or to have to constantly be standing up for ourselves, I think there are ways that we can bring other people into the conversation as well,” he said.

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Meet the bartender behind New York’s new Hanukkah-themed cocktail bar

Tue, 2022-11-29 23:00

(New York Jewish Week) — During the so-called “winter holiday season,” Christmas cheer takes center stage, while Hanukkah gets relegated to hobbled-together end caps at grocery stores (if that).

This is something that’s long irked Naomi Levy, a 36-year-old Jewish bartender who lives in Boston. There, as in New York, Christmas-themed pop-up bars appear all over the city — leaving Levy feeling like a “tourist,” she said, in her hometown. 

But instead of bah-humbugging the situation, Levy took action: In 2018, she opened the Maccabee Bar, a Hanukkah-themed pop-up in Boston. Now in its fifth year, the cocktail bar, open only in December, serves drinks like the Latke Sour (apple brandy, potato, lemon, egg white, bitters) and an Everything Bagel Martini (“everything” spiced gin, tomato water, dill, vermouth), as well Jewish- and Hanukkah-adjacent small bites, such as latkes, sufganiyot and Bamba.

And now, for the first time, the Maccabee Bar is expanding to New York, where it will be hosted by Ollie, a bar in the West Village, from Dec. 13 through 31. 

Levy had hoped to bring the Maccabee Bar to New York in 2020 but that was delayed. “I honestly cannot believe that nobody has done this before me in New York,” Levy told the New York Jewish Week.

To become the Maccabee Bar, Ollie will be covered in blue and white Hanukkah lights and decor. “It’s going to be crazy,” Levy said. “I’ve mentally prepared. I definitely encourage reservations.” 

Ahead of the Manhattan Maccabee Bar opening, the New York Jewish Week caught up with Levy to talk about what inspired her, how she expanded and what, exactly, creating a Hanukkah-themed cocktail entails. 

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Levy was named “Best Bartender” by Boston Magazine in 2019. (Ezra Pollard)

New York Jewish Week: What was the inspiration behind starting a Hanukkah-themed bar?

Naomi Levy: I really love the holiday season and for many, many years I ran a bar called Eastern Standard in Boston. We were open all the time, so I worked every Christmas. I always really loved the holiday spirit and started seeing a lot more of these Christmas-themed bars popping up. But as much as I love all of the festivities this time of year, I also feel very much like a tourist because I don’t celebrate Christmas. I wondered what would happen if I created a pop-up bar that was completely dedicated to Hanukkah. Luckily, I had just opened at a new bar and the ownership was amenable to trying stuff out. We gave it a go and it was absolutely incredible. The turnout was amazing. People were so excited — I’ve never been called a “mensch” for making a cocktail before. I realized, “Oh my gosh, it’s not just me that had that feeling this time this year.” There’s a group of people that are underrepresented and would love to really feel like they get to get into this festive time of year just as much as everyone else. It’s been really exciting to watch it grow and just to be able to bring my culture and bring something fun to the community.

After four years in Boston, what was the process of opening a pop-up in New York and how did you make the leap?

 I had reached out to a couple friends in New York. What was really exciting to me about Ollie is that I have a former staff member from Boston who moved to New York, and he works at Ollie now. He has worked at a couple of the Maccabee Bars in Boston. It’s good to have someone who works there who’s been through it and understands what they’re getting into and things like that. He connected me with the owner and they were really excited about it. It’s just that much more helpful that I have someone there that knows what’s about to happen.

What are you most excited about in bringing the energy of Maccabee Bar to New York?

I just really hope to provide a place where people get to celebrate and not in the same way that they already have access to.

We’re starting with one location in New York, but in Boston we have two locations because the demand has just been that high. We now have Maccabee regulars [in Boston]. Last year, I had a customer who said, “My mom told me to come to this!” I just thought, how cool is it that we’re a bar that your mom’s telling you to go to?

Tell me a little bit about the cocktails and how you make them Hanukkah-themed.

My cocktail style in general tends to be pretty culinary. I tend to get inspiration from food and food flavors, which is perfect for a Hanukkah menu since there are so many delicious foods that we eat. The Latke Sour is obviously inspired by latkes. Then we have the Hebrew Hammer, which is inspired by sufganiyot. We make a leavened sugar, which is basically a yeasted simple syrup, to give you that kind of yeasty sensation of a doughnut, but it’s actually a really nice dry, sour cocktail.

To me, it’s also really important to showcase flavors from different aspects of the Jewish diaspora as well. I am Ashkenazi, but it’s really important to me to also showcase Sephardic flavors. So we have a drink that is called Ocho Candelika, which is actually the name of a song in Ladino that is all about the celebration of oil. So we do an olive oil-infused gin with a little honey, almond, apricot and lemon for some of those more classic Spanish and Sephardic flavors.There’s a drink this year that’s inspired by Ethiopian Sanbat Wat [a spicy chicken stew typically made on Shabbat] with berbere spice in it. 

Then there will be all sorts of fun things, ranging from a hot drink that has a syrup in it that is kind of tzimmes-inspired and a flip that’s rugelach-inspired. So it will be both very, very Hanukkah-associated things but also just some wider Jewish flavors.

The Maccabee Bar will be at Ollie, 64 Downing Street, beginning Tuesday Dec. 13 through Saturday, Dec. 31. Find details and reservations on Maccabee Bar’s website.

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Trump’s former antisemitism czar calls Trump out for meeting with Kanye West and Nick Fuentes

Mon, 2022-11-28 23:22

WASHINGTON (JTA) — When he was president, Donald Trump hired Elan Carr as his State Department’s antisemitism monitor. Two years after they both left office, Carr is calling out his former boss for meeting with prominent figures who have both promoted antisemitism.

“No responsible American, and certainly no former President, should be cavorting with the likes of Nick Fuentes and Kanye West,” Carr said Monday on Twitter. “To placate antisemitism is to promote antisemitism. President Trump must condemn these dangerous men and their disgusting and un-American views.”

Trump dined last week with West, the rapper and designer also known as Ye, and Fuentes at his home in Palm Beach, Florida. While West has made a series of antisemitic comments online and in interviews in recent months, Fuentes has long been known as a white supremacist who has questioned facts about the Holocaust and made antisemitic statements.

After being criticized for the meeting, Trump has said he wanted to “assist” West, whom he called “troubled,” and added that he did not invite Fuentes or know who he was.

Carr is one of a handful of Republicans not known to have been previously critical of Trump who have come out to publicly criticize the former president for the meeting. Another is David Friedman, who Trump named ambassador to Israel. Republican leaders have mostly been silent.

Even among Jewish Republicans, few have emerged to outright criticize Trump, who still wields considerable power within the GOP. A number, including the Republican Jewish Coalition, have criticized the act of meeting with West and Fuentes without naming Trump.

Another Jewish former top Trump administration official, Len Khodorkovsky, had a tense 10-minute exchange about the West-Fuentes meeting with CNN host Don Lemon on Monday. Khodorkovsky, a deputy assistant secretary of state, refused to condemn Trump for taking the meeting, accepting his claim that he did not know who Fuentes was and saying that Trump was not an antisemite. He did concede that it was “beneath President Trump to meet” with Fuentes and said that both Fuentes and West have said antisemitic things.

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Mayor Adams meets with interfaith leaders to discuss fighting hate crimes

Mon, 2022-11-28 21:44

(New York Jewish Week) — As he prepares to head to Greece for a conference on antisemitism, Mayor Eric Adams met with Jewish and other interfaith leaders on Monday to discuss fighting hate in New York City.

Adams gave remarks at an Interfaith Security Council meeting, held over Zoom, to a group comprising of more than 20 faith-based organizations that share best practices on communal security, speak out against extremism and monitor the safety of faith-based communities.  

The meeting came a week after two men were arrested and charged with hate crimes for planning an attack on New York synagogues, and days after members of the Black Hebrew Israelite sect marched in Brooklyn chanting antisemitic slogans.  

The council was created last year by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, the 67th Precinct Clergy Council and the Community Security Service.  

Adams “doubled down on his pledge to make sure there are resources” for communities to fight hate, Rabbi Bob Kaplan, executive director of the JCRC’s Center for Community Leadership, told the New York Jewish Week.

“He spoke about making sure that we all know how to effectively work together because this is an issue that everyone is affected by,” Kaplan said. 

Kaplan said the mayor brought up an initiative called “Breaking Bread,” created in 2020, that brings together leaders and community members for community meals.

“He was doing this as [Brooklyn] borough president,” Kaplan said. “He wants to have hundreds of them around the city.” 

Kaplan added that “the full breadth of faith leaders” took part in the call, including representatives from the Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities.  

“We had people who are often not represented at these kinds of meetings,” Kaplan said. “It’s not just one community’s responsibility. I think that was the main mantra to come out of this.” 

A portion of the meeting was dedicated to training houses of worship in applying for new security grants from the city and state.  

Earlier this month, the state made $50 million available to strengthen security measures at organizations at risk of hate crimes, as well as $46 million in federal funding for 240 such organizations across the state. 

“These grants are extremely important,” Kaplan said. “They can harden the necessary equipment you need, like bulletproof glass, make sure you have the right locks on the doors or equipment for surveillance to make your place safer. In some cases, paying for guards to be on duty.”

“These grants have really helped many synagogues and many houses of worships upgrade to the kinds of secure methodology that they need,” he said. 

UJA-Federation of New York also announced at the meeting that it will be offering micro grants of up to $5,000 to New York organizations that are interested in fostering interfaith and intergroup relations, according to a UJA spokesperson. 

Evan Bernstein, CEO of the Community Security Service, who attended the meeting, told the New York Jewish Week that the meeting shows how far the Interfaith Security Council has come since it was created in 2021. Similar groups “are created in the moment and they just meet once for the optics,” he said. “We really were serious about making this something that was consistent, ongoing and beneficial for the members. We have accomplished that.”  

He added that having the mayor on the call was “a huge win” for the group. “It was a really big moment for us,” Bernstein said. “It was great that people had a chance to hear directly from the mayor in a semi-intimate setting, not just at a press conference.” 

The mayor is heading to Greece Wednesday for the 2022 Mayors Summit Against Antisemitism. The second annual event is organized by the Combat Antisemitism Movement, a global coalition of 65 Jewish and interfaith organizations.

The Anti-Defamation League counted 2,717 antisemitic incidents across the country last year, a 34% increase from the previous year, and the highest since it began tracking in 1979.

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Leonard Cohen’s 1973 Yom Kippur War concerts to be dramatized in TV series by ‘Shtisel’ writer

Mon, 2022-11-28 19:45

(JTA) — Leonard Cohen’s momentous trip to the Sinai Desert to perform for Israeli soldiers in the wake of the Yom Kippur War is being turned into a dramatized TV series.

“Who by Fire: Leonard Cohen in the Sinai” will be written by Yehonatan Indursky, a co-creator of “Shtisel,” the landmark Israeli drama about an Orthodox family in Jerusalem, according to Variety, which reported the news on Monday.

The limited series, an adaptation of journalist Matti Friedman’s 2022 book of the same name, will film in Israel in 2024. It’s being co-produced by Keshet, the Israeli company that has also produced shows such as “Prisoners of War,” which was adapted for U.S. audiences as “Homeland.”

Cohen’s trip to the frontlines of the 1973 war became a turning point in the way the folk troubadour incorporated his Jewishness into his songs — for instance, his 1974 album “New Skin for the Old Ceremony” featured “Who By Fire,” a song inspired by the Yom Kippur “Unataneh Tokef” prayer. Despite being internationally famous, Cohen slept in an army sleeping bag, ate army rations and performed a series of concerts for on-edge soldiers, who decades later told Friedman that they were moved by his support.

“In October 1973 the poet and singer Leonard Cohen — 39 years old, famous, unhappy, and at a creative dead end — traveled to the Sinai desert and inserted himself into the chaos and blood of the Yom Kippur War,” the show’s press materials read. “Moving around the front with a guitar and a pick-up team of local musicians, Cohen dived headlong into a global crisis and met hundreds of fighting men and women at the worst moment of their lives. Cohen’s audience knew his songs might be the last thing they heard, and those who survived never forgot the experience.”

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Jewish Australian Football League draftee faces barrage of online antisemitism

Mon, 2022-11-28 18:13

(JTA) — Australian-Jewish teenager Harry Sheezel made headlines Monday for getting drafted into the Australian Football League and for facing a barrage of online antisemitism in the wake of his selection.

The 18-year-old medium forward was picked third overall by last-place North Melbourne, which finished the 2022 season with only two wins in 22 matches. Australian football is comparable to rugby and features two 18-player teams on an oval-shaped field, with the aim of kicking the ball through goalposts to score points.

Before Sheezel could celebrate his selection, he was the recipient of a slew of hateful comments on social media. 

The Age, a daily newspaper in Melbourne, published a feature story Saturday highlighting Sheezel’s Jewish background. When the piece was shared on the news site’s Facebook page, it was quickly met with a series of antisemitic comments, including references to gas chambers and jokes about Jewish people’s athletic abilities. 

Sheezel said the abuse didn’t faze him.

“I feel fine. I don’t let that stuff get to me,” Sheezel said, according to the Australian Associated Press. “Obviously the comments are disrespectful and wrong.”

Sheezel added that “the right action should be taken” against the commenters. The AFL announced it would investigate the incident, and The Age removed its Facebook post.

Dvir Abramovich, the chairman of Australia’s antisemitism watchdog, the Anti-Defamation Commission, said “the genie of antisemitism is out of the bottle” in Australia.

“The number of revolting posts that have targeted Harry Sheezel on Facebook is alarming, and points to a large-scale normalisation and acceptance of bigoted, hateful speech that is a hallmark of social media today,” Abramovich said.

Sheezel, who attended the Modern Orthodox Mount Scopus Memorial College, said he hoped to be a role model for the Jewish community. Ezra Poyas played in nine games for the league’s Richmond Football Club between 2000-2002, and Sheezel’s new teammate Todd Goldstein has a Jewish father.

“It’s really exciting,” Sheezel said, of becoming the newest Jewish player in the AFL. “I’m not sure why it hasn’t happened in the past, but hopefully I can be an example for these kids.”

Sheezel told The Age that he does not consider himself to be religious. “It’s just more of the [Jewish] community that I’ve involved in,” he said.

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Hereditary cancers aren’t just a women’s problem. Jewish men need to take precautions too.

Mon, 2022-11-28 16:53

Bill Harris, a veteran Los Angeles photojournalist, didn’t think much of it when one morning in 2012 he woke up and found a tiny blood spot on the T-shirt he’d slept in. The next morning, he found blood in the same place on his chest — and went straight to his computer.

“Online, I could find only three things that would cause a man’s nipple to discharge blood: being an avid runner, which I wasn’t; having a subtropical fungus, which I didn’t; and breast cancer,” he said. “That was a pretty big shock.”

Harris, then just a few weeks shy of his 61st birthday, immediately called his doctor, who ordered a mammogram and ultrasound. They confirmed a cancerous growth in his right breast. Ten days later, a biopsy came back positive. The next month Harris got a right mastectomy, followed by the removal of his left breast half a year later.

“I walked into a woman’s imaging center and had to get into a pink paper robe,” he recalled. “All the women in the waiting room were staring at me.”

Like many other Ashkenazi men, Harris never had considered that he might have been born with a harmful mutation of the BRCA gene, which elevates the risk not only of breast cancer, but also of melanoma and prostate, ovarian and pancreatic cancer.

“Hundreds of other mutations in the BRCA gene are just as dangerous, but they’re not specific to Ashkenazim,” said Dr. Robert Sidlow, director of the Male BRCA Genetic Risk Program at New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. About 1 in 40 Ashkenazi Jews (those of Eastern European descent) carries the harmful mutation, compared to about 1 in 400 in the general population.

“The vast majority of patients I see are relatives of women who have breast or ovarian cancer and then get tested,” he said. Of BRCA mutation carriers, Sidlow added, “Most men are pretty happy to enroll in some kind of surveillance program once they get over the initial shock.”

Sidlow is on the Men’s Leadership Council at Sharsheret, the national Jewish nonprofit organization that educates the community about cancer risks and supports those with breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

Elana Silber, CEO of Sharsheret (Hebrew for “chain”), says it’s crucial that men with a family history of cancer undergo genetic counseling screening for BRCA and other hereditary cancer mutations.

Genetic testing is possible via a standard blood or saliva sample.

While Sharsheret is primarily considered a women’s organization, it has been using November — nicknamed Movember for its focus on men’s health — for an awareness campaign focused on Jewish men’s cancer risks.

“This is not only a women’s issue,” Silber said. “Family history is so important. When a man shares his family history with his doctor, he may not realize that he should mention that his mother had breast cancer or that his sister had ovarian cancer, as these are not generally ‘men’s diseases.’ They are not aware that these cancers could mean that they themselves are at increased risk for cancer and that they can pass on these mutations to the next generation – their daughters and their sons.”

If someone discovers he (or she) is a carrier of one of the genetic mutations with elevated cancer risks — not just BRCA but also such mutations as ATM, TP53, CHEK2, and PALB2 — there are various precautions they can take for themselves and their children. They can monitor their own health more closely, they can get encourage their children to test to see if they are carriers and, for any future children, take steps to prevent the mutated genes from being passed down.

For example, couples can conceive via in vitro fertilization, or IVF, and then test the embryos before implantation to ensure that only those unaffected by the genetic mutation are implanted.

While most women are aware of the risks of breast cancer, men generally are not — even though the disease strikes 2,500 men in the U.S. every year and kills about 500 of them, according to Sidlow. About 1-2% of men with the BRCA1 mutation and 6-7% of men with the BRCA2 mutation will develop cancer by age 80.

“This is why we recommend periodic mammograms starting at about age 50 for men who carry a BRCA2 mutation,” Sidlow said. “We like to educate these men on how to check their chests once a month and have a clinician do a breast checkup on them once a year.”

Since the BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations also make prostate cancer more likely, men with either mutation should get PSA (prostate-specific antigen) levels in their blood tested annually beginning at age 40, rather than 50, the age at which screening generally begins, Sidlow said.

Sharsheret has been promoting the importance of learning one’s family history, genetic counseling and screening among both men and women. The 20-year-old organization also runs various peer support networks, offers financial assistance to cancer patients, provides mental health counseling and guidance to patients, caregivers, and their friends, and seeks to educate the broader Jewish community about cancer risks and support.

Peggy Cottrell, a certified genetic counselor at Sharsheret, said men in general are more reluctant to get regular checkups than women.

Ashkenazi Jewish men are at elevated risk not just of breast and prostate cancer but also of pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer is particularly difficult because it’s tough to detect early enough and hard to treat. The five-year survival rate is only 11%. About 2% of BRCA1 carriers and 4% of BRCA2 carriers will develop pancreatic cancer, Sidlow estimated.

“Usually by the time pancreas cancer is clinically detected it has already spread microscopically to the liver,” Sidlow said. “But pancreas cancer is potentially curable if caught when the tumor is extremely small.”

Even among those with elevated risks, certain behaviors can improve one’s odds, such as avoiding obesity, smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.

Harris, the California photojournalist, is still fighting at age 71. While he overcame breast cancer 10 years ago, last year he was diagnosed with ampullary cancer, a rare disease related to his BRCA2 status that was discovered thanks to his participation in a UCLA study. Surgeons have removed his gall bladder, half his pancreas and part of his small intestine, and he has had to endure eight rounds of chemotherapy.

“I’m still working through the aftereffects of the chemo. I have to eat smaller quantities than before and take enzymes to supplement my digestive processes,” Harris said.

Meanwhile, his 37-year-old son discovered that he, too, carries the BRCA2 mutation, and he had a double prophylactic mastectomy and reconstruction at age 30 — just to be on the safe side.

“If there’s any history of breast, ovarian or prostate cancer in your family, get tested genetically so that you’re informed,” Harris advised. “Diagnoses happen way too late for men, and the danger is too big.”

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Meet the 2 Jews of Guyana, a South American nation with a tradition of religious tolerance

Mon, 2022-11-28 15:30

(JTA) — When Janet Jagan, an immigrant from the United States, made history by becoming Guyana’s prime minister in 1997, she was thought to be the country’s only Jew.

In fact, another Jew had recently purchased an island off the coast of Guyana, and 25 years later, there are at least two Jews living in the tiny South American nation. One is a Guyanese-British-Israeli guesthouse operator who has been working in Guyana since the 1970s. The other is a former Madison Avenue marketing executive from Chicago who until recently ran the country’s largest tour operator.

Both offer a window into three dynamics that define Guyana: a government that embraces all faiths, an economy based on extractive industries and an expansive rainforest the country hopes will be a draw for its growing ecotourism industry.

Guyana, an English-speaking country of roughly 800,000, came to international prominence in 1978 as the site of the Jonestown massacre, in which more than 900 followers of cult leader Jim Jones were killed, either by suicide or murder.

These days, though, the country is drawing attention for the recent discovery of oil off its coast. ExxonMobil announced the discovery in 2015 and promptly began developing Guyana’s oil resources. With over 11 billion barrels of reserves and producing over 350,000 barrels per day, Guyana is on track to produce more than 1 million daily barrels by 2030, potentially transforming one of South America’s poorest countries.

It was an earlier extractive industry that first brought Raphael Ades to Guyana. Born in Tel Aviv in 1951 to an Italian-Jewish mother and a Syrian-Jewish father, Ades had a peripatetic childhood. The family moved first to Milan when Ades, who goes by Rafi, was 11, after his father Meyer entered the diamond trade, then two years later to southwestern Germany. They landed in Pforzheim, known at the time as Goldstadt because of the prominence of jewelry and precious stone trading locally.

But the family was not yet settled: In 1967, Meyer took the family to London, where Ades finished high school and took his university entrance exams, excelling in all of the languages he had picked up — English, French, Italian, German and Hebrew. As a psychology student at the University of London, Ades began helping his father, who maintained an office in London’s diamond district, at work. His father contracted out the polishing, and one of the polishers was Indo-Guyanese.

“That day, my dad took out the atlas and started to read up on Guyana,” Ades recalled. “‘This is somewhere I want to go,’ he told me.”

During a trip to visit an Israeli friend in Venezuela, Meyer went on a prospecting trip to Guyana, and registered the Guyana Diamond Export company. When he suffered a heart attack, Ades and his mother flew to Georgetown to be with him. Barely 21, Ades stepped in to take a larger role in the business. He flew with other diamond buyers into the rural mining areas, and learned the operations were producing thousands of carats of diamonds.

“I stayed in Guyana through the second half of 1972 and fell in love with the place,” Ades recalled. “I went to the [main] Stabroek market in Georgetown, seeing all of the iguanas and macaws. When my dad recuperated, I started going back to Guyana myself.”

His mining business thrived. In 1997, he bought Sloth Island, a 160-acre outpost about a two-hour journey from Guyana’s capital, Georgetown, requiring an hour-long car ride through the small villages that dot the Atlantic coast, and then an hour’s boat ride down the widening Essequibo River, passing pristine forests lined with mangroves and Indigenous villages.

When Ades bought the property, it was mostly underwater. He brought in workers from neighboring villages to pump out the water, build up the sand and retaining walls and add structures. Sloths were already there, but he brought ocelots and monkeys from neighboring islands, as well as other birds. (The ocelots, he said, used to eat the electrical wires and open the fridge.)

Now anchoring Sloth Island is a blue and white guesthouse, a series of covered huts for dining and hammock relaxation and a wooden walkway for nature walks through partially cleared forest. Indigenous guides identify the numerous species of plants and birds. The pandemic has receded as a threat to business, and the island hosts tourists every weekend — though climate change is presenting new issues.

“There are many times that the river floods part of the island and I lose sand and soil,” Ades said. “We have to keep on pumping out water and repairing damage to the buildings when that happens.”

The year after he bought the island, his widowed mother, then living in Belgium, broke her hip. When she was well enough to travel she moved to Guyana to be with her son, dividing her time between Georgetown and Sloth Island. When she died in 2009, Ades was at a loss given the lack of a Jewish cemetery, synagogue, and minyan required to say the Mourner’s Kaddish. He was interested in burying her across from Sloth Island, on a hill in the mining town of Bartica just across the river. But a Jewish friend from France facilitated a connection with the Surinamese Jewish community, who prepared the body for burial in the cemetery adjacent to Paramaribo’s main synagogue.

“That’s the last time I was in a synagogue, in 2010, after my mother passed,” Ades recalled.

A view of Raphael Ades’ resort on Sloth Island. (Seth Wikas)

The absence of Jews in Guyana is a notable lacuna in a country that otherwise boasts a broad range of religions. History records a colony of Dutch Jews who settled in northwestern Guyana in the 17th century to produce sugarcane, but the English destroyed that colony in 1666, dispersing the Jewish residents. Jews from Arab lands moved to Guyana in the late 19th and 20th centuries to escape persecution but then migrated elsewhere; Jews fleeing Europe came in 1939 but did not settle long enough to establish a sustained community.

Janet Jagan was an anomaly: Born Janet Rosenberg in Chicago, she married a Guyanese man in the United States and moved with him to Guyana in 1947. Her father Cheddi Jagan was trained as a dentist but entered politics as Guyana gained independence from Great Britain, serving as the first premier of the semi-independent colonial government in the early 1960s and then as the country’s fourth president in the 1990s. When he died in 1997, Janet Jagan was sworn in as his replacement and then won a term of her own later that year. She died in 2009.

According to the 2012 census, Guyana is about two-thirds Christian, a quarter Hindu, and less than 10% Muslim, with smaller populations of Rastafarians and Baha’is. Guyana’s cities and towns are dotted with churches, mandirs and mosques, and the country has enshrined freedom of religion in its constitution. Christian, Hindu and Muslim holy days are national holidays.

“We embrace all faiths and are always looking to build bridges across communities,” Mansoor Baksh, a leader within the country’s Islamic Ahmadiyya movement, told JTA. Omkaar Sharma, a member of the country’s Hindu Pandit Council, said something similar: “We have a long tradition of co-existence and celebrating each other’s holidays. It’s what makes Guyana special.”

On the occasion of the Hindu festival of Diwali last month, President Mohamed Irfaan Ali, South America’s only Muslim head of government, emphasized the country’s inclusivity when he told the nation: “Under the One Guyana banner, our people are coming together, rejecting the forces of division and hatred, and uniting in the pursuit of peace, progress and prosperity.”

The sentiments have had practical implications for the country’s two Jews. In 2017, when a Guyana Tourism Authority group was slated to travel to Suriname for a conference on travel catering to Muslim tourists, the Mauritanian organizer of the event protested the presence of Jewish participants. There were supposed to be two: Ades, and Andrea de Caires, then head of the country’s largest private tour operator, Wilderness Explorers.

“I got a call from the Guyanese Tourism Minister at 1 a.m., who asked me if I was Jewish, and he explained the situation. And I thought, this [antisemitism] is still going on in the world?” de Caires remembered.

The Guyanese tourism minister refused to abide by the ban, de Caires proudly said, and told the Surinamese hosts and conference organizers: “If Jews aren’t allowed, then none of us are going.” The Surinamese, long known for their religious tolerance, also refused to accept the prohibition, and said that all participants were welcome (in Suriname’s capital Paramaribo, a mosque stands next to a synagogue and they share a parking lot). Both de Caires and Ades attended the event.

“When I arrived at the conference, the Surinamese minister of tourism welcomed me, and the director general of Guyana’s tourism ministry gave me the microphone to open the conference. We [Rafi and I] went in with our heads held high,” de Caires said.

De Caires has lived in Guyana since 2010 but her path to Guyana took a different route from Ades’. Born Andrea Levine in Chicago as the granddaughter of a rabbi, she traveled extensively as a child with her physician father, who taught her the importance of creating a Jewish home.

“Judaism was always a part of my life — we celebrated the holidays, lit candles on Friday night, but my father would often say, ‘Going to temple doesn’t make you Jewish,’” Caires said.

De Caires moved to New Jersey and trained as a jeweler, working with clients that included Tiffany’s. She transitioned to working at Bloomingdale’s in sales and then management, and then she moved on to the cosmetic company Borghese, where she became vice president of sales and marketing.

“I got caught up in Madison Avenue, a single mom of three kids, and then I met Salvador,” she recalled. “And I knew there was no point in pursuing a relationship if I wouldn’t move to Guyana.”

Salvador is Salvador de Caires, her Guyanese husband whom she met through her sister. Visiting Guyana for the first time in 2008, she fondly recalled her first visit to the Karanambu Lodge in the country’s south, a former cattle ranch that is now a conservation hub sitting at the center of Guyana’s forests, rivers, and savannahs. The most accessible route is via airplane from Georgetown and then four-by-four vehicle. While based at the lodge, de Caires continued to take conference calls for her New York-based career, while learning more about Guyana and the business of running a tourist destination off the beaten path. She and Salvador moved permanently to Guyana in 2010 to take over the day-to-day management of the lodge.

“When we moved to Guyana, it never occurred to me there would never be a Jewish community here. There’s a Jewish community everywhere,” de Caires remembered thinking. “That was pretty startling.”

Andrea de Caires is shown with Guyanese President Irfaan Ali. (Courtesy of de Caires)

So when they moved from Karanambu in 2016 to work at (and eventually lead) Wilderness Explorers in Georgetown, de Caires was committed to opening her home to Guyanese friends and neighbors with Hanukkah parties and Passover seders.

“The first year we had a Hanukkah party, our invitation went out for latkes and black cake (a traditional Guyanese dish), and we had government ministers, ambassadors and local friends over,” she recalled. “I told the story of the holiday and we lit the candles.”

It wasn’t the first time de Caires had been single handedly responsible for the fostering Jewish traditions in Guyana. She recalled an incident in 2012 when a Colombian-Jewish tourist came to Karanambu Lodge during Passover and asked her to make matzah brei. Under a thatched roof, she was able to make the holiday delicacy for her visitor.

For Ades, too, it is hosting that makes him most appreciate his chosen home in Guyana.

“I will always remember Feb. 1, 1963, the day we left Israel. We had always planned to return,” he said. “But I’m still here. Between then and now I have lived in so many places, and Guyana has been my home for a very long time. One of the best parts of my week is meeting new people who come to Sloth Island — people of different backgrounds from around the world. It is wonderful to welcome them all.”

De Caires plans to share her Jewish traditions once again next month, hosting another Hanukkah party for her Guyanese friends and neighbors. And with the worst of the pandemic in the rearview mirror, both Ades and de Caires are looking forward to booming tourist seasons. De Caires and her husband are also ready to begin a new professional chapter: They recently accepted new positions with a Guyanese conglomerate to develop its tourism operations at a riverine resort.

Does de Caires feel like she has lost something by establishing roots in a place without an established Jewish community?

“If I left here, that would mean there’s one less person to support others [including Jews],” de Caires replied. “I think it’s interesting Rafi and I are both in tourism — you need to have a lot of tenacity, but it’s important that we welcome others to this beautiful country.”

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Trump’s dinner with a Holocaust denier draws rare criticism from some of his Jewish allies

Mon, 2022-11-28 04:05

(JTA) — Two weeks after feting Donald Trump as America’s most pro-Israel president ever, the Zionist Organization of America had harsh words for the man who aspires to return to the White House.

“ZOA deplores the fact that President Trump had a friendly dinner with such vile antisemites,” ZOA said Sunday in a news release. “His dining with Jew-haters helps legitimize and mainstream antisemitism and must be condemned by everyone.”

The group was referring to Trump’s dinner last week with Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West who came out as an antisemite in recent weeks, and Nick Fuentes, the right-wing provocateur and Holocaust denier. Trump hosted the pair at Mar-a-Lago, his Florida estate, on Tuesday.

Reaction to the dinner was initially muted in the days before Thanksgiving, but over the long weekend, a host of figures denounced Trump for meeting with the two men, though some did so more strongly or explicitly than others. Among Jews, the criticism has come not only from Trump’s longtime detractors but from some of his biggest fans.

“To my friend Donald Trump, you are better than this,” David Friedman, Trump’s ambassador to Israel, said Friday on Twitter. “Even a social visit from an antisemite like Kanye West and human scum like Nick Fuentes is unacceptable.”

Friedman is rarely anything but effusive in praising Trump, whom he once said would join the “small cadre of Israeli heroes” for moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights and exiting the Iran nuclear deal, among other measures. But on Friday, his tone was more pleading as he tweeted to Trump: “I urge you to throw those bums out, disavow them and relegate them to the dustbin of history where they belong.”

Trump for his part said in statements on his Truth Social social media site that he hoped to assist Ye, whom he described as “troubled,” and that he did not know who Fuentes was. (Ye said he had come to Mar-a-Lago to ask Trump to be his running mate in his own nascent campaign.)

“We got along great, he expressed no antisemitism and I appreciated all of the nice things he said about me on ‘Tucker Carlson,'” Trump said of Ye, referring to a Fox News opinion show hosted by Carlson, whose embrace of an antisemitic conspiracy theory has led the Anti-Defamation League to call for his removal. “Why wouldn’t I agree to meet? Also, I didn’t know Nick Fuentes.”

The response was reminiscent of Trump’s swatting-away of criticism after he told the Proud Boys, a far-right group whose founder had made antisemitic comments, to “stand back and stand by” during a presidential debate in 2020, in response to being asked to condemn white supremacists from the debate stage. He subsequently said he did not know who the Proud Boys were. (The group later rebranded as explicitly antisemitic.)

Trump’s contention that he did not know Fuentes raised eyebrows for some. Like the Proud Boys, Fuentes is part of the extremist fringe of the Republican Party that has made up part of Trump’s base. The founder of a white nationalist group called America First, he was a leading organizer of the “Stop the Steal” rallies organized by Trump supporters to try to overturn the election results showing that he lost in 2020; he was also present at the rally that Trump addressed preceding the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol that aimed to derail the transition of power.

Fuentes, who routinely rails against Jews on his livestream, also attended the 2017 far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where Trump famously said there were “very fine people on both sides” and more recently has grown close to far-right lawmakers in Trump’s party, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene in Georgia and Rep. Paul Gosar in Arizona.

Nick Fuentes answers question during an interview with Agence France-Presse in Boston, May 9, 2016. (William Edwards/AFP via Getty Images)

But even those who took Trump at his word that he did not previously know Fuentes said that was little excuse for dining with him.

“A good way not to accidentally dine with a vile racist and anti-Semite you don’t know is not to dine with a vile racist and anti-Semite you do know,” the Jewish right-wing pundit Ben Shapiro tweeted on Sunday. (Shapiro’s tweet kicked off a heated exchange with Ye, who recently returned to Twitter as the social media platform’s new owner, Elon Musk, restores many accounts that were suspended for violating the site’s old rules, including Trump’s.)

Reaction to the dinner kept Trump in the spotlight over the course of a holiday weekend, a double-edged sword for the first Republican to declare a 2024 presidential campaign.  Trump’s rise was fueled by nonstop media coverage, including of seeming misdeeds that did not doom him with his supporters. Still, one Trump advisor told NBC News that the event was a “f—ing nightmare” for the campaign, which has gotten off to a rocky start.

Also condemning the meeting were Jewish organizations that have not hesitated to criticize Trump’s flirtation with extremists in the past, including the American Jewish Committee, the Reform movement of Judaism and the Anti-Defamation League.

The Biden White House also condemned the incident. “Bigotry, hate, and anti-Semitism have absolutely no place in America, including at Mar-a-Lago,” its statement said. ”Holocaust denial is repugnant and dangerous, and it must be forcefully condemned.” (Asked to comment on Trump saying he didn’t know Fuentes, Biden himself told a reporter, “You don’t want to hear what I think.”)

The White House’s statement did not name Trump, nor did statements from many Republicans, including the Republican Jewish Coalition, at whose annual conference Trump spoke last week. The group did not initiate a statement, but, in response to reporters’ queries, released one.

“We strongly condemn the virulent antisemitism of Kanye West and Nick Fuentes and call on all political leaders to reject their messages of hate and refuse to meet with them,” said the statement, first solicited by The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman. The RJC and its CEO, Matt Brooks, retweeted Haberman.

Why the RJC would not name Trump drew follow-up questions from reporters, including Haberman, as well as a barrage of criticism on social media.

Brooks, evidently stung, called such queries “dumb and short-sighted” on Sunday morning and said on Twitter by way of explanation, “We didn’t mention Trump in our RJC statement even though it’s obviously in response to his meeting because we wanted it to be a warning to ALL Republicans. Duh!”

White nationalist leader Nick Fuentes addresses his livestream audience on the day Roe v. Wade is struck down to attack Jews on the Supreme Court, June 24, 2022. (Screenshot)

Max Miller, a Jewish Republican just elected to Congress from Ohio, and a former wingman for Trump, also did not name Trump and instead appealed to Ye, who at least until recently had become cherished on the right as a Black Christian conservative, to make a course correction.

“Nick Fuentes is unquestionably an anti-Semite and a Holocaust denier. His brand of hate has no place in our public discourse,” Miller said on Twitter. Ye “doesn’t need to keep walking this path. Letting people like Nick Fuentes into his life is a mistake.”

Prominent Jewish Republicans not making statements included David Kustoff, a Tennessee Jewish Republican congressman; Jason Greenblatt, once a top Middle East adviser to Trump; and Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner, who were both top advisers to Trump when he was president. A spokesman for Kushner did not reply to a request for comment.

Lee Zeldin, the Jewish Republican New York congressman seen as having a future in the GOP leadership after performing more strongly than expected in a failed bid to be elected governor of a Democratic state, also did not issue a statement, and his spokesman did not reply to a request for comment. Zeldin has otherwise been outspoken on Jewish issues in Congress and co-chairs the U.S. House of Representatives Black-Jewish caucus.

South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, who is the only Black Republican in the Senate and who co-chairs its Black-Jewish caucus, also had not commented as of Sunday night. Scott is believed to be a 2024 presidential hopeful.

Other Republican leaders denounced extremism but did not call out Trump by name. Ronna McDaniel, the Republican National Committee chairwoman known for her closeness to the former president, like the RJC, replied only when asked by a reporter — in her case, from Bloomberg — and did not name Trump.

“As I had repeatedly said, white supremacy, neo-Nazism, hate speech, and bigotry are disgusting and do not have a home in the Republican Party,” McDaniel said.

Meanwhile, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned antisemitism — but without mentioning Trump, Fuentes, Ye or any of the forms of antisemitism they have expressed. Instead, Pompeo spoke of his own role in undermining the boycott Israel movement — a cause that none of the men who dined together has embraced.

“Anti-Semitism is a cancer. As Secretary, I fought to ban funding for anti-Semitic groups that pushed BDS,” Pompeo said on Twitter. “We stand with the Jewish people in the fight against the world’s oldest bigotry.”

Trump was the ghost in the Republican machine last weekend at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual conference in Las Vegas: the declared candidate who party leaders believe still commands the unswerving loyalty of at least a third of the base. With his capacity for lashing out at critics, taking on Trump directly is seen as a fool’s game by many in the party.

A handful of Republicans already known for their open criticism of Trump, including Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, did denounce him by name.

“This is just awful, unacceptable conduct from anyone, but most particularly from a former President and current candidate,” Christie tweeted on Friday.

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A Black writer explores how Germany remembers its ‘unthinkable’ past

Sun, 2022-11-27 11:45

(JTA) — For his 2021 book “How the Word Is Passed,” winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction, poet and journalist Clint Smith explored the landscape of American memory — specifically how the history of slavery is explained, commemorated, distorted and desecrated in sites across the United States.

While on tour promoting the book, he explained in an interview Tuesday, he’d often be asked if any country had gotten it right when it came to memorializing its own dark past. “I kept invoking the memorials in Germany, but I had never been to the memorials in Germany,” Smith said. “As a scholar, as a journalist, I felt like I had to do my due diligence and excavate the complexity and the nuance, and the emotional and human texture, that undergirds so many of these places and spaces.”

The result is December’s cover story in the Atlantic, “Monuments to the Unthinkable.” Smith traveled to Germany twice over the past two years, visiting Berlin’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, its Topography of Terror Museum, the museum in Wannsee where the Nazis plotted the Final Solution, and the concentration camp at Dachau, talking to historians and curators along the way. As a Black man wrestling with how America accounts for the crimes of its past, he went to learn from the experience of the Germans, who “are still trying to figure out how to tell the story of what their country did, and simultaneously trying to figure out who should tell it.” 

In an interview, Smith talked about the inevitable differences between the Holocaust and the Atlantic slave trade, the similarities in how two countries — and communities — experience their histories, and how his article could serve as a bridge between African-Americans and Jews in a time of increasing tension between them. 

Smith spoke to JTA from his parents’ home in his native New Orleans. 

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Jewish Telegraphic Agency: Your book is about the ways America succeeds and fails to come to terms with slavery, and your article is about the ways Germany is, in your phrase, “constructing public memory.” I was struck by someone who warned you, “Don’t go to Auschwitz.” What were they saying? 

Clint Smith: It was Frederick Brenner, a Jewish man and a remarkable photographer who has photographed the Jewish Diaspora across the world for the past several decades, who said that, because people are standing [at Dachau] and they’re taking selfies, and it’s like “me in front of the crematorium” and “me in front of the barracks.” That was deeply unsettling to him, especially as someone whose family was largely killed in the Holocaust. 

I don’t want to be reductive about it and say that you don’t want people to go to these spaces and take pictures. I think it’s all about the sort of disposition and sensibilities one brings to a space. If someone went to the Whitney Plantation in Louisiana, I don’t necessarily want them doing puckered-lip selfies in front of a slave cabin. I can understand why people wouldn’t want those places engaged with in that way, but you do want tourists to come, right? I mean, before the pandemic, 900,000 people visited Dachau every year, and part of what brings people to Dachau is seeing and taking a picture of the crematorium, taking a picture of themselves on this land in that space where history happened, and posting it online. And maybe that serves as a catalyst for somebody else to make that journey for themselves.

You did go to Dachau, which you call a “memorial to the evil that once transpired there.”

I am a huge believer in putting your body in the place where history happened. I stood in many places that carry the history of violence: plantations, execution chambers, death row. But I’ve never experienced the feeling in my body that I felt when I stood in the gas chamber at Dachau. And you just see the way that this space was constructed, with the sort of intentional, mechanized slaughter that it was meant to enact on people. The industrialized nature of it was something unlike anything I’d ever experienced before and it made me feel so much more proximate to that history in ways that I don’t think I would have ever experienced otherwise. 

Physically standing in a concentration camp and physically standing and putting my body in the gas chamber fundamentally changed my understanding of the emotional texture and the human and psychological implications of it. Because when you’re in those spaces you’re able to more fully imagine what it might have been like to be in that space. And then you can imagine these people, these families, these women, these children who were marched into camps throughout Europe. You can never fully imagine the fear, that sense of desperation that one would have felt, but in some ways, it’s the closest we can get to it if you are someone who did not have family who lived through or survived the Holocaust. It provided me with a radical sense of empathy. And that’s why I took the trip in the first place.

A tourist takes a selfie inside the Memorial to the Murdered Jews Of Europe in Berlin, Sept. 25, 2019. (Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

By contrast, there are the memorials that are not historical sites, but either sculptural or architectural, like Berlin’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, nearly five acres of concrete slabs. What do you think makes an effective memorial that isn’t necessarily the historical place itself, but a specifically memorial project? 

Well, for example, the big one in Berlin. It’s just so enormous. The scale and scope of it was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. I tried to imagine what an American analog would be like. What if in the middle of downtown Manhattan there was a 200,000-square-foot memorial, with thousands of stone columns, dedicated to commemorating the lives of indigenous people who were killed in the early Americas? Or a 200,000-square-foot memorial in the middle of downtown D.C., not far from the White House, to the lives of enslaved people?

With that said, what I found really valuable were the people I spoke to, who had very different relationships to that space. Some thought of that memorial as something that was so meaningful because of its size and because of its scope, and because it was a massive state-sanctioned project. And then there were others who thought that it was too abstract, that it was too passive, even in its name, right, the “Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe,” which sounds as if something happened to people without naming the people who enacted the harm and who committed the crime. Those are the sort of nuances and complexities that I wanted to spend more time with, and found really valuable because, in the same way, descendants of enslaved people here in the United States have many different conceptions of what the iconography of slavery should look like or what repair and reparations to slavery should be made.

You write about the “stumbling stones” or “Stolpersteine”: Those are the small brass plaques placed in the streets, inscribed with the names of Holocaust victims and placed in front of their last known residence. The stones are exactly the opposite scale of the Berlin memorial.

Right. I think that is the memorial that I was most struck by: the largest decentralized memorial in the world, with 90,000 stones across 30 different European countries. I remember the moment I was walking down the street looking for landmarks and saw my first Stolpersteine, and I only saw it because at that moment the clouds moved and the sun shone off the brass stone. You see the name, the birth date, the deportation date, the death date, the place where the person was killed. You walk past another home, you see seven; you walk past another home, you see 12. You begin to imagine entire lives based on the names and information that exist on these stones. It creates this profound sense of intimacy, this profound sense of closeness to the history and it’s so human, because it’s individual people and individual names.

One of the most valuable things about the stumbling stone project, I think, is all the work that precedes it. It’s the school students who are doing research to find out about the lives of the people who were taken from the home across the street from their school. It’s the people in the apartment complex, who come together and decide that they’re going to figure out who were the Jewish families who lived in that apartment complex before them. And sometimes it’s really remarkable, granular details about people’s lives: what their favorite food was, what their favorite flavor of ice cream was, what the child liked. 

Artist Gunter Demnig lays “stumbling stones” that memorialize persecuted or murdered Jews on the streets of Frankfurt. (Boris Roessler/picture alliance via Getty Images)

As Gunter Demnig, the originator of the project, says, 6 million people is a huge abstraction, and now it becomes about one man, one woman, one child, and [people] realize that it truly was not that long ago. There are so many survivors of the Holocaust who are still with us. Gunter Demnig, his father fought for the German army. He represents this generation of people who are engaging in a sort of contrition for the acts of their parents and their grandparents. 

You ask in the piece what it would look like for a similar project to be created in the United States as a memorial to enslaved people.

I’m from New Orleans, and the descendant of enslaved people in New Orleans, which was at one point the busiest slave market in the country. And as Barbara Steiner, a Jewish historian, said to me in Germany, entire streets [of New Orleans] would be covered in brass stones! That was such a striking moment for me. That helped me more fully realize the profound lack of markers and iconography and documentation that we have to enslaved people in our landscape here in the United States relative to that of Germany.

Why are physical monuments important? I have sometimes wondered why we spend so much money on the infrastructure of memory — statues, museums, memorials — and if that money could be better used for living memorials, like scholarships for the descendants of victims, say, or programs that study or archive evidence of genocide. Why is it important to see a statue or a museum or even a plaque?

First off, museums and statues and memorials and monuments are by no means a panacea. It is not the case that you put up some memorials or you lay down some Stolpersteine and suddenly antisemitism is gone. Obviously, Germany is a case study and is experiencing its own rise in antisemitism. And that’s something that’s deeply unsettling, and is not going to singularly be solved by memorials and monuments. 

With that said, I think there is something to be said to regularly encounter physical markers and manifestations of the violence that has been enacted and crimes that have been done in your name, or to the people that you are the descendant of. I try to imagine Germany without any of these memorials and I think it would just be so much easier for antisemitism to become far more pervasive. Because when your landscape is ornamented by things that are outlining the history that happened there, it is much more difficult to deny its significance, it is much more difficult to deny that it happened, it is much more difficult not to have it shape the way you think about public policy. I do believe that if we had these sorts of markers in the United States, it wouldn’t solve the racial wealth gap, it wouldn’t solve racism, it wouldn’t solve discrimination. It wouldn’t eradicate white nationalism or white supremacy. But I do think it would play some role in recalibrating and reshaping our collective public consciousness, our collective sense of history in ways that would not be insignificant. 

And to your point, my hope is that those things are never mutually exclusive. It’s a conversation that’s happening here in the United States with regard to how different institutions are accounting for their relationship to slavery. Universities are coming up with reports, presentations, panels and conferences that outline their relationship to the history of slavery, especially since the murder of George Floyd [in 2020]. Activists and descendants have pushed them to not just put out a report, or put up a plaque or make a monument. It’s also about, well, what are you going to do for the descendants of those people? Harvard, where I went to grad school, put $100 million aside specifically for those sorts of interventions. Places like Georgetown have made it so that people who were the descendants of those who are enslaved have specific opportunities to come to the school without paying. And people of good faith can disagree over whether those initiatives are commensurate with or enough to atone for that past, and I think the answer is almost inevitably no.

Certainly people on what we like to think of as the wrong side of history understood the importance of physical monuments in creating memory.

The origin story of my own book was that I watched the monuments come down in 2017, in my hometown in New Orleans, of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee. I was thinking about what it meant that I grew up in a majority Black city, and there were more homages to enslavers than there were to enslaved people. What does it mean that to get to school I had to go down Robert E. Lee Boulevard? That to get to the grocery store, I had to go down Jefferson Davis Parkway? That my middle school was named after a leader of the Confederacy? And that my parents still live on a street today named after someone who owned 115 enslaved people? The names and iconography are reflective of the stories that people tell and those stories shaped the narratives that communities carry. And those narratives shape public policy and public policy is what shapes the material conditions of people’s lives.

One thing about Germany is that its national project of memory and repentance has been accompanied by a vast reparations program — for Israel, Jewish survivors, their families and programs to propagate Jewish culture. I wonder if you think Germany could have moved ahead without reparations? And can America ever fully grapple with the legacy of slavery without its own reparations?

The short answer is no. America cannot fully move forward from its past without reparations. The important thing is not to be limited and reductive in the way that we conceive of what reparations are or should look like. In some ways, I’m as interested if not more interested in what specific cities and states are doing in order to account for those histories and those crimes. For example, in Evanston, Illinois, they created a specific program to give reparations to Black families who experienced housing segregation, in a certain period of time, given how prevalent redlining was in and around Chicago in the mid-20th century. I know in Asheville, North Carolina, there’s a similar program that’s thinking about how to meaningfully engage in repair to the descendants of communities that were harmed from some of the policies that existed there. This is not to say that those programs themselves are perfect. But I think we sometimes talk about it so much on a federal level, that we forget the local opportunities that exist.

West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer signs the reparations agreement between his country and Israel, Sept. 10, 1952. (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Benjamin Ferencz, from “Reckonings”)

Many people who were redlined or experienced housing covenants — all the sort of insidious manifestations of wealth extraction that were part of Jim Crow — are still alive today. So sometimes it’s not even a question of what you have to give the descendants. Sometimes it’s like, what do you give the actual people who are still here? 

That’s an important distinction you make in your article, about the difference between grappling with the past in Germany and the United States. In Germany, there are so few Jews, while in the U.S. we see the living evidence of slavery, not the evidence of absence.

That’s perhaps the greatest difference that allows for both a landscape of memory to be created in Germany, and also allows for Germany to pay reparations in ways that the United States is reluctant to do: Jewish people in Germany represent less than one quarter of one percent of the population of Germany. One of the folks I spoke to told me that Jewish people in Germany are a historical abstraction. Because there’s so few Jewish people left, because of the slaughter of the Holocaust. I think about the reparations that were given to Japanese Americans who were held in incarceration camps during World War II. They got $20,000 checks, which is not commensurate with what it means to be held in a prison camp for multiple years, and cannot totally atone for that. But part of the reason that can be enacted is that there’s a limited amount of people. There are 40 million black people in this country. So the economic implications of reparations are something fundamentally different here in the United States. 

So let me ask you if there’s anything else you wanted to mention that we haven’t talked about.

I want to name specifically for your readers that I’m not and would never intend to conflate slavery and the Holocaust. They are qualitatively different historical phenomena that have their own specific complexities and should be understood on their own terms. With that said, I do think it can be helpful to put the two in conversation with one another, specifically in the profound ways that these two monumental periods of world history have shaped the modern world and how they are remembered in fundamentally different ways. 

And there are similarities as well, which you write about.

I did find so many parallels. The Jewish people I spent time with in Germany explained that some of the manifestations of racism and anti-Blackness in the United States are not so different from the sort of manifestations of antisemitism that exist in Germany, especially as it relates to public memory. When I was at the museum devoted to the Wannsee conference, the executive director, Deborah Hartmann, told me that she and Deidre Berger [the chair of the executive board of the Jewish Digital Cultural Recovery Project Foundation] were talking about how Jewish people did not always have a seat at the table when these monuments and memorials were being built. Jewish people were not allowed to participate beyond a certain extent, because many Germans felt that Jewish people were not objective. Jewish historians couldn’t be taken seriously because they were too close to the history.

That just echoes so much of what Black scholars and historians have been told about their ability, or the lack thereof, to study the history of Black life. The godfather of African-American scholarship, W.E.B. Du Bois, was told by white scholars that he couldn’t be taken seriously because he was too close to the history of slavery.

Meanwhile, Deborah Hartmann talked about how so many of the historians and scholars who played a role in shaping the landscape of memory in Germany were themselves “close to the history,” including former members of the Hitler Youth.

Somebody sent me a message that really meant a lot to me this past week, basically saying that my essay is an exercise in “solidarity via remembrance” — in a moment where, unfortunately, there have been a lot of public manifestations of ideas and antisemitic remarks that might threaten to rupture a relationship between Black and Jewish people. Obviously, we didn’t time it this way: I worked on this piece for a year. But it’s my hope that as someone who is a Black American, who is the descendant of enslaved people, who is not himself Jewish — that my respectful, empathic, curious, journey reflects the long history of solidarity that has existed across Black and Jewish communities and that that I hope we never lose sight of.

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How many Hebrew Israelites are there, and how worried should Jews be?

Fri, 2022-11-25 23:16

(JTA) — Dressed in matching purple hoodies and shirts, with gold fringes attached to the bottom in observance of Deuteronomy 22:12, hundreds of members of a controversial Hebrew Israelite group marched through the streets of Brooklyn on Sunday.

“Hey Jacob, it’s time to wake up,” they chanted, using a term for people of color who have yet to embrace their “true” identity as descendants of the Biblical Jacob, later called Israel. “We got good news for you: YOU are the real Jews.”

The march and a demonstration that followed at the Barclays Center were organized by Israel United in Christ in solidarity with Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving, who was suspended for eight games after he posted a link to an antisemitic film on social media last month and then was slow to apologize. But IUIC has also used the controversy to promote its incendiary ideology and recruit new followers into what it calls “God’s army.”

After the demonstration — the second held by IUIC outside of the Brooklyn arena this month — the group’s founder posted a message on his Twitter account. “We are not here for violence,” Bishop Nathanyel Ben Israel wrote, “we are here for the spiritual war.”

Before 2019, those American Jews who were even aware of the once-obscure Black Hebrew Israelite spiritual movement likely associated it with the loud but non-violent street preachers who would harangue pedestrians in city centers. In December of that year, however, extremists professing Israelite beliefs attacked a kosher grocery store in Jersey City, New Jersey and a Hanukkah party in Monsey, New York. Two Jews were killed in Jersey City, and a 72-year-old rabbi who was stabbed in the head in Monsey died from his injuries three months later.

With the memory of those attacks still fresh, and against the backdrop of a surge this fall in public expressions of antisemitism combined with threats of violence against Jewish communities emanating from other extremist corners, the militant posturing of IUIC has alarmed many Jews already on edge.

Rabbi Mordechai Lightstone of Crown Heights observed on Twitter that the Israelites who regularly preach near his home on Shabbat have been “particularly aggressive” of late, heaping verbal abuse on both him and his children. On Sunday afternoon, Lightstone posted a video of IUIC members assembling for their march and rehearsing their chants in Grand Army Plaza.

“Terrifying,” commented Elisheva Rishon, a Black and Jewish fashion designer who blames Hebrew Israelites for inflaming tensions between the two communities to which she belongs. A few Twitter users compared the march to the 2017 far-right rally in Charlottesville, at which participants chanted “Jews will not replace us.”

The recent IUIC rallies give the impression that the radical wing of the Hebrew Israelite movement is large and riled up. Meanwhile, recent comments by Kanye West, the rapper who now goes by Ye, and Irving that align with elements of Hebrew Israelite doctrine suggest the movement has broad support among powerful Black celebrities.

But how big is the movement in reality? What percentage are extremists who assail Jews as impostors who stole their heritage from them? And if Black Israelism has entered the marketplace of mainstream religions in the United States, should Jews be concerned?

The numbers

The only available statistics on Israelite identification in the United States were collected as part of a small national survey conducted by an evangelical Christian research firm in 2019. For that survey, which sought to capture African-American attitudes toward the state of Israel, Lifeway Research asked 1,019 African Americans, “Which of the following best describes your opinion of Black Hebrew Israelite teachings?”

Most respondents (62%) said they are not familiar with the teachings, but 19% said they agree with “most of the core ideas taught by Black Hebrew Israelites,” and 4% said they consider themselves Hebrew Israelites. The remaining 15% said they either “firmly oppose” the teachings or disagree with most of them. (The survey did not specify what those teachings are.)

The 2020 U.S. Census put the Black population at 41.1 million, so extrapolating from the Lifeway data, there are approximately 1.6 million Hebrew Israelites in the U.S. — not counting the small numbers of Latinos and Native Americans who also belong to Israelite groups — and 7.8 million people who may not identify as Israelites but who agree with the spiritual movement’s main teachings.

For lots of these people, the attention that West and Irving have brought to their belief system has been validating.

“Israelism is becoming part of the plausibility structure of Black America,” Christian activist and author Vocab Malone told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, referring to a social context in which certain ideas are considered credible. “The suspicions that a lot of folks have toward the Jewish community, they think they’re vindicated now.”

Scott McConnell, Lifeway’s executive director, told JTA that the survey’s sponsor, the Christian Zionist organization Philos Project, supplied the question about Hebrew Israelite teachings. Asked if there are plans to include similar questions in future surveys, he replied, “I know there are some pastors at African-American churches that have concerns about some of their parishioners being led astray by the teachings of the Hebrew Israelites, so we’ll keep it on our radar.”

Malone, who uses an alias in keeping with hip-hop culture, is a close observer of the Israelite world. The Phoenix resident frequently engages in debates on the street and online with members of groups described as hateful by the Southern Poverty Law Center — including IUIC, Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge, Israelite Church of God in Jesus Christ, and The Sicarii — in hopes of convincing them to follow what he considers to be the true path of Christianity.

Founded in 2003, IUIC has proven the most adept at creating public spectacles and garnering media coverage. The group operates 71 U.S. chapters and 20 international ones, according to the Anti-Defamation League, and it holds men’s conferences each year that culminate in choreographed marches on city streets, like the one on Sunday in Brooklyn. Based on the size of those marches, Malone estimated that national membership has grown from around 5,000 in 2015 to around 10,000 today. Other radical groups likely have much smaller memberships but don’t share any figures, preferring to “play their cards close to their chest,” Malone said.

These estimates suggest that the extremists comprise a very small percentage of the 1.6 Hebrew Israelites living in the United States.

Ultimately, IUIC has a goal of recruiting 144,000 Black, Latino and Native American people who will be spared by God during the end time, as foretold in the book of Revelation. In order to achieve this goal, the group sends representatives to proselytize overseas, including in parts of Africa and the Caribbean. (IUIC did not respond to requests for comment from JTA.)

Both the Southern Poverty Law Center and the ADL monitor the activities of IUIC and other radical camps, as Israelites call their groups. However, spokespeople for both organizations told JTA they do not know how many people belong to these camps.

An online movement

What is clear is that the camps have greatly expanded their reach in recent years, taking their message from street corners to the entire globe thanks to the internet and social media. IUIC members run dozens of YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts where they post a constant stream of videos and memes, many containing antisemitic tropes. One recent Instagram post shows a startled-looking Hasidic Jewish man holding his hat above the words “The Synagogue of Satan.” (Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam, uses similar language about Jews. A video he recorded this month defending West and Irving has been viewed millions of times.)

The main IUIC YouTube channel, @IUICintheClassRoom, has 126,000 subscribers and 29.4 million video views. A series of videos posted three years ago on the channels of local chapters provide some insight into how members hear about IUIC and why they join.

The most common way these members say they found their way to the camp was via videos they watched online. “Prior to actually coming to IUIC, I did do some Israelite window shopping,” recounts Officer Joshua of IUIC Tallahassee. “I always questioned myself, why is it that our people are at the bottom? How come we get the worst jobs and so forth? I knew Christianity wasn’t answering my questions, so what I did was I just started soul searching.”

As part of his quest, Joshua says he stumbled upon a video of Bishop Nathanyel and other IUIC leaders preaching on the street. “I was like man, these brothers really know what they’re doing, they really have our history,” he says. “That’s what actually made me do more research on IUIC and the truth.”

Sar (“Minister”) Ahmadiel Ben Yehuda speaks at the African Hebrew Israelites’ annual New World Passover celebration in Dimona, Israel, May 2013. (Andrew Esensten)

In another video, Sister Ezriella from the Concord, North Carolina, branch explains that as a young adult, she felt uncertain about her life’s purpose. Then her mother shared information with her about IUIC. “She was so happy it changed her life, I had to take notice and I had to come check it out for myself,” she says. “I fell in love with it. I fell in love with finding out who I am.”

A number of Black, male celebrities have also been drawn into the wider Israelite orbit in recent years, including rappers Kendrick Lamar and Kodak Black, TV host Nick Cannon, boxer Floyd Mayweather and retired NBA player Amar’e Stoudemire.

Some of these celebrities appear to have been exposed to Israelite teachings by relatives and other acquaintances. Lamar, who famously rapped “I’m a Israelite, don’t call me Black no mo’” on a 2017 song, learned about Israelism from a cousin who was involved with IUIC. Black began identifying as a Levite in 2017 after studying scripture with an Israelite priest while serving a jail sentence in Florida. Stoudemire has said his mother taught him he had “Hebraic roots.” (He officially converted to Judaism in 2020, a step most Israelites reject because it contradicts their claims of already being authentic Jews.)

Isabelle Williams, an analyst at ADL’s Center on Extremism who tracks radical Israelite camps, said celebrity endorsements of the ideology can have a big impact because they come from figures who are widely respected.

“If people came upon an extremist Black Hebrew Israelite group street preaching, it might be easier to dismiss it and recognize the extreme ideology behind it,” she said. “But when it’s being shared by these influential figures, people might be less likely to recognize the really insidious ideology and dangerous antisemitic conspiracy theories that are behind these statements.”

Williams added that a range of extremist groups have seized on comments made by West and Irving. “It’s not just BHI and NOI groups that are leveraging this moment,” Williams said. “We’ve seen white supremacists who are also using this recent attention and circulation of antisemitic conspiracy theories to promote their own agenda.”

Rabbi Capers Funnye is the most prominent Israelite leader in the U.S. He serves as chief rabbi of the International Israelite Board of Rabbis, an organization that provides spiritual guidance to about 2,500 people in the United States, along with tens of thousands of Israelites in southern and west Africa.

In an interview, Funnye condemned West, Irving and the radical Israelite camps that have rallied around them. “God is never about divisiveness,” Funnye said. “God is never about hatred. God is never about, ‘You ain’t.’ I don’t have to say what you aren’t to make me who I am.”

A member of the Chicago Board of Rabbis and the leader of a Chicago synagogue with a mixed membership of around 200 Jews and Israelites, Funnye was at pains to differentiate his community from IUIC and its ilk: His follows the Torah and supports the state of Israel, he said, while others follow both the Old and New Testaments, worship Jesus and reject Israel’s government as illegitimate.

“Whatever army that Kyrie is speaking about, we are not a part of his army,” he said, referring to a comment Irving made during an Oct. 29 press conference about how he has “a whole army” behind him.

But Funnye said another of Irving’s recent statements — “I cannot be antisemitic if I know where I come from” — resonated with him and his congregants.

“We are Semitic,” he said of Black people who identify as Israelites, “so now we really have to draw a line when antisemitism is only defined by one’s complexion or ethnicity. We were not the ones that racialized Judaism, and we will never racialize it because Jews are not a race.” (“Semitic” refers to people who speak Semitic languages, such as Hebrew and Arabic.)

Outside of the United States, the largest organized group of Hebrew Israelites is located in Israel. The African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem are a Dimona-based community of more than 3,000 African-American expatriates and their Israeli-born offspring.

African Hebrew Israelite youth serve in the army — not Kyrie Irving’s or IUIC’s army, but the Israel Defense Forces. After 53 years in Israel, the community has never been fully accepted, in part because they are not Jewish according to halacha, or Jewish law. Currently, some 100 community members are being threatened with deportation for living in the country illegally.

Ahmadiel Ben Yehuda, the African Hebrew Israelites’ minister of information, said he interpreted Irving’s remarks as a reference to “the global awakening of people of African ancestry to their Hebraic roots.” He said the backlash Irving has faced shows that the conversation around this awakening must involve qualified representatives of communities who can cite reputable sources — not documentaries such as the one Irving boosted — “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America” — in support of their claims of Israelite ancestry.

“What is certain is that Israel and Judaism must figure out a way to better accommodate these communities,” Ben Yehuda said. “This is not going to fade away, and it shouldn’t. It will intensify as the awakening continues.”

How this awakening will affect Jews and established Jewish communities remains to be seen.

In September, George Washington University’s Program on Extremism released a report titled “Contemporary Violent Extremism and the Black Hebrew Israelite Movement.” The report noted that the “predominant threat” today comes not from Israelite groups themselves but from “individuals loosely affiliated with or inspired by the movement.”

Malone, the Christian activist, cautioned that as the extremist wing of the Israelite movement grows, more violent lone wolves may emerge.

“There’s a big funnel with any movement, and the bigger the funnel is, you get certain things down at the bottom,” he said. “This is not Buddhism. This is a different kind of thing with a different kind of rhetoric.”

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Trump hosts Kanye West and prominent antisemite Nick Fuentes at Mar-a-Lago

Fri, 2022-11-25 19:01

(JTA) — Former President Donald Trump hosted white nationalist Nick Fuentes and rapper Kanye West, two figures who have made repeated antisemitic statements, at his Mar-a-Lago resort on Tuesday night, Axios reported.  

After the report was published, Trump said in a statement on Friday to Axios that West, now known as Ye, came over for a dinner meeting and brought with him another guest who had not been invited. 

“Kanye West very much wanted to visit Mar-a-Lago,” Trump said. “Our dinner meeting was intended to be Kanye and me only, but he arrived with a guest whom I had never met and knew nothing about.”

The dinner meeting places Trump, who a week ago announced a 2024 White House bid, in direct contact with two prominent figures who have unapologetically promoted antisemitism in recent months. West’s Twitter account was recently restored after being blocked over a series of antisemitic comments, including a threat to go X on the Jews, that cost him lucrative sponsorship deals. Fuentes, who has been labeled a “white supremacist” by the Justice Department and first gained prominence after participating in the white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in 2017, said in June that “Jews stood in the way” of the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

The news of the dinner is likely to spark widespread condemnation and renew concerns about right-wing extremism in the Republican party.

In a video posted to Twitter, West claimed that Trump was “really impressed” with Fuentes because “unlike so many of the lawyers and so many people that he was left with on his 2020 campaign, he’s actually a loyalist.”

West’s Twitter account was recently restored after being blocked over a series of antisemitic comments that also cost him lucrative sponsorship deals. 

West, who has said he is running for president in 2024, also said in an earlier Twitter post that he asked Trump at the dinner to be his running mate. In the video, West claims Trump started “screaming” at him over the idea of running for office and told him he would lose. 

Elon Musk, Twitter’s new owner, said he was granting “amnesty” to an array of far-right figures who had previously been banned. Extremism watchdogs say antisemitism is flouring on Twitter under Musk’s control

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In ‘Mapping Jewish San Francisco,’ a treasure trove of Bay Area Jewish history goes on display

Fri, 2022-11-25 15:00

(J. The Jewish News of Northern California via JTA) — The year was 1968. Young people from around the country were descending on San Francisco looking for ways to express themselves, making efforts — sometimes heroic, sometimes tragic — to free themselves from the bonds of American society.

At the same time, a group of Jews came together in the city to create something new.

“After painfully realizing that the Jewish leaders and especially, in San Francisco, are only interested in lectures on the terrible lost generation, but have no wish of giving them a helping hand, we opened, on our own, a house of love and prayer in San Francisco.”

Those words, by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, are on a handmade brochure from 1968. It’s only one artifact in a treasure trove of documents and photos displayed in a new, online exhibit out of the University of San Francisco called “Mapping Jewish San Francisco.” Much of the historical material is being seen publicly for the first time.

“We really want people to get a sense of the unique elements of Bay Area Jewish life,” said Oren Kroll-Zeldin, lead curator of the project and assistant director of the Swig Program in Jewish Studies and Social Justice at the university.

The first part of a brochure advertising the House of Love and Prayer, 1968. (Mapping Jewish San Francisco)

The San Francisco project was inspired by “Mapping Jewish Los Angeles,” a UCLA endeavor that for more than a decade has been bringing multimedia stories of L.A.’s diverse Jewish neighborhoods to life.

“I thought, oh my goodness, we need to do this about San Francisco!” Kroll-Zeldin said.

He brought the idea to Aaron Hahn Tapper, director of USF’s Swig Jewish studies program.

“He was immediately excited and supportive of it,” Kroll-Zeldin said.

They got to work, but executing the projects was a bit more daunting than expected, including making sure the multimedia elements of the website worked perfectly.

But now the site has launched with two inaugural exhibits: Kroll-Zeldin’s deep dive into Carlebach’s synagogue and religious commune known as the House of Love and Prayer, and a comprehensive look at the Karaite Jewish community in the Bay Area and beyond.

“Through ‘Mapping Jewish San Francisco,’ we aim for people to better understand how today’s Bay Area Jewish community came to be and the role that Jews have played in the creation of this major American city,” Hahn Tapper said in an email.

Kroll-Zeldin said a key factor in the effort was the access he had to personal papers, stories, photos and anecdotes, provided to him by the people who were there. He calls it “one-of-a-kind archival material.”

“This is only possible based on the willingness of these people to tell these stories,” he said.

There are also videos, including a series of oral histories with locals who experienced communal living, and archival audio recordings of Carlebach’s teachings and music. The exhibit covers the reach of the rabbi’s impact, but also touches on the controversies around Carlebach, who was accused of sexual assault by many women.

The second exhibition, led by Hahn Tapper, highlights the history of the Karaite Jews, a small but distinct and vibrant community of Jews who are the inheritors of a little-known branch of Judaism.

It is a custom among Karaite Jews to pray kneeling on the ground, as seen here in the sanctuary of Congregation B’nai Israel in Daly City. (Courtesy Kararite Jews of America)

They split from the mainstream, theologically, somewhere between the eighth and 10th centuries. While they follow Torah, they do not follow the rabbinic interpretations in the Mishnah and Talmud. Karaite Jews have many customs and prayers that set their religious practice apart.

The largest group of Karaites lived in Egypt until the 1950s, when tensions, violence and war drove many of them out. Some moved to Israel and others to the Bay Area, where they built a tight-knit and active community.

Only 50,000 or so Karaites are left in the world today, with an estimated 1,000 in the Bay Area, site of the only Karaite synagogue in the Western Hemisphere.

“They are a very important subcommunity of Jews,” Hahn Tapper said. “In addition, as a religious studies scholar who focuses on contemporary social identities, the ways this Jewish community has re-established itself here in the Bay Area is astounding.”

Hahn Tapper said he went through mounds of documents and hundreds of hours of video interview footage to put together the online exhibition, called “Out of Egypt.” He said the videos are invaluable because so many of the Karaites who immigrated to the United States have died in recent years.

“Through this exhibit we have documented their lives, lives of Jews in Egypt that no longer exist,” he said. “These interviewees paint a picture of what it was like to celebrate Jewish holidays in Cairo, some of whom did so with their Muslim neighbors.”

Kroll-Zeldin said each exhibit takes up to two years to prepare, in collaboration with academics, students and community leaders; scholars first collect and digitize the material, then do the research, writing and bibliography work.

The next project is being led by Rabbi Camille Angel, USF’s rabbi in residence, who is working with her students to collect stories of Jewish LGBTQ life in San Francisco. Their research and findings will help tell that chapter of Bay Area Jewish history, a form of storytelling that will continue to be central to the project as it unfolds.

“People like stories,” Kroll-Zeldin said. “Stories connect people. And there are so many interesting stories to tell.”

A version of this piece originally ran in J. The Jewish News of Northern California, and is reprinted with permission.

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Israeli coalition deal gives far right’s Itamar Ben-Gvir control over the police, including in the West Bank

Fri, 2022-11-25 14:39

(JTA) — Itamar Ben-Gvir, the right-wing Israeli politician called a “pyromaniac” by his critics because of his penchant for inflaming his country’s deep tensions, will head Israel’s police forces, under the terms of a deal inked with Benjamin Netanyahu early Friday.

The deal would expand the ministry of internal security, the old name of the cabinet position in charge of the police, into the ministry of national security and would also give Ben-Gvir authority over border police in Palestinian territories, according to the terms reported in Israeli media.

In the role, Ben-Gvir will have the power to carry out some of his long-held wishes, including loosening rules so that officers can open fire on Palestinians who throw stones and expanding the ability of Jews to pray on the Temple Mount, the Jerusalem site that is home to the Al-Aqsa mosque.

Ben-Gvir — an acolyte of Meir Kahane, a rabbi barred from Israel’s parliament in the 1980s because of his racism — has ignited conflict by accompanying Jews to pray on the Temple Mount, where Jewish prayer has been strictly limited for security reasons. Twice convicted of incitement in Israeli courts, Ben-Gvir has also called for annexing large parts of the West Bank and for deporting Arabs who are not loyal to Israel.

The agreement between Ben-Gvir’s party, Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power), and Likud, Benjamin Netanyahu’s party, does not mean that Netanyahu has finished forming a governing coalition, which he is charged with doing after receiving a majority of parliament seats in Israel’s Nov. 1 election. But it is a crucial step that indicates progress among the parties — and indicates that any who hopes that Netanyahu would not in fact elevate Ben-Gvir and others in his far-right bloc are likely to be disappointed.

Some U.S. Jewish groups have expressed discomfort with Ben-Gvir and his allies being installed in government, saying that the right-wing lawmakers’ vision for Israel is at odds with that of American Jews; others have remained silent, perhaps recognizing that they may have to work with a government that includes him. The Biden administration is considering refusing to meet with Ben-Gvir, though his expanded portfolio would likely create more opportunities for such meetings.

Netanyahu is still working to finalize an agreement with Bezalel Smotrich, head of the Religious Zionist party. Netanyahu has reportedly agreed to give Smotrich authority over Israel’s administration of the West Bank, including construction and demolition of both Palestinian and Jewish settlements. But the pair are reportedly at odds over whether Smotrich, who has disparaged non-Orthodox Jews, should get control of the government division that oversees Jewish conversion.

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Michelle Williams, who plays Steven Spielberg’s mother in ‘The Fabelmans,’ says she plans to raise her children Jewish

Fri, 2022-11-25 14:32

(JTA) — Michelle Williams is one of the only non-Jewish actors with a starring role in “The Fabelmans,” director Steven Spielberg’s autobiographical film based on his Jewish family.

But it turns out that Williams, who plays the Spielberg character’s mother, has a Jewish family of her own. She told the Wall Street Journal that she and her Jewish husband, director Thomas Kail, are raising their two young children with Judaism and that she is studying the religion herself.

“I can’t teach it to them unless I learn it first,” Williams, who was raised Christian, told the newspaper. She said she and Kail had picked out a synagogue for their family and also said that she had positive memories of Jewish traditions from her Jewish childhood friends.

“I adored being in their homes — a lot of it is those early memories of the discourse at the tables and the deep sense of belonging that tradition fosters,” Williams said. “It has always been something that I’ve gravitated towards, something that felt immediately exciting and deep and very different from the tinsel and cheer. I say this as somebody who also sings Christmas songs to my kid before he goes to bed. I love both.”

In raising their children with Judaism, Williams and Kail are falling into line with the majority of Jews in the United States, according to a large-scale study of American Jews released last year. Nearly three quarters of non-Orthodox Jews who have gotten married since 2010 have married someone non-Jewish, according to the survey. A majority of those families are raising their children Jewish, with another 12% raising their children partly Jewish, as it sounds like Williams and her husband are intending. All together, two-thirds of intermarried couples are raising their kids with some Jewish identity, a rate that seems to have risen over time.

Williams has won acclaim — along with two Golden Globes and an Emmy award — for her performances in indie drama movies and shows such as “Brokeback Mountain,” “Blue Valentine” and “Fosse/Verdon.” She is winning accolades now for her portrayal of a character loosely based on Spielberg’s mother, Leah Adler, a popular Los Angeles kosher restaurateur who died at 97 in 2017.

Kail is best known for directing Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit Broadway musical “Hamilton.” In 2020, he was tapped to direct a film remake of “Fiddler on the Roof” that is still in development.

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Jewish security group credited with averting NY attack says an antisemitic murder in Arizona could have been prevented

Wed, 2022-11-23 23:08

(JTA) — A top Jewish community security consultant accused the University of Arizona of ignoring antisemitism as a warning sign in a case that culminated in the shooting death of a professor.

“Professor Thomas Meixner lost his life because antisemitism is not being taken seriously enough,” Michael Masters, the CEO of the Secure Community Network, wrote in an op-ed published Tuesday in the Arizona Republic.

Masters said the alleged assailant’s explicitly antisemitic threats should have been a red flag for the campus police, which, Masters said did not aggressively pursue criminal charges, and the Pima County Attorney’s Office, which did not file charges. The assailant in one text to a teacher wished “death to all Jews.”

“Too often reported violent antisemitic threats like these are dismissed as a byproduct of poor mental health and are not treated with necessary precautions,” Masters wrote. “More could and should have been done to prevent a senseless murder.”

Masters’ group coordinates security for Jewish organizations across the country. Last week, it alerted authorities in New York City to an online post by someone who said he would “shoot up a synagogue”; police apprehended the man alleged to have made the post, who had a gun, ammunition and a Nazi armband. Previously, people who have received Security Community Network training have credited it with mitigating attacks, including during the hostage situation at a Texas synagogue last January.

Murad Dervish, the suspect in the Oct. 5 slaying on the Tucson campus of the University of Arizona, believed Meixner was Jewish and was targeting Dervish because he was a Muslim, according to Meixner’s colleagues.

Dervish, a graduate student in the department of hydrology and atmospheric sciences, had received a poor grade and was fired last semester as a teaching assistant, although he was allowed to stay on at the school as a student.

Meixner, the department head, was a Roman Catholic, but, according to Eyad Atallah, another teacher whom Dervish threatened, Dervish refused to believe it.

“You’re a filthy kike lover who’s been deceived by them, but I really can’t blame you, they’re very deceptive,” Dervish said in a text to Atallah, who had for a time befriended him.

In a text message to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Masters said the Meixner killing showed how antisemitic violence accrues collateral damage.

“We must take threats seriously — no matter their motivation — and work to address them in a comprehensive, coordinated manner,” he said. “Had that been the case, one has to wonder if the victim, in this case, would still be alive and whether we’ll learn the lesson to keep the next potential victims safe and alive.”

The university expelled Dervish and barred him from campus but did not have mechanisms in place to keep him from entering the building.

The county attorney’s office said Dervish’s texts did not rise to the level of an actionable threat. His threats did not “meet the evidentiary requirements for charging him with the crime of Threats and Intimidation,” the office said in a statement.

Atallah told the Arizona Daily Star that he believed Dervish carefully phrased his texts so he could plausibly claim he was not directly threatening the person they were addressed to. In one text to Atallah, Dervish said, “I hope somebody blows your f****** brains out.” Atallah, who acquired a bulletproof vest and limited his time on campus after the threats, believes Dervish would have killed him too had they encountered one another on the day of the shooting.

It’s not clear how Dervish, who had been charged and sentenced to prison in other states for violent acts, was able to purchase a gun. He has pleaded not guilty.

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