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He left Brazil to became a lone soldier in Israel. Then he lost both his parents to COVID.

Sat, 2021-05-08 16:22

RAANANA, Israel (JTA) — When Thiago Benzecry left his home in Brazil’s Amazon region to join the Israeli navy, he knew he was putting significant distance between himself and his family, in more ways than one. 

He didn’t know it would be the last time he would see his parents in person.

Benzecry landed at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport in July 2019 with plans to study Hebrew and then volunteer in the Israel Defense Forces. It was a path he could hardly have imagined as a child in Manaus, where his father was a renowned Pentacostal church pastor and his mother was a party planner who supported her husband’s work.

“I have never been afraid of my children’s future. Instead of giving a car when they turned 18, I always gave backpacks,” his father, Stanley Braga, wrote on social media to mark his son’s very first day in the Israeli military.

Just months later, Braga was dead, and so was Benzecry’s mother, Vladya Rachel Benzecry, both victims of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which Manaus became known to the world as a grim early hotspot in the Amazon rainforest. Braga was 49 when he died, his wife just 48. They had been married for 30 years.

In Israel, Thiago Benzecry mourned without any family nearby to support him. Shortly after his parents’ deaths, he would be vaccinated against COVID-19 as part of Israel’s pace-setting inoculation drive.

“I, the only one in my family not to contract the virus, am the first to receive the vaccine. What if they had had the same opportunity and the same conditions in Manaus? I felt a mix of relief and pain,” Benzecry told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Benzecry’s story has captured the hearts of supporters in both Israel and Brazil. In April, he was featured on the cover page of a major Israeli newspaper. A video testimonial posted the next day on the Israeli Defense Force’s Facebook page garnered nearly 100,000 views, “likes” and supporting messages. 

“My main goal is to honor my parents,” Benzecry told JTA from his bedroom in an immigrant absorption center in Raanana, the upscale Tel Aviv suburb known as Israel’s “Brazilian capital.”

Much sought-after by English- and French-speaking new immigrants, Raanana is home to some 300 Brazilians and was recently declared a sister city with Rio de Janeiro.

The 23-year-old Benzecry is not so different from his new neighbors, whose families found refuge in Brazil for only a few generations before making it to the Holy Land.

Benzecry’s great-great-grandfather Jacob arrived in Brazil from Tetouan, Morocco, in the 1800s, as part of a wave of North African Jewish immigration. There he became the patriarch of a Sephardic dynasty in the Amazon.

“The Benzecrys are among the most traditional Jewish families in the whole Amazon region, playing a pivotal role in the local economy, including trade, industry, engineering, medicine,and education,” said David Vidal Israel, president of the Amazon Israelite Committee, or CIAM, the equivalent of a local Jewish federation. 

“After a century, some 1,000 families had settled in the Amazon, lured by the rubber boom and by the quest for a land free of persecutions,” added CIAM director Anne Benchimol, who is also a descendant of Jacob Benzecry. “They soon created their own small communities as a way of securing their culture and tradition.”

Thiago, left, with his late parents and two brothers. (Courtesy of Benzecry)

Thiago Benzecry’s paternal grandfather married someone who was not Jewish. So did his mother, who maintained ties to the Jewish community even as she devoted herself to supporting her husband’s Christian ministry.

“They were both very dear to everyone here. I first met Vladya when I was a teacher at our elementary Jewish school and madrich [instructor] at the Jewish youth movement. She would also practice Israeli folk dance. Later, she started to organize many Jewish events,” Vidal Israel recalled.

As a child, Benzecry said he considered himself Christian.

“I experienced a dual religious identity and that’s where my education comes from,” he said.

He found himself drawn to his Jewish heritage — and especially to Israel — as a teen. First, he attended a school owned by his mother’s aunt that was popular among Jewish families in Manaus. Then, at 16, he went on a 10-day tour of Israel operated by Birthright, the nonprofit that runs free trips to Israel for Jewish young adults. And when he turned 18, he volunteered as a security guard at the Beit Yaacov Rabi Meyr, Manaus’ only synagogue. 

Three years ago, at 20, Benzecry decided to spend six months in Israel on Masa, a program that lets participants choose from various study, volunteer and professional opportunities in the country. He worked as a student intern at an incubator for high-tech start-ups in Tel Aviv. 

“I was then able to know what Israel really was, the social and cultural nuances, the way that Israelis communicate, and have a clear idea of what I wanted,” Benzecry told JTA. “When I finally came on aliyah, it was not a first-time adventure anymore, which took the weight off my shoulders.”

In order to make aliyah, or immigrate to Israel, Thiago Benzecry submitted a certificate showing that his maternal grandfather, Rubens, was Jewish. Born to a non-Jewish mother, Vladya’s own conversion was apparently not accepted by the Jewish Agency, which oversees immigration applications. But Benzecry was able to benefit from the Law of Return’s clause that gives every grandchild of a Jew the right to Israeli citizenship.

“As I grew up and got more and more mature, I assumed my Jewish heritage and identity. Today, I’m Jewish,” Benzecry said. He added, referring to his Israeli ID card, “I am ready for conversion as part of the army because today my teudat zeut says I have no religion.”

When Benzecry first arrived in Israel as an immigrant, he moved to Maagan Michael kibbutz, where he studied Hebrew at an ulpan, the government-subsidized Hebrew language school for new immigrants. Because he was already 22, he was not required to enlist in the military, but he chose to anyway. He joined Garin Tzabar, the program that supports soldiers-to-be who do not have a family in Israel. 

“The biggest difficulty of a lone soldier is undoubtedly being away from family and friends from the country of origin. Coming home for the weekend and not having anyone to talk to or hug is very difficult,” said Navy Maj. Rafael Rotman, who immigrated from Brazil in 1997 when he was 17 years old.

Benzecry is now in the Israeli navy. (Courtesy of Benzecry)

That dynamic only deepened over the last year, as the pandemic set in and made international travel unsafe and difficult. Israel has not allowed people who are not citizens to visit except in narrow instances since very early on in the crisis, in March 2020.

As Manaus turned into a hotspot, Benzecry watched from afar as his father worked to support the city’s many impoverished families. Braga announced an effort to deliver 10,000 food baskets to families in crisis as part of his ministry. He also used his radio show to express support for Brazilian President Jair Bolsanaro’s decision to keep the economy open despite the deepening pandemic.

When he tested positive for COVID-19 last September, Braga wrote to his son from his hospital bed urging him not to worry. Benzecry was totally unprepared for the phone call a short while later telling him his father had died.

Just as the father’s funeral was ending, Benzecry’s mother and 31-year-old brother collapsed and were soon diagnosed with the coronavirus. While his brother recovered, his mother died in late October, after six weeks in intensive care.

Benzecry finished his tugboat mechanics training course before traveling to Brazil in December to visit his two brothers and 16-year-old sister. The next month, a brutal second COVID-19 wave overloaded Manaus’ health care system, again turning pictures of mass graves in the city into front-page news worldwide.

Now, as Benzecry begins to consider what he will do after his military service is complete, he sees his future in Israel, not South America. 

“I’m proud to be Brazilian and that’s what I tell everyone, everywhere. Brazil is part of my story, a place of communion. It’s my family, my culture, a place I can always visit, but it’s not my target anymore. It’s just a remembrance. The world is too big,” he said. 

“My parents were the greatest supporters of my choices. The educational and cultural heritage I received from them is the reason why I’m here today. I feel like I’m also living their dream.”

The post He left Brazil to became a lone soldier in Israel. Then he lost both his parents to COVID. appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Actor Lakeith Stanfield moderated a Clubhouse room full of anti-Semitism

Fri, 2021-05-07 22:23

(JTA) — Oscar-nominated actor Lakeith Stanfield co-moderated a room on the audio app Clubhouse in which participants made a slew of antisemitic remarks, The Daily Beast reported Friday.

The room in question had split off from another one on that was shut down on Wednesday night titled “Did Min. Farrakhan Tarnish His Legacy By Being Antisemitic?” The subsequent one was titled “Someone Ended The Room About Farrakhan.”

Participants from both told The Daily Beast that multiple people in each aired antisemitic tropes — including conspiracy theories about Jews controlling the media and the slave trade, in addition to comparisons between Jews and termites — which are often trumpeted by Louis Farrakhan, the antisemitic Nation of Islam leader.

Stanfield, who was nominated for an Oscar this year for his performance in “Judas and the Black Messiah,” co-moderated the second room on the app. The app, Clubhouse,  launched last year and brings millions of users around the globe together to talk about certain topics and themes.

“I was hearing a lot of anti-Semitism,” one Jewish woman in the room who remained anonymous told the Beast. “People were just allowed to go on and on.”

Stanfield did not make any of the antisemitic remarks.

On Thursday, Stanfield took part in a followup room led by “a panel of Jewish educators,” according to the Beast. He did not specifically apologize.

“I’ve been in a couple rooms where a lot of shit has been discussed and talked about, very heightened emotional states. It’s been very enlightening and interesting to me, I never really knew that this debate existed in this way about identity, the origins of Judaism in Jewishness, and how many different interpretations there are different things, whether or not it’s a religion and ethno-religion or what it is a faith race.”

He added: “Someone would say something that was without a doubt anti-Semitic… and then instead of acknowledging why it was anti-Semitic, it would just go back to that original person, and then it would kind of repeat what they were saying, they clearly weren’t listening to us.”

Stanfield, 29, co-starred in “Uncut Gems,” the 2019 film featuring Adam Sandler as a Jewish diamond salesman that doubled as a take on Black-Jewish relations.

The post Actor Lakeith Stanfield moderated a Clubhouse room full of anti-Semitism appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Violence rages in West Bank and Jerusalem, as dozens are injured in police clashes and Palestinian attackers are killed in shootout

Fri, 2021-05-07 20:46

(JTA) — Capping a day of violence across the country, Israeli police clashed with Muslim worshippers at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. More than 50 Palestinians were wounded in the clashes, according to reports.

Earlier in the day, an Israeli soldier killed two Palestinian men and wounded another one in the West Bank in a shootout that security officials said thwarted plans to carry out terrorist attacks inside Israel.

The incidents are just two flashpoints in weeks of unrest surrounding the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Israeli police had erected barriers around the Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem, which interfered with Muslim worshippers’ tradition of gathering at the gate and led to some of the most raucous protesting the city has seen in years. Two weeks ago, a crowd of far-right Israelis marched down Jerusalem streets chanting racist slogans, where they met and fought with a crowd of Palestinian counter-protesters.

Earlier this week, in separate incidents in the West Bank, a 19-year-old Israeli was killed in a drive-by-shooting and a 16-year-old Palestinian was killed by Israeli troops. A Palestinian man was arrested for the drive-by shooting.

Adding to the tensions in recent weeks are the pending evictions of multiple Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Eastern Jerusalem, an area that much of the international community views as illegally occupied by Israel. Jewish Israelis have long tried to buy real estate in the neighborhood, a symbolic stronghold near Jerusalem’s Old City, while forcing Palestinian residents to leave. Israel’s Supreme Court is set to rule on whether the evictions are legal in the coming days.

On Friday afternoon, tens of thousands of Muslim worshippers gathered at the Al-Aqsa Mosque at the Temple Mount, which is revered by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, for midday Ramadan prayers. Some were waving flags representing Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip and frequently shoots missiles into Israeli territory.

After protesters began throwing rocks, bottles and other objects at Israeli police, officers retaliated, entering the revered holy site and clashing with protesters to disperse them, according to reports. Police threw stun grenades at the site, which appeared strewn with trash in videos taken at the scene.

The Times of Israel reported that over 50 Palestinians were wounded, 23 of them of hospitalized.

Meanwhile, near an Israeli army base in the West Bank, three Palestinians fired at Israeli border police inspecting a bus. The border police returned fire, killing two of the alleged assailants and seriously wounding the third one.

No Israelis were hit. The wounded Palestinian was taken to hospital where he remains in critical condition.

Authorities are bracing for more conflict on Sunday, which marks Ramadan’s Laylat al-Qadr or “Night of Destiny” and will feature large crowds of worshippers.

The post Violence rages in West Bank and Jerusalem, as dozens are injured in police clashes and Palestinian attackers are killed in shootout appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Pleading guilty to inciting a riot in Brooklyn, Heshy Tischler sentenced to 10 days of community service

Fri, 2021-05-07 20:16

(JTA) — Seven months after Heshy Tischler was charged with inciting a riot in Brooklyn’s Borough Park, the Orthodox activist and provocateur has been sentenced to 10 days of community service.

Tischler, a radio host who is now running for City Council, was arrested in October on charges of unlawful imprisonment of a journalist and member of the Hasidic community. He pled guilty to inciting a riot, one of four charges that he drew during a week of turbulent protests in Borough Park last fall when the heavily Orthodox Brooklyn neighborhood was placed under tighter restrictions due to rising COVID-19 cases there.

Explaining his decision to plead guilty, Tischler told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency Friday, “I did it for the community.”

The charges were dated October 7, the night when Tischler led a group of young Orthodox men in surrounding Jacob Kornbluh, a member of the Hasidic community and a journalist who had criticized Tischler. The crowd surrounded Kornbluh, backing him against a brick wall, and screamed the word “moser” at him. The term means an informer and carries the connotation of a threat.

Video of the incident posted to Twitter by Jake Offenhartz, a reporter for Gothamist, showed a large crowd gathered around Kornbluh with Tischler at the center, shouting in Kornbluh’s face while unmasked. “You’re a moser,” Tischler is seen screaming. “Everybody scream moser!” Tischler had called Kornbluh a “moser” and a “rat” in a video he posted to Instagram earlier that day from a cemetery.

At a protest the night before, where protesters at points burned masks and blocked a city bus from passing, Tischler encouraged the crowds to defy the public health orders imposed on the neighborhood’s schools and synagogues. “We will not close,” he told the crowds. Later, he told protestors, “You are my soldiers. We are at war.”

In a virtual court appearance Friday afternoon, Tischler was sentenced to 10 days of community service. The terms of the sentencing mean that if Tischler completes his community service according to the terms set by the court, the judge will remove the charges from his record.

Tischler, who attained his public persona in Borough Park in large part due to his volunteering, downplayed the severity of the community service requirement, saying it was “not a sentence.”

“I will do 10 days of community service even though each week I do about four, five or six days of community service,” he said.

“Heshy loves helping people and he does community service every day,” said Sara Shulevitz, one of Tischler’s lawyers.

Kornbluh reacted to the sentence in a statement posted to Twitter. “I welcome the fact that Mr. Tischler acknowledged in the court of law that he incited a riot against me and has been held accountable for his actions. I am looking forward to continuing my work in journalism undeterred,” he said.

The Brooklyn District Attorney’s office, which prosecuted the case, also asked for an order of protection on behalf of Kornbluh. Tischler said that he would ask for an order of protection against Kornbluh.

Tischler is running for City Council in District 48, which includes several Orthodox neighborhoods in south Brooklyn. The seat is currently held by Chaim Deutsch, an Orthodox politician who was recently expelled from the council after pleading guilty to tax fraud.

In a video posted to Instagram Wednesday, Tischler appeared with City Councilman Kalman Yeger, who represents Borough Park, and State Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein, two of the most prominent Orthodox elected officials in Brooklyn. Yeger and Eichenstein smile and joke with Tischler in the video, which is branded with Tischler’s campaign logo.

The post Pleading guilty to inciting a riot in Brooklyn, Heshy Tischler sentenced to 10 days of community service appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Jewish nonprofit distributes 1,500 boxes of halal food for Ramadan, including pricey dates

Fri, 2021-05-07 19:31

(JTA) — The Met Council has long been known for providing kosher food to dozens of food banks across New York City.

Now the Jewish nonprofit is focusing on a new constituency: Muslim New Yorkers in need of food assistance that meets halal requirements.

Many of the requirements of halal food are similar to the rules of kosher food. Like religious Jews, religious Muslims do not eat pork, nor do they eat foods made with derivatives like gelatin or enzymes that come from a non-halal animal.

And during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month that began last month and during which religious Muslims fast during the day and break their fast over a celebratory meal at night, the issue of food insecurity can be more intensely felt.

“We have a lot of expertise around complicated foods in terms of kosher and dietary restrictions,” said David Greenfield, chief executive officer of the Met Council. “We realized the need was tremendous so we started reaching out to halal food pantries and providing them with food as needed.”

This week, the Met Council has distributed 1,550 boxes of halal food at New York City mosques. On Friday, the organization worked with Daneek Miller, the only Muslim on the New York City Council, to distribute 300 boxes of halal food for Ramadan at Masjid Al-Rahman in Queens.

“There are literally families who don’t have food for iftar,” Miller said, referring to the celebratory break fast meal eaten at the end of each day during the month of Ramadan. “So food insecurity is very real and it requires all hands on deck.”

The boxes include an assortment of kosher and halal foods, including fruits, vegetables, and canned and dried goods. The boxes also include dates, an item that would typically be too expensive to include in a food pantry distribution but was added because of the religious and cultural significance of dates during Ramadan.

Miller pointed to past collaborations between Muslim and Jewish New Yorkers to ensure Muslim children in New York City schools can eat halal meals and observe Muslim holidays. “We’ve had those types of partnerships but the world does not know,” Miller said.

“People spend so much time focused on what separates us in New York City,” Greenfield said. “I think this is what makes New York so fabulous.”

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186-year-old letter detailing early American diplomatic visit to Holy Land surfaces in Jerusalem auction

Fri, 2021-05-07 19:09

(JTA) — A detailed account of one of the earliest American diplomatic voyages to Palestine has surfaced as part of an upcoming auction in Jerusalem. 

The account appears in a handwritten letter from one of the passengers of the USS Delaware, a U.S. Navy ship that visited the Mediterranean Sea in 1834 and made a stop at the port town of Jaffa, then under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. 

Sent from the Spanish island of Menorca and addressed to Circleville, Ohio, the four-page letter describes several historically significant moments in the sailing ship’s journey, including a stop in Palestine and a visit with the first American diplomat stationed in the region. 

According to Kedem Auction House, the letter’s existence was entirely unknown to scholars who study the history of the Holy Land and U.S. diplomacy in Palestine. The anonymous collector who spotted the letter and realized its importance usually focuses on the history of the Israeli postal service. That person bought the item from another collector who had been holding it as an artifact of relevance for U.S maritime and postal history. 

“This letter is of great importance to both the history of American Jewry as well as to the history of the State of Israel,” Kedem Auction House CEO Meron Eren said in a statement. “It’s amazing to read, if only to learn about relations between the United States and Palestine at the time.”

The passenger who authored the letter, Lewis Woofley, describes traversing much of the Mediterranean on an eastbound route along the coasts of France, Italy and Greece with stops at various islands. Eventually, the sailing ship reached the port of Alexandria in Egypt. Well-versed in the geography of antiquity, Woofley is thrilled at the sight of various ruins, noting locations mentioned in ancient folklore. 

An extended stop in Egypt allowed Woofley and other passengers of the USS Delaware to venture inland where they had an encounter with the local ruler, Mohammad Ali. Known today as the founder of Egypt, Ali was busy fashioning a modern nation out of the ancient kingdom when this audience of Western visitors arrived. 

“We rowed once [sic] the bay to his palace, where we were received by him seated on his divan in one corner of the room,” Woofley wrote. “He did not rise to meet us, but kept his crossed-legged position reclining his head and motioning us to be seated. Coffee was handed us in fine china goblets resting on golden stands.”

During the conversation, the “good-natured” Pasha, as Woofley refers to him, displayed a charisma that apparently won over his visitors. 

“The Pasha is one of the most interesting men, in many respects, of the age,” Woofley writes. “The changes that he has introduced among his subjects, the improvements that he has made and is still carrying on in Egypt are immense.”

From Egypt, the ship sailed northeast along the coast until reaching the shores of the Holy Land. This is how excited Woofley was on the morning of arrival, according to the letter: “The Holy Land! Palestine! The feelings, the reflections, the ecstasies, you may more readily imagine than I describe.”

An American diplomat stationed in Palestine, David Darmon, boarded the ship and briefed the visitors on what conditions to expect when they disembark. Darmon was a French Jew who served as a consular agent, the first American representative in the area. Little is known about him, which makes the discovery of the letter significant. 

Woofley was excited to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, but Darmon delivered some news that seemed to quash that possibility. Palestine was in an “unsettled state.” Darmon shared news of bad roads, bandits, and a dangerous plague gripping the area.

“What a pity!” Woofley writes. “After having come so far and being so near to it — Like Moses, we are only to be permitted to see the Promised Land but not to enter it.”

Kedem Auction House expects the letter to fetch a price of between $2,000 and $4,000, with the proceeds going to an anonymous seller. 

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A survivalist summer camp for Orthodox Jews is planned for New York — and vaccinated folks aren’t invited

Fri, 2021-05-07 18:00

(JTA) — With summer coming and COVID-19 vaccines being deemed safe for children as young as 12, some camps are talking about the possibility of a mask-free summer for vaccinated campers.

But one Jewish camp being planned for the summer is taking a different approach: barring any vaccinated camper or staff from attending at all.

Advertisements for Camp Hikon, planned for upstate New York, appeared on email listservs popular in the Orthodox Jewish community just days after a private school in Miami made news for discouraging teachers from getting the vaccine and telling children they were not to have contact with vaccinated people.

The camp’s announcement also comes as posters encouraging people not to get the COVID-19 vaccines appeared in Midwood, Brooklyn, the Orthodox neighborhood where one member of the founding team runs a natural foods store.

The developments suggest that anti-vaccination sentiment and COVID misinformation are taking new forms in Jewish communities where skepticism and non-compliance with public health regulations has been relatively high.

Camp Hikon is aiming to prepare yeshiva boys for what it calls the “political, environmental and economic” changes to come. Despite its stated interest in preparing campers for “natural disasters,” it will not allow any vaccinated campers or staff to attend.

Naftali Schwartz, the Brooklyn-based self-described “health coach” with no formal training in medicine or public health who is launching the camp, said the rule is unlikely to keep anybody away.

“Because of the kinds of demographic that I’m drawing from, most people who are coming will not have taken the vaccine,” Schwartz told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Drawing on a debunked theory spread by the anti-vaccination movement, the camp’s website cites the “experimental nature” of the COVID-19 vaccines. According to the false theory, living in close quarters with vaccinated people could “enhance” the spread of the coronavirus. The website refers readers to a site called NutriTruth, which claims vaccines are a “biological weapon,” and to a livestreamed discussion between several notable anti-vaxxers. 

“We regret that we will be unable to accept campers or counselors who have already received any of these injections,” according to the website.

Schwartz said he made the rule because of “suspicious symptoms that occur to unvaccinated people who have spent a lot of time in the company of vaccinated people.”

“It’s also been reported to me from parents of my to-be campers that this is a real thing and it’s worrisome,” Schwartz said.

The idea that unvaccinated people can be harmed by spending time with people who have received the COVID vaccines is not true. Vaccinated people cannot shed particles from the vaccine that would affect someone in their vicinity.

Other debunked theories were listed on posters that appeared this week in Midwood, a heavily Orthodox neighborhood in Brooklyn. The posters, which were unsigned, discouraged Orthodox Jews from being vaccinated due to potential risks to fertility (another debunked theory), among other reasons. 

“Many, many Rabbonim who have thoroughly researched the COVID vaccine are urgently saying NOT to take it,” one flyer read, using the Yiddish word for rabbis.

The flyer included a link to an online pamphlet with the names of rabbis who have allegedly come out against the coronavirus vaccines. It also promoted medications for the treatment of COVID such as hydroxychloroquine that studies have shown to be ineffective. The medication had been promoted by Dr. Vladimir Zelenko, an Orthodox physician who, until last summer, worked in the Hasidic enclave of Kiryas Joel and whose treatment protocol was promoted by Donald Trump when he was president. 

The online pamphlet claimed that people did not die because of the coronavirus. “They died either from lack of proper treatment of corona, or from other neglect or improper treatment at the hospital,” the pamphlet said.

Anti-vaccine sentiment is persistent in pockets of the Orthodox Jewish community, which suffered from an outbreak of measles in 2019 after a child who had traveled to Israel spread the disease among other unvaccinated children in Brooklyn and upstate New York. The outbreak was brought under control after New York City’s health department imposed fines on parents who refused to vaccinate their children and threatened to close yeshivas that allowed unvaccinated children to attend. New York State ended nonmedical exemptions to vaccination requirements in schools, leading to an increase in vaccinations.

According to COVID vaccination data from the New York City Department of Health, only 18% of residents in Borough Park are fully vaccinated with 28% partially vaccinated. In Midwood, only 22% of residents are fully vaccinated and 30% partially vaccinated. By comparison, among residents of the Upper West Side’s 10024 zip code, one of the more highly vaccinated areas of the city, 54% of residents are fully vaccinated and 65% are partially vaccinated.

Whether Camp Hikon actually gets off the ground remains to be seen. So far, no children are signed up and Schwartz has yet to obtain a permit to operate the camp.

But he has a clear vision of what will happen there. Masks will not be encouraged at the camp; as to how the camp would fight the spread of COVID-19, campers would be treated “with an abundance of vitamin D and other prophylaxis,” according to the website.

The camp appears to combine survivalist training with Torah study. The primary goal of the camp, Schwartz said, is to prepare campers for a future in which political instability, economic instability and unusual weather events could create supply chain issues that would interfere with everyday life. Campers will build their own shelters, according to the website, and the camp plans to provide special footwear intended for survival settings.

“We’re catering to a demographic of families that are awake, who understand that the years in the future will not be similar to years in the past,” Schwartz said.

The post A survivalist summer camp for Orthodox Jews is planned for New York — and vaccinated folks aren’t invited appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Yitzhak Arad, partisan who led Israel’s Holocaust museum for decades, dies at 95

Fri, 2021-05-07 13:33

(JTA) — Yitzhak Arad, a Jewish partisan from Lithuania who rose through the ranks of Israel’s army before leading the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum, has died at the age of 95.

Born in Lithuania in 1926, Arad joined Soviet-funded partisans in World War II and fought against the Nazi occupation forces and their collaborators, who had killed most of his family.

In 1945 he immigrated to pre-state Israel and underwent training as a pilot for the Palmach, the precursor of the Israel Defense Forces. He fought as a pilot and later as a demolition expert during Israel’s war of independence.

He rose through the ranks to become chief education officer of the IDF. In parallel, he completed a master’s degree in the history of the Holocaust. In 1972, he became the director of Israel’s national Holocaust museum. He is widely credited with establishing Yad Vashem’s reputation as a research institution.

In 2008, Lithuanian authorities opened a criminal probe against Arad for alleged crimes against humanity from his days with the partisans. (Lithuania, where many locals collaborated with the Nazis in the Holocaust, regards Soviet domination as a genocide.) The probe was closed within months amid an outcry that led to a diplomatic scandal.

Arad, who led Yad Vashem for 21 years until 1993, had three children as well as grandchildren and great grandchildren. His wife Michal, whom he married in June 1948 during a respite break from fighting in Israel’s war of independence, died in 2015. He was buried Friday in Kibbutz Einat near Tel Aviv.

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Agency working with US military posts sermon advising ‘men of Israel’ to apologize for killing of Jesus

Thu, 2021-05-06 22:04

WASHINGTON (JTA) — An agency that provides administrative services to the U.S. military posted an Easter sermon on its website that described a New Testament passage preaching to Jews as a demand to “say sorry” for killing Jesus.

The Washington Headquarters Services pulled down the sermon attributed to a Navy chaplain in North Carolina on April 28, a day after complaints by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a group that advocates for troops and veterans who report discrimination in the military.

Both the foundation and the Jewish War Veterans have called for an inquiry into the sermon by Lt. Aristotle Rivera of Camp Lejeune and how it was posted on March 30. The foundation, which also wants repercussions against Rivera, said the sermon contradicted rules against proselytizing and peddling bigotry.

It wasn’t clear why an administrative services agency would post a sermon of any kind. Regina Meiners, the acting director of the Washington Headquarters Service, did not return a request for comment.

Rivera’s sermon takes a well-known passage in the New Testament book Acts that is an account of Peter preaching to “men of Israel” the redemption available in Christ’s death. He appears to use the passage to dismiss liberal interpretations of scripture.

The chaplain concludes that the message of the passage is “Jesus lived. You killed him. God raised him. We saw him. Say sorry,” and wishes readers a Happy Easter, which took place this year on April 4.

The King James Bible text recounting Peter’s conclusion to the sermon is “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation and its director, Mikey Weinstein, brought the complaint on behalf of what it says are 32 military and civilian defense personnel in the greater Washington region, 24 of whom are Jewish.

The Jewish War Veterans said it wanted an “apology and admission of wrongdoing by Lt. Rivera.” The group also said it was asking the Department of Defense to issue a statement acknowledging the anti-Semitic nature of the article.

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Sheldon Silver, former NY Assembly speaker, ordered back to prison, sources say

Thu, 2021-05-06 21:25

(JTA) — Sheldon Silver, the former speaker of the New York State Assembly, is reportedly headed back to prison, just days after being sent home on what officials had described as a COVID-related furlough.

The Associated Press, citing a source familiar with the situation, reported that the reversal of fortune came after the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan, which prosecuted Silver’s case, notified the Bureau of Prisons that it had opposed his release.

Silver would have to return to federal prison in upstate Otisville as soon as Thursday afternoon, sources told News 4.

Silver, 77, who for two decades was among the most powerful people in the state, was serving a 6 1/2-year sentence on federal corruption charges. He was furloughed under a measure meant to control the spread of coronavirus in prison.

Family and supporters say he was in poor health and highly susceptible to the coronavirus. Silver was expected to serve the remainder of his sentence under confinement at his home on New York City’s Lower East Side.

Silver was convicted in 2018 of using his office for personal gain. He has been in the federal prison since August.

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Amid pandemic misery, India’s Jews try to stay safe while offering relief to the hardest hit

Thu, 2021-05-06 21:21

(JTA) — Nissim Pingle, the head of Mumbai’s Jewish community center, hasn’t left his home since March.

That’s when COVID-19 began to overtake India. A second wave of infections has overwhelmed its health system and is producing a daily death toll of at least 4,000. The country is on track to have the world’s highest death toll by far, as stories pile up of people succumbing to the disease because they cannot access oxygen or hospital beds. 

India’s approximately 7,000 Jews, most of whom live in Mumbai, generally belong to the privileged minority with the means to self-isolate. But even within the community, India’s widely celebrated multigenerational households have increased anxiety about the virus’s onslaught.

Pingle’s parents live with him, his wife and their two young sons. So as cases began to rise, he closed up the family home as a bulwark against the pattern he saw playing out around him.

“Younger family members contract the virus, sometimes without symptoms, and transmit it to the elderly people in the household, who are much more vulnerable,” he said.

Now Pingle, 41, is working to turn the JCC he runs, which usually hosts community events, into the base of operations for the aid effort to India by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which assists with disaster relief worldwide. The JDC, which funds the JCC’s work, is having three ventilators, each costing about $10,000, shipped from Israel to Indian hospitals, according to Pingle.

It’s part of a global effort by Jews in India and beyond to combat what is quickly emerging as a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented proportions. The majority of Indians live on less than $3.10 a day, according to the World Bank, and the absence of basic sanitary conditions in some places, the prevalence of multigenerational households and a lockdown preventing many wage earners from working mean that many Indians are in deep need, even if they and their families survive COVID-19.

“We are Indians first,” said Yael Jirhad, an occupational consultant from Mumbai. “It is heartbreaking.”

Jirhad’s husband, Ralphy, is part of a Rotary Club effort in which members transport food and other essentials to needy residents of the city. 

The Mumbai Chabad House, run by Rabbi Israel Kozlovsky and his wife, Chaya, is raising money with donors from around the world who have funded Jewish outreach in the city to deliver food and other essential items to non-Jews living there and in nearby villages, where families largely depend on salaries earned in the city but now on hold due to the lockdown.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry has begun dispatching thousands of oxygen generators to India, among other medical gear items. And ISRAid, an Israeli nonprofit, is also helping in the most affected areas with support from the American Jewish Committee.

On Thursday, UJA Federation-New York, the largest Jewish federation in the United States, announced that it would send $200,000 in relief funds to India. 

The contributions represent a drop in the bucket of what’s needed: India is reaching new highs in cases and deaths daily, while its vaccination campaign has slowed. Grim pictures of mass cremations have become impossible to miss in global news coverage. The United States has cut off travel from the country.

While the Jewish community has fared better than many others, there are signs that the crisis is also having an effect on Indian Jews.

The number of people from the Jewish community who asked the JDC for financial support or material aid increased by about 35% over 2019, according to a JDC official. About 160 community members are currently receiving support.

Chabad is seeing a similar increase in requests for help by Jews, Kozlovsky said.

For many Indian Jews, the effects have been more psychological.

Jewish community life in Mumbai has ground to a halt since March. The city has seven active synagogues and three Jewish schools, although two of those have more non-Jewish students than Jewish ones. Mumbai also has a Jewish nursing home, Pingle’s Evelyn Peters JCC and several Jewish cemeteries.

The Jirhads, whose two sons are living abroad, are the only residents of their home in Mumbai, where the average household has five members. Living away from their children and other relatives is at times difficult, Yael said, especially in a society where family is all important. 

But during the pandemic it has allowed the Jirhads to volunteer where help is most wanted without fearing that they would thus infect others in their household.

The family of Herzel Simon, a member of the congregation of the Chabad-affiliated synagogue in Mumbai, has been particularly careful not to contract the virus because they live with his father, who had a medical procedure in January, making him especially susceptible to complications of the disease. 

But Simon, 46, nonetheless caught the local variant of the bug, which scientists say is especially contagious. Simon displayed no symptoms, and the infection was discovered only after a blood test showed he had antibodies. His father has not displayed symptoms, but Simon said the experience made him worry about his father’s health.

Staying home, even with the knowledge that a crisis rages around them, has had some silver linings for Pingle and his family. His elder son, 12-year-old Aviv, has more time to study for his bar mitzvah with Pingle’s 73-year-old father, Shaul, who for many years served as cantor at his local synagogue.

“Like most Indian Jews, we are certainly better protected than the general population in India. But for my parents, isolation has been difficult because they really don’t go out of the house much at all,” Pingle said.

“Yet it has made us even closer than before. And if we feel like we need to go to synagogue, we can always visit my father’s room. He has so many books there it looks like a shul.”

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Jared Moskowitz, Florida’s Democratic ‘master of disaster,’ has stepped down. But he may not be gone for long.

Thu, 2021-05-06 20:55

(JTA) — The tweet pinned to the top of Jared Moskowitz’s feed is a 46-word rebuke.

All 46 words are “MASKS,” and Moskowitz, Florida’s youthful director of emergency management until last Friday, acknowledged that a prime target of the tweet was his boss, Gov. Ron DeSantis.

 “The governor and I, you know, disagree on masks,” Moskowitz, a Democrat, said in an interview days before he left office. (His Twitter handle is currently Jared MASKowitz). “That’s not breaking news. I was very heavily supportive of more mask mandates or heavy messaging on masks, and the governor ultimately left that up for the local governments.”

Moskowitz’s last day saving Floridians from disasters natural and manmade was Friday, but he didn’t quit because he argued with DeSantis, a Republican. 

His stated reason for quitting is he missed his young family. But he’s making clear, too, that his absence won’t be for very long, and he happily indulges the state’s political reporters who see great things in his future.

“I’ll be back,” Moskowitz, 40, said in the Feb. 15 tweet announcing he would be gone by April 30.

In fact, it was Moskowitz’s relationship with DeSantis that helped propel the self-described “master of disaster” to national attention: Their partnership amid the COVID crisis was a rare example of bipartisan collaboration during the pandemic. 

In 2018, before the pandemic, DeSantis had tapped the then-state representative Moskowitz because of his experience at AshleyBritt, a private sector disaster recovery firm.

“He’s worked incredibly hard,” DeSantis said of Moskowitz in February. “He’s done a fantastic job. I think Florida has the best emergency response in the country.”

Moskowitz’s tenure earned him laudatory resolutions last week in both Republican-led chambers of the state Legislature and an editorial in the Miami Herald titled “Moskowitz reached across Florida’s deep political divide. That’s all too rare.” Pundits in the state already are saying that his popularity in both parties could propel him to elected statewide office, and he’s not discounting the speculation.

This week Greg Angel, a political reporter for Spectrum News 13, a Central Florida broadcaster, predicted Moskowitz would be the Democratic challenger facing incumbent Republican Sen. Marco Rubio in 2022. On Twitter, Moskowitz joked, “I better tell my wife.”

If Moskowitz does run, it will be on a record packed with Jewish content in a state where the Jewish population is growing.

As emergency director, he visited Israel and signed a memorandum of understanding to share best practices in combating COVID. Ask him about the “pizza boy strategy.” Or don’t ask him, he’ll volunteer the story.

“What happened is that Israel had a strategy that there would be no unused doses,” he said. “And if you had doses that you unfroze that day but you ran out of appointments, you would just start vaccinating anyone who was around, and one day there was a pizza delivery boy in the hospital, and Israel vaccinated him because they had available doses and it was towards the end of the day.” He instituted the policy in December.

When he launched the program to vaccinate the homebound, Moskowitz said, he made sure Holocaust survivors were first.

“We went to 750 Holocaust survivors’ houses in the first week we started the program,” he said. “That’s where I would say is a good example of my Jewish upbringing influencing a decision that I made around here.”

As a state representative from 2012 through January 2019, Moskowitz led the passage of a bill that authorized the building of a Holocaust memorial in the state capital, Tallahassee, and a resolution memorializing Robert Levinson, the Jewish former FBI agent who disappeared in Iran in 2007 on a CIA mission and whose family in Coral Springs were Moskowitz’s constituents. He sought funding for kosher meals for the elderly in his district and for security protections for Jewish institutions.

Moskowitz’s reach across the partisan divide is especially evident in his Israel-related advocacy and legislation, where he stakes out positions more typically embraced by Republicans. He authored a law banning state dealings with Israel boycotters, a resolution applauding the Trump administration for moving the embassy to Jerusalem and one condemning UNESCO for not recognizing the Western Wall as part of Israel.

How he recalls the UNESCO episode is telling, letting slip that he butted heads with fellow Democrats.

“It made some of my former Democratic colleagues a little upset, he said, “but eventually they voted for it.”

Last June, Moskowitz lambasted Democrats and the left for not calling for the removal of a Palestinian-American student senate president at Florida State University because a number of his social media postings — Jewish groups said they were offensive.

“Where are the Democrats? Where are the progressives? Where is the cancel culture? Where is the PC? When it’s Jews, apparently it’s okay!” Moskowitz said on Twitter. “Remove him @floridastate.” 

(The Senate president, Ahmad Daraldik, eventually was removed, but for reasons ostensibly unrelated to the accusations of antisemitism. Daraldik has since sued the college alleging anti-Palestinian racism.)

“I understand kids are young and kids can make mistakes, and no one was asking for his life to be ruined,” he said of Daraldik. “But, you know, in that episode, I didn’t see enough from the university. I didn’t see enough from some of my friends and colleagues, quite frankly.”

Moskowitz remains an outspoken liberal on most issues, advocating gun control and against police racial profiling. His sponsorship record in the State House is solidly liberal, protecting LGBTQ rights, scrapping holidays that commemorate the Confederacy and backing labor protections. His father, Mike, is a prominent lobbyist with deep ties to the state’s Democrats.

But his trademark is making it clear that he is willing to rebuke his own tribe as well as the other guy’s. 

It’s how Moskowitz says he pushed through gun control laws after the deadly mass killing at a high school in Parkland, in his district, in 2018. The bill was a compromise: While it was not the assault weapon ban that Democrats sought, it raised the minimum age to purchase a gun from 18 to 21 (the killer in the Parkland shooting was 19); banned bump stocks, which facilitate rapid firing; and created a system to flag gun owners who may be a danger to themselves and others.

“I thought it was so important for the Legislature to speak in a bipartisan way and have a response,” he said. “The idea of doing nothing which has happened so many other times …  was not going to let us do that.”

At the time, Moskowitz delivered an impassioned floor speech that went viral, describing his small son trapped in a writing class in a school near the high school campus, and learning that his son’s teacher, Jen Guttenberg, lost a daughter, Jaime, in the attack. 

“She put my kid in a closet when her daughter died. I wanted to say thank you at the funeral,” Moskowitz said. “I didn’t know how to do that.” (He has since become close to the family, which also is Jewish. Fred Guttenberg has become a national leader in the gun control battle.)

The intensity and earnestness that Moskowitz brought to his efforts to have Florida mask up also were in evidence when Moskowitz defended his boss last month from an insinuation on “60 Minutes” that DeSantis ran part of the coronavirus vaccine distribution through Publix because the supermarket chain had contributed to his campaign.

Conservative publications seized on a Democrat willing to defend a governor seen as having presidential ambitions in 2024.

“Publix said they could be ready in 72 hours,” Moskowitz told National Review. “I picked Publix. Walked into the governor’s office the next day, gave them the plan about why we needed to turn on more locations, especially in some rural, fiscally constrained areas.”

He told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency shortly before leaving his position: “I had an obligation to come out and say the truth. I don’t need to defend the governor just to defend the governor — in fact I haven’t done that since I’ve been here.”

On Twitter, Moskowitz praises President Joe Biden and excoriates Republicans (except for DeSantis) in terms unmistakably Jewish. On April 19, he highlighted for his 11,000 followers a CNN report about the Trump supporters who stormed the U.S. Capitol: Prosecutors opposed the release of one of the alleged rioters because he was a Nazi sympathizer who posed a threat to his Jewish neighbors.

“A reminder of who was there January 6,” Moskowitz said.

Moskowitz had a showy sendoff last week: He donated his emergency management jacket to a Florida museum. He took his family to the Legislature to hear the lawmakers heap praise on him. And he posted photos of himself hugging his two boys, 7 and 4, in the vestibule of his home surrounded by scattered posters reading “Welcome home Jared, we love you.”

The sendoff got the speculators working overtime.

“We’ll hear from him again,” said Joe Henderson, a columnist for the Florida Politics news site.

Nikki Fried, the state’s Jewish and Democratic agriculture commissioner who frequently spars with De Santis, wished him farewell.

“You’ve given so much to Floridians during emergencies, hurricanes, and a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic …  saving the lives of many!” she said. 

The photo she attached, posing with Moskowitz at a tailgate barbecue, may be a portent of Florida Jewish Democratic politics in 2022 should Moskowitz vie for the Senate. Fried has all but declared she will try to unseat DeSantis.

Meantime, Moskowitz is playing it cool. This summer, he is launching a political podcast with the publisher of the Florida Politics news site, Peter Schorsch, tentatively called “State of Emergency.”

As for other ambitions, his final tweet on his final day of work, April 30, was simply a photo of Mary Poppins ascending to the stratosphere, fondly looking back.

Or, second-to-final tweet.

“Don’t forget Mary Poppins returns!” a fan replied.

Moskowitz replied with a wink emoji.

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Victim of drive-by West Bank shooting dies

Thu, 2021-05-06 19:24

(JTA) — One of the three 19-year old yeshiva students shot in a drive-by shooting this week in the West Bank has died of his wounds.

The Israeli army meantime apprehended a suspect in the shooting.

Yehuda Guetta died Wednesday and was buried Thursday. Assailants had opened fire on the students, who were waiting Sunday at a bus stop at the Tapuach Junction in the northern West Bank. They all attended a yeshiva in Itamar, near the junction. The wounded students are Benaya Peretz and Amichai Hala.

The suspect, Muntassir Shalabi, was apprehended Wednesday. Shalabi, who is in his 40s, had returned recently from the United States, Haaretz reported, quoting residents of Turmus Ayya, a village in the northern West Bank. He had gambling debts, they said.

No organization has claimed responsibility for the attack, although Hamas and Islamic Jihad have praised it.

Separately, Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian 16-year-old during clashes in the northern West Bank. The army said troops fired on  suspects who were throwing firebombs and that it was investigating the incident.

Palestinian health authorities said Saeed Yusuf Muhammad Oudeh was shot in the back in the village of Odla, Haaretz reported.

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Hate crimes see 73% rise in NYC, with Asians and Jews most targeted

Thu, 2021-05-06 19:11

(JTA) — A dramatic rise in attacks on Asian-Americans has led to an overall increase in hate crimes in New York City during 2021, while the number of crimes targeting Jews decreased slightly.

Jews in New York were targeted in 54 hate crimes reported between Jan. 1 and May 2, down from 58 such crimes in the same period in 2020, according to New York Police Department figures released Monday.

The NYPD’s Hate Crime Task Force said the city recorded 180 hate crimes through May 2, compared to 104 such crimes during the same period last year, a 73% increase.

Asians were the most targeted group with 80 hate crimes through May 2 — soaring from 16 in the same period in 2020. Jews were the next most targeted.

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NY Jewish federation sending $200K in COVID relief to India

Thu, 2021-05-06 15:28

(JTA) — UJA-Federation of New York announced $200,000 in grants to four organizations working on COVID relief efforts in India.

The grants are focused on providing equipment and relief in hard-to-reach and especially vulnerable communities in the country, where a second wave of infections has overwhelmed hospitals and crematoria.

The funding will include a $60,000 grant to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee for a partnership with the Israeli government to provide Israeli-made ventilators to hospitals, UJA said in a statement.

The remainder will enable the NGOs Afya, IsraAID and Gabriel Project Mumbai to procure medical equipment and food packages and help establish a new vaccination center in Mumbai’s Kalwa slum.

“It’s heartbreaking to see the scenes from India today, and we hope our aid will spur others to join the relief effort,” Eric Goldstein, CEO of UJA-Federation of New York, said in a statement.

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In Seattle, a Jewish school turned mosque is bringing Jews and Muslims together

Thu, 2021-05-06 13:57

(The Cholent via JTA) — Nearly 100 years after Seattle’s first Jewish school opened, an effort is underway to restore its crumbling building — as a multifaith center that can unite Jews and Muslims in the city.

So far, the effort has netted more than $40,000 toward a new roof for the building that once housed Seattle Talmud Torah. But that’s a drop in the bucket for what a growing collective of Seattleites are hoping to generate to turn the Cherry Street Collective into a reality.

“We’ve got lots of plans,” Cherry Street Village project manager Koloud “Kay” Tarapolsi said. “The only thing holding us back is our imaginations.”

The building’s story begins in 1928, when Seattle Talmud Torah’s president, Fred Bergman, implored readers of the Jewish Transcript, then Seattle’s Jewish newspaper, to invest in Jewish education.

“United we shall build a new Talmud Torah, dedicated to God and Israel,” Bergman wrote. “Out of these portals there will emerge healthy, upright and loyal Jews, proud of their heritage, Jews with a Conscience.”

By 1929, money had been raised — $1,000 for a plot of land at Columbia and 25th in Seattle’s Central District — and the esteemed Scottish Jewish architect B. Marcus Priteca was on board to build an institution for Jewish learning. The Seattle Talmud Torah was born.

Over time, the Jewish community’s educational needs changed, and the Talmud Torah disbanded in 1962. In 1980, the building was sold to the Islamic School of Seattle. The school disbanded in 2012, and the space was refashioned as the Cherry Street Mosque.

Nearly 100 years later, the building that the Jewish community rallied for now sits in disrepair. Its roof leaks, rooms flood and black mold plagues the interior. The mosque community could have walked away and probably could have sold the entire plot to an eager developer.

Instead, the community decided to save it.

But repairing the roof and just getting rid of the mold proved too big a project for the small group. So in November, a coalition called Cherry Street Village launched a fundraiser to repair the building and repurpose the space as a multifaith collective.

“It started as a group of friends, and now it’s expanding,” Tarapolsi said.

The group now includes the Salaam Cultural Museum, Dunya Theater Productions, Kadima Reconstructionist Community and Middle East Peace Camp.

Jonathan Rosenblum has been involved with Kadima for 20 years and is the Kadima liaison to the village. Aware that the Jewish group is outgrowing its space (a church it rents in Madrona, less than a mile away), Rosenblum turned to Cherry Street leaders, with whom Kadima already had a relationship.

“We realized there was this beautiful architecture, a cavernous hall … one could imagine what it would be like to be together in community,” Rosenblum said. “We committed to work together to get the roof repaired. There’s been an outpouring of support, which has been amazing.”

Tarapolsi has big dreams for Cherry Street Village — artists in residence, social services and food trucks. She imagines an apartment for visiting artists, rooms for rent, a place for social services. A sculpture garden. A community garden. And religious events for both religions — b’nai mitzvah, Ramadan nights, prayer services and beyond.

Jews and Muslims under one roof? It’s happened before: in a neighborhood in Paris, a school in London, a synagogue in New York City.

In the context of what’s happening in Seattle, the space sharing is especially easy to imagine. Both Kadima and Cherry Street Mosque are on the progressive end of their respective religious traditions. Kadima prides itself on a social justice agenda and solidarity with the plight of Palestinians, which sometimes puts it “outside the tent” of the mainstream Jewish community.

Cherry Street is unique among Muslims, too. The Islamic School of Seattle was started by five American women who wanted a progressive, Montessori-style Muslim school.

“We had children come from all different families,” said Laila Kabani, a disciple of the school’s founder, Ann El-Moslimany. “It was really an interfaith school.”

El-Moslimany died in January, but she is revered as an educational pioneer. (Read Kabani’s heartfelt memorial to her mentor here.) The mosque is a rarity in that it has a female imam.

“Around 99.99% of the other mosques wouldn’t have a female on the board,” Tarapolsi said. “It’s very, very progressive. We’re very unique and we’re open to everyone, no matter the sexual orientation, skin color, etc.”

Kadima leaders say the mosque’s unique orientation is crucial for their relationship.

“That aspect of the progressive stance is an important connector,” Doug Brown of Kadima said. “I think most of us share the perspective that we grow and understand our traditions better when we’re in conversation with folks from other traditions. … The issues we want to address require broad coalitions.”

Brown’s wife, Sandy Silberstein, has been heavily involved with building bridges to Muslim communities and the Middle East Peace Camp, which is allied with Kadima. The camp brings together children from Jewish, Muslim, Arab, Israeli and Christian backgrounds every summer with the intention of building relationships and understanding.

“We know that when Islamophobia and antisemitism hit, we have each others’ backs,” Silberstein said.

The collective has held one event, a virtual cooking demo with a Palestinian chef. Baking date cookies is pretty low stakes, but what if conflict does arise in the future among the partners?

“In any relationship there’s going to be conflict; it’s how you manage it,” Rosenblum said. “We wrestle with that stuff. We are wrestlers with God. We work with people through this conflict. When you look at all the conflict going on, not just in Seattle but throughout the world, the most important thing we can do for the younger generation is model how we should behave toward each other.”

But first things first. And that’s the roof.

“The first step is to get the rain to stop coming in,” Rosenblum said.

For Kabani, Cherry Street Village is a continuation of the legacy of El-Moslimany.

“She passed away, but her spirit lives on,” she said. “Cherry Street Village intends to continue the joy and diverse faiths under one roof.”

A version of this story was originally published in The Cholent, an independent newsletter about Seattle’s Jewish community.

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Jewish Biden backers and lawmakers make a push for Robert Wexler to be the ambassador to Israel

Thu, 2021-05-06 01:49

WASHINGTON (JTA) — At least three top Jewish Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives have made representations to the White House to name Robert Wexler, a former Florida congressman, to be the U.S. Ambassador to Israel.

The push, which has been joined by figures who led Joe Biden’s presidential election campaign in the Jewish community, intensified this week when it appeared that Biden had settled on Tom Nides, a former deputy secretary of state who is Jewish but whose Israel record is a relative blank slate.

Underpinning the pressure to name Wexler is the hope among traditionally pro-Israel Democrats that Biden maintains a close relationship with Israel and names an ambassador who understands the sensitivities of the country and of the American Jewish community. Also a factor is Wexler’s familiarity with Arab players in the region, including the Palestinians.

The three Jewish Democrats who have been pressing the issue, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency has learned, are Ted Deutch and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida and Jerry Nadler of New York. Deutch, who chairs the House Middle East subcommittee, replaced Wexler when Wexler quit Congress in 2010. Wasserman Schultz is a former chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee. Nadler chairs the House Judiciary Committee. Spokesmen for the three did not respond to queries by press time.

Wexler has longstanding and deep ties to Israel and the pro-Israel community. He was the first Jewish member of Congress to back then-Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential bid in 2007. He left Congress in 2010 to lead the Center for Middle East Peace, a group that works behind the scenes to advance the two-state outcome to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that is funded by Daniel Abraham, the Slim-Fast mogul.

Since then, Wexler has traveled frequently to Israel. He was briefly a lobbyist in the late 2010s. Wexler heads the Tel Aviv office of a major American lobbying outfit, Ballard Partners, but has not been a registered lobbyist for more than two years, complying with government ethics rules. “Our team is uniquely qualified to assist clients with government relations in Israel, as well as assisting Israeli companies in the United States,” the shop says about its Tel Aviv office.

Wexler’s familiarity with the Jewish community and with Israel issues make him attractive to his backers. Deutch went on the record Wednesday with his support in a story on Wexler in Haaretz. “He knows the issues, he knows the players, he’s well respected across the political spectrum and he understands the many challenges that come with that position,” Deutch told the newspaper.

Deutch did not mention Nides, but the contrast he drew was obvious: Wexler knows the terrain better than a newcomer. “Robert’s experience will clearly help him meet that test,” he told Haaretz, referring to knowing the U.S.-Israel relationship.

Michael Adler, a Florida-based donor who has backed Biden presidential campaigns going back to the 1988 race, is, according to sources, leading the push for Wexler. Adler reportedly had angled for the ambassador job himself but is now all-in for the former congressman. Adler did not reply to a request for comment.

Hadar Susskind, the CEO of Americans for Peace Now, said he was hearing broad support for Wexler in the pro-Israel community, encompassing backers of liberal groups like this, but also backers of AIPAC, the powerhouse lobby.

“The momentum is impressive,” he said. “In 48 hours I’ve heard from many members of Congress and Jewish community leaders, and they are a politically diverse group. APN supporters, AIPAC people, federation leaders, Jewish members of Congress, non-Jews, progressives and centrists. There is a lot of support for Robert out there.”

The announcement is expected to be made by the end of May.

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I buried hundreds of old Jewish books. Inside each was a Jewish heart.

Wed, 2021-05-05 20:41

(New York Jewish Week via JTA) — A long-awaited construction project at our Manhattan synagogue, Ansche Chesed, is about to begin. Off in the distance we can glimpse our expanded lobby with improved safety and disability access, our renewed social hall, and our comfortable and professional offices.

Before we can build, we must demolish. For a century-old building with poor storage space, that means clearing out crannies stuffed with all sorts of oddities. (Our favorite find: a 1907 letter from the wife of the treasurer, whose numbers apparently were not adding up. She implored the board to leave her husband alone already, that he was out of town, finally attending to his own business and not the shul’s affairs, and that he would explain everything when he returned to New York.)

Our biggest clearance job had to do with religious books. Jewish norms forbid tossing sacred writings into the trash. A worn Torah scroll should be buried with a sainted person. A text containing one of the principal names of God must not be destroyed, and even without divine names, sacred texts deserve burial in a dedicated “hiding chamber,” or genizah.

Ansche Chesed had an abundance of material needing genizah. Many were papers that our members dropped off for us to dispose of for them, like photocopied pages they used to prepare Torah readings, or learning materials from study sessions and Hebrew school lessons.

Others were holy books that people placed in our library, including some old prayer books and Bibles, some inherited from long-dead grandparents, some printed in Europe, some with Yiddish translation. (I know, I know: You’re thinking that these might be valuable. In fact, they were mass produced and are not at all rare. Besides, cheap paper from around 1900 literally crumbles in your hand.) Our shelves held volumes from rabbinical school graduates not returning to their Talmuds or day school grads unlikely to return to their Rashis or Mishnahs.

By far the largest share of our holy books were the hundreds of prayer books and Bibles that once served Ansche Chesed members well. (I know, I know: You’re thinking that some small synagogue somewhere would want them. They don’t.) Some of these were random donations to our library, but the vast majority were purchased specifically for services, many with book plates noting who had donated them to our community. Some were ragged and torn. Some were intact, just forlorn, superseded by newer editions, no longer in demand.

So many were machzors, or High Holiday prayer books, edited by Herbert Adler, Morris Silverman, Phillip Birnbaum, ArtScroll, Rabbi Ben Zion Bokser  and — may he be singled out for long life — Rabbi Jules Harlow. Dozens of Haggadot, some nicely bound, some Xeroxed and stapled, some edited by the revered Rabbi Maxwell House. Then there were the various Bibles: editions by Soncino and J.H. Hertz, Koren and the Israeli government, and many others.

In February, in the snow, I brought more than 60 cartons of these sacred texts to the Ansche Chesed plot in the Riverside Cemetery in Saddle River, New Jersey. The staff had dug a burial place for our books the size of three full graves.

The workers asked me, respectfully, what Jewish law demanded this be done in the dead of winter. I can appreciate how this scene might have seemed absurd to these seven men. Burying a person is one thing, but venturing into the snow to bury paper and glue? I apologetically explained that our construction schedule, not the Torah, demanded we do this in February.

But I don’t think I could have explained adequately my emotions as they laid these heavy boxes in the cold ground. I tried to summon in my mind the hands that held these texts, the eyes that read their print, the lips that said these words aloud.

The Harlow Machzor was first published in 1972, the Bokser in 1959 and the Silverman in 1939. (Ansche Chesed has been using “Lev Shalem,” the Rabbinical Assembly machzor, since 2009.) As we laid down those cartons, I tried to imagine how many individual prayers each copy of each book had stimulated. How many Jews held that very copy of that book, now lying in the earth, as they said on Rosh HaShanah: How many will pass away? How many will be born? … Charity, prayer and repentance soften the bitter decree … Human life begins in dust and ends in dust. It is like a broken pot, a faded flower, a passing breeze, a vanishing dream.

How many people held that very copy of that book on Yom Kippur as they recited Yizkor: May God recall the souls of my mother and teacher, my father and teacher, as I pledge charity in their memory? How many confessed their failings: ashamnu, bagadnu, gazalnu? How many held that very book when the fast ended and they proclaimed next year in Jerusalem? 

How many children recited “Four Questions” from these very Haggadot? How many people followed the Torah readings from these very Bibles: the days of creation, the 10 Commandments, Lech Lecha, the Song of the Sea? How many sang Hallel on holidays from these pages?

In that large grave lay holy books from which parents read Shema Israel on the days that their children were called to the Torah as bnei mitzvah. And here lay books that people used when they said Kaddish, after their loved ones died.

As the workmen lowered the boxes into the earth, I tried to express my gratitude to the sacred paper and glue, to wish them farewell, by doing what Jews do at funerals: reciting psalms.

????????? ??’??????? ??????? ???????????? ???????????? ???????????? ??????????

Blessed is God who has not taken away from me my human prayer, nor divine love. [Psalms 66.20]

???????? ????????????????? ? ??’????? ???? ??????? ??’??????? ????????????????? ????????? ????????? ???????????

I am my prayer to You Lord, coming before You at the right moment; God, in Your abundant love, respond with Your sure deliverance. [Psalms 69.14]

????????? ??????? ?’?????? ??????????? ??????????

Blessed are You, God; teach me Your laws. [Psalms 119.12]

????????? ??????????? ????????? ???????? ??????????

Your laws have been songs to me, wherever I dwelt. [Psalms 119.54]

??????? ?????????? ???????????? ????? ??????????? ???????????

Were not Your teaching my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. [Psalms 119.92]

Here I grow mystical (not a big stretch for me). I sense that these books have a spirit. I sense that over these many years these pages absorbed the prayers, tears, fears, sorrows and joys of the Jews who used them.

Yes, they were paper and glue. And they became vessels for Jewish experiences, carrying Jewish hearts.

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Israeli centrist Yair Lapid is given an opportunity to replace Benjamin Netanyahu

Wed, 2021-05-05 20:23

(JTA) — Yair Lapid, an Israeli centrist, has officially been given the opportunity to remove Benjamin Netanyahu from power.

On Wednesday, President Reuven Rivlin gave Lapid the mandate to form the next coalition government in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset. If Lapid succeeds, Netanyahu will be out as prime minister for the first time in 12 years. This marks the closest Netanyahu has come to losing his position since 2009.

In order to form a coalition and end the gridlock that has frozen Israeli politics, Lapid may allow a right-wing politician, Naftali Bennett, to serve as prime minister before him.

“After two years of an ongoing political nightmare, Israeli society is wounded,” Lapid wrote Wednesday on his Facebook page following Rivlin’s choice to give him the mandate. “A unity government isn’t a compromise, it is a goal. It is on us to form a government that reflects the fact that we do not hate one another.”

Lapid, leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party, faces a foreboding challenge. Israel’s political system has been in crisis since 2019, as the Knesset has been split between Netanyahu’s right-wing supporters and his ideologically disparate opponents. The rift has persisted through four rounds of largely inconclusive elections.

Twice before, a Netanyahu rival has been given a chance to replace him, but Netanyahu has managed to survive politically, in large part as the caretaker prime minister of a transitional government. Following the most recent elections in March, Netanyahu had another opportunity to form a government under his leadership, but was unsuccessful. Now the mantle has passed to Lapid, his leading rival.

To form a government, Lapid must assemble a coalition that spans the Israeli left and center, as well as right-wingers who are disaffected from Netanyahu. It also will likely have to rely on support from an Arab party, a rarity in Israeli politics.

In order to secure agreement from the right-wingers, Lapid appears likely to allow Bennett, a once a Netanyahu ally, to serve as prime minister for two years. If the coalition forms as expected, Bennett would be Israel’s first religious Zionist prime minister.

Lapid would then likely serve as prime minister for the term’s remaining two years.

In a speech Wednesday, Bennett endorsed the idea of a government with Lapid and other parties in order to avoid a fifth round of elections.

“There are two options: to rush into fifth and sixth and seventh elections that will simply destroy the state, or to form a broad emergency government, however challenging, that will pull the wagon out of the mud,” Bennett said.

Lapid hugs Jewish Home party chief Naftali Bennett following Lapid’s first speech at the Knesset, Feb. 11, 2013. (Miriam Alster/Flash90/JTA)

If the Lapid-Bennett alliance succeeds — by no means a certainty — it will be the culmination of a joint ascendance by the two men, who both entered politics in 2012 as fresh-faced newcomers representing a younger generation of Israeli leadership.

They are not ideologically aligned: Lapid, 57, a former news anchor, seeks to represent the amorphous Israeli center and has attempted to lessen the power of haredi Orthodox Israelis in government. Bennett, 49, who is Modern Orthodox and a former Netanyahu aide, is an outspoken advocate of Israeli West Bank settlements who hopes to represent an unapologetic Israeli right.

But the two have found common ground in the past. In 2013, they formed an informal alliance and together entered a coalition with Netanyahu. That government dissolved after two years. In the years since, they have been on opposing sides of the political spectrum, but may again ally in the hopes of extracting Israel from a political quagmire.

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Germany sees 15% rise in politically motivated antisemitic crimes

Wed, 2021-05-05 19:38

BERLIN (JTA) – The number of politically motivated crimes rose to record levels in Germany last year and include a 15% rise in antisemitic offenses.

The annual report by the Federal Criminal Police Office released Tuesday showed an 8.54% increase over 2019, to 44,692 crimes, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said.

Within that total, the number of antisemitic crimes reported to police across the country rose to 2,351 from 2,032. The vast majority — 85 % — fell into the categories of incitement to hate, insults and propaganda, including Holocaust denial and glorification of Nazi ideology.

The president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster, called the news “absolutely alarming and evidence of Germany’s failure” to deal with the problem. According to the German media, Schuster said that anti-Jewish harassment is found “everywhere, on the street and on the internet.”

Several NGOs noted that many cases are not reported to police.

“A large darkfield study by the criminal investigation unit of the state of Lower Saxony [in the former West Germany] in 2017 showed that only 12% of hate crimes are reported overall,” Alexander Rasumny, a spokesperson for the Berlin-based Federal Association of Departments for Research and Information on Anti-Semitism, or RIAS, which monitors and analyzes anti-Semitism, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in a phone interview.

Rasumny said the state’s criminal investigations department is preparing a follow-up study.

Statistics on politically motivated crimes were first singled out starting in 2001.

Violent crimes with a political motivation jumped by 18.82% over the previous year. There were 11 murders in this category – nine in a right-wing extremist attack in February 2020 on a shisha bar in the city of Hanau.

Right-wing extremism remains Germany’s largest domestic security threat, Seehofer said. The report found that 23,604 crimes were linked to right-wing perpetrators, an increase of 5.6%, while crimes linked to left-wing political ideologies rose 11.4%, to 10,971.

Meanwhile, a groundbreaking effort has been launched to help sensitize police to antisemitic crimes in the former East German state of Saxony. The state attorney general and state police, working with local Jewish communities, have prepared a new “action guide” to help police recognize antisemitic motivations and take them into consideration in a trial.

“We’re always hearing complaints …  that when it comes to crimes with an antisemitic background, this aspect is either not recognized or not given enough weight,” Dresden’s attorney general, Hans Strobl, said at an online news conference Wednesday announcing the new guidelines.

“We want the police officers who are first on the scene to know what indicators matter in a possible antisemitic crime.”

Schuster called the new guidelines “unparalleled in Germany” and at the news conference urged all of Germany’s states to adopt them.

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